Modern chambers often take one of two routes to success. Go big or go boutique. As the third largest chambers in the country, St Philips has elected for the former.
St Philips Chambers was formed two decades ago when two smaller sets in Birmingham, 2 Fountain Court and 7 Fountain Court, joined forces. The combined entity moved to a new site on Temple Row, taking its name from the Cathedral which it overlooked. Residents of the UK’s second city colloquially know this space as ‘Pigeon Park’. Later, another Birmingham set, 1 Fountain Court, was consolidated into St Philips, and the chambers expanded into Leeds. In 2016, St Philips Chambers merged with the shipping focused Stone Chambers in London, in an attempt to form a ‘mega set’. However, the affair was short lived. Less than two years later, Stone Chambers ‘demerged’ and joined with ‘The 36 Group’ to create 36 Stone.
Today, St Philips’ approximately 170 barristers are located at offices in Leeds and Birmingham. Over 75% of the chambers’ tenants are based in Birmingham. Its sheer size means the set covers a range of eclectic fields, from clinical negligence and crime through to property and sports. Respondees to the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2018-2019 describe the “strength in depth of the team” as exposing them to a “zenith of work.” They rave about the “great spectrum of high quality work” which goes from the “magistrates all the way to the European Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.” Indeed, two barristers from St Philips successfully appealed a conviction for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Closer to home, two other tenants were appointed to the Football Association’s Anti-Discrimination Chairman Panel, and another is on the UK National Anti-Doping Panel. This year, Simon Davis managed to secure the first conviction of a sex trafficker under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Kevin Hegarty QC and Raj Punia were commended by the National Crime Agency for securing successful convictions for a scheme which saw £130 million laundered through UK banks to China and the Middle East.
Turning to pupillages at the set. The advocacy training course is apparently “second to none” with the chambers having “fantastic pupil supervisors who really let me contribute.” Clerks are known to “keep you towards the upper end of your comfort zone” by frequently giving “you something that’s a challenge and really accelerate your practice.” Rookies praised the “free and ready access to QCs and experts on the field.” As one commenter put it, “everyone is very friendly” and “I only need to ask, and I could receive help from anyone.” This training has helped St Philips’ produce individuals who are able to climb the judicial ladder. Indeed, in the last year alone it has bestowed the bench with two district judges, three circuit judges and one High Court judge. Furthermore, Richard Atkins QC was appointed vice chair of the Bar Council for 2018.
With egg chairs, liberal splashes of purple and glass inside the offices, the chambers would seem to be more modern and less traditional then its London counterparts. However, not everyone is enamored with the facilities, with multiple rookies complaining about broken air conditioners. Given that the survey was conducted during summer heatwave, the timing may have been unfortunate. Still, as one comment reminded us, “when you are a criminal barrister you are never really [in chambers] anyway!”