So prestigious that “you could get silk just by sitting on the toilet”, cerebral commercial set Fountain Court is as about as elite as they come. Its newly expanded premises, mostly listed buildings in the historic Middle Temple, play host to some of the biggest brains in English business law.
Fountain Court is among a handful of commercial chambers sometimes referred to as magic circle sets, the equivalent of the solicitors’ super-firms given the same honorific. Its pedigree is certainly impressive: revered ex-judge Tom Bingham passed through here en route to the Supreme Court, as did other big names from the past like Leslie Scarman, Mark Potter and Henry Brooke. The likes of Nicholas Underhill, Marcus Smith and David Waksman represent Fountain Court crew among the serving judiciary.
Big name silks today include head of chambers Stephen Moriarty, who once taught law at Oxford University, and former Bar Council chairman Timothy Dutton. Leigh-Ann Mulcahy, who joined in 2017, reportedly has five victories from five Supreme Court appearances.
Money sloshes around this set like the water in its famous fountain (first built in 1681). Pupils can expect £70,000, with £20,000 available in advance to pay for the BPTC. New juniors can get a loan to make sure their earnings don’t fall below this amount in their early years, although apparently that’s never necessary in practice. Working hours here can be punishing, though, with tenants reporting a 60-70 hour week on average.
At least it’s not tedious: the commercial bar is nothing if not intellectually challenging, and contacts report that their cases are “varied, legally and factually”. Banking and finance work dominates, along with other commercial classics such as insurance, fraud, professional negligence and arbitration. The set has also carved out a niche in white-collar crime, taking instructions in high-profile investigations such as the “London whale” and LIBOR rigging scandals. Bankim Thanki QC recently led a Fountain Court team in defence of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation against the Serious Fraud Office, winning an important ruling on the sanctity of legal professional privilege. Public law, particularly as it relates to business and regulation, is a growth area.
The chambers’ website has an impressively detailed description of how a Fountain Court pupillage goes down. The emphasis is on learning from supervisors described by one insider as “absolutely terrific”, with pupils discouraged from taking on work of their own until tenancy. Up to four pupils join each year and, in recent years, all have apparently been offered tenancy. The chambers is keen to stress that recruits come “from a range of backgrounds”, although educationally this seems to mean the occasional Cambridge rather than Oxford grad.