Cloisters' barristers are known for their personal injury and employment work and for being the champions and defenders of the small against the mighty.
Rather than being attracted by the glitz and glamour that are believed (probably incorrectly) to characterise the Bar in the public consciousness, our Cloisters interviewees came here as pupils “wanting to practise law as a means of effecting positive change.” They came to the right place – this set has a reputation for standing up for what's right, which has endured longer than its lefty political legacy. (Back in the 1960s the set was home to some avowed socialists and Marxists.) One member joked to us: “Our days of being known as 'the Kremlin' are long gone.” But, he says, “we're still passionate about social justice.”
“Our days of being known as 'the Kremlin' are long gone.”
Employment cases form just over half of the work chambers takes on, the rest splitting fairly evenly between personal injury and clinical negligence. The latter half of the work attract claimants from every corner of society – “anybody can get hit by a bus,” one source wryly pointed out. On the employment side Cloisters works for both claimants and respondents, representing companies and individuals “from every level of the hierarchy.” Instructions come from a mix of larger commercial and high-street firms as well as private companies, educational institutions, local government bodies and representative organisations. Senior clerk Glenn Hudson tells us “more instructions have been coming in from larger commercial firms, which we certainly appreciate, but it's important to retain a loyal core following and that's something we've long enjoyed.”
The broad ethical implications of the cases Cloisters takes on mean they often make headlines: head of chambers Robin Allen QC was recently instructed in a case that determined that wheelchair users have priority over people with buggies in designated bus spaces, as well as an appeal following the ruling that a bakery in Northern Ireland couldn't refuse to make a pro-gay marriage cake. More low-profile cases include a £1 million claim over brain damage sustained during a fight outside a night club on the personal injury side and a claim over the misdiagnosis of the rare jaw bone cancer ameloblastic carcinoma on the clin neg side.
Meanwhile, top employment silk Paul Epstein was involved in a landmark equal pay claim brought by thousands of female employees against Asda. “What makes Cloisters distinctive is a dedication to making the law fairer and better” says Chris Milsom, adding that the set encourages barristers at all levels to take on pro bono work.
Milsom tells us that “at the new tenant end in particular we've been very busy.” Glenn Hudson notes “barristers are having to diversify the work they do into multiple areas because, as no one sector provides enough work in the current climate.” The strategy's clearly paid off, as Cloisters maintains strong Chambers UK rankings for both employment and personal injury work.
The world's your Cloisters
Pupils complete four three-month stints with four different supervisors, alternating between employment and personal injury, and potentially clinical negligence too. Distribution of work “can vary depending on how your supervisor prefers to run it, but generally my work was divided 50/50 between work from them and work from other members.” Right from the word go pupils “draft appeals and advices – whatever a barrister would be doing I'd be doing.” Our interviewees reported that “supervisors are good at providing consistent feedback on what you're handling: you're always working on live cases, and you're never told 'here's a piece of work, see you in four months.'”
“There's a happy medium of paperwork and court appearances.”
Heading into the second six “around 30 to 40% of your work will be from your supervisor,” but your own cases “are always the priority.” On the employment side in particular, pupils felt “there's a happy medium of paperwork and court appearances – you're on your feet early for full trials, but you're not there every day like at a criminal set.” Equal pay hearings and other discrimination cases are common means for pupils to cut their teeth on the courtroom floor; one pupil we spoke to took on a three-day hearing for a claimant against a multinational corporation. Continued interaction with supervisors helps to ease the transition, which also comes with an increase in hours. “Everyone's very flexible” on that front, with pupils given relative freedom to plan their own schedules.
In the first six, 9am to 6pm represents an average day, and after 6.30pm “people will tell you to go home.” Longer stints become necessary in the second six to the point that “it feels like being a proper barrister – it's all up to you.”
Assessments kick off in early May, each counting for a percentage of the tenancy decision: legal research (20%); drafting (20%); advocacy (20%); and a final interview (30%). The last 10% is derived from feedback collected from supervisors and other members.
Our interviewees characterised the “very rigid process” as “wonderfully objective. You know that if you hit the benchmark you'll make it; there are no arbitrary ways you need to 'fit in'.” Two weeks and some time off is provided to prepare for each assessment, except advocacy which is done within a day. “Daunting is the perfect word to describe it,” we were told, but pupils said that “the way assessments are run means stress is condensed into those periods, relieving stress levels for the rest of the year.”
Numerically-derived objectivity extends to the tenancy decision itself: 80% or above across the assessment process automatically guarantees tenancy, while a pupil scoring between 70 and 80% may get a place at the committee's discretion. In 2017 both pupils were granted tenancy.
A round of Balthazars
“Everyone here is genuinely normal, and that's not something you can say about much of the Bar!” one source joked. Interviewees detected a family feel to Cloisters which extends to “no competition at all between pupils. Cloisters is eager to build a good relationship between us.” There's also a distinct lack of old-school formalities (“afternoon tea? It's a joke isn't it?”), and addressing someone by anything more formal than their given name is a no-no.
Barristers tend to enjoy spending time with their own families, which can limit the social side of things. After-work drinks do happen though and more raucous occasions like karaoke nights and a Christmas party at Covent Garden's Balthazar pop up too. It's all very civilised, and day to day “you'll always have someone knocking on your door offering a hot drink.”
Sound like your cup of tea? Applications to the set are initially funnelled through the Pupillage Gateway, each handled anonymously so that markers are blind to factors like gender and educational background. Chris Milsom of the pupillage committee adds: “Any leaning we do have towards recruiting from Oxbridge or the Russell Group isn't by design. What matters is how good your degree is, not where it's from.” Academic qualifications are important, but the backgrounds of recent recruits make it clear that a demonstrable commitment to social justice is important too. For example, of our interviewees one previously helped run a non-profit aimed at helping Iranian students study abroad and another worked in the legal department at Liberty.
Eighty candidates are invited to a first interview and given 30 minutes to prepare an answer to a non-legal problem question, which they'll present to a three-person panel. “It's a relatively stress-free process” according to interviewees who made it through. “Starting with something that's not super-serious-legal stops you stressing and is particularly helpful if you did the GDL rather than a law degree.”
Around 20 candidates make it through to the second interview, consisting of a “really knotty” legal problem that they'll have a week to prepare. The interview panel assesses candidates' answers and poses another non-legal query to further evaluate advocacy and quick-thinking skills. A thorough process, but that's only the start. “It's a shock to the system when you realise pupillage isn't the top of the mountain,” our sources warned,but assured us “being a pupil here was an amazing experience.”
Five days of pro bono a year is mandatory at Cloisters, but “everyone goes far beyond that – the target is basically meaningless because we all exceed it.”
1 Pump Court,
- No of silks 19
- No of juniors 46
- No of pupils 2 in October 2017
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) 2 for 12 months
Type of work undertaken
Personal injury and clinical negligence: Cloisters is consistently a top-ranked clinical negligence and personal injury set in Chambers and Partners. We continue to be at the forefront of high-value litigation involving catastrophic brain and spinal injury. Cloisters barristers appeared in the Supreme Court in Cox v MOJ. Recent clinical negligence High Court trial successes include Pringle v Nestor Prime Care Services (amputation following negligent triage of septicaemia) and Coakley v Dr Rosie (GP failure to suspect bacterial meningitis); leading clinical negligence cases in the Court of Appeal include for example, Iqbal v Whipps Cross University Hospitals (lost years’ earnings for children), Crofton v NHSLA (local authority payments and double recovery). Recent High Court PI trial successes include Farrugia v Burtenshaw (future care PPO), Collins v Serco (vicarious liability, attack on custody officer by detainee), Malvicini v Ealing PCT (disabling psychological injury, accident at work). Seminal Court of Appeal appearances include Connor v Surrey County Council (interplay of public and private law), Stanton v Collinson (seatbelts, contributory negligence), Noble v Owens (fraud/video surveillance). Members of chambers are also consistently instructed in the leading workplace stress cases.