XXIV Old Buildings’ commercial Chancery capabilities are matched only by its offshore expertise.
Ducking through the vaulted undercroft of Lincoln’s Inn chapel, you end up in a quiet pocket of 16th century red-brick houses dappled in the shade of a tremendous oak, and in the corner we find XXIV Old Buildings. Right down to the Roman numerals, first impressions are that Old Buildings is old school. But that twee image is entirely wrong. Just look at the website, splashed with Bahamian beach houses, flashy Hong Kong skylines and yachts bobbing in the cerulean seas off the British Virgin islands; it all hints at a set that is ahead of the game when it comes to offshore work. Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Dubai, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands also feature regularly in barristers’ instructions, which include disputes relating to trusts, private wealth, banking, financial services, hedge funds, accountants, aviation, real estate investments and developers. An annexe office in Geneva helps to ensure that the set’s international presence is well maintained.
No 24 chalks up a top-notch ranking in Chambers UK for its offshore undertakings. The value of disputes is often massive: barristers are currently defending Carlyle – one of the world’s largest private equity firms – in a $1 billion claim stemming from a Guernsey-based hedge fund collapse. Members have also been active on a major family trusts dispute which has seen proceedings commence in seven jurisdictions; the main litigation is in Jersey and involves a $100 million breach of trust claim made by the daughter of the family. Chambers director Sue Medder tells us: “We’re always looking at jurisdictions around the world where disputes may arise. China interests us, as Chinese investment is becoming increasingly external" – and when a Chinese company invests abroad, the contract involved is often drawn up under English law even if the investment has nothing to do with the UK. For example "there’s lots of Chinese construction happening in Dubai, and naturally disputes will arise over construction contracts, some of which then have to be settled under English law.”
Don't fall at the first hurdle: call them 'twenty-four old buildings'.
Chambers UK recognises XXIV in its highest band for traditional Chancery work, as well as giving the nod to the aviation, commercial Chancery, company, fraud, partnership, professional negligence and restructuring/insolvency practices. “We’re known for being quite Chancery-focused, and perhaps hide our commercial reputation under a bushel,” Medder believes. In practice, XXIV's work splits roughly 50-50 between commercial and Chancery, with commercial well on the up after some massive financial bust-ups recently brought in new work. For example, one member railed against the former directors of Lloyds TSB on behalf of a group of unhappy shareholders; the class action raised relates to the bank’s acquisition of HBOS during the 2008 banking crisis, and the claim could reach the £1 billion mark if shareholders continue to come forward. Such big-money cases are complemented by a healthy dose of more modest instructions in which juniors do the advocacy themselves. Pupil supervisor Erin Hitchens told us: “As a junior junior I did plenty of smaller cases: the sort where someone would sue a landscape architect for messing up their back garden. I still do some cases like that now, which provides nice variety when contrasted with the big commercial matters.”
XXIV and there’s so much more
Take note that XXIV has moved its application deadline forward so that it now falls before the earlier Pupillage Gateway deadline, meaning the set now recruits very early. The deadline for pupillages starting in October 2018 is 9am on 24 November 2016.
The 180 or so applicants to XXIV each year begin by completing an online aptitude test, designed to assess logic and reasoning abilities. The top 16 candidates are fast-tracked to the first round of interviews, and of the next 40 highest scorers, 20 are chosen for interview on the basis of a simple application form. According to Hitchens: “We’ve tried to make the form as anonymous as possible, so it doesn’t give any hints as to a candidate’s name or academic background. On the form we’re looking for a commitment to the Bar and to the practices that we cover. Mooting and advocacy experience are essential, as are mini-pupillages and other activities which demonstrate a commitment to Chancery or commercial Chancery work.” The subsequent interview provides candidates with an opportunity to expand on their professional ambitions and legal interests.
"You start to appreciate time limits, tactics and the ebb and flow of litigation in real life.”
The lucky 12 who progress to the final round are invited to an assessment day, which comprises four tasks: a critical reasoning test, the writing of a skeleton argument, an oral exercise and a group exercise. The last of these sees interviewees come together as four trustees of a charity, with the aim of unanimously agreeing where a bequest should go within a certain time limit. There are three pupillages up for grabs, so “it’s important to be confident, yet present your point of view in an amenable and personable way. They want to see that you can assert yourself while collaborating with others.”
Pupils do four stints of three months with different supervisors. During the first six, it’s very much 'do as your supervisor does,' so “if they’re in the Court of Appeal in your first week of pupillage then so are you. If a skeleton argument needs filing for an upcoming hearing, you’ll both have a crack at it and compare notes.” Interviewees found this experience on live work “invaluable, as you start to learn how barristers think. You start to appreciate time limits, tactics and the ebb and flow of litigation in real life.”
With trusts, aviation, company, commercial and insolvency disputes all on the cards, pupils bear witness to a lot of high-value cases. Consequently, “instructions are often far from straightforward, so it’s not the case that the floodgates of casework open up in your second six.” Pupils rarely take on their own cases until at least after the tenancy decision is made. However, “you’re not seen as a mere research tool, and the work pupils are given is incredibly intellectually bracing. You really have to take a step back and test all of your conclusions.” Though “you will certainly work hard,” pupils felt “very well protected by supervisors.” When 6.30pm arrives “they won’t hesitate to tell you to head home – they know that you’ll have many years of late nights to come!"
At the end of each seat, supervisors and any other members who have worked with a pupil contribute written reviews of their performance. After nine months these are compiled by the pupillage committee and circulated to the set’s 40-odd members, who then assemble to decide who should be taken on. “It’s a very fair method of assessment,” said a baby junior. “There are no sink-or-swim last-minute trials.” With feedback given during regular review meetings “after nine months you have a very clear idea of how far you’ve come. You’ll inevitably submit terrible bits of work early on, but as long as you’re at junior tenant level by the nine-month mark, you can expect to be kept on.” In 2016 XXIV held on to one of its two pupils as a tenant.
XXIV’s continuous assessment also means that pupils are never pitted against one another in competition for tenancy, “so there’s always someone who understands the psychological trauma you're imposing on yourself in the build-up to the decision!” Such conviviality isn’t confined to the two pupils; all of our interviewees agreed that “cleaner, clerk, junior or silk, we all work together to achieve more than we could individually. For that reason people here take an interest in each other's lives, and you’ll never brush by someone in the corridor without a kind word or an enquiry as to how your day is going.”
Interviewees were quick to point out XXIV’s lack of any obscure or antiquated traditions. According to one pupil, “the only tradition I’ve noticed is that the idea I would pay for my own drinks is frowned upon!”
XXIV Old Buildings
24 Old Buildings,
- No of silks 12
- No of juniors 30
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Steven Thompson QC
- Method of application Online application form. Please see www.xxiv.co.uk for guidance
- Pupillages (pa) 3
- Tenancies Usually up to three per year
- Other offices Geneva
Type of work undertaken
XXIV Old Buildings is known for its pre-eminence in international work, both contentious and advisory. With offices in both London and Geneva, the barristers at XXIV Old Buildings regularly appear in courts and tribunals across the world including the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Jersey, the Isle of Man, the Dubai International Financial Centre, the Bahamas, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Chambers will be recruiting for pupillage commencing in October 2018 in November 2016. The deadline for the receipt of applications is 9am on Friday 25 November 2016.