“There’s a real sense of community in chambers and it’s always nice when you bump into someone,” says junior barrister William Harman. His expertise stretches across commercial dispute resolution, professional liability, sports law and construction. When we speak, he’s working on a case involving Russian oligarchs. Other recent highlights include working for the defence on an anti-doping charge brought against a former Olympic athlete and a claim involving allegations of fraud against solicitors.
Members of 4 New Square have appeared in several international courts and arbitrations. Juniors get in on the action too. One junior worked for an arbitrator in India, while another recently returned from a secondment in the British Virgin Islands. Some of the work Harman takes on also has an international element. He was recently instructed on a case involving asset tracing across different jurisdictions.
Pupillage is 12-months of training divided into two six-month periods. During the year, pupils are assigned three supervisors (the first two for three months each then the third for six months) as well as a mentor whom they can turn to should they need any pastoral support. “My mentor and I would go for coffees together which was nice”, says Harman.
You’re also given plenty of feedback; more so, Harman notes, than his friends at other similar commercial sets. Each formal piece of work is graded and every six weeks pupils get to review their work with the head of pupillage and senior clerk. “This was invaluable in helping me know whether I was on the right track,” he says. The mentoring continues after pupillage and Harman tells us tenants are allocated a mentor for the first three years of practice.
4 New Square places great emphasis on advocacy experience for its pupils. “I undertook a number of hearings as a pupil, more so than my friends in similar sets,” he says. Once, Harman was against his former pupil supervisor in the same litigation which was “a very strange experience!” When this does happen, chambers has stringent procedures to ensure effective information barriers are in place.
Pupils are offered tenancy if they show during pupillage that they meet an objective standard, not on a quota basis. So, if you show that you are good enough — you get taken on. However, 4 New Square aims to take on two tenants each year (and has taken on all three of its pupils this year). If you secure tenancy, the final three months of pupillage are spent transitioning from pupil to junior barrister. This was “exciting” for 2016-call Harman because he got to take on a lot more of his own work.
There’s plenty of interaction between juniors and senior members in chambers. Juniors will often share a room with a member more senior, something Harman finds useful because there’s always “someone on hand to learn from”. There’s the option to work remotely too, but Harman prefers his room at chambers: “It has a great view and is much nicer than my room at home!”
There are extensive opportunities to network with solicitors. Chambers host numerous events, parties and law firm dinners across the country. At a recent London event, there were over 1,000 solicitors in attendance, says Harman, who is about to complete a sponsored run with some of chambers’ solicitor contacts.
The hours can be unpredictable, but “that’s true of work life at the bar generally”. If Harman receives a skeleton argument from the other side after work hours with a hearing scheduled for the next day, “that will inevitably be a late night”, he says, “but I try to take time off the following week”. Indeed, this set places great importance on members’ welfare and a new committee has just been formed to administer this.
On the social side, a real effort is made in chambers. “One QC invited us to a garden party at his house,” reports Harman. Some days, the juniors will lunch together in the Old Hall at Lincoln’s Inn, or they’ll soak up sun rays and picnic in the surrounding fields. There’s also a strong bond between barristers and their clerks. “The clerks go out of their way to help you,” says Harman, whose clerk once chased down a letter he had mistakenly sent — all the way to the post office.
The University of Cambridge language graduate’s top tip for aspiring junior barristers is to “never be afraid to admit there is a gap in your knowledge”. Indeed, being confident enough to do so is something many interviewers will find more impressive than a simple guess. It’s also worth getting some early advocacy experience and a few mini-pupillages under your belt, advises Harman, who completed six, including one at 4 New Square. “It’s the best way to get a feel for chambers,” he says.
The 4 New Square application process was a welcome surprise for Harman, who applied without a law degree while undertaking the law conversion course. “It had less to do with my knowledge and more to do with discerning potential,” he recalls. This in mind, he recommends plenty of interview practice, rather than overly obsessing with law reports.