7BR

The Legal Cheek View

One of the first chambers to move away from the Inns of Court, multidisciplinary set 7BR finds itself on the esteemed Bedford Row near Chancery Lane. The set is made up of almost 100 members who practise in a diverse mix of practice areas including personal injury, clinical negligence, product liability, employment, family law and crime. Over the years, the set has also developed an international practice with members acting in Trinidad and Tobago, Hong Kong, and the Cayman Islands, to name just a few. A significant proportion of work is, however, found in the Midlands despite the set being London-based. 

One tenant at 7BR tells us that “7BR is an exciting set as it not only provides you access to the highest quality of work, but also a wide range of it”. Indeed, due to the common law basis of the set, members can try out different areas to find their specialism — perhaps one of the greatest advantages of the set. One insider tells this anecdote: “I had no interest in the area I now specialise in because it was dry academically, but it is dynamic, challenging and — sometimes — fun in practice.”

While senior members within Chambers tend to have specialised practice areas, whether it be crime or clinical negligence, juniors are expected to cover a broader spectrum of work. They can expect to be in court several times a week and will also be instructed in written advisory work. They will then be able to carve out their practice areas later on. 

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The work undertaken by members is described as both “intellectually stimulating and socially valuable”. We also hear there is a “good balance of court work and paperwork” across the practice areas. Silks at the set have worked on some fascinating cases, including Adrian Langdale KC successfully prosecuting a priest, who at the time was national education coordinator for the Catholic Church, for historic abuse, and Vanessa Marshall KC appearing into the Airedale Independent Inquiry, which looked into the deaths of patients due to administration of morphine by nurses on nightshifts. As one insider explains, “there is a very strong human element to our work. Work in chambers is very satisfying because it often feels like you are making a genuine difference to the life of your clients”.

Recent high-profile cases worked on by members include, Maryam Syed prosecuting a former Britain’s Got Talent finalist for rape, Jennifer Carter-Manning KC acting for NatWest Bank in the first FCA prosecution of a UK bank involving offences under the Money Laundering Offences 2007, and Jeffrey Jupp and Joshua Yetman working on the settlement of a whistleblowing claim against the Foreign Office in Kosovo. No wonder one member comments, “I can truly say I have never been bored”, while a newcomer to the set tells us they were “immediately doing more exciting and challenging cases than many of my peers”. 

Despite the wide array of practice areas in which members specialise, 7BR remains a close-knit community, with several insiders telling us they specifically chose the set due to its friendly and collegiate nature. Commenting on the support of colleagues, one member says, “I have been supported extremely well in different ways: I’ve been encouraged to aim high; have received support of both barristers and my clerks when dealing with sudden, unexpected personal crises (a medical emergency and a sudden bereavement)”. Thanks to a well-observed open-door policy, silks will spend time helping those less experienced, and members are always sharing knowledge via various WhatsApp groups. As one junior barrister at the set puts it: “I am fortunate to be in a Chambers where there is such a wealth of knowledge, experience and encouragement and where there is such a collegiate atmosphere and network with everyone willing to give their time and skill when requested”. One junior tells us that “friends at other sets tell me it’s unusual to have [colleague support] to this degree!” The togetherness of 7BR can be shown further through the fact the “vast majority of members have been here since pupillage”. 

Life at the bar necessitates hard graft, and there are times where it can seem like all work and no play. “As with all busy barristers, I spend more time at work than is ideal but I would probably be worried if this was not the case,” one tenant tells us. However, 7BR “appreciates the need to ensure there is a balance… and there is always a desire to ensure that collective morale is high”. The clerks “do not pressure you to take cases you don’t have time for, and can help ease your diary loads if it’s getting out of hand,” one insider explains, and ultimately, Chambers’ culture “permits you to strike your own balance”. While there is no easy route to success, being at a set “with a broad practice base does give the opportunity to build a practice that fits with your own priorities and has the flexibility to be adapted to match with external changes and challenges”. 7BR is said to cherish family life and encourages those desiring a career break to raise their families. One member told us they took a different kind of break to go travelling for six months which “wasn’t a problem at all”. There is also a Wellbeing Committee, ensuring that people can flag if they feel their diaries are getting out of hand. 

The social side is also an important part of life at 7BR, with regular ad hoc drinks and dinners, as well as an evening set aside once a month for social drinks in a local pub. One tenant tells us: “I can honestly say that I have proper friends in chambers. We go to each other’s weddings and birthdays.” On alternative Thursdays, there is a tea and cake afternoon in Chambers, as well as Chambers-wide and juniors-only parties arranged. Lots of members also recently took part in the London Legal Walk together. Those members living outside of London seem to be a little less involved. One tells us they “live on the south coast and travel into chambers only when required”, although they add that this is “more my choice”. 

In terms of their home on Bedford Row, 7BR has a flashy building which has undergone a multi-million-pound refurbishment in recent years. The listed premises now has the “highest modern standards of functionality” while retaining its period character and historical features, including its Georgian foyer. Features include an “impressive” reception, hot desks, multiple conference rooms, a large library, a seminar room, showers, and a bicycle store. Rooms are shared with an open-plan feel, while retaining sufficient privacy. “Not many barristers own a completely refurbished and bespoke building in the middle of legal London — we do,” one proud member tells us. The set takes pride in its disability access provisions, including lifts with braille buttons, audible announcements and a platform stair lift. We are told the set is also “fitted out with state of the art IT communication facilities” — these were especially useful during lockdown. One junior gushes that the set has “enough computer capacity and tech to even challenge NASA”. The IT service is outsourced but one junior informs us that “technical support is always made available when I have a problem”. 

Those obtaining pupillage at the set can expect a pupillage award of £60,000. They will receive three supervisors, each for four-month stints, rotating between civil and crime, as well as some family work. “Getting a thorough grounding in civil and criminal areas teaches you early what works before different tribunals and gives you a head start when a criminal case requires some tricky drafting or a civil case requires some jury advocacy,” says an insider. A large amount of Chambers’ work is outside of London, especially in the Midlands, and so pupils will be expected to travel. Pupils regularly attend conferences and court hearings throughout their first six, while supervisors will set research tasks and written exercises. In the second six, pupils will be on their feet and likely find themselves conducting plea and trial preparation hearings or appeals against convictions and sentences. On the civil side, they will deal with small claims or fast-track trials, interim applications, and assessment of damages hearings. Pupils go through a programme of assessed and unassessed oral and written exercises, as well as regular appraisals, feedback sessions, and independent pupillage monitor meetings. For those successful in obtaining tenancy, we hear that training “continues long past pupillage” with more senior members putting on formal training sessions on particular areas of law for juniors. There is also a mentoring scheme in place. 

Those looking to apply to pupillage should make their application through Pupillage Gateway. In addition to the application, applicants will be sent a legal set question to complete. The 50 or so scoring highest based on their written application and set question will be invited to a first-round interview. This interview will take place in front of two members of Chambers and last around 20 minutes. The set question submitted will be discussed, as well as general questions based on your application form. A maximum of 12 candidates will then be invited to a final round interview, which will take place in front of a panel of 6-8 members of Chambers of different levels of seniority. Candidates will be asked to arrive 20 minutes before the interview and will be given a topical issue and asked to prepare to present one side of the issue to the panel. This exercise is designed to test how you think on your feet.

7BR are looking for candidates “who have the potential to be exceptional advocates” and their assessment criteria reflects this. They express that they are committed to equal opportunities and welcome applications from under-represented groups at the Bar. Its ‘#WeAre7BR’ tagline states its commitment to “promoting a progressive, welcoming, inclusive environment for members, employees and pupils”. Indeed, the set is home to Mass Ndow-Njie, the founder of Bridging the Bar — a charity committed to increasing the equality of access of opportunities in the legal profession across underrepresented groups — and to Dr Gregory Burke, the founder of the UK’s largest disability-access information site, AccessAble. The set is also involved in both the Inner Temple and Middle Temple’s access to the bar schemes, offering work experience to those underrepresented at the bar, and is a sponsor of the First 100 Years Project, a celebratory campaign to mark the year when women could first practise law. 

What The Junior Barristers Say

Jasmine Leng

Your journey to pupillage

I first decided I wanted to be a barrister at the tender age of 14. Sadly, I had an ill-informed careers advisor who told me that you couldn’t be a barrister from a state school or with a regional accent! Thankfully none of that is true (although sadly I don’t have much of an accent these days anyway…!) but since I didn’t know any better at 14, I parked that idea for a while. I didn’t come back to it again until my final year of university.

In the meantime, I did a vacation scheme at a corporate law firm to see if the solicitor route was for me instead. I was offered a training contract and realised that neither corporate law nor being a solicitor was for me!

I studied an undergraduate degree in Law at Oxford University where I fell in love with medical law. By that time, I had done some mini pupillages in London and the Midlands which re-ignited my interest in going to the Bar. I studied a Master’s degree in Medical Law at King’s College London where I realised that I wanted an insight into real-world work experience before committing to spending my life in courtrooms.

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After my Master’s, I became a Community Advocate supporting vulnerable people to advocate for themselves and access support, usually healthcare. I then became an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate advising decision-makers on how to make best interests decisions under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This job was challenging because I was fresh out of university but it taught me a lot about being a good communicator and having a common-sense approach to problem-solving.

I took a break from work to study the Bar Course, then continued the healthcare trend by working in Policy and Standards for a healthcare regulator. I started applying for pupillage at that point (although I didn’t know about Chambers until my third round of applications when I was offered pupillage with 7BR).

My final job before pupillage was as a Senior Caseworker at INQUEST, advising bereaved families about the inquest process when their loved ones die in the custody of the state (mostly in prison, police custody or psychiatric care). During that time, I met a couple of barristers at 7BR who worked with us pro bono. I was immediately inspired by the mix of work, its quality and their friendly and unpretentious approach in their cases. This was when I knew I wanted to apply for pupillage with 7BR.

I’m very grateful that I did a variety of work before pupillage as it helped me better understand the broader context in which barristers work and helps me support clients going through the most difficult times of their lives. I also found that ‘life experience’ is something that 7BR understands and values.

The pupillage experience

Somehow, I hadn’t been aware of 7BR until my third time applying for pupillage. My experience of barristers from 7BR had felt like a real breath of fresh air – exceptionally friendly, down-to-earth, and unpretentious barristers for such a hard-hitting set.

That has been my experience of pupillage. Pupillage is an unusual way to start your professional career, but everyone at 7BR has always gone out of their way to make its pupils feel at ease, comfortable and supported. There’s an open-door policy at 7BR so I’ve never felt like I couldn’t ask a question – especially when you’re first on your feet and you suddenly forget everything you’ve ever learnt!

I was really drawn to the pride 7BR takes in being multi-disciplinary. I had three supervisors across three seats throughout my pupillage: compulsory civil and criminal seats and then a third seat in an area we can choose (with a mandatory month of family law to be spread out when possible). I chose family as my third seat.

Throughout pupillage I’ve found that mix of work invaluable in accelerating my learning, keeping things exciting and even to keep work ticking over during the Bar strikes. I’ve had days where I’ve done a criminal trial in the morning, headed back to Chambers to draft a debt claim defence and then finished the working day off with a family law brief about Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order.

I believe the mantra that a mixed practice keeps you sharp and, on your toes, but it also means I’ve been doing an interesting mix of work. I’ve also felt like I’m doing more challenging work than I ever thought I would as a pupil. You hear about pupillages almost entirely made up of bail applications and little more, whereas my first few months at 7BR was almost exclusively Crown Court work. It was months before I set foot in a magistrates’ court or did a bail application!

7BR has an incredibly supportive approach towards learning and development. As pupils we did assessments where members of Chambers set us advocacy exercises and provided us feedback. It feels a little weird at first if it’s been a while since you were last formally assessed… but the feedback is invaluable in giving you the practical edge you need once you’re fresh out of Bar school. I was also encouraged by my supervisor to apply to join the CPS Grade 1 Prosecution Panel which opened me up to more instructions.

You get put forward for a huge amount of work, and your supervisors and clerks will find opportunities that interest you. Even when you are first on your feet (and inevitably nervous!) it feels as though you are trusted and supported. You can trust that if you are put forward for something that feels outside of your comfort zone it is because Chambers has faith in your ability – this is something I found very comforting during my second six. I’m also a Derbyshire lass at heart and love any opportunity to head back ‘home’, so I found it really appealing to be able to work on both the South-eastern and Midlands circuit!

The transition from pupil to tenant

I have only just been taken on, but I felt that pupillage was always all about easing the transition from pupillage to tenancy anyway. The whole approach of Chambers to tenancy is simply of wanting, encouraging, and equipping you to succeed.

What is your practice is like now?

A typical week sees me in court pretty much every day – predominantly a mixture of prosecuting trials, mentions and PTPHs, family law work and inquests (with the odd bit of civil paperwork – usually debt claims!) I’ve had a spate of civil trials settling, but I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into more small claims and fast track trials.

My family work is a mixture of public and private children law, lots of section 8 orders and case-management hearings and a good mix of legal aid work with privately paying work. I’ve found that mixture very helpful when first starting out.

I’ve also found it helpful to be in court as much as possible. The clerks are great at filling our diaries and I’ve always been extremely busy as a pupil. Having said that, I’ve never been nervous to ask for a day out of court to catch up on paperwork.

It’s fast-paced, interesting, and exciting work. You never quite know what you’ll be doing in any given week!

What is the culture of chambers?

It sounds cliche, but 7BR really is as friendly and supportive as everyone says it is! As a pupil I felt that everyone in Chambers, regardless of seniority, was interested in us and our development and wanted us to succeed. Whenever you covered a case for someone more senior, that member of Chambers was always happy to give up their time to talk us through it.

Members of Chambers genuinely enjoy each other’s company and hang out outside of work. There is always someone to go for lunch or a drink with to celebrate a success, ask a tricky question or just to catch up.

Outside of the more spontaneous social life, Chambers has fortnightly cakes in the kitchen, monthly drinks, and Christmas parties etc. I went to the Junior Christmas party as a pupil and, regretfully, sang a lot of terrible karaoke.

Chambers also has a mentor system where you’re allocated a mentor before you start as a pupil. I found that extremely helpful to have someone to feel especially safe to ask your ‘daft’ questions!

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

I think the key is to have a genuine enthusiastic interest in a broad mix of work – there’s no getting away from that and it is one of the most attractive draws of pupillage at 7BR. The work is varied and of a high quality for pupillage!

I always felt Chambers were interested in the more non-conventional aspects of my application and CV, where I could show what sort of a person I was. Although I happened to go to Oxford, I don’t think they cared about that in the same way other Chambers might. During my interviews they were far more interested in my previous careers and personal life experiences, through which I leant resilience and pragmatism. So, don’t be afraid of highlighting experiences which will make you a good barrister or a good fit at 7BR, even if they are not ‘classic’ CV examples. 7BR are interested in versatility, breadth, and practicality.

Deadlines

Pupillage

Applications open 04/01/2023
Applications close 08/02/2023

Insider Scorecard

A*
Training
A*
Quality of work
A*
Colleagues
A*
Facilities
B
Work/life balance
A
Social life
A*
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2022-3 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 74
KCs 17
Pupillages 2-3
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 2/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £60,000
BPTC advance drawdown On request

Diversity

Female juniors 41%
Female KCs 24%
BME juniors 18%
BME KCs 6%