Blackstone excels in commercial and public law, and you may have heard of quite a few of its members: Lord Lester, Lord Woolf, Lord Pannick, Dinah Rose, James Eadie... the list goes on.
“Blackstone is like a box of Quality Street chocolates,” senior clerk Gary Oliver told us with a wink. How so? “We have a delightful mix of specialties and everyone's favourite is in there.” Blackstone has been chugging away for over half a century, and in that time it's branched out from mainstream commercial work into a wider variety of practices. Commercial and public law are the two main areas but Chambers UK awards rankings to around 20 of the Blackstone practices, and grants it ten top-tier ratings for areas including public law, human rights, employment, EU law and financial services. We recommend you head over to the Chambers & Partners website for a full breakdown – it makes impressive reading.
A mini-pupillage is a fixed part of Blackstone's application process. Why? “You could be here for 40 years and we don't think you should make that decision based on just an interview.”
Such a glittering assortment of rankings does not come Blackstone's way without it being home to an equally bright array of legal superstars. They include Dinah Rose QC – called "one of the greatest advocates of her generation" by Chambers UK – and Treasury Devil James Eadie QC, first-choice barrister for the government on major cases. Rose and Eadie recently appeared opposite each other in the much-publicised 'black spider' memos case over whether Prince Charles's letters to ministers could be published openly. (Rose eventually won the case for The Guardian.) Close to half of Blackstone's members are QCs and the set can boast of having the most individual barrister rankings in Chambers UK. Quite a number of members are ranked in several areas, reflecting the multidisciplinary approach Blackstone takes. Pupillage committee head Pushpinder Saini QC, for instance, is ranked in ten practice areas, including banking, public law, human rights, competition and fraud.
“I was attracted to Blackstone first and foremost because of the breadth of work it offers.”
“Our client base is vast,” Gary Oliver asserts. “It includes magic circle law firms, high-street practitioners, boutique law firms, FTSE 100 companies and public institutions.” For example, two members recently defended Ofcom against a claim brought by the Traveller Movement that Channel 4's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding portrayed Travellers in an unfair and racially stereotypical way. Meanwhile, Michael Bloch QC successfully won a High Court trade mark battle for Lush against Amazon over the latter's use of the word 'lush' as a Google Adword. Three other members recently acted for Dramatico Entertainment, EMI records and 1967 Ltd in a claim against all major UK internet service providers, demanding they block access to websites like The Pirate Bay which deliberately infringe copyright. And in one recent public law case two members acted for a Bahraini torture survivor in a challenge to the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision that Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the head of Bahrain's Royal Guard, had criminal immunity in relation to allegations of his involvement in the torture of detainees during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
Pupils spend time with four supervisors, who specialise in commercial, public, employment and EU law respectively. Pupils work only for these four supervisors, typically midlevel junior tenants, which means “you're never stuck trying to juggle two people's demands.” Rookies don't spend time on their feet during pupillage, but our sources saw the bright side of this, noting that “it gives you the chance to develop your own style and learn under supervision.” Throughout pupillage, typical tasks include drafting skeleton arguments, attending court and researching points of law. "Lots of the areas of law Blackstone works in overlap," pointed out one pupil, so you won't be straitjacketed into working in just the four areas mentioned above. You can expect to gain experience working on telecoms, media and fraud cases too, for example. “I was attracted to Blackstone first and foremost because of the breadth of work it offers,” a pupil affirmed. So if you have your heart set on working only in one particular area of law, we suggest you pursue pupillage elsewhere.
Sources described the assessment and internal training programme at Blackstone as clear, fair and controlled. We'd say it's pretty demanding and thorough. There are six written assessments and seven (!) advocacy exercises during the year. For the advocacy exercises, “you usually do something like a summary judgment application or an interim injunction.” Four of the seven exercises are assessed and filmed. The written tasks see pupils “asked to produce a piece of advice or particulars of claim on a case which a member of chambers has previously worked on.” The tenancy decision is made in early July and is based on these assessments plus supervisors' reports. In 2016, three out of four pupils were made members.
"It's more impressive to hear someone respond sensibly to a counterpoint than to staunchly continue with a rubbish argument.”
If you want to land yourself one of Blackstone's four pupillages, “academic brilliance is crucial," says Pushpinder Saini. Of the ten or so barristers under five years' call at Blackstone, five went to Oxford, two to Cambridge and three studied abroad. One was a Rhodes scholar, one used to teach classics at Oxford, and all have Firsts or distinctions. "People with 2:1s can apply, but they generally need to have done something else outstanding during their academic careers,” Saini notes. Practical work experience matters too: we note that several of Blackstone's most junior members are former solicitors.
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Initial applications are blind marked by five people and references are taken. Saini cautions: “One thing we always look for on an application form is whether someone has experience of public speaking. You'd be surprised how many people apply to the Bar without it!” Successful candidates are invited to a first interview with five members of chambers, lasting 15 to 20 minutes, during which interviewees are asked to discuss one of five set topics provided beforehand. “At this point you need to make sure you structure your argument clearly," says Saini, "describing at the beginning what your conclusion will be and then leading the panel through your argument step by step.” Another source added: “Listen to the points being made by the panel – it's more impressive to hear someone respond sensibly to a counterpoint than to staunchly continue with a rubbish argument.”
Candidates who make it through the first interview are invited to undertake an assessed mini-pupillage, lasting up to a week. This is the most important part of the recruitment process. Mini-pupils spend time with a supervisor and complete a written task over a day and a half. “This involves writing an opinion in relation to a set of papers, which can come from a real case.” After that, between ten and 15 individuals progress to a final interview, which lasts up to 30 minutes and covers, among other things, the mini-pupillage experience.
“Listen to the points being made by the panel – it's more impressive to hear someone respond sensibly to a counterpoint than to staunchly continue with a rubbish argument.”
Having come through the whirlwind application process, our sources were pleased to find that “pupillage itself doesn't feel competitive at all.” One explained: “It's made clear from the start that whether you gain tenancy is dependent only on whether you personally are up to scratch.” The lack of competition between pupils sits well with Blackstone’s overall working culture, described by sources as “unstuffy and relaxed.” One pupil opined: “We’re certainly not a traditional set. You won’t catch us calling each other by our last names or having afternoon tea – instead, our tradition is having fish and chips on a Friday.”
A pupil's working day is typically 8.30am to 6.30pm, though we were told there are occasional late nights. On Friday evenings, though, you'll usually be able to find Blackstone's barristers at the Edgar Wallace pub on Essex Street, or (in finer weather) on the set's very own roof terrace. This chambers is also well known for its huge summer party in Middle Temple Gardens, to which members of the Student Guide research team are always invited too. The annual Christmas do was held at Somerset House in one recent year – unfortunately we didn't get an invite to that.
For sheer variety and quality of practice, there's no beating Blackstone.
- No of silks 49
- No of juniors 54
- No of pupils 4
- Contact Ms Julia Hornor Chambers Director
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to four of 12 months duration
- Required degree grade Minimum 2:1 (law or non-law)
- Income/award£65,000 (£18.5k drawdown)
- Tenancies offered in the last three years 8
Type of work undertaken
The commercial law work includes financial/business law, international trade, conflicts, sport, media and entertainment, intellectual property and professional negligence. Public law incorporates judicial review, acting both for and against central and local government agencies and other regulatory authorities. It also covers all areas affected by the impact of human rights and other aspects of administrative law. All aspects of employment law, including discrimination, are covered by chambers’ extensive employment law practice, and chambers’ EU work permeates practices across the board. Chambers recognises the increasingly important role which mediation has to play in dispute resolution. Seven members are CEDR accredited mediators.