The working environment at Littleton Chambers, according to Kieran Wilson, its most junior barrister, 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.
Based in the heart of legal London in Temple, a stone’s throw from the River Thames, Littleton houses 44 juniors and 12 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”.