5 Essex Court

The Legal Cheek View

For sheer quality and variety of cases, civil law chambers 5 Essex Court is hard to beat. It is particularly well known for its police law work, which throws up a range of fascinating issues, and also specialises in public inquiries, inquests, employment, public and administrative law, and personal injury and clinical negligence.

With over 40 barristers including five QCs, this London set aims to recruit two pupils each year and offers the chance to get stuck in to interesting cases from the off. “5 Essex offers the most brilliant work — there is no sense of ‘you have to put in ten years’ graft before you get anything juicy,'” one junior tells us.

For a flavour of what to expect once you’ve been offered tenancy, in recent years juniors in chambers have appeared in the Grenfell Tower 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.

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One pupil says they “can count on one hand the days I have been bored. Members of chambers are regularly involved in the most high-profile and newsworthy cases at the cutting-edge of the law”. And such cases “aren’t just reserved for the QCs in chambers: junior members of chambers are frequently instructed in such matters”.

Barrister newbies rave about the “genuinely fascinating work at the cutting edge of public and private law with an opportunity to be involved in high profile cases from pupillage”. One pupil, now a tenant, worked on a case legalising homosexuality in Trinidad and Tobago. “Another junior tenant is acting for the Mauritian Government in relation to the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius.”

5 Essex Court again scores well in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2019-20. Former pupils are particularly complimentary about its “excellent” in-house advocacy training course, where pupils benefit from the tuition of “Inner Temple advocacy guru” Master Alastair Hodge. “Proper feedback” is given on each piece of work undertaken, while chambers pays for external training courses as well as providing a “talks programme specifically designed for our pupils and junior tenants on key legal topics and more practical things like marketing and tax issues”.

The training regime “is widely recognised as being second to none”. One former pupil recalls: “My supervisors were amazing — true leaders in their field and with endless patience to answer all my questions.” What’s more, juniors have “attended the Florida Bar Association civil advocacy course, which provides the opportunity to see how American lawyers run jury trials and gives an amazing opportunity for (free) foreign travel”.

The IT facilities are good, the reception and main conference room “look pretty swish” following a refurbishment and the rest of the building is “very pleasant” if “a bit more Premier Inn than The Ritz behind the scenes”. There is genuine affection for the place. It’s an old, listed building in Temple and members like that the “rooms have character” rather than being “super-swanky-shiny” and some “would not change it for the world”.

5 Essex Court definitely takes a collegiate approach. There is “an open door ethos”, which means you “can ask anyone for help with anything” and you are “positively encouraged to ask the stupid question”. Requests for help through email usually generate multiple responses, and there is “excellent camaraderie within chambers and support from both peers and silks alike”. A “very active” juniors’ WhatsApp group “is invaluable for novel/tricky legal questions”. And despite the weighty subject matter of the work, the atmosphere is far from stuffy. The head of chambers, no less, makes tea for everyone on Fridays. Colleagues are rarely too busy to help. “I love my colleagues,” says one rookie. “We all look out for each other offering advice and guidance that goes far beyond the legal to such grave and weighty matters as fashion, romance and Love Island.”

What The Junior Barristers Say

“There’s no pomp and circumstance” at 5 Essex Court, says John Goss, who studied law as a postgrad at Nottingham Law School after serving as a Royal Engineer officer in the British Army for six years, some of which was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having turned his energies to training for the bar, Goss joined 5 Essex Court as a pupil in 2015. “It’s a genuinely unstuffy, open and informal chambers,” he adds.

This is despite the fact that the work is high profile and not for the faint-hearted. In the second four months of his pupillage, Goss was working on one of the inquests to come out of four deaths at the Army’s Deepcut barracks in Camberley in the late 1990s. “I would do a first draft of something and then my supervisor, Francesca Whitelaw, would look at it. So at a very early stage, I had a real sense of contributing to what chambers was doing,” he recalls.

Goss says that the chambers provides particularly broad-based advocacy training: “For a civil set, 5 Essex Court has plenty of opportunity for court exposure. For instance, we do inquests and these are very different from civil courts because they often have a jury where the police are involved. There are plenty of opportunities to really examine evidence. Because they are neither purely civil nor criminal courts, it’s quite an unusual experience.”

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5 Essex Court’s bread and butter work at the junior end is police law work, in Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts representing police forces on operational orders such as anti-social behaviour injunctions or cash forfeitures. “Often you are the only one in court who knows much about the applications,” says Goss. Plus sometimes you get to feel that you have made a difference to peoples’ lives: “I did a recent closure order for the police where they were applying to extend the closure of a space that had been used for drug dealing. I had statements from residents who were saying how amazing it was to have it closed.”

In case that is not training enough, 5 Essex Court is lucky to have Alastair Hodge who teaches advocacy and is an Honorary Professor at Nottingham Law School: “There is no formal training course but we all take a bit of time out during pupillage to do sessions with him and get some feedback from a real master,” says Goss. In addition, there are talks from various members of chambers.

Mentoring is done informally: “We are a small, very friendly set so all the juniors are talking to each other pretty much all of the time, and pupils are very much part of that: it is a rare day that I wouldn’t talk to another junior about something. And this goes all the way ‘up’ the chambers. I would not hesitate to talk to our seniors too.”

Alongside the advocacy experience, Goss has built up drafting, advising and research skills along the way. In his third seat, with Jason Beer QC as his supervisor, he was helping Beer on public law work often “going through evidence finding lines for cross examination.”

Goss’s first case was doing minicab licence renewals where Transport for London had decided not to renew a driver’s minicab licence: “It was coalface experience: you have to do closing submissions, you have to be able to think on your feet,” he remembers.

Now Goss, whose first degree was in classics at Cambridge University, from where he graduated in 2006, is working on another Deepcut inquest, this time on the death of Sean Benton whose family has reopened the matter.

So what advice would he give to someone who wanted to apply for pupillage at 5 Essex Court? “You must have a good understanding of the sort of work we do and demonstrate that you would be really interested in doing our type of work,” he responds. “Yes it’s police law but it’s not only police law, we do central government work, there is a real range. Also, it’s the defendant side of public law and you need to understand that you have to be sensitive to client’s needs and appreciate the statutory duties they are under”.

And PS: “We publish a report from each pupillage application round which tells us what we are looking for, and what were some of the good answers. For us this is about transparency. We do not want anyone to have an innate advantage: anyone can apply. So make sure you read the material — it’s really useful.”



3-5 days between 1 October – 30 November 2020
Applications close 31/07/2020

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Work/life balance

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2019-20 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 38
QCs 5
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 2/5

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


Pupillage award £55,000
BPTC advance drawdown Discretionary

The 5 Essex Court pupillage award comprises a £30,000 award and £25,000 guaranteed earnings.

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 38%
Female QCs 60%