7BR

The Legal Cheek View

Meet 7BR at the Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 4 December 2021

One of the first chambers to move away from the Inns of Court, multidisciplinary set 7BR relocated on the esteemed Bedford Row and Jockey’s Field near Chancery Lane, and now boasts nearly 90 members. 7BR is home to a few stars of the bar, including the current chair of the Bar Council, Derek Sweeting QC, founder of Bridging the Bar, Mass Ndow-Njie, the charity committed to increasing the equality of access of opportunities in the legal profession across underrepresented groups, and Dr Gregory Burke, the founder of the UK’s largest disability-access information site, AccessAble. Previous big-name members include two former Lord Chief Justices and three Lord Justices of Appeal.

7BR embraces a diverse mix of practice areas including clinical negligence, employment, crime, family, inquests & inquiries, public law, regulatory & disciplinary and sports law, among others. Over the years, the set has developed an international and offshore practice with members acting in Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands and Antigua to name a few, and recently welcomed commercial heavyweight Jern-Fei NG QC.

One insider tells the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey: “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, much of the work is described as both “intellectually stimulating and socially valuable”. Due to the common law basis of the set, members can try out different areas to find their specialism. 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.”

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The 18 silks here have been involved in some fascinating cases of late. Ashley Underwood QC appeared in the High Court in Belfast as special advocate in the case of Re Michael Gallagher (Omagh Bomb), Omagh Bomb being the biggest loss of life in a single incident during the conflict in Northern Ireland, while Adrian Langdale QC successfully prosecuted a man for historic abuse who at the time was national education coordinator for the Catholic Church. “There is a very strong human element to our work,” one 7BR-er explains. “Work in chambers is very satisfying because it often feels like you are making a genuine difference to the life of your clients.”

Whilst many of the senior members here have specialist practices, juniors are expected to cover a broader spectrum of work and many have been involved in headline-grabbing cases. This includes Liam Ryan acting in a landmark stress at work case where a circuit judge brought a claim against the Ministry of Justice, Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, alleging she was overworked, bullied and mistreated by senior members of the judiciary, leading to the government admitting it owes a duty of care to judges. More highlights include Anita Guha successfully representing a British couple who were racially discriminated against by Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council after being denied the ability to adopt children because of their race, while Kate Temple-Mabe acted for a journalist seeking unprecedented access to papers in care proceedings. Susannah Johnson, meanwhile, represented 29 survivors in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and Adam Clemens successfully defended the Met Commissioner in a landmark human rights incompatibility challenge.

No wonder one member commenting on the work available says, “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”. Another adds: “I get to take part in the democracy of our country on a daily basis, if that doesn’t get the blood pumping nothing will. My work is challenging and rewarding in equal measure.”

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, the chambers’ culture “permits you to strike your own balance”. Whilst 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”.

7BR offers a pupillage award in excess of £60,000, including second six earnings. Pupils 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 one insider. In 2011, the set established a ‘bespoke’ pupillage programme which gives newbies a choice as to how they wish to spend their final four months of training, whether that’s undertaking more criminal work, a different area of civil, or another of the set’s specialisms. Pupils regularly attend conferences and court hearings throughout their first six, while supervisors will set research tasks and written exercises.

During their second six, and now on their feet, pupils will 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 or assessment of damages hearings. 7BR undertakes work outside London too (often in the Midlands), so applicants should be aware of the likely travel involved. Pupils go through a programme of unassessed and assessed oral and written exercises as well as regular appraisals and feedback sessions and independent pupillage monitor meetings.

Odds for tenancy are more than decent — nine out of the last ten most recent pupils were offered a spot in chambers. The set scores strongly for training, and one happy former pupil tells us they “couldn’t have asked for more” from the training they received, with another saying the varied training meant the “learning opportunities were incredible and far exceeded my expectations”. One former pupil shared this experience with us: “The training and assessment process during pupillage was challenging, but the focus was very much on supporting us to develop our skills, especially our advocacy skills, so that we could be better barristers and perform well in court.”

Career support continues post-pupillage with “first rate” in-house training provided by experienced members of chambers, which helps juniors get up to speed with less familiar practice areas and discuss new developments. There is also a mentoring scheme as well as external seminars.

Backing onto Gray’s Inn Gardens, 7BR’s peaceful home is in fact three separate buildings. “Not many barristers own a completely refurbished and bespoke building in the middle of legal London — we do”, one proud member tells us. Having recently undergone a multi-million-pound refurbishment, the listed premises now has the “highest modern standards of functionality” whilst retaining its period character and historical features, including its Georgian foyer. Features include a large library, hot desks, multiple conference rooms, a seminar room, showers and bicycle store. “Think Presidential situation room at the time of the hunt for Bin Laden, minus the Predator drones and you have 7BR’s conference facilities,” one source explains. The set takes pride in its disability access provisions, including lifts with braille buttons, audible announcement, and a platform stair lift. Rooms are shared with an open-plan feel, whilst retaining sufficient privacy.

IT infrastructure is said to be “excellent”, making working from home and remote hearings “easy”. The set installed “sophisticated state of the art IT and video technology” in all conference rooms, meaning “the move to virtual and hybrid hearings was easy”. An outsourced 24/7 support team are “rapid” in response to problems, however big or small. One member says the IT team has “almost as much talent as Harvard” and the set has “enough computer capacity and tech to even challenge NASA”. There are also dedicated secure rooms for highly confidential matters.

7BR is “all about collective inclusivity”, according to one respondent, with the set being strong in its equality, diversity and inclusion efforts. Its ‘#WeAre7BR’ tagline states its commitment to “promoting a progressive, welcoming, inclusive environment for members, employees and pupils”, another tells us. The set is 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.

Despite the wide array of practice areas in which members specialise, 7BR remains a close-knit community, with several insiders telling us how they specifically chose the set due to its friendly and collegiate nature. Commenting on the support of colleagues, one member tells us: “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). Chambers is a place where I can literally approach anyone (whether I know them well or not) to seek advice or bounce an idea around.” 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. The togetherness of 7BR can be shown further through the fact the “vast majority of members have been here since pupillage”.

7BR’s culture “makes chambers events and parties a laugh and not a chore”, with the camaraderie extending to the “flourishing” social life. “Despite the size of chambers, everyone knows everyone else and the social gatherings are always convivial,” one tenant says. Events include informal drinks, quick coffees, lunches together, curry nights, picnics, an annual family BBQ, as well as a Christmas party which prospective pupils are invited to. There is also an annual chambers ski trip which “has attracted a mix of people across different levels of seniority”. One member says they consider their colleagues to be their “proper friends”, while another reveals “their only regret is not living closer to chambers as they don’t get to see people as often as they would like”.

7BR looks for pupils who are highly motivated, hardworking and have the potential to be exceptional candidates. Application marks are awarded on criteria including intellectual ability, life experience and potential as an advocate, among others. Around 50 applicants are shortlisted for first round interview, moving to a maximum of 12 for the final round. During the pandemic, the set put on a virtual mini-pupillage evening, a recording of which can be found on its website, and be sure to check out the podcast featuring episodes on life at 7BR.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Rose Harvey-Sullivan

Your journey to pupillage

I went to a comprehensive state school, worked on weekends from the age of 16 and was financially self-sufficient from age 18. I then completed a degree in English Literature at Cambridge (first-class), completed the GDL (distinction) and BPTC (very competent) at Kaplan Law School. I then went on to work for the German government in prison reform in Bangladesh. I then started pupillage at 7BR which was the only set I applied to.

During my journey to 7BR, I received means-tested grants towards the cost of university, and paid for living costs and for my law studies by taking part-time and summer jobs, and with scholarships. I received significant scholarships from Inner Temple (including the Princess Royal scholarship) and my law school.

I did several mini-pupillages in a mix of areas of law, which helped me recognise that a mixed common law pupillage could offer me an unusual breadth of advocacy and experiences. As a result, I focused on chambers which could provide this.

I did debating at school and during the GDL, and competed in a few moots.

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The pupillage experience

I was keen to go to a mixed common law set both for the experience it would offer, and because I wasn’t certain which area I would be most interested in. As it happens, I now practise in totally different areas from the ones I was originally planning to specialise in, and I am so grateful I had the chance to explore various options before being pinned down.

There is an extremely supportive pupillage environment in chambers – juniors made sure I was constantly supported and there was always someone to call if I wasn’t sure about something. There is no competition between pupils so my co-pupil and I were also very supportive and encouraging of one another.

Pupillage is split into three periods of four months, with focuses on different areas of chambers practice. All three of my supervisors were very welcoming, open, approachable and happy to spend time encouraging and teaching me. We were also offered the chance to spend a few weeks shadowing members in other specialisms not covered by the three areas of focus for pupillage — this was very flexible.

There were lots of seminar opportunities which pupils were encouraged to attend, and we had an advocacy training programme run by senior members (separate to the assessment process) which was invaluable.

Work quality was very high. Because we have a strong Midlands presence, my co-pupil and I found we were doing much higher quality work than people we had been at law school with at an earlier stage. For example, in respect of crime, almost exclusively crown court work rather than magistrates’ work. This accelerated our development and levels of experience.

We were formally assessed through a series of advocacy assessments and written exercises. These were marked by different members, and we received helpful feedback after each one so we could improve.

Any work completed for other members was always ran past our supervisors, so they could ensure we weren’t being overloaded with work at any particular time. This was a really helpful buffer as it gave us another layer of support. We are really well looked after both as pupils and as junior members.

The transition from pupil to tenant

There was minimal difference between being a pupil and being a tenant. There was no significant shift in terms of work, and as I already felt like a part of the team, I did not notice any significant shift in terms of how I was treated by others.

What is your practice like now?

We have a chambers mentoring scheme between senior and junior members, and regular practice chats with our senior clerks to ensure our professional development is happening as we want it to. We are encouraged to take part in article and speaking opportunities and these are shared and circulated among all members to make sure we all have the same chances.

Workload and work opportunities are carefully monitored by the clerking and management team to ensure work is evenly spread across all members.

I find our clerking team incredibly supportive and friendly. I have a regular personal appointment on a weekly basis, and I have never had any difficulties in them accommodating this. They are respectful and understanding of our personal lives, and are responsive to requests if we say we would like a busier or less busy phase work-wise. They have listened when I have explained I am interested in particular types of cases, and look out for them for me. I have never had any issue as a result of turning down work, which I know happens at other sets.

The clerks are also understanding of work we are doing alongside cases; in the past two years, three colleagues and I wrote a book about inquests (published by LexisNexis) and I have completed a big pro bono project with the Prisoners Advice Service. The clerks helped me make sure I had time to complete these without losing all my free time, which I appreciated. Another colleague has undertaken a PHD in recent years, and several have made more time for their families through part-time practice and by using our generous parental leave policies.

I now have a mixed practice involving Court of Protection work, family children proceedings and inquests and clinical negligence. It’s an unusual mixture, but as my overriding interest is in mental capacity and mental health, it actually fits well together. I don’t think I could have this mix of work at any other set.

If I am not in a longer trial or inquest, I am in court around two to four times a week (this has increased since video hearings are so much more common now), and have perhaps two to three conferences a week.

I have had the opportunity to be led by a number of silks in several high value personal injury and clinical negligence cases, which have been interesting work and learning opportunities. The fact I have a mixed practice has been really useful here, for example, a personal injury case involving a 15 year old who attempted suicide in a care home and now has permanent brain damage – involves personal injury, court of protection and family law issues.

I hope to continue this mixed practice for a few more years but anticipate that once I am around eight to ten years’ call, I will likely specialise further. Again, I am really happy to have the chance to practice across a few areas for the time being. I am planning to undertake a qualification to become a mediator in the next 18 months.

What is the culture of chambers?

We have an extremely social atmosphere in chambers and a good sense of camaraderie and support. There are Whatsapp groups and email chains for legal queries and social events, and there is always someone to have lunch with and a pint after work if it’s been a tough day! We often have more formal social events and many colleagues choose to socialise with one another outside of work as well.

Our admin and management team is equally brilliant, and will help with literally any query in a cheery way, no matter how small or idiotic it is!

While we have a good number of silks and senior members in chambers, there is no strong sense of hierarchy. Everyone’s views are valid and important, and I have no fear standing up in a chambers-wide meeting to express my opinions alongside senior members. Our management committee includes a number of junior members to ensure decisions are taken with everyone’s interests in mind.

In terms of facilities, we have recently renovated the entire building. It’s a beautiful place to work, the IT set up is excellent and there is plenty of space for us all. There are social spaces for example a members’ room and a terrace (with nice planting), and the seminar suite is very practical for holding all kinds of events. 7BR places high emphasis on accessibility issues and has invested heavily in ensuring wheelchair users can navigate the buildings – members, visitors and clients alike.

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

We are looking for people with a genuine interest in a mixed common law pupillage.

Treat the application form as a piece of written advocacy and use it to persuade us of your interest in the work we do. Assertions which are backed up by evidence are much more persuasive. An application form which includes a variety of interesting work experience, which links that work experience to an interest in developing a mixed practice, and shows an insight into the realities of life at the bar will really stand out.

Our application form also includes a short legal problem question. Take time to properly research and structure your answer. We also love to know about you as a person, and how your unique experiences will make you a great barrister, so don’t be afraid of showing some personality.

Be open minded about a common law pupillage. While you might be being told at law school that it is important to pick a specialism now, it is difficult to truly know what you will want to do without having tried it.  It has worked out brilliantly for me, and I feel lucky that I had the chance to test myself in a variety of areas before choosing which I wanted to specialise in.

Deadlines

Pupillage

Applications open 05/01/2022
Applications close 09/02/2022

Insider Scorecard

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

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 71
QCs 18
Pupillages 2 - 3
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 1/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £60,000
BPTC advance drawdown £10,000

The Pupillage award is inclusive of at least £10,000 guaranteed earnings in the second six.

Diversity

Female juniors 38%
Female QCs 22%
BME juniors 19%
BME QCs 6%