Hailsham Chambers - True Picture

Clinical and professional... are the two types of negligence this century-old chambers specialises in.

Wherever you Hailsham from

Hailsham takes its name from Conservative Party bigwig of the 60s, 70s and 80s Quintin McGarel Hogg, Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone. A lengthy title for a man with a lengthy legal and political career which spanned most of the 20th century and included a decade-long stint as Lord Chancellor. “We have occupied the rooms themselves at 4 Paper Buildings for over 100 years,” senior clerk Stephen Smith informs us. “There's a lot of family history here and a lot of tradition.” Yet despite the history, tradition and the upper-class toff namesake, juniors described Hailsham as “a very friendly, inclusive and collegial set;” a more senior source added: “We do like to have a bit of a joke and a leg-pull with the pupils.”

Hailsham has slowly developed its current specialisms. “Thirty to 35 years ago we may have been described as a general common law set,” Stephen Smith explains, “but we have since homed in on civil law. We stopped practising criminal law as we became increasingly recognised for our professional indemnity and clinical negligence work.” These two areas each make up 40% of the set's workload – the remaining 20% is a mix of costs, disciplinary, commercial and regulatory work.

“There is a lot of family history here and a lot of tradition.”

The clinical negligence practice pulls in clients including defendant institutions like the Medical Defence Union and NHS Resolution (formerly the NHS Litigation Authority), as well as “all the major claimant law firms,” including Ashtons, Royds Withy King and Leigh Day. It's an area of law that is “fact-based, people-focused and involves a lot of expert evidence,” head of pupillage Nicola Rushton explains, so interdisciplinary skills are a must as is a strong stomach. Alexander Hutton QC recently acted for the claimant in a case related to a baby with severe brain damage as a result of a failure to diagnose meningococcal meningitis which settled for a sum of around £7 million.

Rushton tells us professional negligence is an area suited to those who “enjoy seeing how legal principles can be applied to cases,” adding that “this is balanced by the commercial element and need to deliver practical advice to clients.” While the set has a particular focus on lawyer negligence (bad lawyers need a good lawyer), barristers also work on cases related to architects, accountants and vets. A babyjunior was attracted by “the range of different contexts in which professional negligence occurs,” noting that “you're not just looking at the same thing time and time again. You are able to immerse yourself in a lot of detail and, although you don't have to become an expert overnight, you do need get up to speed quickly.” William Flenley QC recently worked on a £10 million, eight-week trial related to the aftermath of a €100 million confidence trick. The claim was mounted against London solicitors and accountants after the claimant was persuaded to part with money thinking it was for an investment scheme linked to the pope and the US Federal Reserve (it wasn't). In a more commercial and less bizarre case, Hailsham's costs litigation barristers successfully helped claimants who run a nightclub celebrated for its role in the The Only Way is Essex to sue their insurance brokers.

Within Hailsham distance

Hailsham takes on two pupils each year – in 2016 and 2017 both gained tenancy on completing pupillage. In 2018 the set will be recruiting two newbies to start in 2019, plus an additional pupil for 2018 to replace a drop out. And 2018 is also the first time the set is recruiting through the Pupillage Gateway “in order to broaden the number of prospective pupils we market to.”

Hailsham applicants immediately face a problem question on their Gateway application. “It's a good opportunity to show off you skills straight away,'” one junior explained, recalling their own question which “required me to draft a skeleton argument for an appeal to the Supreme Court in a professional negligence case.” Nicola Rushton emphasises that “the idea is not for candidates to go away and conduct hours of legal research. The problem is designed not to have a clear right answer – what we are looking for is a practical approach and a clear conclusion.”

“Your first time in court is inevitably scary, but I felt totally prepared.”

The 18 best applicants are invited in for a single interview which typically lasts 30 to 40 minutes. Interviewees face some generic questions plus more problem questions. “Interviews are always going to be stressful, but it felt like they were trying to tease out the best in me,” an ex-pupil recalled.

Sunny with a chance of Hailsham

Pupils sit with three supervisors over the course of pupillage: one with a prof neg practice, one doing clin neg and one in a third area. “What we often find is that many people start here with an interest in clinical negligence but actually end up going down the professional negligence route,” one source told us. “Similarly, costs is an area of law that is not necessarily the most interesting in theory, but many become more attracted to it after seeing it in practice.” Pupils spend their first three months shadowing their supervisor and “time permitting” complete live work and compare notes. Besides their supervisor,pupils also have a junior mentor – “someone you can scream and swear at if it's all getting too much!” a source joked. Once with their second supervisor – from Christmas to Easter – pupils continue to shadow and go to court but are also required to branch out and complete work for at least ten other members who weigh in on assessing pupils.

“Many people start here with an interest in clinical negligence but actually end up going down the professional negligence route.”

The second six sees pupils begin to take on their own work: they can expect to be in court in excess of three times a week. “Your first time in court is inevitably scary, but I felt totally prepared,” a baby junior recalled, adding that “I was hugely over-prepared. I spent hours and hours on something that would take me ten minutes now!” First cases are typically small fry, such as possession and costs hearings “or even the odd bankruptcy.” Pupils have to juggle this work with three advocacy assessments. “The first is an application of some sort, such as an application to strike out, the second is a witness handling exercise and the third tends to be something we think the pupils need more experience of,” Rushton tells us. “It's no more daunting than it needs to be,” juniors relayed. “You normally have a member of the pupillage committee playing the witness, another playing the judge and two members assessing you.”

The tenancy decision occurs in June and is based on reports from pupil supervisors, other members of chambers and advocacy assessors. “We normally find pupils complete at least one piece of work that is a complete disaster, and we assure them this won't kill their chances,” Nicola Rushton comments. “What we want to see is a consistent message coming from all the supervisors. If it's necessary we take it to a vote, but most times the consensus is clear.”

Culture-wiseone junior said Hailsham “strives to create an environment where you don't need to work flat out to impress people,” before regaling us with stories of unsuccessful attempts to come into the office before nine and stay after six during pupillage. “This set is more interested in the content and quality of the work you produce than you being here all the time,” we were told. That said, “when it gets to the end of the year and you take on your first cases your hours will increase.” Another interviewee warned that once you're a tenant “there will be times when you're working flat out seven days a week and other times when you have no work at all.” That's the nature of the Bar.

Hailsham hosts an open evening for anyone interested in the pupillage before the Gateway opens in January. Be sure to check Hailsham's website for the exact date.

Hailsham Chambers