Devereux Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Devereux’s roster of 12 QCs and 42 juniors specialise in, among other areas, commercial litigation, insurance, reinsurance, professional negligence, IT and telecoms, tax, employment, clinical negligence and personal injury. Perhaps the best known of its silks is tax barrister and blogger Jolyon Maugham QC, who founded the Good Law Project to pursue cases in the public interest. Good Law’s many high-profile legal actions include issuing judicial review proceedings in July 2020 against government minister Michael Gove for awarding an £840,000 public contract for the supply of research and communications services to friends of his and the Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor Dominic Cummings.

The set may be full of renaissance men and women juggling sexy human rights cases with big-money commercial instructions, but it’s also a notably friendly place. “Doors are always open and I am comfortable asking colleagues from juniors to silk for advice on both small matters of judgment and large matters of law,” one rookie barrister tells us. “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 on the “incredibly collegiate atmosphere”.

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The happy vibe pervades pupillage, which is reportedly “carefully planned and well executed” albeit with the caveat that “some areas are better taught than others”. The programme is one of the more organised at the bar, with formalised assessments and advocacy exercises conducted before real judges. 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.

A 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”.

It’s worth noting that Devereux doesn’t pit its pupils against each other — if they are good enough, all are offered places as tenants.

Work starts off relatively basic, with a sprinkling of more complex stuff that becomes steadily more regular. One junior sums it up: “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 and mundane: “Working for a brain injured claimant can involve high-stakes negotiation, but it can also involve tedious number-crunching and costs budgeting.”

Devereux operates out of a distinctive-looking white building at the entry to the Temple, enviably positioned alongside a pub and a wine bar and not more than 60 seconds from the Royal Courts of Justice. An insider describes it as: “Fantastic conference rooms and IT and large buildings for individual workspace. Clerks and staff have lovely accommodation in middle temple overlooking the gardens.” A colleague praises the “comfortable” chambers but adds: “I do wish the carpets were nicer.”

Chambers 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. As one barrister explains: “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.”

On the plus side, the boozers nearby mean there is scope for after work drinks. In normal, non-pandemic times, bonds at work are strengthened further by regular sponsored charitable activities such as walks, fun runs, cycling contests and quiz nights.

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 55 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

To commence October 2021
Applications open 07/01/2021
Applications close 07/02/2021

Insider Scorecard

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

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 42
QCs 12
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 3/5

*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 BPTC advance drawdown for Devereux is £20,000, paid in two installments in December and May. During the first six months of the pupillage, pupils receive £20,000 in monthly installments whilst during the second six earnings are guaranteed at a minimum of £20,000, also paid monthly.

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 36%
Female QCs 17%