“The balance between exciting live work and old work is just right” at this commercial Chancery set, which is one of the top players in the field.
Sunny side up
“We're not the sort of chambers that says 'Yes, we can do that!' to every area of law, and then end up in difficulties,” says senior clerk John Wiggs. “That's short term-ism.” Fortunately, what this set does, it does well. Chambers UK ranks the set in a dozen areas and hands Maitland top-tier accolades for commercial Chancery, civil fraud and offshore work. “Most of the work has a business element to it,” explains Wiggs.
Commercial Chancery is at the heart of the practice, but there's also a fair amount of traditional Chancery, property and private client work. Wiggs believes that “Maitland's USP is dealing with cases that require two or three areas of specialism, so our work can't really be siloed into categories.” Members' coverage is surprisingly broad with agriculture, charities, insolvency, professional negligence and media work all in the mix too.
“So much of our work is international now,” says Wiggs. “We'll continue looking at new jurisdictions. We have to. As the world has got smaller, international work at the Bar has expanded massively.” Maitland has reaped the rewards of that change, with members working on matters related to exotic jurisdictions like Hong Kong, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and... the Channel Islands. Other international work comes from East Asia, “China in particular," says Wiggs. "That contrasts with ten years ago when much of our international work originated in Russia.”
“As the world has got smaller, international work at the Bar has expanded massively.”
While sticking to its areas of expertise, Maitland is alive to new opportunities. “Historically arbitration concerned areas we don't do, like shipping, construction and insurance," says Wiggs. "Now shareholder disputes are going to arbitration because of clauses in the agreements between parties, so we're working to raise our profile for arbitrations.” When it comes to high-profile litigation meanwhile, it doesn't get much bigger than the Article 50 Supreme Court Miller case. It decided whether the government could trigger Brexit without an Act of Parliament, and Maitland's Dominic Chambers QC represented Deir Dos Santos, one of the claimants. He's also been instructed to challenge the Conservatives' deal with the DUP on the grounds it contravenes the Good Friday Agreement.
More in line with what Maitland's known for are cases concerning the Madoff Ponzi scheme and matters related to the Lehman bankruptcy. Members also represented FTSE-listed mining company Asia Resource Minerals in a case over alleged financial irregularities and mismanagement of a subsidiary. Other barristers represented members of classic rock group Deep Purple after the misappropriation of £4 million in royalties.
Pupils move through four seats with different supervisors, each lasting ten weeks, from October to July. What pupils work on during those seats “entirely depends on what your supervisor is doing. They will try to involve you in their matters but also give you some self-contained old work. That will be something that touches on important issues which progress your understanding of the area.” Working on these 'dead' cases, pupils had drafted opinions, pleadings and particulars of claim, “so when you start practising those documents aren't completely alien to you.”
However, pupils preferred 'live' work on current cases. “There's time pressure and it's more informal: I've often done little bits of research or discrete tasks like drafting three paragraphs of a skeleton argument or a note of advice. Sometimes you send something to your supervisor, they send it to their leader, then the QC sends it out in their name and you think: 'I wrote those paragraphs!' Making that tiny contribution to the case is good for your self esteem.” One supervisor had simulated a case in real time to provide a further test. A pupil told us: “He was sending me emails and re-enacting it to be as close as possible to a live case.”
The tenancy decision comes at the end of pupils' four seat (in July) with work graded right from the off. “Technically all of your work is graded A to E – it's all taken into consideration, but they do look at your trajectory.” Since pupils “start off getting Cs and Ds,” pupillage committee member David Mumford reiterates: “We expect people to make mistakes, it's the only way to learn.” Junior interviewees praised the “extremely detailed feedback.” One recalled: “I've asked for feedback, waited half a day while my supervisor reads through my draft, and then received it back with comments paragraph by paragraph!” Pupils also receive a written pro-forma report at the end of each seat.
“...little habits or ticks you have like looking too defensive.”
Besides pupils' written work, the tenancy decision is based on six advocacy exercises. Beginning three months into pupillage, assessments come roughly once a month, with pupils role-playing “basic applications to adjourn and commercial freezing applications.” Pupils face a member of chambers playing the judge, who “never breaks character.” Familiar face or not, it's still “nerve-wracking by its nature.” Once again feedback is forthcoming, “both from assessors and from the 'judges'.” That may even focus on “little habits or ticks you have like looking too defensive.”
Pupils don't practise in their second six, so these advocacy assessments are essential for “giving them an opportunity to get on their feet,” says David Mumford. This experience is supplemented by regular trips to court to assist supervisors throughout the first four seats. These trips become even more regular in a final 12-week period spent with a last supervisor, in which pupils work their way through the hearings they'll need to do themselves once in practice. “You're kept abreast of what other members are doing, and you're welcome to go along with them to court.”
Nine months into pupillage, supervisors and advocacy assessors get together with their reports and have a full and frank discussion on whether pupils have made the grade. "The first three months of pupillage are less significant than the last three” in making the decision, says David Mumford.In 2017 one of the two pupils took up tenancy.
Silk and vinegar?
Afternoon tea is a good opportunity to pick up some handy advice –“sometimes you can have a niggly problem with your work and somebody there will solve it in ten seconds.” But, rid of any excessive formality, it also builds bonds within the set and gives more senior members a chance to “regale you with tales of their pupillage.” We also heard that “nobody is off limits. Everyone has a lot of time for you.”
Junior tenants and pupils keep it admirably British by assembling for fish and chips on a Friday, while the 'pubco' social committee rallies members to local pubs on a Thursday. Hard work's on the menu between nine and six but pupils barely worked beyond that, and we heard that when it comes to tenancy “the set's quite forward in addressing mental health and teaching you how to deal with stress. It's a relaxed place: you see members in chinos.”
“The set's quite forward thinking on how to deal with stress."
Maitland asks its 100 or so applicants to fill out a set-specific online form. In addition to “the things you'd expect – your background, why this area of law – you have to persuade them of something.” It doesn't have to be something legal: one applicant argued for “the abolition of wigs and gowns,” and David Mumford advises that it's a chance to “differentiate yourself and show us your personality. People have focused on politics, TV and poetry.” Mumford also stresses the need for “evidence of your ability, rather than just assertions.”
Roughly 30 make it through to the first interview, where they face three junior members and “a short problem question, like interpreting a statute. Interviewees don't need to know the law concerned. We're looking for good articulation and reasoning, but also an ability to withstand questioning,” says Mumford. “We're also looking to see whether they can adjust if they've gone wrong: quick thinking and good judgement is important.”
Ten to 12 make it through to a second interview, facing a panel of four or five people (usually at least one QC) and take on “a more focused, detailed problem question. You have 45 minutes in advance to work through it, and we are more interested in seeing how you have analysed it and broken it down, than in your detailed knowledge of the law.”
“Being a barrister is not all about the performance,” says David Mumford QC. “90% of being successful is in the prep. You don't have to be bombastic, you just have to inspire confidence.”
7 Stone Buildings,
- No of silks 299
- 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 5
Type of work undertaken
Pupils spend their first three months in chambers with one pupil supervisor in order that the pupil can find his or her feet and establish a point of contact. For the balance of the pupillage year each pupil will sit with different pupil supervisors, usually for two months at a time. The set believes that it is important for pupils to see all of the different kinds of work done in chambers.
Chambers believes that oral advocacy remains a core skill of the commercial chancery barrister. The set provides in-house advocacy exercises for pupils during their pupillage. These take the form of mock hearings, prepared in advance from adapted sets of papers, with senior members of chambers acting as the tribunal. They provide detailed feedback after each exercise. These exercises are part of the assessment process and help develop essential court skills.