Littleton offers pupils a heady cocktail of commercial and employment work.
Work work work work work work
It was either Barbadian megastar Rihanna or a baby junior at Littleton who said, “Work is such a huge part of everyone's life.” The barristers at Littleton Chambers worry about work more than most people do, because a little over half of this set's instructions are in the field of employment law. Littleton gets top marks from Chambers UK for its employment work, but this isn't all it does. “The rest of our practice is a real mix,” Tim Tarring of the clerks' room tells us. Juniors agree. “Chambers does a lot of work in areas of law that sit between more conventional specialisms,” a baby junior told us. Littleton has a solid practice in employment-esque areas like professional discipline and breach of confidentiality, and barristers work on general commercial disputes too.
"At Littleton you get early advocacy experience, mix common law and statute work, and work on cases that are both commercial and personal," says pupillage committee head Dale Martin.
Employment law can be divided into statutory employment work, like unfair dismissal claims and tribunal work, and High Court employment work, like breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty matters. This High Court employment work frequently involves other commercial specialties. For example, in 2015 Littleton's Stuart Richie QC represented a Mr Al Refai who had been accused of breach of confidence by his former employer, a Bahraini bank, and of defamation by a Saudi real estate developer; the case ultimately settled, but it's a good example of how Littleton's commercial and employment practices overlap. Another good example is the set's successful representation of Optaglio, which specialises in the 'laser holographic etching of microchips', in a Court of Appeal case against two former directors who it accused of fraud and misappropriation of intellectual property. And then there's the set's ongoing representation of a Kazakh mining company in a case against its former director, Conservative Party bigshot Paul Judge, for breach of fiduciary duty.
"Things appear to be on the up again.”
Much of the set's statutory work involves whistle-blowing claims in the Employment Tribunal, but there are also redundancy and unfair dismissal cases to get stuck into. Recent matters include defending International Petroleum in an Employment Tribunal case brought by a man who claimed to have been penalised for blowing the whistle on corrupt payments to government officials in Niger, and representing a group of out-of-work miners in claims arising from the closure of Thoresby Colliery (Britain's last deep coal mine). The introduction of tribunal fees and the government's curious decision to introduce a two-year period during which employees can't claim unfair dismissal have impacted the employment Bar and spurred on Littleton's moves to diversify. Those of you with a penchant for employment work need not worry though; employment law isn't on the way out. “You can never tell with employment law,” muses Tim Tarring, “but things appear to be on the up again.”
Weighs a Littleton
Pupils do four three-month seats, during which time “chambers tries to give you a good spread of employment and commercial work.” The type of work you do initially is guided by your supervisor's practice. “If your supervisor is more junior, you'll see a lot of tribunal work,” one pupil informed us, “while the senior barristers' practices are increasingly High Court-focused.” The baby barristers we spoke to thought that pupillage was best thought of as a period of slowly increasing activity. “In your first seat you'll work almost exclusively for your supervisor,” a pupil told us, “while over your second and third seats you will do work for between 15 and 20 other members.” Pupils' tasks include “drafting pleadings, opinions, skeleton arguments and research notes,” and young guns work on live cases from their first seat.
“Chambers tries to give you a good spread of employment and commercial work.”
Pupils aren't formally assessed on every individual piece of work they do, but that doesn't mean pupils shouldn't give them their all. “You get feedback at the end of your first seat,” one explained, “and if you've screwed up, that might well make it into the final report.” By contrast, work done for other members is formally assessed. “Every time you work for someone, they produce a feedback sheet giving you marks out of ten.” Pupils should gun for a seven or above on every piece of work. At the same time there's an appreciation that “they aren't looking for the finished article,” so much as “your potential to become an established, self-sufficient practitioner.” Pupillage committee head Dale Martin agrees, telling us the aim is to make sure “people are on the right trajectory.”
There are six assessed exercises throughout the year: two written pieces and four advocacy exercises. The latter simulate the various court proceedings that junior Littletonians are likely to sample, such as an application for a High Court injunction or a submission to an Employment Tribunal. These are “set pieces that the pupillage committee puts forward for their ability to test candidates' abilities,” according to Dale Martin. The results of these exercises, combined with reports from pupils' supervisors and feedback from other members are all bundled into a final report on the basis of which all members get to vote on the tenancy decision. Supervisors' reports “go a long way towards recommending you or otherwise,” one source revealed. In 2016, one of two pupils took up tenancy.
When it comes to the pupillage interview “academics will get you through the door,” but in order to bag a pupillage you'll also need to be analytical, a good advocate and generally well-rounded. Having applied through the Pupillage Gateway, aspirants face a three-stage process. First, their applications are weighed against a number of criteria, and the 20 to 25 people who make the cut are invited for a first-round interview. The next stage is a three-day mini pupillage, which Dale Martin tells us is an incredibly important part of the assessment process. After the mini ten candidates proceed to a final panel interview in front of four pupillage committee members.
"There are lots of ways of showing excellence.”
At the time of our research, we looked at Littleton's website and found that seven of the ten most junior members of chambers were Oxbridge undergrads. But our sources strongly encouraged those from other alma maters to not shy away from applying, telling us that “the standard is excellence, and there are lots of ways of showing excellence.” The set also takes diversity seriously and publishes diversity data on its website.
To be a successful employment barrister you have to be able to relate to an individual's concerns and worries, so being a people person is a plus. That said, Dale Martin comments that Littleton has “people who are extroverts and people who are introverts.” This is a sociable place though, and although “not an afternoon tea sort of set,” people “do get through an awful lot of tea during the day,” usually while having a good natter. Pupils can “expect to stroll around, chat to people and see how they are.” There are regular informal after-hours gatherings for drinks in certain members' rooms, as well as regular excursions to local drinking establishment the Pegasus Bar. And while showing us around, Dale Martin was keen for us to know that in summer, Littleton's roof terrace plays host to a number of social gatherings.
Before quaffing wine on the roof terrace or heading to a local bar, pupils are expected to do some work, but the hours are reasonable. One insider said 9am to 6pm is a normal day for a pupil, “with some slight adjustments depending on what your supervisor's doing.” One source added, positively: “I had one supervisor who was always very insistent that I leave at 6pm. If I was still here at 6.30pm he'd want to know why.” It's the nature of the beast that law will involve some late nights, however, and our sources had worked on some weekends, but they assured us that this had happened only once or twice over the course of a six.
If you apply here, be sure to get your head around the distinction between Littleton's statutory employment law work and its commercial employment side.
3 King's Bench Walk North,
- No of silks 15
- No of juniors 44
- No of pupils 2 (currently)
- Contact Felicity Schneider, administration director
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) two 12-month pupillages
- Required degree level 2:1 (law or non-law)
- Income £67,500 award (2018). Earnings not included.
Type of work undertaken