In their recently refurbished offices overlooking peaceful Gray’s Inn Walks, tenants at 3 Verulam Buildings have some of the loveliest thinking spaces in legal London. This set is highly regarded for its strength in banking and financial matters, with cases involving figures into the billions. Associated practice areas include civil fraud, commercial dispute resolution, energy & natural resources, insolvency and insurance, among others. 3VB has acted in blockbuster banking cases including the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and the Icelandic banks. Work in natural resources includes financing disputes relating to oil fields and mines. 3VB is mega on arbitration, whether that be the arbitrators themselves or advocates in front of them, with proceedings including high profile and precedent setting treaty cases involving claims against India, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Serbia.
Recent cases include a team of three barristers successfully defending Ukranian billionaire businessman Gennadiy Bogolyubov against a $300 million fraud claim tried over 12 weeks in the Commercial Court, and Hefin Rees QC appearing before the Privy Council in a case arising from an alleged international bribery scheme in which two senior Russian executives of Eurochem (one of the world’s largest manufacturer of fertiliser) had allegedly received secret commission payments of $45 million. Adam Temple successfully acted for the Financial Conduct Authority who had taken action against unregulated companies who had contacted more than 2,000 consumers leading to the transfer of pensions worth around £91.8 million, with the unregulated companies then investing the money into high risk investments.
The set has its own International Advisory and Dispute Resolution Unit (IADRU) with members providing advisory, dispute resolution and pro bono services in developed and emerging markets. It says the aim is “to provide services for governments and their agencies, international organisations and commercial clients”.
Respondees to the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey describe the work at 3VB as being a “great mix of commercial and public international law work”. Such “groundbreaking, precedent-setting stuff” comes at a price though. Like most commercial sets, you can expect to work between 50-59 hours in an average week. However, the 58 junior barristers aren’t just thrown in at the deep end without armbands. If you find yourself struggling, you can expect support from senior silks. An insider tells us an anecdote where he was pacing the 3VB halls thinking about a case one evening, when one of the set’s 30 QCs spotted him and invited him to start chatting: “Hours later at 10pm we were in his room debating the point and pulling out authorities together. It was immeasurably helpful and hugely generous.”
Outside of work, there is a “good rapport” among the 80ish tenants. But while individuals may “meet regularly for lunch” or have “beers at the pub”, this is not formalised. The chambers has expanded in recent years, making notable hires such as Farhaz Khan from Outer Temple. 3VB also raided 39 Essex Chambers, recruiting a silk and four juniors in 2018. There has been a notable return, too. After stepping down as the judge in charge of the London Commercial Court, Sir William Blair (elder brother of former PM Tony) returned to 3VB at the end of 2017. Highlighting the close links between 3 Verulam Buildings and the financial world, Blair Senior was appointed Chair of the Bank of England’s Enforcement Decision Making Committee in 2018.
There are usually up to four pupillags on offer at 3VB. Pupils receive four supervisors and sit with each for three months, as well as working for other members of chambers. Rookies sit in their supervisors room and help draft statements of case, complete legal research, write advices, as well as attend conferences, hearings and trials. They also take part in advocacy exercises and receive feedback from the set’s QCs, who are all qualified advocacy trainers for their Inns — no pressure then.
3VB’s website says pupils and new tenants benefit from working on “high-quality, heavy-weight commercial litigation, very often with an international dimension, and involving leading solicitors’ firms in the City of London and overseas”. Pupils also receive what the set calls “shadow pupil supervisors”, who are more junior members who provide access to smaller pieces of work of the “type ordinarily seen by a tenant in the early years of practice”, as there is a limited amount of advocacy in second six; smaller case opportunities to appear alone in second six and in early tenancy are available in the county courts and High Court. 3VB says pupils should expect to work very hard at times, but they are not normally expected to regularly work late into the evenings or weekends.
Since the refurbishment, the facilities available have improved. 3VB rookies highlighted the “good-sized to very large” individual rooms. Comments praised the “excellent facilities for meetings and great support staff for IT, billing and facilities management”. Credit for this “very well-run operation” goes to the management team led by chambers director Stewart Thompson. Unusually for the bar, the set signed a deal with a tech company to implement a new chambers management system which is “fit for the digital era.”
3 Verulam Buildings seeks pupillage candidates with high intellectual and analytical ability, written communication skills, oral advocacy and impact, temperament, commercial sense and motivation. The set states successful candidates “usually have a first or a master’s degree (or both)”. It has taken on an impressive eight of its last nine pupils as tenants and indicative of its success, had recently upped its pupillage award to £70,000.
Alongside several other commercial chambers, 3VB is part of a mentoring scheme for underrepresented groups at the bar, and also states that applications from female and non-white aspiring barristers are “particuarly welcome”. Further social mobility and equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives the set has put its name to include the Charter for Black Talent in Finance and the Professions, which aims to “redress the balance for black professionals in the workplace” and Bridging the Bar, a charity which provides mini-pupillages (among other opportunities) to those from underrepresented groups. 3VB has also provided funding towards criminal pupillages which would have been cancelled due to the financial impact of Covid-19.