Essex Court Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Essex Court Chambers belongs to the bar’s so-called “magic circle” and is one of the country’s leading sets when it comes to commercial law and public international law. Founded in 1961, the set is now made up of 109 barristers of whom almost half (52) are KCs! The set is a strong training ground for future senior judges. Baroness Higgins, the first female President of the International Court of Justice, and Tim Eicke, a judge of the European Court of Human Rights, are just two of the set’s notable former tenants. It is certainly a prestigious place!

Under the broad umbrella of commercial work, tenants at Essex Court do almost everything. Areas specialised in by tenants range from civil fraud to shipping, banking to insurance. Tenants find themselves acting across the full spectrum of domestic cases, appearing in everything from County Court hearings to Supreme Court cases. They also have renowned international expertise, with tenants advising and acting on cases around the world, including in mainland Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The set’s broad public international practice sees tenants tackling issues such as international investments and state immunity. They also have a particularly strong reputation when it comes to international arbitration.

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Tenants at Essex Court rate the quality of their work highly. Given their reputation, both nationally and internationally, this is perhaps unsurprising. The calibre of the set and its tenants means that Essex Court attracts some of the most complex and highest-value cases in its areas of expertise. Whether it be landmark decisions on whether businesses can rely on their insurance policies for business interruption caused by the Covid pandemic, claims against the world’s largest banks, or freezing orders in respect of Russian oligarchs’ assets, tenants’ work often makes the business and legal news. 

Over the past year, tenants at Essex Court have continued to work on interesting cases. Daniel Oudkerk KC has successfully obtained an injunction for AstraZeneca, blocking a former executive from taking up a role at rival pharma group GSK; Ciaran Keller has appeared in a “momentous” Supreme Court decision on directors’ duties in respect of creditors’ interests; and Andrew Legg has appeared in a case which held that the former King of Spain is not entitled to state immunity in a harassment action. Essex Court tenants have continued to work on cases worth billions of pounds, sometimes even coming up against each other! Earlier this year, Ben Juratowitch KC fought it out with Stephen Houseman KC and Tom Ford in a claim for final anti-suit injunctive relief in a dispute worth $2 billion.  

 With so much high-quality work taking place, it’s only natural that work-life balance can sometimes suffer as a result. However, colleagues are incredibly supportive of one another, and clerks and barristers alike ensure that pupils are not overworking – apparently, they are not expected to work late nights apart from in exceptional circumstances. Colleagues also take the chance to unwind together, with events such as the annual Christmas and summer parties offering a chance for tenants of all levels of seniority to mingle. 

 Essex Court Chambers is located in the beautiful setting of Lincoln’s Inn, with some rooms even overlooking Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Tenants at the set rate the facilities and the IT provided highly. Recent upgrades have ensured that all conference rooms are equipped with video conferencing facilities, for example.

 Those interested in applying for one of the four pupillages that Essex Court offers each year should make their application through the Pupillage Gateway. The set strongly recommends all those who are considering applying to complete a mini-pupillage with them first. Those who impress on the Gateway application will be invited to complete a timed written exercise. Those scoring highest will then be invited to an interview, in which they will be asked to answer questions based on a problem sent beforehand (example problems can be viewed here), as well as other questions designed to gather evidence of the candidate’s satisfaction of the set’s criteria. The criteria provided is: intellectual ability, oral and written advocacy and communication skills, judgement, integrity, ability to work as part of a team, tenacity and self-motivation. Overall, the set makes it clear that it seeks “to recruit the brightest and best”.

 Successful candidates will receive a generous pupillage award of £75,000. As pupils, they will be assigned a supervisor, who is usually an experienced junior, with whom they work closely for the first three months and final three months of the pupillage. In the middle six months, pupils rotate between six different supervisors, allowing them to sample a range of different practices. Unlike many other sets, the second six at Essex Court is not practising, meaning that pupils will not handle their own cases until they reach tenancy. Time is spent working on the most intricate and complicated of briefs, albeit in a very junior capacity. Pupillage training comes highly rated, and it is said that pupils are also made to feel a part of the set from the off, being invited to the social events that are taking place, for example. 

Essex Court Chambers states that it is committed to equality of opportunity and assesses applications for pupillage on the basis of merit alone. The set has signed up to several social mobility and diversity initiatives including Inner Temple’s PASS and Bridging the Bar. It also prides itself on being the first, and only, chambers-backer of the Social Mobility Foundation, which supports the ambitions of talented students from non-traditional backgrounds.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Edward Mordaunt

Your journey to pupillage

I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Durham University. Before heading to university I took a gap year and, after dabbling in local politics and deciding that wasn’t for me, I worked in the wills and probate department of a small local solicitors firm. One of the partners recommended mooting when I went to university. After my first mooting competition I decided that I wanted to be a barrister. I then went on to complete the law conversion course (GDL) at City Law School (then run by the formidable and late Dr David Herling). I did mini-pupillages at quite varied chambers, from planning law to personal injury, before settling on commercial and public law. After being offered pupillage by Essex Court, Covid intervened, so I deferred for a year to study the BCL at Oxford.

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The pupillage experience

I was drawn to Essex Court because of the wide range of quality work and the fact its members frequently appear in leading cases. During one of my mini-pupillages I saw work on a civil fraud case, and found that was an area I would be keen to build a practice in given the striking facts. During pupillage I was happy to build experience in this area, but learnt so much more too. I sat with my main supervisor for 3 months, before going on ‘the rota’; this involved sitting with 6 supervisors for a period of 2/3 weeks each. I then returned to my main supervisor in the summer, and a decision on tenancy was made. The work was varied and interesting. I found supervisors were keen to get me involved in some of the most difficult items on their desk, so doing ‘dead’ pieces of work (on old cases) was rare.

As a junior barrister at the commercial bar a significant amount of your work is the first draft of court documents; getting detailed feedback from supervisors on skeletons or drafts of pleadings during the rota was invaluable, teaching me the different styles of written advocacy that can be deployed.

The transition from pupil to tenant

Exciting! You are finally let loose on the world. You begin having practice meetings with the clerks who are keen to hear in what direction you would like to start building your practice. You start getting smaller cases put in your diary, and begin doing advocacy for yourself and working with your own instructing solicitors. I found it a really thrilling time (and still am enjoying it a lot).

Helpfully chambers also provides financial support by way of an interest free loan so that you are not cash strapped in those early months before clients have paid your fees.

What is your practice like now?

My practice is varied. I typically have 2-3 larger cases running throughout the year where I will be part of a team of barristers (such as representing a Singaporean shipbuilding company in a several hundred million dollar arbitration), and smaller cases where I am sole counsel (e.g. representing members of a joint venture gone wrong, or acting on bankruptcy petitions).

The work at the commercial bar is pressured, so there are times when work can dominate somewhat more (e.g. leading up to trial). But there is a very good culture of making sure you take enough time off; this includes getting to go on trips around the world to undertake business development in different jurisdictions or just for relaxation. The international focus of the commercial bar has certainly broadened my horizons and I have thoroughly enjoyed the new places work has taken me.

What is the culture of chambers?

There is a fantastic buzz. Members are regularly off to court testing difficult points of law. And lots of the silks have large practices which means there is plenty of work at the junior end and opportunity to work with fellow members.

Each member of chambers has their own room, but regularly members leave their doors open and are happy for one another to pop their head around the door to chat about a case. I find I frequently get to catch up with old supervisors at chambers functions throughout the year.

We have a juniors WhatsApp chat and there are regular drinks and social events, organised by a specific committee known as the ‘Chambers Hub’. There are also termly dinners with the clerks which are great fun as the clerks play a huge role in your practice after tenancy.

Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers

Commercial law is a large house with many rooms. Try your best to see some work in one of the many different areas: shipping, banking, insurance (reinsurance), civil fraud, arbitration, energy and natural resources, construction, etc. This should hopefully give you more of a specific flavour of what interests you and why. The British and Irish Legal Information Institute website ( has a specific page dedicated to recent Commercial Court decisions – it is a great resource to see what is currently being litigated and who has been instructed.

Avoid adverbs and adjectives where possible in your written applications. Lead with evidence – what you’ve done, where, and why that makes you want to practice in a particular area. Mini-pupillages are a great anchor point for this: you may have not found an area of law interesting, but that is a completely justified reason for wanting to practice in a separate area.

At the interview stage, do not give up if you find one of the problem questions hard (or if an interviewer asks a difficult question which you need time to think about). I felt as though my interview at Essex Court was one of my worst interview performances – but sometimes that is because the interviewers want to see how you handle the pressure (akin to how it might be one day in court).

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Take your time. One of the wonderful things about this profession is that there is no ‘right’ age when someone should become a commercial barrister. The more diverse your background the better. And keep up your outside interests beyond just law. It is important to have a human side; it might not be long until you are having a drink with your instructing solicitor after a case, and they will be keen to know a bit more about you on a personal level too.

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Work/life balance
Social life
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2023-24 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 57
KCs 52
Pupillages 6
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 2/5

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


Pupillage award £75,000
Bar course drawdown £23,000


Female juniors 22%
Female KCs 15%
BME juniors 12%
BME KCs 10%