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 102 barristers of whom almost half (48) 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.
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
Your journey to pupillage
I studied physics and philosophy at Durham University. At the end of my second year I decided that I wanted to be a barrister. I then went on to do the GDL and BPTC at City Law School, and an LLM at UCL. I did mini pupillages at a wide range of chambers, from criminal sets, to commercial sets, to intellectual property sets. This was useful in narrowing down what sort of law I wanted to practise in. Once I had settled on commercial and public law, I focused on gaining experience in those areas – with the School Exclusion Project, mooting competitions, essay competitions, and volunteering with Citizens Advice. I then applied for 13 chambers, and was successful in my application to (only!) this one.
The pupillage experience
I was drawn to Essex Court Chambers because of the wide range of quality work. This range was demonstrated during pupillage. I sat with my main supervisor for 3 months, before going on ‘the rota’, which involved sitting with 6 supervisors for a period of 2/3 weeks each. Then a decision was made on tenancy and I returned to my main supervisor. This process allowed me to gain a broad insight into life within Chambers, and the wide variety of practice areas that we specialise in.
The transition from pupil to tenant
I loved it! I enjoy doing the advocacy myself, and doing cases myself – something that I can only do as a tenant. I am also lucky that I have fantastic clerks who have helped me to develop my practice according to my areas of interest.
Of course, it is difficult to balance your time and priorities as a tenant, because you don’t have a supervisor who does that for you. So you have to learn how to say no to new pieces of work!
What is your practice like now?
My practice is varied. I work on smaller cases by myself (such as representing an ice hockey player in an anti-doping matter), and bigger cases with other barristers (such as representing a sportswear company in a dispute with an Italian football club).
I have been pleasantly surprised at how I have managed to maintain a good work/life balance. I have never missed a Gray’s Inn football match on Monday evenings due to work, and I rarely have to work on weekends. Of course, if something happens on your case, then you have to respond to it – but it is rare that this impacts on my work/life balance. A benefit of being self-employed is that I can take holiday as and when I like (subject to commitments on my cases) – something which helped immensely in the run up to my recent wedding!
What is the culture of chambers?
I am lucky to be in a chambers where everyone is friendly and supportive. I regularly speak to more senior members of chambers about issues that arise in my cases (including silks). I have even borrowed a book from our head of chambers. We have drinks every other week. And we have regular social events. The clerks and other staff are outstanding – there is a real focus on growing your practice as an individual, rather than seeing you as one among many barristers
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Use your common sense. The law (especially commercial law) is glorified common sense. If you can display that in interview and in problem questions then you are doing well.
Be honest with yourself and your interviewers. Tell them exactly why you want to be a barrister at their chambers.
Accept that luck is a huge part of the process. I was rejected for a mini-pupillage at my chambers, and then accepted for pupillage! I applied for pupillage at 13 chambers, and was only accepted at this one. I have friends who are now at their dream set after applying for four years in a row. Believe in yourself, and know that, if you get rejected, it does not reflect badly on you.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Enjoy your life. There is more to life than being a barrister. Don’t let the application process consume you. And don’t let pupillage consume you. Keep up your outside interests. Make sure you take time off from work. Not only will you enjoy your life more, but you will also be a better, more focussed, barrister.