The Legal Cheek View
If it’s a dispute about something that floats or flies, there is a good chance that a barrister from Quadrant Chambers is involved. The set has historic strengths in shipping and aviation law but has since broadened out to cover the entirety of commercial work including banking, energy, and international arbitration. Made up of 69 barristers, including 26 KCs, it has historically followed market trends to determine its areas of focus. Today, shipping — both dry and wet matters — continues to make up almost half of the work undertaken by tenants at the set but there are plans to further develop its other areas, particularly banking and energy — though not at the expense of its shipping reputation!
Given that Quadrant is considered as a leading commercial set, it is unsurprising that the work undertaken by tenants is “extremely varied and complex”, as described by one junior at the set. Many of the cases involve “interesting and engaging facts”, and the points of law are often challenging, as demonstrated by tenants recently acting in the first ship collision liability case to reach the Supreme Court. Another highlight of being a Quadrant tenant is the international nature of much of the work. As one junior tells us, there is “an international client base”, with work involving jurisdictions across the Asia Pacific region and areas of the Middle East, amongst others.
Over the past year, highlight cases have included Joseph Sullivan appearing in a Court of Appeal case clarifying the requirements for unfair prejudice petitions in shareholder disputes; Guy Blackwood and Ben Coffer appearing for the successful defendants in High Court case construing the scope of indemnity under a mortgagees’ interest policy of insurance; and Poonam Melwani KC and Jamie Hamblen representing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in a High Court case concerning an injunction against the state arising out of the loss of a navy patrol vessel following a collision with an cruise liner.
Whilst KCs and senior juniors typically specialise in one or two practice areas, baby juniors at Quadrant tend to have a broad practice. As one describes: “in your early years, one day you might be in court on your own arguing about a £300 claim by a consumer against an airline for compensation for flight delay — the next, advising a state on a multi-billion-pound energy dispute”. Cases involving flight delays and cancellations are an example of the bread-and-butter work that makes up much of a baby junior’s diet. Meanwhile, larger cases come in all practice areas specialised in by Quadrant, not just the jewels of shipping and aviation. One junior specialising in energy law tells us that “the disputes [they work on] are enormous in scale (often valued in the billions) and the stakes are high”.
The nature of the commercial bar means barristers can expect to work long hours from time to time. As one tenant explains: “nobody at the commercial bar has a “perfectly balanced” work and personal life. There are obvious work peaks during trial or around hearings but generally the paperwork side of work can be done in hours that suit the individual”. Members’ work/life balance is also supported by clerks who “will always respect any time that you have decided to take off” meaning “reasonable life balance can be obtained with a bit of discipline”.
Overall, Quadrant ensures that no one is ever marooned, with support freely available through the set’s “pretty universally observed open door policy”. As one tenant sums up: “the set is by far the friendliest place I’ve ever worked”. A junior at the set tells us that their colleagues will always support them when they have a problem: “there is always someone willing to give up their valuable time to listen to whatever problems you’re facing and offer their input, be that on a legal problem, awkward points of procedure, or just life in general!”.
Given how friendly the tenants are, it is unsurprising that they enjoy socialising together. We hear that they regularly meet up for impromptu drinks or for dinners. Organised events such as quizzes also take place and there is a “vibrant” WhatsApp group. The junior end of the set is said to have a particularly active social life, with one junior telling us that they have even been on holiday with their fellow junior colleagues!
In terms of Quadrant’s location, the set moved into its home on Fleet Street back in 2004. The premises is described as a “real eye-catcher”. Indeed, we are told that “guests always comment on how cosy it is”. The building was extensively refurbished before barristers moved in meaning the facilities on offer apparently remain “amazing”. Tenants all have their own rooms, access to large modern conference spaces, and a small but attractive law library — no wonder they score great marks for facilities! The set is also accessible, with two large lifts and accessible bathrooms on every floor. IT provision at the set is also highly-rated, something which is increasingly important in an age of flexible working.
Quadrant offers up to three pupillages each year to those who it believes “will thrive in the intellectually demanding and competitive world of the commercial bar”. Pupils will typically sit with four different supervisors over the year, meaning that they can see a variety of work. Tasks will include “drafting opinions, pleadings and skeleton arguments, assisting with legal research and producing a monthly digest of important cases”. As is common with many commercial sets, pupils do not take on their own cases until tenancy — something which can be considered to have pros and cons. Pupil supervisors are said to be “honest, open, respectful and responsive”, with one former pupil commenting: “I was trained by some of the best at the commercial bar, who have remained close friends and mentors to this day”. Both formal and informal feedback is provided during pupillage, with a series of advocacy exercises and written assignments being conducted.
Those keen to apply should make their application through the Pupillage Gateway. Candidates scoring highest on the Gateway application will be invited to a first-round interview, which will involve a short legal problem. Around 12 applicants will be invited back to a second-round interview, which will take place in front of a panel of five tenants at the set. They will be provided with a legal problem an hour before the interview and asked to consider this, as well as answer some more general questions. Around three lucky candidates will then be offered pupillage at the set which carries a generous award of £75,000.
Quadrant is keen to emphasise that it blinds out information such as university, ethnicity, and gender from application forms when reviewing them, and also uses the contextualisation tool, RARE recruitment. Offers are made on merit alone. As one KC on the pupillage committee put it: “We don’t really care if you can speak ten languages or have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. All we want is pupils who can produce work that doesn’t need significant revisions by senior counsel.”
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
I studied law at Cambridge (1st) with an LLM at NYU.
I did not do a large amount of work experience (perhaps 6 minis, split between the commercial and criminal bar) or mooting (also perhaps 6 in total).
The pupillage experience
Quadrant’s reputation for receiving and producing a high quality of commercial / contract work drew me to chambers, as well as an informal reputation for friendliness / approachability.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The transition is not straightforward. On the one hand, it is a relief to take control of your own work and deadlines, and no longer be concerned about the decision or views of others at the end of the year.
On the other hand, there are new pressures and challenges. You are making substantive decisions that have a real impact on your clients. The first year of tenancy is a steep learning curve, but also provides a great deal of satisfaction when you make the correct calls and become more comfortable taking such decisions.
One of the great parts of being taken on is that your supervisors and other members of chambers are happy to help with questions (whether silly or not).
What is your practice like now?
Quadrant is a great place for a baby junior tenant. We are lucky to be very specialised in what we do, and as such junior tenants are able to take on and lead their own cases which frequently involve up to USD 500,000 and involve complex questions of fact and law.
I am normally in Court about once every two weeks, although that is a little bit less in the last couple of months. I am frequently unled in the Commercial Court in applications.
I am able to take a good amount of holiday – at least two months a year, usually focused in Christmas and August, although others prefer and are able to split their time into smaller breaks.
On average I work about 8/9am-7/8pm and half of weekends, although I imagine if you were very precious about your time you could change this.
What is the culture of chambers?
Quadrant is a single building with most junior tenants sharing rooms, which leads to a vibrant social life and friendly atmosphere.
The clerks room is great. There is a massive amount of work for the junior end which they bring in, so you will not be twiddling your thumbs. However, they understand the pressures of the job, and are supportive when you need their help or can’t assist.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Take time to think very carefully about the job of being a barrister and the areas of law that Quadrant do. Interviewers will be impressed if you understand yourself, what the job entails and why you want to do it.
There are two massive benefits of Quadrant over other top commercial sets (1) the high quality of unled, complex work and opportunities for advocacy at the baby junior level. This means that you are familiar with Commercial Court advocacy and making difficult independent decisions by the time you are working on much larger matters. (2) The friendly and social atmosphere.