QEB keeps its pupils engaged with “exceptional training” and fosters “an atmosphere in which you really want to push yourself.”
The family tree
Family planning is taken seriously at this family law set: “We've intentionally stayed small to maintain a personable atmosphere," sources told us. "We've never had an influx of tenants from outside or merged with another chambers; our members stick with us for a long time, so there's a real family feel here.” It's an approach which is deemed so successful that former senior clerk Ivor Treherne tells us the future at QEB is all about “maintaining and building on the work that we do; there's no need to do otherwise.”
Treherne informs us that 98% of QEB's work is family law. Within that about 65% is matrimonial finance (ie divorce) and the rest is children related – custody disputes and abduction claims. (The 2% of QEB's work which isn't family related is professional and medical negligence.) Given this spread of work, pupil supervisor Rosemary Budden cautions: “If you want to do only children cases then we're probably not the set for you. If you're interested in matrimonial finance and would like to do some children work alongside it, then this is absolutely the right place.”
Both children and divorce work are on offer at this family set.
QEB's matrimonial finance work has earned top-tier Chambers UK rankings for over a decade. Barristers deal with the fallout from marriages, civil partnerships and cohabitation agreements, but also handle prenups, forced marriage disputes, financial and domestic injunctions, and Inheritance Act claims. Clients range from those with nothing to high net worth individuals. One recent matrimonial finance dispute involved an alleged £50 million in offshore accounts and a 1920s vintage Bentley, while another member acted on behalf of a husband on a pro bono basis in the Court of Appeal to determine in which jurisdiction divorce proceedings should be heard.
We're told that only a small proportion of QEB's work is funded by legal aid. "It's maybe 5 to 10% of what I do," a baby junior reported. "We're seeing far fewer legal aid clients than we did two or three years ago because of the reforms and funding cuts." Meanwhile, a pupil told us they'd worked on a non-molestation case related to domestic violence – the only criteria by which family cases can now receive legal aid. Ivor Treherne comments: “The cuts to legal aid have not really affected our revenue stream as it only ever provided a small part of our turnover. The changes do affect us in another way though, as we now face more competition for non-legal aid work from sets which have been directly affected.”
The first rule of tenancy meeting
Pupils sit with three supervisors in blocks of four months and are also assigned a junior contact for the year who acts as support. “They help answer questions, advise on issues which predominantly affect juniors, and take you out for a drink if you're stressed.” That's not to say supervisors are hard to approach – "no question is too stupid as supervisors accept that every pupil comes here with a different level of experience.”
In the first six, pupils stick with “whatever your supervisor is working on; for example, very high-value divorces. A lot is at stake in these cases, so every piece of work has to be completed to the very highest standard. That's brilliant for finding out how things should be done.” Depending on a supervisor's workflow, sources reported handling both practice tasks and live work, such as “putting together asset schedules, chronologies and statements of issue.” One source reported compiling several first appointment documents –“they're very beneficial pieces of work for pupils to do as they force you to consider what direction a case might take, and plan for the possibility of going to trial.”
“It's brilliant but exceedingly nerve-racking."
By the time pupils are ready to undertake advocacy in their second six, “you've been watching for so long you just think: 'lemme at 'em!'” one interviewee enthused. “It's brilliant but exceedingly nerve-racking. You've been watching great people conduct advocacy so you know exactly how it's supposed to be done, but you also know that what you're going to do probably won't be as good!” From the beginning “you're dealing with quite complex matters; and you could be handling the same issues for a family on benefits as a family earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.” Cases picked up in the second six often carry on into tenancy so the transition (if you make it) “feels like a very natural progression.”
Assessments start in November and continue until the tenancy decision is made in July. These include several written assignments (eg producing first appointment documents), an advocacy exercise on a Children Act case, a financial dispute hearing, and a formal advocacy assessment with the head of chambers, which determines whether pupils can undertake live advocacy in their second six. These assessments, alongside a pupil's “commitment, tenacity and skills" are all considered during the tenancy decision, Rosemary Budden tells us. “We always say if someone is a superstar we will take them on regardless of how much work there is. If they're good but not a superstar then we'll consider how much work there is and how strong the other candidates are.” One junior tenant couldn't tell us exactly what got them through the door as “the rule is you're never told what occurred in the tenancy meeting.” But they did reckon their constant attempts to improve probably helped: “I was relentless and tried to gain as many positive points as possible.” Two of three pupils gained tenancy in 2016.
“If I gained tenancy here I don't think I'd see a huge difference in my life because everyone already makes me feel like a member," one interviewee claimed. "As pupils we're completely integrated into chambers life. Everyone is willing to help if you have a problem.” Another source agreed, adding: “Everyone gets on well with each other. I hope I'm not making us sound boring! It's just a very pleasant environment to work in." That atmosphere extends to chambers tea at 4pm. “It's pretty informal; everyone has a chat and it's always better when it's not about law," one source joked. "And there are no silly rules like pupils having to eat the ginger nuts and not the chocolate hobnobs. You can have whatever you want.”
"We're looking at how someone applies logical reasoning and works through the question.”
Around 85 to 105 aspiring pupils apply through the Pupillage Gateway each year. Three members separately rank each application before coming together and selecting the top 20 candidates to attend a half-hour interview with the head of chambers, another silk, one junior tenant and the pupillage secretary. Interviewees are tasked with answering a legal question and Rosemary Budden tells us: “We're not really interested in whether they come to the right answer, instead we're looking at how someone applies logical reasoning and works through the question.”
If you're looking to apply then good people skills are a must. “We're interested in applicants who can demonstrate strong leadership and teamwork abilities,” says Budden, “for example by being able to bring onside people who don't share their views.” Time management and efficiency are also in-demand skills and can, for example, be demonstrated by “still gaining good grades at university while holding down a job or running student societies.” Does this set favour any particular extracurricular experiences over others? “We're very committed to exposing ourselves to a whole range of applicants so we're open to people presenting their experiences to us and telling us why we should be interested in them,” says Rosemary Budden. Among the set's most recent new members are two people with teaching experience, two former political aides, and someone who spent time doing pro bono work at the National Centre for Domestic Violence.
Sources said there's no single dominant personality type at QEB: "Clients want different things; they may ask for a tenacious advocate for a financial hearing or someone very empathetic for a different children's issue."
Queen Elizabeth Building QEB
Queen Elizabeth Building,
- No of silks 5
- No of juniors 27
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Andrew Campbell, secretary to the pupillage committee
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages two 12-month pupillages
- Award 30,000 pupillage award + earnings in second six and from devilling
- Tenancies offered in the last three years 3