3 Verulam Buildings - True Picture

There's second-six advocacy on offer at this commercial set with a banking pedigree.

Busting out

Remember the financial crisis of 2008? Was it the latest bust in a never-ending cycle of boom and bust? The beginning of the end of capitalism as we know it? A chance to rein in the financial fat cats once and for all? Ring any bells? Well, for 3VB a commercial set whose reputation stems from banking litigation the financial crash's repercussions are still providing interesting casework.

Consider RBS: just before being bailed out by UK taxpayers, it issued shares worth £12 billion to its existing shareholders. The investors who snapped up those shares lost oodles of cash when the crunch hit, so a number of 3VB's barristers have been aiding them with their claim that the bank misrepresented the state of its finances. The case never reached trial (the investors achieved a handsome out-of-court settlement), but it serves as an excellent indicator of 3VB's credentials. Members have also worked on cases related to Euribor manipulation, and on either side (both for the claimants and defendants) of many multimillion-pound financial mis-selling claims.

“We did make our reputation in banking, but we are now a recognised commercial set."

“We did make our reputation in banking, but we are now a recognised commercial set,” says senior practice manager Stephen Penson. “We cover insurance, professional negligence, financial services regulation, fraud, insolvency, IT, media and entertainment, energy and international arbitration – and there's lots of overlap between those areas.”

Scan the Chambers UK rankings and you'll notice many areas where the set excels. Civil fraud gains a higher ranking than banking, and the team was recently instructed to defend French bank Société Générale against a $1.5 billion claim for damages by the Libyan Investment Authority concerning trades which it said were fraudulently secured. Commercial dispute resolution, financial services and IT also earn Chambers UK rankings on par with the banking and finance practice.

Stephen Penson further identifies international arbitration as one of the four largest areas of work (alongside banking, commercial and fraud). “We've always historically dealt with arbitration work, but because of the way the practice of certain individuals has developed and a number of lateral hires, international arbitration has been a huge growth area for us. We deal with arbitrations related to banking, but also sectors like energy.” That's been fuelled by work from Singapore and East Asia, as well as the Middle East.

A shadow of your future self

Pupils typically sit with four supervisors for three months each, and each supervisor usually practises in a number of areas. An effort is made to accommodate pupils' interests in any particular practice areas. Before supervisors are even assigned, “the pupillage secretary asks what sort of work you want to see.” Among the more atypical work encountered, one source had “attended a mediation in a construction dispute,” while another was surprised to discovered their supervisor “did a bit of professional negligence.”

Pupils also have a mysterious-sounding 'shadow supervisor', “who is more junior and aims to involve you in work more similar to what you might be doing at the start of tenancy.” Sources also told us that “if there are any interesting cases going on or you're just a bit quiet,” you may get involved in other members' cases too.

Pupils contribute to live cases through “checking certain legal points and looking into particular questions,” as well as undertaking first drafts of opinions and pleadings. “Supervisors are militant about ensuring you have a go at those," one source told us. "When they get a set of papers you read them in parallel and do a first draft. Your supervisor might then improve the draft from there, so you'll see traces of your work in the final piece.” One interviewee did tell us: “My supervisor also worked on a Supreme Court case, and I still prepared the written argument for that, though obviously my contribution was never going to be the final document.” In addition, pupils find themselves “going to conferences and court even if you're not involved in the case." Interviewees noted that "in both your three and six-month reviews you can express an interest in seeing any types of cases you may not have already.”

Unusually for pupils at a commercial set, second-sixers at 3VB get on their feet to argue their own cases in court. They're “only small hearings,” but for our sources this was one of the primary reasons they'd applied to the set. “My first time in court was terrifying but after it's over there's a massive satisfaction that you did it well," recalled one interviewee. Pupillage committee chairCatherine Gibaud is unequivocal: “We pride ourselves on giving live advocacy experience to pupils. There is nothing like having your own cases to help you mature and take responsibility." The experience serves rookies well, as baby juniors “are in court most weeks.”

To assess pupils' advocacy credentials, there are between two and four advocacy exercises during pupillage for example, a mock injunction application or County Court hearing – the first of which isn't assessed. We're told that “they deliberately try to make it less straightforward – they mix it up so you know how to deal with that.” Pupils receive feedback and a report is written about their performance. It's this, in combination with pupils' written work, that informs the tenancy decision. “There is no formal period where pupils are not assessed,” says Catherine Gibaud, “but people are more understanding of pupils' mistakes in the first term.” Through quarterly reviews “the gaps in pupils' abilities are identified so that their trajectories continue upwards.” A junior tenant recalled that “you get feedback throughout pupillage, so you have some idea of what will happen when it comes to the tenancy decision.” In 2017, one of the two pupils was made a tenant.

Snake charmer

As well as being assigned supervisors and shadow supervisors, pupils get to pick a mentor, who serves as a go-to resource for questions. That said, one interviewee commented: “Whenever I had practical or strategy questions I never felt too shy to drop in on other members and get their ideas.” This tends to spread the burden, and make pupils feel part of the set. “People are generous with their time," a source said. "Discussing a problem with someone is very normal – they tend to make it their own problem!”

“You can chat to your supervisors and get to know a bit about them and their hobbies,” a source told us, while another claimed this is not a set “bound by tradition.” Members gather for regular drinks and Catherine Gibaud believes “a sense of humour” is one of the unifying traits among members. “Along with ambition, that's what you need to deal with the game of snakes and ladders that is the barristers' profession.”

"You can see who has got the bug.”

3 Verulam Buildings recruits via the Pupillage Gateway and initial applications are scanned for evidence of three things: intellect, strength in advocacy, and motivation. The emphasis on advocacy is clear, says Catherine Gibaud: “You should have done debating, mooting or drama – you can see who has got the bug.”

Around 35 individuals are invited to the first interview, which lifts things from the interviewee's CV for further inspection, but also includes an analytical task based on a recent legal decision. Around 15 to 20 people make it through to the second round where interviewees face seven members of whom only half have seen the candidate's full CV.  Interviewees are given 90 minutes to prepare a legal problem question to which they must prepare an answer to present to the panel. One source said they found the experience “quite full on and intimidating, but you just have try to engage with whoever is speaking with you.”

Pupillage committee chair Catherine Gibaud tells us: “Everyone who makes the grade makes tenancy, so pupils don't compete with each other.”

3 Verulam Buildings

3 Verulam Buildings,
Gray's Inn,
Website www.3vb.com

  • No of silks 24
  • No of juniors 47
  • No of pupils 4
  • Contact Please see the information on the pupillage pages at www.3vb.com
  • Method of application Pupillage Gateway; CV with detailed breakdown of examination results and covering letter explaining why 3VB (mini-pupillage)
  • Pupillages pa up to four of 12 months
  • Required degree grade High 2:1/First
  • Income in excess of £65,000 plus any earnings
  • Current tenants who served pupillage in chambers approx 41
  • Junior tenancies offered in last three years 7
  • No of tenants of five years call or under 10

Chambers profile

Sitting comfortably and spaciously in a newly refurbished and expanded row of buildings in Gray’s Inn, 3VB is one of the largest and most highly regarded commercial sets, with its members being involved in many of the leading cases. Recent examples include RBS Rights Issue Litigation, PJSC Tatneft vs Bogolyubov & Ors, Tchenguiz vs Grant Thornton, Yukos vs The Russian Federation, Visa/Mastercard Litigation.

Type of work undertaken

3VB’s 24 silks and 47 juniors lead the field in banking and financial services, and are also among the top practitioners in the fields of professional negligence, civil fraud, insurance, arbitration and company and insolvency. Chambers also has significant expertise in IT and telecommunications, energy, construction, and media and entertainment.

Pupil profile

Commercial practice is intellectually demanding and 3VB seeks the brightest and the best. The typical successful applicant will have a first or upper second class degree (not necessarily in law) from a good university, with good mooting experience and proven experience of the commercial bar (generally through mini-pupillages with us or elsewhere). Many have a Master’s degree or other legal or commercial experience.


Chambers seeks to recruit up to four 12-month pupils each year through the Pupillage Gateway. Chambers is committed to recruiting new tenants from its pupils whenever it can. Tenancy is offered to all pupils who make the grade.


Two-day mini-pupillages are an essential part of chambers’ selection procedure and it is strongly encouraged that prospective applicants for pupillage apply for a mini-pupillage (email [email protected], attaching a detailed CV and covering letter).


For the year 2017/2018, the annual award will be £65,000, up to £20,000 of which may be drawn during the year prior to pupilage.