Devereux Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Made up of 55 barristers, including 12 KCs, Devereux Chambers is a multi-specialist set operating across a range of areas. Whether acting for individuals, major corporates, or government departments, the quality of work is described by one tenant as “unbelievable”. The set’s key strengths lie in employment, tax, personal injury, clinical negligence, and insurance. Members also take on work in other areas, including education, sports law, and health and safety. 

Speaking to juniors at the set, we hear that a broad practice is maintained in these years. One tells us: “At the junior end of practice at Devereux, barristers work on a variety of cases across all of our practice areas. This leads to enormous variety in the work that we do: no two days are the same.” Working across such a broad range of areas is also fantastic training — some areas will naturally lend themselves to more advocacy, some to more paperwork, meaning a variety of skills can be honed. As one junior puts it: “I can’t imagine a better way to start practice at the Bar.” Juniors can also explore areas that maybe didn’t initially interest them. Tax doesn’t sound like the most thrilling area, but one tenant tells us: “I’m a tax specialist and tax law changes every year — so it is always interesting”. Maybe we were wrong.  

In terms of the cases you take on, work starts off relatively basic, with a sprinkling of more complex stuff that steadily transforms into working towards higher value instructions more regularly. 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 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”.

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There are certainly plenty of exciting cases taking place in Chambers. In just this past year, Andrew Burns KC gave evidence on the employment and industrial relations obligations of employers to joint Select Committees investigating the legality of P&O Ferries’ dismissal of 800 workers, Harriet Fear Davies was part of a counsel team appearing in the Court of Appeal of the Caymans Islands in relation to a landmark fraud claim, Robert Weir KC appeared in the first ever Supreme Court case to consider the Consumer Protection Act 1987, and Peter Edwards represented claimants, all police widows entitled to ongoing pension payments, in a Judicial Review Application worth £198 million. Certainly plenty for the members to get stuck into! 

Even with all these big cases going on, Devereux Chambers is notably a friendly and collegiate place. The “lack of egos” is a particular like of one Devereux insider while another tells us simply “we work as a team”. This means there is always someone willing to lend a hand if you get stuck on a tricky point of law. “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,” one junior at the set tells us. Another comments: “I regularly take any knotty problems to other members and inevitably come away with the answer, or with something much closer to the answer.” 

With so much hard work going on, it’s inevitable that work-life balance is “not perfect”. Members comment that it may not always be possible to have weekends and holidays off, but this is normal at the top end of the Bar. As one tenant puts it: “The volume of work does eat into evenings and weekends but that is the price of a successful practice.” Often, long hours are “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.” The clerks are especially praised for helping the barristers to manage their time. We are also told by one tenant who has recently taken a substantial period of paternity leave that Chambers have been very supportive of this.  

When there is some downtime, Devereux’s 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 lunch in Middle Temple Hall, and sponsored charitable activities such as walks, fun runs, cycling contests, and quiz nights. The pandemic has taken a toll. One junior tells us “there are still people that do not come to chambers regularly”, whilst another adds that social life is “still taking some time to recover post-pandemic”. Generally, however, “the spirit of camaraderie” at the set remains strong. 

Talking of location, Devereux has an ideal position within Middle Temple. Overlooking Fountain Court (which does contain a fountain) and with a pub next door and the Royal Courts of Justice just across the street, what more can you ask for as a barrister! Inside, we hear the set is redecorated every year and that it’s currently looking “very smart” and “makes a good impression”. We hear the rooms are “generously spacious” though one tenant moans, “I do wish the carpets were nicer.” Technology wise, there are conference rooms, permitting hybrid conferences — especially useful these days. The IT support is said to be “amazing” within Chambers, with Jacki Muirhead — Chambers Administrator — getting a particular shoutout, but some support, we’re told, is outsourced. One tenant tells us that this can be “patchy”, whilst another exclaims that it is “awful” — I suppose there have to be some downsides to everything!

Devereux Chambers offers two pupillages per year, each coming with an award of £65,000. The assessed part of pupillage is split between three pupil supervisors, and pupils can express a preference for seats, choosing from employment, tax, personal injury/clinical negligence, and commercial. There is also a possibility of a fourth unassessed seat, during which the pupil can gain experience in another practice area, if desired. As a result of working for different members of Chambers, pupils “are able to observe, learn from and draw upon the broad spectrum of strengths, skills, and styles held within Chambers”, according to one tenant. In the first six, pupils will undertake legal research, work on client papers, draft advice, pleadings and skeleton arguments, and accompany their supervisor to conferences and to court. In the second six, pupils will start to take on their own cases, usually in tribunals and the county court. Throughout pupillage, there will be a number of written and advocacy assessments.  

Pupillage at the set is highly praised. One former pupil notes that it is “carefully planned and well executed” albeit with the caveat that “some areas are better taught than others”. One junior tenant who recently went through pupillage at the set 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”. Even beyond pupillage, the learning continues. As one senior junior puts it: “Every day is a school day, even after over twenty years of experience.” 

Applicants to Devereux Chambers should apply through the Pupillage Gateway. Paper applications are marked and narrowed down to around 40 candidates who are invited to a first round interview. This interview is fairly relaxed and only lasts around 15 minutes. Those scoring highest in the interview, around 10, will be invited to a final round interview where they will be given a legal problem 30 minutes before the interview and asked to prepare. The interview will then take place in front of a panel. Throughout the process, the criteria on which applicants are assessed are: intellect and analysis, a good approach to problem solving, communication and presentation skills, and an aptitude for chambers’ core areas of practice. 

Devereux Chambers participates in access and social mobility schemes, such as the Pegasus Access Scheme run by the Inner Temple and the Social Mobility Foundation Bar placement scheme. Additional mini-pupillages to the ones typically on offer are available through such schemes.

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

Mini-Pupillage

Between 5 and 16 December 2022
Applications close 07/11/2022

Pupillage

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

Insider Scorecard

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

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2022-23 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 44
KCs 12
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 £65,000
BPTC advance drawdown £20,000

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

Diversity

Female juniors 30%
Female KCs 25%
BME juniors 8%
BME KCs 0%