4 New Square Chambers
The Legal Cheek View
Leading commercial set 4 New Square Chambers has expertise in commercial litigation, costs, and insurance, as well as being a heavyweight in areas such as professional negligence, sports law, and construction, to name but a few. Legal geeks will know that Sir Rupert Jackson, famous for being the architect of major reforms of the civil justice system, is a member of 4 New Square, having returned to the set as an arbitrator following his retirement from the Court of Appeal. His presence underlines the calibre of the set, which has almost 90 members, of whom 33 are KCs.
One junior at 4 New Square describes a “great spread of work including some very high-profile cases”. The broad range of work on offer ensures pupils and baby juniors can build up a wealth of experience, while more experienced practitioners can carve out their specialties. In terms of what is on offer, there is everything “from £1 billion commercial disputes, to high profile human rights cases and battles for Premier League football teams, with a solid supply of interesting professional indemnity work — all stimulating and exciting”.
We are told that this exciting work, while often undertaken by more senior members, benefits Chambers as a whole. “The 30-odd top commercial silks in chambers generate high quality work for busy juniors, and vice versa. It all contributes to a hugely optimistic feeling of a chambers going from strength to strength”, one insider informs us. Indeed, we are told by juniors that there is a “great mix” of led and unled work and good opportunities for “regular court appearances for advocacy experience”.
Recent high-profile cases worked on include Tom Ogden and Will Harman successfully acting for the defendant in an $11 million (£9.49 million) claim relating to PPE procurement for the NHS at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicholas Bacon KC and Ben Smiley succeeding in the Supreme Court in an important case confirming when a solicitors’ equitable lien arises, and Pippa Manby successfully obtaining a substantially reduced ban for professional cricketer, Tom Wood, in anti-doping proceedings.
With such significant cases coming through the clerks’ room, there are “plenty of people to bounce ideas off”, with there always being “a senior person willing and able to help with every worry one might have”. There is apparently “a real sense of camaraderie” within Chambers, with one tenant who moved from another set saying that 4 New Square is in a “different league to my former chambers” — they didn’t reveal which chambers this was! Another insider candidly reveals that “4 New Square is a truly inclusive, supportive working environment”, which they personally “recently benefited enormously from”. 4 New Square’s commitment to inclusivity is also highlighted by it being a signatory to the Women in Law Pledge, a cross-organisation collab between the Bar Council, the Law Society, and CILEX to support the progress of women in senior roles. During pupillage, pupils are assigned a mentor who is there to support them on a strictly confidential basis, ring-fenced from the pupillage assessment system. The mentoring doesn’t stop here. Junior barristers can also choose to receive help from up to two mentors during their first few years of tenancy.
There is no escaping, however, the fact that life at the Bar can be demanding, especially at a leading commercial set like 4 New Square. Nonetheless, effort is put into “actively encouraging” a good work/life balance with one insider reporting: “I like working hard and then relaxing completely, and chambers helps me to do exactly that. There is no pressure to do more than I want to do.” We are told the clerks are particularly supportive and “want to help barristers find a good work/life balance”, while silks will insist that juniors turn off their emails when away on holiday. There are, however, “inevitable compromises” to be made when practising at such a heavyweight set.
It isn’t all work, however. There is an active social scene at 4 New Square, with one insider revealing that there is “loads going on if you want it”, and for those that do, it is “not just for the youngsters; partners and friends are always welcome along to bigger events”. The set has lunchtime running clubs and a climbing group, as well as more traditional lunches and drinks evenings. Summer and Christmas parties are also regular features, as are silks’ parties which we’re sure are very glamorous. One tenant who prefers to focus down time at home, nonetheless has “rich and rewarding long-term friendships with colleagues”. Who says it’s lonely at the Bar?
In terms of the building itself, 4 New Square’s two building premises is set in Lincoln’s Inn. We are told it is a “great combination of stately splendour with all modern cons”. Even better, each barrister gets their own room which, we are told, are “gorgeous”. Alongside its beauty, 4 New Square is “exceptionally well equipped”, with IT provision being “first rate”. One tenant says that, in terms of IT support, they “could not ask for more, and that is from someone who has no IT know-how and needs a lot of help”. The view over New Square also doesn’t seem so bad!
Those aspiring barristers who have their heart set on 4 New Square will be battling it out for one of three pupillages on offer each year. Applications are made through the Pupillage Gateway. Those who score highest on their paper application will be invited to a short interview, general in nature, with two members of Chambers. The most successful candidates will then be invited to a more extensive second round interview in front of a panel.
4 New Square looks for candidates who can demonstrate intellectual ability, oral and written advocacy skills, personal qualities such as reliability and integrity, and motivation to succeed at the Bar. They emphasise that they recruit on merit alone, irrespective of background. Indeed, 4 New Square are one of the sets participating in COMBAR’s mentoring scheme for underrepresented groups at the Bar.
Once you’re in, we’re told the pupillage programme is “well designed, transparent and professional”. With a practising second six, there is opportunity for pupils to get on their feet about once a week and build up their skills. While tenancy isn’t guaranteed, the set’s pupillages are designed to develop pupils so each reaches the required objective standard for tenancy. One former pupil tells us: “Pupillage at 4NS is very thorough. You get a lot of feedback on your work product and have to do some fairly challenging formal assessments. I think you come out of the process with a very good grounding in the fundamentals of legal practice, which is a great platform to build from. I get the feeling we get in court a little bit more than other commercial sets which is another plus because there is no substitute for it when it comes to improving your advocacy.” You can listen to the set’s own podcast where several former pupils discuss life as a pupil.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics for my undergraduate degree at Oxford University, before going straight on to do both the GDL and BPTC at City University in London. I didn’t have much legal work experience before starting law school, so ended up applying for and doing quite a few mini-pupillages during the first term of the GDL. City provided various opportunities for mooting, both internally and externally, so I was also able to gain experience of that at the same time.
I applied to a number of sets of chambers following my first term of the GDL. I had already done mini-pupillages at some, though not all, of them. These were all sets operating outside the “Pupillage Gateway”, so their application processes varied. However, in broad terms each consisted of: (i) a written application, including a full CV and answering various questions about your attributes, why you wanted to be a barrister etc; (ii) if selected, a short first-round interview, usually in front of one or two members of chambers; and (iii) if successful, a longer second-round interview in front of a larger panel, often involving a legal problem which candidates had to work through.
The pupillage experience
I first became aware of 4 New Square when they ran the introductory mooting course for City students during the first week of the GDL. This is a great event where each group of four is assigned their own member of chambers, who judges a moot and then gives feedback on oral advocacy. I subsequently applied for a mini-pupillage there, which I enjoyed, and so made a full application for pupillage. I was attracted in particular by the prestigious varied nature of the work, as well as the opportunities to be in court and doing oral advocacy from a very early stage.
My pupillage at 4 New Square was divided into three “seats”, the first two of three months each and the final one of six months. During each seat, I sat with a different supervisor, each of whom were of around ten years call. The day-to-day experience of pupillage was carrying out work for your supervisor, whether assisting with their current work or being set a task based on work they had done in the past. All work done for our supervisors was marked by them and we were given regular feedback. There were also, throughout the year, four written assessments set by members of chambers other than the pupil supervisors. These would be marked by the setter and formed another part of the overall decision. These assessments took the form of pleadings or advice which we had around 24-hours to complete. Finally, there were two moots held by chambers, where the pupils would moot against one another, judged by former members of chambers who are now High Court or Court of Appeal judges. These were very enjoyable, not only because you got to go up against your fellow pupils but also because it provided something very different to the usual experience of sitting behind your supervisor in court!
At the end of each seat, we would receive a full written appraisal and attend a formal review meeting. The process is very transparent; it was always made clear to us at each stage how things were going and any areas which needed improvement. Finally, after nine months (i.e. in the middle of the third seat) we received a decision on whether we would be offered tenancy.
The advantage of sitting with three different supervisors is that it allows you to see the full spectrum of chambers’ work. For example, during my pupillage I assisted with various claims for and against a wide array of professionals, a construction arbitration concerning a large development in London and a £50 million fraud and conspiracy claim arising out of the sale of classic cars.
Pupillage at 4 New Square also involves a practising second six, so during your third seat, alongside continuing to carry out work for your supervisor, you are able to accept instructions in your own right. This generally means getting “on your feet” and attending your own hearings. These tend to be relatively low-value claims in the County Court, but the opportunities they provide for real oral advocacy are invaluable. Unfortunately, the first lockdown hit just as my second six was starting, so my opportunities to get into court were initially quite limited. However, I was able to get into court (albeit remotely!) very frequently from the first few months of tenancy onwards. There may also be opportunities to work on larger cases while still a pupil. For example, towards the end of my pupillage I was instructed to carry out work relating to a high-profile insurance dispute, which involved (virtually) attending a two-week Commercial Court trial.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The transition can be a tricky one at the best of times, and it was made even stranger by the fact that the country was still in lockdown and I was largely working remotely. However, chambers is very supportive of new tenants and this helps make things as smooth as possible. For example, you usually begin by sharing a room with a more senior member of chambers who is around the same level of seniority as a pupil supervisor. I have found that this allows you to carry on learning things from them in your early months as a tenant – and it is also very useful to have a friendly ear whenever you encounter an issue for the first time!
During my first few months in chambers, I was instructed as part of a large counsel team in chambers in relation to a $1 billion Russian fraud claim in the Chancery Division. This was a case which I had previously assisted my supervisor on while still a pupil, so the fact that I was already familiar with the case was certainly very useful. I also increasingly began to attend my own hearings, mostly remotely, on a wide range of matters in the County Court and High Court. I am now instructed on a number of matters which I first encountered in my time as a pupil.
What is your practice like now?
My practice is split fairly evenly between larger matters where I am led by other, more senior, members of chambers, and working on my own cases. The latter category involves advising, drafting pleadings and other documents and attending court. I have a broad commercial practice, with a particular focus on professional liability, insurance, construction and civil fraud.
I have found that there is no such thing as a “typical working week” in this job, although generally I appear in court once or twice a week, with the rest of my time spent working on documents and attending conferences on other matters. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of litigation, the hours you might need to work in a given week are unpredictable. There are always going to be late nights and weekend work when you are in the middle of a big trial or a deadline is looming, but the flipside is that it is certainly possible to build in gaps in your diary when needed. Opportunities for work come in very frequently, so it can be a bit of a balancing act to work out the exact amount to take on and when. But the clerks are very supportive and understanding, which helps you to build the kind of practice that you want.
What is the culture of chambers?
Being able to work in handsome rooms overlooking New Square is definitely a perk of working at 4 New Square. Chambers also has several conference rooms on site, some of which are now equipped for video-conferencing and the new world of remote hearings. There are a number of kitchens for those who want to make breakfast, lunch or just a cup of coffee. 4 New Square is a relatively large set, spread across two buildings, so inevitably you get to know some colleagues better than others. People often have their doors open, which means you end up becoming very familiar with the people on your corridor. There was always a large contingent who would go for lunch together in the Hall at Lincoln’s Inn, which will no doubt regroup once it is open again!
Since the pandemic hit there have, obviously, been far fewer chambers events. However, chambers is usually a very sociable place and puts on various events for members and staff. There are regular chambers drinks and lunches, as well as larger parties at Christmas and in the summer. The annual dinner for juniors and clerks was a particular highlight.
The clerking team are excellent, and really go out of their way to make everything a lot smoother. Each barrister is assigned their own clerk, who manages their diary and day-to-day work, but you end up working with the whole team at various points. In the first few years of tenancy, chambers also holds “Practice Development Meetings” which are attended by you, your clerk, the senior clerk and a more senior member of chambers who acts as a “mentor”. These are a very good opportunity to assess your practice and work out what you want to be doing more of in future.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
One piece of advice you often hear is to “fill in the gaps” on your CV, and I would also recommend it. It might be that you have a very good academic record but very little legal experience, so you would benefit from doing more mini-pupillages. Or perhaps you don’t have much experience of oral advocacy, and it would be advisable to enter a few mooting competitions or take on pro bono work through programmes like the Free Representation Unit or School Exclusion Project. I would certainly advise people to start doing mini-pupillages as early as possible, so that you don’t end up in the position I was in – i.e. trying to squeeze them all into the space of a couple of weeks! Doing an array of mini-pupillages allows you both to experience lots of different areas of law, so you can decide which you’d like to go into, and then to demonstrate to those sets where you would like to apply for pupillage in future that you are serious about doing so. Many chambers will offer mini-pupillages to students in their second or third year of university, and it is always worth checking in any case.
I found that the pupillage application process at 4 New Square placed a real emphasis on the quality of your oral advocacy. Specifically, the panel wanted to see that you were able to argue and defend a position persuasively. They were not as concerned with the amount of black letter law you knew, but rather your ability to analyse problems and then make arguments in the most convincing way possible. One task at the second-round interview was to give a five minute presentation to the panel on a topic of the candidate’s own choosing, which had nothing at all to do with law. This was definitely useful for me, I had only been in law school for a term when I applied but had always enjoyed advocacy in all its forms! I would also recommend looking at the kinds of work and cases members of chambers have been involved in recently, both so you can see whether it is something you would also like to be doing, and to allow you to demonstrate that it is a place you would thrive as a pupil.
The final piece of advice I would give to all applicants is to be resilient. It is a tough process, and there is always going to be some rejection along the way. But showing that you are able to stick with it is a great way to demonstrate that you are a good candidate, and also prepares you well for life at the bar.