12 King’s Bench Walk (also known as 12KBW) is a civil law chambers, operating in areas ranging from insurance to employment. The set is particularly renowned for its personal injury and industrial disease work, being one of the leading sets in the country in these fields. Home to 93 barristers, including 14 KCs (all of whom are men!), the set prides itself on its ability to offer services to both claimants and defendants through all levels of courts in the UK. Barristers at 12KBW also receive instructions from further afield, having a strong reputation when it comes to accidents abroad.
“The variety of work at 12KBW is nothing short of brilliant”, one tenant at the set tells us. Looking at the wide variety of areas in which tenants practice, this certainly seems to be the case. Whether it be claims against the Ministry of Defence for noise-induced hearing loss or disputes between neighbours over rights to light, 12KBW’s tenants can be found working on matters involving the full spectrum of parties and court levels. We hear that the practice areas continue to evolve: “12KBW continues to diversify into fascinating new legal markets – AI, drones, data protection, sports law…”, one junior divulges.
Of course, the core practice areas of personal injury (including cases with an international dimension) and industrial disease continue to play a key role at the set. Tenants can find themselves dealing with anything from minor road traffic accidents to Supreme Court cases grappling with complex issues such as scope of duty under consumer protection regulations. One tenant tells us: “we’re on the cusp of changing the law in some areas. I genuinely find it exciting”. Employment and discrimination law is also a key area for 12KBW, with tenants having particular expertise when personal injury and employment law meet: if there is a workplace stress claim or discrimination following an industrial accident, 12KBW are the people to call.
The past year has seen no exception to the interesting cases. Marcus Dignum KC and Hugh Hamill have been instructed in a High Court trial in which a highly successful artist is seeking damages in excess of £30 million following brain injury, which it is alleged resulted in him producing 14 fewer paintings per year than he otherwise would have; Carolyn D’Souza and Andrew Watson have secured victory in a case of unfair dismissal and race discrimination of an Asian gold trader; and John-Paul Swoboda has successfully appeared for the claimant in the first reported decision of a direct action against an insurer in a living mesothelioma (cancer caused by asbestos exposure) case.
It’s not just the more senior members of the set who get all the exciting work. One junior tells us that there are “excellent opportunities to challenge yourself as a junior with complex factual and legal issues”. However, one tenant in their first few years of practice confides that “some of the baby junior work (lolling around the small claims court, arguing about credit hire) can get tedious”. Well, I suppose it can’t always be trips to the Supreme Court and client meetings with Premier League football clubs!
We are told that even when junior tenants are not being led by KCs on big cases, they can always pop into their rooms to ask them even small questions about their cases. There is an open-door policy throughout chambers, which contributes to a “truly collegiate atmosphere”. One junior tells us: “I literally WhatsApp queries and questions to the silks when I’m puzzled on a difficult point!” One happy tenant adds: “we are like a close-knit family where we look out for each other and the wellbeing of everyone, members and staff alike”. One member who completed their pupillage elsewhere comments that the friendliness of the set is something they know “is not to be taken for granted”. The set is broadly “doing a lot of work on wellbeing to ensure a strong support network”.
This emphasis on wellbeing continues into the issue of work-life balance. Of course, this will never be perfect at the bar. We are told, however, that where this balance lies falls predominantly with the barristers themselves. Whilst one tenant exclaims that “the bar is a stressful profession that impinges constantly on your personal life”, another reveals that they “take buckets of holidays a year and don’t often work weekends”. There is “not a lot of pressure from clerks” and open discussions about work-life balance are encouraged.
When the tenants want to have some downtime, we hear that “there will always be someone around for lunch or a drink after work”. Colleagues very often become friends, with tenants of all levels of seniority socialising together. There are also organised social events such as regular chambers tea and the annual Christmas party. We do hear, however, that things have been a little slow to recover post-Covid.
When it comes to 12KBW’s premises, the set is fortunate to be situated in the heart of Inner Temple. Spread over three buildings, the main building faces Temple Gardens, with some barristers’ rooms even overlooking the Thames. Whilst the outside of the building is described as “beautiful”, the inside gets less favourable reviews from tenants. Whilst some simply describe it as “dated”, others are harsher in their comments, with one detailing “client-facing conference rooms that look like they were last done up in the 90s by someone who didn’t care very much”. Another does, however, acknowledge that the set has made significant improvements to the public areas and has more renovations in the pipeline. With regards to IT, views are again mixed. Whilst one junior claims that there is “minimal IT provision”, another describes the IT team as being “fantastic”, especially during the pandemic. We are told that the set is “working on achieving excellence” in this area.
12KBW offers up to three pupillages per year, each coming with an award of £55,000. Pupils rotate between three supervisors throughout their pupillage year, and “work on complex and high-level cases from the outset” with detailed feedback being provided along the way. During the first six, they will exclusively complete work for their supervisor. Moving into the second six, pupils will begin completing work for other members of chambers as well as taking on their own cases – exciting!
One former pupil sums up their experience as this: “I certainly felt lucky compared to friends at other chambers. The emphasis was very much on education and development first: assessment is an obvious part of any pupillage, but it didn’t feel like a bear-pit. Supervisors were supportive and there was a strong sense across chambers that people want the pupils to succeed.” Pupils also receive a junior tenant as a mentor to provide help and support as required. Beyond pupillage, the training is “ongoing and very high quality” with the set putting on seminars which members are encouraged to attend.
Those wishing to apply to 12KBW should make their application through Pupillage Gateway. Around 30 candidates are invited to a first-round interview, which consists of an oral presentation to the panel. Candidates will be asked to select a recent case and deliver their presentation as an application for permission to appeal from that case’s decision. They will also face questions from the panel. The highest-scoring candidates will be invited back to a second-round interview, which is more traditional in format.
12KBW say that they are looking to recruit “first-class pupils who will be able to strengthen their areas of practice”. Their website states that they are committed to diversity. Indeed, 12KBW offers social mobility mini pupillages in addition to its ordinary mini pupillage programme. These seek to “improve access to the profession and enable excellent students from under-represented backgrounds to embark on careers at the Bar”.