Meet Exchange Chambers at our Virtual Pupillage Fair on December 12th! Sign up here!
‘Northern powerhouse’ Exchange Chambers has over 200 barristers, including 23 silks, and three sites — in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool — making it one of the largest chambers in the country. In 2022, Exchange took on a record eight pupils across its locations. It seems the set is big in all things, including the broad range of work it does. The set is multidisciplinary, operating in everything from crime to commercial. Highly regarded at the Northern Bar, practice areas include commercial dispute resolution, family, insolvency, employment, business and property, private prosecutions, tax, professional discipline, and many others. In short, there’s very little that the set doesn’t do!
The work is often of high quality too as members of Exchange Chambers get their hands on some of the biggest legal matters in the north. Past cases have included representing the University of Salford at the Manchester Arena Inquiry, representing the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police before an employment tribunal, and working on a case involving a Salford Gangland conspiracy to murder rival gang members. The set’s work extends beyond the north, however. Members have, for example, acted in the North Wales (Waterhouse) Child Abuse Inquiry, working on the merger between Unilever and Alberto Culver, and the ‘Blue 25’ Inquest concerning the deaths of five UK servicemen shot by a rogue Afghan policeman. One junior at the set tells us the work is “very stimulating”, “high quality” and is often of the type that “makes a real difference to people’s lives”.
The exciting work keeps coming. In the past year, Nicola Daley has successfully prosecuted a multi-million-pound cannabis trafficking operation, David Went has acted as part of the counsel team for RHA who obtained the green light from the Competition Appeal Tribunal for a £2 billion claim relating to the trucks cartel to proceed, and Julian King has successfully defended a police sergeant in front of a misconduct hearing after he was accused of violently punching a detainee.
Of course, while work is generally “interesting and varied”, there are some less exciting cases — well, it can’t all be billion dollar claims! Speaking of the quality of work, one junior tells us, “sometimes it’s very stimulating. At other times it reminds me of being forced to eat greens as a child!” As a pupil or junior, it’s inevitable that some bread and butter cases will be less flavoursome, but the reputation of Exchange Chambers means there will always be someone around you doing something exciting, and there is a sense of learning by osmosis from these people.
It should be noted that applicants to this set apply to a practice area — either crime, family, common law, or commercial — which would suggest that you are somewhat limited in what you will see during pupillage, and possibly your first few years of tenancy, by this decision.
Despite how large the set is — almost like a law firm rather than a traditional chambers — it is described as “an extended family” by one tenant. There is generally always someone on hand to help you out if you are struggling with a case or just need a chat. The pandemic has somewhat affected this. One junior confides: “We used to have a very busy chambers with an open door policy — and we have not quite been able to replicate that remotely… yet!” Even if you can’t physically speak to somebody, though, we hear that many members are just a call away. We are told, in particular, that senior members make a large time investment into supporting junior colleagues who are “never turned away”. Informal mentorship from more senior barristers is also on offer, with one source commenting their mentors “have been very supportive of [their] aims and ambitions”. One tenant goes so far as to say: “This is one of the most supportive, friendly and welcoming Chambers in the country. I have spoken to many of my contemporaries and none of the support they have received compares to Exchange Chambers.”
When it comes to work-life balance at Exchange, views are pretty mixed. This is most likely due to the wide range of practice areas that members operate in — experiences will differ greatly depending on the sort of work you are doing. While one barrister tells us that “Chambers give really good support over well-being and diary flexibility particularly to those with caring responsibilities,” another despairs, “I work every night — on the night’s when I don’t work, I feel guilty, because I’m so used to work”. It seems particularly stressful on the criminal side, with members reporting “endless emails and endless court orders with impossible deadlines”. Clerks are, however, “quick to spot when someone is struggling” and Chambers are supportive of people setting boundaries. Some members also note that it is “better since remote hearings were introduced” — not having to travel four hours for a 30 minute hearing can only be a good thing!
While the focus is definitely work not play — as is only to be expected of life at the Bar! — there is definitely a social side at Exchange for those who want it. We hear there was a huge Chambers dinner earlier this year to celebrate the former CEO’s retirement. Web socials have also become popular as many people continue to work from home. Many members do note the impact that the pandemic has had: we’re told the social side is “sadly, not what it was” but another tenant comments that they are sure “things will even out”. Pre-Covid, we hear there were regular activities linked with charitable activities such as abseiling down the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral or completing the ‘Three Peaks Challenge’ — we hope these can return soon as they certainly sound like good fun!
As mentioned, Exchange Chambers is split across three sites: Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool. Each is located in a prime position within the city and all of the sites are “modern, functional, and impressive” as well as “immaculately maintained”. The Manchester office even has a rooftop terrace! We are told there is a “good mix of common areas for those with paper-lite practices who are often in court and individual rooms and shared rooms for others more desk based”, along with a lot of conference space. Technology within the offices is generally praised, and premises are well-connected with video linked meetings across all three cities and monthly internal newsletters. The IT staff are also said to be lovely, with Mike and Jon in the Liverpool premises being praised for their expertise. The irony of spending money on refurbs when more people are working from home has not, however, been lost on one tenant who complains, “I’m not sure why we need these fancy buildings now when all our work is digital!” At least it’s popular with the clients!
Those interested in applying to Exchange Chambers will be competing for up to eight pupillages on offer. The award is £25,000. Applicants should apply through Chambers’s own application form. They will apply to a specific practice area: either crime, family, common law, or commercial. The criteria on which any application will be assessed are: a fine intellect, sound judgment, clarity of thought and expression, an ability to achieve, a capacity for sustained hard work under pressure, an ability to relate appropriately to the very widest cross section of society, confidence, enthusiasm, integrity, broadness of mind, and a commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. Those scoring highest in the paper application will be invited to a first round interview, lasting about 25 minutes. Prior to the interview, candidates will be provided with a question that will form of the basis of the discussion. Based on performance in this interview, no more than 12 candidates will then be invited to a second round, which lasts a full day and will include a mixture of formal interviews and assessed practical exercises. This almost replicates a law firm assessment centre and is an unusual selection method, but certainly allows candidates to show off an array of skills.
It’s probably fair to say that Exchange offers a level of on-the-job advocacy training that is only possible outside of London. At the regional bar, pupils will be in court more frequently than in the capital, and pupils at Exchange can expect to be on their feet almost every day in their second six. One former pupil said: “The support I received during pupillage was excellent, I am lucky to have worked since then with a number of senior juniors and silks who are experts in the field”. Indeed, chambers now has a dedicated Pupillage Manager who oversees and supports pupils’ development and progress. Training continues beyond pupillage, with one tenant telling us “the senior juniors and silks I have worked with over the years have been key in my development as a barrister”. Another, who was been a member at three other chambers, says the training at Exchange is “in a class of its own”. Some members, perhaps unsurprisingly, do describe themselves as “self-trained” — there is a lot of learning on the job after all!
In addition to its training, Exchange Chambers has shown commitment to equality and diversity through involvement in several initiatives. Twenty-two of the set’s barristers are part of a mentoring programme to inspire people from all backgrounds to pursue a career in the law, while other members frequently pen articles detailing their diverse journeys to the Bar. Further, the set has recently launched a new pupillage podcast series: found here. The set also partners with Inner Temple’s Pegasus Access and Support Scheme and provides work experience through, among others, the Sutton Trust. One of Exchange’s barristers is a founding member of the ‘All Rise’ project, inviting barristers to speak out and stand against abusive, bullying, and belittling behaviour by wearing an All Rise pin badge as a symbol of allyship. The set is also involved in many charity initiatives such as a charity walk for Access to Justice and charity bike ride for Marie Curie. All in all, they certainly seem a good bunch.