Henderson Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Temple-based Henderson Chambers is a leading civil set with a number of key specialist areas. The top set in the country for product liability, Henderson’s other key practice areas include group actions, health and safety, consumer law, IT law, environment law, and inquests and public inquiries. The 54 barristers—including 17 KCs—at Henderson also provide advice and representation in employment, property, public procurement and personal injury matters, to name just a few. Aside from the broad range of exciting practice areas, one of the main perks of completing pupillage at this prestigious set is that all pupils are offered a month’s secondment to the Caribbean firm Griffiths & Partners in the Turks & Caicos Islands, where they assist with drafting opinions and pleadings as well as attending court and conferences with clients (flights and accommodation all provided!). Sounds glorious!

Given the broad range of practice areas at Henderson, work can be incredibly varied. Whether it be working on a pedestrian/vehicle collision claim or handling a claim involving constructive dismissal, tenants at the set take on a range of interesting work, much of which has a very human focus. One member tells us: “A somewhat unique feature of [the cases taken on by tenants at Henderson] is that there is almost always a very human element to them. That keeps things interesting.” Clients can range from individuals to government departments, and there is often a lot of work with an international focus.

Henderson appears to be placing an increasing focus on its commercial side going forward: over the past 12 months, they have recruited a number of barristers practicing in insolvency and competition matters, indicating that these will become more significant areas for them going forward. Its reputation in these areas is also likely to be bolstered by the appointment of tenant Toby Riley-Smith as standing counsel on consumer matters to the Competition and Markets Authority.

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Given Henderson’s reputation and the number of silks at the set, there is a lot of high-profile work coming through the door. Members have recently been working on some of the biggest inquiries taking place in the country, including the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Covid Inquiry. Their group action expertise was put to use in the Post Office Horizon scandal, one of the most reported-on cases in recent years. Five tenants at Henderson, including 2 KCs, were involved in representing the claimants in this high-profile case. Group actions are certainly a growing area of law in the UK and, as one tenant puts it, “Henderson has cornered this market”.

Henderson continues to work on high-profile, high-value cases across its areas of expertise. The past year has seen Tim Green KC represent a global construction company in a precedent-setting government investigation into alleged product defects, Toby Riley-Smith KC tackle a case involving a novel point of law looking at whether a finance company can be held liable for a salesman’s alleged misrepresentations, and Adam Heppinstall KC appear for the Cabinet Office in a freedom of information appeal concerning access to historic closed papers. A whopping 19 members of Henderson were also instructed in the Volkswagen NOx Emissions group litigation, involving around 91,000 claims, which recently settled on confidential terms.

There is certainly a good combination of these bigger cases, on which juniors will usually be led by a KC or a senior junior, and smaller cases that allow juniors to build their own advocacy experience. One insider tells us: “There is a good mix of responsibility: from the opportunity to work as part of a team on a significant group action to the opportunity to run smaller cases as sole counsel as early as the second six months of pupillage.” Pupils and baby juniors can expect to, for example, take on cases involving landlord/tenant disputes or road traffic accidents.

Moments away from Middle Temple library with views of Inner Temple gardens, Henderson Chambers’ recently refurbished premises boast in-house conference facilities that look “more like a swanky boutique events space than a workplace”. Technology and IT support at the set also receive a good rating overall, even though the team can “sometimes be very slow to respond to requests for help”. Whilst some barristers say that “members’ rooms aren’t as flashy as in some chambers”, the “beautiful view of Inner Temple Gardens” helps compensate for this. That’s just as well because barristers can expect to spend long hours at their desk. “We work hard, and we work for FTSE 100 companies and magic circle law firms,” says one member. “That means that, at times, the demands on our time are very significant and can intrude into evenings and weekends. BUT ― and it’s a big but ― we play incredibly hard too, and we all understand and respect the value of family and friendships. Overall, the balance is good and better than many sets at the bar.” Makes sense then that the set looks for pupillage candidates who are “real humans” who “work hard but also know how to relax”. One tenant does, however, complain that it is “not clear how much interest or understanding senior members of Chambers have in juniors’ work/life balance”.

It certainly seems that you’ll be spending large parts of your life among your colleagues. Fortunately, the people at Henderson seem like a nice bunch. “From the silks to the clerks to the most recent tenants — support is there for anyone who needs it. It is a real family for those who are lucky enough to get in,” one source comments. Another tells us: “Chambers operates an ‘open-door’ system and absolutely everyone in chambers (from my head of chambers down) will happily make themselves available to discuss problems with me, no matter how trivial.”

Members also know how to let their hair down. Apparently they “do not take themselves too seriously” and enjoy weekly drinks, regular trips to the pub, and annual Christmas and summer parties. The COVID pandemic has, naturally, had an impact but Chambers seems to be recovering fairly well.

Those who obtain a pupillage at this set will receive a handsome award of £70,000. Pupillage is structured across four seats with four different supervisors, and the regular feedback and gradual expansion of responsibility makes for a smooth transition from pupil to junior barrister. “Chambers runs a dedicated in-house pupillage training programme, involving advocacy exercises in front of senior members of chambers and high court judges,” a tenant explains. One former pupil does, however, note that the quality of training is “highly dependent upon individual supervisors”.

In the second six, pupils will begin taking on their own cases, particularly in the public housing sector and, if progressing through to tenancy, are instructed mostly in private client work including property and employment cases. The amount of time you spend on your feet will depend on what practice area you go into. A tenant tells us that those specialising in product liability, for example, will appear in court less often, whilst those specialising in property will regularly be on their feet. While newbies are expected to develop and market their own careers, the set has a well-established mentoring scheme, providing support and guidance to those in the first few years of tenancy. Secondments are also encouraged, ranging from in-house legal departments to public bodies including the Government Legal Department. The Turks & Caicos secondment during the pupillage year is also a highlight for many!

To apply for pupillage at Henderson, applicants should go through the Pupillage Gateway. Based on how they score in their paper applications, a number of candidates will be invited to a first-round interview which typically involves a set question and some competency-based questions. Those scoring highest will then be invited to a more extensive second-round interview in front of the full pupillage committee. A question will again be set beforehand and there will be a number of questions based on your written application as well as general competency questions. Henderson details pupillage and its application process on this dedicated site.

Henderson Chambers offers up to 15 bursaries of £200 every year for mini-pupillage candidates who may struggle to meet the costs of attending a mini-pupillage in London. It also recently became a supporter of the Charter for Black Talent in Finance and the Professions, and uses RARE contextualisation to ensure that social mobility factors are taken into account during the pupillage recruitment process.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Reanne MacKenzie

Your journey to pupillage

I went to grammar school, followed by my undergraduate degree reading history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. I was a member of the union and took part in their debates, eventually becoming a member of the committee. I made friends with students reading law and quickly figured out I wanted to be a barrister in around my second year. I then attended all the law fairs and started to attend other law events, such as the non-lawyers moot and then also joined the Cambridge University Law Society and became a committee member. I did lots of mini-pupillages, starting with a couple in my final year. I then did a vacation scheme just to see if the solicitor route was for me (I didn’t get offered a training contract which cemented my decision to try for the bar, as well as finding out I managed to get a first). After I graduated I completed the GDL at City (make sure to apply for an Inn scholarship in your final year of university so that you can use these funds for your GDL year).

I started my minis with earnest on the GDL and also took part in their mooting competitions, as well as those provided by the Inns (I was a member of Inner Temple’s Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition). I applied for pupillage in my GDL year (both in and out of the Pupillage Gateway) and was lucky enough to get it outside of the Gateway meaning I went straight on to the BPTC (also at City) and then pupillage the following year. Unfortunately I didn’t get taken on after my 12 month pupillage so I then applied for third sixes. Happily, I was offered a third six at Henderson where, after an additional eight months of pupillage, I was offered a tenancy. In all I did 20 months of pupillage, which whilst exhausting also provided me with a valuable lesson: perseverance is key.

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The pupillage experience

The third six (and all pupillage) at Henderson was amazing because from the second six you are both on your feet, running your own cases and  doing live and helpful work for your supervisor. There is no dead work at Henderson, where a pupil is simply given an old folder of papers to look at and told to produce the work. A pupil is made to feel helpful and useful and genuinely assists their supervisor with whatever work they have on.

Each pupil sits with four supervisors and there is a stint in the Caribbean (Covid permitting) for those doing a 12 month pupillage, which is pretty amazing. You see a great range of work because you see two work streams simultaneously. First, there is the big ticket group litigation that is in chambers, and secondly there are your own smaller cases. These allow you to cut your teeth doing advocacy in the county courts, building up your own skills. It was this dual aspect of the work available that really drew me into Henderson.

The other big thing for me is that the atmosphere is very collegiate and there is a real sense of camaraderie amongst the members. The fact that we’ve all missed coming into chambers during Covid is a real testament to that. People share rooms and are extremely supportive and helpful: it’s just a really happy place to work.

The assessment process is very transparent, with pupils receiving feedback forms graded from one to five (five being the highest mark) on every piece of work they do. These build up over time and then form the bulk of the tenancy application. It is really helpful to have a metric to know how you are performing and to know what needs improving as you go along. There is a real feeling that everyone wants the pupils to succeed and get taken on.

The transition from pupil to tenant

I was extremely lucky in that as soon as I was taken on I became part of the counsel team in chambers acting for the claimants in the Post Office Group Litigation. The team was made up of Patrick Green QC, Henry Warwick QC, Kathleen Donnelly and Ognjen Miletic. It was an incredible experience and I feel very fortunate to have got that opportunity and to have had a career highlight at such an early stage.

One of the key benefits of Henderson is that we have big group litigation cases that need to be resourced. In this way, brand new tenants are able to have a secure and regular income stream as they might be put on a doc review exercise on a larger case for example, alongside working on their own smaller cases. It is really useful to have these two income streams. New tenants might also go on secondment for a day or two a week, for example I spent time at the Government Legal Department working on the Cyprus Colonial Group Litigation. As a result I travelled to Nicosia to conduct research at the Cypriot State Archives. Similarly, because there is such a breadth of quality work coming into chambers as a new tenant (and beyond), you get to do all sorts of varied pieces of work to see what you like best. There is no obligation to specialise too early or indeed at all.

What is your practice like now?

The last year and half has been different because of Covid. I’ve noticed my cases generally shift from baby-barrister work to more complex and longer trials that I do on my own. I’ve also kept working on other group litigation matters so the twin aspect of my work streams hasn’t really changed. I’m probably in court (typically remote either by phone or video) at least once or twice a week. I really enjoy the balance of running my own cases and also working as part of a wider team. You learn so much from being led, not just about strategy and the law but also the soft skills of how to handle a tricky judge or procedural points and that all feeds back into your own work.

The hours vary depending on what I’ve got on and how busy I want to be. The great thing about being self-employed is that you are in charge of your own time. This job is basically feast or famine. Working on the Post Office Litigation where we had two six week trials back-to-back, was probably the hardest I have ever worked in my life. Equally, if it’s summer and it’s hot outside I’m going to enjoy myself and take things at a slower pace. The great thing about Henderson is that you can be flexible and find a balance that works for you. Indeed you are encouraged to do so.

Work/life balance is important to everyone, from our head of chambers to the clerks’ room. Chambers is also really aware of the importance of well-being, especially with the added pressures of Covid, lockdown, working from home and home schooling. Well-being is firmly on the agenda and we recently had a Zoom talk from a clinical psychologist looking at the particular pressures of being a barrister, how difficulties arise and what to look out for in yourself and fellow colleagues. It is really important to think about the longevity of your career and to make sure you don’t end up somewhere where you will simply burn out.

What is the culture of chambers?

Chambers is a really happy place. We typically share rooms (apart from the more senior members) and everyone’s door is open with people chatting to one another. Sharing rooms also allows you to bounce ideas off each other and sense check points, which is really helpful. It is not a staid or stuffy place. In non-Covid times we have Friday evening drinks and we normally have a big black tie Christmas party as well as a bi-annual summer party. People genuinely get on and enjoy working with one another. The fact that we have all missed coming in and seeing one another is, I think, a reflection of what an amazing atmosphere suffuses through chambers.

There is little to no hierarchy at chambers and the clerks’ room is just as affable as the members’ rooms. As a set we take our work incredibly seriously but no one takes themselves too seriously, which is extremely refreshing.

We have a great building on Middle Temple lane that was redecorated a few years ago. We have a modern conference suite, which can be reconfigured and adapted to accommodate a range of different functions and guests. I like to go to Press for my coffee but others swear by chambers’ Nespresso machines.

Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers

You’ve got to show why you want to come to a broad set like Henderson. You need to show you know something about us, other than the fact that we are offering pupillage. Equally if you are interested in a particular area of law then you need to be able to evidence that interest. It’s not enough to say you “love product liability”: can you demonstrate work experience in that area? Do you know a relevant case? Can you explain why you think it is interesting or impressive?  Remember that the application and the interview are all about showing off your advocacy. If the interview includes asking you to answer a set question given in advance, then make sure you present your  answer as if you were making submissions in court: a stream of consciousness or rambling supposition is not going to cut it.

Pupillage is a numbers game so keep at it: throw enough mud and something has to stick. Remember that whilst you are doing lots of interviews, chambers are seeing you for the first time. Recruitment Committees work on a voluntary basis: no one gets paid any extra to find and recruit the pupils, so remember that your audience is made up of people who have given up their time and turned down paid work in order to be there. Enthusiasm and a smile will always be appreciated.

Deadlines

Pupillage

Applications open 04/01/2023
Applications close 08/02/2023

Mini-Pupillage

Between May and July 2023
Applications close 24/03/2023

Mini-Pupillage

Between September and December 2023
Applications close 21/07/2023

Insider Scorecard

A
Training
B
Quality of work
A
Colleagues
B
Facilities
A*
Work/life balance
A
Social life
B
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2022-3 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 37
KCs 17
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 3/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £70,000
BPTC advance drawdown £20,000

Diversity

Female juniors 35%
Female KCs 0%
BME juniors 5%
BME KCs 6%

The Chambers In Its Own Words