7KBW is revered for its insurance and shipping expertise, but does a broader spectrum of commercial work than just this.
Blast from the past
‘Traditional’ is a word that seems to haunt 7 King’s Bench Walk. And with good reason: after circling the walls of Temple Church, slipping down a cobbled passageway, passing the Bentleys and Porsches parked on King's Bench Walk we arrived at the arched doorway of 7KBW’s red-brick 17th-century digs. This is hallowed ground: barristers have been practising at this address for hundreds of years; among their number were at least three Lord Chancellors (including Lord Halsbury) and people with names like Sir Harry Bodkin Poland and Hardinge Stanley Giffard. But as we took a seat in one of 7KBW’s sleek, air-conditioned conference rooms, wiped the sweat from our brow (it was the hottest day of the year) and stashed ties in pockets (no one else was wearing one), we got a feeling there was much more to this Inner Temple bunch.
7KBW is a set with a considerable historical pedigree.
This set built up a reputation in the 70s and 80s for taking on high-profile insurance and shipping work, and the reputation has stuck. With its insurance and shipping work ranked in Bands 1 and 2 respectively by Chambers UK, it has many members recognised as market leaders in its ranks. Barristers work on both wet and dry shipping disputes, ranging from shipbuilding disputes to unsafe port claims. The amounts at hand have a habit of reaching titanic proportions. For example, barristers were involved in a $200 million charter party dispute surrounding the shipwreck of the 'Ocean Victory' in 2006.
7KBW is arguably the Bar's number one insurance star: it's ranked alone in Band 1 by Chambers UK, and half of the 12 silks which that directory places in its top tier for insurance are members of this set. “The great thing about insurance is that although the legal principles are similar in each case, the underlying facts are entirely variable,” enthused one junior. “One moment you might be working on political risk insurance in Egypt, the next on a mortgage fraud investigation, and then on something involving a dam in South America.” Instructions come through from large multinationals, energy companies and global insurers, and the sums of money at stake are often massive. Of late David Edwards QC has led the way in drawing in a lot of Bermuda Form work (it's a type of insurance policy), and he recently successfully defended Bermudan insurance company XL in an indemnity claim raised by AstraZeneca; the claim related to damages paid out by the pharmaceutical giant following the recall of an anti-psychotic drug which apparently caused diabetes in some users, and was valued at £135 million.
"... Really well prepared when you get on your feet for the first time.”
The big-money cases don’t end there. Everyone we spoke to was resolute that “the set takes on a much broader spread of commercial work than just shipping and insurance.” At the time of our visit, some of the largest ongoing cases had nothing to do with either of those areas. For example, a recent civil fraud case worth over $100 million saw members represent businessman Abdourahman Boreh in corruption proceedings brought against him by the government of Djibouti. The set's barristers also recently worked on both sides of the £100 million Orb v Ruhan commercial fraud case, which ultimately came to an abrupt end when the claimant pulled out. And two members acted for defunct consumer finance group Cattles on a $1.6 billion professional negligence claim against PwC over allegedly negligent audits in 2006 and 2007. Members also do construction cases, with recent disputes having revolved around shipbuilding, oil rigs and energy pipelines.
So what does it take to cruise into a pupillage at 7KBW? Around 30 to 35 individuals are invited in for an interview each year. There's just a single round so expect competition to be stiff. Three weeks prior to the interview, applicants are sent a problem question, which pupillage committee member Adam Turner hints “could be something like an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.” Hopefuls are then required to prepare a short skeleton argument to be presented in front of a panel of five or six members. Fifteen minutes of questioning on the skeleton follow, after which there is another 15 minutes of more general questions. Each panel member independently scores each candidate, and when the marks are pooled, the top four receive offers. “We ask interviewees to keep their presentations fairly brief," says Turner. "It’s not a competition to see who can research the most cases. What we want people to do is to look at a particular text and then think laterally about how it can be applied in a commercial context. If you can do that and present your argument with clarity, you’re on the right track.”
Pupils at 7KBW have four supervisors. The first seat lasts three months, and according to one baby junior “serves as a bedding-in period. You won’t do any work for other members, and your supervisor will work with you one on one to help you get a grounding in how to approach the work, write opinions and pleadings, and get to grips with the basics of the Commercial Bar.” Subsequently pupils undertake three seats before the tenancy decision is made, each lasting two months. At this point pupils begin working less and less for their supervisors, and take on more work for other members. “Supervisors do a top job of making sure you get to work with as many members as possible, while also shielding you from being overloaded,” so by the time the tenancy decision arrives, “you’ve had a good opportunity to corral support from a wide swathe of members.”
“They leave you really well prepared when you get on your feet for the first time.”
In the nine months preceding the tenancy decision, pupils also complete approximately ten assessed exercises, which range from preparing skeleton arguments to drafting pleadings, opinions or letters to solicitors. There are also two to three advocacy exercises, which “certainly put you through your paces,” according to one source. “They leave you really well prepared when you get on your feet for the first time.” The tenancy decision itself is influenced by recommendation forms filled in by all members who pupils have worked with, which are looked at alongside the ten completed exercises. In 2016 two of three pupils gained tenancy.
Pupils told us their hours are “far from gruelling” with 9.30am to 6pm being a regular day. That said, we were warned that this is “the calm before tenancy,” when hours hot up. Despite the set being very busy at present, members still regularly find time to spend 20 minutes to kick back for a spot of afternoon tea. “The term is quite archaic, but it’s really not the case that everyone sits in silence at a white tablecloth while the QCs talk,” asserted one interviewee. “People slope in for a cuppa and a bit of cake and then slope off again. Sometimes we talk about work, and sometimes we don’t. It’s actually a great way to meet people, and means it feels a lot less intimidating when you work with a senior silk for the first time.”
In the three months before becoming members, pupils get to do paid work under supervision. “Nothing makes you feel like a fully-fledged barrister more than seeing your first payslip!”
7 King's Bench Walk
7 King's Bench Walk,
- No of silks 24
- No of juniors 36
- No of pupils at least 2 and up to 4
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to four 12-month pupillages offered
- Required degree grade Minimum 2:1 (law or non-law)
- Remuneration for pupillage at least £65,000
- Tenancies offered Six in last three years
- No of tenants of five years call or under 10
Type of work undertaken
Applications should be made via the Pupillage Gateway 2017 season for pupillages commencing in September 2018 or (for deferred applications) commencing in September 2019.
• Up to 12 funded mini-pupillages are available. These come with an award of £250 together with a guaranteed pupillage interview upon subsequent application for pupillage through the Pupillage Gateway. Applications for funded mini-pupillages must be received by 1 November and will be scheduled in the period 1 December to 31 March.
• Non-funded mini-pupillages are available in 2 periods during the year. Applications for the period from 1 April to 31 July must be received by 1 March. Applications for mini-pupillages in the period 1 September to 30 November must be received by 1 July.
• All applications are to be in the form of a covering letter and must be made to the minipupillage secretary by email to email@example.com. The CV should give a breakdown of all university examination results achieved to date.