Whether you're bonkers for banking or crazy for commercial, you'll need to “inspire confidence in others” to get a foot in the door at this set.
“We get talked about as a 'banking set' quite a lot, but actually we're a commercial set with a banking emphasis,” practice manager Richard Ansell stresses. “We built our reputation on banking work but as we started taking on larger cases the work naturally began crossing over into other areas.” Fraud and commercial dispute resolution sit firmly alongside banking in the top tier of the Chambers UK rankings, while 3VB's financial services, information technology, professional negligence, insurance, international arbitration, and media and entertainment practices are also highly regarded.
All the same we'd be remiss not to point out that banking is still “the biggest slice of the pie” according to Ansell. The set is “currently dealing with a lot of regulatory and mis-selling claims,” with barristers acting for both claimants and defendants: one member recently represented claimants in a $4.5 billion class action securities dispute against RBS while another defended boutique investment bank Teathers against a £20 million mis-selling claim.
Unusually for a commercial set, 3VB offers pupils a stab at live advocacy in the second six.
Commercial disputes, offshore work and arbitration make up the three next biggest portions of the set's work. Commercial instructions include many with some banking or finance element to them, but members also take on matters concerning anything from fraud to professional negligence to representing Tamara Ecclestone in a dispute with her ex over the ownership of a rare Lamborghini supercar. 3VB's seen an uptick in arbitration work in recent years with members acting on a number of investment treaty arbitrations and recently representing the Marfin Investment Group in a dispute with the Cypriot government after the second largest bank in Cyprus collapsed costing MIG €824 million.
The art of pupillage
Pupils sit with four supervisors for three months each but they also have access to shadow supervisors – between five and ten years' call – who provide the kind of work rookies are more likely to see as junior tenants. We're told that “chambers will try to accommodate you if you'd like to experience more work in a certain area," but all the same, "supervisors usually have diverse practices so over the year you'll see a huge range of matters,” including banking, insurance, civil fraud, professional negligence, commercial contract disputes, arbitration, and even more unusual fields like art law. “I assisted on a case concerning allegations that Sotheby's had failed to spot that a certain painting was a Caravaggio,” one source proffered. Variety continues to be encouraged into tenancy although baby juniors reported seeing an abundance of low-value retail banking cases.
Pupils are handed old cases for the first month to “test your ability to draft, analyse and articulate your thoughts.” But they quickly progress to current cases as “people are far too busy not to need your help” on things like penning first drafts of pleadings. Pupils also tag along with supervisors to court hearings –“about twice a month in my first six,” one source recalled – and one interviewee reported attending an investment and commercial treaty arbitration.
"It's brilliant training because you learn to precisely articulate your thoughts."
In the second six pupils undertake their own instructions. “While the main focus is on our written advocacy and analytical skills, when suitable cases arise we do end up on our feet,” one told us. Most advocacy before tenancy comes in the form of four role-play training sessions featuring injunction applications or setting aside a default judgment. The first session is “expressly non-assessed and the most difficult; it's brilliant training because you learn to precisely articulate your thoughts. It also emphasises the importance of understanding procedure: you can't tell a real judge you don't know whether something is admissible!”
The pupil's performance in these advocacy exercises is factored into the tenancy decision, along with the pupil's performance in written work, in particular for their supervisor. The pupillage committee then issues a recommendation to the whole of chambers; there's no quota dictating how many pupils are kept on and in 2016 all three pupils were offered and took up tenancy. Quarterly reviews keep pupils abreast of their progress and although work is assessed from the start, one member assures us that “no-one's expecting pupils to be perfect by Christmas.”
It's a no-knock life for us
3VB has traditionally recruited through the Pupillage Gateway, but we hear this is currently under review so check the set's website for the latest on what's happening in 2016/17. Before sending off your application it's important to note that completing a mini-pupillage at the set beforehand is effectively compulsory. Chambers may sometimes try to squeeze one in before the second interview, but all our sources advised that aspiring 3VB pupils should undertake a mini before applying.
The set receives around 125 applications each year and whittles this down to a longlist of around 30 by looking for evidence of intellectual ability and a strong trajectory rather than just “someone who always performs well but just coasts,” one source told us. Given the importance of written advocacy at this set, making sure your application is engaging and well-written is very important. Evidence of good oral advocacy ability does matter too, says pupillage committee member Christopher Bond –“that could be anything from participating in a university debating society to teaching.”
“people fall short when they blindly plough on without considering what precisely is being asked.”
At the first-round interview candidates face a silk and two juniors who quiz them about their CV and ask a set of questions about a reported legal decision which candidates are given in advance. The purpose is to test both legal analysis and presentation skills, and engaging with the panel's questions is key as “people fall short when they blindly plough on without considering what precisely is being asked.” Expect your answers to be challenged; immediately backing down when that happens won't win you any points.
Twelve hopefuls progress to a final interview with a panel of six members, half of whom haven't seen the candidates' CVs. Applicants are given two hours to consider a legal problem question before presenting their answer. Bond tells us: “This is the interview where you want the panel to be able to visualise you as a real barrister.” But while you're trying to act in as barrister-like a manner as possible don't forget that the panel is also evaluating your personality and considering whether you'll fit into the working environment at 3VB – in other words: don't be nasty or aggressive.
Newly appointed junior members are given their own room with a view of Gray's Inn gardens. To help the transition from pupil to tenant they're also allocated a mentor.
3 Verulam Buildings
3 Verulam Buildings,
- No of silks 23
- No of juniors 45
- No of pupils 3
- 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 three 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
Type of work undertaken