5 Essex Court pupillage student

5 Essex Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

If police work is your area of interest, 5 Essex Chambers is the place to go! A civil set with a stellar reputation, 5 Essex Chambers is one of the leaders in this field when it comes to defence of the forces, but it also has specialisms in inquests, public inquiries, investigations, employment, professional discipline, and public and administrative work, among others. Acting for the police and for government also means a lot of human rights cases come their way. You can expect to find members appearing everywhere from disciplinary panels to coroners’ courts to the Supreme Court. Their location opposite the Royal Courts of Justice (“and, equally importantly, Pret”) is pretty convenient too! 

5 Essex Chambers is made up of 52 tenants — including six KCs — who take on a range of interesting work. Members are instructed by every police force in England and Wales and by Police Scotland, meaning there is often a lot of travelling around the country. Cases might involve defending the police in cases of false imprisonment, use of facial recognition technology, or misfeasance in public office. One tenant tells us: “We are lucky enough to get a lot of fascinating cases which involve balancing different public law rights.” Another junior adds: “I’m involved in some incredibly exciting police law cases, involving characters such as an alleged Neo Nazi, terrorists, Organised Crime Group Members, bent cops – it’s all very Line of Duty!” There is the opportunity “to argue novel points of law” and every case “has its own challenges and rewards”.

It’s not just police work, however — though there’s no escaping that it is at the crux of this set. You can find tenants defending teachers in regulatory proceedings, representing NHS Trusts in defending claims for discrimination, and even acting as lead counsel to the Mayor of London in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. What ties the work of members of 5 Essex Chambers together is that it often attracts media attention. As one member puts it, 5 Essex Chambers’ work is “of high public interest — involving novel and cutting edge issues affecting large sections of the public and issues of great controversy”. One junior tenant gushes: “When I read some of my papers, it is more interesting than the most exciting thriller you could imagine” — watch out James Patterson! It certainly all sounds very exciting! As one tenant quite simply puts it, they are “living the dream!”

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A recent high-profile case worked on by members of 5 Essex Chambers was Anne Studd KC appearing in a matter involving the former Welsh Rugby and British & Irish Lions Captain, Gareth Thomas, who was accused of recklessly transmitting HIV to a previous partner. Studd KC successfully acted for the Claimant, who was the first in the country to recover damages as the victim of reckless HIV transmission. Other cases saw Victoria von Wachter successfully argue to strike out a claim of disability discrimination against a constable who claimed to have been disadvantaged by disciplinary action arising out of inappropriate behaviour, Jason Beer KC appearing in the Court of Appeal in an important case concerning the reach of Article 2 ECHR in relation to those who are vulnerable and lack the mental capacity to make decisions regarding their care and treatment, and Dan Hobbs securing a finding of gross misconduct for an undercover police officer who engaged in a sexual relationship with a woman he was spying on while working undercover.

Where do pupils and baby juniors fit into all this exciting work? Well, we are told they get the chance to get stuck into interesting cases from the get-go. They are not sitting around doing document review — instead, their “‘bread and butter’ is serious cases involving stalkers, paedophiles and drug dealers”. A former pupil told us that in their pupillage year they “collected two High Court challenges in two days — that indicates the high level work undertaken”. Meanwhile a baby junior tells us that in their first year of tenancy they worked on four major public inquiries: the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Post Office Inquiry, the infected blood inquiry, and a police shooting inquiry. They also appeared solo in the High Court and frequently appeared in the Crown Court. There’s certainly plenty to keep you on your toes! 

With so much going on in Chambers, it is all the more important that there is a supportive culture. Fortunately, we hear that the members of 5 Essex Chambers are “honestly the nicest bunch you could ever hope to meet”. One tenant tells us that “despite being surrounded by some terrific intellectual ability, everybody is very humble and extremely happy to help with any conundrum”. There is an open door policy throughout Chambers, as well as a WhatsApp group among pupils and juniors (in which both legal questions and memes are exchanged), ensuring “there is always someone who can provide advice and support”. The group chat is also apparently “an endless source of amusement”. One response to our question about colleagues was simply “I love those guys!” — how sweet! 

The supportiveness of colleagues extends to all areas. We hear there is great support for parental and adoption leave, as well as a “wonderful” clerking team. Inevitably, work/life balance can be a challenge — this will be true of any good set. One tenant confides that striking the balance is “an endless struggle” but also states that the clerks are there to support and will “often flag that I need a holiday before I realise it myself”.  One tenant notes: “The large amount of women in chambers means that childcare and family arrangements are spoken about and accounted for much more than in other chambers”. Senior clerk Mark Waller gets a special shoutout for being “superb” in terms of helping tenants strike the right balance.  Senior members of Chambers are also said to be supportive in this regard. One junior tells us they generally take a holiday every couple of months to recharge. “Nevertheless”, says one junior, “the bar remains a demanding profession so there will be periods when members are working long hours”.  

In terms of the social side of Chambers, we hear it is common for members to grab lunch together. There is also apparently “a very active junior end” who meet regularly for drinks. Bigger events are also organised and apparently members at 5 Essex Chambers “love any excuse for a party and we have plenty — judicial appointments, silks, new tenants, new babies and Legal Cheek awards” — who wouldn’t want to celebrate that!  One junior jokes: “We have some real characters in Chambers which adds to the fun!” We do hear from some members that more people working from home post-Covid and barristers being so busy can make getting together tricky, but the overall consensus is that “when members do get together it is fun”. 

After almost 70 years at Middle Temple, 5 Essex Chambers has recently moved to beautifully renovated, stylish offices in Gray’s Inn which have state of the art conference facilities, fully equipped to accommodate both in person and remote hearings and meetings. The new premises provide the space for Chambers to grow in a modern working environment which is also reflected in the new contemporary brand. 

For those sold on 5 Essex Chambers, applications should be made through the Pupillage Gateway. The set takes on up to three pupils a year and offers an award of £65,000 — although a portion of this is, unusually for pupillage, subject to a chambers’ levy. Marking the application, the Pupillage Committee will consider academic record, legal and non-legal experience, mini-pupillages, clarity and quality of presentation, and any other special or interesting features. The 30 highest-scoring applicants will be invited to a first-round interview where they will be asked to analyse and discuss a number of legal and ethical issues. The top 10 applicants will then be invited to a second-round interview, where they will be assessed according to legal knowledge, presentation, communication and interpersonal skills, and motivation. 

Those prospective pupils who are successful will typically have three pupil supervisors over the course of the year. They will spend their first six months predominantly shadowing and completing paperwork for their supervisor. In the second six, they will take on paperwork for other members of chambers and also begin to build their own practice. This will comprise of both advisory work and increasingly being instructed to appear in court — usually two to three times a week. The training throughout pupillage is said to be “excellent”. The in-house advocacy programme delivered by Master Alastair Hodge is particularly praised. There is also funding available for external courses, and with more senior members of chambers passing on their knowledge “the training never stops”.

5 Essex Chambers is keen to emphasise that it particularly encourages applications from black and minority ethnic candidates, and from those with non-traditional backgrounds. The set works in partnership with Middle Temple and Inner Temple to offer mini-pupillages and also participates in 10,000 Black Interns and the Bar Placement Scheme. This year, 5 Essex Chambers will also be running a series of online open evenings designed to give aspiring barristers an insight into the pupillage process and life at a top-tier Chambers. Find out more here.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Jennifer Wright

Your journey to pupillage

I attended a state comprehensive and went on to study philosophy at King’s College London, completing an MPhil and a PhD. Alongside this I taught undergraduates and ran philosophy classes in primary and secondary schools. I completed the conversion course and BPTC at the University of Law and threw myself into mooting, which I loved from the start. Mooting is a great way to develop clarity and precision in your advocacy but also a good chance to see whether you really enjoy thinking on your feet under pressure.

I had always been interested in public law – thinking about how the state interacts with individuals raises so many difficult and interesting questions – but I did mini-pupillages across a range of practice areas because I wanted to get a sense of what was out there and see what I enjoyed. Mini-pupillages can also give you an unbeatable insight into the atmosphere of a set. I spent a week at 5 Essex Chambers and the work was fascinating but what stood out was how friendly everyone was. The entire time people were popping in and out of each other’s rooms to discuss cases, introduce themselves, and just have a chat. It left a lasting impression and was a big factor in my decision to apply there for pupillage.

When I applied for pupillage my focus was on civil sets with a public law angle and I tried to apply across a range (comparing your CV with the five most recent tenants is a useful way to get a sense of whether you are aiming your applications realistically). Getting pupillage is a hugely competitive process which, in my view, always requires a bit of luck. However, you can stack the odds in your favour with a well organised application which demonstrates your skills and experience but is also properly tailored to the individual chambers. I have since been told that you should think of a written application like a skeleton argument for the outcome you want – a pupillage. I think this is exactly right. If you can show through both the content and the form that you are a persuasive advocate then you are demonstrating your skills two-fold.

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The pupillage experience

Pupillage at 5 Essex Chambers consists of three seats of four months, each with a different supervisor. At the start you will work very closely with your supervisor, shadowing them to court and completing first drafts of written work such as advices and pleadings. In this way you get stuck in right from the get-go. As you progress you will do more work for other members of chambers which is a good way to meet people and see different styles. Pupillage at 5 Essex Chambers doesn’t involve any formal assessments but whenever you do a piece of work you will receive written and oral feedback from the person you did it for and, if the work goes on to a client, often from them as well. I found this helpful and I remember it being very satisfying to see work I had done going out to clients. If you are invited to apply for tenancy there is a fairly short application to complete which you submit along with two pieces of written work. This is then considered by all members of chambers. Pupillage is always going to be a challenge but I appreciated how transparent the process was. It was always very clear at every stage what I had to do to succeed.

From the start you will also shadow other members of chambers in court – essentially if anyone has anything interesting they will invite you along. In my first six I saw a number of cases in the Court of Appeal and went to the Supreme Court to see one of our silks, Alan Payne QC, acting for the Home Secretary in a challenge to the United Kingdom’s immigration rules. The clerks will also ensure that you shadow more junior members on the kind of cases that you will be doing yourself in your second six. By the time I went on my feet I had seen a real mix of work and felt quite comfortable about getting started.

Compared to a lot of civil sets, there are a lot of opportunities for court exposure, and from the very start of your second six you can expect to be in court in your own right three to four days a week. You will also be doing your own advisory work and drafting pleadings. Police law is a real specialism for us so pupils will be in the Magistrates’ Court regularly making civil applications and in the Crown Court for appeals. I did a lot of Stalking Protection Orders, Sexual Harm Prevention Orders, and forfeiture applications under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Sometimes your opponent will be representing themselves, sometimes it will be a silk. Both require different approaches and so you build your skills fast! Due to the inherent variety of police law I also appeared in the Family Court for Forced Marriage Protection Orders and in Coroners’ Courts for inquests. The sheer variety allows you to gain experience very quickly and I can honestly say that I was never bored!

One of the reasons I chose 5 Essex Chambers was the quality of the work, which includes a lot of high-profile headline-grabbing cases which raise really fascinating public law issues. Pupils are also involved in these from the start and, as a pupil, I worked on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse with a fellow junior and silk from chambers. It was difficult subject matter but you also felt you were contributing towards ensuring that the terrible things which took place were recognised and prevented from happening again.

In terms of training, we have a series of in-house seminars delivered by more senior members ranging over the different kinds of work we do (judicial review, civil applications in the magistrates’ court, police law in the family court) to topics like managing your practice and client care. These are often well attended by other members so they are a great opportunity to meet people and learn from their experiences. In addition, we are lucky enough to have fantastic in-house advocacy training delivered by Master Alastair Hodge of Inner Temple. Getting this training and feedback in such a small group is an unparalleled opportunity to hone your skills.

The transition from pupil to tenant

Because we have such an active second six where you are effectively managing your own practice, the transition from pupil to tenant is quite smooth. You start to take on more complex cases and you no longer have a supervisor but all the informal mentoring continues and I still felt I had a lot of support and guidance available if I needed it. We also have a truly fantastic clerking team who are very active in helping you develop your practice and get experience in the areas of work which interest you.

As 5 Essex Chambers is involved in a lot of big cases including large-scale inquests and inquiries, there is a lot of scope for being led by more senior members of chambers which gives us juniors a chance to punch above our weight in terms of doing high-profile work. Recently, members have appeared in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Jermaine Baker Inquiry, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Anthony Grainger Inquiry, the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry, the Undercover Policing Inquiry, the Al Sweady Inquiry, the Baha Mousa Inquiry, the Leveson Inquiry and the Hillsborough Inquests. I am currently being led in the Brook House Inquiry which concerns allegations of mistreatment in an immigration removal centre (as was featured in the BBC’s undercover Panorama documentary) and I am also instructed as junior counsel in the inquests into the Fishmongers’ Hall terrorist attack. One thing I love about chambers’ ethos is that people are always keen to bring others in and work isn’t jealously guarded. There is a real sense that when one wins, we all win.

What is your practice like now?

Because of the kind of work that we do, which mixes applications and trials with large scale inquests and inquiries, my typical week varies a lot from month to month. Usually, I will be in court three to four days a week with the rest of the time spent on advisory work or pleadings. However, if I am preparing for a more substantial matter that might mean less time in court so it really varies. I really enjoy the fact that no two weeks are ever the same.

Like a lot of barristers, I tend to work fairly long hours and often do some work at the weekends. It is a demanding job but the payoff is that you get to do interesting, challenging work. In general though, 5 Essex Chambers encourages a fairly healthy work/life balance. We are always busy but the clerks keep an eye on your workload and check in regularly to ensure everyone is working at the pace they want to.

In terms of professional development, we have informal in-house talks from members of chambers and training is available for more junior members in specialist areas. For example, one member recently gave a webinar on Court of Protection work for those interested in incorporating that into their practice. Later on in the year, the employment team will be running training for those looking to develop their practice in that area.

What is the culture of chambers?

5 Essex Chambers is a genuinely friendly, informal, and egalitarian place. We are all on first name terms and I wouldn’t hesitate to (and regularly do) stick my head into anyone’s room to ask a question or have a chat. The physical layout of chambers mixes senior and junior members together so this interaction goes all the way up. I can honestly say that I am as happy picking up the phone to a baby junior as I am asking any of our silks for tips on a tricky point. We also have a superb clerking team and marvellous support staff, along with two wonderful cleaners who are as much part of the family as any of the barristers and who cannot be beaten for cheering you up after a hard day in court.

I went on my feet on 1 March 2020 just before the first lockdown so I wasn’t in chambers for most of my second six. Despite that, I still had a lot of contact with members and still felt included and well supported. I would speak regularly with my supervisors and was in daily contact with the other juniors, particularly through the baby junior’s WhatsApp group which is a great place to pose questions and discuss difficult cases. Even though we were locked down when I got tenancy, chambers sent a bottle of champagne to my house and we all had drinks on Zoom. Chambers tea on a Friday also persisted online throughout the lockdowns and we had a very lively Christmas party from our respective homes. It can be a challenging job at times and a lot of the work we do involves difficult and sometimes upsetting material. Given this, it’s great that chambers recognises the value of a collegiate atmosphere.

Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers

Because our work is quite niche in some ways we definitely look for applicants to demonstrate knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the particular kind of work that we do. There is an emphasis on police law and central government work and good applicants show that they appreciate the needs of these clients and the kinds of statutory duties they are under. Equally though, there is a real range. Members work in employment law (both claimant and defendant), personal injury, inquests and inquiries, and we are developing a specialism in data protection and information law.

Along with knowing what we do, the best advice I could offer to someone looking to apply to us (or to anyone else for that matter) is to read the annual reports we publish after each pupillage application round. These break down in detail the questions and tasks set for applicants at each stage of the process and explain what we were looking for and what made for better or worse responses. The idea behind it is to make the process more accessible so that everyone knows what they can expect regardless of their experience or background.

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Work/life balance
Social life
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2023-24 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 46
KCs 6
Pupillages 3
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 2/5

*Figure is for the five most junior members of chambers; does not include postgraduate studies.


Pupillage award £65,000
Bar course drawdown £10,000


Female juniors 44%
Female KCs 80%
BME juniors 26%
BME KCs 20%