Pump Court Tax Chambers are specialists in tax – unsurprising given their name! What may be surprising is how diverse their work is given that they are such a specialist set. With 21 juniors and an impressive 12 KCs, the set is a tax powerhouse operating in everything from personal tax to the application of EU tax law. The largest specialist tax set in the country, Pump Court Tax Chambers regularly receives from Magic Circle law firms and the Big Four accountancy firms, as well as the UK and foreign governments. If you’re into tax, it doesn’t get much bigger than Pump Court Tax Chambers!
Whilst many students may have preconceptions about tax law, the reality, according to tenants at Pump Court Tax Chambers, is that the work is “very technical” and “immensely diverse”. You certainly need to be brainy to work in this area of law, with one tenant telling us: “every day is a new challenge and my work involves a lot of technical and legal analysis, which I find great since it is the thing I set out to do in the first place by choosing this profession”. One of the best things about tax law is that it brings together many different skills and areas of law. One member tells us that tax law involves “trusts, company, insolvency, property, EU, financial and commercial law”. The policy driven nature of tax law also makes it fascinating. It seems this junior is correct then in saying that “the work is often challenging but never dull!”
The range of tax work taken on by tenants of the set is particularly impressive, with one member saying it ranges “from questions about rocket launches in the 90s, to whether corporate reconstructions has a purpose of reducing taxation or whether beneficiaries under a trust are entitled to call for the trust property”. Whether it be advising private clients on inheritance tax or stamp duty land tax issues, or giving commercial entities advice on business property relief or profit sharing schemes, there is always something happening to keep the cogs turning. We hear that it is common for people in Chambers to continue to do a broad spectrum of tax work throughout their practice and to act for both the government and taxpayers, meaning that you can see both sides of the coin. Pump Court Tax Chambers is also leading the way for the use and development of alternative dispute resolution in the tax sphere.
You need only look at some of Pump Court Tax Chambers’ recent cases to see the high-quality of their work. The past year has seen Elizabeth Wilson KC act for HMRC in a £4.9 million gaming tax refund appeal concerning FreePlays, Rupert Baldry KC appear in the Supreme Court in a case concerning whether the UK regime for taxing manufactured dividends is compatible with the EU right to free movement of capital, and David Ewart KC and Sadiya Choudhury appearing in an appeal concerning the structure used by the BlackRock group to acquire the North American investment management business of Barclays Global Investors. Who said tax was boring!
Of course, work-life balance can be unpredictable at the Bar. The good thing about tax is that the mixture of litigation and advisory work allows for a good balance to be struck. One tenant tells us that “tax litigation is different from commercial litigation as it is generally slower paced”. Whilst you will occasionally need to do something last minute such as an urgent injunction, it is generally easier to plan ahead at the tax bar than it is in other areas. The clerks at Pump Court Tax Chambers are also said to be “very supportive” and they make allowances for other commitments outside of work.
As a comparatively small chambers, Pump Court Tax is able to maintain a “highly collaborative atmosphere” with an open-door policy throughout the set. There is a Chambers’ coffee multiple times a week, a juniors’ tea once a week, and a group chat for juniors, all of which allows conversations and questions about cases to flow. There is also a mentorship system, in which all junior tenants are assigned a group of more senior tenants who support them. Members are said to be “exceptionally generous with their time” when it comes to helping others. One insider tells us that everyone within Chambers is “gentle and academic” with a “very supportive atmosphere” pervading the culture.
Outside of work, there are also opportunities for members to mix. Pump Court Tax Chambers has a Social Events Committee which organises a variety of events. There is a monthly Chambers’ tea with sparkling wine, a monthly Chambers’ lunch, and also events outside of the set such as netball matches, gallery tours, and sports events. Given that some people still work from home, remote events are also still organised.
For those coming into Chambers, Pump Court Tax finds itself on Bedford row in a building which is a “beautiful period building at the front”. Apparently the annexe is “less handsome but a bit more modern”. The technology and IT support within the set receive good ratings, with “support available whenever required”. For those working remotely, it is possible to access everything from your laptop or tablet. We are told that Chambers are “always looking to develop and improve its use of technology”.
For those wishing to apply for pupillage at Pump Court Tax Chambers, they should submit their application through the Pupillage Gateway. Around 25 of the highest-scoring candidates are invited to interview, in which a short problem question will be provided to the candidates 20 minutes beforehand. Typically, this will involve statutory interpretation or a simple set of facts. Approximately 10 candidates will then progress to a second-round, which will consist of a written exercise to be completed within a set time. Where necessary, a third round consisting of interviews will be held.
The criteria on which candidates are judged include academic ability, ability to communicate clearly (both on paper and orally), confidence, teamwork, a commitment to diversity and equality, a desire to work hard, and evidence of commitment to and interest in practice at the Bar. Candidates do not need to have academic or professional experience of tax or tax law but should have considered why they are interested in a career at the Tax Bar.
The two lucky candidates who are selected for pupillage each year will receive an award of £67,500. Pupils will sit with one supervisor until Christmas, allowing them to settle in and begin learning about tax law. During the second six, there is a focus on private client tax. Pupils will spend 3 months with one supervisor, then rotate through three or four supervisors in the final three months, allowing them to see as broad a range of work as possible. Pupils will also begin to be asked to complete work for other tenants. The pupillage is non-practicing, allowing the focus to be on learning – this makes sense given that many pupils will never had studied tax law before! The training is said to be “excellent” and “followed up by a great mentoring scheme”.
Pump Court Tax Chambers is proud to be a founding partner of Bridging the Bar, a charity committed to the promotion of equal opportunities and diversity at the Bar. As well as its own mini-pupillage programme, it also offers minis through this initiative. The set also supports parental leave and flexible working.