Market-leading personal injury and clinical negligence work awaits incoming pupils at 12 KBW, but it’s also a set where members are encouraged to build out practices in new areas of interest.
12 KBW pupillage review 2024
“Our historic strength is market-leading personal injury and clinical negligence work,” head of chambers William Audland KC tells us. In a recent case that generated headlines in the media, Audland himself defended the Rugby Football League against claims of negligent management that led to incidences of brain injuries and early onset dementia in former national and international league players. Audland highlights that another strength for the set is employment and discrimination law, where Joel Kendall recently prevailed for his client during a whistleblowing tribunal case against Oxford University’s Said Business School. While these groups bring in a sizeable chunk of work, Audland adds that international and travel law is another growing area, which 12 KBW will use to gain greater traction in the aviation industry. The set’s wealth of expertise is reflected in its Chambers UK Bar accolades, which commend 12 KBW’s personal injury (including industrial disease), travel, and employment practices.
“...humanity, empathy, and understanding are core skills for our type of work.”
12 KBW’s client base is relatively balanced in that it represents both claimants and defendants, with the latter spanning large insurance companies, self-insured companies, and the government. Although the set is undoubtedly a personal injury and clinical negligence heavyweight, it boasts a total of 20 areas of practice, including more recent specialisms like costs, sport, and inquests & inquiries. “If we have practitioners who want to develop into a new area, we support that by creating a practice group and helping them to market themselves,” Audland tells us, highlighting recent growth at the set. Speaking of growth, we were told that Brexit has prompted an increase in 12 KBW’s international work; the split between domestic and international litigation roughly sits at 80/20, respectively.
As many of the cases handled by the set are of a sensitive nature, Audland advises that “life experience stands you in good stead for our areas of practice. We often deal with people who have sustained catastrophic injuries, or had their lives turned upside down in in some way: humanity, empathy, and understanding are core skills for our type of work.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with three supervisors for four months at a time. Supervisors are “drawn from a whole range of juniors to seniors who are between eight and ten years call.” At the start of the pupillage there is a practical dos and don’ts session, which gives newbies a chance to ask junior tenants candid questions. Every pupil is also appointed a junior barrister as a mentor.
“...it’s the point when you go from feeling like a law student to feeling like a barrister!”
During the pupil’s first six, they’ll exclusively be doing work for their supervisor. As such, the set “tries to sit you with more senior people initially” to ensure a good workflow. During the first seat, “there is a conscious effort to send you out to court with other members,” a source explained. “There’s a balance between doing serious, difficult work; going out with senior members to see interesting trials; and observing the work done by junior tenants (and even those in the year above you) to get a taste of what you’ll be doing.” Head of pupillage Andrew Roy explains supervision is “very hands-on. Supervisors play an active role in everything the pupil does, but less so in the second six. At that point, it’s still supportive, but more hands-off.”
The second supervisor helps their pupil to develop between the non-practising and practising period of the set’s pupillage. “You start off doing paperwork with them, but they also launch you into practice; it’s the point when you go from feeling like a law student to feeling like a barrister!” In their first six, pupils are likely to meet the insured client (the policy holder) in conferences with their supervisors. By their second six, pupils will move on to representing the insured. There’s also an employment team that acts for both employees and the employers: “There’s a good mix, as sometimes you’re representing an individual and sometimes it’s a huge insurance company.” At this stage of the pupillage, pupils also undergo a mock trial in front of an external judge – last year it was Master Davison of the High Court, a former member of the set. “It’s about making sure you’re ready to be on your feet and handling your own trials,” we heard. “It’s lightly assessed, but good fun!” The fun continues post-trial, as the pupils’ efforts are rewarded with drinks afterwards.
“They’re judged by high but reasonable standards, and they’re expected to make mistakes and learn from them. That’s what pupillage is for!”
Pupils are formally assessed on pieces of written work (the number of which varies from year to year). Here’s an example of what you can expect from the assessments: this year, pupils were tasked with producing three standard documents that were derived from real cases concluded by members of chambers. Pupils were given six weeks to complete the task. “It was one of the most useful things I’ve done because I got such detailed feedback,” a source reflected.
“The best part of pupillage is getting your own cases. I'm now more or less left to my own devices,” a third-seat pupil told us, having just got the good news that they would be kept on as a tenant at chambers. Speaking of tenancy, here’s how the members of 12 KBW make their decisions: all members can submit feedback forms outlining performance according to specific criteria, including 1) intellectual ability, 2) judgement, 3) presentation skills, and 4) dedication. The final decision is made by the pupillage committee, who consider the submitted feedback and the pupil’s three pieces of written work. The latter is “not the be all and end all,” Roy assures us. “We don’t expect pupils to come out of law school perfect and fully formed,” he says. “They’re judged by high, but reasonable standards, and they’re expected to make mistakes and learn from them. That’s what pupillage is for!” In previous years, candidates who have just missed the mark have been given an extra six months (a third six) at the set to prove themselves.
Of course, work is a fundamental aspect of life at chambers, but sets are also defined by their culture. “Socialising is important,” a source confirmed. “We have a significant sense of our identity and brand, which we all want to be part of.” As such, there’s never a shortage of lunches and drinks, and “people wander in and out of each other's rooms at liberty!” Previous social events have seen members of chambers drop the books and hit the ping pong tables, host board game evenings, and play football matches against law firms and clients. Our pupil sources were grateful to have formed close working relationships not just with members of the set, but between each other as well: “You’re immediately given the impression that you’re not in competition with each other.” The set did not disclose retention figure this year, but in 2022, all three pupils gained tenancy.
The Application Process
There are three stages to 12 KBW’s application process. The first round consists of a written application that is submitted via the Pupillage Gateway. Historically, the set has received around 200 applications, so attention to detail and accuracy are key. “At that stage, they’re looking for reasons to put applications in the bin, so don’t make that decision easy for them by making a silly typo!” a pupil cautioned. “We use the Rare Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) as part of our pupillage selection process," head of pupillage Andrew Roy tells us. "This isa scientific method for correcting socioeconomic disadvantages and helps to even the playing field.”
“You’ve got to be prepared for every interview, as there’s always someone there who’s really done their homework. You need to be one of those people!”
Around 30 applicants are shortlisted and invited to the first-round interview. Candidates are asked to pick out a recent case and present an argument to appeal its judgment in front of a panel of four members. For this round, “you really have to know the work that chambers does,” a source explained. “To prove your competency, everything needs to be relevant to chambers.” The final stage consists of “a more traditional interview,” says Roy. “We ask questions to draw out the candidate's suitability for chambers.”
“You’ve got to be prepared for every interview,” one pupil advised. “You can’t wing them, as there’s always someone there who’s really done their homework. You need to be one of those people!” This means knowing the cases you’ve mentioned in your application inside and out and being prepared to answer questions about them. There are up to three pupillages up for grabs each year.
Plan as you mean to go on: 12 KBW is one of the few sets that publishes a Race Action Plan as part of its efforts to foster equality, diversity, and social mobility.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Personal Injury: Industrial Disease (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence (Band 5)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Personal Injury (Band 1)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Band 1)