Serjeants’ Inn Chambers
The Legal Cheek View
Serjeants’ Inn Chambers is a common law set specialising in a number of key practice areas such as police law, clinical negligence, product liability, professional discipline, and inquests & public inquiries. Cases tackled by tenants often involve ethical or moral issues and rare or new points of law. The 78 barristers at this set, including 21 KCs, deal with the “issues of our day”, insiders says, including “assisted suicide, the refugee crisis, historic child abuse allegations and national security” as well as much more. It is certainly an exciting place to be.
On the work coming through the door at Serjeants’ Inn, 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.”
So, what exactly are tenants working on? Well, on the medical side, barristers operate at the very highest level, working on highly sensitive and challenging cases. One insider tells us: “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 person 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)”. Court of Protection work is also a key area for tenants. Members here work on real issues, affecting real people in the most fundamental of ways, meaning there is “never a dull moment”.
On the police law side, tenants mainly take on defence work, meaning that they act on behalf of police forces throughout the country. Whether it be whistleblowing and discrimination cases or civil claims for deaths involving the police, there is a broad range of expertise in chambers. This also links into their inquests and public inquiries work, which has seen tenants work on everything from the Leveson Inquiry to the Hillsborough. As one junior tenant explains: “very often our work is highly novel with test cases or advising public authorities upon urgent situations. This leaves me with a real sense of contributing to both the development of legal issues, and providing a service to public and public authorities”.
Over the past year, the cases coming through the door have continued to be of great interest. To give some examples: Matthew Holdcroft and Cecily White won an important case concerning the scope of obligations owed by police to prospective victims of crime; Pravin Fernando succeeded in a claim for judicial review against the Secretary of State for Defence in relation to a service complaint brought by a private soldier against his commanding officer; and Angus Moon KC and John de Bono KC appeared against each other in a clinical negligence dispute about whether a claimant who had suffered significant brain damage, allegedly due to negligent delay in his delivery, could re-commence proceedings against a hospital foundation after having discontinued them 16 years earlier.
With so much exciting work on offer, it can be hard for tenants at Serjeants’ Inn to say no to taking on more. Views on work-life balance are rather mixed, which is not unusual at top sets. One tenant states: “it’s the bar. There is no such thing as work-life balance” and goes on to criticise the lack of focus on wellbeing. However, others told us that they feel supported by chambers in managing their work-life balance. One junior comments: “it is part of our clerking conversations to ease and review problems with work demands when they arise. We are constantly trying to create a safe space and be emotionally intelligent with our managing practice”. The co-founder of mental health initiative Wellbeing at the Bar, Rachel Spearing, is a member of chambers!
When times do get tough, tenants can turn to each other. The supportiveness of colleagues is highly-rated at the set. As one junior confides: “managing the pressure of the work we do is key to our collective success. Support is what we pride ourselves on”. This support extends to when they get stuck on a case. “Chambers has an open-door policy and I have benefited from support from colleagues in difficult cases,” says one junior at the set. Another adds: “nothing is too much trouble for anyone. Advice is always available and the breadth of knowledge of my colleagues is stupefying”. One tenant does, however, bemoan the impact that Covid has had as less people now come into chambers. Even so, colleagues are just an email away.
Demonstrating how close colleagues at Serjeants’ Inn can be, one junior barrister reveals that 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!” Given this, it is not surprising that tenants also enjoy socialising together. Whilst “Covid has had an impact”, clerks drinks on Thursdays as well as organised events that are “inclusive for those with families” and “don’t revolve around vertical drinking” — for example a rounders match — are social perks for barristers. Whilst one tenant tells us that events “are not well attended because everyone is too busy working”, another says that the events have “added to his sense of belonging to a team”. All in all, opinions seem to vary.
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. On top of that there is apparently “the best goodie bowl and stationery ever!” One tenant does, however, say: “the rooms are lovely. But who really cares about that anymore — most people work from home these days”. When it comes to IT provision, IT administrator Meelis Malgand is described as a “star”. One tenant comments: “we’ve been so lucky to have our in-house IT support who is on call 24/7 and the development side to manage more complex solution/planning”.
When it comes to pupillage at Serjeants’ Inn Chambers, it comes with an award of £60,000 as well as highly-rated training. One junior describes a “very growth-orientated and adaptable culture in work”. Pupils will sit with three different pupil supervisors over the course of the year. At first, work will just be completed for your supervisor but eventually you will start undertaking work for other members of chambers. During the second six, pupils can expect to start taking on their own cases and appear in court in their own right. Supervisors will continue to provide support and answer any questions.
Training doesn’t end with pupillage. One tenant comments: “chambers takes training and professional development very seriously. The courses provided are of the highest level with both internal and external input”. 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.
Those wishing to apply to Serjeants’ Inn Chambers should make their application through the Pupillage Gateway. Candidates scoring highest on the written application will be invited to a first-round interview, which consists of a legal exercise as well as general questions. A lucky few candidates will then be invited back to a more extensive second-round interview. 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”. Offers are made “on merit alone”.
Serjeants’ Inn Chambers typically offers one to two pupillages per year but will not be accepting applications in the 2022-3 recruitment cycle.