Devereux Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Meet Devereux Chambers at the Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 9 October 2021

Devereux’s roster of 11 QCs and 42 juniors cover a range of specialisms including commercial litigation, insurance, reinsurance, professional negligence, public law, as well as IT and telecoms, tax, employment, clinical negligence and personal injury (the quality of which is apparently “unbelievable”). It has a strong client base including major corporates, multinationals and government departments.

Work starts off relatively basic, with a sprinkling of more complex stuff that steadily becomes more regular working towards higher value instructions. One junior sums it up as: “the work has a mix of discrimination work with great human interest and technical tax work which is incredibly difficult and intellectually challenging. Highly stimulating in a variety of ways.” Another highlights the mix of challenging law and the supporting mundane tasks: “Working for a brain injured claimant can involve high-stakes negotiation, but it can also involve tedious number-crunching and costs budgeting.” Baby juniors are handed opportunities to develop advocacy skills — which are “not afforded at all top sets” — through being expected to run their own civil court and employment cases from the get-go. There is also opportunity to be led in large commercial and tax disputes, including “plenty of trips to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court clinging to the coat-tails of senior members”.

Recent appearances by members include securing the acquittal of an accountant accused of cheating the public revenue to sum of approximately £1.2million, obtaining a £12.5million settlement for a client who suffered a spinal injury following a motorbike accident, and a jurisdictional Supreme Court battle in a claim brought against Nigerian Shell and Royal Dutch Shell relating to numerous oil spills. Members are also known to write prominent practitioner texts in Devereux’s specialist areas and others contribute to the set’s popular employment and personal injury blog.

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Devereux may be full of renaissance men and women juggling sexy human rights cases with big-money commercial instructions, but it is also a notably friendly and collegiate place. “From the junior end right up to the most senior silk — if you have a question that touches on someone else’s experience or expertise, everyone tries to help. A fantastic environment”, one member tells the Legal Cheek barrister survey. “Most people are very willing to have a chat when I’m trying to work out an answer to a difficult point, or just commiserate after a hard day.” Another remarks simply, “we work as a team”. The “lack of egos” is a particular like of one Devereux insider.

The happy vibe pervades pupillage, which one member reports is the “best pupillage training at the bar”. Pupillage is “carefully planned and well executed” albeit with the caveat that “some areas are better taught than others”. Pupils obtain experience and training in the set’s three core areas of tax, employment and personal injury and gain further experience in other areas such as commercial and reinsurance. The pupillage programme – which the set says “will offer you the opportunity to be involved in fascinating, often complex litigation” — is well structured, with five formal written assessments and two formal advocacy exercises conducted before real senior judges, with a “constant stream of feedback to ensure your development”. There’s also an informal element to the training which sees barristers of varying levels of seniority pass on their pearls of wisdom to pupils, who also receive a special mentor who has no vote on the tenancy decision.

One former pupil told us of the quality of their supervisors, with all three now being top QCs in their fields. Another junior tenant who recently went through the process describes it as “second to none. It was rare among my cohort of pupils to have supervisors at such a high level of call. That, combined with the willingness of even the most senior silks to involve pupils in, for example, appeals to the Supreme Court, meant that I started practice with an excellent understanding of both the work that I would be doing immediately, and the work that I hope to do when I reach the pinnacle of my career”.

Devereux operates out of a historic and distinctive-looking white building at the entry to Temple, enviably positioned alongside a pub and a wine bar and not more than 60 seconds from the Royal Courts of Justice. “I think on the outside, our main building is wonderful — exactly the sort of building one dreams of working in as a barrister. I love my room, overlooking Fountain Court”, one insider tells us in their response to the 2021-22 Legal Cheek survey. Another chambers’ source describes the premises as having “fantastic conference rooms and large buildings for individual workspace”, while a colleague praises the “comfortable” chambers but adds: “I do wish the carpets were nicer.” Technology wise, the support is “outstanding” says one member, adding chambers provide “brilliant online library resources, quick response times for IT issues and very reliable systems”. The set has just rolled out a new phone system that can be run from smart phones showing it really is “constantly looking to improve”.

Members comment that their work-life balance is “not perfect” and it may not always be possible to have weekends and holidays, but this is par for the course at the bar, and is often “a matter of personal choice”. As one barrister says: “I have never felt under pressure to work longer than I want to, either from the clerks or more senior members. You have to work hard (and sometimes long) to maintain a practice anywhere, but at Devereux you feel in control.” One chambers’ newbie adds: “since I moved to Devereux I feel like I can have a life!”. One member who is a working mum with children, praises the set for supporting her working four days a week and taking longer holidays with clerks having “excellent understanding of the need for balance and supporting those going on maternity leave and mothers”. The clerking service at Devereux is tailored to the individual barristers in question and the set practices a fair allocation of work principle.

The chambers’ building is perfectly positioned next to the Devereux pub meaning there is scope for after work drinks. We are told bonds at work are strengthened further by regular sponsored charitable activities such as walks, fun runs, cycling contests and quiz nights. “Chambers has done amazingly at keeping everyone in touch with each other” during the pandemic, with weekly Zoom drinks headed up by the new head of chambers, Andrew Burns QC, which was “particularly good to see as it was a top down driven event”.

The set offers two pupillages each year and doesn’t pit its baby barristers against each other — if they are good enough, all are offered tenancy (eight tenancies offered in the last four years!). Attributes any wannabe-Devereuxer should demonstrate are “incisive analysis”, “strong advocacy skills”, “academic excellence”, “common sense”, “practicality” and “the ability to get on with people”.

What The Junior Barristers Say

“It is amazing what you can achieve with a well-chosen question and a polite but firm manner”. Junior barrister, Colm Kelly, describes learning how to cross-examine from the masters of the art at Devereux.

One of the hardest elements of being a junior barrister is having to practice the dark art of cross-examination. During his pupillage, Colm Kelly, now junior barrister at top commercial set, Devereux, was lucky enough to be able to watch one of the chambers’ senior advocates in action: “Seeing it live from an experienced practitioner was quite amazing. It was impressive to see how quickly this senior barrister adapted his line of questioning to the witness’s responses, you have to be very nimble to do that. But also to see what you can ‘extract’ from someone with a lot of patience and skill.”

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Kelly was called to the bar in 2015. He chose Devereux because it was strong in the commercial areas he was interested in (though he has ended up pursuing slightly different practice areas to those which he had originally intended, now doing employment work and tax). His first court appearance was representing an individual facing a bankruptcy order. “Even though I had done a mock court appearance in chambers in front of a judge as part of my advocacy assessment, the real world is, of course, a bit different!”

He continues: “Chambers is fantastic at preparing you for what it might be like in court, organising mock cases so you can practice your arguments, but having to explain to a real witness what is going to happen, particularly if things aren’t likely to go as well as they might hope, you can’t really be prepared for that.”

Devereux Chambers has over 50 barristers, including 12 silks to keep you on your toes. Kelly says that the atmosphere is collegiate; he shares a floor with a number of barristers who are under ten years’ call and they are “very pleasant people” and a “fantastic resource” for the many legal and practical questions which a barrister might have as they find their feet as a pupil and in the early years of tenancy.

Devereux is known for its more organised training (see The Legal Cheek View above) but in general chambers do tend to be less structured than recent law graduates might be used to. As Kelly puts it, you are going to be “asking around, as you try and work out the best way of doing something you haven’t done before. Someone else will have done something similar.”

Devereux does like to prepare its juniors as much as possible, however, and Kelly explains how he was given written guidance about court procedures: “Early on, some of our bread and butter work is claims relating to hire cars when someone has damaged their own vehicle. Those will be your first cases. The guidance was really helpful on the practical side: what you have to do when you get to court and so on.”

Kelly’s seats were in employment, commercial and tax, the latter he enjoyed so much he carried on with it after he had been accepted for tenancy. He clearly learnt an awful lot from the experiences he had as a pupil including watching one senior advocate successfully cross-examine a witness.

Pupillage does come with stresses, however, and the process towards whether you will be accepted for tenancy is hard: “You will have assessment work to do as well as all the other stuff going on, the tenancy decision does sort of loom over you for a while.”

This sort of moment is an unavoidable part of the competitive selection process from law student to junior barrister. To make that process easier, Kelly recommends focusing from the beginning on the essentials, namely good grades: “Grades do tend to matter for the bar. Lots of candidates will have a few extra degrees as well.” (Kelly has a masters from Cambridge and has had no less than five scholarships in his academic life.)

But grades are not all: “I would distinguish yourself with any kind of demonstration of enthusiasm for oral advocacy, such as mooting and debating, or, perhaps, examples from outside the law where you have proved you are very good at persuading people.” As Kelly adds: “You need a hook for the pupillage gateway and in interviews so that when they ask you why you want to be a barrister, you can say: ‘I have done this advocacy or this job which uses the same sort of skills, and I really enjoyed doing it.’”

Deadlines

Pupillage 2022

To commence October 2022
Applications open 05/01/2022
Applications close 09/02/2022

Insider Scorecard

A*
Training
A
Quality of work
A
Colleagues
B
Facilities
A
Work/life balance
A
Social life
A
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 42
QCs 11
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 4/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £60,000
BPTC advance drawdown £20,000

The Pupillage award is inclusive of a minimum of £20,000 guaranteed second six earnings.

Diversity

Female juniors 35%
Female QCs 18%
BME juniors 8%
BME QCs 0%