Having been at the forefront of Brexit cases, Monckton Chambers has had a busy past few years. Notably, the set appeared in the mega Supreme Court case of R (on the application of Miller and others) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Alongside its strong EU, among the set’s 43 juniors and 21 QCs, there are significant capabilities in competition, commercial litigation and public law, among others. New Supreme Court justice, Lady Justice Rose, practised here for ten years. With a revenue growth of over a third in recent years, Monckton is certainly ambitious. “The two joint heads of chambers have brought a much needed more commercial outlook,” we are told. Well, the set has just upped its pupillage award to £70,000 so things must be going well.
The roster of big name clients, ranging from multinationals to the UK government and NGOs to foreign states, means juniors have a chance to work on some exciting matters. One insider tells the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey: “As a baby junior, I expected to be given a fair amount of menial tasks to do, but that never happened; I was quickly brought into a series of high-profile cases, and am yet to be bored by anything so far”. One tenant describes the work at Monckton as “cutting edge” particularly in reference to the “interplay between public law, EU law, competition and regulation and Brexit from both government and private side”. Life at Monckton can be highly rewarding: “If you love the law, it’s great that the work is mainly about grappling with tricky legal problems rather than factual disputes. The work quality here is great.”
The public law team receives diverse and interesting cases from “highly deserving clients”. Conor McCarthy is representing Campaign Against Arms Trade in a judicial review of the UK government’s decision to resume issuing licences for the transfer of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in the Yemen conflict. Julianne Morrison represented appellants in the Court of Appeal which found an immigration exemption within the Data Protection Act 2018 which allowed the government a blanket power to refuse information and use it secretly was unlawful. Barristers here also work with international organisations and governments in developing new national legal systems, law reform projects and on monitoring the fairness of elections! Member Alan Bates was appointed by the Lord Chancellor to be a member of the independent expert view of the Human Rights Act. The last UK Court of Justice of the European Union, Christopher Vadja QC, returned to the set in 2020 from Luxembourg following Brexit. Ex-chairman of commercial firm Linklaters, Sir Christopher Bellamy QC has also returned to the set and is the chair of the independent review of the Criminal Legal Aid system.
Commercial instructions are described as “technical work, encompassing heaps of different areas of law and business”. Will Hooper acted for the buyer in a case regarding the ownership of an original gearbox of a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, sold for US$44 million, and Josh Holmes QC and Nikolaus Grubeck successfully represented Coca-Cola in striking out a company’s claim for alleged abuse of dominance. In the competition arena, Ronit Kreisberger is joint lead counsel representing an expert in the digital economy in an opt-out collective action against Apple on behalf of an estimated 19.6 million eligible UK iPhone and iPad users in which it is alleged that the commission on app sales is an abuse of dominance and is unlawful.
Barristers here have different approaches to their work/life configuration. One member tells us their balance is limited but this is down to personal choice and the function of the interesting work on offer. Another tells us how a good thing about the Monckton is that it “respects your approach – so if you’re the sort of person whose life is their work the clerks will feed you; and if you want much more of a balance they are very respectful of that”. We are also told leaders at the top “are very respectful of the needs of junior members to have a life in the evenings and weekends!” Clerks here are described as “proactive and energetic” alongside support staff who make sure members’ “financial and marketing [are] all sorted very professionally” too.
The set usually recruits two pupils a year with training divided into three seats, each lasting three to four months with a different supervisor for each. Pupils work with their supervisors as well as for other members so they experience the set’s range of specialisms. One former pupil tells us their pupillage was “first-rate” with all three supervisors being “very dedicated”, and continuing: “Comparing what I have seen of other chambers, the pupillage process seems about as humane as it can be”. The set’s pupillage brochure says “performance during pupillage is assessed by reference to the pupil’s ability consistently to deliver first class work on a daily basis under everyday pressures” – formal written assessments are therefore not part of pupillage. There are advocacy exercises so you can learn practical courtroom skills.
One former pupil tells us: “I’ve massively appreciated the ‘hands-on’ approach of pupil supervisors. All three I’ve sat with have provided consistently detailed feedback and I’ve always felt able to ask questions and discuss issues, even when they’ve been swamped with work. I’m a big fan of the requirement to do a piece of work for as many members as possible: it exposes you to a wide range of individual styles and bits of feedback you might not otherwise receive. It also helps you to forge relationships which come in handy if you’re kept on.” This style of learning can be quite intense, as another rookie points out: “Not for the faint hearted or those needing special attainment stickers. You learn the hard way of how not to do it for years while your leaders point out your abject failings until you gather a broad skill-set and confidence to fly alone”.
Through operating an open door policy, “there are always more senior members of chambers one can go to for guidance and advice, and there is a good mutual support network among the juniors too”, says one barrister. We are told “people celebrate your wins with you and let you rant about your losses (unless against them!)”. Efforts have been made to spur the support on: “We are trying to branch out more with female support groups, mentoring and more regular training and social events.” The social side of Monckton includes members frequently going for lunch and grabbing a drink after work. One tenant tells us it is a “very inclusive” atmosphere with a “great bunch of juniors who get on very well”. Even during the pandemic, when in-person events were possible, they were “well-attended”.
Mockton’s location at 1 Raymond Buildings was once home to Charles Dickens when he was a solicitor’s clerk, and is described by one member as “the best bit of Gray’s Inn”. Its namesake comes from former head Sir Walter Monckton KC who advised Edward VIII during his abdication. Many rooms look out over Gray’s Inn Fields, with members’ rooms being “spacious and airy”, conference facilities being “excellent” and oh, the heating works as one member notes. To get a further insight of the inside, check out the barrister’s headshots on the webiste. Remote IT support is “always responsive” and is provided 24/7 with “very friendly IT staff in-house who are very much part of chambers”.
Monckton looks for pupillage candidates with “intellectual excellence” and “personal skills” alongside an understanding of the set, teamed with the ability to “bring real energy to chambers”. It does not require candidates to have any experience in its specialised areas, simply “an interest and enthusiasm” in, and for them. The set says between 80% and 90% of pupils are offered tenancy. Unsurprisingly, out of the five most recent tenants, all went to Oxbridge and “most successful candidates have a first”.
Applications are “particularly welcome” from those groups underrepresented at the bar. Along with nine other chambers, Monckton is running a mentoring scheme for those such candidates. It also participates in the Inner Temple’s Pegasus Access Scheme which offers support to those from diverse backgrounds to consider the bar as a career. It also provides internships to young people through a Social Mobility Foundations scheme.