The Legal Cheek View
Made up of a massive 239 juniors and 37 KCs, No5 Barristers’ Chambers is the largest set in the country. Split across premises in Birmingham (its spiritual home), Bristol, and London, the set’s tenants practice across the array of legal practice areas, covering everything from crime to business. The set divides up its practice into a number of core groups, into seven of which it is recruiting pupils this application round: the business and property group, the personal injury and clinical negligence group, the planning and environment group, the public law group, the employment group, the family group, and the crime group. Surely something for everyone! Recruitment focuses on Birmingham, with London also being a growth area. Given the sheer size of the set and its emphasis on recruiting pupils to core practice groups, it’s fair to say that No5 resembles a law firm more than a chambers.
With so many exciting practice areas on offer, it can be hard for applicants to know where to apply. Are they more drawn to the challenge of tracing mistaken payments or the thrill of cross-examining a defendant in criminal proceedings? Would they prefer to work on cases involving complex neurological injuries or those involving matrimonial finance? Whatever the answers, there is bound to be the sort of work to suit at No5. Pupils will be recruited to a particular practice area (and location) but will sometimes gain exposure to other areas during their pupillage. Successfully completing pupillage in a particular practice group will mean becoming a tenant in that group. Wherever a pupil ends up, “the clerks are absolutely excellent at developing a tenant’s practice in the direction they want it to go in”.
As well as the work on offer at No5 being broad in range, it is also high in quality. One tenant tells us: “it’s intellectually stimulating and varied. I work on legally complex cases on a weekly basis”. There are opportunities to work on bigger, newsworthy cases (often as a junior to a KC), as well as to take on your own smaller matters, whether landlord-tenant disputes or personal injury claims following a minor road traffic accident. One junior describes that they value this balance: “I get to develop my own skills whilst also learning off others”.
Over the past year, tenants at No5 have been working on some exciting cases. Philip Rule has been instructed on behalf of PETA in its ongoing dispute with the Ministry of Defence, whilst Sultana Tafadar KC led the legal team representing a French Muslim lawyer in her challenge to the Lille Bar Council’s ban on wearing the hijab in court – which went all the way to the European Court of Human rights. Meanwhile, Christopher Young KC has achieved success in a housing appeal for a company planning to build 233 houses on the edge of Melton Mowbray, and Timothy Jones has represented the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group in a case concerning a planning inspector’s reliance on the new definition of Gypsies and Travellers in Planning Policy for Traveller Sites introduced by the government. All exciting stuff!
It’s not just the seniors who work on interesting matters. One baby junior at the set reveals: “as a very junior tenant, the work is fascinating right out of pupillage. I’m handling cases as sole counsel that peers at other chambers won’t do until 5+ years of tenancy”. Of course, it can’t always be headline-grabbing stuff: “some stuff is “same old same old”; some is very interesting”, one No5 tenant confides.
When it comes to work-life balance at No5, views are somewhat mixed, but this is completely normal at the bar. Whilst some tenants burn the midnight oil, others prefer to have more downtime. One tenant at the set tells us: “your work-life balance is very much down to you. The clerks will give you as much work as you want and are very sensitive to individual needs”. It seems that there is plenty of support in place for those who want or need some time out. One junior informs us that the set “has flexible paternity/maternity leave policies, as well as chambers-wide schemes to ensure people can balance their home life with their intended practice”.
Tenants at No5 also generally praise their “highly supportive and caring colleagues”. One junior at the set gushes: “the colleagues are the best part about the job. We go for regular Friday drinks and are genuinely very good friends outside of work. In the job, everyone is immensely supportive and more than happy to answer the phone to deal with any queries you might have. There are numerous group chats set up for the juniors to discuss any pressing issues and stay in contact generally”. It sounds like a splendid community. Another tenant sweetly states: “we are family”.
With the tenants getting on so well, you would think that social life at the set would be booming. Unfortunately, they have not yet quite recovered from the impact of Covid. Many tenants are still working from home whilst other tenants cite concerns about cost of living as being a reason why social events are currently limited. We are also told that the London-based tenants sometimes feel a little left out due to the majority of the social events taking place in the Midlands. There have, however, been some fun events over the past year. “Recent highlights have included turning chambers into a casino, a mini-golf course, and a huge inflatable igloo”, one Birmingham-based tenant tells us. One sums up that social life is “bouncing back” post-Covid.
Turning to No5’s premises, the Birmingham building is viewed favourably by tenants. One tells us: “the Birmingham mothership is a huge building and it’s easy to get lost! Members have traditional rooms and can choose to share as they wish. It’s sometimes easy to forget you’re in the West Midlands and not a traditional building in Temple”. We also hear that it has undergone a refit in the past few years which “created a state-of-the-art seminar suite and also improved the clerks’ rooms and the library”. We do however hear that “behind the scenes leaves a little to be desired”. In London, meanwhile, No5 have recently moved into a new office in the Savoy. It is said to be “sleek, modern, and in a great location”. However, for those who prefer the more traditional setting of the Inns of Court, “it may not tick those boxes”. When it comes to tech at the set, views are a little mixed. One junior reveals: “the basics are there but it sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. That said, changes are underway to make improvements”. There is also said to be a “sizeable and dedicated IT team” who are “very helpful”.
No5 Barristers’ Chambers takes on eight pupils per year across its locations and into different practice groups. Each pupillage comes with an award of £55,000. Pupils can expect to sit with one supervisor for the entirety of their pupillage – something which is very unusual. During the first six, pupils will assist with tasks such as drafting opinions, whilst the second six will see pupils get on their feet, taking on their own cases. 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 pupils gear up for the practising second six which involves “varied and challenging” work, often in county courts around the country.
“The training is very specialised. While some people might miss the variety, it gives you the chance to spend 12 months focussed on your own specific area”, one former pupil tells us. Other tenants also speak highly of the training that they received during pupillage, especially the pastoral support. “Not only was the technical side of pupillage taken care of but they also created an environment for pupils to do well and thrive”, one tells us, adding: “I genuinely felt that everyone was rooting for me to succeed”. Support is on hand from junior members who act as mentors to pupils, and the set says all its heads and deputy heads of group and pupillage are fully trained as senior counsellors, showing that pastoral support and wellbeing is a top priority for the set.
Those wishing to apply for pupillage at No5 should make their application through the set’s own application form. Prospective applicants should be ready to demonstrate intellectual ability, experience of law in practice, public speaking experience, written presentation ability, commitment/motivation, and interpersonal skills. The set will invite the highest-scoring candidates on the application form to a first-round interview, which focuses on the content of the application form. Those who impress will be invited to attend a one-day mini-pupillage before coming back for a second-round interview. This interview is more extensive and includes a legal problem.