It’s not all about construction at Atkin Chambers in London’s Gray’s Inn, which throws up a “wider variety of work than you might think,” according to one former pupil. “Construction projects cover a broad range of interesting subject matter, and there is also the opportunity to undertake commercial work.” Think shipbuilding, offshore construction, big transport projects, energy and natural resources. You could be representing parties at an international arbitration in Kazakhstan over a contractual dispute or pursuing a professional negligence claim against a firm of architects. Recent work has included representing former residents and bereaved relatives at the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry.
There are disputes galore in the construction industry, deadlines to meet, international investors to keep happy and a lot of money at stake. It’s a hands-on area where you get to see concrete results (actual buildings) for your efforts and gain an insight into the sheer graft that goes before. As one rookie puts it, “construction law raises lots of interesting legal points, but there’s also a fair amount of walloping through extremely detailed, rather dull, schedules.”
You will need your passport. More than half of the work comes from abroad. Atkin has a strong reputation overseas and its members are regularly instructed in complex disputes around the world, from Disneyland Asia to the oil and gas sector in Namibia. It has worked on several oil industry matters in the Americas, acted in construction disputes in the Caribbean, and represented clients in international arbitrations involving Russian companies.
Pupils rotate between three seats. They do not tend to be on their feet in court during pupillage but will be involved in drafting pleadings and skeleton arguments. Atkin scores an A* for colleagues and As for training, work, facilities and social life in the Legal Cheek Pupil and Junior Barrister Survey 2019-20.
The working hours are average for chambers, and there is a structured approach to assessment. Pupils are allocated a QC mentor as well as a supervisor. The pupil completes written and advocacy exercises on an ongoing basis. At the end of the third seat, they are given written work by a panel of members of chambers and must complete a test paper as well as advocacy exams.
It’s a small-ish chambers with fewer than 50 barristers, 19 of whom are QCs. As far as colleagues are concerned, “the junior end at Atkin is extremely supportive of the pupils, as are some of the middling tenants in chambers.” It aims to grow organically by offering tenancy to every pupil who meets the expected standard. And if the worst happens? Don’t despair. “If a pupil is not taken on,” says one former pupil, “the clerks are an absolute god-send when it comes to helping with third sixes.”
One big advantage of pupillage here is that the £72,000 award is one of the highest at the bar. In terms of facilities, pupils can expect their own rooms once they become tenants, and the “client facing sections are very nice,” albeit the “barrister parts less so!” On the social side, there are “well attended chambers’ lunches every month” while there is “tea every day and Friday drinks are well attended and informal.” Reassuringly, a junior describes the set as: “We are pretty friendly.”