Crown Office Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Made up of 100 barristers, of whom an impressive 25 are KCs, Crown Office Chambers is one of the leading civil and commercial sets in the country. Due to its sheer size, the set has numerous teams, meaning barristers here have “plenty of opportunity” to spread their wings into areas outside of their traditional practices. With expertise ranging from clinical negligence claims to international commercial litigation, a tenant at the set tells us that the set has an “equally strong reputation in both commercial and civil work”, something which is “incredibly rare”. This certainly makes the prestigious set perfect for those aspiring barristers who have their hearts set on a varied practice.

Whilst Crown Office is perhaps traditionally best known for its insurance (especially insurer-backed), construction, and property damage work, it also has renowned expertise in inquests and inquiries, clinical negligence, personal injury, product liability, health and safety, professional negligence, criminal regulatory work, civil fraud, and contractual claims – there is a lot going on! A tenant at the set tells us: “it’s so rare for a set to be able to offer first rate work in high end commercial cases and in areas of common law practice… Crown Office manages to do this – it is one of only two or three sets to do so.” The “incredible” range of work looks set to increase even further going forward as Crown Office’s arbitration practice continues to thrive, especially international arbitration in the construction and engineering fields, with the Middle East being a big market for the set. Sports law is also a growing practice area, especially since former professional cricketer Maurice Holmes joined the set as a tenant!

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As well as being broad in range, the work undertaken by tenants at Crown Office is high in quality and interest level. One junior at the set comments that the work is “endlessly fascinating. Even as a junior you can take on work that has a real impact on people’s lives”. This is certainly the case in areas such as personal injury, clinical negligence, and insurance. With recent past cases including X Children v Minister for Health & Social Services – the largest personal injury claim in British legal history, in which child abuse victims in Jersey sued the Minister for Health & Social Services for £238 million – and the FCA test case, concerning whether thousands of businesses could recover under their business interruption policies for losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is no surprise that tenants at the set describe their work as involving “a broad range of legal and factual issues and working with interesting and stimulating people”.

Crown Office’s tenants are regularly instructed in the highest courts in the country. One junior boasts: “some of my cases have been featured in lists such as The Lawyer’s Top 20 Cases, and I am regularly in the High Court and above”. Cases worked on are often headline-grabbing. From tenants working on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to contractual disputes relating to HS2, the work really does seem to be “varied, stimulating and intellectually demanding”. As one tenant puts it: “very rarely will I have a run of the mill piece of work” but of course “everyone has to pay their bills!” We are told that some of the junior construction work, for example, can be a little more tedious.

It’s not just the KCs and senior juniors who get all the exciting work at Crown Office, however. One pupil tells us: “I’m still a pupil and I’ve already been involved in: a wrongful birth case concerning novel arguments on the duty of care in secondary victim psychiatric injury claims. Interim hearings in commercial court cases involving complex issues of agency and an agent’s duty to diver up client papers, including whether this duty is contractual or imposed by law. Plenty of advisory work concerning the construction of all-risks construction project insurance policies and whether they offer sub-contractors a co-insured defence. I’m never bored at any point and interesting points of law arise on an almost daily basis.” It certainly sounds like a good way to start off your career at the Bar!

We hear that it is common for juniors at the set to maintain a broad practice early on – though one junior emphasises that they are “not forced into areas I don’t like”. There are then “opportunities in the future to develop a more specialised practice”. Even those senior juniors and KCs that are more specialised often find themselves doing a range of work as many areas that Crown Office specialises in overlap. Indeed, the set is renowned for taking on complex cases at the intersection of different practice areas. One tenant tells us that their work involves “cutting edge litigation that pushes the boundaries in my areas of practice”.

When it comes to the interesting flow of work, this past year has been no exception. It has seen Farrah Mauladad KC successfully represent the North East Ambulance Trust in an inquest into the death of a former rock singer who died due to rare complications of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccination; Ben Quiney KC and Nicola Atkins represent the successful respondent in an appeal challenging the grant of an anti-suit injunction against a FTSE 250 multinational engineering and consulting business; and Michael Kent KC successfully defend Manchester City Football Club in a seven-week trial of claims arising out of sexual abuse by a football coach in the early 1980s. Alex Antelme KC and David Myhill have been quite the double act this year, appearing together twice before the Supreme Court: once in the first dispute concerning the Consumer Protection Act 1987 to reach the Supreme Court, and once in the latest case involving metal-on-metal hip implants. Plenty of exciting work!

“The only risk in my experience”, one junior tenant discussing work/life balance tells us, “is of having too much excellent quality work — a great risk to have!” Whilst work/life balance at the bar is ultimately down to individual choice, we are told by several tenants at Crown Office that there is a “strong awareness of the need for a sensible balance” at the set, which one member says means “there is flexibility allowing me to take breaks from work whenever needed, whether that is micro breaks or longer holiday type breaks”. During pupillage, we hear that pupils are “kicked out” at 6pm “pretty much every day”. Despite this, achieving a balance is “inevitably a tricky juggle at the bar” and it “fluctuates” depending on the type of work you are doing. As one tenant puts it: “the bar is obviously a tough place, especially at such a prestigious set, but chambers won’t put pressure on you. It’s just the pressure you put on yourself”.

A great advantage at Crown Office is that both the clerks and fellow barristers are “very supportive”. One tenant, who has previously been at two different sets, says that their colleagues at Crown Office are “certainly the most supportive I have met”. One baby junior reveals how this has allowed them to build their practice quickly and to “graduate to serious and interesting cases much earlier in my career than I was expecting”. We are told of the “real camaraderie” and “generosity of spirit among colleagues”, with an open-door policy being in place throughout the set. One junior comments: “everyone is always willing to help with any work queries or any matters about work/life balance and life in general. The general rule is we always stop what we are doing if someone needs to ask a question.” Apparently, there is a “hive mind” group chat which “is used to test arguments and canvas views on procedural and legal problems”.

As well as being there to lend a hand when needed, the Crown Office bunch are “extremely social”. We hear that there are informal lunches and Friday night drinks, as well as networking drinks with solicitors, annual Christmas and summer parties, and formal dinners to celebrate occasions such as retirements. One junior at the set tells us: “compared to other chambers, we’re known as enjoying a party. We work very hard and the “work hard play hard” cliché definitely applies here”. Indeed, the set even has its own in-house bar! Of course, Covid did have an impact, but it generally seems that things are back on track now, as indicated by a black-tie dinner taking place the other week to celebrate everyone being back together post-Covid.

Crown Office’s premises are located opposite Inner Temple Gardens. The views over the gardens and the Thames lead one member to say that “the setting is among the best in London”, meanwhile “the next door competitors are overlooking the car park”. Inner Temple’s fancy new Pegasus Bar is also conveniently located next door! The set’s “beautiful” building features traditional Temple architecture mixed with a brand-new modern reception and conference rooms meaning the “outside and public areas are as impressive as you could hope”. While “working areas require some refurbishment”, which is apparently happening as we speak, there are good facilities including showers with a towel service. IT wise, conference rooms include “state of the art technology”. Tech support, provided by an external company, is available 24/7, and whilst there have been some “teething problems” with the new contractor, the offering is generally said to be excellent, with the set “constantly updating and evolving” its tech offering.

Crown Office Chambers offers up to three pupillages a year, each coming with an award of £75,000 in addition to earnings from the second six. Pupils will spend their first six sitting with two different supervisors for three months each. Work is predominately completed for these supervisors, but the set says pupils are also likely to receive work from a range of tenants, allowing them to broaden their knowledge. In their second six, pupils will sit with a third supervisor and begin receiving regular instructions in their own right. They can expect to be on their feet in court up to 3-4 times per week, making applications and conducting small trials, particularly in the County Court. Lucky pupils also get to appear in larger cases and even in international courts.

Pupillage at Crown Office comes highly rated. One former pupil tells us: “my pupil masters were all I could hope for and they still maintain a supportive relationship with me even more than a decade later”. As well as their supervisors, pupils are given an “aunt” and “uncle” – junior barristers who help you to learn the ropes. One recent pupil tells us: “compared to friends at other sets, my pupillage was an enjoyable experience. The chance to be on your feet is also invaluable. Not only can you earn more money on top of the already high pupillage award but you also develop real advocacy skills putting you way ahead of pupils at other sets who have spent six months doing paperwork!” Beyond pupillage, the set “offers an excellent array of in-house training” such as equality and diversity training.

Those wishing to apply for pupillage at Crown Office Chambers should apply through the Pupillage Gateway. Around 25% of applicants will be invited to a first-round interview which typically takes place in front of two tenants and is general in nature. Around 15 candidates will then be invited back for a final-round interview which is more extensive and takes place in front of a panel including KCs. Before going into the interview room, candidates will be given a legal problem which they will have around 30 minutes to prepare before they present. Other general questions and ethics questions are also posed.

Crown Office assesses applicants on the following criteria: intellectual ability, analytical skills, sound judgement, oral and written advocacy, interpersonal skills, integrity, organisational skills, determination, and an interest in Crown Office. The set states that it is committed to equality of opportunity amongst all of its members, and it participates in initiatives such as Access to the Bar, the Pegasus Access and Support Scheme, and Inspiring the Future.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Hamish Fraser

Your journey to pupillage

I originally studied English at Oxford University, graduating with not much of a clue as to what I wanted to do next or indeed what a barrister did. I went to work for a charity and then off travelling, buying a decrepit car on the East Coast of the States and driving it to the West. Having sufficiently found myself, I came back to London to study the GDL and was drawn to the adrenaline and intellectual challenge that a career at the Bar appeared to offer.

I didn’t have any legal work experience on my CV at that point and spent a while working on it; undertaking mini-pupillages, writing legal articles, entering mooting and debating competitions, volunteering at the Free Representation Unit (FRU), and working as a research assistant at KCL in the field of business and human rights law. FRU is a great experience that I would highly recommend; it is as close as one can get to what it is really like to work as a junior barrister.

I then applied for pupillage at a range of civil and commercial sets and was happily offered a pupillage at Crown Office Chambers. I undertook the Bar Course and started pupillage the same year.

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The pupillage experience

I was drawn to Crown Office Chambers by the range and quality of work on offer across a span of commercial, civil, inquest, and criminal regulatory law. I was conscious that deciding which area of law I wanted to practice in for the next 40 odd years was not a decision I wanted to make without experiencing it in practice first. Crown Office Chambers also offered the mix of working as a junior on larger cases whilst undertaking your own cases and own advocacy from day one, which is what had drawn me to the Bar in the first place.

Having started pupillage in October 2020 during a global pandemic, I feared that it would be a rather strange and socially distanced experience. Nevertheless, my pupillage was in-person, with each of my supervisors making sure they came into Chambers every day. Learning through osmosis from a barrister undertaking their work sat next to you is invaluable, and it is a testament to the commitment Chambers makes to training their pupils that my pupillage felt largely unaffected by the pandemic.

I actually found it to be a fun year, with frequent social events, from Chambers’ bi-weekly drinks to junior member curry nights, in a friendly and welcoming environment.

Pupils rotate between three pupil supervisors over the course of the year, each working in different areas of practice to offer a broad and rounded experience. Pupils will undertake four oral assessments over the course of the year, judged by a panel of members of Chambers, and also three written assessments, which will be double-marked. You will then receive feedback on each of these assessments, and will also receive a feedback session with the Head of Pupillage at the end of each seat. That, alongside the feedback pupillage supervisors will give on each piece of work set by them, gives every pupil a structured and detailed learning experience. Pupils are not expected to be the finished article at the start of pupillage, indeed there is a grace period in the first month of pupillage which will not count towards the final decision. Instead, the year is actively geared towards giving you the training and experience you need to (hopefully) become the finished article.

You are also partnered with pupillage mentors; junior members of chambers who will not have any input into the final tenancy decision. That means you can ask them any stupid questions (of which I had many) which you might be worried about asking to your pupillage supervisor.

During the second six months of pupillage, you will balance undertaking work for your supervisor with taking on your own cases; usually small personal injury trials and interim applications. For me, the only way to become a good trial advocate is to do it in practice and the chance to undertake a practising second six is one of the best things about pupillage at Crown Office Chambers.

Pupillage at Crown Office Chambers is not a competition; pupils are encouraged to work together and tenancy will be offered to those who meet the competency criteria at the end of the year. Ultimately, I found it to be a very well-organised process with a chambers that really cares about making you welcome and about developing the next generation of talent.

The transition from pupil to tenant

That you undertake a practising second six means the change from pupil to tenant is gradual and easy. Tenancy offers are made in around mid-June so the last three months of pupillage are essentially spent undertaking your own cases under the supervision of your pupillage supervisor, which is a nice half way house between pupillage and tenancy (and without the pressure of a looming tenancy decision). Having pupillage mentors, who will set up a group Whatsapp, means there is also always someone junior on hand to answer questions about your cases (sometimes even during trials) so that you are never truly on your own.

It very much helps that we have a great clerking team and a reliable stream of work for junior members. In the first year of tenancy you will develop a written practice alongside the oral advocacy, gradually start taking on larger and more complex pieces of work, and start working as a junior on larger cases.

What is your practice like now?

The best thing about Crown Office Chambers is the diversity of work; both in terms of areas of law and your role in the cases you work on.  At the moment, I probably spend around half my time working as a junior on larger cases (from multi-million pound commercial litigation to an environmental prosecution of a water company) and the other half on my own cases across the full span of Chambers’ practice areas. I am probably in court 2-3 times a week, working on everything from prosecuting companies in the Magistrates’ Court to representing a local authority in an inquest into a death to variety of small commercial/civil disputes in the County Court, with all the challenge and excitement that brings. Alongside that is a written practice advising clients and drafting pleadings.

This mix of work means I get the opportunity to learn from senior barristers who are leaders in their respective fields, whilst also being able to refine my own advocacy skills in court. I also get to experience a range of different areas of law in practice, which I think is key to becoming a well-rounded lawyer but also to deciding which area is for you in the long-run.

What is the culture of chambers?

I think members of Crown Office Chambers are defined by taking their work seriously, but never themselves seriously. It is a down to earth and friendly environment with frequent social events. Just in the month of writing this we have had a formal black-tie dinner, a lunch hosting a hundred of our clients, and a junior members and clerks bowling night. We are constantly walking in and out of each other’s rooms, asking for thoughts on a particular legal problem or whether a cup of tea might be needed.

We have a brilliant team of clerks, who are also down to earth and approachable and who are as much involved in chambers’ social life as the members of chambers themselves. Importantly, there is an understanding in the clerks’ room that our best work is produced when we are happy; which means junior members have complete control over the quantity of work they take on, whether they say yes to potential instructions, holidays, and general work/life balance. Ultimately, the nature of the job is that it is hard work and stressful but having control and direction over your practice, along with a great team of clerks and support staff, makes all the difference.

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

(1) Take time to understand which areas of law particular chambers actually practise in. Figure out why you’re interested in those areas and think of ways in which you can demonstrate that interest; write an article, enter an essay competition or specific moot, undertake some work experience at a relevant solicitors’ firm etc.

(2) Get used to quickly formulating arguments. I did this by jotting down three “for” and three “against” arguments every time I came across a proposition in legal news/current affairs.

(3) In interviews, be confident but not arrogant; defend your opinions, but accept when you’re wrong; be articulate, not pretentious; be persuasive, not argumentative; and be yourself rather than somebody else.

Deadlines

Pupillage

Applications open 04/01/2023
Applications close 08/02/2023

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 C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2022-3 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 75
KCs 25
Pupillages 3
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 5/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £75,000
BPTC advance drawdown £25,000

Diversity

Female juniors 33%
Female KCs 16%
BME juniors 4%
BME KCs 4%