Meet Quadrant Chambers at the Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 9 October 2021
If it’s a dispute about something which floats or flies, there is a good chance a Quadrant Chambers barrister is involved. The set has historically been strong in maritime and aviation law but has since broadened out to cover the entirety of commercial work including banking, trade and energy.
Quadrant Chambers is anchored in 2 Essex Court, near the Royal Courts of Justice. In the 1960s, the head of chambers was Barry Sheen, a former Navy veteran who was intent on assembling a shipping law powerhouse. Barry turned this mixed set into one of London’s leading maritime “wet” sets. In the 1970s and 1980s, after receiving instructions on high profile air disasters such as the Manchester Air Disaster, the chambers grew its aviation law capability. After specialist aviation set 5 Bell Yard collapsed, it picked up a further four barristers. Then in the 1990s, as the shipping industry became safer, the set turned its attention to “dry” disputes.
As the set expanded, it took over the adjacent premises of 4 Essex Court. However, the building remained outdated and too small, with Luke Parsons QC describing it as being in a state of “Dickensian squalor”. Subsequently, after 2004, the set moved to its new home on Fleet Street, which is a “real eye-catcher”. The set rebranded as Quadrant Chambers, the name coming from the building it currently occupies. Having been extensively refurbished before Quadrant Chambers moved in, the facilities on offer apparently remain “amazing.” Offices are accessible to disabled people, with two large lifts and accessible bathrooms on every floor. Tenants all have their own rooms, access to large modern conference spaces, and a small but attractive law library.
Today, shipping still accounts for almost half the work at the chambers. Notable silks include Simon Rainey, the author of ‘The Law of Tug and Tow and Offshore Contracts’, and Michael Howard QC, leader of the Admiralty Bar. In aviation, former tenant Rob Lawson QC moved to become chair of Clyde & Co’s aviation global practice group in 2017. In one recent case, emblematic of Quadrant’s work, senior junior Matthew Reeve successfully represented the claimants regarding the loss of a helicopter at sea following an attempted landing onto a superyacht in Norway. One member describes the work on offer as “always interesting and extremely varied”, particularly at the junior end, we are told, before you’ve naturally started to specialise: “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”. Rookies can often be found cutting their teeth on EU 261/2004 cases about flight delays and cancellations.
Quadrant Chambers has 69 tenants in total, of whom 26 are silks. The nature of the commercial bar means barristers can expect to be clocking in between 50 to 59 hours each week but rest be assured no one is ever marooned, with support freely available through the set’s “pretty universally observed open door policy”. “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!”, says one member to the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Barristers Survey. We are told during the pandemic, there was an “incredible chambers effort to support each other and keep up team morale”. Members’ work/life balance is 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”.
While people at Quadrant are busy, they also have fun with members regularly meeting up for drinks and dinners. During the pandemic, the set organised bi-weekly virtual coffee mornings with small groups of randomised members. The set also has a “vibrant” whatsapp group.
The set 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”. Those chosen will spend the first six months with two different supervisors and the second six months with a single supervisor. You can expect tasks to include “drafting opinions, pleadings and skeleton arguments, assisting with legal research tasks and producing a monthly digest of important cases”. Pupil supervisors are said to be “honest, open, respectful and responsive” with one former pupil saying they have remained close friends with their supervisors who are now mentors many years on. While the standard of the set is high, supervisors “always do whatever they can to train you up to the requisite standard” reports one member. Both formal and informal feedback is provided during pupillage, with a series of advocacy exercises and written assignments being conducted.
The result is that Quadrant Chambers has fewer Oxbridge tenants then you might expect for a leading London commercial set. Out of the 15 juniors under ten years of call, eight did not attend either Oxford or Cambridge for undergraduate studies. As one QC 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.” The set held its first ever virtual speed moot in the winter of 2020.
Quadrant is keen to emphasise it blinds out information such as university, race, name, age, gender and ethnicity from application forms when it initially reviews them, as well as using the contextualisation tool, RARE recruitment.