This friendly civil commercial set takes on big group actions, plus meaty product liability, health and safety, and consumer law work.
If it's broke, they'll fix it
Take a trip down cobbled Middle Temple Lane. Here you'll find, opposite the resplendent 'Agnus Dei' emblem emblazoned above Middle Temple Library, Henderson Chambers. Its plush conference rooms were a welcome respite from the sweltering heat on the day of our visit. But it wasn't just the setting that made us feel at ease. The charming and charismatic demeanour of our interviewees was the most refreshing find of the day. And the people aren't the only thing that's top-notch: Henderson receives top Chambers UK rankings for its product liability and health and safety work, plus nods for consumer credit law, procurement, environment and IT.
Of late, one area of work has stood out in particular. “In the past few years our group actions practice has really grown,” says affable chief clerk John White. This development has seen the set play a part in some pretty interesting cases. For example, head of chambers Charlie Gibson QC recently appeared in the Court of Appeal in the Vedanta mining litigation in which 1,800 Zambian villagers claimed that their land had been polluted by copper mining.
Members have also represented Shell in an oil spill claim brought by 15,000 Nigerians, which settled for £55 million plus costs, and acted for Unilever after claims were brought by tea pickers working for its Kenyan subsidiary who were violently attacked during election riots.
“Products invariably go wrong, and when they do we're brought in.”
Product liability is a long-standing Henderson forte (the set's been Chambers top-ranked for this area for two decades). As John White puts it: “Products invariably go wrong, and when they do we're brought in.” Barristers have been involved in several MoD hearing loss lawsuits, brought after soldiers went deaf because of allegedly defective ear defenders. The set has also tackled claims surrounding defective hip replacements, breast implants and various drugs.
On the health and safety side several members have been instructed in the Grenfell Tower inquiry, and two silks have been involved in the inquest into the 2013 Vauxhall helicopter crash, and others involved in the inquests into the terrorist hostage-taking at a BP site in Algeria that same year in which seven UK residents were killed.
Members of chambers have also literally written the book on consumer credit law. Well, they helped edit it. Four members are among the editors of Goode: Consumer Credit Law and Practice. Henderson tenants also worked on the first Supreme Court judgment on the interpretation of the Consumer Credit Act rule regarding the content of regulated agreements, and regularly advise both the government and the Financial Conduct Authority. Consumer claims often stem from product liability issues, and as John White says, “the beauty of the situation at Henderson is that our expertise in these two areas overlaps.”
Have your Caicos and eat it
Four three-month stints make up the pupillage year. Each rotation is with a different supervisor and together they expose newbies to the majority of the set's practices. From December pupils begin to juggle work for their supervisors with tasks for other members too, which was viewed by one pupil as “a great opportunity to get to grips with what life is really like as barrister when you're likely to be working on 20 different things at once!”
First-six tasks include drafting opinions and skeleton arguments and shadowing your supervisor and other members in the High Court. One pupil said that “at one point I hadn't written very many pleadings and my supervisor was really good at making sure I got to do some.”
After the second rotation, pupils get the chance to shadow barristers working at a firm in the Turks and Caicos Islands. “It's a welcome break, because it gets you out of chambers at a really intense time,” remembers one pupil. Back in Blighty, the second six begins and you're “on your feet three to four times a week,” mostly working on landlord/tenant disputes and possession hearings, “which should never be sold as the most exciting thing, but are good for getting you comfortable in court.”
"It's not just a good degree that's going to get you pupillage here...”
Sources said that the manner in which pupils are assessed “is very fair and transparent throughout.” After each seat, supervisors compile a report marking the pupil in different categories. Additionally, pupils are marked out of five for each piece of work they do, with three and above the expected score. Pupils are also treated to three to four advocacy exercises –“mock applications in front of members of chambers who later ended up becoming judges." (Later exercises are sometimes actually held in the Royal Courts of Justice.) "You're given the problem a week in advance, you present and afterwards get 20 minutes of verbal feedback plus a written form with your marks.” Director of pupillage training Adam Heppinstall is quick to point out that “we don't make pupils do the exercises in front of the rest of chambers or compete against each other because that would be horrible!” After all this, pupils create a dossier of reports on all their work and advocacy exercises, which is then given to the recruitment committee. “Pupils aren't expected to win votes from members," Heppinstall emphasises. "Our tenancy process is an objective assessment of a pupil's performance.” In 2017 Henderson took on both its pupils.
Pupillage applications have three stages. First three members sift through all the anonymised applications, marking them out of 24 on academic achievement, commitment to pursue a career at the Bar and an enthusiasm for Henderson's work. “After that we don't look at academics because you've passed that threshold,” says Adam Heppinstall.
The 150 or so applications are thus whittled down to 30, who are invited for a 15-minute interview with three members of the recruitment committee. Candidates face questions about their past experience and a legal problem, which you get time to prepare beforehand. “It's nothing too legally technical, but rather a controversial social or political issue with a legal angle.”
The 30 are then whittled down to around 15 for the second round where applicants face the entire pupillage committee. Here they grapple with a legal problem question centred on a case which is focal to chambers, testing enthusiasm for Henderson's work.
"I’d like to point out that our social calendar is not exclusively music-centric.”
The quality of pupillage applicants here is exceptionally high (most have LLMs, BCLs or PhDs) and many successful applicants have had previous career experience. For example, the 2015/16 pupil was previously a professional singer, while the baby junior we interviewed had been a university tutor before pupillage. “They can hit the road running," says John White. And if have you come straight from uni, says White, "it's not just a good degree that's going to get you pupillage here, it's what you did in your gap year.” Oh, and it's worth mentioning that the five most junior tenants with the set at the time of research went to five different unis: Oxford, Bristol, Cambridge, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
It's a rather pleasing coincidence that the most recently recruited pupil has a musical background, as Henderson's members do rather enjoying tickling the ivories or dropping the bass given the opportunity (a junior plays the piano and one silk is an amateur DJ). “As a non-musical person, I’d like to point out that our social calendar is not exclusively music-centric,” one interviewee joked, before adding: “People have threatened to play instruments at the Christmas party, but that hasn't happened... yet.”
Overall, sources told us, Henderson's new joiners quickly “end up becoming close friends with other members of chambers,” and there's “an open-door policy which means you can ask anyone for help.” This camaraderie is no doubt helped along by chambers drinks every Friday and celebrations for members making silk or getting married.
Henderson should draw your eye for its fascinating group action work and the fact it has the second-highest pupillage award at the Bar. It certainly gets top marks from us.
2 Harcourt Buildings (Ground Floor),
- No of silks 12
- No of juniors 37
- No of pupils 2
- Contact: [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to 2 12 month pupillages offered
- Remuneration for pupillage up to £70,000 for 12 months (£70,000 award, plus additional earnings)
- Tenancies: 6 in the last 3 years
Type of work undertaken
Over the last few decades Chambers has been involved in many of the major commercial and landmark International Group Actions.
In addition, members are noted for their expertise and experience in areas including: banking and finance, consumer credit, employment law, regulatory and disciplinary proceedings, public law and judicial review, personal injury, property law, and technology and construction.