Your journey to pupillage
I studied History at the University of Exeter before completing the GDL and BPTC (as it then was) with the aid of a major scholarship from Middle Temple at BPP. I didn’t apply for pupillage while on the GDL as I wanted to explore different practice areas, instead waiting for my BPTC year. To that end, I completed nine mini-pupillages at a range of civil sets.
In the year after my BPTC, I worked as a Judicial Assistant in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) to the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Patten. This was an amazing experience and fantastic preparation for life at the Bar; I would recommend it to any prospective pupil.
When it came to making my applications, I applied to nineteen different sets. The process at Ten Old Square was probably the most thorough I encountered. Following the initial paper sift, there were two rounds of interviews and candidates were required to submit a written opinion on a problem question. There was also a non-assessed open day where final round candidates were able to meet members of Chambers more informally.
The pupillage experience
I was attracted to Ten Old Square due to its pre-eminence in traditional chancery matters. They also struck me as an extremely friendly and welcoming set, which was evident throughout my year as a pupil.
Chambers only takes one pupil each year, and the hope is that the pupil will become a tenant. Everything about the pupillage experience at Ten Old Square is therefore designed to prepare you for tenancy: it is a year-long learning experience in which ‘constructive feedback’ is the operative phrase. This made the pupillage experience a much less stressful period for me than it otherwise could have been. In contrast to other sets, I wasn’t competing with another pupil for a tenancy space and could instead focus on producing my best work in a less-pressured (if not pressure-free) environment.
So far as structure goes, the pupillage experience at Ten Old Square is fairly traditional. I sat in four different ‘seats’, lasting three months each. My supervisors in the first three ‘seats’ were senior juniors, each with a different area of specialism within Chambers’ broader practice areas. The tenancy decision was communicated to me in June, towards the end of my third seat. My final seat was then spent under the supervision of two slightly more junior members of Chambers so as to better prepare me for the work I might see in my early years of practice. I was also able to take on my own cases in my second six, although these were carefully chosen as the focus remained on my preparation for tenancy.
My day-to-day varied depending on the supervisor and what work was occupying them at the time. However, all of my time was spent working on live cases; I was never sent to a room to look over a dusty set of papers from a matter which had long passed! Instead, I would primarily be working on the same papers as my supervisor, which enabled me to best simulate the feeling of a busy practice. That simulated practice was quite exciting: right from my first day, I was involved in a significant disputed will case concerning one of the wealthiest families in the world. As with much of the work at Ten Old Square, the matter remains highly confidential, so there is little more I can say here. However, it is indicative of the quality of work I saw during my pupillage, which predominantly involved a great deal of contentious and non-contentious trusts work, cases involving the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection, and property law.
While Ten Old Square is a fairly specialist set, it is not all what might be deemed ‘traditional chancery’ work, and there is an opportunity to branch out. Thus, I saw a healthy dose of more commercial-chancery work during my pupillage and indeed sat with a specialist partnership law practitioner in my second seat. Partnership law is a relatively niche (but high stakes) area of practice at the Bar, which has developed rapidly following the enactment of the Limited Liability Partnerships Act 2000. Ten Old Square is one of the few sets that specialise in this area, such that the quality of work received is fantastic, and all pupils are given a firm grounding in partnership law ahead of tenancy.
There were no formal assessments during my pupillage at Ten Old Square, which are deemed somewhat artificial. Instead, there was an acknowledgement that I was being assessed on my entire body of work. While this might seem intimidating, it is also an honest and realistic appraisal which allowed me to focus on showing positive development, rather than fixating on any set-piece moment. As was pointed out to me, Chambers wants its pupil to become a tenant: any issues or areas to improve would be drawn to my attention well before any tenancy decision was made. Indeed, my supervisors were brilliant in this regard: no matter how busy they were, there was a continual process of feedback and engagement. This was all the more noticeable given that I was one of the unlucky few who had to endure a ‘lockdown pupillage’ due to covid-19. While this involved much working from home, I was never left to twiddle my thumbs: my supervisors kept in constant contact with me and continued to loop me in on all their phone and zoom calls.
The transition from pupil to tenant
Straightforward. Pupillage at Ten Old Square is designed to help you hit the ground running from day one, and I certainly felt prepared for my early days as a junior tenant.
I was aided in this regard by the in-house advocacy exercises Chambers conducts. I took part in four exercises during my pupillage, each based on a real case to mimic the type of work I might see at the start of tenancy. During my second six, I was also instructed in a few cases in my own right. This provided an excellent opportunity to get rid of any ‘first case jitters’ prior to my tenancy commencing, with the assistance of my pupil supervisor readily available.
That is not to say that no help is available once tenancy commences, however. Under Chambers’ mentorship scheme, each new tenant is assigned a senior member of Chambers to offer guidance and advise on their career development. Chambers also has a strong “open door” policy, and junior tenants are continually reminded that the opportunity to ask questions does not end with pupillage!
What is your practice like now?
I’m barely a year into tenancy, so my practice remains a snapshot of Chambers’ general expertise. Most of my instructions therefore concern trusts, estates, wills and probate matters, with a healthy dose of property, tax, and partnership work thrown in. The majority of that work (around 75%) is unled, which I think is a great balance: it enables me to cut my teeth building my practice while still being involved in huge cases that would otherwise be above my pay grade.
Court work has been more frequent than expected: I am in court about once per week. Most of that work is the typical baby-junior fare: e.g., possession and insolvency applications. However, I have also acted in a number of more substantive affairs, including several trials and interim applications. Considering I am in the first year of practice, I have also been fortunate to appear as sole counsel in both the Court of Appeal on a trusts matter and in a High Court trial of a 1975 Act claim, both reported in the media.
While busy, I have been happy with my work-life balance. I can typically get everything done working from 9 am to 6.30 pm without needing to work on my weekends. However, there have obviously had to be some late nights here and there.
What is the culture of chambers?
The friendly (and downright fun) atmosphere is one of the factors that drew me to Ten Old Square. Despite the traditional chancery heritage, it is not ‘stuffy’ at all, and one of the benefits of being a smaller set is the strong sense of collegiality. In addition to junior events and drinks, the clerks organise a daily quiz, and there is also the (more formal) weekly tea.
So far as facilities are concerned, Chambers is based right in the centre of Lincoln’s Inn. The building itself is either charming or a little dated, depending on your perspective (I prefer the former), but there is no doubt the Inn is a beautiful setting from which to conduct your practice.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
To start with the more obvious, a serious candidate will want to make sure they have strong academics, have some advocacy experience, and can demonstrate a genuine interest in Chambers’ field of practice.
Once those essential ingredients are combined, my top tip would be to draft and then redraft your application form until it is perfect. Chambers receives applications from a lot of outstanding candidates, and it is important to stand out from the crowd. I was sick of the sight of mine once finished, but the hard work pays off: I was interviewed by 17 of the 19 Chambers I applied to, and the more interviews you have, the more likely you are to get pupillage.
Specific to Ten Old Square, I would advise any candidate who reaches the final round to take a similar approach to their written opinion (and then be prepared to defend it at interview!). A significant degree of weight is given to that piece of work, which is seen as one of the best indications of a candidate’s suitability for practice.