About The Set
Exchange Chambers is one of a handful of full-service super-sets. It has over 150 barristers (among them 16 QCs) split between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds practising in everything from commercial law to serious injury, public law and crime.
A high proportion of the major cases taking place within this North West and Yorkshire catchment area go through Exchange -- with its roster of silks among the most respected outside London. One of the plusses of starting your career here is that you get to sample a mix of work before specialising as a junior tenant. The set is also said to offer a much better work-life balance than other leading chambers.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Exchange Chambers is the only set that Rachel Webster applied to: “Hand on heart, it’s the only CV I sent out, and I was ready to apply there every year,” she says.
There’s a “real open door” policy. This creates a “very welcoming” atmosphere, and the chambers “actively encourages people from all types of background” to socialise. “Don’t feel like you have to come from Oxbridge” to fit in. Webster also explains that if you’re new to the barrister world, you may worry that being self-employed is a lonely or isolating job. However, she stresses that at Exchange “you feel like you’re part of a family”. There is also hot-desking in all areas of chambers, which add to its strong “sense of community”.
Work culture at Exchange is social and inclusive. The chambers makes an effort “to organise social events that include everyone”, such as dinners, celebratory drinks, a fashion show to raise funds for a charity or a day at the York races. There’s plenty of opportunity to interact with barristers from “all levels of experience”. Mixing with people across all three of Exchange’s branches, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, is also encouraged: “They’re not treated as separate offices”.
The set has a mentoring scheme that further shapes the “supportive environment”. Pupils are allocated a mentor, and this supervision continues well into their tenancy. Barristers who have worked at the set for years still have an ongoing mentor supporting them. Webster, who specialises in personal injury (PI) work, says the PI team “regularly gets together to share their experiences”. They go through questions with the lead mentor and hold a “file surgery”.
The focused, close support means you get “advanced work very quickly”. Webster, who first qualified as a solicitor and took the Higher Rights of Audience course before switching to the bar, says the quality of work is “much better than [she] anticipated”. The set exposed her to high value cases very early on. Webster is regularly instructed to act for both claimants and defendants, in a wide range of cases. While this sounds like the barrister dream, “your mind is always ticking”, so be prepared for “challenging” work.
As for work/life balance, it’s up to you “to make it as balanced as you need”. Part of being a barrister is “winning your own business”. So, if you’re not in court or turning around papers, “you’ve got to make sure that you’re working hard”. That said, it’s important to have free time “to find release on the weekend or evenings”. Webster notes that the clerks at Exchange “manage your diary so you’re very busy, but not overwhelmed”.
For those hoping to secure pupillage at Exchange, Webster shares some advice: “Pick up the phone, and arrange to meet people, for example coffee with a clerk”. It’s important to “be brave” and not “hide behind the paper”. Webster continues: “Be bold. You’ve got to stand out. There’s a big mix of personalities at Exchange. It’s not just about the academics – social and individual qualities are just as important”.
Crucially, “don’t be afraid to be yourself”. The competition is high, so “think outside the box”. And for those who have felt discouraged by rejections: “Never give up, always keep going. You’ll get there in the end if you really want to”.