4 Stone Buildings
The Legal Cheek View
4 Stone Buildings is a leading commercial chancery set made up of 40 members, including nine 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. They will also be hosting the Legal 500 Disputes Summit in Dubai in Autumn. 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 worked on by tenants at the set include Andrew de Mestre KC and James Knott appearing in an appeal to the Supreme Court in relation to a claim against HSBC stemming from a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, Jonathan Crow KC representing the executor of the Duke of Edinburgh’s will, Sharif Shivji KC defending Credit Suisse in a $2 billion claim brought by Mozambique regarding the ‘tuna bonds scandal’, and Andrew de Mestre KC, Lara Hassell-Hart, and Nicholas Cox appearing in the High Court’s first ever application for special administration of an energy supply company, namely Bulb Energy.
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.
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”. 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.
4 Stone Buildings welcome applicants from all backgrounds and participates in a wide-range of initiatives to enhance diversity at the Bar, including Briding the Bar, 10,000 Black Interns, and the Bar Placement Scheme.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
Going into university, I was unsure as to what future career I wanted to pursue. I had looked into the law as an option but was aware that I could qualify as a lawyer by doing a conversion course whatever undergraduate subject I studied. I decided to keep my options open and applied to study history, a topic I enjoyed and did well in.
I obtained a place to study history at Keble College, Oxford. In my second year, I began researching potential career options. After doing a few mini-pupillages and work experience in a solicitor’s firm, I found myself interested in a career at the Bar.
I studied the GDL and BPTC at City, University of London, funding my degrees with an Exhibition and Princess Royal Scholarship from the Inner Temple respectively. During these years, I tried to get as much experience in advocacy and the law as possible, to support my pupillage applications. I competed in mooting competitions and did mini-pupillages in various different areas of law. I also worked as a summer volunteer case worker for Advocate (then the Bar Pro Bono Unit).
I obtained pupillage in my second round of applications during my BPTC year. This left me with a year to fill before the start of my pupillage. I spent the summer after my BPTC working as an intern at UNCITRAL in Vienna. The experience was highly rewarding. I met lawyers from various jurisdictions and got a good insight into international commercial law. I funded my internship by drawing down on my pupillage award. There are also internship awards and scholarships offered by the Inns of Court, that I recommend for people interested in applying for similar internships. On returning to London, I spent the rest of the year as a paralegal at a litigation firm. I found this to be a great learning experience and got exposure to the more practical aspects of litigation that you can’t really learn on the BPTC.
The pupillage experience
As a pupil at 4 Stone Buildings you sit with four different supervisors. Your first six is split into two seats of 3 months each, while your second six is split into seats of roughly two months and four months, so that all supervisors can see your work before a tenancy decision is made in July. Going into your second six, you also begin doing work for more senior members of chambers.
My pupillage consisted almost entirely of live work. If my supervisor was drafting a pleading, skeleton, or opinion, I would do the same. I discussed my supervisors’ cases with them as they developed, and carried out legal research on points of law that arose. I found this to be a very useful way to learn and quickly get to grips with areas of law that I was previously unfamiliar with.
Just before I was about to begin my second six, the first lockdown was imposed. Chambers was highly supportive throughout. My supervisors made sure to maintain regular contact, as did the junior members of chambers. Virtual Chambers’ Tea was held on a daily basis by Zoom, and further virtual chambers events were organised to keep people in touch.
The transition from pupil to tenant
I started my own work in the final month of pupillage under the supervision of my pupil supervisor. As I began as a tenant members of chambers, from the junior to senior, were always willing to lend an ear if I encountered a difficult issue.
Soon after starting as a tenant, I was brought in on a case in Dubai International Finance Centre with a four member counsel team, which was a great learning experience for early practice. As result I ended up spending just under two months of my first year as a tenant working out in Abu Dhabi.
What is your practice like now?
My practice consists of a roughly equal mix of led and unled work. A lot of my cases also have international elements to them. I have found the work to be highly rewarding and varied. My cases have required me to get to grips with a wide range of topics, from elevator design standards and the market for collectible comic books, to Islamic finance regulations in the UAE and issues as to the scope of the Court’s equitable jurisdiction to make freezing orders.
I am in court roughly once a week, but this can vary. I have some months where I am in court multiple times a week, and other months where I am working towards a big hearing and keep a clearer diary. I try to make time whenever possible to take on pro bono cases through Advocate.
What is the culture of chambers?
From the first day of pupillage onwards I have found everyone in chambers to be very supportive and friendly. Chambers has a very collegiate atmosphere. Members of chambers both senior and junior are always happy to assist or to just have a chat. The clerks are very good at supporting you during your early years, and helping you develop your practice in the direction you want.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Many of the students I meet have no sense of what commercial chancery law is because it covers a wide range of subjects. That’s not a problem as a student or at the stage of applying to mini-pupillages. However, by the time of applying for pupillage on the Pupillage Gateway, it helps to have a basic understanding of which areas of practice each chambers does. For my chambers that means understanding the sorts of disputes that arise in commercial litigation and how those engage specific areas such as company law or insolvency law, as well as practicalities such as what an arbitration is. Most of our applicants have access to databases like Practical Law or Lexis PSL. I recommend candidates go on the subject specific areas and spend a few hours reading the introductory articles on issues like the duties of company directors; implied terms in contracts; the principles for assessing damages; and what happens when someone goes bankrupt. Our pupillage committee is not looking for a detailed knowledge of the law, or even any knowledge whatsoever. However, they are looking for candidates who know what sort of work barristers at 4 Stone Buildings do, and are interested to learn more.