New Square Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Located in the glorious setting of Lincoln’s Inn, New Square Chambers is a leading commercial chancery set working in a range of exciting areas. If business and property are areas of law that you enjoy, then you will find New Square is right up your street. The set is particularly renowned when it comes to company law and rural and agricultural matters, but its members also work in commercial litigation, insolvency, trusts, wills, and estates. The set also undertakes a substantial amount of offshore work.

One thing is for sure, there is plenty of exciting work available to the tenants at New Square. One insider tells us that there is a “great variety of work” with “clients ranging from major organisations to individuals”. We also hear that there is an “excellent mix of court and advisory work”. Turning to the nature of the work, it is safe to say that there is rarely a dull day. One junior tenant tells us: “given the nature of commercial chancery work, the factual issues are often fascinating, amusing, harrowing, shocking, or a mixture of all of those things”.

Whether it be appearing in the first wills case to go before the Supreme Court or handling a multi-million-pound claim arising out of the liquidation of a Cayman Islands hedge fund, tenants at the set are “lucky to be involved in many interesting cases at the cutting edge of the law”. The past year has seen Aidan Briggs appear in a case in which the Court of Appeal handed down a landmark decision, affecting thousands of wills and trust instruments worldwide, on trustee remuneration; Alexander Learmonth KC successfully appear in a High Court appeal involving the removal of an elderly litigation friend who was under the influence of her son; and Guy Adams represent the claimant in a case raising an issue as to the applicable contractual construction principles in relation to long term relational contracts, which is a relatively new and developing topic. It is all very exciting!

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It’s not just the KCs and junior seniors who get the interesting work. One pupil at the set tells us the “work I have done has been intellectually challenging, often involving complex and/or overlapping areas of law, including knotty (and perhaps niche) issues”. Naturally, there will be some more mundane work from time to time, but the calibre of the tenants at the set means there is always something exciting going on around you.

With so much challenging work, do the tenants at New Square get any down time? Whilst work life balance is “never perfect at the Bar”, one tenant tells us that “you decide how much you want to work”. One junior tells us that it is “not unheard of to work on a weekend, but being a busy junior practitioner is nothing to complain about”. From the pupils perspective, one New Square newbie tells us: “as a pupil, you are not expected to work outside the hours (roughly) of 9-6 or on weekends. However, pupils are given a lot of independence and I have been given the freedom to manage my time and work as I wish. In consequence, during busy spells or when I have felt it necessary to produce a high standard of work or to meet deadlines, I have worked longer days and/or weekends”. That doesn’t sound so bad!

Further good news is that the bunch at New Square are all very supportive. One tenant tells us: “the culture is unlike anywhere else. We are a small set and the junior end in particular is a close-knit”. Made up of just 45 members, six of whom are KCs, this makes sense. The “collegiality” and “calm and positive atmosphere” are praised by one insider who tells us that there is “an old school sense of decency and helping each other which is not always still found at the Bar”. Juniors say that they can always knock on someone’s door when they need help or advice, and also feel very supported by the clerks. We also hear that pupils are allocated a junior tenant as a wellbeing mentor during the pupillage year — a wonderful initiative.

Given that they are such a close-knit group, it is unsurprising that tenants enjoy socialising together. Lunches in Lincoln’s Inn are a regular occurrence, as are post-work trips to local pubs. We are told that there is a social secretary who puts on an “excellent range of events”. Recent outings have included: “going to the polo, a dinner at Boisdale including live motown music and dancing, a rum tasting, a night at a cocktail bar, a rugby match etc. etc.”

When it comes to location, the tenants of New Square really are spoilt. One tenant gushes: “we have the most beautiful building in Lincoln’s Inn — built in the 16th century it is a highly used background for photos and stops on tours”. Other tenants also attest to the Instagrammable building, with one saying that their “wisteria is the envy of our neighbours and the background of all tourists’ photographs” while another added: “we are on all the photos of Lincoln’s Inn with the legendary red postbox!” Old buildings do, inevitably, come with their downsides. One junior tells us that “the lack of insulation leaves something to be desired”. Tech at the set gets decent ratings. We are told “everything runs smoothly” and one tenants says “no criticism but nothing particularly swanky”.

But those applying for pupillage at New Square won’t just be doing it for the ‘gram. There is a generous pupillage award of £75,000 on offer to the one lucky candidate selected per year. Perhaps more importantly, the training at the set is also highly rated. A current pupil tells us: “the training I have received has been excellent. There is no formal assessment or grading system like at many sets (which, in my opinion, would be rather infantilising/reminiscent of Key Stage 3). Rather, pupils primarily do work for their pupil supervisors and receive feedback and tips on an ad hoc basis. After a few months, chambers’ ‘open-door policy’ means that pupils do work for several other members of chambers. This means we are exposed to the full breadth of commercial chancery work, see and absorb different barristers’ styles, and constructive feedback from multiple perspectives”. They do add: “the only criticism I would make is that, owing to the informal system, some members of chambers require some gentle nudging/reminders to provide feedback.” Like many other chancery sets, pupillage is generally non-practicing, meaning pupils won’t have their own caseloads.

Applicants for pupillage should apply through the Pupillage Gateway. Three rounds of interviews will narrow down the hopefuls, who are judged on academic ability, oral and written advocacy skills, communication skills, analytical ability, interpersonal skills, focus and drive, an ability to work independently, an ability to deal with difficult situations, and a commitment to the Bar and Chambers’ practice areas. Around 25 candidates will be invited to a 15-minute first-round interview, which will be of a general nature. The second-round interview is more extensive, lasting around an hour, and includes the analysis of a legal problem. The final round interview will similarly last around an hour and will involve a legal problem.

For those looking for a taster of the set, New Square offers regular mini-pupillages as well as around 10 assessed mini-pupillages per year for candidates from socially mobile backgrounds. Students who perform well on this social mobility mini will be guaranteed a first-round interview when they apply for pupillage.

What The Junior Barristers Say

James Saunders 

Your journey to pupillage

I completed a law degree at University College London in 2016. Whilst at university I initially knew very little about the Bar and certainly held no prior ambitions of becoming a barrister. I participated in my law society’s first year mooting competition which I thoroughly enjoyed. I took part in the second year mooting competition, reaching the final held in the Supreme Court and judged by Lady Justice Arden (as she then was). I also undertook a wide range of mini-pupillages in second year from crime, through personal injury to commercial and chancery which confirmed my interest in the latter.

After some deliberation, weighing financial realities and the good fortune of receiving a scholarship from Inner Temple, I commenced the BPTC in late 2016. I started the BPTC without a pupillage offer and therefore spent a good portion of the lead up to Christmas preparing applications to Chancery sets which were then outside of the gateway timetable. I also applied for the little known but extremely rewarding Fox Scholarship offered by Middle Temple. I was fortunate to obtain a pupillage offer from New Square Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn and, shortly before, was accepted to take part in the Fox Scholarship. During the second term of the BPTC I also tutored trusts law at the LSE to second and third-year undergraduates.

After completing the BPTC in 2017 I set off for Toronto, Canada in September. The Fox Scholarship is an exchange programme where two Canadian qualified Solicitors/Barristers (being a fused profession where lawyers are called as both) spend 10 months in London Chambers and two newly qualified barristers are placed at litigation firms in Toronto.

I began pupillage with New Square Chambers in October 2018, commenced tenancy in 2019 and have practiced at New Square since.

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The pupillage experience

In a word “quality” drew me to New Square, quality of both work and the staff and members. I had undertaken a mini-pupillage with New Square prior to applying for pupillage. During my short time in Chambers, I saw a breadth of chancery work covering a contentious trust dispute to a hard fought insolvency application. I had always had a broad interest in the law and a set where one could practice a range of subject matters appealed to me.

Equally importantly in my view, the members of Chambers I met during my mini-pupillage were extremely welcoming, good humoured and collegiate. Seeing first hand that New Square’s members enjoyed both their work and the discussions and social interactions with  other members was (and remains) an excellent combination.

I was placed with four pupil supervisors during pupillage. My first seat was largely property focused and I worked almost exclusively for my supervisor save for the occasional research task for other members. The initial 3 month period of working only for my supervisor gave me the peace of mind to find my feet before working for other members.

My second 3-months was focused upon contentious trusts and estates work. The pace of work was swift and I was always kept busy, but the rewards of experience and confidence were apparent as a result.

The method of training at New Square is something of the tried and tested format. I would read into a set of papers that my supervisor was working on and prepare a first draft of advices, pleadings, skeleton arguments for hearings and the like. After my supervisor completed the work themselves, we would discuss the case generally, the differences between work products and I would receive detailed feedback.

There were no particular expectations on my working hours, with a general suggestion of 9-5. Often, I would find myself leaving Chambers at 5 but continuing to work later into the evening, though this was my own decision and certainly not an expectation. When the  summer months arrived, I was encouraged by my supervisor to finish early for the day and socialise with other members. New Square has always had a very social and friendly atmosphere and as a pupil there was a lot to be learned from hearing the war stories of other  members. That remains true as a tenant, taking lessons from the experiences of others.

New Square offers the benefit of a practising second six pupillage. When moving to my third  supervisor with an increased focus on company law work, I enjoyed balancing work for my supervisor and other members of Chambers with my own instructions. The nature of early instructions are typically bankruptcy petitions, possession hearings and the odd long journey to “hand up” a consent order, all of which is invaluable for learning how a court building operates, how to deal with opponents and with judges.

After receiving my positive tenancy decision in July, I moved to my final supervisor with an emphasis on civil fraud and insolvency. Members were also very keen to ensure that I had a good grounding in the work I would be receiving in my early years and I therefore assisted with a number of insolvency and estate matters which was invaluable.

New Square takes only one pupil a year meaning no competitive advocacy exercises. Pupillage reports are provided by supervisors, members for whom work is completed and solicitors instructing the pupil in their second six. Feedback is also given by the senior clerk. I was able to enjoy my pupillage thoroughly, knowing that I was only in competition with myself to meet the standard required of a new tenant. Overall, my pupillage year was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience that set me up well to start tenancy.

The transition from pupil to tenant

Because of the practising second six and the support of junior members in preparing me for early year work I found the transition between pupil and tenant largely a natural and easy one. The first day of tenancy remains an unusual experience where the supervision and  oversight fall away, and your opinion carries the weight of a fully-fledged barrister, but having practised for 6 months “on my feet” by that point the transition was certainly easier than it might have been.

As for the flow of work, this too was relatively fear-free. By the time I started as a tenant I had gained a small number of repeat instructions and formed strong relationships with members who would refer cover hearings to me or pass along work more suitable for a baby junior.

Whilst there is led work available in New Square this is not the norm for junior members who will typically be the “type” of barrister who wishes to forge their own path, win their own work and run their own practice. That being said, my final supervisor received a large trial  brief for a multi-week partnership fraud dispute, and I was recruited as his junior. The experience was taxing and rewarding in equal measure. I have since been led on a small number of other matters as a tenant but would use the term only loosely. Typically, my led work involves myself and another member working on a large case together, but usually with distinct aspects of the case we are each working on, occasionally crossing paths for joint advises or conferences.

What is your practice like now?

By design I remain a broad chancery barrister. The ratios of my various areas of practice have shifted since I started tenancy, but the core areas of my work have remained unchanged. As above, my work is almost entirely unled and I am therefore sole counsel on 99% of my case load. I enjoy the responsibility that comes from unled practice and the onus which rests upon me to be fully conversant in the area I am advising upon or arguing.

I have developed a significant insolvency practice with a particular focus on claims brought by Insolvency Practitioners and litigation funds to recover assets from third parties and, more commonly, former company directors. Alongside which I practice trusts and estates with a large amount of contentious probate claims (will challenges and the like) together with real property and landlord and tenant work. Specialising at New Square is readily possible, actively facilitated and encouraged where that is a members’ choice.

Due to the nature of my work, I am in court at least once a week and often more regularly. I appear regularly in the High Court particularly on probate and insolvency matters and across the county courts (though generally with a south-east focus). I enjoy spending time in  Chambers and “post-pandemic” aim to be in Chambers at least twice a week. The amount of work I take on is ultimately for me to control but as I am fortunate and love my job, I tend to find myself kept very busy. I start work at around 6:30am when working at home or 7:30am in Chambers to benefit from a few hours of email-free time, typically working until 5:30pm.

Work/life balance remains my biggest personal challenge, but I am improving at taking time off when needed and informing my clerks when I am at maximum capacity. Even when I am at my busiest, however, the job always remains enjoyable and deeply rewarding.

I am a member of our pupillage committee and take an active interest in helping our pupil succeed during their year of training. I am generally either a formal or informal mentor for our pupil. I have also participated for the first time this year in the Chancery Bar Association’s mentoring scheme which was very rewarding.

As for future ambitions…silk…perhaps… I shall have to wait and see. On a more practical note, I would like to continue building my practice, to learn more about the areas in which I work and see where this takes me.

What is the culture of chambers?

New Square is a friendly and welcoming set. Members are supportive of one another, generous with their time and always happy to discuss cases and share their experience. Post pandemic there has been a concerted effort to encourage social get togethers that are not  designed as marketing efforts but for members and staff to enjoy spending time together. The one remaining (arguable) difficulty is remote working, which has taken hold across the Bar and working life generally. Chambers has co-working spaces to accommodate those who have elected to no longer occupy a fixed room in Chambers. Whilst the number of members in Lincoln’s Inn during term time is generally stable, I am hopeful that as more in-person hearings resume numbers of members regularly in chambers will increase.

We are also graced with an excellent clerks’ room and support staff. We have two practice teams with barristers assigned to a particular team. At my stage of practice, I am in reality clerked by everyone depending on which clerks have the best relationship with particular  instructing solicitors.

The clerking team is closely involved in Chambers-wide and individual marketing efforts and work to push barristers’ practices forwards as a team. Michelle Greene has recently been appointed senior clerk and Nathan Hitchman as deputy senior clerk. Crystal Fernandes has  joined Chambers as marketing manager. There is a real sense of energy across members and clerks to further develop New Square’s reputation across Chancery work. The relationship between barristers and clerks is also what I would describe as modern; the traditional austere divide between barristers and their clerks replaced with a relationship that is both professional and friendly as our clerks work with, not simply for, members of chambers.

Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers

I would give five top tips which are in summary:

(1) Academics are important but applying knowledge is more important: the bar is an academic world, a point widely known. The importance attached to academics will vary between area of law and between Chambers but will never be unimportant. However, there is increasingly in my view a focus upon selecting an individual whose skills go beyond paper grades. If you have an application which is  academically lacking or “nothing special”, you are likely to need to do more in other areas to bolster your application. This could be further education (e.g. Masters Degrees), lived and worked experience such as working as a paralegal or building a base in a sector with transferable skills first, or making your CV stand out with an impressive and unusual feature (items showing drive and initiative are often well received in this field). Provided you can do enough by way of written application to receive an interview, paper grades assume a reduced importance if you acquit yourself well in applying your knowledge and demonstrating the skills of persuasion and analysis sought after at the bar.

(2) Ensure you have a realistic knowledge of the practice of junior members: many applicants read the profiles of Silks at a set before applying and cite their recent  supreme court appearance as the reason they wish to apply. Whilst this shows a  degree of research it shows an equal lack of reality. Having a good grasp of what  practice will look like in the first 2-3 years of practice and a convincing desire to take  on the work that the early juniors are engaged shows more realistic research. Equally,  because you cannot run to the Supreme Court before walking to Romford County  Court it is helpful to pupillage applicants to know that they will enjoy and be fulfilled  by the work available to them in the early years when applying.

(3) Relax, the fit of pupil and chambers needs to be mutual: whilst pupillages are highly sought after and lateral movements between Chambers are more common than ever before, it is important to train and commence practice at a set where you are likely to thrive. Chambers’ expectations and their internal cultures will all vary and in a very real sense the right chambers will find the right pupils for  them and vice versa.

(4) There is no right time to apply for pupillage and a CV can always be improved: rejection is common in the pupillage process but does not mean that you have an insurmountable hurdle and will never succeed. Ask for feedback after a failed interview or application process and seek feedback which is as specific as possible so that you can improve most effectively. I have given some suggestions above for where applications can be improved. There is often a sense that applications should be made in the final year of a law degree or whilst on the GDL. Many succeed at that stage of life, but many do not. Taking time before applying in which to gain experience can often be the key to success in receiving a pupillage offer but also in performing well whilst a pupil, benefiting from the learned judgment that the working world affords, as well as the ability to work with a range of people and personalities.

(5) Accept that there is a large element of luck involved with success: this final tip speaks for itself, sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to a job application process but do not be deterred!

Deadlines

Social Mobility Mini-Pupillage

Applications open 01/11/2022
Applications close 16/12/2022

Pupillage Open Evening

8 December 2022
Applications close 07/12/2022

Pupillage

Applications open 04/01/2023
Applications close 08/02/2023

Insider Scorecard

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

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2022-3 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 38
KCs 6
Pupillages 1
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 3/5

*Figure is for the five most junior members of chambers; does not include postgraduate studies

Money

Pupillage award £75,000
BPTC advance drawdown £15,000

Diversity

Female juniors 21%
Female KCs 0%
BME juniors 12%
BME KCs 0%