Serjeants’ Inn Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

For fascinating, rewarding and high-profile cases, Serjeants’ Inn is the place to be. The common law set specialises in medical, police, regulatory, criminal and public law cases, often involving ethical issues or rare or new points of law. Examples include a ground-breaking case on whether it was in a learning-disabled woman’s best interests to donate stem cells to her mother.

A barrister, acting in a recent extradition case, raised the issue of whether Romanian prison conditions pose an extra risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Serjeants’ Inn members also acted for London Ambulance Service in the inquest into the London Bridge and Borough Market terror attacks.

The work is “always different, almost always stretches me to my limits,” says one respondent to the 2020-21 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. “There is never a dull moment,” says another. “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).”

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Based in London’s Fleet Street, Serjeants’ Inn has nearly 80 barristers, including 19 QCs. It offers two pupillages each year. The training on offer is “top notch” and “followed by great support from all levels,” according to one alumnus. Another respondent describes pupillage as “pretty solid ― but not very structured”. The training and support continues into tenancy, with mentoring schemes and opportunities to shadow senior members even after pupillage.

While offering fascinating work, the set takes a down-to-earth approach. Barristers enthuse about their supportive colleagues and chambers’ focus on wellbeing. “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. “The culture in chambers is one in which we all celebrate the successes of others and do all we can to foster a collegiate atmosphere.” Members have genuinely really missed each other during lockdown, although the support has continued ― “emails with general practice queries are regularly answered by colleagues within seconds with lots of helpful input”.

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. “The corollary of the nature of the work and the success of chambers is substantial work pressure,” says one respondent. They add, however, that “chambers are very good at respecting tenants’ efforts to manage work and the other demands of life. I take a solid month off every summer and this is endorsed by the clerks”.

The set’s building, in the Lutyens Building on Fleet Street, is “swish and modern”. Another barrister at the set describes it as: “Very modern, open, glass doors everywhere, hot-desks available if you don’t want your own desk, excellent IT facilities, lots of coffee and biscuits, etc. It’s definitely a lot more modern than some of the dark and dingy chambers that are situated in the Inns.”

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

Mini-Pupillage

1-30 April 2021
Applications close 01/02/2021

Mini-Pupillage

1-31 July 2021
Applications close 01/05/2021

Pupillage

To commence October 2023
Applications open 07/01/2022
Applications close 07/02/2022

Insider Scorecard

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

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 54
QCs 19
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 2/5

*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

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 37%
Female QCs 26%