Twenty Essex

The Legal Cheek View

Heavyweight commercial set Twenty Essex is made up of 94 barristers, including an impressive 34 KCs. Headed up by Philip Edey KC and Charles Kimmins KC, the set is best known in the commercial world for its shipping and international trade work but has further expertise in commercial dispute resolution, energy, restructuring/insolvency, insurance, banking, and civil fraud. It also enjoys a strong reputation in rapidly growing areas such as crypto and cyber. For those set on a practice in commercial law, Twenty Essex should be high up on the list. The set is also one of the best in the country when it comes to public international law. Twenty Essex’s international expertise means that it has a global reputation – indeed, the set has a base in Singapore and members working across the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the offshore jurisdictions. It also has a large focus on international arbitration, with around two-thirds of its work being arbitration rather than litigation.

This reputation as a leading global set is certainly well deserved when you consider the calibre of work that even the juniors get involved with. “Members of chambers work at the cutting edge of global, agenda-setting issues”, says one, “from climate change to cryptocurrency, the work is always fascinating. Junior members get hands-on experience in these areas and the opportunity to work alongside leaders in their field. One day I might be working for Government clients on issues high up the news agenda, and the next I might be in a high-value international commodities arbitration.” Fascinating stuff! Another rookie notes that this work “is always stimulating – whether factually or legally and most of the times both”, with a fellow junior agreeing that “the work is excellent quality” and is “really enjoyable”.

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It’s not just the quality of work that recruits rave about though, they’re pretty impressed with the selection too. “The main point is variety” says one, “you have the opportunity to work within a good number of areas across the commercial field.” This is something especially true during pupillage, where juniors report of a “good mix during pupillage of various types of work, including big/small counsel team size, live/dead, area of work etc.”

Whatever it is that the set is getting up to, there’s always a law report or newspaper on the scene, with tenants leading some of the most significant and high-profile legal developments in their fields. For example, the ground-breaking Haliburton v Chubb Supreme Court case, one of the most important judgments concerning international arbitration in recent years, lays out the process for assessing whether there is a real possibility of arbitrator bias and what disclosures an arbitrator must make, particularly in relation to the trade credit and political risk market. Members also acted on both sides of the €1billion “The Prestige” shipping dispute arising from one of the largest oil spills of this century and involving the Spanish and French states.

It doesn’t end there, however. Philip Edey KC and Susannah Jones appeared in the FCA test case concerning whether thousands of businesses could recover under their business interruption policies for losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The case was dubbed “the insurance case of the century”. Another exciting case involved providing an amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court in a matter “concerning claims for US$250 million in compensation for the alleged coerced sale of a master trove of medieval art treasures known as the ‘Welfenschatz’ during the Nazi-reign of Germany”. Tenants’ public international law work can also bring high-profile cases, such as a case concerning Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Princess Haya’s children, in which Twenty Essex barristers were brought in on the state immunity issues.

Continuing with this impressive roster, cases worked on by tenants have included Sam Goodman acting for the successful defendants in a £1 billion fraud claim following the collapse of the owner of one of the largest private healthcare chains in the Middle East; Andrew Feld acting in a Commercial Court case which found an NFT auction to be outside the reach of English consumer protection legislation; and Philippa Webb acting in a High Court case which ruled that a foreign state can be sued for alleged use of spyware — the first case to find an exception to sovereign immunity for allegations related to spyware. This is without even mentioning the sets appearances in the ICJ and ECHR in Ukraine v Russia.

Whilst many of the biggest cases will naturally be led by KCs or senior juniors, there are possibilities for more junior members to get involved. One junior tells us they “are given a lot of autonomy to take on substantial sole counsel cases and to get stuck into substantial elements of led work”. Whatever the work or case then, it’s safe to say that the Twenty Essex bunch are leading their field and breaking new ground.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges at the bar is maintaining a good work-life balance. There are, naturally, “urgent cases and hearing demands”, however, we are told that “chambers is highly supportive, with members being open about the need to take time out. There is no ‘work all hours’ mindset, whether from barristers or clerks”. “Both the clerks and the members are attuned to the need to have a healthy balance” remarks another, with further juniors noting the “really good emphasis on work life balance” and the “respectful clerks”.

We’ve also heard jolly juniors proudly state the pupil working hour policy, which we’re told is a “strictly enforced” no working past 6pm. “As a pupil” one new tenant notes “your supervisor will make sure you do not have to do work outside ordinary working hours.” Others note how this policy is “such a relief”, allowing recruits “to get downtime, rather than being worked night and day (as can be the case at equivalent sets).” Poignantly, a further rookie states that “if there is one take-away from my survey response, please use this – friends at comparable sets worked far longer hours under much greater pressure. Cannot speak highly enough of chambers for this!” We’re not sure whether idyllic or utopic is a better word, either way, impressive stuff.

In another boost for rookies and recruits, juniors are adamant that “virtually everyone – and particularly the supervisors – wants you to learn and succeed. The message from day one is ‘we think you’re good enough, and this year is about us trying to make sure we get you to where you need to be’. This manifests itself in all sorts of ways – from incredibly detailed feedback on bits of work, all the way to lots of mentors providing quasi-pastoral support. This isn’t just a lone optimist, however, others nothing how “as a pupil, you get a real sense that members of chambers want you to succeed”, and that “juniors and silks alike genuinely keen to help you develop.”

“Chambers is extremely collegial”, says one member, with another adding: “I really value the support from my fellow barristers — not just my contemporaries but also those much more senior and junior than me”. The set has an open-door policy with members positively encouraging others to drop by for guidance and support or to pick up the phone to those not in chambers. One member adds that the set continues to strive to do more socially to maintain good cohesion among colleagues. It seems to be working, as one junior describes the set as being very “friendly”, others noting how “everyone at Twenty Essex is genuinely lovely”.

As more people are now coming back into chambers after a brief virus-related hiatus, a busy social calendar, with events such as Thursday night drinks, is picking up again. One insider raved that there are “both official events and many impromptu trips to the pub or lunches that are organised by individual members to which everyone is invited”, in addition to the weekly cake and tea sessions and Friday afternoon fish and chips stints in Middle Temple.

Importantly, as great as these activities sound, there is no “expectation that pupils *need* to be there if they’d rather not be”. The socialising and friendliness at the chambers is therefore built around “people genuinely getting along with each other”, rather than, as one rookie put it “enforced socialising”. Sounds like an idyllic utopia? We think so too.

Based on the edge of the Temple area of London, just across from the Royal Courts of Justice, Twenty Essex has a “beautiful frontage” to its listed Georgian facade, with the building’s newly opened section being described as “very impressive indeed”. On the agenda are a swanky kitchen and roof terrace, as well as a host of “exciting new social spaces”. As for tech support, we’re told that there is a “fantastic IT team” who get back to those in need “incredibly quickly”, with one member saying they have solved every problem they have encountered. Others note how they have “no complaints” and that the sets provision of a laptop and phone for pupils is “fab” and sets the chambers apart from their competitors.

Twenty Essex takes on up to four pupils a year, offering an award of £75,000 to each. The selected pupils will sit with four supervisors over the course of their pupillage, being given a detailed appraisal at the end of each three-month period. They will typically begin taking on their own cases whilst sitting with their fourth supervisor. We hear that “chambers has developed a more structured and professionalised pupillage programme in recent years”. One former pupil at the set tells us that they feel “privileged to have been trained by some of the best barristers I’ve ever come across”. As well, “chambers has recently launched a new, improved, regular programme to assist junior tenants with a host of practical matters, from business development to working with solicitors” meaning training continues beyond pupillage.

The pupil experience is variously described as “first-class”, “second-to-none across the commercial sets”, and “taken very seriously”, with “supervisors who are extremely supportive and lots of juniors who are genuinely approachable for advice”.

Whilst pupillage is always a steep learning curve, Twenty Essex recognises this and has several initiatives in place to support pupils. This includes not expecting pupils to work late in the week, take work home or work at weekends, and providing a buddy system. One pupil says their supervisors have “always been really careful to make sure (for example) I’m not online and replying to emails in the evening”. Summarised poignantly by one happy recruit, “the training could not have been better”.

Those looking to apply to Twenty Essex should apply through the Pupillage Gateway. Candidates must have completed or been offered a mini-pupillage in order to be considered for pupillage, and their performance during this mini will also be taken into consideration. Candidates for a mini-pupillage are to apply by an online form, before a shortlist are invited to attend a short 15-minute interview testing applicants’ logical thinking skills, although not legal knowledge.

At the pupillage stage, shortlisted candidates, around 20-25, will be invited to complete a written exercise, which again is not a test of legal knowledge. They will then be invited to an interview where they will discuss the written exercise as well as other general questions. The interview lasts around 30 minutes and takes place in front of a panel of tenants.

Twenty Essex looks for those with “exceptional ability” with interest in its fields of work, whilst looking for skills beyond intelligence including “interpersonal and communication skills”. The set is keen to increase equality, diversity and inclusion at the bar, and so participates in a number of initiatives including Bridging the Bar, the Women in Law Pledge, and the COMBAR Mentoring Scheme. Twenty Essex were also the very first chambers to use the Rare Recruitment system, which is “intended to allow a recruiter to put a candidate’s achievements into the context of the candidate’s circumstances”.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Fiona Petersen

Your journey to pupillage

I studied law at Cambridge and the Bar Professional Training Course (“BPTC”) at BPP University. Then, I worked in the Public Law team at the Law Commission of England and Wales, focussing on the automated vehicles project.

I did a handful of mini-pupillages at a range of sets, including Twenty Essex. I took part in several moots while at university and took part in Lincoln’s Inn’s debating society while doing the BPTC. I also worked on an employment matter at the Free Representation Unit.

The pupillage experience

During pupillage, I felt everyone was supportive and I benefited from lots of helpful advice and feedback. I learned a lot as a pupil, both about substantive areas of law and also about how to write various documents, like particulars and skeletons.

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The transition from pupil to tenant

At the start of tenancy, there is the challenge of advising on your own and appearing in court for the first time, as well as all the practicalities of setting up practice. I felt I had fantastic support from members of chambers and employees with this transition.

What is your practice like now?

My practice is varied. Over the last week, I have been advising on a commodities issue as well as attending the London Conference for International Law, which had a strong turn out from Twenty Essex. Prior to that, I was a junior on a two-week international arbitration. Earlier this year, I was on a six-month secondment to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

What is the culture of chambers?

Twenty Essex is friendly and supportive. We regularly have Chambers drinks and cake which is a good way for pupils to get to know members of chambers. There is also the opportunity to take part in Chambers weekly yoga. During the week, members of chambers often have lunch together in one of the Inns. It is great to work in a place full of so many excellent legal minds, across a range of fields, including commercial law and public international law.

Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers

Try to get experience with advocacy e.g. mooting, debating. This is useful for interviews, pupillage advocacy exercises and practice!

Check out our top tips on securing pupillage here:

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Work/life balance
Social life
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2023-24 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 60
KCs 34
Pupillages 4
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 4/5

*Figure is for the five most junior members of chambers; does not include postgraduate studies.


Pupillage award £75,000
Bar course drawdown £25,000


Female juniors 28%
Female KCs 9%
BME juniors undisclosed
BME KCs undisclosed

The Chambers In Its Own Words