Formed in 2006 from the merger of 11 Old Square and 11 New Square, Radcliffe Chambers is an esteemed chancery set. With tenants working across the spectrum of both traditional chancery and commercial chancery, the set was further expanded in 2015 through being joined by a “highly regarded team of commercial and insolvency barristers” from 11 Stone Buildings. All now housed within Lincoln’s Inn, Radcliffe Chambers is made up of 67 barristers, including 13 KCs, many of whom are frequently working on leading cases in their specific practice areas.
Considering what drew them to the set as an aspiring barrister, one tenant says: “I was initially attracted to Radcliffe by the prospect of high-quality work from across the Chancery spectrum: from pensions to insolvency, from offshore and onshore trusts, traditional property and probate matters, to financial regulation, professional negligence, and tax. Radcliffe has delivered exactly that, in spades.” It is certainly true that there is a great variety of work on offer. Within the traditional chancery sphere, matters range from advising on wills to real estate litigation, whilst commercial chancery covers everything from banking and financial services to insolvency and restructuring matters. The set also has particularly renowned expertise when it comes to charity law. Tenants find themselves representing individuals, companies, local authorities, and regulators, to name just a few possibilities, and appear before courts of all levels.
“I am incredibly lucky to have such an interesting job,” one insider says. “Every day brings something new, whether it is the life story of someone born over 100 years ago, a technical point of law, or a tactical decision to make in settlement discussions”. Another adds that “complex legal problems, oral advocacy and the challenge of finding practical solutions never fails to stimulate”. It seems that Radcliffe is also growing: in addition to their expansion into more commercial work, there is also an increasing amount of international work especially in the major offshore jurisdictions, such as the Cayman Islands and Singapore. A tenant says “there is a real sense that chambers is buzzing with work, and growing fast but with confidence. The number of KCs is expanding rapidly — two members took silk this year — which means more opportunities ‘in house’ for the juniors to do led work”. It sounds like an exciting time to be at Radcliffe!
When it comes to recent cases that tenants have been working on, the past year has seen Keith Rowley QC and Elizabeth Ovey go head-to-head with fellow tenant Henry Day in a High Court case in which banknote company De La Rue avoided adding £20 million to its pension scheme’s liabilities after the judge ruled in its favour. Additionally, Caroline Bolton and Natalie Pratt have secured urgent injunctive relief for Thurrock Council and Essex County Council — acknowledged by the media to be “the first of its kind” — to restrain acts of trespass and public nuisance on the highway, which has recently occurred in connection with recent Extinction Rebellion protests. Fell Andrew Brown acted for the liquidator in a High Court case which raised a novel point relating to the Insolvency Act 1986 while Lauren Kreamer successfully represented the claimants in a claim to prove a lost will in solemn form.
With so much good work going on, do the tenants at Radcliffe have any time to relax? Well, we are told that “when things are busy it can be pretty 24/7 but there’s always downtime to be enjoyed during quieter periods”. Each afternoon, members try to find the time to meet for a cup of tea, a daily ritual which embodies the spirit of this convivial chambers. Pupils are encouraged to attend, giving them an excellent opportunity to mingle, make connections, and seek advice. “Chambers has always been a very sociable place, with morning coffee, afternoon tea and evening drinks all regular fixtures,” says one tenant. We also hear that there is a “vigorous programme of business development events with solicitors” — these events are often hosted on the roof terrace in New Square.
We are told chambers “encourages members to priorities their work life balance”. One junior explains that “compared to friends in other chambers, I think I have an excellent work life balance. I work hard, but (with very rare exceptions) I get time off every evening and weekend”. The members are also said to be a supportive bunch, with someone always available to speak to if you need help with anything. “We are a team and work to establish a collegiate and supportive ethos,” on source tells us. Another concurs: “I know that if I am struggling with something or have a question, there will be multiple members who are ready and willing to help work through a problem with me”.
Turning to the physical side of the set, Radcliffe finds itself in the heart of Lincoln’s Inn. We are told that “the occasionally Dickensian trappings [are] more than compensated for by the elegance of the surroundings”. The set is spread across three sites: “an elegant main building at 11 New Square with a roof terrace (where the con rooms and client-facing facilities are being renovated), comfortable digs at 11 Old Square with a more modern feel, and an annexe in Stone Buildings”. Apparently, there are “a handful of scattered Dickensian basement rooms overflowing with papers and books, but for the most part rooms are modern and sleek”. We are also told that clients particularly enjoy coming into Chambers for drinks on the rooftop terrace. Radcliffe had an IT update last year with support being regarded as “excellent” and “quick to respond”.
Radcliffe Chambers recruits two pupils a year, offering each a pupillage award of £65,000. Each pupil will sit with four different supervisors over the course of the year, allowing them to see a broad range of work. Pupillage comes highly rated with one new tenant telling us: “I found the training during pupillage to be highly effective. It evolves throughout the course of pupillage. Looking back I’ve found that it addressed the different skills you need to succeed as a junior barrister very effectively through the course of the year. You get to grips with the substance first, but rapidly different things are built in which are best learned by watching others work: how to adapt to the expectations of different types of clients, develop relationships with solicitors, as well as for example learning practical techniques to prepare for hearings. This is partly made possible by the fact that supervisors range from KCs to relatively junior tenants: I’ve learned different things from each of them, and was left feeling ready to start practising in my own right”.
In terms of what pupils can expect to be doing, it is common to work on applications, draft opinions and skeleton arguments, and accompany your supervisor to court. One tenant who recently completed pupillage tells us: “in my first seat I generally turned around a piece of substantive written work every 5-7 days and the feedback I received during the first three months was thorough, detailed, and comprehensive”. Once pupils reach their second six they will, unusually for a chancery set, begin taking on their own work. Winding-up petitions, property tribunals, and junior insolvency work are all common sources of pupil instructions. You are not left on your own, however. A recent pupil reveals “the supervisor in the first part of my second six went above and beyond to help me manage my fledgling practice and deal with the unexpected issues that real legal life throws up”. Even into tenancy, support continues. “Whilst there is no formal follow-up training during tenancy, every member of Chambers is always ready and willing to help and answer questions,” according to one junior.
Those wishing to apply for pupillage should submit their CV and covering letter via an online form on the chambers’ website. Around 30 candidates will be invited to a short first-round interview, which involves general questions. A maximum of 10 candidates are invited back to a more extensive second-round interview, which involves preparing a written opinion in advance, and a mock client conference. A number of ethical questions will also be posed to candidates in order to assess their intuition.
Radcliffe are looking for the following attributes in aspiring pupils: intellect, commerciality, persuasiveness, credibility, and commitment. They emphasise that there is no “Radcliffe Chambers type” and that they welcome candidates from all backgrounds.