Meet Atkin Chambers at the Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 9 October 2021
It’s not all about construction at Atkin Chambers 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 telecommunications. 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 also 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 in which 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.” Disputes Atkin chambers barristers have worked on include those relating to The Shard, Wembley Stadium, The Rolls Building and Heathrow T5.
You will need your passport. More than half of the work here 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. The set 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. Recent cases include acting in a case involving the largest resource project in Australia’s history, securing US$272 million for the Panama Canal Authority in a dispute arising from one of the largest engineering projects in the world at the time and acting for Carillion Plc in relation to anticipated proceedings against KPMG following its infamous collapse.
Commenting on the work assembling in the clerks room, one barrister says to the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Barristers Survey: “We deal with the biggest disputes in our field which take in some of the most important projects around the world. One cannot fail to find it stimulating”. Due to the nature of the bar, each barrister is always balancing their own work/life balance but one member says the clerks “never assert pressure on us to work more which really helps give you total control over how much you take on”. They continue: “I don’t consider having to work on the weekend if I have taken things at my own pace in the week or have an exciting trial to prep for as a bad thing”.
This chambers offers two pupillages a year with pupils rotating between three seats, two in the first six, one in the second six. They do not tend to be on their feet in court during pupillage but will be involved in drafting pleadings and advices for their supervisors and are apparently not expected to work weekends or evenings. Pupils also receive a QC for a mentor. Commenting on their supervisors, one former pupil tells us: “My three supervisors were a triumvirate of wise old heads with very different approaches – I learnt an enormous amount from each of them”. Another adds they “felt the whole of chambers pulled together to ensure pupils were seeing the best opportunities”.
There is a structured approach to assessment with pupils completing written and advocacy exercises on an ongoing basis with feedback provided. At the end of second six, pupils are given written work by a panel of members of chambers and must complete a test paper as well as advocacy exams. Tough work but heavily appreciated through the pupillage award erecting at a whopping £72,500 (one of the highest at the bar), showing the focus Atkin Chambers puts on its pupils. Atkin Chambers aims to grow “organically” by focusing on pupil recruitment and 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.”
As a small-ish chambers with 52 barristers, including 20 QCs (of whom one quarter are women), “there is always someone’s door to knock on”. One member sums up the support on offer like this: “From the other juniors through to the most senior QCs, everyone makes time to check-in and offer a sounding board. I love working here”.
Based at London’s Gray’s Inn, the premises are newly-decorated with a “grand view over the walks”, with one member summing it up as “modern, spacious and light”. Close to Chancery Lane, the set is situated in a “perfect location in terms of dashing out for lunch or a coffee”. Luckily for each tenant, everyone is provided with an individual room with the freedom to decorate how one wishes. IT support is on hand, and during the pandemic the team was “sensational” according to one barrister, which allowed members “to seamlessly get on with long and document heavy trials”.
On the social side, there are monthly “well attended” lunches, weekly drinks and daily afternoon teas. The junior end is “extremely supportive” of the set’s pupils, and organise events to celebrate milestones including starting pupillage or being taken on as a tenant, with one junior saying: “We are pretty friendly.”
Atkin is keen in its corporate social responsibility and has provided support for several initiatives. A number of members are founding members of the TECBAR BAME Network, the set supports FreeBar “a forum focused on LGBT+ people and their allies working at and for the Bar” and signed a pledge for gender diversity in international arbitration. In light of the difficulties faced during the pandemic, Atkin chambers also provided funding for a criminal pupillage which would otherwise have been postponed or cancelled.
Atkin chambers looks for those who have the “capacity to build a successful practice in chambers’, “commitment to a career at the commercial bar” and prospective applicants should be sure to have “drive, motivation and determination”. Being such an internationally focused set, with members speaking languages including Madarian, Urdu and Italian, among many others, the set has a history of assisting with visa applications and have conducted remote interviews for those based abroad or in a foreign country. Applicants are made directly to chambers by way of CV and cover letter. While post-graduate qualifications are “viewed favourably” according to the set, they are not essential.