Grading, assessments... Maitland's pupils get a thorough education at this top commercial Chancery set.
Plenty more offshore
Maitland's strategy over the next few years is going to be driven by two intertwined focuses, senior clerk John Wiggs tells us. “First, we're going to strengthen our core areas and second we're going to continue looking at ways of gaining more international work; already a substantial part of the work we handle has an international strand to it. Jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Asia make up a massive amount of our offshore work and we're increasingly seeing litigation originating in China.”
Offshore's just one of the many pies Maitland has its fingers in; as Wiggs explains: “Our strength lies in our overlapping areas of expertise and the fact that our members often specialise in several fields. That also makes it very difficult to apportion our work into different segments.” Wiggs isn't to be deterred though, and estimates that, roughly speaking, 50% of the set's work is commercial Chancery, 25% private client and 25% property. Within this you'll find tenants undertaking work in areas like charities, professional negligence, and media and entertainment. And Wiggs adds that “international arbitration is an area we're increasingly looking at. More and more parties engaged in shareholder disputes have chosen this path.” Arbitration specialists Simon Nesbitt QC and Paul Klass have recently joined Maitland to help develop this area.
"It's satisfying to know you've affected their thinking in some way.”
Chambers UK considers Maitland one of the leading sets for fraud, offshore and commercial Chancery work and members handle some of the largest disputes to hit the headlines. For example, they continue to act in proceedings arising from both the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the fallout from the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Members have also appeared in the Privy Council in Krys v KBC & New World Value Fund, a dispute over the interpretation of the articles of a limited liability partnership, and in the Supreme Court in Mirza v Patel, a case concerning an agreement to conduct insider trading. Meanwhile Dominic Chambers QC is representing the claimant at the first hearing of the Brexit Article 50 litigation over the legal framework under which the government can trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in order to leave the European Union.
Making the grade
Pupils spend their first three months with one supervisor, then pass through a “conveyor belt" of four supervisors, "spending ten weeks with each working in a different area. So you might see commercial, insolvency, charity and real estate matters, depending on what your supervisor is working on at the time.” Interviewees had practised their skills on older, completed tasks from ongoing or concluded cases, but also turned their hand to constructing first drafts of opinions, pleadings and skeleton arguments on live matters like commercial disputes and bankruptcy applications. “Even though your supervisor may only use a small part of your work in the final product, it's satisfying to know you've affected their thinking in some way,” one interviewee told us.
Work is “constantly graded” from A to E (with an 'N' where the standard falls below BSB requirements). “We're marked against the end standard for the whole year, so my first piece got a D," one source informed us. "But although we're under pressure to do well, we know exactly what we're aiming for by July,” when pupils should be attaining As. And it's worth noting that as terrifying as receiving an N sounds, it won't automatically disqualify you from tenancy – “I got one after completely missing a crucial point,” one baby junior remembered.
Academic excellence is a given for aspiring Maitland pupils but it should be combined with a personable nature and commercial awareness.
In their second six, instead of spending time on their feet, Maitland's pupils complete six advocacy assessments between February and July. They're required to role-play exercises like seeking a hearing adjournment or freezing order. A member of chambers plays the judge and gets admirably into character – “I got told off for not addressing them by the proper title!” one interviewee remembered – and three assessors look on from the sidelines.
Feedback from assessments is “so detailed!” one pupil exclaimed. “I was told a specific sentence in my opening was suitable for a High Court judge in London but completely out of place for the County Court application I'd been tasked with. You don't always consider things like that so it's great to get feedback on both legal and practical issues. You wouldn't get that from appearing in court.”
Mumford & sons
In 2016 the set granted tenancy to one of its two pupils. The decision is made based on both the advocacy assessments and supervisors' feedback. Pupillage committee member and pupil supervisor David Mumford told us that “if a pupil attains our level of excellence, they're in. There are no restrictions on how many new tenants we take on.”
Interviewees told us this system means “there's no competition between the pupils; we know we can confide in each other and share any worries about how we're doing.” Pupils also keep each other in the loop when it comes to switching supervisors. One told us: “My predecessor has warned me if there are any potential pitfalls when working on certain types of cases.” Every year the current pupils give those who are about to start a heads up on the pupillage experience by taking them out for dinner – sans members – so newbies “feel comfortable asking about absolutely anything.”
“You're expected to work hard. But they never ask the impossible."
The set's social committee, 'pubco', herds willing revellers (usually junior members, sometimes senior ones too) out for a drink on Thursdays, and we're told that “as a pupil it's a brilliant way of getting to know everyone.” Chambers tea takes place every afternoon with sources describing it as “pretty informal; people pop in and out when they can make it.” Although interviewees described Maitland's culture as fairly relaxed, one did note: “You're expected to work hard. But they never ask the impossible; I've been very well shielded by the case leader when things got too much.”
In addition, we're told Maitland “isn't run by a small cabal of grand old silks who are very set in their ways.” For example, one baby junior told us, “I've only been a tenant for a year, and everyone's genuinely interested in what I have to say, whether that's in practice area focus groups or as part of the marketing and business development committee.”
Maitland recruits outside the Pupillage Gateway and asks candidates to initially submit an application form directly to chambers. David Mumford tells us that at this stage the set is chiefly looking for evidence of good time management skills, especially in stressful situations, and a demonstrated interest in advocacy. Candidates are also tasked with writing a persuasive proposition, which Mumford notes, “should be succinctly written and illustrate creativity.” Past successes include “arguing all drugs should be legalised or that chambers should book the applicant's Ceilidh band for the Christmas party,” a baby junior told us.
From around 150 initial applications, 30 candidates are invited for a first-round interview with three junior members. Here they're given 25 minutes to prepare a response to a problem question. Rather than testing legal knowledge the exercise is designed to find out “if candidates can persuasively articulate their views and withstand scrutiny as to why they might be wrong,” Mumford tells us. That doesn't mean interviewees should bullishly persist if they realise they're on the wrong track though. As Mumford explains: “Identifying and quickly conceding where you've gone wrong can be as good as getting the answer right.”
From here, ten to 12 candidates return for a second interview with a larger panel, which includes some QCs. This time applicants have 90 minutes to prepare a response to a more detailed problem question, testing whether they can “digest technically complex facts, spot the issues, and construct and articulate a coherent, persuasive and intelligent view." The advice on how to get through this stage is as follows: "Don't get too bogged down in the law as we're looking at the quality of your reasoning rather than whether it's legally correct.”
“Transitioning from academic law to the practice of law isn't always easy and ultimately, we're about the latter,” says pupillage committee member David Mumford.
7 Stone Buildings,
- No of silks 30
- No of juniors 41
- No of pupils up to 3
- Contact Valerie Piper, pupillage secretary, [email protected]
- Method of application see chambers’ website from October 2016
- Pupillages (pa) up to 3 funded
- Income £65,000 pa
- Tenancies in last three years 6
Type of work undertaken