Bristol-based set St John’s Chambers has modern premises in the city centre. It is one of the larger South West chambers, with almost 90 barristers, including nine QCs. The high number of juniors as well as the charming and relaxed atmosphere of Bristol make it an attractive proposition for many pupil applicants. St John’s has a good reputation and, if interested, applicants are advised to stress any South West connections as well as their academic excellence, people skills and commercial nous.
One of its barristers recently secured the highest ever general damages award for a dental negligence case (ouch!) in which the claimant, who now suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and dentist phobia, lost nine healthy teeth and had unnecessary crowns fitted and pointless root canal work. A St John’s barrister acted in a high-profile case involving a farmer’s son who claimed he was promised the family farm and sued when he didn’t get it. Another chambers member defended the Ministry of Defence against allegations by an RAF Sergeant and nurse that she was bullied and harassed at work. On the commercial side, barristers have acted for Dutch financial giant ING in competition law cases brought by the European Commission.
St John’s was launched in 1978 by six barristers “keen to break the mould of conventional practice”. Its members specialise in three main areas: personal injury and clinical negligence; family; and commercial/chancery. They also, albeit to a lesser extent, cover public law and employment. Cases could involve catastrophic injury, inquests, or road accidents. Family work ranges from care proceedings and children disputes to high-value divorce. Families at war over wills provide work for the chancery barristers as well as disputes over property and trusts, and the commercial work covers a broad spectrum from litigation to drafting and advisory work for banks.
Pupils specialise in one of the three main areas from the get-go, giving them a really good grounding in that subject. Chambers takes up to three pupils per year, usually allocating one to personal injury and clinical negligence, one to family and another to commercial/chancery. They work under the same supervisor all year, so establishing a good working relationship is important. The award is £40,000. There is no formal structure for assessment as such, but both supervisors and other members of chambers will take the time to provide feedback on work. Whatever pupils specialise in, they are likely to find themselves on their feet in court during their second six and are expected to manage their own caseload as well as completing work for other members of chambers.
St John’s scores highly for training, work and social life in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21. The atmosphere is supportive. One rookie nostalgically recalls “phone calls with other members of chambers at 11:30pm and Bank Holidays”. Do not take fright from that lovely anecdote, though, as the working hours are the average 50-59 hours, leaving you time to explore the delights of Bristol and the surrounding area. Chambers-initiated social excursions have included taking part in an annual boules tournament in Bath, and there are frequent drinks outings as well as an annual Christmas shindig and a summer party.