Brick Court Chambers
The Legal Cheek View
Leading 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 KCs, Lords, and Sirs. Retired Law Lords Lord Hoffman and Lord Phillips are among the door tenants, as is Lord Hope, who is now an arbitrator, having retired from the Supreme Court in 2013.
Perhaps best known as a commercial set — with expertise in commercial dispute resolution, banking and finance, insurance, civil fraud, and professional negligence — the set also has an impressive reputation in EU and competition law, as well as public law. Past cases range from a Supreme Court case considering whether doctors and families can agree to allow a person in a long-term vegetative state to die without having this decision approved by a court to a £1.2 billion mega-dispute over a stake in a Russian oligarch’s fishing company. One junior tenant at the set tells us: “Chambers is exceptional in offering a wide variety of work at the highest standard. Members are lucky enough to be offered briefs at the cutting edge of commercial work, public law and competition. It’s never dull!”
The range of work certainly appeals to members, who tell us: “It’s possible to practice in both public and private law (which I find fascinating and challenging).” Recent cases taken on by members include three members appearing in a £1 billion consumer claim against Google, Mark Hoskins KC acting for Spain’s Telefónica in a case brought against mobile groups for unlawful collusion which led to the demise of Phones 4U, Fionn Pilbrow KC acting for KPMG in the face of a £14.4 million fine for misleading UK regulators over their Carillion audit, and David Heaton acting for Liberty, who are asserting that MI5 broke surveillance laws for over a decade. The pupils don’t miss out either: one tells us “all cases I’ve worked on during pupillage have involved difficult questions of law”. It all sounds very exciting!
If someone is struggling with a particular case, we hear there is always help on hand. We hear that “doors are always open” and colleagues are supportive “from the top down”. A junior tells us: “We have a few WhatsApp groups at the junior end which are filled with probing questions and members always dive in with helpful resources to assist”. 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, especially given that the competition in previous years has included no less than a magic circle partner — former head of competition litigation at Freshfields, who left his £1.5 million annual income after 30 years at the firm to pursue his dream of life at the Bar.
The work/life balance at the set isn’t too bad either — considering it is the Bar! Members are not expected to work into the wee small hours, and a reasonable work-life balance is maintained. One pupil told us they worked 9am-6pm, adding “I’ve only gone outside those hours once or twice and I’ve never worked a weekend”. They do acknowledge, however, that this may change once tenancy begins. One tenant explains: “Achieving a good work life balance is the hardest challenge in practice at the Bar”. We are told, however, that “most leaders in chambers and everyone in the clerks room is supportive of our endeavours to have a work life balance”.
When they do have some down time, members of Brick Court Chambers can be found socialising together. Having just celebrated their centenary, there were “lots of glittering social events and opportunities to have fun outside of work” including a big party at the Natural History Museum. Generally, we are told, “members are busy, but at the junior end we make time for each other, with casual fixtures like summer drinks at the champagne bar in Middle Temple!” For those less socially inclined, there is no pressure to join in. One tenant tells us, “there are many social events and people are friendly but there is no pressure to join in, which I appreciated”.
For those heading to the social events, Brick Court Chambers certainly provides a good setting, having its own “beautiful” roof terrace. Inside, however, views are less positive. The decor is described as “uninspiring” and as having something of a “Wetherspoons look (orange woodwork & navy carpets…nice)”. We do hear, however, that a refurb is planned — it sounds like it’s needed! The IT support also has mixed reviews. While we’re told there is a “large and friendly IT team”, members report a “lack of support for Mac users”, which must be annoying.
Minor issues aside, Brick Court Chambers is clearly a stellar set. As such, it is looking to recruit the best pupils — up to five a year — and offers an award of £75,000. Those looking to apply should make their application through the Pupillage Gateway. As part of the application process, candidates must complete a mini-pupillage, which is assessed. Brick Court encourages all those interested in joining to apply for a mini-pupillage before they apply through the Pupillage Gateway system: there are two mini-pupillage windows per year. The scores from the mini-pupillage application form, the Pupillage Gateway form, and the assessed mini-pupillage will determine who gets invited to an interview. Around 15 candidates are invited to the two-part interview. The first part will deal with a case report that applicants are provided with in advance and will be expected to prepare a two-page skeleton argument to present on, whilst the second will involve an unseen question.
Those lucky enough to obtain pupillage should expect to see a wide range of Chambers’ work over the course of the year. 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 process is described as “gruelling” by one former pupil, however the training is generally considered to be “very helpful”. Some juniors do bemoan, however, that there is little in the way of formal training once practice begins.
Brick Court is proud to participate in the COMBAR Mentoring Scheme for under-represented groups at the Bar as well as Bridging the Bar. It is also a supporter of the Bar Placement Scheme, the Charter for Black Talent in Finance and the Professions, an initiative devised by Brick Court’s very own Harry Matovu KC, and FreeBar, a network aiming to foster inclusion and support for LGBT+ people working as barristers. The set launched a Social Mobility Podcast Series in 2021 and also used its centenary year to raise money for social mobility charities the Sutton Trust and IntoUniversity, which it continues to work with.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
My journey up until pupillage involved a mix of study, mini-pupillages, work and voluntary experience. After a degree in PPE at New College, Oxford, I worked for a year in the Mergers & Acquisitions team of Credit Suisse before deciding that finance wasn’t for me and that I wanted to pursue a career as a barrister. I studied the 2 year accelerated undergraduate law degree at Cambridge, followed by an LLM at Harvard. Throughout that whole period, I participated variously in mooting, completed mini-pupillages at five sets, a couple of vacation schemes at city firms, tutored undergraduate law, and volunteered at the Islington Law Centre, Harvard’s Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Immigration Law Clinic.
I didn’t get pupillage the first time I applied, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I was then able to do the LLM. This was an amazing year where I took incredibly interesting courses, met people from all over the world, volunteered with legal projects I was passionate about and also got to travel around parts of the US! I obtained my pupillage offer whilst on the LLM, and did the BPTC the following year. The application process of course isn’t easy, but I think the key ways to stay sane are to be organised (start on the written gateway applications far earlier than you think you need to), manage your expectations, and have alternatives lined up for the following year in case you don’t secure pupillage the first time round (be that voluntary experience, paralegal work, travel or further study).
The pupillage experience
I was drawn to Brick Court due to the mix of work on offer; there aren’t many other sets where, as a new tenant, you can work on a judicial review of a big piece of legislation, a multi-billion-dollar follow-on damages claim for breaches of competition law and a multi-jurisdictional civil fraud case. The pupillage experience is equally as varied – you sit with three supervisors during pupillage, each typically specialising in a different area of law reflecting chambers’ practice areas: commercial, competition and public. Each of my supervisors (Craig Morrison, Malcolm Birdling and Nicholas Saunders QC) were very easy to get along with, ask any questions of, and were great to learn from. I did pupillage during Covid, so not the typical experience, yet still felt that I was able to see and become involved in a wide array of work. Brick Court has a pretty formalised pupillage assessment process: each pupil completes 6 written exercises and 6 advocacy exercises over the course of the year. The feedback from those exercises, combined with the feedback from supervisors, are considered by the tenancy committee in making their recommendations for pupillage. Although the assessments can feel nerve-wracking at times, they provide great opportunities for structured feedback, and mean that the process feels as impartial and meritocratic as possible.
The transition from pupil to tenant
There was definitely still a learning curve in the transition from pupil to tenant, but I felt totally supported by both the clerks and other barristers I was working with. I’ve really enjoyed learning from the very talented senior juniors and KCs in chambers. All five pupils in my cohort were taken on as tenants, and we’re all very collegial, which means there’s always someone’s knowledge to tap when questions come up. Sharing a room also means there’s someone to share all the new experiences, highs and lows of life as a junior tenant with.
What is your practice is like now?
My practice is incredibly varied. In my first year as a tenant (as I plan to do in my second year), I tried to gain exposure to as many different types of cases as possible across the range of chambers’ areas of practice. I worked on large competition law claims with big teams of barristers and solicitors, judicial reviews, freezing injunctions in commercial cases and a pro bono employment law case. I attended many hearings and case management conferences as junior counsel, although given the large-scale nature of the litigation Brick Court is involved in I am not often on my feet. At any one time I can be working on upwards of five cases, although each with their peaks and troughs in terms of intensity and time commitment, so I’ve found that working weeks vary quite a lot! With that in mind, work life balance is what you make of it – it can be hard to say no to work when there are so many great opportunities, but at the same time the flexibility that comes with being at the bar has made it easier to find a balance that works for me. I’ve definitely been able to enjoy holidays after busy periods!
What is the culture of chambers?
I’ve found Brick Court to be very friendly and warm. Social events are starting to come back post-Covid, which I’ve really enjoyed, as I got to meet fewer members of chambers during pupillage than would have otherwise been the case. Clerks are fantastic; they’re interested in finding out what your personal goals for your practice are and helping you achieve them.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Remember there are so many different paths people take to the bar – be open minded and before applying try to gain as much relevant experience in the areas of law you’re interested in as possible.