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.
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.