Small but perfectly formed South Square specialises in insolvency and restructuring. Within this niche, however, there is endless variety. Much of the work is international, with the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore oft-visited locations. It’s not all insolvency, either, for this heavyweight commercial set. Its members deal with banking and finance litigation, insurance and civil fraud. Football fans should note that the set has a history of advising Premier League clubs on takeovers, relocations and restructuring, as well as appearing in disciplinary proceedings on behalf of footballers and managers such as Thierry Henry and Arsène Wenger. It has also advised on motorsports issues, acting for Lewis Hamilton and other F1 drivers at various tribunals.
A former pupil explains that the work covers “a broad spectrum of legal topics with cross-border and international questions thrown into the mix which means there’s never two pieces of work the same”. What’s more, the quality of work within the insolvency specialism tends to be sky high. As another rookie notes: “Because of our specialty in insolvency law, we do all of the important Supreme Court and Court of Appeal cases, as well as a lot of general commercial trials.”
Complex, sprawling, mega-value, multi-jurisdictional commercial matters are what gets these barristers out of bed in the morning. They have been heavily involved in litigation arising out of the collapse of Lehman Brothers (the “Waterfall II Application”), as well as litigation surrounding alleged LIBOR manipulation, and litigation arising after Bernie Madoff, purveyor of the largest Ponzi scheme in history, was taken down by the FBI. They have advised troubled retailer House of Fraser, and also frequently act in international arbitrations.
With 25 juniors and 17 QCs, this set can reasonably be described as “fairly small”. Perhaps as a consequence, it benefits from a “real sense of camaraderie”. According to one former pupil, “everyone at South Square has an open-door policy from baby junior all the way through to leading silk, and anyone is happy to talk through any issue or question you have, whether legal or personal!” It’s not surprising, therefore, that South Square scores highly for training, work and colleagues in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21.
On the social side, when there’s not a global pandemic and ensuing lockdown, there are “regular drinks evenings in chambers and a monthly lunch where both the barristers and the staff get to meet up together”. There’s also a summer party and “a swanky Christmas do”. The barristers here are “a fairly relaxed bunch” who will regularly nip out for coffee together or meet up for a chat at lunch.
South Square is housed in a neat building in Gray’s Inn, London and boasts plush facilities. One former pupil praises the reception and meeting rooms as “top notch, City law firm-standard”. Another rookie, obviously used to higher standards than the rest of us, sniffs “it’s not quite the Ritz” and moans “there’s no chandeliers or gold gilding”. After this shaming, however, they go on to concede that “we all get our own room which are spacious, light and airy. We have a fantastic clerking team with hard-working support staff who are there to assist with anything. Our public areas and con[ference]-rooms are also modern and have all the necessary features. The best bit is getting your own room though, mine is like my own personal little oasis and I love it”.
Pupillage here is all about learning. It has a non-practising second six because, a pupil explains, “much of the law we do is techy and complicated and you definitely need that year to get to grips with how it all works before being let loose as a tenant”. Fret not, however. While pupils are not on their feet in court at any point, they get loads of practice with drafting work and opinion writing as well as the opportunity to sharpen their verbal skills with some “really useful” in-house advocacy exercises. Pupils change supervisor every six to eight weeks so as to gain from a wide range of expertise. They also “sit with a mentor for the first few months which means you’re not just left on your own and there’s always someone to talk things through with”.
So, if insolvency and commercial work float your boat — and it will certainly keep your bank balance afloat — then South Square’s the place to be. It offers three pupillages per year, with an award of £65,000, and recruits outside the Pupillage Gateway. It recruits all pupils as tenants if they meet the required standard.