XXIV Old Buildings
The Legal Cheek View
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”.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
I studied classics at Selwyn College, Cambridge, then worked as a primary school teacher through Teach First. People say that the bar is a high-pressure environment but at least a judge isn’t going to actually bite you!
I did both the GDL and the BPTC at City, University of London, the latter with the assistance of a Denning Scholarship. I didn’t do much mooting during this time – I (controversially) am not a huge fan of it and preferred to get my advocacy experience through pro-bono work. There were two organisations that I devoted most of my time to – the School Exclusion Project and Z2K. I can’t recommend either of them highly enough. In volunteering you obtain invaluable advocacy experience (of the messy kind that is much more useful than a sterile moot in my opinion) and can help people who need it at the same time.
I loved equity and contract on the GDL so applied for mini-pupillages at commercial, commercial chancery and traditional chancery sets. I did about 7 overall, including at XXIV Old Buildings.
I found the application process for pupillage at XXIV Old Buildings (whisper it) actually quite enjoyable. The focus throughout is on trying to ensure you can present as much evidence as possible of how you can satisfy the objective criteria that the set applies to try to identify candidates with the most potential. It starts off with an online aptitude test, followed by a structured interview with three members of chambers, and then finally there is an assessment day which involved an unseen written assessment, a piece of oral advocacy, and a group exercise to try to test all of the skills that you might need to use in practice.
The pupillage experience
It is the quality of the work, the quality of the barristers and the friendly and supportive atmosphere that drew me to XXIV Old Buildings.
Chambers aims to take all the pupils on as tenants every year. As such, the pupillage process is an inherently supportive one, because everyone involved wants you to succeed.
The pupillage committee makes a big effort to ensure that pupillage is, as Ed Cumming KC put it on my first day, “as humane as possible”. This means that there are no standalone assessments on which a big chunk of the tenancy decision rides, you are viewed as a whole person, and effort is made to include you in the daily life of chambers.
You sit with four different supervisors for three months each. Your supervisor will give you work that they have either done or are currently doing, and you will have a discussion with them after each piece of work as to what you did well and how you could improve.
Every six weeks your pupil supervisor provides a report to the pupillage committee and you have a meeting with Ed and Steven, the heads of the pupillage committee, to discuss it. This is a really helpful opportunity to take a slightly broader view of how you can improve. The six-weekly meetings are also used as an opportunity to tell you how you are getting along from the perspective of the tenancy decision. This stops you worrying so much if you are on track, gives you an opportunity to take corrective action if you are falling behind, and means that if things haven’t gone to plan by the time of the tenancy decision you aren’t totally blindsided.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The transition from pupil to tenant is, in my opinion, inherently terrifying. It was, however, made much easier by the willingness of more senior members of chambers to help. I was constantly popping in and out of people’s rooms!
What is your practice like now?
It varies wildly from week to week – one of the great things about life at the bar! One week I might be travelling up to Leeds to appear in court on my own, the next I might be part of a huge counsel team on a disclosure exercise, reviewing documents at home in my trackies.
I appear in court semi-regularly, 2-4 times per month, which makes for a slightly more relaxed pace of life than my friends with more court based practices have.
I generally don’t work outside regular 9-6 working hours. Sometimes the exigencies of a case make it necessary to work late or over the weekend, but this is balanced out in my opinion by the ability to take a day off in the middle of the week!
What is the culture of chambers?
The culture at chambers is very open and friendly. We have semi-regular social evenings for the entirety of chambers (and more regular trips to lunch or the pub for whoever happens to be around).
The facilities at chambers are good – I have a beautiful room with lovely high ceilings and built in bookcases, which I share with my former co-pupil Charlie. We have plenty of conference rooms and as an occasional cyclist into chambers I appreciate the presence of showers.
Something that I didn’t fully appreciate until I started practice as a tenant is how excellent the clerks at XXIV Old Buildings are, and what a difference that makes to your daily life. They are really keen to ensure that we are able to have a sensible work life balance and I have never felt pressured into taking more work than I want. I’ve heard horror stories about intense pressure to take on more work than you are comfortable with, and that just would not happen with us.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Think about the aptitudes that we are assessing against (they’re in our recruitment policy). You can have the most impressive CV in the world but if you are, for example, insufferably rude to another candidate in the group exercise then you are unlikely to do well!