Cloisters - True Picture

This set has always shunned “the old relics of the Bar,” and packs a punch when it comes to employment, PI and clinical negligence matters.

Out of the Cloisters

“Our history does tend to attract those who have a passion for representing 'the little guy’,” head of pupillage Tom Brown tells us. This history, to put it lightly, leans somewhat to the left. Cloisters was once nicknamed 'the Kremlin', and the set's founders were banished from the Labour Party for being just a tad too radical.

Pupils agreed that “Cloisters remains true to its founding principles of fairness and equality,” for example by representing individuals in cases "against institutions and in situations that are perceived to be unjust.” Some of the set's recent work certainly shows this. Head of chambers Robin Allen QC has been leading an equal pay appeal against Glasgow City Council which affects the compensation of 4,500 female employees. Other members have been arguing for race discrimination laws to apply to migrant workers, holding a Northern Irish bakery to account for refusing to make a pro-gay marriage cake, and urging the Department for Work and Pensions to wipe historical gender data on behalf of a transsexual claimant. Working on sensitive cases like this requires a certain approach. “You need empathy – otherwise you wouldn't get anything out of the job – but you also need to deal with the details in a dispassionate way to see a case through,” one pupil insisted.

“Given the constraints on funding, it’s important not to specialise,” said a baby junior. Indeed, many juniors at Cloisters continue to work across the set’s three core areas.

Tom Brown confirms that “there's no pressure to conform to a particular political viewpoint if you come to work here and we relish the diversity of our members' perspectives.” Work-wise, it's not just about standing up for 'the little man': matters of late have seen members obtain an injunction to prevent industrial action, defend a law firm against discrimination claims, and act for a major high-street chain in relation to whistleblowing allegations.

Around 60% of Cloisters' work is employment-focused. The remaining 40% is evenly split between PI and clin neg. A majority of the set's employment cases (between 60% and 65%) are for respondents, while PI/clin neg side work is entirely claimant side. Sport is a growing focus, and Caspar Glyn QC recently managed to get Cardiff City’s sacked manager Malky Mackay to withdraw legal action against the club and apologise to the club’s owner Vincent Tan. Elsewhere, Cloisters is looking to develop its regulatory and human rights work, and boost its international clout too: we hear that a Bermudan law firm is now on the books, and that an instruction was recently received from the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“We don't know the age, gender or name of the candidate.”

All applications are marked anonymously, so “we don't know the age, gender or name of the candidate,” says head of pupillage Tom Brown. Two members individually mark every application form out of 45; up to 20 points can be awarded for academic achievments while you can win up to five for each of the following: advocacy, communication skills, initiative and independence, written ability, and alignment with Cloisters. (Previously applications were marked out of 40 and 36 points were required to make it to the first interview.) Backing up the claims on your form with relevant work experience is crucial. Among our interviewees were individuals who'd interned at the Hackney Community Law Centre and Stonewall, worked as a legal executive at a personal injury firm, and gained employment law experience at a City firm.

The 80 candidates invited to a first interview are given 30 minutes to prepare an answer to a non-legal problem question, and then appear in front of a three-member panel of mixed seniorities. “We’re testing their problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to present and defend the solution they come up with,” Brown tells us. Around 20 candidates make it through to the second interview, where they're confronted with a legal problem based on one of Cloisters' core practice areas. With one week to prepare, contenders must hit the books hard and put their legal research skills to the test. On the day, applicants present in front of the pupillage committee, which consists of five junior barristers. Next, candidates are put on the spot with another non-legal question that often has a political or moral slant. No preparation or prior knowledge is required – how candidates respond in the moment is key.

Let’s get down to business

Pupils complete four three-month seats with a new supervisor each time: two seats are spent in employment, while the other two focus on PI and/or clin neg. “Supervisors aren't possessive,” and pupils estimated that 40% of their work comes from other members. “Supervisors take a strong learning-based approach," reported one pupil. "They'll say: 'I've drafted an ET3 form, now you draft it.'” And what haven't pupils drafted? They told us of working on a litany of skeleton arguments, cross-examination questions, particulars of claim, advice papers and more. Some drafting exercises may be tied to old cases, but pupils work on plenty of live matters. They also attend a range of tribunals, trials and mediations.

During the second six, pupils still shadow their supervisors, but “there's an unwritten rule that your own work takes priority.” One pupil kicked the period off with a seven-day pro bono whistleblowing case. “I was told that I could call anyone if I was in trouble, even a silk.” On the PI/clin neg front, pupils had spent time on their feet in RTA approval hearings, while their employment cases spanned preliminary hearings for strike-out applications, TUPE matters and sex discrimination trials. Sources particularly relished their responsibilities during trials: “You're handling witnesses, producing written submissions to the judge and advising clients on settlement negotiations.” Employment matters get pupils on their feet most frequently, while PI/clin neg cases –“which tend to settle”– put those drafting skills to good use.

“The second six and beyond is inevitably more intense."

By early May, tenancy assessments kick off. There are four to complete, and each counts for a certain percentage of the tenancy decision: legal research (20%); drafting (20%); advocacy (20%); and a final interview (30%). The last 10% of the decision is derived from feedback collected from supervisors and other members worked with. Pupils have two weeks to prepare for each assessment (except advocacy, which is set and completed in a day). Members mark the first three assessments, while the tenancy committee judges the final interview. For this last hurdle, pupils prepare a response to a legal problem which “covers every core area of practice," so it becomes a rather odd case in which "all of these terrible things have happened to this one unfortunate individual: they've been injured, lost their job and been discriminated against!” Next, pupils are asked a question which tests their understanding of the business side of the practice. Sounds like a pretty thorough bunch of assessments to us! In 2016 both of the set's pupils were granted tenancy.

The wise men (and women)

“There's a wisdom hierarchy, but not a social one," commented a pupil when asked about the working atmosphere at Cloisters. "There's a culture of just going to ask. I feel comfortable approaching even a QC with a question about my one-hour hearings.” Another added: “We just don't have the old relics of the Bar.” So no afternoon tea? “What a load of crap!”

Instead casual Friday lunches in Halls and weekly drinks in chambers make for a pleasantly measured social buzz. Other highlights include a welcome event for pupils, a Christmas party at Covent Garden's Balthazar brasserie, and participating in the London Legal Walk. The first six comes with some decent hours: an average working day lasts from 9am to 6.30pm. “The second six and beyond is inevitably more intense," a baby junior revealed, "but the great thing about being self-employed is that you decide when you work. I'm a night owl so I stay later.”

In keeping with Cloisters' founding outlook, at least five days' worth of work a year must be devoted to pro bono, although “most people do way more than that!” Pupils saw it as "a great way to cut your teeth,” and had volunteered for Liberty, Camden Community Law Centre and the Bar Pro Bono Unit.

At the time of our research ten of the 15 most junior tenants at Cloisters (under ten years' call) were women.


1 Pump Court,

  • No of silks 10
  • No of juniors 43
  • No of pupils 2
  • Contact [email protected]
  • Method of application Pupillage Gateway
  • Pupillages (pa) two for 12 months

Chambers profile

Cloisters is a leading set in the fields of employment, equality, personal injury, clinical negligence, regulatory, sports, human rights, and commercial law, with a reputation for delivering exceptional results. It provides responsive, first-class client service combined with technical excellence and commercial perspective to resolve the most complex legal problems for individuals, and organisations of all sizes.

Type of work undertaken

Employment and equality: Cloisters is a leading employment law set, with unrivalled expertise in discrimination and equality issues. Recent landmark cases include Paulley v Firstgroup plc (wheelchair access on buses), Taiwo and Onu (migrant domestic workers and race discrimination), O’Brien v MoJ (part-time judges pensions), UCU v University of Stirling (collective consultation), Bull v Hall (sexual orientation discrimination), Stott v Thomas Cook (compensation for disabled air passengers) and Howard v Metropolitan Police Service, a widely-reported case involving direct discrimination against a female police officer by a senior officer on the grounds of sex and race.

Personal injury and clinical negligence: Cloisters is consistently a top-ranked clinical negligence and personal injury set in Chambers & 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.

Pupil profile

Chambers welcomes applications from outstanding candidates from all backgrounds and academic disciplines, including people coming to the Bar later in life, and people with disabilities.


Chambers offers two 12-month pupillages for those wishing to practise full-time at the Bar, normally commencing in October each year. Each pupil is supervised by a different supervisor each three months to show the pupil different areas of practice. Second six pupils will be allocated work by clerks subject to availability of work and pupil ability.


Cloisters offers up to ten three-day mini-pupillages each year. All applicants must have completed at least their first year at university in any subject. The mini-pupillage is not assessed and is not a requirement for applications for pupillage.


Cloisters offers two funded pupillages each year. Each pupil will receive an award (currently £50,000 per year). Pupils can request an advance during the BPTC year.