Blackstone Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Blackstone Chambers is a big beast at the commercial and public bar — and it’s getting even bigger; the set’s £6 million renovation of its Temple base is due for completion in December 2021. Blackstone has 59 juniors and an impressive 60 QCs. Demographically, over one-third of its juniors and 22% of its silks are female, and it has a female co-head of chambers, Monica Carss-Frisk QC.

Established over 60 years ago, this set is home to top quality barristers such as Lord Pannick QC, who became something of a household name during the Supreme Court Article 50 case (whether parliamentary approval was required before the government could set Brexit in motion). He added to his reputation as the go-to silk for history-making constitutional law cases when he acted alongside chambers colleague Tom Hickman QC in businesswoman Gina Miller’s challenge to Boris Johnson’s proroguing of parliament. Other mega stars in the Blackstone constellation are government go-to lawyer Sir James Eadie QC, who acted in the aforementioned 2016 Brexit case, high-flyer Dinah Rose QC, and ‘the godfather of sports law’, Michael Beloff QC.

Blackstone attained impressive scores in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22, with an A* for quality of work. Barristers here frequently act in some of the most high profile cases around. Recent examples include the Supreme Court case on whether abortion laws in Northern Ireland breach human rights; the immigration case involving UK teenager Shamima Begum; acting for the Duchess of Sussex’s in her copyright claim against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online; and representing the Rugby Football Union in relation to charges brought against Barbarian players for allegedly breaching Covid-rules. If those aren’t blockbuster or enough for you, two members acted in copyright and contractual battle over the Star Wars franchise after a filming row broke out at a fan convention shortly before the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Outside of court, Blackstone members play a prominent role in NGO and charity campaigns. Shaheed Fatima QC presented the findings of a panel report she led into protecting children in conflict zones for an international inquiry chaired by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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With all the above in mind it’s no wonder members speak of life at Blackstone. Before joining the set, and having worked in other legal roles, one member explains they “can honestly say that the work on offer at Blackstone is remarkable”. Cases are “hugely challenging” and “incredibly diverse”, and pretty juicy too. And the demanding work isn’t just reserved for full members, with pupillage said to be “uniquely intellectually challenging, not least because of the range of work that we do”. It’s “not for the faint of heart”, one spy says, “but definitely for those that want to push themselves to improve and excel”.

Having expanded and developed from its commercial roots, Blackstone’s areas of expertise often overlap, and pupils can find themselves exposed to a wide variety of legal areas — commercial, European Union & competition, human rights, employment, media, public international law and financial services are just some of the areas of expertise on offer here. With such a high calibre of work up for grabs, help is on hand from colleagues, should one require it. One member tells us: “The true distinguishing feature of Blackstone from all other top tier sets: just the most amazing people. It is really like having a professional family.” Another source, who recently arrived from another chambers, says they “felt fully welcomed and included”, and already boast a long list of senior members they can “regularly pick up the phone to for advice on difficult issues”.

The working hours are average (for the bar!), at between 50 and 59 hours per week. “A reasonable balance but we do work hard,” a member of the set reports. When it comes to work/life balance, this is mostly self-determined at the bar. Several Blackstone barristers told us people here work hard, but that is a choice, and if you want to take on less, you can do just that. One member offered this take: “I could have a much better work/life balance, and lots of my colleagues do. I have chosen not to, while I advance my career and explore my options.”

It isn’t all work, work, work though. Friday night drinks in Middle Temple Gardens are a regular occurrence during normal times, along with summer parties and BBQs. During the pandemic, there was a “real effort in the circumstances to keep everyone in touch and the community together”.

Within minutes walk of the Royal Courts of Justice and overlooking Middle Temple Gardens, the set has undergone major refurbishment and expansion, with premises in the original Blackstone House and now next door in 1 Garden Court. The buildings are set to be integrated to create a “single-site complex” with the final building “due to look amazing”. The set also provides a dedicated technology and IT support team with 24/7 assistance.

Blackstone takes on four pupils each year, boasting a hefty award of £70,000 and a high hit-rate for offering tenancy to pupils. Pupillage at Blackstone is completely non-practising, although pro bono and charity work is encouraged during the 12-month training period alongside a heavy investment into in-house advocacy training. Instead, pupils sit with four different supervisors and gain a grounding in the chambers’ core areas of commercial, public and employment law. Pupils work solely with each supervisor, typically assisting with the drafting of pleadings, advices and skeleton arguments, as well as attending conferences. Pupils are assessed through a rigorous process of written tasks and advocacy exercises. One member commenting on the training provided, says they were “trained by the best in every field” which was a “total privilege”. It’s also important to note applicants for pupillage must have already completed a mini-pupillage at chambers.

Pupillage aside, Blackstone is part of a group of chambers providing mentoring for underrepresented groups at the bar and is also involved with the Lawyers in Schools programme – a diversity access scheme which sees lawyers assist with the teaching and discussion of legal issues for school children aged between 12 and 15. It also helps fund school trips to the Royal Courts of Justice with members staging mock trials too.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Emmeline Plews

Your journey to pupillage

I studied Classics first at university, and then I studied law via a two-year law degree, an option I’d really recommend if you really want to get into some of the deeper policy debates in particular areas – that was how I got to study Labour law, which I loved, and is now a significant part of my practice which I hope to develop further.

Instead of going straight into law after my degree, I decided to train as a social worker, through the Frontline graduate programme. Working with children, young people and their families in circumstances where the state – and the law – plays a big role in their lives is something I feel very privileged to have experienced and means issues of public law in this area are something I feel really passionate about.

I did a whole range of mini-pupillages (over quite a long period – as you’ll see from the above, it’s been a winding route to the bar!) I started off with mini-pupillages at criminal and family law sets, tried one in chancery, and then focused on public law and employment sets as I realised where my interests lay.

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I’d done mooting and debating, but I honestly ended up using most examples from my work – advocacy can come in many forms in many contexts. Don’t feel constrained to a formal moot – often “real life” examples will be more interesting for everyone in an interview or application process!

I applied for pupillage through the gateway – I applied to a long list of sets – an approach which not everyone would agree with, but I wanted to get as much practice in as I could. But equally, if you’re more focused and know where you want to wind up, you may well prefer to be more selective, and doing too many applications and stretching yourself too thin is counterproductive.

The pupillage experience

I was interested in Blackstone because of its public law and employment practice – but it wasn’t until I did my mini-pupillage there that I really hoped I might wind up there. That week, I sat with two lovely mini-pupil supervisors who were so generous with their time, gave me work to do and then discussed it with me, so I learned from the experience. I also got to see just how broad chambers’ practice was, and how I could see myself getting interested in areas I’d never have imagined previously. To top it off, everyone I met was so friendly!

As for pupillage itself, I had four supervisors, covering chambers’ main areas of practice. I worked closely for each of them – and only them, which helped me to learn to manage my time. Each of my supervisors was an excellent trainer – and what’s more, that’s how they saw themselves, which meant that I felt the focus was on teaching rather than assessment. The thing I now always say to people considering where to do pupillage is think where you’ll learn most – because that’s what pupillage is, a year of you learning an awful lot very fast. Where your chambers wants you to succeed and wants to support you to succeed, you’ll learn so much more. We don’t do a practising second six at Blackstone, but we do advocacy training throughout the year, which was very helpful.

The transition from pupil to tenant

It’s inevitably going to be a change – but I’ve loved it. The work I’ve been offered has been amazing, I was like a kid in a candy shop the first few months! You’re constantly learning – that process is very much a continuing one – but again, the best thing about chambers has been the support that’s been offered. And that’s been in a pandemic with remote working. I’ve had silks offer to look at my work to check I’m on the right track when I’m doing something for the first time, I’ve had mentors (chambers offers a mentoring scheme in various practice areas) willingly listen (and answer) my questions as I work through procedural issues I’ve not yet encountered. I feel very, very lucky to be here!

What is your practice like now?

I’m usually in chambers or working from home, rather than being in court every day. That said, I’m about to come up to a period where I’m in court much more often – so it really depends. The great thing about chambers’ diverse practice areas is that they do offer lots of advocacy experience when you’re a junior – so in the Employment Tribunal, County Court, or, for instance, sports tribunals.

In addition to starting to develop my own advocacy, I do lots of drafting (pleadings, skeletons, correspondence between parties), and lots of legal research and opinion-writing. Each time you do a piece of work you learn so much from it. So yes, the weeks are busy – but very rewarding!

What is the culture of chambers?

It probably comes through from what I’ve said above – I feel very fortunate to be in chambers, with such supportive colleagues. Our clerks are all fantastic and super-friendly – I look forward to going into work and seeing everyone. Chambers is also run by an incredibly efficient staff team for whom nothing is ever too much – post room has dug me out of more urgent printing nightmares than I care to remember…

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

Think about what you want your practice to look like – if you think you’d love working across and between different practice areas, and will always be up for a new challenge, then the work you’ll get to be involved with at Blackstone will be really rewarding.

Look for opportunities to develop your advocacy skills – as I said above, these don’t have to be constrained to formal moots. The FRU is a fantastic way to get advocacy experience and also assist tribunal users through the legal process.

Deadlines

Pupillage 2023

To commence 2023
Applications open 05/01/2022
Applications close 09/02/2022

Mini-Pupillage

April 2022
Applications open 01/10/2021
Applications close 31/12/2021

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 59
QCs 60
Pupillages 4
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 3/4

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

Money

Pupillage award £70,000
BPTC advance drawdown £20,000

Diversity

Female juniors 35%
Female QCs 22%
BME juniors 18%
BME QCs 12%