The Legal Cheek View
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 three pupils a year, offering each a pupillage award of £70,000. 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.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
My journey was not one of going straight from university to chambers. I obtained my undergraduate degree in law at University College Dublin (with a year abroad at a Chicago law school) following which I obtained my postgraduate degree in law (BCL) at the University of Oxford. During my undergraduate I interned at investment banks and worked for a personal injuries law firm in Chicago. I graduated from the BCL in 2013 following which I commenced the LPC. I then trained with Latham & Watkins in their London and Hong Kong offices and qualified as a solicitor in 2016. I worked as an associate in their Litigation and Trial department for a year before taking a year out to work as a judicial assistant to Lord Hughes and Lady Black at the UK Supreme Court. I returned to Latham for a little over a year before leaving to take up pupillage at Radcliffe Chambers in 2019/2020.
I undertook around 3 mini pupillages in 2012. I applied to about 10-15 chambers for pupillage in 2017/18 but did not succeed in getting a pupillage offer (even Radcliffe Chambers rejected me without an interview!). I applied again the following year on a more targeted basis and successfully obtained an offer from Radcliffe Chambers.
The pupillage experience
Pupillage is divided into a non-practising first six, and a practising second six. In each six months a pupil is supervised by two pupil supervisors, each for a duration of three months. I was drawn to Radcliffe as it is one of the only chancery sets that offers a practising second six. As a qualified solicitor I could have had a reduced pupillage but I opted for the full 12 months to ensure I had as many opportunities as possible to learn the ropes of being a practising barrister.
I found the work during pupillage to be steady and varied. What you work on depends on your supervisor. In general, I found it was a mix of working on producing materials based on completed cases and helping out your supervisor on their current matters. Chambers does strive to ensure you are exposed to all the types of hearings you are likely to encounter as a junior tenant.
Opportunities arose during pupillage to carry out work for other members of chambers. This helped to flesh out the experience and expose me to chambers’ practice areas. I had the opportunity to assist members on a number of matters including a case about knowing receipt.
As part of pupillage, we had to undertake an advocacy assessment and one assessed written advice. However, there are now additional assessments.
The transition from pupil to tenant
It was very straightforward. I found that Chambers upped the number of cases I was working on as the final months of my pupillage rolled by. In the end it meant that I had a steady stream of work once I was a tenant. The decision on tenancy tends to happen relatively early on so once you are offered tenancy the efforts to get you work increase.
I have found chambers very sociable. During pupillage it was hard to keep in touch with everyone during the initial stages of the COVID lockdowns. However, once the lockdowns had lifted there was a concerted effort by members to socialise and I found it fairly straightforward to build up good workplace friendships.
What is your practice like now?
I have a varied caseload. It can be divided into four main areas: commercial, insolvency, estates and property (including landlord & tenant). I am happy to work across practice areas because (a) I enjoy the variety and (b) they are all interrelated and so I think it helps with building a very solid base.
As I am coming to the end of my second year as a tenant I can definitely feel the workload increasing. In the past two weeks I have done two multi track trials in Nottingham which concerned breach of contract. I have a steady diet of advisory work and have provided opinions on misrepresentation claims arising out of property sales, professional negligence claims arising out of the conduct of litigation, and on the construction of wills and the duties of trustees.
Due to the pandemic I have not done as much of the normal junior work such as winding ups and possession hearings as a result of the stays that were imposed. Furthermore, my background as a solicitor has enabled me to take on some commercial work which might otherwise have gone to a more experienced barrister.
In terms of how my working week is structured the nature of the bar means no two weeks are alike. I find that I always have enough to keep me working every day of the week and occasionally on the weekend. Having worked in a variety of different environments before coming to the bar I have seen and experienced some of the negative impacts that working in law can have on a work/life balance. Therefore, I tend to value my downtime and I will not hesitate to exert control over my workload where possible to ensure I get the breaks I need to stay motivated and sharp. The benefit of being self employed is I can decide to say no when I need to. In terms of daily hours I find I work for a minimum of eight hours a day on average but I will work longer hours when necessary and certainly when I am preparing for a heavy application or for trial.
What is the culture of chambers?
Chambers has a supportive and collegiate culture. Everybody works hard but keeps in touch with each other. There are social events on a regular basis and there are members who go for tea and coffee together daily. Going to lunch with other members happens regularly too.
I find there is a good relationship between the members, clerks and staff and this is encouraged by Chambers.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Build up a set of transferable skills which will help you at the bar. Being a barrister is not just about having strong academics. You need to demonstrate you have the requisite skills in advocacy (written and oral), time management and organisation. You also need to show that you are capable of making judgement calls despite finding yourself in the middle of tense and stressful situations. You also need to be a resilient individual capable of working on your own and under pressure.
Consider what type of chambers you want to be at but also the type of culture you want to be a part of. We do a whole range of work at Radcliffe Chambers, but we have core practice areas and you will be expected to work in some of them. You will also be expected to participate in chambers life and to work at developing chambers’ practice areas.
When applying to Radcliffe, seriously consider what sets it apart from competitors, what sets you apart from other applicants and why you want to be a member of the chancery bar. Be able to explain your reasons succinctly and persuasively and give examples.