Get down to business at 4 New Square, a modern, friendly chambers with a focus on all things insurance.
Since the 1990s this common law set has been honing its specialist skills in a number of areas. Professional negligence makes up about 30% of 4 New Square's work, while international arbitration, construction, commercial disputes and insurance all account for 10% each; the remainder is a cocktail of areas including costs, public law, fraud, offshore, product liability and sports law. The set picks up Chambers UK rankings for all its main areas of practice including professional negligence, professional discipline, insurance, construction and product liability.
The allegedly negligent professionals this set helps sue and represents, tend to be those operating in the financial and commercial sectors, rather than those of the medical variety. One of the juicier claims handled recently had junior Thomas Ogden representing football manager Rafael Benitez in a claim against his tax advisers who had counselled him to invest in a controversial 'film finance' tax avoidance scheme that turned out to be illegal. In addition, 4NS's Pippa Manby is currently defending law firm Watson Farley & Williams against a claim for lost profits arising out of a client's investment in Greek solar farms. And on the professional discipline front, Simon Monty QC acted for controversial Italian law firm Giambrone in disciplinary action brought by the SRA, while Patrick Lawrence QC was recently lead counsel in disciplinary proceedings against Ernst & Young arising out of the collapse of the Farepak savings scheme.
With a fine stable of professional negligence and insurance specialists, 4NS is one of the Bar's most commercially minded sets.
On the sports side, junior Daniel Saoul recently helped former darts world champion Richie Burnett get his ban reduced after he tested positive for cocaine, and Graeme McPherson QC represented the Qatari royal family in an appeal against a decision to demote their racehorse, preventing it from winning the St Leger Stakes (the world's oldest classic flat race). Over on the commercial insurance side, Ben Hubble QC is currently representing AIG, which is faced with thousands of angry claims by people who lost money buying properties off plan in Turkey and Morocco. AIG (and Hubble) are arguing that the claims, which are against a law firm insured by AIG, should all be aggregated into one big claim.
Pupils sit with two supervisors for three months each during their first six, then with a third supervisor throughout their second six. In their first two seats pupils mainly work on cases which have previously been completed by their supervisor with some “choice pieces of live work” thrown in. Pupillage is “structured to mirror the set's core areas,” so expect a “professional negligence and insurance-heavy” twelve months. Pupils get most of their work from their supervisors, but take on other assignments too with supervisors acting as gatekeepers. “They do a really good job of making sure that you don't get inundated with requests from everyone,” opined one source.
“The clerks aim to get you in court at least once every two weeks and ideally once a week.”
A pupil at 4 New Square can expect to be on their feet in court from the first week of the second six. Our sources praised the efforts of the clerks to make sure pupils get plenty of experience on their own cases. “Most professional negligence claims are too high-value to put a pupil in charge of,” an interviewee informed us, “so the clerks have links with law firms that specialise in personal injury and road traffic claims in order to be able to give us experience on those kinds of cases.” This, we're informed, allows pupils to have a go at “arguing from facts and cross-examining” on cases which “aren't too legally complicated.” Assuming there's time, “the clerks aim to get you in court at least once every two weeks and ideally once a week.”
All pieces of work receive a grade between A (the expected standard) and B minus, as well as feedback “so that if you get below an A you know what you're doing wrong.” Also graded are three pieces of panel work and three moots. For each assessment, “you're given the papers at 9am and have to turn them around by 9am the following morning.” When we suggested that this tight deadline sounded rather stressful, our sources demurred. “There are only six assessments,” one reflected, “and it's much less stressful than having an assignment that drags out over a long period of time.”
When it comes to the tenancy decision, our sources told us that “transparency” and “objective standards” are 4 New Square's watchwords, and pupillage committee head Neil Hext QC agrees: “We want to avoid a situation where people toddle through pupillage thinking they're doing fine, only to be told by the tenancy committee at the end that they haven't made the cut.” Chambers makes the tenancy decision en masse following a recommendation by the recruitment committee. In 2016 4NS took on neither of its two pupils as tenants after having kept on both in 2015.
Not so square
At 4 New Square, the early bird gets the pupillage. In 2016 the application deadline was at the very start of January and even with the Pupillage Gateway dates being moved forward in 2017, you will need to have your wits about you early on to apply to 4NS on time. The application window opens in December and interviews take place in January. First-round interviews are a short, 20-minute competency-based chat with Hext and senior clerk Lizzie Stewart. Those who impress at this stage are invited back for round two, during which candidates are given a topic to prepare an hour beforehand, and then “they come in and have a chance to debate with us,” as Hext puts it. “It's not supposed to be intimidating,” he says, “but we are looking to test people” – to see if they are good advocates. There's also a five-minute presentation on a topic of the candidate's choice – we hear in recent years one candidate presented on how to make the perfect spaghetti carbonara.
“Fairly diverse for a commercial set.”
“We have all sorts of different people here,” says Hext, “extroverts, introverts, academics.” He stresses that “there are lots of different routes to becoming an advocate,” although we couldn't help notice that at the time of our research three of the five most junior tenants were Oxbridge grads as were both pupils. “Going to a prestigious university is one way of making yourself stand out,” observed one interviewee (although that doesn't have to mean Oxbridge). Still, our sources thought that 4 New Square was “fairly diverse for a commercial set,” and we note that this is one of the few sets to have a female senior clerk.
Lizzie Stewart is one of the most commercially minded senior clerks we've encountered during our annual visits to the Bar. And 4NS pupils are expected to have the same outlook. Stewart tells us that pupils should “not only be excellent at what they do, but also be business-minded in the way they run their practices.” A head for business is something that runs through the set like a common thread. “We see ourselves as service providers,” says Stewart. “We're a business and we're competing in an industry.” Sources told us that, perhaps as a result of this attitude, the set is “a bit more modern” than some others at the Bar, while also still being a friendly place where pupils are “involved in all chambers events from day one.”
While 4 New Square's barristers need to put in the hours "and stay until the work is done," pupils are not expected to work outside 9am to 6.30pm.
4 New Square
4 New Square,
- No of silks 25
- No of juniors 56
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Lisa Young, (020) 7822 2000, [email protected]
- Method of application online www.4newsquare.com (from December each year)
Type of work undertaken
The second six months: During your second six months, as well as continuing with work for your pupil supervisor, you will take on an increasing amount of your own court work. Chambers places a strong emphasis on advocacy and supports its pupils in gaining valuable practical experience. You can expect to be in court on your own about once a week up to the tenancy decision and potentially on a more regular basis thereafter. You will be expected to complete three assessed pieces of work for members of chambers who are not your pupil supervisors.
Advocacy: You will also take part in an assessed moot in front of a former member of Chambers who is now a Court of Appeal or High Court judge. Workshop training sessions are run to help you prepare for the moots.
Environment: Chambers aims to provide a friendly and sociable atmosphere. Pupils are included in chambers’ social events throughout the year. Chambers is committed to investing in training its pupils. A “First Days on Your Feet” workshop is run by junior tenants for the pupils just before the second six.