Devereux Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Devereux’s roster of 11 QCs and 39 juniors specialise in, among other areas, commercial litigation, insurance, reinsurance, professional negligence, IT and telecoms, tax, employment, clinical negligence and personal injury. One of its most high profile members, the barrister and blogger Jolyon Maugham QC, fronted the main legal challenge to prevent the invoking of Article 50 without the approval of parliament.

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. “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,” one rookie barrister tells us. Another adds: “There’s always somebody around to answer questions if you’re stuck, and senior members of chambers sometimes wander in to bounce ideas around — there is a very collegial atmosphere.”

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The happy vibe pervades pupillage, which is reportedly “excellent” albeit with the caveat that “there’s nothing that can really prepare you for practice except practice itself”. 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 like this: “Well structured, carefully designed and with plenty of thoughtful feedback. Deliberate opportunities to work with lots of members of chambers, which is great for learning about different styles as well as useful for the tenancy file.”

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: “It’s difficult to generalise – at the junior end of chambers, we do our fair share of small claims ‘knockabout’ work – but also some very involved multi track litigation.”

Another praises the “good range” and “high quality” of the instructions sent their way by clerks who know how to drive a hard bargain on behalf of their barristers.

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: “Pretty good at the front-end, perhaps a little bit less palatial in our rooms – but that is the nature of being in Temple.”

The boozers nearby mean there is scope for after work drinks. 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 50 barristers, including eleven 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 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

Mini-Pupillage

Applications close 31/10/2018

Pupillage

Applications open 08/01/2019
Applications close 07/02/2019

Insider Scorecard

A
Training
A
Quality of work
A*
Colleagues
B
Facilities
A
Social life

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2018-19 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 40
QCs 11
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 1/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £50,000
BPTC advance drawdown £15,000

Hours

Average hours 50-59 hours

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2018-19.

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 38%
Female QCs 9%