Gatehouse Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Nestled in between Chancery Lane and Lincoln’s Inn, and accessible through the Dickensian Bishop’s Court’s alley, Gatehouse’s environs are about as barristery as it gets. So, entering the set is something of a surprise. Rather than wood panels and portraits of great judges of yesteryear, the visitor finds themselves in what feels like a little piece of the City of London transported to the Inns of Court. Previously named Hardwicke Chambers, on discovering that its namesake Lord Hardwicke, the 18th century Lord Chancellor, was one of two authors of the Yorke-Talbot opinion 1729 which was relied upon as providing legal justification for slavery, the set decided it was “time for a change”. The new name signifies “strength and trustworthiness” and “access to new adventures and opportunities”.

Responding to the 2020-21 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, a barrister praises the “spacious rooms and superb client facilities”. Internal bike racks and a table tennis table add a hipness rarely found in this part of town, while a full-time chef is on hand to cater for regular events. Unlike many sets, Gatehouse has full disability access.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, Gatehouse tenants worked from home. So, how did that go? “IT provision is excellent and served us very well in lockdown,” says one. Moreover, the affable nature of the set helped ease any sense of isolation. “We have an open-door policy and give support with legal issues, ethical issues, practice issues and also have many members who are happy to provide emotional support,” a barrister explains. “During lockdown there have been many small and large groups providing support to each other via WhatsApp and Zoom as well as individuals.” Another barrister says: “My colleagues are part of my family and this view has only been reaffirmed since lockdown. We have multiple virtual meet ups per week and my Microsoft Teams account buzzes throughout the day with messages and call requests for catch ups.”

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Gatehouse’s barristers include a number of former solicitors among a host of career changers. Those who come straight from bar school tend to be down-to-earth types. “Team spirit, helping colleagues and the next generation of barristers is part of our DNA,” one insider tells us.

The set is increasingly geared towards commercial law, with most of its roster of silks specialising in this area. But Gatehouse has traditionally been fairly broad-based in its work, and there are practitioners specialising in clinical negligence, construction & engineering, employment, insolvency, insurance & reinsurance, personal injury, private client, professional liability, property and public law. As such pupils get a broad range of experience.

There is a nice mix of work on which rookies can cut their teeth. “PI & Clin Neg work is hugely varied, a good mix of a human element and technical aspects, a mix of court work and advising/drafting/negotiating,” relays one. Another junior at the set declares: “I can’t imagine more challenging and varied work within my specialism.”

The training is consistently highly rated. It is “well thought-through, and virtually guarantees receiving feedback from a wide variety of people as well as giving experience of different types of work,” an insider says. “The need to give helpful and thorough feedback to pupils is also taken seriously by members of chambers as a whole, and in particular by those members who act as pupillage supervisors.” Pupils undergo three four-month stints with different supervisors, and are assigned two “wingers” for each of those four-month stints, usually completing at least three written pieces of work for each winger as well as written work for other members of chambers. And once you are a tenant the training apparently doesn’t stop there, with “internal training days with not only our own practice teams but also other teams so we can learn broader topics that may assist in our own practices”.

With most of the set’s barristers putting in 50-59 hours a week, Gatehouse is a hard-working place, but not obsessively so. It is “extremely supportive of flexible working,” says one barrister. Another junior barrister describes the conundrum of building a reputation while attempting to maintain a life outside of work: “Chambers encourages a work/life balance and places a great deal of focus on well-being. However, I am not always able to achieve this.”

The set’s co-head, PJ Kirby QC, is famed for his annual charity pop-up restaurant, and Gatehouse’s corporate responsibility programme is one of the most well developed at the bar. Among other involvements, the set is part of the Pathways to Law initiative boosting diversity in the legal profession at entry level, a major backer of FreeBar, the new bar-wide LGBT+ initiative, and a participant in regular charity fundraising events.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Simon Kerry spent four years as a tax associate at accountancy giant PwC before joining Gatehouse as a pupil. A “love for advocacy” prompted his career switch, he says, adding: “I like the excitement of being on my own and being responsible for performance and advice.”

The support during pupillage “could not have been better”, Kerry reveals. The 12-month pupillage sees pupils complete three City law firm-style seats with three different supervising barristers. This unique approach allows pupils to develop a broader understanding of Gatehouse’s specialisms and the different ways its tenants approach their work.

Pupils start their first six observing and learning from barristers in a “safe space where there’s no stupid question”, according to Kerry. This coupled with continuous feedback and open communication means pupils at Gatehouse are given the best possible start. “Everyone wants you to succeed and to give you every reason to succeed,” he adds. Pupils receive specialist advocacy training at the start of their second six through a series of advocacy exercises held in chambers. This prepares pupils for court and ensures they avoid simple mistakes.

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Oxford law graduate Kerry is not the only career switcher in Gatehouse’s ranks. Current tenants include ex-soldiers, former technicians and even a barrister who was a Commonwealth fencer. Connecting this diverse array of professional backgrounds together is a supportive culture that continues long after pupils become junior barristers. Rather than a hierarchical system that divides junior members from silks, Gatehouse’s “open-door” policy means “everyone is willing to give up their time to help you”, Kerry explains.

And Kerry means everyone. He recalls on one occasion during pupillage where he approached PJ Kirby QC, Gatehouse’s joint head of chambers, for guidance after being presented with a legal problem he didn’t know the answer to. Kirby happily obliged and committed over 30 minutes of his time to help Kerry find the solution.

Kerry, who studied the Bar Course at Nottingham Trent University, successfully completed pupillage in October 2017 and joined Gatehouse as tenant in the same month. So how has he found life at the bar so far? Although he looks back fondly on the salary and paid holiday he received at PwC, Kerry says his new self-employed role offers him greater responsibility and higher flexibility, managing his own caseload and developing his own practice.

Although working hours vary depending on the individual case, Kerry regards long nights as a “nice problem to have”. There are also plenty of opportunities to get involved with pro bono work, Kerry says, while some tenants have completed in-house secondments thanks to Gatehouse’s strong links with businesses across the City.

That is not to say Gatehouse is all work and no play. Regular drinks events (both in chambers and out), ping pong competitions and department socials help create a collegiate and relaxed atmosphere.

So does Kerry have any tips for those considering a switch to the bar? Well, taking into account he was on Gatehouse’s pupillage reserve list, it is perhaps unsurprising to hear that he perceives luck just as important as preparation and talent. His advice to those on an unconventional path to the bar is to apply to places where your experience and background will be valued and appreciated.

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Work/life balance

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 75
QCs 10
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 3/5

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


Pupillage award £55,000
BPTC advance drawdown £15,000

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 35%
Female QCs 18%

The Chambers In Its Own Words