Blackstone Chambers is a big beast at the commercial and public bar — and it’s about to get event bigger; the set is undergoing renovations of its Temple base to update facilities and add more space.
It’s 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 in businesswoman Gina Miller’s challenge to Boris Johnson’s proroguing of parliament. Other stars in the Blackstone constellation are Sir James Eadie QC, who acted for the other side in the 2016 Brexit case, human rights advocate Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, high-flyer Dinah Rose QC and ‘the godfather of sports law’, Michael Beloff QC.
Barristers here frequently act in cases that are in the public eye. Examples include the Supreme Court case on whether abortion laws in Northern Ireland breach human rights and Shell’s £55 million compensation to Nigerian fishermen for oil spills. Outside of court, Blackstone members play a prominent role in NGO or charity campaigns: last year Shaheed Fatima QC presented the findings of a panel report that she had led into protecting children in conflict zones for an international inquiry chaired by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Recently, Blackstone barristers acted in Queen’s Park Rangers’ appeal against an English Football League fine of £42 million on competition law grounds, for Barclays against a former trader’s whistle-blowing and unfair dismissal claims, and in a copyright and contractual battle over the Star Wars franchise after a filming row broke out at a Manchester fan convention shortly before the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Practice areas are likely to overlap here, and pupils could find themselves exposed to a wide variety of legal issues — commercial, EU & competition, human rights, employment, fraud, media, tax, public international law and financial services are just some of the areas of expertise on offer here.
Blackstone has 54 juniors and 55 QCs and takes on four pupils each year, offering an award of £65,000. It has a high hit-rate for offering tenancy to pupils. Demographically, about one-third of its juniors and 16% of its silks are female, and it has a female co-head of chambers, Monica Carss-Frisk QC. Blackstone attained impressive scores in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2019-20, with an A* for quality of work. 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.
An insider describes the work like this: “Amazing work — the best — high profile, cutting edge law, superb instructing solicitors.” Another adds: “[The work is] the real benefit of pupillage at Blackstone. It is uniquely intellectually challenging, not least because of the range of work that we do. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those that want to push themselves to improve and excel.”
It’s important to note that applicants for pupillage must have already completed a mini-pupillage at Blackstone and chambers’ preference is for this to take place “sometime in the months up to mid-April of the year they begin their Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)”.
One potential disadvantage for Blackstone pupils is that they will not be on their feet in court at any point and will not take on any of their own paid work during the 12 months, although they are encouraged to take on cases pro bono. Instead, pupils sit with four different supervisors and must gain a grounding in the chambers’ core areas of commercial, public and employment law. Drafting pleadings and writing skeleton arguments and other written work will take up most of the pupil’s time, and they will attend conferences with clients. Pupils are assessed through a rigorous process of written tasks and advocacy exercises.
Given the reputation of this chambers and quality of work on offer, any rookies in with a shout of joining this star-studded set should jump at the chance.