It may have a slightly “olde-worlde” atmosphere but this small company/commercial set scores top commercial Chancery and fraud rankings which put it up there with the big players. And there's tea.
Can you scandal this?
Most people hate waiting. But visit 4 Stone Buildings and you'll wish it was your full-time job: in the clerks' waiting room two cosy crimson sofas face each other, surrounded by shelves of old law reports, and deep red-wallpapered walls hung with quaint countryside oil paintings. “When the fire is on in winter, it's even better,” a member cooed. However long you wait, Godot may never show up, but senior clerk David Goddard will, and he's an equally revered, oracular figure. He joined chambers in 1983 so is a pretty reliable source on all things 4SB.
Between them 4 Stone Buildings' 35 members win over 60 individual Chambers UK rankings. An impressive feat.
Goddard tells us: “When I came here we were more of a general Chancery set. We are now very much a company/commercial set and appear in the Commercial Court as much as we do in the Chancery Division. We are now often instructed on cases where we're up against big commercial sets." He credits this and other positive developments at 4SB to the shaping influence of Peter Curry QC, former head of chambers, one-time Olympic steeplechaser and the only man to have taken silk twice. Goddard continues: "I'd describe our work as business law, with an international element. We do work in Bermuda, the BVI and the Cayman Islands, but we've also always done a lot of smaller-scale company work, like insolvency cases. This is great for junior members, who can have their own cases as well as getting involved in the big commercial work.”
“I think the insolvency/company angle is a very good one to come at commercial law from,” says pupillage committee member Andrew de Mestre. 4 Stone Buildings has been a leading presence in the legal battles over some of the top corporate scandals in recent history, from the Guinness share-trading fraud to the collapses of Polly Peck, BCCI, Robert Maxwell's business empire, Enron, Lehman Brothers, the Bernie Madoff funds and the Icelandic banking sector. "They're the most fun cases," chuckles de Mestre, "because at the heart of all of these scandals is fraud."
"... Because at the heart of all of these scandals is fraud."
Chambers UK recognises 4SB's prowess in the commercial Chancery and civil fraud arenas with top rankings, as well as acknowledging its high status in company law and restructuring/insolvency. In one high-profile ongoing Chancery case Jonathan Crow QC is instructed by Bernie Ecclestone's ex-wife in a dispute with HMRC over a $1 billion tax settlement. In addition, two members are acting for the Cayman Islands-based liquidators of Singularis Holdings in a breach of duty claim against Japanese brokerage and financial services firm Daiwa. And another member defended Michael Lynch, former CEO of Autonomy Corporation, against a $5 billion damages claim brought by his former employer over the 2011 acquisition of the company by Hewlett-Packard.
The set also features in Chambers' banking and finance, financial services and commercial dispute resolution rankings. In one international banking case, two members are defending Goldman Sachs against a $1 billion claim brought against it by the Libyan Investment Authority over an investment made in 2008. On top of being regulars in the Commercial Court, at arbitral tribunals and in the Chancery Division, individual members of 4SB also specialise in areas like international trusts and public law.
I don't know what you did last summer
Having been in it, then out of it, as of 2016 4 Stone Buildings is now part of the Pupillage Gateway again, and the number of applications to the small set has soared to unprecedented highs. After providing two references separately from the Gateway, around 20 to 30 candidates are invited to interview. There is only one interview round, unless “exceptional circumstances” lead to a second one. Candidates are asked to arrive half an hour in advance and are given a “legal-based problem” to take a look at. “We do cater for non-law grads too,” de Mestre assures us, “the question relates to law and it's set in a legal framework, but you can answer it without knowing the particular case or statute.”
"If you could just refresh my memory on this area of law, my lord."
The interview begins with a presentation on the problem question: the candidate is asked to pick a side and argue the point. The panel, in its role as four-headed judge, asks questions as if to counsel. An inside source confided that “you break out of the role pretty quickly and say stuff like, 'If you could just refresh my memory on this area of law, my lord,' which you never would in court!” During the final ten or 15 minutes of the interview, the panel asks questions about the applicant's university and BPTC experience. De Mestre elaborates: “We focus on evidence-based questions, rather than having a chit-chat about what people are doing over the summer.” Chambers wants to see that a candidate can “think logically,” is “agile” in answering questions on the spot, and has an idea of “what the Bar is like, what different areas of law are like, and what 4 Stone Buildings does.”
Pupils spend three months each with four supervisors over their twelve months in chambers. During the first three months, “you're slightly shielded by your supervisor and mainly take work from him or her,” a baby junior recalled. “During the second half of your first six, you might start taking work from others. I did a piece of work for a silk.” Throughout your second six, you're essentially fair game because “members, including silks, want to see how you work and what you're like.”
Sources explained that “your assigned supervisor might not go to court over the three months you're with them, but you need to tick off certain experiences, so you're encouraged to ask one of their neighbours if you can assist them for a week if they are going to court.” Being proactive in seeking out these opportunities was recommended by a junior source, who partly credited their keenness and readiness to “go into the clerks' room and ask what everyone was up to that week” with their success in gaining tenancy.
“If you're offered tenancy you might take an instruction right at the end of pupillage.”
Junior sources said they'd followed their supervisors or other members to the High Court, the County Court, the Chancery Divisions, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. As a general rule pupils don't spend any time on their feet, but we heard that “if you're offered tenancy you might take an instruction right at the end of pupillage.”
There are no formal assessments as part of the tenancy process. Andrew de Mestre says: “I'm not sure you can select your best pupil on the back of how they perform in one or two assessments. Plus, by doing a formal advocacy assessment you'd be setting the two pupils against one another.” Instead, all a pupil's work goes into the mix when the decision is made. Our sources reckoned “your supervisors get the most say in the decision,” but other members are able to weigh in too.
4 Stone Buildings is proud of being small. With 33 members (including seven silks and just five women, none of whom are QCs) and six clerks, it's an intimate affair. You could say this is a more “traditional” set, and proud of it. The decor says it all (“the internet is great, but the case for having a set of old law reports in the room is still valid,” mused a romantic member), and with daily tea a must, you might be forgiven for suspecting 4SB of stuffiness. But sources assure us that the set retains all the “positive” elements of tradition without a stiff upper lip in sight: “There are parties that everyone's invited to, even prospective pupils, and weekly lunches. We're olde-worlde in some ways, but at the same time we do cutting-edge work.”
4SB takes two pupils a year (both female in 2015/16) and “there is space for both if they're good enough.” In 2016 both gained tenancy.
4 Stone Buildings
4 Stone Buildings,
- No of silks 7
- No of juniors 26
- No of pupils 2
- Contact David Goddard, 020 7242 5524
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages two 12-month pupillages offered
- Tenancies up to two per year
- Award £65,000 pa
Since few business disputes or problems lend themselves to rigid categorisation, we cover a wide range of related legal specialisations in addition to our core areas of expertise. Members of chambers are just as likely to appear in the Commercial Court or in front of arbitral tribunals as in the Chancery Division, and we are also frequently instructed in cases overseas, particularly in the Caribbean, the Channel Islands and East Asia.