Long established as a big cheese on the Midland Circuit, No5 Chambers now houses more barristers than any other set in the whole country. Its spiritual home is still Birmingham, but branches in Bristol, Leicester and London contribute to a comprehensive range of legal knowledge, covering everything from prison law to chancery. This chambers offers direct access in no fewer than nine “core practice areas”, as well as in a couple of dozen more exotic areas of law (nobody ever said “I’m an industrial disease lawyer” on a first date).
Heads of chambers are crime big dog Adrian Keeling QC and clin neg/personal injury guru Jonathan Jones QC. Other brand-names among the 35 silks include human rights powerhouse Manjit Gill and veteran criminal advocate Rex Tedd. Attorney General Suella Braverman also used to be a member here. With an almighty 229 juniors, a third of whom are female, there is no wonder the ratio of QCs to juniors is lower than some of the crack commercial sets. Juniors include nationality law guru Alison Harvey and inspiring former child refugee Hashi Mohamed.
Recent member work includes the Fishmongers’ Hall Inquests; Philip Rule successfully challenging prohibition of a married transgender couple communicating with one another from different prisons; and four members appearing in the ‘Operation Lapis’ case which saw the prosecution of four teenage gang members for the murder of a 15-year-old member of an opposition gang involving machetes and Samurai swords. Michael Mansfield QC and Philip Rule are working on a matter involving the DPP’s alleged failure to consider the potential breaches of lockdown laws by Dominic Cummings, and Michelle Heeley QC represented Paul Fitzgerald who murdered “the UK’s worst paedophile” Richard Huckle while both were in prison.
Those weighing up a No5 pupillage application needn’t be too confused by its full-service nature: the up to six entry-level barrister positions on offer are streamed into select practice areas which change between the years. The spectrum of core practice areas are business & property, clinical negligence, crime, employment, family, immigration, personal injury, planning & environment, public law and regulatory and licensing. In the 2021 recruitment cycle, the set hired into business & property, personal injury & clin neg, and planning & environment. Pupils are based in either Birmingham or London and there might be opportunity to dip a toe in the water of a different practice area during the year.
Throughout the 12 months training, pupils are “carefully monitored” to ensure progress, with supervisors preparing reports which provide feedback. Advocacy sessions and exercises are conducted throughout the year to help rookies gear up for the practising second six which involves “varied and challenging” work. Support is on hand from junior members who act as mentors to pupils as well as the informal pub tips (which turned virtual during the pandemic along with the quizzes). The set says all of its heads and deputy heads of group and pupillage are fully trained as senior counsellors as well, showing pastoral support and wellbeing is a top priority for the set.
No5 scores solidly in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey. Training-wise, one insider reports “the basics are all there, but after pupillage it is quite difficult to get training on new areas of law” and it’s pot luck on the supervisor front – “if you get a bad or uninterested supervisor, it is hard to progress”. However, over the past three years, every pupil has been offered tenancy.
The set’s sheer size means there are good support facilities, including a team of law librarians and “state of the art video conferencing”, now a major feature of the post-pandemic world. And the money is decent: with No5 Chambers boosting rookie barrister pay by 25% in recent years, it now stands at a solid £50,000. Half is a direct payment made in the first six months, the other half guaranteed billings in the second six. The set is also signed up to the Women in Law Pledge which is designed to address the issue of gender equality within the legal profession.
Prospective applications should be ready to demonstrate intellectual ability, experience of law in practice, commitment/motivation, personal skills, public speaking experience and written presentation ability. The set seeks to recruit “exceptional” candidates, who have first class minds, “drive to succeed”, “enthusiasm for intellectual challenge and advocacy” with a commitment to the set and the bar more generally.
If you are invited to a second round interview, you will conduct a one day mini pupillage beforehand. All interviews are held at the Birmingham hub. The set is also open to accepting applications for unfunded pupillages from candidates who do not intend to practise at the Bar of England and Wales. No5 Barristers Chambers handle their own application process outside of the Pupillage Gateway.