Pupils here get a “rigorous but fair” ride through the niches, nooks and crannies of 11KBW’s two focus areas: employment and public law.
Head away from the bustle of Fleet Street, Embankment and the Strand into the calm haven of Inner Temple Garden and you might find yourself at the doorstep of 11KBW. The set was founded in 1981 by ten barristers (including one you may just have heard of, former PM Tony Blair) against a backdrop of Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme, the downfall of some of the UK’s biggest employment sources and a series of riots across the country. It’s no wonder that the set has a “strong tradition of public service” and its two main areas of work are employment and public law. “There aren’t too many sets that are a leading force in both those areas.”
Public law covers niche areas such as education, environment, procurement and community care, while employment can come in the form of sports and media, competition and data protection or human rights work. Chambers UK Bar bestows top rankings on 11KBW’s community care, public procurement, data protection, local government, education and employment practices; the set also acquits itself very well in administrative and public law, European law, and civil liberties and human rights. Brexit has helped shine a spotlight on the chambers: Jason Coppel QC caused a stir by appearing in the High Court to argue that Boris Johnson misled the public during the campaign.
“Strong tradition of public service.”
Joint senior clerk Mark Dann tells us that “11KBW’s practice splits roughly 50:50 between employment and public work.” The employment practice is itself split almost evenly between claimant and defendant work. Silks such as John Cavanagh QC have been working on matters like representing the BMA union in a test case about junior doctors’ rest breaks; he also acted for Virgin to obtain an injunction to prevent a pilots’ strike over the December holiday period. Daniel Stilitz QC took on a case in the Court of Appeal raising human rights arguments to contend that deputy district judges should be protected by whistle-blowing legislation.
11KBW’s breadth in this area can lead to some strange contradictions: Christopher Jeans QC worked to reinforce Deliveroo’s assertion that riders are not ‘workers’, whereas fellow member Sean Jones won a victory for Hermes couriers and established that as ‘workers’ they were entitled to the National Minimum Wage. Headline-snatching cases carry across into the public side: community care cases have included Andrew Sharland defending Nottinghamshire County Council in a public inquiry into the mistreatment of children in care of Nottinghamshire councils, and Hannah Slarks representing the government in a dispute over the compensation scheme for victims who contracted hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated NHS blood products.
Education is one of the biggest slices in the public law pie. Jonathan Moffett QC defended Surrey County Council’s decision to make cuts in its special educational needs budget; other members have worked on similar cases in the borough of Hackney and in Bristol. Other educational work includes representing parents in disputes over their child’s exclusion, home schooling matters and judicial reviews. Public procurement covers matters such as two members’ defence of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in a challenge over advertising towers at the Hammersmith Flyover, and a claim by pharma company AbbVie brought against the NHS over a £1 billion procurement of hepatitis C drugs, the largest in its history.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage is split into two three-month seats and another lasting six months. The first seat primarily involves taking work from your supervisor, but in the second and third pupils will mostly be plying their trade with other members. “Seats aren’t fixed on a particular area - you can do a whole mix in any given month.” Work is, however, managed by supervisors so newbies don't get swamped. A cornucopia of written tasks includes pleadings, skeleton arguments and opinions, and pupils also shadow other members at court and tribunal hearings. Nobody gets on their feet in court until after the tenancy decision – pupillage secretary Christopher Knight tells us that “if all that you want to do is stand on your feet at the first opportunity, 11KBW ain’t for you!” Don’t fret too much as baby juniors are on their feet regularly.
All work is assessed and marked on criteria including analytical ability, oral articulacy and presentation, clarity of writing, judgement, legal research and practical skills. Work for other members of chambers is double-marked for consistency, and pupils meet both markers “so you get an opportunity to justify your approach. The members test you on it and give you feedback.” We heard from insiders that “everyone is generous in sharing their wisdom and expertise.” Pupils also get a junior tenant mentor: “It’s great to have confidential moral support from someone who’s been there and done it.”
“If all you want to do is stand on your feet in court at the first opportunity, 11KBW ain’t for you!”
Each piece of work goes into the pupil's folder along with supervisor reports and advocacy exercise performance reviews. There are three advocacy tests during pupillage – one for public law, another for employment and one more that could cover either. The pupillage committee takes all this into consideration when it makes the tenancy decision: Knight calls the process “rigorous but fair because it’s evidence-based. You can only make the process so pleasant but we try to avoid stress as much as possible.” Insiders found the process “transparent and objective. It’s made very clear what you need to do.” In 2020, 11KBW's tenancy decisions were pending at the time we went to print.
11KBW manages to maintain a strong and sociable culture “without getting too boozy – there’s no pressure to go out Friday night.” There is, however, G&T and cake available on the last Friday of the month: “The cake is what it’s all about! If you’re a lover of cake you’ll be good here.” If you’d rather a brew instead of booze, chambers tea brings members together each week. “Chambers tea gets a bad rep from Chambers Student because it’s seen as stuffy but it’s actually just people standing around, having a cup of tea and popping in and out as they want.” That showed us... Members also told us about a recent velodrome trip, a popular football team and regular trips for fish and chips on a Friday.
The Application Process
Candidates must first get a place on an assessed mini-pupillage in early November. Hopefuls apply through a form; around 60 or 70 make it to a first-round interview. Applicants receive a recent case in advance so they can “come prepared to talk about it confidently.” The type of case changes on rotation but they’re all “people’s issues” – tangible subjects that don’t put non-law students at a disadvantage. Around 30 make it through to a three-day mini-pupillage. Candidates spend the first two days working for different supervisors; on the third day they visit court and chat to the powers that be about their work.
Those who are still interested in pupillage apply through the Gateway. Around ten are invited to a final round interview: they’re given another case in advance which they talk about in the interview before completing an advocacy exercise. “It’s rigorous,” says Knight, returning to that buzzword. “We only want to take on pupils who we’re interested in having as tenants.” 11KBW welcomes one to four pupils a year.
“…no expectation at all to work into the evenings.”
A chunky hardback titled Women’s Legal Landmarks sits on a table at 11KBW’s reception, reinforcing its commitment to female talent. High Court Justice Dame Elisabeth Laing and recently retired High Court Justice Dame Elizabeth Slade both hailed from 11KBW; there are also a number of women in senior positions in the “historically male-dominated” clerks’ room. “I’d like to think that we run a fair and equal clerks’ room here,” joint senior clerk Lucy Barbet says.
Speaking of fair, pupils tend to head home by 6.30pm on an average day; it’s an hour later on average for junior members. We heard “there’s no expectation at all to work into the evenings – they actively encourage you not to.” It helps that 11KBW’s public-focused work means “you don’t want to waste clients’ money spending a lot of time on something.” The flip side of that coin is “you also end up not billing for a lot of work because it doesn’t feel fair.”
The fruits of your labours
Healthy eaters need not worry – 11KBW’s cakefest is balanced out with plenty of wholesome fresh fruit.
11 King's Bench Walk,
- No of silks 20
- No of juniors 44
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Ms Claire Halas, director of finance and administration
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Two to three 12-months pupillages
- Required degree First or 2:1 (in any academic field)
- Income £65,000 (up to £15,000 of the pupillage award may be paid to prospective pupils as an advance in their BPTC year).
- No of tenancies offered in last three years 6
Types of work undertaken
Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing Statement
11KBW is deeply committed to equality and human rights in all aspects of its work. In particular, we are committed to ensuring that pupils, tenants and employees are selected without discrimination, that discriminatory considerations play no part in the allocation of work within Chambers, and that no instructions are accepted from solicitors who seek to select Counsel on a discriminatory basis. Our Equality and Diversity Statement underpins this commitment. In addition, members and staff are regularly trained in fair recruitment and unconscious bias.
Pupils and new tenants are given mentors in order to help them settle in to chambers. Chambers was one of the first sets to agree to join the Women in Law programme, with targets for representation of women in leadership roles in chambers. We have set up a Parents Forum for working parents to share their experience and support each other. This group was particularly active during the pandemic lockdown when members and staff with caring responsibilities needed support. We have a Parenting and Flexible Working Policy which helps all tenants should any want to take a career break or change the way in which they work. One member of chambers recently returned to full-time practice having had a 10-year career break. Another, Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing, having taken a 8-year career break, returned to chambers, became a High Court judge, and was recently elevated to the Court of Appeal.
Chambers has an Equality and Corporate and Social Responsibility committee that is actively involved in outreach programmes and initiatives to encourage and support people from diverse backgrounds to develop a career at the Bar. We work closely with schools and offer student placements for those interested in the legal profession. We are also members of the Pegasus Trust, a scholarship scheme offering gifted young lawyers the opportunity of work experience in a first-class set of chambers.
We take the emotional and mental wellbeing of everyone at 11KBW very seriously. We have a dedicated Wellbeing Committee which regularly “takes the wellbeing temperature” of members and staff via questionnaires and conversations, and provides access to professional help if requested. We have regular training sessions from professionals on mindfulness, how to manage stress, and how to recognise stress in others. We have an Anti-Harassment Policy which ensures that all members and staff work in a safe and healthy environment, free from bullying or harassment.