Meet Serle Court at the Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 9 October 2021
Serle Court covers a wide spectrum of work under the commercial and chancery umbrellas. The set has a strong reputation for civil fraud and has built other impressive practices in trusts and probate, company law, offshore (members are regularly instructed in cases arising in a long list of glamorous locations) and partnership. Other areas include insurance, intellectual property, sports, entertainment and media, banking, charities, property and insolvency.
Members include one of Europe’s top 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 — no wonder one member says: “There is a high volume of work and a broad spectrum of disciplines”.
Headed up by new head of chambers Elizabeth Jones QC, Serle Court attracts high quality work which one member says is “the reason why I do this job”. Recent case highlights include acting for Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank in one of the largest claims to be brought in the High Court, representing defendants in a major commercial fraud case valued at nearly $2 billion arising out of a failed mining joint venture in Guinea, and acting for the former Prime Minister of Georgia against Credit Suisse entities for losses arising from the alleged mismanagement of an investment portfolio said to be worth over $1 billion.
Other previous high profile cases have included the Scarle v Scarle case, which required a judge to determine the order in which the parents of two step-sisters died 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.
“Big money, big personalities, difficult problems: keeps the adrenalin flowing!” is how one Serle Court barrister describes the work on offer at the set. Another says: “My work can be summed up as ‘families at war over money’, with all the fireworks, drama and human interest which such disputes involve”. The work is often challenging, highly varied and stimulating meaning “there is rarely a boring day,” another tells us. And it’s always that bit more interesting when members come up against each other in the same case, which apparently happens often.
With exciting work on offer, it can be hard to say no to cases but we are told clerks are very supportive in meeting the wishes of individual members and that everyone’s choices are respected by all. Offering further insight into work/life balance, one female silk with two young children tells the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Barristers Survey: “This is an absolute priority for me and one which the clerks at 100% supportive of. I don’t get it right all the time, but generally manage to preserve weekends, half terms and some of the school holidays as ‘sacrosanct’ family time. I have learnt to say no!”.
The set is based in the heart of Lincoln’s Inn, split across two buildings. The main premises is a traditional 17th century double fronted building on New Square with conference rooms overlooking the garden and chapel. The building oozes charm thanks to the original wooden stairs and “wonky floors”, coupled with sleek modern touches such as mineral, sparkling and boiling water on constant supply via a fancy kitchen tap. The annex is also said to be light, airy and air-conditioned with impressive 20ft ceilings!
Chambers has been modernised (as much as possible in the Inn) for today’s working practices including video hearings with technology being a major area of heavy investment in recent years. We’re also told tenants conducted remote hearings throughout the pandemic using chambers’ IT system, with little or no trouble.
With a star-studded roster of nearly 70 barristers, including 27 QCs (a notably high silk ratio), members take pride in, and place high value on, the set’s supportive atmosphere and open door policy which, we are told, is taken seriously. The atmosphere is described by one member as “very supportive and non judgmental” whereby “juniors are happy to ask for help and seniors will always give up their time” meaning there is “always an ear to discuss a difficult point or an ethical dilemma”. Another insider says the support of their colleagues is in their opinion “the best thing about chambers”. Preserving the collegiate atmosphere is apparently “at the heart of [the] management of chambers”.
Serle Court upholds the venerable bar tradition of afternoon tea in chambers, as well as other “considerable socialising” activities including Friday night drinks and parties. The fact the chambers backs on to the Seven Stars pub according to one member “certainly means that there will be someone to have a drink with after a long day”. During the pandemic, the set kept up its social side with “well-attended virtual Friday-night drinks and Wednesday coffees”. While socialising with colleagues is not for everyone, one member highlights that although they tend to choose to not be involved, they are still invited to do so.
The set offers three pupillages per year, with a £65,000 award, and there is no competition between candidates for tenancy – if you’re good enough, you’ll get it. Thirteen of the last 16 pupils were offered a spot in chambers, and the very few who weren’t were helped to find tenancy elsewhere. Pupils sit with four different supervisors throughout their training who are “knowledgeable and experienced” in their different areas of practice. Pupils shadow their supervisors for the whole 12 months, rather than taking on their own caseload, but advocacy is 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”.
Approximately 30 candidates are invited for first round interviews, narrowed down to ten for the second round, which takes the form of a mock client conference. The set offers around 30 mini-pupillage opportunities each year.
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 earnings exceed £50,000 per anum. The set looks for those “committed to a career in commercial or chancery practice”, with “outstanding intellectual and analytical ability” with the “the potential to become excellent advocates” and a “capacity to establish and maintain good relationships with solicitors, clients and the judiciary”.