Small but perfectly formed, heavyweight commercial set South Square specialises in finance and banking. Within these areas, barristers here practise in insolvency and restructuring, offshore, company law, civil fraud, insurance and trusts & property. A great deal of work received is international, with the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore oft-visited locations. 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.
South Square work involves both contentious and non-contentious matters, with one member summing it up as this: “Every day and every piece of work brings something new.” Commenting on the type of work even newbies to the job can expect, one tenant tells the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey: “I’ve got two cases in the Supreme Court this year. I’ve also done a five-day international arbitration on my own (I’m a junior junior).” 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.” One insider tells us “there is lots of opportunity” to be led by the silks as a baby junior too.
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 property tycoon Moises Gertner in long-running, highly reported on, bankruptcy proceedings.
Getting a work/life balance is what one member says is the dream come true: “At South Square it can sometimes be hard to maintain this, as there are always crunch times before hearings and deadlines. However, you are in control and can take on as much work as you can manage. It’s a personal choice.” Another tells us: “I go on holiday whenever I want for as long as I want” — nice. Clerks are described as “fantastic” along with the hard-working support staff, including 24-hour third party IT support, who are there to assist with anything. Baby juniors are also helped out by various benefits including subsidised travel, no rental charge during the first 15 months of tenancy, no receipts charge for the first six months, subsidised membership of key professional associations for the first two years along with assistance and training in financial planning and business development.
With 28 juniors and 16 QCs, this set can reasonably be described as “fairly small”. Perhaps as a consequence, it benefits from a “real sense of camaraderie” and an “in it together” mentality. 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.” One member, who shares a corridor with the head of chambers, says they regularly go and chat to him about their cases. It’s not surprising, therefore, that South Square scores well for training, work and colleagues in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22.
Pupillage here is all about learning. It has a non-practising second six because, as one former 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”. All of this means come tenancy, “you’re fully prepared to hit the real world running”.
South Square is housed in a “lovely Georgian style” building in Gray’s Inn, overlooking Gray’s Inn Hall and boasting plush facilities inside. One former pupil praises the reception and meeting rooms as “top notch, City law firm-standard”. Another rookie, obviously used to higher standards, says “it’s not quite the Ritz” and unfortunately for them, “there’s no chandeliers or gold gilding”. However, they go on to concede that “we all get our own room which are spacious, light and airy” with members permitted to decorate them to their own tastes; “mine is like my own personal little oasis and I love it”. Conference rooms are described as “swanky” and there are newly refurbished shower facilities for those who cycle or run to work.
On the social side, with everyone getting along well and the barristers being “a fairly relaxed bunch”, chambers drinks are a regular feature as well as lunches as a whole set and within smaller groups. There’s also a summer party, “fancy” Christmas do and spring reception which clients are also invited to, as well as other celebrations in between — “so there is plenty of opportunity to eat and drink nice food!”
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 up to three pupillages per year, with an award of £65,000, to “high calibre” candidates with strong academic records and “the potential to become an outstanding commercial barrister”. The set says their approach is to recruit all pupils as tenants who meet the required standard. To get a further insight into South Square, the set offers up to ten week-long funded mini-pupillages with an award of an almighty £750! Unfunded minis are also available.