Tenancy at one of the big commercial sets may eventually earn you more money than God, but there’s one thing it cannot buy; the kind of public profile offered by Doughty Street – one of the few barristers’ chambers with its name recognised outside the world of law. Partly this is due to the media-friendly nature of its work — human rights, public law, crime and other actions pitting individuals against the state — as well as the independent high profile of many individual tenants, including Instagram’s most-followed lawyer Tunde Okewale and Adam Wagner whose Covid explainers made him an online sensation. But few would deny that it’s tabloid favourite Amal Clooney who brings that extra pinch of celebrity stardust.
Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions turned Labour leader, is an associate tenant here, as is MP David Lammy. Other big names include joint head of chambers Edward Fitzgerald QC, whose past clients include Lauri Love, Abu Hamza and Silvio Berlusconi; and renowned human rights barrister and Doughty Street founder Geoffrey Robertson QC. Toiling alongside the celeb lawyers and 35 QCs, are 124 juniors tackling issues across the public law spectrum, from prisoners’ rights and police actions to housing and mental health, alongside inquests and inquiries, immigration, media and employment. The set are not just lawyers but activists. Doughty Street Chambers actively seek to promote access to justice, human rights and equality and so, expectedly, the majority of its work is for claimants civil law and defendants in crime.
Founded in 1990, Doughty Street barristers act in some of the most high profile cases around, which many outside the law world will have heard of. In the employment field, members are representing Stella Creasy MP whose request for proper maternity cover was rejected, members are acting in whistleblower Azeem Rafiq’s race discrimination case against Yorkshire County Cricket Club and members represented ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ in a judicial review for indirect sexual discrimination whereby 75,000 women who had taken maternity leave prior to the pandemic lost out in the self-employed income support scheme.
On the criminal side, Joel Bennathan QC and Annabel Timan represented appellants in the ‘Freshwater 5’ drug smuggling appeal, Tim Moloney QC and Kate O’Raghallaigh represented twelve sub-postmasters who had their convictions quashed in the Horizon IT scandal, and Fiona Murphy represented the family of former footballer Dalian Atkinson who died after being tasered and kicked twice in the head by PC Benjamin Monk who was found guilty of manslaughter.
Internationally, Geoffrey Roberton QC and Jennifer Robinson are representing Leetona Dungay, the mother of David Dungay Junior, in her complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee against Australia in relation to her son’s death in custody, members are representing the family of Christopher Allen, a freelance journalist killed whilst reporting on the civil war in South Sudan and calling on the US and UK governments to commit to a formal investigation into his death.
On home soil, Adam Wagner and Pippa Woodrow acted for #ReclaimTheseStreets in their judicial review against the Metropolitan Police regarding the Sarah Everard vigil, three members represented claimants in the High Court where it found the Nappier Barracks unlawful for asylum seekers, and members have been involved in the Fishmongers’ Hall inquests, Manchester Arena Inquiry and Undercover Policing Inquiry.
Doughty Street insiders say that the set “lethally prepares its juniors”, with weekly advocacy classes and frequent internal presentations, although we’re also told that “more training about the practicalities of what solicitors and clients want would be useful, instead of a pure focus on law and advocacy”. The work is “always challenging; never boring — and you get to feel like you’re making a real difference”.
As you’d expect, the chambers makes a decent fist of diversity: Doughty Street’s QCs and juniors are split impressively 50/50 male and female. Doughty Street is signed up to, or created, a whole host of equality, inclusion and diversity initiatives. These include making several anti-racist pledges, the formation of LGBT+ group ‘Outy Street’, being signatories of the Disability Confident scheme, being partnered with Neurodiversity in Law and aiming for at least 50% of speakers on panels to be female, among many others. The set also has a ‘Green Team’ including staff and members “motivated to act on the climate and ecological emergencies”. To widen the availability of, and access to, work experience, Doughty Street works with Bridging the Bar which offers mini-pupillages to those from underrepresented groups at the bar and also works with the Sutton Trust’s Pathways to Law in providing work experience focused on clerking as well as the Inner Temple’s social mobility PASS scheme. Two of the set’s barristers, Maryam Mir and Karlia Lykourgou, developed their own hijab specifically for Muslim advovcates which is stocked at the latter’s online store, Ivy Normanton.
Despite the chambers’ sheer size and having opened a branch in Manchester, everyone seems to gel: “you genuinely can walk into any room in chambers to discuss something you’re stuck on without being judged or patronised”. The social life here is so-so — it’s been described as “a thinking not a drinking set”. Another insider refers to its “scholarly, academically brooding” atmosphere, but facilities are modern, with Doughty Street aiming to emulate the “professional working spaces sported by magic circle firms” and is just ten minutes walk from Kings Cross.
Doughty Street offers two general pupillages per year and, when required, offers specialist pupillages. Successful pupils receive three supervisors over the 12 months, which is further divided into a non-practising first six months which involves shadowing, researching and preparing briefs and then a second six on your feet. General pupils see a mix of criminal and civil work and the set says during the final term that it endeavours to allocate a supervisor in the practice area pupils are leaning towards. Pupils are also often matched up with a junior criminal barrister in the final few weeks to make sure pupils are up to scratch with magistrate and crown court procedure. When into the second six, pupils can normally expect to receive some court work and paperwork of their own across a variety of courts.
Pupils are assessed in an ongoing fashion during pupillage. Each time a public completes a piece of work, supervisors complete an evaluation form which then forms part of final assessment for tenancy. At the end of each three month stint, supervisors conduct formal assessments of the work of their pupil which includes looking back at feedback forms from other members. Supervisors then write a final report and there is also an advocacy assessment and interview before tenancy. Pupils are offered either full tenancy or a fixed term tenancy for 18 months, after which they are able to apply for full tenancy. Pupils also receive a junior as a ‘buddy’ who provides that all important informal, pastoral advice.
Candidates looking to join Doughty Street are sifted according to two main criteria of intellectual ability and dedication, although the set makes it clear it is not essential to score highly in both. Wider characteristics desired are a clear interest in the set’s work, motivation, determination, initiative and those with the “highest ethical and professional calibre”. Applicants must also “be committed to use the law to assist the disadvantaged and support chambers’ commitment to civil liberties, human rights and support the Legal Aid system”. Those applying for specialist pupillages are scored on their commitment to practising in their chosen field. Doughty Street receives around 500 applications per recruitment cycle.