When it comes to chancery — both traditional and commercial — XXIV Old Buildings is one of the best in the business. Renowned for their offshore work, with around half of the set’s revenue coming from other jurisdictions, the set has offices in both London and Geneva. Several tenants at the set are called to the bar of the Eastern Caribbean or the Jersey bar as well as the bar of England and Wales. Operating in areas ranging from aviation to art and cultural property, it is no wonder that one junior tells us that their work is “incredibly stimulating” with “no two cases being the same”.
As for traditional chancery work, tenants can find themselves working on anything from family disputes over wills to real estate litigation. The work often involves “complex and interesting points of law to grapple with”. One tenant tells us that “a particular joy for me has been the regular opportunity, as a member of chambers, to advise and advocate for clients on cases that push developing social and economic norms to new boundaries”.
When it comes to the commercial chancery side of things, tenants can often be found working on high-value offshore cases, as well as complex cases involving issues of professional negligence, fraud, asset tracing, insolvency, and restructuring — to name just a few. One junior tells us that their work “grapples with factual issues at the forefront of the offshore and commercial world”. Barristers at the set regularly appear in offshore courts and tribunals in locations such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and Hong Kong.
The domestic work should not, however, be overlooked either. As one tenant explains: “I think that our excellent offshore reputation sometimes can overshadow the brilliant work that members do in the Business and Property Courts in London. In recent years we have had members in many of the biggest and juiciest commercial trials and trust disputes.”
The “sheer variety of cases” at XXIV Old Buildings is one of the most important features for many tenants. “I have seen a fantastic range of really interesting (and sometimes even genuinely exciting) disputes since I have been at XXIV OId Buildings,” one insider tells us. “You see a great range of clients from some of the biggest blue-chip, listed companies and financial institutions for whom litigation is almost a feature of their business through to individuals in ‘all or nothing’ litigation that means the world to them personally — and that variety is really stimulating”. Another tenant, who has a broad commercial chancery practice, describes a day-in-the-life to us: “I can be dealing with a tricky company insolvency point in the morning and a disputed will in the afternoon (with a call about malfunctioning airline parts at lunch)! This keeps everything really fresh and means I am never bored.”
Recent cases worked on by tenants at the set include Francis Tregear KC acting as an expert in English law for the successful party in a dispute between a mortgagor and a mortgagee in the Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York; Erin Hitchens representing the successful defendant in a trial of dispute over share ownership; and Edward Cumming KC and Emma Hughes securing victory for Qatar Airways in a dispute worth more than US$20 million between the airline and an airline seat manufacturer.
Despite so much exciting working going on, tenants at XXIV Old Buildings are generally very pleased with their work-life balance. “I feel I have complete flexibility to take on the amount of work that I want to, and to carve out time for having a life outside chambers,” one junior says. “I rarely work at the weekend, except during exceptionally busy periods, because of my ability to plan my time effectively in chambers.” We hear that colleagues and clerks are incredibly supportive and ensure that people are maintaining a healthy balance. “I take time off for child-care, and just today my head clerk rang me to check some new work would not cut across my time with my daughter,” another member tells us.
As well as being supportive when it comes to work-life balance, the tenants at XXIV Old Buildings also support each other with any work questions. Apparently, the set is “genuinely collegiate”, with people always on hand to “provide a sympathetic ear or a helpful sounding board”. One junior offers this insight: “We have an open door policy in chambers and I feel very comfortable with asking more senior members of chambers for help. Pupil supervisors continue to be a great port of call long after pupillage has ended.”
Given the barrister are a “friendly bunch”, it is unsurprising that they also enjoy socialising together. One member, who is on the social committee, tells us: “I can say with confidence that XXIV Old Buildings places a real emphasis on the social aspect of being a member of chambers. Not only do more junior members often go for trips to the pub after work, but chambers has a full calendar of drinks and dinners throughout the year.” Events such as the Christmas party are particular highlights.
The social life of the set is aided by its location in Lincoln’s Inn. Members regularly pop across to Lincoln’s Inn Hall for lunch together or head to the local pubs after work. The set is housed in a “beautiful set of buildings” in a “beautiful corner of Lincoln’s Inn”. The “ancient” buildings shouldn’t, however, make you think that the set is old-fashioned. We are told that inside there is a “modern working exterior”, with facilities including numerous conference rooms — which we hear are often used to host table tennis tournaments! — and showers. The set has also invested heavily in its IT offering, which facilitates working from home, or indeed from anywhere around the world! Twenty-four-hour support is also on hand for those who need it.
For those interested in applying for pupillage at XXIV Old Buildings, they should make their application through the set’s own application process, which consists of a simple form and online aptitude test. Those candidates scoring highest on both the form and test will be asked to provide a CV and covering letter and be invited to attend a 20-minute interview in front of two members of the pupillage committee. The 12 highest-scoring candidates will then be invited back for an assessment day consisting of an oral advocacy exercise, a group negotiation exercise, and a written exercise. Three lucky candidates will be offered pupillage, with an impressive award of £85,000.
Pupillage at the set is structured over four separate three-month periods, with a different supervisor for each period. Pupils can expect to assist their supervisor with researching and drafting written advice, drafting pleadings, and writing skeleton arguments. Due to the very technical nature of the work, opportunities for pupils to obtain their own cases can be limited at first. Instead, the set focuses on gradual development, training, and learning, however pupils can expect to take on some of their own cases in the County Court in the latter months. One former pupil says “the training I received during my pupillage was of the highest quality. I was regularly given feedback on the work that I had produced, the subject matter of which spanned the entire breadth of work that one might see in chancery practice”.
As well as offering mini-pupillages, XXIV Old Buildings also participates in COMBAR’s mentoring scheme for under-represented groups at the bar. The set also works with other chancery sets to run a pupillage seminar focused on diversity at the Commercial Chancery Bar, which aims to “challenge any preconceptions about barristers or our areas of work and to inspire students from all backgrounds and sections of society to consider a future at the bar”.