The Legal Cheek View
It’s now been over a year since commercially-geared Gatehouse Chambers underwent both a rebranding and a change of location. Previously called Hardwicke Chambers and based in Lincoln’s Inn, the set rebranded upon discovering that its namesake, Lord Hardwicke, was one of two authors of the Yorke-Talbot opinion of 1729, which was relied upon as providing legal justification for slavery. Joint head of chambers, Brie Stevens-Hoare KC, commented to us at the time: “the discovery of the provenance of our business’ name did not sit comfortably with our values as an organisation, or the inclusive and diverse nature of our people and our clients. We have spent many years building up a reputation for excellence, innovation and diversity. We are proud to move forwards with our new name which accords with who we are as an organisation”. Newly-branded Gatehouse Chambers now finds itself in a modern – and by all accounts very swanky – building in Gray’s Inn.
Whilst there has been lots of change for Gatehouse over the past year, one thing that hasn’t changed is the broad range of work that their tenants do. Operating across a range of areas, Gatehouse is particularly renowned for its construction and property work, as well as professional negligence, insurance, and commercial dispute resolution. Other areas taken on by tenants at the set include clinical negligence, personal injury, private client work, costs litigation, and insolvency/restructuring. It really is a mixed bag! Whether you are more interested in the commercial or the civil side of practice, you have some degree of control over the areas that you gain exposure to during pupillage.
As well as being broad in range, “the work that comes into chambers is of phenomenal quality”, according to one junior tenant at the set. Another tenant explains that “the work in chambers has improved dramatically in the last 5 years as our reputation has grown”. Big cases worked on have included the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Madonna stage collapse litigation — two people were killed and others seriously injured when a stage being set up for a Madonna concert in France collapsed on them. Juniors can expect to have a variety of court work and paperwork, led and unled work. One junior tells us that they have a “great variety, from cases in my own right, to assisting more senior members on more complex cases”, whilst another adds: “I have a perfect balance of court and paperwork to keep me stimulated”.
Over the past year, cases worked on by tenants have included Nigel Jones KC and Laurence Page appearing for one of the respondent’s in an appeal surrounding an allegation of £1.5 billion fraud relating to fraudulent applications to claim refunds of dividend withholding tax; John de Waal KC and Katrina Mather acting for the British Medical Association who are challenging the basis upon which NHS Property Services is charging its GP practice tenants for service charges and facilities managements costs; and Paul Reed KC, David Pliener, and Louis Zvesper representing Stonegate Pub Company in a claim against major insurers over business interruption losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
If tenants ever get stuck on a particular case, they can always turn to their colleagues for support. We are told that Gatehouse is an incredibly friendly and collegiate place to work, where there is truly an open-door policy. One tenant at the set tells us: “Gatehouse Chambers is probably the most supportive place I have ever worked” while another adds: “I am in and out of people’s rooms constantly”. As one tenant explains: “we truly mean it when we say we have an open door policy and it applies from the most senior to the most junior. We have a host of members only events to try and give members a chance to unwind including games nights, quizzes and dinners”.
The chance to unwind and socialise with fellow tenants is clearly very important at Gatehouse. One junior describes the set as “exceptionally fun and social. We hear that tenants regularly go for fish and chips in Hall together on a Friday, whilst the monthly chambers lunch is also popular. “I find myself attending at least one event a fortnight,” one insider tells us. “It’s allowed for me to get to know colleagues better than I might otherwise”.
Of course, there isn’t always time to socialise. Like at most top sets, views on work-life balance are somewhat mixed but tenants generally report that the “practice team are excellent in this regard”. We are told that clerks will encourage people to ease off on work if they think someone is working too hard, with one tenant happily revealing they “never work weekends” unless they have a trial starting on the Monday.
As mentioned, Gatehouse’s new premises is a “fantastic building with modern facilities”. The tenants seem to particularly enjoy the roof terraces – there are three! Other features include air-conditioned rooms, full video conferencing facilities in each of the conference rooms, and a “hub” for members with “exceptional coffee machines”. One Gatehouse insider reveals: “we can even play music through our inbuilt speakers on client floors which make parties much more enjoyable!” It is very much a modern building for a modern set. Another source does, however, complain that “our IT could be a bit better”. We are told it is left to one member of staff and that “if they’re not about there is no IT support”.
Gatehouse Chambers looks to recruit two pupils per year. They will have three pupil supervisors over the course of the 12 months. During the first six, pupils will shadow their supervisors and work on their cases, as well as completing work for other members of chambers. They can expect to draft documents and attend court and client conferences. In the second six, pupils will begin taking on their own cases and can expect to be on their feet. Pupil work usually comes from possession actions, property related injunctions, bankruptcy, winding up petitions, and small claims trials. There is a generous pupillage award of £70,000 on offer. One former pupil and current tenant says the “training programme is second to none”, adding that “as well as extensive training for pupils we also host internal training days for members on substantive topics as well as topics such as marketing, judicial careers, taking silk and how to be an effective junior”.
Those looking to apply for pupillage at Gatehouse should make their application through the Pupillage Gateway. Around 40-50 hopefuls will be invited to a first-round interview, which will include a legal problem. Those scoring highest will be invited back to a second-round interview. Gatehouse is looking for pupils who are not only excellent lawyers, but also have the stamina, motivation, and mind-set to succeed and bounce back from the inevitable knocks that come with being a barrister.
Gatehouse Chambers’ corporate responsibility programme is one of the most well developed at the bar and is something it takes seriously. The set is part of a plethora of equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives, including Bridging the Bar, Pathways to Law, FreeBar, and COMBAR’s mentoring scheme. Gatehouse Chambers member Morayo Faborun Bennett is a founding member of All Rise, an initiative which aims to create a better culture at the bar. If that wasn’t enough, PJ Kirby KC, is also famed for his annual charity pop-up restaurant.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
I completed both my undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees at King’s College, London, obtaining a First Class Honours and Distinction respectively. I completed my BPTC at BPP law School, Holborn.
My primary areas of interest prior to pupillage were in the fields of property and commercial law. I undertook mini-pupillages with sets specialising in commercial chancery work, traditional chancery work and pure property sets. I also undertook work experience at two solicitors’ firms (within teams specialising in property litigation and criminal law).
I volunteered with my local Citizens Advice Bureau, Islington Law Centre and Advocate (which was at the time the Bar Pro Bono Unit), all of which allowed me to develop skills which I use every day. I spent three days marshalling a High Court Judge and also spent ten months in the Court of Appeal as the Judicial Assistant to Lord Justice Hamblen (now Lord Hamblen). Prior to pupillage, I obtained vast amounts of court experience as an advocate with LPC Law.
The pupillage experience
I was particularly drawn to Gatehouse Chambers as a result of chambers’ specialisms, culture and pupillage structure. Gatehouse Chambers has a reputation for excellence in various practice areas, including in the fields of property, construction, professional negligence, commercial and insurance law. A pupillage at Gatehouse Chambers therefore gave me the opportunity to experience a range of practice areas before determining which areas I would like to develop further. One of the factors which set Gatehouse Chambers apart from other sets was its commitment to diversity and corporate social responsibility.
Even prior to pupillage, Gatehouse Chambers struck me as a set which was committed to training and preparing pupils for life at the bar. Gatehouse Chambers had a clear and structured training programme which achieved a balance between teaching and testing its pupils.
During pupillage, I sat with supervisors specialising in construction, commercial, insurance, property and professional negligence work. In addition to supervisors, pupils are allocated two ‘wingers’ in each seat of pupillage. ‘Wingers’ are other members of chambers, for whom pupils are required to complete formal pieces of work. I shadowed supervisors, wingers and other members of chambers during my pupillage. This included attendance at court, conferences and mediations.
By way of formal training, chambers requires pupils to complete at least two advocacy assessments. Further, before pupils commence court work in their second six, they receive training in insolvency applications, housing, small claims and road traffic accidents. This training is delivered by junior members of chambers.
Pupils are provided with regular feedback on their advocacy assessments. Pupillage at Gatehouse Chambers is flexible enough to accommodate where pupils wish to develop their practice in particular areas. Pupils are encouraged to try the different practice areas which chambers has to offer but, at the same time, chambers recognises that pupils may wish to specialise in a particular area and will support this.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The support from the practice team, other chambers staff and members of chambers made the transition from pupil to tenant seamless. Tenancy did not mean that I was on my own. There is a wealth of experience within chambers and there is always someone available to assist.
What is your practice like now?
I broadly practice in three distinct areas – property, commercial and professional negligence. On average, I am in court two days a week (either in person or remotely). In addition to having my own cases, I have also worked as part of a counsel team on larger commercial cases.
Working hours is very much a personal thing. Members are encouraged to have a work/life balance but longer hours may, of course, be required where there is an upcoming trial or court deadline.
What is the culture of chambers?
Chambers has recently changed its name to Gatehouse Chambers; this clearly reflects our values and what we represent. Chambers has recently moved to 1 Lady Hale Gate in Gray’s Inn. We have impressive new facilities for marketing events, client conferences and remote hearings.
Chambers prides itself in having a strong support network and an open door policy. Gatehouse Chambers is very much a unit and there is always someone available to assist if you need them. Members are supported by an excellent team of staff (including our practice management and marketing teams).
Chambers organises internal training sessions so that we can share our knowledge and experiences. There are also various opportunities for members to socialise with one another, either through chambers’ monthly lunches or zoom drinks (courtesy of the pandemic).
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
You are not expected to have followed one particular pathway to secure a pupillage at Gatehouse Chambers. Indeed, everyone’s journey to the bar is different and we recognise that. However, it is important to show that you are committed to a career at the bar and have the skills required to succeed at the bar.
In relation to applications generally, start drafting early! This will give you time to review, change and ensure that you are happy with the finished product before you submit your application. Check if your university, BPTC provider or Inn offer a mentoring scheme – it is always valuable to have someone else look over your application before you submit.
Prepare for interviews like you would for an exam. Whilst I would not encourage writing a script, ensure that you are prepared with specific examples. I would also recommend that applicants re-visit contract law, tort law and professional ethics as most problem questions tend to focus on these areas.