4 Stone Buildings is a leading commercial chancery set made up of 41 members, including ten KCs. The nature of the work taken on by the set has changed over the years — originally a predominantly chancery set, it now mainly takes on work with a commercial element. Work, however, is predominantly commercial chancery as opposed to pure commercial. Financial services, banking, restructuring and insolvency, and shareholder disputes are all key sources of work for tenants at this impressive set.
The wide range of interesting work on offer at 4 Stone Buildings is one of the key attractions for aspiring barristers. Tenants tell us that there is “never a dull moment” with work taken on by the set including Lehman Brothers entering into insolvency, the collapse of the Maxwell empire, and litigation concerning LIBOR manipulation. We are told that “each day brings new and stimulating challenges”. There are also opportunities to undertake international work, with chambers having particular experience in the Caribbean and the Far East. Following their success last year, the set’s Dubai conference is now an annual event and will be running again in 2024.
The versatility of the work, and the frequent difficulty of defining it into neat categories, means that 4 Stone Buildings belongs to both the Commercial Bar Association and the Chancery Bar Association.
Recent exciting cases include Andrew de Mestre KC and Lara Hassell-Hart acting for OFGEM in the first cases to consider the implications of the insolvency of multiple energy supply companies, Jonathan Crow KC acting for the claimants in high-profile contempt proceedings against Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and Richard Hill KC and Greg Denton-Cox defending VTB in the $2 billion claim brought by the Republic of Mozambique in the “tuna bonds scandal” which is heading for a 12-week trial.
From the junior perspective, an insider tells us that “the work at 4SB is a great mix of complex, high value litigation where juniors work in teams with more senior barristers, and smaller matters where juniors run the case and do the advocacy”. We are also told that there is a good combination of general contractual disputes and technical issues such as insolvency, meaning a balance of being on your feet and being sat researching the law. Whilst it is possible to specialise into certain areas later on in your career, we hear that most members retain a broad practice.
Within Chambers, we hear that there is an open door policy and always someone to help you out if you are struggling with a complex case. One junior tells us “members of chambers are very generous with their time if junior members need a sounding board”. Similarly, the “truly excellent” clerks are always on hand to help: “If a problem has arisen the clerks have always gone out of their way.” The clerks are also supportive of members trying to strike that elusive work/life balance. Whilst there are inevitable “peaks and troughs”, we are told “the clerks are extremely supportive in that regard and make sure that the barristers don’t burn themselves out”. As one tenant sums up: “I consider myself extremely fortunate to work among such lovely people”.
For those wanting to spend more time with their “lovely” colleagues, 4 Stone Buildings regularly puts on a Chambers’ tea, where members can chat about work or anything else. A new addition — or “recent improvement” as one junior puts it — is the introduction of Thursday drinks in the clerks’ room. We hear there are a few parties each year, such as the summer and Christmas parties, but generally the social side is a bit on the light side compared to other sets. As one tenant puts it, “it is fair to say we are not a set full of party animals”. Chambers do, however, participate in annual charitable events such as the London Legal Walk and the City of London 5K race.
4 Stone Buildings takes its social responsibility seriously with pro-bono playing a big role at the set: tenant Sharif Shivji KC has recently become Chair of Advocate, the Bar’s pro bono organisation, while Andrew de Mestre KC is the chair of the Chancery Bar Association’s pro bono committee. The set has also recently established a Green Committee to provide a focus for its environment related CSR initiatives.
In terms of where 4 Stone Buildings is located, it finds itself in a historic building in Lincoln’s Inn. Just outside, there is a “stunning 18th century quad”. Inside, each barrister has their own room and we are told that “incredibly high ceilings are a plus”. The only downside is that rooms can get quite chilly in the winter! Members are responsible for decorating their own rooms, so they can be as fancy as you wish. In terms of facilities, the IT system is said to run smoothly, with a “brilliant” IT team on hand for when there are problems. The set has also recently “massively improved access to online legal resources” and has “a new secure cloud-based platform”. It all sounds very sleek!
Those keen to complete pupillage at 4 Stone Buildings must apply through the Pupillage Gateway and will be assessed on intellectual ability, as well as the competences set out in the Bar Standard Board’s Professional Statement for Barristers, which includes an ability to work with others, professional standards, and personal values. Those scoring highest on the written application will be invited to an interview. Unusually, 4 Stone Buildings operates a single-round interview process, with those performing best being invited to take up a pupillage offer.
Those fortunate enough to obtain one of two pupillages on offer each year will receive a generous award of £75,000. Each pupil will sit with four different supervisors, reading their papers, attending conferences, drafting documents, writing draft opinions, and accompanying their supervisor to Court. They will also have the opportunity to complete work for other members of Chambers should particular areas of work interest them. Unlike many commercial and chancery sets, the second six is not practising — the emphasis will continue to be on learning. This will suit some aspiring barristers and not others. All pupils at 4 Stone Buildings are provided with a mentor and are encouraged to attend events such as Chambers’ tea. Overall, one recent pupil describes: “pupillage was a comprehensive, supportive and enriching process”.
4 Stone Buildings welcome applicants from all backgrounds and participates in a wide-range of initiatives to enhance diversity at the Bar, including Bridging the Bar, 10,000 Black Interns, and the Bar Placement Scheme.