About The Set
Cornerstone Barristers is a leading public law chambers that is based in London with additional branches in Birmingham and Cardiff.
The set’s members – among them 12 QCs and 40 juniors – specialise in areas right across the spectrum of public work, including development, infrastructure, government, leisure, health, social care, finance and energy.
Much of the work they do is high profile, with recent examples including the successful appeal against the closure of world-famous London nightclub Fabric, in which six members of Cornerstone’s licensing team were instructed. The set has also been active in recent legal challenges to fracking planning decisions.
Cornerstone is known for its commitment to corporate social responsibility, with a number its members serving as Free Representation Unit volunteers or Bar Pro Bono Unit panel members. Barristers at the set do an average of 50 hours pro bono each year.
What The Junior Barristers Say
“The stand out feature of Cornerstone Barristers”, says junior barrister Ruchi Parekh, “is definitely the environment -- it’s hard to find a nicer bunch of barristers”. Parekh, who applied for a pupillage at the chambers due to her interest in general public law, says that it “feels like being part of a community”.
The culture is arguably defined by the set’s “open door policy”, which applies both physically and metaphorically. Parekh recalls the time she was in court as a second-six pupil and called a member of chambers during the lunch break to get help on a point of law that arose at the trial: “I can’t think of another chambers where you can feel relaxed enough to do that”, she says.
Support for pupils is high on the agenda. They are assigned junior barrister mentors who “tell them what they need to know”, especially about their first weeks in court. For example, advice is offered about the law as well as “which usher they should become friends with”.
The pupillage itself is structured across three seats. Pupils sit with three different supervisors during the course of their pupillage, each with his or her own specialised practice. The aim is that “by the end, you’ve seen most if not all the work that chambers does”. Parekh says supervisors “understand that you’re new and starting fresh”, and likely to be “looking at an area of law that you’ve never seen before”. Parekh adds: “During second-six, you’re on your feet a lot and in court three to four times a week”.
Before assigning tasks to their pupils, the supervisors “check if you have the capacity to do the work”. Where appropriate, they will also “pause the work that you’re doing for them if more interesting work comes along”, like a Court of Appeal hearing with another member of chambers. Parekh says she’s “never been in a situation where I felt like there was too much to do and couldn’t handle it”.
Under your supervisor’s wing, “you do whatever they do, work on whatever they’re working on”. If you’re drafting an advice or grounds, then “supervisors will use it as a template if it’s good” or, “if it could be improved they improve it then talk it through with you”. Crucially, “you rarely sit back as a spectator”.
There are also plenty of opportunities to get involved in secondments. Through the government’s Junior Junior scheme, Parekh was able to “work in the Government Legal Department’s offices for various central government departments” and “gain exposure to different work and clients”. The chambers also encourages pro bono work, and during her pupillage Parekh got to work on an asylum appeal.
In the second six months of pupillage, your work will increase. Indeed, “you don’t have a single quiet day”. It’s likely that you’ll be working on larger cases with your supervisor that will continue beyond your training. Parekh explains the advantage of this: “When you get tenancy, there’s no gap in the work, and you’ll already know clients from beforehand and don’t have to start from scratch”.
Now as a junior barrister, Parekh generally does “50% led work and 50% own work”. She says this is “a great balance”, that gives you the advocacy and trial skills that you need but also “big exposure to the juicier, more complex cases”. She also has “a 50/50 mix of both written and court work”.
Calling over her roommate to calculate how many hours per week they work on average, they both agree that it’s difficult to say a number as it varies week to week. However, you can “work non stop but then take two weeks off to enjoy yourself”.
She adds that “in an ideal world the bar would be 9-5 like any other job, but that’s simply impossible”. If you have a hearing on a Monday, you’ll be working on a Sunday. You can expect “some long nights as you take on your own cases in your second six months of pupillage” as well as a “busy first year of tenancy”. But, she adds, “that’s a good problem to have”.
The chambers’ facilities aren’t too shabby either. Recently refurbished on a large scale project, everything is pretty much new. There’s a “shiny brand new clerks’ room and a new library”, as well as new “hot desking area”, which creates more scope for flexible work. The modern style contrasts with the traditional Gray’s Inn exterior.