Distinct in its seat-based training model, mega-set 39 Essex Chambers offers a varied pupillage programme.
Vive la différence!
You don't become London's biggest barristers' chambers without a steady recruitment programme. Every year highly ranked all-rounder 39 Essex Chambers welcomes up to four pupils to join its 127-strong membership, whose expertise straddles the set's four core practice areas: civil liability; environmental and planning; commercial, regulatory and construction (CRC); and public law.
“I hadn't done an RTA Stage 3, so I went to the clerking team to see if they had anything I could jump in on. Three days later the briefs were on my desk.”
It's not been a quiet few years for 39 Essex. After a period of busy lateral hiring forced it to move to more spacious surroundings in 2015 (25 barristers joined from 4–5 Gray's Inn Square in 2012), the glitzy new Chancery Lane HQ is now up and running. A name change capped off the process (the set used to be called Thirty Nine Essex Street), and further strategic growth remains on the agenda. “CRC has been a real growth area in recent years,” says senior clerk Michael Kaplan. “Hodge Malek QC was one of the silks who joined us from 4–5 Gray’s Inn and he has brought in a lot of Financial Conduct Authority work.” With arbitrations and mediations the order of the day, the construction team also benefits from two staffed outposts in Singapore and Malaysia, both hubs for alternative dispute resolution.
“The environmental and planning team made a real name for itself with environmental work,” Kaplan notes (the set is top-ranked in this area by Chambers UK), “but it's planning that's extremely busy at the moment, particularly in the residential sphere.” With London's demand for housing at an all-time high, “we're seeing a lot of development consent order cases come through the door, and are keen and able to take on more.” Barristers do a significant amount of advisory work: Matthew Horton QC recently advised the London Borough of Enfield on a £3.5 billion regeneration project.
“We look for people with interests outside their studies."
Civil liability experts cover clinical negligence, personal injury and other insurance-related cases. The most high-value claims often stretch into the hundreds of millions; take the recently settled £170 million claim lodged by Accolade Wines, which argued that faults in the design of its bottling plant and warehouse rendered it unusable, leading to property damage and business interruption losses. By merging its expertise in public, commercial, construction and EU law, “39 Essex is hoping to take on more public sector procurement work over the coming years.” Members already engage in various procurement and PPP/PFI cases and were also recently active on a case over procurement issues related to the government’s tender process for criminal legal aid contracts.
On the subject of public law, it's worth noting that star human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti recently joined 39 Essex Chambers as a door tenant. “She's a huge boost to our public law offering,” says Kaplan. Chakrabarti joins a whole constellation of legal stars: in 2016 Chambers UK ranked this set for 19 practice areas and its members picked up a whopping 171 individual rankings between them. With big names, big clients, big variety and big just about everything else, a pupillage at 39 Essex is perfect if you're looking to maintain broad interests at the start of your career.
“She's a huge boost to our public law offering.”
Pupillage Gateway applications are anonymously sifted, and 50 or 60 are invited for a first-round interview. Between ten and 20 make it beyond the first panel to a second and final interview. 39 Essex also offers mini-pupillages and although completing one is not an imperative to secure an interview, your performance is taken into account when you apply.
Interviews are held by three-person panels, usually two silks and a junior. Educational attainment is important, but there are other considerations too, says pupillage committee member Judith Ayling: “We look for people with interests outside their studies," and candidates should expect to demonstrate at interview that they can "deal with the pressures of work by maintaining an outside life.” Pupils are asked to do a presentation on a topic of their own interest; recent subjects range from scuba diving to cupcakes. “The subject matter doesn't really matter," a pupil told us.
An interest in your work/life balance is one that extends into pupillage. “Chambers imposes a strict nine-to-six rule," a pupil shared. "Supervisors set sensible work schedules and expect you to get your work done in the allotted time.”
Pupils spend a seat in each of the four core areas, and are assigned two supervisors per seat (three in CRC). “You're welcome to branch out and work for other members whose practices interest you,” we were told, “but supervisors keep an eye on your workload to make sure it's well balanced and manageable.” When it comes to performance, Ayling tells us that “pupils are expected to progress as the year goes on, so we try to ease them in during the first seat. There's an acceptance that mistakes will be made.” Document sifting, research and writing legal notes are all common pursuits for first-sixers, but by the time they're in their second six, pupils will be managing their own caseload of between ten and 20 matters in total.
"I went to the clerking team to see if they had anything I could jump in on."
Rookies' court appearances are strictly limited to not more than twice a week. "It's a blessing," a baby junior told us. "You’ll want to do as much as you can, but this way you have enough time to learn from your supervisor and prove yourself to them.” Second-sixers' cases are typically low-value, and range from road traffic accidents and contractual disputes to negligence cases and County Court and small claims court work. There's a degree of flexibility when it comes to case selection. One baby junior recalled: “I hadn't done an RTA Stage 3, so I went to the clerking team to see if they had anything I could jump in on. Three days later the briefs were on my desk.”
Our pupil sources were delighted with the support they'd received from junior members before getting on their feet for the first time. “Just before we started the second six, two or three juniors put together a file filled with all their first cases, notes and skeletons,” a pupil told us. “They sat down with us for a couple of hours and talked us through everything, letting us know what we ought to do and what to avoid. The following day I had my first hearing, and those reference points were really helpful.”
"There's always a decent showing at the fortnightly chambers lunch."
39 Essex's members are a reasonably sociable bunch in other ways too. "There's always a decent showing at the fortnightly chambers lunch, though if you have work to get on with no one will hassle you.” Every now and then emails will go round to support staff, clerks, pupils, juniors and silks organising trips to local boozer the Edgar Wallace. “There's usually a good representative mix that turn up,” a pupil told us. “And quite often I've left without paying for a single drink, despite my efforts.”
Over the course of pupillage, every piece of work submitted is assessed and fed back on, culminating in mid and end-of-seat reviews. Oral and interpersonal skills, intellectual ability, an interest in chambers' work, and – in line with chambers' views on work/life balance – any interests successfully upheld outside the law, are all considered during reviews.
Prospective tenants are also assessed during two written exercises. These are marked by QCs, and tend to be an opinion on a live issue that’s just come into chambers. A formal advocacy assessment in June also feeds into the tenancy decision. Here, pupils complete two preparatory exercises, before using their acquired skills to present something such as an interim injunction. “A good performance on these can definitely help your case,” Ayling explains, “but supervisors' end of seat reports are the most important factor. We look at pupils' ability to progress, achieve and persevere over the year as a whole.” Two of four pupils gained tenancy in 2016.
Despite its name, 39 Essex Chambers is now based at 81 Chancery Lane. “If you set Google Maps for 39 Essex Street, you'll have a hard time finding us!” sources joked. So if you're invited for an interview or a mini: don't get lost!
39 Essex Chambers
81 Chancery Lane,
82 Kings Street,
- No of silks 43
- No of juniors 85
- No of pupils up to three
- Contact Emily Formby, Judith Ayling, Kate Grange email@example.com (020) 7832 1111
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to three
- Other offices Singapore
Types of work undertaken
Civil liability: clinical negligence; health and safety; insurance; material loss claims; personal injury; product liability; professional negligence; sports injuries; toxic torts.
Planning, environmental and property: aviation; compulsory purchase; contaminated land; environmental civil liability; environmental regulation; international environmental law; licensing; marine environment; planning; nuisance; rating.
Administrative and public law: central and local governmenjut (including education, housing, immigration, prisons and VAT); European law; human rights; judicial review; mental health and community care; parliamentary and public affairs.
Regulatory and disciplinary: medical; legal; social care and education; financial services; broadcasting, communications and media; sport; transport; health and safety; building and housing; local government standards; licensing.
Chambers is a member of Pupillage Gateway. Applicants should consult the Pupillage Gateway timetable.