Serjeants’ Inn Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

Meet Serjeants’ Inn Chambers at the Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 4 December 2021

For fascinating, rewarding and high-profile cases, Serjeants’ Inn Chambers is the place to be. The common law set specialises in medical, police, regulatory and public law cases, often involving ethical or moral issues and rare or new points of law. Barristers at this set deal with the “issues of our day” including “assisted suicide, the refugee crisis, historic child abuse allegations and national security”.

Recent case examples include barrister George Thomas stepping in pro bono for parents fighting to continue life-sustaining treatment for their baby because they were not eligible for legal aid, the Tunisian terrorist attack inquests, the Undercover Policing Inquiry and the inquest into the Salisbury poisonings. Serjeants’ Inn members also acted for the London Ambulance Service in the inquest into the London Bridge and Borough Market terror attacks.

On the work coming through the door, one member offers this glowing overview: “I’ve recently moved to Serjeants’ Inn [and] the work is on a different level to my last set; interesting, often important, diverse and legally challenging. It’s made me love the law again. My only regret is that I didn’t move here five years ago.” Equally impressed, another adds: “We are lucky to work in a high-profile and media attractive area of the law that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally important.”

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When it comes to the set’s key specialism, medical law, Serjeants’ Inn barristers operate at the very highest level, working on highly sensitive, and challenging cases. One insider told the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey: “The range of work in my practice is huge and offers me a series of challenges in completely unconnected fields. End of life cases (whether incapacitated patients should be given treatment); transgender issues ― acting for the child of the first trans man in the UK to give birth; fertility cases where treatment goes wrong (swapped test tubes etc); General Medical Council disciplinary cases (a range of cases from doctors euthanising patients to sleeping with them)”. Members here work on real issues, affecting real people in the most fundamental of ways, meaning there is “never a dull moment”.

Headed up jointly by QCs Angus Moon and Michael Horne, Serjeants’ Inn has 74 barristers, including 20 silks, and offers up to two pupillages each year with an award of £55,000. The set says pupils can expect to work roughly between the hours of 9am to 6:30pm, spending time with three different supervisors all with “slightly different practices and levels of seniority”, over three, four-month periods. Rookies receive “informal feedback continuously but every three months have a short meeting with the head of pupillage to discuss progress”. The training on offer is “top notch” and “followed by great support from all levels,” according to one ex-pupil, while another respondent describes their training as “pretty solid — but not very structured”.

Serjeants’ Inn says it’s not looking for the “finished product” when it comes to prospective pupils, but rather they should demonstrate “practical and academic ability”, “personality and aptitude”, as well as “commitment” and “flexibility to face the challenges of a changing and demanding profession”.

The training and support continue into tenancy, permitting members to diversify their practices. On offer are mentoring schemes, opportunities to shadow senior members after pupillage, plus in-house and external training on topics including police misconduct hearings, time recording and the art of persuasion and negotiation, which are even recorded so they can be watched by those unable to attend.

Barristers also enthuse about the philosophy of chambers that is supportive and collegiate. “Chambers has an open-door policy and I have benefited from support from colleagues in difficult cases and during any personal difficulties I have encountered,” says one respondent. There is no self-promotion here but rather a culture where all “celebrate the successes of others and do all we can to foster a collegiate atmosphere,” another adds. We are also told “one email request for help on a point of law or with choosing an expert will be met by a dozen responses within minutes” helped by the fact members are “stupendously clever”. Another reveals they have “stayed over with three other chambers colleagues spread around the country” when appearing in faraway courts where “one lovely colleague even washed my pyjamas before I came back for the second week of the case!”. Supportiveness continued throughout the pandemic, with chambers keeping members entertained through events, for those who wanted them, including Secret Santa Zoom, Euros fantasy football and virtual drinks.

Strengthening this supportive atmosphere is chambers’ strong focus on mental health and wellbeing. It was one of the first sets to secure the Bar Council’s certificate of recognition for good wellbeing practice, while the co-founder of mental health initiative Wellbeing at the Bar is also a member of chambers. “They are very good at respecting tenants’ efforts to manage work and the other demands of life,” says one respondent. “I take a solid month off every summer and this is endorsed by the clerks”. To help further relieve work stresses, clerks ensure work is billed promptly and outstanding fees are chased, meaning barristers do not have to worry about income droughts. Another member told us it is also “mandatory that you are given prep time out of court to make sure you can nail it when you get into court”.

Chambers is based in the “impressive” Lutyens Building (formerly home to Reuters) on London’s Fleet Street overlooking St Bride’s Church. The “swish and modern” building, designed to the set’s own high specification, boasts glass walls and hot desking facilities as well as more private rooms, whilst conference facilities can be flexibly arranged through alterable partition doors. One member commenting on the modern building says it has “really improved chambers collegiality making it clear that the physical structure can influence the culture of an organisation”. On top of that there is apparently “the best goodie bowl and stationery ever!” In what is a luxury at the bar, Serjeants’ Inn also has a full-time tech consultant available 24 hours a day, to speedily sort out issues, who we are told is “a hero”.

What The Junior Barristers Say

It’s the nature of the work at Serjeants’ Inn Chambers that most drew Anthony Searle, one of their junior barristers, 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

Pupillage

To commence October 2023 (12 month pupillage)
Applications open 04/01/2022
Applications close 08/02/2022

Insider Scorecard

A*
Training
A*
Quality of work
A*
Colleagues
A*
Facilities
A*
Work/life balance
A
Social life
A*
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 54
QCs 20
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 4/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £60,000
BPTC advance drawdown £10,000

The Pupillage award is inclusive of £15,000 guaranteed earnings in second six.

Diversity

Female juniors 50%
Female QCs 25%
BME juniors 9%
BME QCs 10%