“The juniors hang out all the time”, says Rachel Tandy, a junior barrister at Henderson Chambers, “it’s actually quite funny how much time we spend together.”
While doing a mini-pupillage at Henderson, Tandy “really liked the atmosphere”, which felt different to some of the “more traditional sets” that are around. “Everyone’s doors were open, people were chatting to each other, I liked everybody who I met,” she says. The “friendly and supportive vibe” has been consistent.
As Henderson is a broad commercial set, training in chambers exposes you to “a range of work”, which you can “narrow down later”. This means you can make better choices when deciding which areas of law you want to practise in. Chambers gives you the “opportunity to try a whole range of different practice areas”. This appealed to Tandy: “I came to law late and I still didn’t know what areas I would be interested in. The GDL doesn’t give you much time to figure that out,” she says.
Pupillage itself is structured across four seats. The first three months are “a bit of a grace period; no one expects you to turn up and immediately be marvellous at everything”. In between your first and second six, you have the option to spend a month in an international posting. Tandy went to a law firm in Brussels; a recent pupil had the opportunity to work in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
Tandy recalls her first ever trial. She was acting for a defendant in a contractual dispute. The claimant’s evidence was “unbelievably inconsistent” and overall he was perhaps “one of the most unconvincing witnesses” that Tandy has ever cross-examined. This made her job much easier, and she had “hoped that every trial would be this straightforward” but “quickly realised that that’s very rare”, she laughs.
The feedback during pupillage is regular. Each supervisor that you’ve worked with will fill in a feedback form at the end of each three months. This guidance system “gives you a clear steer throughout the year — not just before your tenancy decision when it’s too late — and lets you know how you’re doing” as you go along. You’ll be able to see if there are any gaps in your experience. For example, you might conclude that you need to draft more pleadings before the end of pupillage.
The transition from pupil to junior barrister is “quite smooth”. You gradually go from “baby barrister work” to more challenging cases. Many juniors get the chance to do an early secondment for one or two days a week. Doing so will ease your transition as it will provide you with a steady stream of work as you start out. Tandy herself worked on a long SFO (Serious Fraud Office) case that included reviewing “tons of investigation files” and picking out documents which were relevant to the case. Tandy continued with this disclosure exercise for a year.
Work/life balance tends to be pretty good and flexible. Tandy works from home about once a fortnight — “the clerks are perfectly happy for you to do that”. She works late occasionally “because that’s the nature of the job; sometimes cases will change or develop late in the day and you have to respond”. Tandy says she “doesn’t go home at five, but overall the balance is good”. What’s really helpful is that “people working on the same case can plan around and accommodate each other”. It’s a cooperative process where they will often “divide work up” and “match schedules”. This is important if, unexpectedly, “cases throw up issues at the last minute”.
Henderson is housed in the modern interior of ancient 2 Harcourt Buildings in London’s Temple. One of the top facilities is the espresso machine. It makes “real coffee”, the sort that “gives you a twitch behind your eye because it’s so strong”. It’s “a small thing but makes such a difference,” Tandy adds. There are currently refurbishments underway inside the building, although a plea for the new conference suite to include double doors out onto “a terrace on the Inner Temple’s lawn for drinking aperol spritz” has sadly been unsuccessful.
To secure pupillage at Henderson, you’ve got to be more than smart and hard working. “Everyone knows that you want a pupillage,” Tandy says, but it “can be more challenging to explain why you want to come to a broad set” like Henderson. You have to “be honest”; if you don’t know what you like yet, you can “be upfront” about it and explain that you want the opportunity to try different areas. But “you do need to show you know something about us, other than the fact that we are offering pupillage.”
Conversely, if you are interested in a particular area of law, “shout about it”. Be sure to supply “evidence of that interest somewhere on your form” — “it’s not enough to just say you love product liability”. If you don’t have relevant experience on your CV, it’s “useful to refer to a relevant case, or series of cases” and “explain why you think they’re interesting or impressive”. You’ve got to “do more than just looking at chambers’ website”.
And finally, “persevere”. Tandy herself wrote 27 applications over two years. Her advice for future barristers? “The only thing that the court should be noticing is what is coming out of your mouth,” she says. “The way you look, if you’re fidgeting, or what nail varnish you’re wearing, shouldn’t be conspicuous. Strip that stuff out, and focus on the content of what you’re saying. Everything else is white noise.”