QEB is a family law set with a “family feel” that does both divorce and children work.
This set has a few things in common with its royal namesake. For one it's pretty old (sorry ma'am), having been established 100 years ago. It's also pretty singular in its commitment, having resisted any expansion into other areas. Most importantly, like our beloved monarch, this set has had plenty of experience dealing with scandalous divorces and messy matrimonial rifts.
Fortunately, that's about as far as the comparisons go, although we did regret there wasn't a pack of corgis waiting to greet us at the door. Walking into QEB's digs in Temple Gardens feels anything but conservative or stuffy. “Having a team of just 34 tenants keeps things friendly and approachable. We have a real family feel here,” pupil supervisor Rosemary Budden tells us.
“Having a team of just 34 tenants keeps things friendly and approachable.”
Our interviewees didn’t hesitate when asked to elaborate on their passion for family law. “Whilecommercial litigation mostly involves written work and crime sees you mostly in court, family gives you a healthy mix of both,” one pupil explained. “Family law is also forward looking,” Rosemary Budden adds. “At the criminal and commercial Bar you are mostly acting retrospectively: looking at 'how the contact was breached' or 'how the crime was committed', but in family we are looking for solutions for the future.” She continues: “Family law is also unusual as it's not governed by much legislation but rather by case law, most of which is from the past ten to 15 years. Society's views on family law are always changing which has an interesting effect on the law and our job as we try and reflect those changes.”
While QEB tackles a variety of issues thrown up by feuding families, including domestic abuse and child abduction cases, “it's really matrimonial finance that's the set's specialism,” senior clerk Howard Rayner says. Matrimonial finance (ie rich people's divorces) makes up around two-thirds of the set's workload. The bulk of the remaining work relates to children with a further 2% devoted to professional and medical negligence.
Twenty of the set's 34 members are acknowledged by Chambers UK, eleven of whom place within the top two ranking bands. Solicitors' firms that instruct QEB include elite private client institutions like Withers, Penningtons Manches and Farrer & Co, as well as smaller and high-street firms.
Family fallouts are always difficult, more so when they are international. William Tyzack was recently instructed by a father in child abduction proceedings, seeking the return of children removed to China. He has also represented a defendant mother resisting the return of her children to Canada, as they faced 'grave risk of harm' under Article 13b of the Hague Convention. Tim Amos QC recently worked on a TOLATA (trusts of land and appointment of trustees act) case involving three jurisdictions, following divorce proceedings in France; Amos is defending a wife looking to sell property in London but whose husband is trying to litigate the same issue in Poland, seeking dismissal of the English proceedings.
With many members being multilingual, the set can tackle a breadth of specialist international work. For example, Saima Younis speaks Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Arabic and works particularly on Islamic marriages, while other members have in-depth knowledge of continental European legal systems. Putting a few hours into Duolingo may be beneficial, but a second language isn't a requisite for applicants.
Pupils sit with three supervisors in blocks of four months and are also assigned a junior contact to support them in a more pastoral capacity. “The first supervisor is responsible for providing you with a basic grounding in the areas of work we do; the second for overseeing the transition between your first and second six; and the third helps provide guidance around the tenancy decision,” a junior explained.Work-wise pupils were aware that “each supervisor has a specialism that you're exposed to,” but added that “you frequently go along to meetings with other members which helps round out pupillage.”
During the first six, pupils closely shadow their supervisor, helping to analyse cases and attending court. “We do this repeatedly to refine our understanding of the work and of the nitty-gritty of negotiations,” a junior explains. Pupils also help prepare preliminary documents, asset schedules and chronologies.
"I had been watching people in court every day for six months so I felt ready.”
QEB lets pupils off the chain early: they can expect to get up on their feet from the very start of the second six. “There isn't a huge difference between the cases which pupils and baby juniors take on,” a junior reported. A pupil's first time in court is a nerve-wracking moment, but an interviewee assured us: “By the time it came round I had been watching people in court every day for six months so I felt ready.” Pupils aren't going to be deciding the fate of a child's life the first time they're on their feet either; it's more likely you'll be tackling less consequential cases such as possession hearings.
While attending court is limited to once or twice a week at the beginning of the second six, “that slowly builds up to three or four times as you become accustomed to the process.” Despite the set's focus on matrimonial finance, “at the junior level you have a pretty even spread of cases with a balance between private law children disputes, financial remedies and domestic violence cases."
Six assessments stand between pupils and tenancy. While pupils admitted that “the assessments are challenging,” they also acknowledged that “you get a lot out of them." In addition, interviewees felt that "assessments are preferable to leaving the tenancy decision down to subjective anecdotes.” Starting in November and continuing through to July, the assessments are designed to reflect typical junior-level work and include producing a set of appointment documents and completing an advocacy exercise on a Children Act case.
Rosemary Budden notes that “when it comes to the tenancy decision, we look at pupils' skills and performance across the board rather than the result of a single assessment. Under the rules of our tenancy policy, it's the head of chambers who has the final word but we're not a dictatorship – all views are canvassed.” In 2017 the set kept on one of its two pupils as a tenant.
The barrister-clerk relationship isn't one of strict hierarchy either, especially in light of Howard Rayner's push to promote a more “relaxed manner of approach” by using first names. Pupils were also fond of the set's policy of "strictly sending us home at 6.30pm. Friends had warned me to prepare to give up my social life during pupillage but that hasn't happened." After tenancy, hours are likely to be longer.
If QEB floats your boat, then the first step is to shoot off an application via the Pupillage Gateway. Around 20 individuals are invited in for a single 20 to 30-minute interview, where they face a mixture of competency and problem-based questions. “We look to see how candidates think and approach the questions rather than the depth of their knowledge in this practice area,” says Rosemary Budden. “It would be a bit worrying if they had more knowledge than us!” 'Us' being the four members, including two silks, who conduct the interviews.
Our interviewees stressed that more than in any other field, “applicants looking to do family law have to be personable, persuasive and engaging. Family barristers are often dealing with people whose closest relationships have broken down, so they must have the ability to build up a rapport with clients and win their trust in difficult circumstances.” Note that extensive watching of Love Island, Coronation Street or Eastenders does not qualify you as an expert in relationships. Real-life experience of advising people going through tough personal problems is of more use.
Some advice from pupil supervisor Rosemary Budden: “As our typical day is so different from that of a Chancery or criminal barrister, I recommend doing a family-specific mini before applying.”
Queen Elizabeth Building QEB
Queen Elizabeth Building,
- No of silks 6
- 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 £35,000 pupillage award + earnings in second six and from devilling
- Tenancies Four tenancies offered in the last three years
- Annexes None
QEB has been established for well over 100 years and is consistently rated as one of the top-ranking sets for family law. Members of QEB have been involved in many of the most important cases of legal principle, including: White, Sorrell, Miller, Spencer, Marano, Robson, Schofield, Jones, Z v Z (No. 2), Petrodel v Prest, Mittal and Cooper-Hohn, AB v JJB (EMR Modification), Arif v Anwar, Broomfield, A v B (CJEU), E v E (Art.19 and Seisin B 11a) and Fields.
Many members of chambers have continued into high judicial office and Lord Wilson sits in the Supreme Court.
Chambers is a part of the Pupillage Gateway system. Applicants should apply in early 2018 season for a pupillage beginning in September 2019. Please consult the Pupillage Gateway website for details of the timetable.