Wilberforce Chambers is a seriously commercial set, known in particular for its Chancery work: “if it’s complicated Chancery, it comes to Wilberforce”, one tenant boasts. Other practice areas include arbitration, insolvency, property, pensions, professional liability, tax and trusts: nothing for the faint-hearted. Around half the tenants here are QCs — three Wilberforcians took silk last year alone.
Such is the prestigious rep enjoyed by wig-wearers here that, if the other side has a Wilberforce QC, the best defence is often… another Wilberforce QC. Recent Court of Appeal showdowns, over British Airways’ pension fund and posh property in the London docklands, have seen both sides roll out a silk from New Square (where the set is based). Other building-based disputes tackled by the chambers include “ultra-prime” property in Belgravia and penthouses overlooked Regent’s Park.
Wilberforce barristers might be in the ultra-prime market themselves eventually, and even as a pupil the money is envy-inducing. The pupillage award is set at £65,000, of which £20,000 can be drawn down in advance to cover the BPTC.
On the insolvency side, another tenant recently helped bankrupt the colourful solicitor-turned-porn star Paul Baxendale-Walker. Out in the Cayman Islands, meanwhile, colleagues were successfully defending “one of the largest fraud claims ever litigated” in a year-long trial. Work often takes tenants far from London, in fact, from Russian oil arbitrations in Stockholm to family trust disputes in Hong Kong.
Pupils here will be a force to be reckoned with by the end of their second six, with Wilberforce barristers hailing a “great mix of commercial and Chancery, led and unled work”. It may be incredibly difficult to make the grade in the first place, but once in you should be well looked after: “real care was put into how my pupillage was run”, another junior tells us. The chambers promises “at least two different pupil supervisors” during the first six, which seems to be borne out in practice: “Pupillage places you with a range of supervisors, so you will see a range of practice areas and working styles”, we’re told.
The 70 or so tenants here delight in one another’s company: “I have pupil supervisors who are not only brilliant teachers, but brilliant people” gushes one baby barrister. “There’s no in-fighting – everyone’s too busy for that – and the juniors help each other, discuss legal issues, go for lunch and drinks etc”. Both pupils recruited each year will be retained if they’re up to it: they’re not supposed to be in competition. As a result, “you can focus on improving and impressing your supervisor. Second six is non-practising for the same reason”.
Oh, come on, it can’t all be happy families? “Put it this way: I’m the godfather to my next door neighbour in chambers’ son”, responds another tenant quizzed by Legal Cheek. “We have lunch as a chambers every fortnight”. On top of that, “there’s always someone willing to head to the Seven Stars”, the 17th century pub around the corner from chambers.