The Legal Cheek View
3VB is a leading commercial set, with particular strengths in banking, financial services, commercial dispute resolution, and civil fraud. Other practice areas handled by the 95 tenants at the set include professional negligence, commercial chancery, and information technology, among others.
A heavyweight set with cases involving figures into the billions, tenants at 3VB provide specialist advice and advocacy services both domestically and worldwide. Members have appeared in the Cayman Islands, Dubai, Cyprus, and Abu Dhabi, to name a few — we’re not jealous at all! Arbitration is also an ever-growing area of expertise for the set, with 3VB developing a reputation as one of the premier sets for public international law matters.
Tenants at 3VB describe that they take on “top flight international commercial and banking work” with “lots of legally complex problems, interesting facts and challenging clients”. Indeed, members have acted in blockbuster banking cases including the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and the Icelandic banks. More recent exciting cases include the COVID-19 Business Interruption Test Case and Farhaz Khan — who has since taken Silk — acting for Lloyd’s of London who has issued a Public Censure against Atrium Underwriting Limited in ground-breaking non-financial misconduct proceedings relating to discrimination, harassment, and bullying — the first Public Censure of its kind.
On top of all of this, 3VB has its own International Advisory and Dispute Resolution Unit (IADRU), launched in 2019, to support members of Chambers providing pro bono and quasi pro bono services in the international arena.
The figures in some of these cases are eye-watering. Whether it be two members of Chambers — Adam Kramer KC and Michael Lazarus — appearing on opposite sides of an £80 million Court of Appeal decision on exclusion of damages for wasted costs or Andrew Onslow KC acting for defendants in a DKK12.7 billion (£1.48 billion) landmark case brought by Denmark’s tax revenue agency, the numbers can certainly be intimidating. The reality for juniors, however, is that they will be taking on a variety of work, both more or less valuable, led or unled.
One junior tenant points out that how stimulating the work is depends on what sort of work you’re doing, citing “arguing a new point of law versus document review” as an example. While the big cases are appealing, a junior tells us that this valuable work, which tends to involve being led by a KC, inherently leads to the junior barristers working on the case “spending limited time on their feet”. There are, however, opportunities for advocacy at the junior end in smaller County Court matters.
The quality of the work taken on by tenants at 3VB does come at a price — like most commercial sets, you can expect to work between 50-59 hours in an average week. We are told that “work is unpredictable and can be very stressful” but that there is “a huge amount of respect for holiday — if you say you are not around, that will never be called into question by practice managers”. Ultimately, we are told that “3VB lets you develop the style and intensity of practice that each member wants”.
The set also ensures juniors aren’t just thrown in at the deep end without armbands. Throughout pupillage, pupils receive “invaluable” and “very practical” training with “helpful feedback”. We are told though that “there is always more to learn”. If you find yourself struggling, you can expect support from senior silks. The “collegiate atmosphere” and “open door policy from the top silks to the baby juniors” are praised by tenants at the set. One insider tells us an anecdote where he was pacing the 3VB halls thinking about a case one evening, when one of the set’s KCs 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 95 tenants at 3VB. We are, unsurprisingly, told that social life “suffered during the pandemic but it is reviving now”. We hear that the junior end in particular is “very collegial” with plenty of opportunities for informal coffee or drinks. There are a “reasonable amount” of larger events organised, such as the annual summer and Christmas parties, as well as cheese tastings!
3VB’s buildings overlook peaceful Gray’s Inn Gardens, giving tenants some of the loveliest thinking spaces in legal London. The old period buildings —currently undergoing a full refurb — provide “a modern workspace with an old-world charm”. Since the refurbishment started, the facilities available have improved. 3VB rookies highlighted the “good-sized to very large” individual rooms. Tenants also praised the “excellent facilities for meetings and great support staff for IT, billing and facilities management”. One tenant does however bemoan the old-fashioned layout within the building — we hear there are many staircases so you may want to leave your stilettos at home!
3VB offers up to four pupillages per year. The pupillage award is a generous £75,000. Successful applicants will receive four supervisors and sit with each for three months, as well as working for other members of chambers. Rookies sit in their supervisor’s room and help draft statements of case, complete legal research, write advices, and attend conferences, hearings and trials. They also take part in advocacy exercises and receive feedback from the set’s KCs, who are all qualified advocacy trainers for their Inns — no pressure then. By the end of pupillage, there is some “limited amount of advocacy” untaken by pupils on their own account, allowing them to build up experience. 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.
Prospective pupils must undertake an assessed two-day mini-pupillage at 3VB prior to applying for pupillage. They should then make their application through the Pupillage Gateway. Following this, around 35-40 of the highest scoring applicants (based on their paper application and the mini) will progress to the first-round interview, which is a 15-minute discussion with a panel of interviewers. Questions will be based on the candidate’s application form, and there will also be a law-related question to test the applicant’s analytical skills, oral advocacy and ability to think on their feet. The highest scoring 15 candidates will then be invited to a second-round interview. They will attend Chambers two hours before the interview and will be provided with a legal problem which they will prepare under controlled conditions. The 30-minute interview will then focus on this problem and more general questions.
3 Verulam Buildings seeks pupillage candidates with high intellectual and analytical ability, written communication skills, oral advocacy and impact, temperament, commercial sense and motivation. They state that “members of chambers come from diverse backgrounds and have taken many different routes to the Bar”. In support of its commitment to access to the legal profession, 3VB participates in COMBAR’s annual mentoring scheme for applicants from groups who are under-represented at the Bar. It is also a founding partner of social mobility charity Bridging the Bar.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
My route to the English Bar was less than straightforward. I studied law as an undergraduate degree in India and then moved to the UK for an LLM in international law at the University of Cambridge. It was only at this stage that I realised that a career at the English Bar was a viable option for me. I did the GDL (to convert my undergraduate degree to an English law equivalent) followed by the BPTC.
In the year following the BPTC and before the start of pupillage, I worked at the Centre for the Online Resolution of Disputes in India as their legal lead where I researched arbitration law and the use of technology in dispute resolution. Ironically, this stint began just before the start of the pandemic and so was a particularly interesting experience. I also taught law at the National Law Universities in Bangalore and Kolkata.
I would say that I did somewhere between 8 to 10 mini pupillages in between starting the GDL and applying for pupillage. These were mainly at commercial sets save for a few at sets practicing other areas of law at the very start. I did a mix of assessed and unassessed minis, starting with unassessed ones and then applying to the assessed minis.
Mooting was an activity I particularly enjoyed whilst at law school and although not strictly necessary on an application for pupillage, it is a fantastic way to hone your legal research and advocacy skills and something I would highly recommend. The Jessup and the Manfred Lachs moots particularly stand out as memorable for me: they were both brilliant opportunities to travel and interact with teams and judges from across the world.
The pupillage experience
Pupillage at 3VB is divided into 4 seats, each lasting 3 months and with a different member of chambers as supervisor. I was given a mix of research notes, skeleton arguments and opinions and would on average do about one substantial piece of work per week. However, this often varied depending on the type of work I was doing. The type of work typically depended on your supervisor but I did find that there was a good variety in terms of the areas of law, ranging from banking to general commercial litigation to public international law. I also found that a good chunk of the work I was doing was live work, meaning as part of an ongoing matter.
My pupillage was entirely remote (and from overseas) and while that came with its own challenges, chambers in general and my supervisors in particular really helped alleviate its effects. I typically talked to my supervisors at least once a day via teams/zoom. All of them were very considerate of the time difference and also made sure to remind me to take the evenings/weekends off.
There are also two main feedback sessions with members of the pupillage committee after your first and second seat each. These were quite detailed and provided a good gauge as to how the pupillage year was going.
The pupillage year also has four advocacy exercises: one unassessed and three assessed. These were a great way to get in some (remote) advocacy practice and the feedback from other members of chambers was very helpful.
Overall, I found that chambers and the pupillage committee were very supportive during the pupillage year, particularly given that ours was a remote pupillage. There really isn’t a sense of having to ‘compete’ for tenancy and it was genuinely an atmosphere that was conducive to learning and growing.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The transition from pupil to tenant can be equal parts daunting and exciting. Daunting because the safety net of pupillage is no longer there but exciting because you now get to build and shape your own practice. For my cohort, given that our entire pupillage had been remote, the shift was also particularly unusual.
However, it our case, the transition was made easier by a number of factors: the chambers orientation where we sit down with our practice managers and various members of staff to discuss how chambers operates and things we need to know as new tenants, other members of chambers who will often spend a lot of time patiently answering your questions and your peer group because there is a sense of figuring it out together. The fact that we had a practicing second six months of pupillage also really helped ease us in to tenancy as we got to take on a few smaller county court matters on the side as pupils.
What is your practice like now?
A typical working week usually involves a good mix of led and unled work, working on pleadings, skeleton arguments and the occasional written advice. I am typically in court by myself once every couple of weeks, usually for smaller claims and am led on the larger, more complex commercial disputes. I have also thus far been able to see a good mix of both commercial litigation as well as arbitration. The run up to a hearing or trial does tend to get quite busy but there is usually some down time afterwards to unwind.
What is the culture of chambers?
Chambers is generally quite a warm and welcoming place. People tend to be approachable and always happy to have a chat or go for a coffee. There are also quite a few social events from dinners, drinks and the occasional barbecue.
New tenants get their own room in chambers, usually overlooking the Gray’s Inn gardens (and sometimes the occasional stray fox!) so that is a nice perk.
The practice managers are all fantastic. They are proactive, routinely check in and always lend a helpful ear when you want to sound something out.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Some tips that I found to be generally helpful when applying for pupillage are:
(1) Research the chambers website and make a note of the criteria that they look for when assessing a pupillage application and tailor your application accordingly. The 3VB website for instance has quite a lot of information about mini-pupillages, the pupillage application process and pupillage itself. This is usually a good place to start.
(2) It is usually a good idea to treat your application like a piece of written advocacy: set out your reasons for wanting to join the bar and/or a particular set of chambers simply, clearly and concisely.
(3) Do as many minis as you can as they are probably the best way to gain insight into the Bar at that stage. Ideally if you are interested in a set of chambers, try and do a mini-pupillage there because it gives you a much better sense of what that chambers is like.
(4) Don’t hesitate to apply to any particular set of chambers if the type of work that they do interests you simply because you don’t think your profile may not be strong enough or that you may not fit in: there is really no ‘one size fits all’ and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!