There's a lot more to Keating than construction: Keating has built quite a name for itself at the Commercial Bar.
We built this city
We love the smell of fresh paint in the morning. It smells like victory. That's what wafted into our nostrils standing on the sixth floor of Keating's newly refurbished offices on Essex Street. Admiring the views across some of the City's most iconic landmarks, CEO and director of clerking Declan Redmond chuckled that “it's funny to think that we helped to construct most of those buildings.” Keating is one of only two sets in London top-ranked for construction by Chambers UK. Redmond tells us that “we're always assessing the needs in the global market and our place in it,” and as such the set is constantly looking for new areas to win instructions in. International arbitration is definitely on the up, so much so that Keating's hired a specialised alternative dispute resolution clerk to deal with the workload. Members are frequently active on arbitrations at the ICC International Court of Arbitration and Redmond informs us that “while 65% of our work is still domestic, I would say 35% is now international.” A fair few of Keating's members are also cross-qualified in jurisdictions including Hong Kong, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.
Keating is an expert at construction law, but it sees itself principally as a commercial set and has strong energy, arbitration, professional negligence and public procurement practices.
Construction is still the main plank in the house of Keating. Nearly all members do at least some work in this area and clients include contractors, subcontractors, architects, insurers and big institutions like BT and TfL. Marcus Taverner QC recently worked on a large £170 million claim in the Technology & Construction Court over a defective floor in a new wine-bottling plant. Meanwhile Paul Darling QC was active on the £15 million J Reddington v Galliford Try case concerning the athletes' village in London's Olympic Park. Keating literally wrote the book on construction law –Keating on Construction Contracts, now in its tenth edition, is co-authored by over 20 members – and has recently published a new tome, Keating on Offshore Construction and Marine Engineering, co-authored by 15 members.
The title of this latest publication gives a clue that construction isn't the only type of matter Keating is built of. Head of pupillage Adam Constable QC tells us: “Traditionally we've just been seen as a construction set and while that practice is still on the main stage, there are other areas of commercial work that we deal with too. For example, my practice in the last year has been 75% energy sector work.” Chambers UK recognises the set with a Band 2 ranking in that area as well as top marks for international arbitration and professional negligence. On the energy side, recent highlights include advising on a dispute over a $40 billion LNG power plant project in Australia and dealing with a $70 million dispute concerning oil production delays from an offshore oil well in Guinea.
"I defend claims brought by angry BT customers."
Different supervisors walk pupils through each of the four three-month seats. The first seat sees pupils work exclusively for their supervisors, but by the second seat they open up to all members. Newbies told us that the first six is “all about getting things wrong and adjusting to the fact that everything is now going to be much more difficult than it was on the BPTC.” Pupils work on both live matters for their supervisors and dead matters which have already been completed. “Even though that can feel artificial, the plus side is that your supervisor has already done a perfect version of all your tasks.” Assignments at this stage include drafting advices, particulars of claim, defences and witness statements and pupils told us “you learn very quickly.”
The second six sees pupils continue to work on cases for their supervisors and take on work for other members. There's an active push to get them on their feet too, with some sources going to court “around six or seven times” during the period. Pupils are instructed on a variety of commercial matters. "The vast majority of my cases are for BT," a pupil told us. "I defend claims brought by angry BT customers." Pupils also head to court for things like applications to set aside default judgment and there's some construction-related work too: for instance, cases related to mistakes made during the building of extensions to people's homes. We also heard that pupils spend time acting opposite litigants in person, for instance dealing with vesting orders at the Companies Court. “That was really interesting because you have to be aware of all the duties of the litigant in person as well as you own. You have to ensure you make an effort to explain the law and what's going on to them.”
Towards the end of the third seat, pupils face the tenancy decision, “so that they often go into their fourth seat knowing the outcome,” explains Adam Constable. The tenancy committee reviews each pupil following feedback from their supervisors and prepares a recommendation on whether each should be taken on as tenant, which is then put to a vote of all members. A baby junior who successfully gained tenancy in 2015 recommended “working for a reasonable number of other members of chambers." Supervisors will help set up these opportunities, but our junior interviewees recommend going for "a balance between quality and quantity. It's better to have done four really good pieces of work than 15 mediocre ones.” In 2015 Keating made tenants of both its pupils and though it only kept on one of three in 2016 it did also take on a third-sixer.
Keep it social
Pupillage applications go like this: the paper sift sees approximately 150 anonymised applications whittled down to a top 50 who are then sent a written exercise. The exercise is usually a contractual problem that a member has previously dealt with. It will usually be set in a construction context but “you don't need any knowledge of construction law. We just ask you to read a short set of papers and write an advice,” states Adam Constable. However, he does advise that “applicants should have at least a basic understanding of contract law.” So those about to start the GDL might want to apply after they've done the contract module.
"I first had to explain what hashtagging was to some of the panellists.”
Between 25 and 30 candidates are invited to a 15-minute first-round interview. They're asked standardised structured questions about their application and then debate against another applicant on “a moral question which they are told to take a certain stance on.” Insiders told us that one debate centred on “whether fat people should be taxed.” Constable explains that “it's a great way to see the best of a candidate because it tests their ability to think on their feet and potentially to argue against their own beliefs.” Juniors offered their advice on how to tackle this challenge. “Be nice to your opponent," one recommended. "In a debate it's easy to get carried away, but in chambers we regularly have members that act on opposite sides of the same case and it's important to still be able to maintain a good relationship in that situation.”
A lucky 12 make it to a second interview, which consists of 30 minutes in front of a panel of at least three practitioners. Candidates are asked about their previous written exercise and give a five-minute presentation on an “esoteric interest that they have.” Pupils recounted previous presentation topics including the history of Essex Street, cheating in the Tour de France and “whether hashtagging is effectively a form of activism. I first had to explain what hashtagging was to some of the panellists.”
“Everyone has their doors open, because everyone here is really open and friendly,” a current pupil told us. Adam Constable points out that “lots of our clients are down-to-earth people working in gritty industries, so we're not a stuffy set: we have a reputation for rolling up our sleeves and getting on with things.” A slightly more laid-back atmosphere typifies Keating's social scene. The most recent Christmas bash was held at what is apparently “the longest bar in Europe,” and at the junior end there are regular email chains to organise impromptu lunches.
Not a construction aficionado? Don't worry. That's not a requirement when you apply here. “You should come here because construction law is an awesome area of commercial law!” a pupil beamed.
15 Essex Street,
- No of silks 29
- No of juniors 29
- No of pupils up to 3
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Portal
- Pupillages (pa) Three 12-month pupillages available
- Tenancies Three offered in last three years
Type of work undertaken