Commercial, European Union, competition and public law set Brick Court Chambers is a prestigious place — where else do you get to say a “large amount of my work has actually involved appearing before Supreme Court justices”, as one member does. The set has an impressive roster of members and door tenants, filled with QCs, Lords and Sirs. Figures include Lord Hoffman, Law Lord from 1995 to 2009 and Lord Hope who is now an arbitrator, having retired from the Supreme Court in 2013.
Brick Court’s premises in London’s Essex Street are luxuriant with its own roof terrace, although one insider admits to having “reservations about the colour of the carpet in the main building (and some of the art)”. And it is rumoured to be among the highest earning chambers in the capital.
Notable cases include a Supreme Court case that doctors and families can agree to allow a person in a long-term vegetative state to die without having their decision approved by a court. Brick Court also acted in a European Court of Justice case on European Arrest Warrants and double jeopardy, and in a £1.2 billion mega-dispute over a stake in a Russian oligarch’s fishing company. Recent appearances include Victoria Wakefield acting for MI5 in a case in which it was held its policy on agent participation in crime is lawful, and two members acting for Facebook in a case concerning EU requests for sensitive personal data. Several members have also won awards for their pro bono efforts. Cases include David Heaton acting for ten human rights NGOs before the Grand Chamber in a case in which it was confirmed the former UK bulk surveillance regime was unlawful, and three members acting for the parents of Charlie Gard in relation to the termination of his treatment.
Brick Court scored well across the board in the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey, receiving top marks for work with members commenting that “every case is different and usually difficult!” and instructions are “top of the range in our core areas of competition, commercial and public law”. The set has 54 juniors and an almighty 46 QCs including door tenants, mediators and arbitrators, with about one quarter of the juniors and silks being female.
This chambers offers up to six pupillages per year with a £75,000 award. Candidates must complete a mini-pupillage, which is assessed, as part of the application process. Brick Court encourages all those interested in joining to apply for a mini-pupillage before they apply through the Pupillage Gateway system.
Pupils will not be thrown in at the deep end or expected to muddle through at Brick Court — or at least that is the official line. Not everyone agrees: “If, by training, you include learning on the job, including from leaders and juniors with whom I have worked, then [the set gets] a ten. If you mean formal training then probably a 5; the bar still suffers in terms of formal training once you start in practice,” one anonymous member reports. Another former pupil, however, says “it was an excellent experience”.
The pupillage system is tightly structured so as to be fair as well as rigorous. Pupils sit with three different supervisors. There are few opportunities for pupils to get up in court and put forward a case but pupils report their skills are fine-tuned by a series of monthly advocacy exercises, for which they receive supervisor feedback on their performance. Pupils are also given a series of written exercises, each of which must be completed within five days, alongside being provided with two mentors: one junior and one silk. The set’s website says pupils may even get the opportunity to visit institutions or courts in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg!
They are not expected to work into the wee small hours, and a reasonable work-life balance is maintained. Former pupils report a merciful absence of back-biting during the year as there is no limit to the number of tenancies on offer and everyone has a fair shot. Pupils will no doubt be thankful for this collaborative atmosphere and limitless opportunity as the competition in previous years included no less than a magic circle partner. Among the enthusiastic clutch of rookies there was a former Freshfields head of competition litigation who left his £1.5 million annual income after 30 years at the firm to pursue his dream of life at the bar. Presumably with his credentials and contacts he would have had his pick of chambers, which makes his move quite the vote of confidence in Brick Court. All six of the set’s pupils were offered tenancy in 2021.
The high flying set celebrated its 100th birthday in 2021 and used the occasion to raise money for social mobility charities the Sutton Trust and IntoUniversity, as well as producing a series of programmes featuring past and present members. Brick Court’s other community and outreach work includes working with other sets to offer mentoring for underrepresented groups at the bar, sponsor the LGBT+ equality and inclusion initiative FreeBar and the joint head of chambers, Helen Davies QC is the vice chair of Inner Temple’s outreach sub-committee, responsible for the Pegasus Access and Support Scheme (she is also the only ‘magic circle’ set with a female co-head). Brick Court was one of several sets to help fund criminal pupillages cancelled due to the pandemic and is a supporter of the Charter for Black Talent in Finance and the Professions, an initiative devised by Brick Court’s very own Harry Matovu QC, which aims to enhance equality of opportunity.
It is no surprise Brick Court looks for the best of the best in terms of pupillage candidates. One must have “outstanding intellectual ability” and a “willingness to work hard” as well as the ability to “analyse and articulate as a lawyer”, have motivation and temperament.