Nestled in between Chancery Lane and Lincoln’s Inn, and accessible through the Dickensian Bishop’s Court’s alley, Hardwicke’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.
“Light and colourful”, is how one insider describes it, responding to the 2020-21 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, while another 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, Hardwicke has full disability access.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, Hardwicke 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.”
Hardwicke’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 Hardwicke 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, Hardwicke 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 Hardwicke’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.