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.
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.