Your journey to pupillage
I grew up in Slovakia and came to the UK when I was sixteen, initially for a year – but then I stayed for another year, to finish my A-levels, applied to university here, and I never left!
I read law at Cambridge, which ended up including a year in France, studying French and EU law. I then did the BCL at Oxford. I was particularly interested in international law at the time: I did an internship at the International Court of Justice and, a couple of years later, took the Hague Academy summer course on Private International Law. I also did a lot of mooting, including the Jessup International Law Moot, which is how I became interested in the Bar.
I then did the BPTC, as it was then called, during which I was offered pupillage. After I finished the BPTC, I spent most of the year before my pupillage tutoring university-level law. I picked it for the flexibility and because I thought, rightly, that I would enjoy it; but later on, when I started taking on cases in my own right, I realised that certain tasks – like explaining the law to the client – felt reassuringly familiar because of tutoring.
The pupillage experience
I joined Monckton a few years into my practice, but have been involved with various pupillage-related matters since, and I am familiar with the process.
Pupillage at Monckton reflects the breadth of the work that is on offer. Monckton is a public and commercial law set, with a particular emphasis on competition law, accompanied by a wide range of work in other (sometimes overlapping) practice areas, including administrative and public law, human rights, EU relations law, commercial dispute resolution, business regulation, sport, data protection, public procurement, and tax law. Even that is not a complete list. No one is expected to master every practice area, but we aim to give the pupils a chance to have a go at a broad range of work.
There are four three-month seats, each with a different supervisor, with the possible exception of the fourth and final seat (which normally takes place after the tenancy vote), where some pupils stay with their third supervisor. In addition to working with their pupillage supervisors, pupils also complete tasks for various other members of chambers. The process is carefully monitored by each pupillage supervisor to ensure that the pupils are exposed to a broad range of work, while making sure that they are given sufficient time to complete each task.
The work normally relates to ongoing, live cases. Typical tasks include drafting pleadings, skeletons, and opinions. We watch out for opportunities for pupils to attend court or other hearings. The process also includes two advocacy exercises.
Pupils are given feedback at the end of each seat. They are not competing against each other: the only question, at the time of the tenancy vote, is whether each pupil meets the standard.
The transition from pupil to tenant
Monckton pupils swiftly become involved in a wide range of high-profile cases upon becoming tenants. Between competition, a booming area of law generating a steady flow of large-scale trials, and other practice groups being similarly busy, there is certainly no shortage of interesting work. New tenants typically get involved from day one.
In addition to large-scale litigation generating junior roles alongside some of the best advocates at the Bar, juniors at Monckton also have access to a range of advocacy opportunities including, in particular, in public law, commercial, and data protection work. This includes matters suitable for those at the most junior end, as well as more complex matters for those with more experience: over the past few years, multiple junior members have appeared in the Court of Appeal as sole counsel as early as five or so years in.
What is your practice like now?
My background is a bit unusual in that I joined the (then) new commercial group at Monckton as a commercial practitioner a few years ago. My practice has broadened since, although it remains predominantly commercial: in addition to a broad commercial practice including, in particular, civil fraud and company law matters, a significant part of my practice now involves competition law.
Many of my cases have an international element: they might involve international parties litigating in England, or might be based abroad, including in Dubai or the BVI, where I am also called to the Bar. By way of example, I have spent a large part of the past twelve months preparing for a multi-week trial in an international arbitration in Stockholm, as well as working on large-scale commercial litigation in the Isle of Man, listed for an initial seven-week trial in the early part of next year. In addition to large-scale litigation, I normally also have a number of smaller cases where I act as sole counsel, often involving jurisdiction disputes, civil fraud, or insolvency matters.
My practice is one part of a much bigger picture. While others have taken a broadly similar path, a more typical junior practice at Monckton might involve, alongside competition law, public law, data protection law, and/or public procurement. It would also not be unusual for a junior to focus on public law, a popular practice area in chambers teeming with high-profile work. No one is expected to do everything and juniors forge their own path.
Competition is one of the areas where several different strands of Monckton expertise meet, and there is something for everyone. I like to watch out for parallels with the rest of my commercial work, and I also like to hear about the various parallels with public law picked up on by other members of chambers. I enjoy the variety and I am pleased that I have meandered back to competition law – I studied it on the BCL years ago, and then it largely dropped off my radar until I joined the commercial group at Monckton, when it seamlessly slotted into my practice. It is a fantastic area of law, bustling with new developments and generating large volumes of extremely interesting, high-profile litigation, including a volume of substantial trials which is largely unparalleled.
Finally, in terms of balance, critically, work is offered, rather than imposed. I get asked, every time, whether I have the capacity to take on a particular piece of work, and whether I am able to take it on, and anything I say in response is respected. I tend to work quite hard a lot of the time – because of how good the opportunities are, not because of any external pressure – but I also watch out for opportunities to take time off. Earlier this year, for example, following a fairly intense period of work, I had a substantial trial settle at the last minute and, with no one expecting anything from me for the duration of the trial, I took eight weeks off, principally to travel, with the full support of my clerk. That is one sort of balance, which happens to suit me, but is certainly not the only way. Many members of chambers balance their practice with childcare or other commitments. They continue to thrive in their career.
What is the culture of chambers?
The culture is friendly, modern, and supportive. I joined chambers during the height of the pandemic, a couple of days into lockdown one, but nevertheless managed to meet various members via video calls, and then in person, as and when possible. I recall, in particular, trips to the pub in groups of six, when that was the limit, and playing pétanque in the Walks in Gray’s Inn when indoor gatherings were not allowed. Social events continue post-Covid, including ‘official’ chambers events such as the annual chambers party or lunches in hall organised by the heads of chambers, as well as various other events organised by individual members, including trips to the cinema or the theatre (or just the pub!).
Also, and importantly, the clerking is fantastic. I have always felt supported in developing my practice and able to bounce ideas around. I have enjoyed being part of a developing commercial group, where I can leave my own mark on the direction of travel despite being relatively junior, and taking part in various business development initiatives. I have, for example, been involved in the planning of various business development trips to Dubai (and the wider Gulf region), where I have done work in the past.
More generally, chambers works like a well-oiled machine, with an extremely helpful and supportive head of administration, very strong marketing, finance and IT teams, and a receptionist accurately described in the directories as “the heart and soul of Monckton”.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Apart from the basics, which tend to be covered extensively whenever the question arises – academics, providing evidence of oral and written advocacy, and using each stage of the application process, including the application itself, as an exercise in advocacy – a few points come to mind:
I would recommend trying out a range of work before committing to a particular area or areas, and keeping your options open if you can, at least for a while – some areas of work might surprise you! It is common for people to develop a keen interest in practice areas outside of their original academic interests, especially when they did not get a chance to study a particular subject before, like competition law. Also, having now practised in a range of different areas, the exercise of identifying and thinking about similarities (and differences) between different areas of work has become something of an interest of its own, and one which tends to be very useful when thinking about how to present a case to a particular judge or tribunal (whose legal background will not necessarily match the subject matter of the case!).
Get to know the weaknesses, as well as strengths, of any argument, and think about how best to tackle them. When I did mooting, due to a series of largely random events – first the size of my team in one moot, and subsequently, in another moot, an administrative error on the part of organisers that led to having to switch sides on the day – I switched sides a lot, often at short notice. This never happens in practice, for obvious reasons, but the exercise is nevertheless very useful. The benefits will be obvious to debaters: the better you know the other side’s case, the better you know your own case. That is worth bearing in mind whenever you are asked to argue in favour of a proposition as part of any pupillage application process (and, ultimately, when working on a case).
I would not hesitate to think about fit, and to take it into account. This partly goes to your chances of securing a pupillage in the first place – you are more likely to shine when genuinely excited about the prospect of joining a particular set of chambers – but, equally importantly, is also about giving yourself the best chance of thriving as a pupil and, subsequently, as a tenant. Whatever your precise approach to your career, your chambers is likely to be an important part of it, and part of your life more generally. A supportive environment that fits, particularly during pupillage and the early years of practice, is invaluable; I continue to draw on what I learned as a pupil and in my first few years of practice.