Serle Court

The Legal Cheek View

The high quality work that Serle Court attracts is “the reason why I do this job”, according to one junior member of the set. Recent highlights include successfully acting for the defendant in the high profile Scarle v Scarle case, which required a judge to determine the order in which the parents of two step-sisters died, securing a £346 million yacht in a bitter dispute between a divorcing billionaire couple, and successfully appealing a North London coroner’s decision to introduce a cab-rank rule for burials, ending the system whereby priority would be given to Jewish and Muslim families in accordance with their religious needs to bury their loved ones as soon as possible.

Within the commercial and chancery umbrella, there is a wide spectrum of work. For example, Serle Court has a reputation as being a leading set in civil fraud work, and has built impressive practices in trusts and probate, company law, offshore (its members are regularly instructed in cases arising in a long list of glamorous locations) and partnership. Other main areas include insurance, intellectual property, sports, entertainment and media, banking, charities, property and insolvency. Chambers members include one of Europe’s leading experts in Chinese law, and a leading practitioner in public international law. Serle Court also offers expertise in art, Court of Protection, public law, public international law, shipping, tax and telecommunications — quite a diverse mix.

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“Big money, big personalities, difficult problems: keeps the adrenalin flowing!” is how one Serle Court barrister describes the work.

The set is based in the pleasant surrounds of London’s Lincoln’s Inn, split across two buildings. One member describes it as having “great premises in an updated Lincoln’s Inn building”. The facilities are a cut above some other more austere sets, with mineral water, sparkling water and boiling water on tap in the kitchen, for example, and a ban on plastic bottles. The biscuits are said to be “some of the best in Lincoln’s Inn.” The IT facilities are similarly advanced, and “so good I barely even need to come into chambers”, according to one insider.

With a star-studded roster of 42 juniors and 27 QCs (a notably high silk ratio) Serle Court is small enough to be friendly. It upholds the venerable bar tradition of afternoon tea in chambers, as well as Friday night drinks and other social events. “There is always an ear to discuss a difficult point or an ethical dilemma. The chambers’ reputation for niceness is fully deserved,” one of the set’s barristers tells us. Another adds: “There is an incredibly collegial atmosphere in chambers which I think stems from the fact that pupils are not made to feel like they are competing against each other. There is a high volume of work and a broad spectrum of disciplines so it certainly does not feel like members are scrapping for cases. There is always someone who can help if you’re faced with an issue you haven’t encountered before.”

Serle Court offers three pupillages per year, with a £65,000 award. Nearly all pupils are offered tenancy, and the very few who haven’t been in recent years have been helped to find tenancy at another chambers. Pupils sit with four different supervisors, each with a different area of practice, and will immerse themselves in business disputes during their 12 months. Initially they shadow their supervisors rather than taking on their own caseload, with advocacy taught by practical exercises in front of senior chambers members. One recent graduate of the Serle Court pupillage process tells us: “The focus is on learning rather than assessment, which means you are able to always ask what seem like ‘silly’ or ‘basic’ questions. You get to see work across chambers’ practices and usually sit with people of different levels of call.”

Serle Court also smooths the journey into practice financially by guaranteeing income of £120,000 over the first two years and not charging chambers expenses until the rookie’s earnings exceed £50,000 per annum.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Jamie Randall spent three years working at financial consultancy firm Oliver Wyman before joining Serle Court as a pupil in 2017. He was drawn to the commercial and chancery bar because that’s where he says his previous experience would prove most useful.

After narrowing his focus down to six sets and completing eight mini-pupillages, including one at Serle Court, it was this quaint chambers located in London’s historic Lincoln’s Inn that stood out above and beyond the rest. “The people here were by far the most welcoming, the atmosphere was great, and I was drawn by the fact that so many members had experience working in other professions before taking up pupillage.”

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The wide spectrum of work on offer at the set also appealed to Randall. Practice areas include civil fraud (for which it is probably most well-known), commercial litigation, trusts and probate, offshore, company law, insolvency and property law. Randall studied classics at Oxford and began applying for pupillage as soon as he embarked on the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). “I was quite new to the law so wanted to join a set with a broad practice mix,” says Randall, who completed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) at City, University of London.

Chambers’ main premises are housed in a traditional building in New Square with an annex over two floors on Chancery Lane. The silks tend to have their own room and juniors can choose to, too, but often share with up to two other members. There’s no canteen but the juniors often club together and lunch in the hall at Lincoln’s Inn. Plus chambers’ central location means it’s quite convenient to grab a quick bite to eat.

Pupillage at Serle Court is 12-months of training divided into four three-month periods. During the year, pupils are assigned four supervisors in different practice areas within the commercial chancery umbrella. You can expect to be assigned at least one seat in commercial law and another in chancery, and in your final seat there’s the option to pick an area of your choice.

There is courtroom exposure but pupils undertake a non-practising second six. This means they shadow supervisors rather than taking on their own caseload and conducting advocacy in court. There are perks to this approach: you get more time to learn in a slightly less pressured environment on matters of a higher level than you’d perhaps undertake on your own, explains Randall. His biggest learning experiences during pupillage were observing a complex commercial trial and a four-day matter which was heard by the Privy Council. “It was useful to see how trials work: what constitutes a good or bad cross-examination and to see the different parties and issues at play.”

Serle Court takes up to three pupils each year. Randall’s cohort got along well; there was “no sense of competition” because there is plenty of work to go around and chambers is keen to retain those deemed good enough. Pupils are assessed on an ongoing basis: there are two formal assessments, one written and one oral, conducted in front of a senior member of chambers. Both are graded, and at the end of each seat supervisors share feedback on all work undertaken with them.

Randall secured tenancy in October last year. He spent six months on secondment to City outfit Kingsley Napley soon afterwards — a route which is not uncommon for juniors at Serle Court to take. His experience in the firm’s dispute resolution team helped in his transition from pupil to junior barrister. He says that it was useful to spend time working on cases within a team — “that adds to your confidence when starting out on your own,” he explains. Plus there’s always the benefit of building rapport with a particular firm. Since returning to chambers, Randall, who handles cases in all areas of chambers’ practice, says it took a couple of weeks to get his caseload up and running but has been busy ever since.

Self-employed Randall typically arrives in chambers at 9am and leaves by 7pm. He tends to focus on one case each day. This could involve drafting particulars of claim, witness statements and skeleton arguments or prepping for a hearing in court. He’s currently working through a series of injunctions which he says require a “quick turnaround” — typically between two to three days. The fast-paced nature of this work can sway his working hours but the clerks are good at understanding “how much you have on and can take on”.

The work at Serle Court often has an international element. Members, many of whom have been called to the bar in foreign jurisdictions, have worked on cases originating from glamourous, sun-soaked locations including the Bahamas, Barbados and the Cayman Islands. They undertake pro bono work, too, mainly for national legal charity Advocate or the Chancery Bar Litigant in Person Support Scheme (CLIPS). Many cases involve a silk and a junior which helps foster a sense of cohesion. “There isn’t a sense of hierarchy in chambers,” says Randall. “The silks are all very approachable and willing to speak through any legal issue.”

The QCs are regulars at socials too. The social scene is amiable, with a number of evening get-togethers hosted by chambers and a drinks do every month. The socialising extends to events with solicitors which are “great for networking”, and recent shindigs include a darts fixture and football tournament.

Deadlines

Pupillage

Applications open 06/01/2020
Applications close 07/02/2020

Mini-Pupillage

Rolling applications throughout the year
Applications close 07/02/2020

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 2019-20 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 42
QCs 27
Pupillages 3
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 4/5

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

Money

Pupillage award £65,000
BPTC advance drawdown £22,000

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 33%
Female QCs 4%