Serjeants’ Inn Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Serjeants’ Inn’s pupils and former pupils cannot praise it highly enough. Prestigious, well-resourced, “welcoming and supportive”, it attracts top-notch barristers, tackles fascinating cases and boasts a structured training programme. There is a mentor system for pupils and new arrivals, which is a “great initiative”, and QCs are “generous with their time”.

Based in London’s Fleet Street, the common law set has undergone “pretty rapid expansion” in the past couple of years, growing by more than 25 per cent, and now has more than 70 barristers, including 19 QCs. It offers two pupillages each year.

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The set’s multiple award-winning members specialise in medical, police, regulatory, criminal and public law cases, often involving ethical issues or rare or new points of law. Recent high-profile work includes an inquest into a trainee soldier’s death at Deepcut Army Barracks, the tragic Charlie Gard case, a damages claim against the NHS brought by a woman who stabbed her mother to death, and a ground-breaking Court of Protection case where a dying man had his sperm stored so his wife could conceive his child. The work is “very stimulating”. It’s “just excellent quality work at all levels, from the very junior to the very senior, and in all areas—Court of Protection, medical negligence, regulatory, police law, inquests”.

While offering fascinating work, the set takes a down-to-earth approach. “There’s never someone I can’t a ‘stupid’ question and they never make me feel stupid when I ask it.” Another pupil says “Serjeants’ Inn is definitely more collegial than other sets and there is always a good selection of members of chambers around to have a chat with”. Overall, “the ethos in chambers is incredibly welcoming and supportive”. In fact, “the ability of many people in chambers to put helping other people first is really exceptional. There are three or four senior people in chambers who I know I can run pretty much any problem by at any time and they will respond straight away.”

Serjeants’ Inn scores As and A*s across the board in the Legal Cheek Pupil and Junior Barrister Survey 2018-19. A former pupil enthuses that the experience “gave me everything I needed to feel confident about building my own practice as a junior tenant”, and the training doesn’t stop once pupillage ends. “Post-pupillage, I am now part of an advanced practitioner training scheme involving liaison with QCs and other senior juniors.” There is “an ongoing practice learning system, which includes lectures and materials on IT and paperless working, colleagues sharing templates and even occasionally sitting in on each other’s conferences”.

Serjeants’ Inn places a strong emphasis on mental health and wellbeing, and was one of the first sets to get the Bar Council’s Certificate of Recognition for good wellbeing practice. Stress levels often run high at the Bar, a fact which is at last gaining widespread recognition within the profession: barristers are often affected by the emotionally draining subject matter of their cases as well as competitive pressures and the demands of managing a heavy workload. “Knowing that there is a supportive network behind you in chambers—both from other members and from the clerks and client care team—is incredibly reassuring. It also helps that one of our most recent ‘lateral hires’ is the founder of the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative.”

It has “a beautiful exterior and a modern interior”, “great conference facilities” and “just-as-good back office rooms” and is “a productive, nice place to work with natural light”. Visiting solicitors and clients are often impressed by the Serjeants’ Inn branded jellybeans and mints. There is also a private shower, “which is handy if you get particularly sweaty in court. Overall, it probably looks a bit more like a law firm ‘office’ than a traditional set of chambers”. Socially, evenings out are “relatively rare” but there are always people ready to go out for drinks on a Friday night as well as social events with clients.

What The Junior Barristers Say

It’s the nature of the work at Serjeants’ Inn Chambers that most drew Anthony Searle, their most junior barrister, to the set. “We’re dealing with claims brought by real people that go to the heart of what’s really important — like your health or your liberty”.

Serjeants’ Inn’s cases frequently involve important political and social issues. Recent high-profile instructions undertaken by the set’s members include the Hillsborough and Deepcut Inquests, and the Charlie Gard case.

Searle is currently working on a number of clinical negligence matters and civil actions against the police — both practice areas he gained experience of during pupillage, alongside Court of Protection and professional discipline work.

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“Pupillage is viewed by many as a year-long interview”, he says. But that’s not always a fair reflection: Searle found that senior colleagues knew his level and “didn’t expect the world from you”. The support starts early. The summer before pupillage gets underway, pupils are assigned a mentor who serves as their “go-to” for pastoral support. “We’d go for a coffee every couple of weeks,” recalls Searle.

Once pupillage starts, “you’re given lots of feedback at regular intervals”. Searle was encouraged to draw up a feedback table, first inputting what he thought was good or bad about his work, before his supervisors supplemented the chart with their suggestions. “This was a great way to see all the work I had completed,” but also served as a visual representation as to “how I had improved and how I could improve further”.

In his time at Serjeants’ Inn Searle has immersed himself in medical law. He has been to conferences with his supervisors, and learnt from world leaders in the medical profession about various diseases and injuries arising in particular cases. “That’s been really cool,” he says. Members of his chambers are also pioneers in their field. Katie Gollop QC was recently awarded ‘Barrister of the Year’ at the 2018 Modern Law Awards, but the set’s achievements are not limited to its senior members, as demonstrated by 2011-call Cecily White’s Solicitors’ Journal Rising Star award. “You’re learning from some very impressive people” who also happen to be “incredibly friendly and approachable”.

The lack of hierarchy at the bar has been a welcome surprise. Searle interacts with senior barristers “all the time,” whether on a case — “I was recently instructed to draft a defence to particulars of claim that were drafted by a QC” — or when listening to stories in the set’s kitchen of when they were once pupils. “I’ve learnt so much”, he says. There’s a “real collegiate atmosphere” at chambers, and this allows you to turn to anyone for advice on complex issues or matters you’ve never experienced before. Searle continues: “Everyone is supportive — you’re not a small cog in a huge machine.”

Serjeants’ Inn is housed on busy Fleet Street in a grand building that is more modern than most chambers. Inside “it’s all glass,” says Searle, with City law firm-style amenities: “We have great IT facilities and some really nice video conferencing suites”, he adds. The rooms are shared: “There’s usually two to four in a room and the option to hot-desk, too, which provides flexibility and increases communication and cohesion within the set”. You’ll find a “good mix” of seniors and juniors working in the same room. “Most have a senior who is able to filter their knowledge down to others — that’s really invaluable,” Searle explains.

He enjoys being self-employed because this means he can “take charge” of his work, and though there is the potential to feel lonely, this hasn’t been the case at Serjeants’ Inn. “I still feel a part of chambers when working from home as I can join a team meeting or seminar via video link,” he says.

On the social side, it’s a very “pleasant” environment with welcome drinks for junior tenants and the annual Christmas party to look forward to each year plus regular practice team meetings and social events. There are also extensive opportunities to mingle with solicitors at the various in-house seminars and conferences hosted by Serjeants’ Inn. “It’s good to interact with solicitors in person and finally put a face to a name,” continues Searle.

The Warwick law graduate’s top tip for aspiring junior barristers is to approach the application process as an “advocate rather than an applicant”. He explains: “Treat every application or interview like a piece of advocacy. Imagine you’re the barrister and you’ve been given a brief and have to present submissions on yourself — you have to think, how can I paint myself in the best possible light and from an objective point of view?” During the interview stage, Searle found it useful to write a “mini case report” for each set of chambers, including the type of work available and any particularly noteworthy cases. He also recommends writing notes immediately after an interview because “you could learn something for the next one”.

Searle feels like he has “grown” since pupillage, both as a legal practitioner and as an advocate. “Pupillage at Serjeants’ Inn has given me the tools I need to succeed,” he says. If there was any advice he’d give his former pupil-self it’d be: “Try to worry less!”

Deadlines

Mini-Pupillage between 1 December 2018 and 31 January 2019

Applications close 01/10/2018

Mini-Pupillage between between 1 April and 30 April 2019

Applications close 01/02/2019

Mini-Pupillage between 1 July and 31 July 2019

Applications close 01/05/2019

Pupillage

Applications open 08/01/2019
Applications close 07/02/2019

Insider Scorecard

A*
Training
A*
Quality of work
A
Colleagues
A
Facilities
A
Social life

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2018-19 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 49
QCs 19
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 3/5

*Figure is for the five most junior members of chambers; does not include postgraduate studies

Money

Pupillage award £55,000
BPTC advance drawdown £10,000

Hours

Average hours 50-59 hours

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2018-19.

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 37%
Female QCs 26%