Littleton Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Meet Littleton Chambers at the Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 9 October 2021

More than half of the work that comes in through Littleton Chambers’ doors is employment law-related, with members often being instructed in headline-grabbing, sometimes groundbreaking, cases. “I never cease to be amazed by the things that go on in workplaces,” says one Littleton member. The remainder of the set’s work comprises a wide range of commercial law, including insolvency, company law disputes, financial services and sports law.

Some of the set’s recent employment law wrangles involved chief Home Office civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam and Team GB cyclist Jess Varnish. The commercial work is also diverse and varied at the senior end. From Rupert D’Cruz QC quashing the Home Department’s disqualification of a £100 million+ investor visa scheme, Adam Solomon QC representing a council against a man described as “Britain’s most controversial landlord” and Jonathan Cohen QC appearing in the High Court for Lionel Messi. Sports law is a booming sector for the set, with instructions frequently coming in from football clubs, players and their managers, helped by the fact Littleton has leading silk Paul Gilroy QC on board. The department also runs the Inspire Sports Law Initiative, which is designed to support athletes transitioning away from high performance sport into a career in the law.

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The 35 juniors gain exposure to a mix of work. One junior reports: “Huge variety, juicy cases and acting as sole counsel on meaty cases from early on.” Another commenting on the diversity of the work available says: “One day you can be arguing about the effect of a statutory provision, the next day cross-examining a truculent witness and the day after writing an opinion on the construction of a contract.” Right from the get-go junior tenants can expect “the opportunity to conduct multi-day trials” which is an “excellent way to cut your teeth”. Several respondents to the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Barristers Survey report their joys of the opportunity for, and quality of, the ‘led’ work on offer at Littleton due to the stature of the 15 silks.

Although the stakes are high, “there is no pressure from chambers on anyone to get the ‘right’ balance” between work and life, “it is up to each individual”. Clerks are praised by several members for being “very supportive and responsive” and “respectful of how people want to load their diaries” with encouragement of members to take time off when needed as well as taking account of any childcare commitments. Inevitably at the bar, there are periods of high intensity and long hours but “not at the expense of other pursuits”. Outside of those periods, several members reported evenings and weekends generally being their own, with one member adding “my clerks don’t bat an eyelid when I book in that extra week of holiday”.

Rookies can expect exposure to a range of the set’s key areas during pupillage, which is split into four three-month seats, working with between two and four different supervisors. Training is “first-rate” and is “taken seriously by chambers”, we are told, involving shadowing the leading experts in their fields, with regular, in-depth feedback on formal assessments. One former pupils reflects on their training as follows: “I saw a huge range of work on pupillage, from the Employment Tribunal through to the European Court of Human Rights”. Another adds: “I think the pupillage I had could not have been better training for practice.” Informal training is also available, and one former pupil tells us their supervisors did mock advocacy exercises with them to develop their skills outside of the formal assessments. Pupils do work for other members too which is “valuable because you end up learning from many more people than your four supervisors”. When in second six, pupils are typically briefed once or twice a week.

Pupillage is a tough year for anyone, but one ex-Littleton pupil tells us it helped that “all of the pupil supervisors are totally human (with a sense of humour) and humane (they will send you home at 6pm sharp)”. At the end of pupillage, you may fly your supervisor’s nest, but you are not left alone at Littleton. Pupil-supervisor relationships, and opportunities, continue on into tenancy, says one member: “I still speak to my supervisors regularly for advice on junior practice and have had the opportunity to work with three on subsequent cases.” One member who joined as a third six pupil also commented on the set’s “outstanding” training, in which they received “real and focused attention and feedback”.

Littleton prides itself on its collegiate nature, supported by the open-door policy. “There are always people who are happy to answer any questions, whether about a particular case or practice in general,” one happy tenant reports. Support is available right through to the top, “you can approach anyone, of any seniority, and they are always willing to help. In fact, the most senior members — some of whom are top QCs — could not be more generous with their time.” The set’s camaraderie remained during the working from home set-up through the pandemic: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been extremely clear that people are only at the end of the phone,” says one pupil.

The social life is also highly rated; “from impromptu drinks to dinner and BBQs at colleagues’ houses, and annual events such as chambers dinner and summer picnic”, reveals one Littletonite. We are told the socialising is done mainly at the junior end with “spontaneous lunches and pub trips after work” being a common fixture. One junior member tells us several colleagues came on his stag do showing members are friends as well as colleagues.

The chambers building itself is located at the top of historic King’s Bench Walk looking over Inner Temple Hall, with access to the Inn garden. It has the typical “old facade” yet is deceptively modern with air-conditioning and well-kitted out conference rooms. The building is even used as a set for movies! Littleton apparently houses “the best outdoor roof terrace in the Temple” possessing outdoor heating, picnic furniture and beanbags, and is often used for client events, celebrations for colleagues’ career milestones and casual get-togethers.

What’s more is there are specialist IT consultants on hand, remotely and in chambers, to troubleshoot any issues, with management “being alive to the need to adapt technologically in a world where remote hearings are becoming more common”. Another Littleton luxury is a policy allowing junior tenants to have a room for themselves (if that is what they desire). “It’s great not having to listen to other people on the telephone!” one rookie who took up this offer tells us.

Littleton Chambers offers up to two pupillages a year. The application process includes a mini-pupillage to be taken after a successful first round interview; Littleton hopefuls spend three days working at the set before a final interview.

What The Junior Barristers Say

The working environment at Littleton Chambers, according to Kieran Wilson, a junior barrister at the set, is “incredibly friendly and supportive”. He adds: “I don’t have any junior bar horror stories to share, unfortunately!”

All this niceness began before Kieran had even started: the summer before pupillage kicked off, he was assigned a junior mentor who he‘d meet regularly for a confidential chat over lunch or coffee. During his pupillage, Kieran spent three months working with four different supervisors, gaining experience in Littleton’s core practice areas of employment and commercial law.

Aside from the formal assessments (of which there are six throughout the year), every piece of work during Kieran’s pupillage related to a live case. His friends at other chambers haven’t been so lucky he tells us: there’s a lot of “dead work” in which those pupils work on cases which have already ended.

In contrast, at Littleton: “you’re essentially working with your supervisor in accordance with their deadlines — you get to see all the chops and changes that can happen when a case comes to trial”. It’s also a two-way street, “the end of seat debrief provides a holistic overview as to how well you’re doing”. When it comes to assessments and work for other members of chambers, “you’re given a score out of ten,” explains Kieran, which helps serve as a benchmark for future practice.

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Based in the heart of legal London in Temple, a stone’s throw from the River Thames, Littleton houses 38 juniors and 13 QCs. It has just revamped its roof terrace: “there’s picnic furniture and beanbags with outdoor heating, so it’s great in both the summer and the slightly chillier months”. His room? It’s “very nice” Kieran enthuses, “I share with two other colleagues who are relatively junior, but senior enough to field any questions I might have”.

There is no strict sense of deference at Littleton: “my room is directly across the corridor from one of our top QCs and we have a brief chat each time we bump into each other on the stairs”.

Kieran’s practice covers a range of areas now that he has tenancy, including employment law and international arbitration. The leap from pupillage to practice means moving from “worrying that you’re not going to satisfy your supervisor to the much more real demand of satisfying your client”. But if you’re lucky enough to be at Littleton, it doesn’t sound like you have to worry too much because “it’s made abundantly clear that your supervisors from pupillage are still there to help you once you enter practice”.

We find there are some great moments too as Kieran reminisces about his first win, an employment tribunal case: “I remember my client being worried sick, to then see her nerves turn as she realised the outcome — that was incredibly rewarding”.

Recent highlights include an appearance in the Administrative Court for a university opposing a renewed application for judicial review brought by a student who was found to have plagiarised his masters dissertation, and acting as junior counsel in a high-value international commercial arbitration due to be heard later this year.

He says there is no typical working day or week: “I may be in court every single day for a week, and the very next I’m drafting witness statements or arranging a call with a client”. No two days are the same, “some days I’m sat at my desk for 12 hours straight”, on others, “I barely come into chambers”. With plenty of irony, Kieran alludes to “all that glamorous travel” when journeying to tribunals across the UK (though he does mention he was once randomly papped as he exited Reading Employment Tribunal). But international postings are becoming more common, with one of Kieran’s colleagues recently attending an arbitration in Malaysia — so the glam factor may yet improve.

With the responsibility of being self-employed comes the ability to be self-disciplined. “I create a to-do list every week” and “try to stick to 9-6 as close as possible,” he says. Note, however, that working weekends “come with the territory”.

There is plenty of time to play, though: there is “definitely” socialising within chambers, more often than not. “We have a very close knit feel about us — particularly at the junior end”. Highlights include grabbing a quick bite to eat together in the Member’s Room, going out after work for drinks or even the occasional party. Plus, there’s always the chambers tea to look forward to every Monday.

Kieran’s tips for those seeking pupillage at Littleton include: making a start on the application form early on, then identifying the gaps in your CV and thinking how best you might fill them. At the interview stage, Kieran advises: “don’t try and be what a barrister ought to be — be yourself — the panel would much rather see a genuine reflection of you, as opposed to an impersonation”.

Of rejection, Kieran speaks candidly: “it’s part and parcel of the application process”. “I received two pupillage offers, but that was the product of significantly more applications”. Though it’s easy to feel disheartened when rejected, Kieran thinks it’s important to remember, “the numbers are always stacked against the people”. For those about to embark on pupillages, Kieran advises: “it’s a given that in order to be a barrister, you must be good at the law — beyond that, I think everyone has their own style. It’s okay to look to others to see what you like — but, ultimately, a self-employed barrister should do things their way”.

Deadlines

Pupillage 2023

To commence 1 October 2023
Applications open 05/01/2022
Applications close 09/02/2022

Insider Scorecard

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

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 35
QCs 15
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 4/5

*Applies to the five most junior members of chambers; excludes postgraduate studies.

Money

Pupillage award £67,500
BPTC advance drawdown £15,000

Diversity

Female juniors 23%
Female QCs 7%
BME juniors 3%
BME QCs 13%