This commercial set is rising in status and international purview, specialising in areas like information technology, professional negligence, construction and shipping.
“I am quite geeky,” one baby junior at 4 Pump Court confided in us. Fitting for a set where one of the main strengths is IT work. “A lot of our practices have something to do with science or engineering,” another junior added. That's true but rather under-eggs the breadth of the practice, which breaks down as 26% construction and energy, 14% professional negligence, 13% IT and telecoms, 13% shipping, 9% banking, 9% insurance, and 16% other commercial. Chambers UK recognises 4PC's expertise in pretty much all these areas plus international arbitration.
It's worth pointing out that despite the techy slant to its work only a small minority of this set's barristers have science or engineering degrees; most studied law or a humanities degrees and a science/tech background is by no means a requirement for getting your foot in the door.
Reflecting on the set's commercial practice chief executive Carolyn McCombe tells us: “We've had to play catch-up but we have done very well, I think.” McCombe also stresses that 4PC's work is now “hugely more international than ten or 20 years ago.” For example, “our construction work used to be entirely domestic but now it's very international, with litigation and arbitrations over projects taking place around the world.” One recent construction case saw silks Sean Brannigan and Sean O'Sullivan go head to head in a £400 million dispute in the Technology & Construction Court over a wind farm in the North Sea, acting for both the US claimant, engineering company Fluor, and the Chinese respondent, crane manufacturer ZPMC.
Pump up the scam
Many of the set's commercial disputes have an international element to them too. One silk recently defended a global commodities company in a dispute with an oil company and its director over payments made for the release of Russian sailors caught gun-running in Nigeria. Most cases don't revolve around such an unusual set of facts – breach of duty or wrong termination disputes are more common fare.
One typical professional negligence case saw a silk defend allegedly negligent engineers in a case brought by various parties over the collapse of a road embankment in Leeds. As this example suggests, 4PC's prof neg strength lies particularly with cases related to the construction and technology sectors (including builders, architects, engineers, contractors and surveyors), though members also work in disputes over negligent lawyers, developers, consultants and accountants.
4PC is the only set top-ranked by Chambers UK for IT work. The barristers who practise in this area work on disputes over contracts for IT systems for both the private and public sectors; recent lay clients have included housing associations, P&O Ferries, IBM and Vodafone. The set is instructed by techy law firms like Bristows, Bird & Bird, Taylor Wessing and Osborne Clarke, as well as City and regional outfits.
Pupils sit with two supervisors for three months each in the first six, then a final supervisor for the second six. A mix of work's on offer. “My first supervisor did a lot of professional negligence and construction work plus a bit of banking; my second did a lot of shipping, construction and energy, plus a little bit of IT; my third worked on insurance and finance services,” one baby junior recalled. We noticed that recent pupils hadn't had much exposure to IT work, but were told this was just a matter of who the supervisors are and may change in future; if pupils are really interested in IT work they can request it.
“I was basically doing the work they were doing,” one source said of their relationship with their supervisor. “I drafted pleadings, advices and other document.” Another source recalled starting out “drafting things like chronologies which do not require much skill,” but that by the end of pupillage they were “drafting pleadings for my supervisor in the same way I do now for myself as a junior.” You can expect to go along to court and adjudications too. Pupils can be asked to do work for other members throughout pupillage, but the emphasis – both in terms of training and assessment – is on work done for supervisors.
“I was pushed quite hard to show an analytical way of thinking."
At the start of the second six pupils also begin to take on their own caseload. “I did an application to set aside default judgment, RTAs, first applications and procedural hearings,” a baby junior said. Pupils are on their feet once or twice a week and one source recalled of their first time: “I was nervous and I probably spent three days preparing!” Not all of a pupil's own work is court-based: there are also pleadings and small claims to draft on matters which don't go to court.
Supervisors write a report on both pupils and judge the quality of all a pupil's work (including their own cases). Pupils also undertake two written and two oral advocacy exercises in the first six, and reports on these, plus reports from all members pupils have done work for, are passed to the tenancy committee, which makes its recommendation. In the nine years from 2009 to 2017 4PC made tenants of 14 of its 18 pupils, with both making the cut in 2017.
4PC has three rigorous application rounds. First you apply directly to chambers with a form covering pretty standard topics and motivations. There are over 1,000 words to write in response to open questions and we were told by head of pupillage Lynne McCafferty that the application form itself is used to “judge the quality of applicants' written advocacy.” This is one of eight basic criteria you're judged on: academics, analytical skills, writing, advocacy, resilience, motivation, people skills and integrity. Drawing on your life's exploits to highlight your barrister-y qualities is recommended, says McCafferty: “One candidate told us they had been involved in the Scottish referendum campaign and had gone door to door trying to convince people of their view."
Pump up the j(erobo)am
At the second stage, 20 are invited to a first interview and face a four-member panel for a 30-minute, three-stage grilling. Applicants are given a problem question 30 minutes before the interview starts; they're questioned on this first, then asked a topical question (for instance about trials being televised), and then quizzed on their CV and recent achievements.
Just five or six candidates are invited to the final 45-minute interview in front of a panel of six. Applicants get an advocacy exercise to prepare in advance. “It's a simple set of facts either loosely based on a case or fictional, and if you need to know any relevant statute or case law we provide that,” says Lynne McCafferty. In the interview candidates present and are then asked questions in a judicial manner. “I was pushed quite hard to show an analytical way of thinking, and to show that I could apply my understanding of the law to an unfamiliar set of facts.”
The rigours of the application process might make you think 4 Pump Court is a rather stiff, trying place. Not so. “Things are very close between the members and the clerks,” a baby junior told us. “If anything the junior end of chambers is too close! We always have each other's back and take turns to accept those instructions which involve trekking to Newcastle to appear in the County Court.”
This is a sociable set: “There are often Friday drinks, especially in the first few months of the pupillage year, and there's a family summer party and chambers cricket team.” Like many barristers, 4PC's members aren't without their unusual hobbies. “We do have a few people who fly!” an interviewee told us. Huh? “They own or partly own light aircraft.” We suggested an aerobatic display for a chambers party, but our interviewees weren't so sure. “Imagine the insurance bills!” Typical prof neg lawyers...
Our junior interviewees couldn't help mentioning again and again how much they are paid. The pupillage award of £70,000 is one of the highest at the Bar.
4 Pump Court
4 Pump Court,
- No. of silks 24
- No. of juniors 44
- No. of pupils 2
- Contact Claudia Dine, [email protected]
- Method of application chambers’ application form – see chambers' website
- Pupillages (pa) two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies in the last three years 6
Types of work undertaken