Take a Walk to the heart of legal London to find personal injury work fit for a King.
“I would say this, but I feel we’re dominating personal injury,” 12 King’s Bench Walk senior clerk Oliver Parkhouse tells us. Within the set’s civil practice, PI is undoubtedly the MVP – 12KBW handles a “good split” of claimant and defence work including specialisms in aviation, international travel and industrial disease. “There aren’t many other chambers that can boast that!” A junior interviewee told us the set appealed to them in the first place due to “barristers here popping up in judgements you read. It really seemed like an impressive set.”
This chambers is one of only two top-ranked by Chambers UK for industrial disease work; Steven Snowden QC has represented over 1,000 people exposed to bloodborne viruses during NHS treatment in the 1970s and 1980s, a matter described as the largest public inquiry in British history. 12KBW also earns a top ranking for its core personal injury practice. That doesn’t just mean trips and slips: Andrew Hogarth QC acted in an inquest into the death of a schoolboy who was killed when a fellow pupil rubbed a sandwich on his neck, causing an allergic reaction. Chambers UK also praises the relatively young international travel team; in one representative matter, William Audland QC handled a claim for catastrophic brain injuries suffered by an English claimant hit by a Danish skier in Norway.
“There aren’t many other chambers that can boast that!”
The set’s smaller clinical negligence and employment groups are both “growing year-in year-out through strategic recruitment.” Parkhouse tells us that 12KBW’s Covid-19 anxieties “were short-lived – there was a drop off in road accidents, travel and employment claims, but it was all momentary for us.” Senior members brought juniors onto their cases to tide them over during the lull. Brexit isn’t slipping into the background here: “The international travel team are working out how we’ll be able to help our clients. We’re treading carefully.”
12KBW boasts a “beautiful, if a little old fashioned,” office, “stooped in Temple’s history.” Even pre-Covid-19 it was common for members to “live outside London and come in when it’s necessary – we’re a laidback chambers and support people’s life choices,” junior member Aliyah Akram says. Around half a dozen members live in Wales, but pupils do need to be based in London: “It’s all about training. Pupils need day-to-day interaction to get the most valuable learning.” Remote working has been kept social through “efforts to have virtual drinks and talks on areas of research.” When in the office, “people are always popping their head in and asking if you want a cup of tea. Pupils sit and have lunch together to just chat.”
The Application Process
The set technically doesn’t have a formal pupillage committee – Aliyah Akram tells us “most of chambers gets involved” in recruitment. 12KBW receives around 200 applications a year, and four people mark each one. “We ignore the candidate’s university, but we can see their marks.” 40 standout applicants receive invites to a first-round interview with a four-barrister panel of ranging seniorities. Lockdown meant the process had to go virtual in 2020, which came with pros and cons – “sometimes you’re worried we can’t communicate easily,” Aliyah Akram says. “Maybe it’s less terrifying because they’re not sat waiting in the common room or bumping into other applicants on the stairs.”
“It shook up the regular assessment process!”
The first-round interview includes an advocacy exercise where applicants pick a case from the last year and present a commission to appeal. “The case they pick is always revealing. Sometimes it’ll be a Court of Appeal matter, where it’s interesting to see whether they follow the case or go out on their own,” Aliyah Akram tells us. One baby junior told us the exercise shows “how well you prepare, present an oral argument and respond to questioning. I enjoyed it – it shook up the regular assessment process!” After marking for content, clarity and structure, around 16 candidates progress to the final round, which goes “in-depth, finding out about the person.”
Though clear that 12KBW isn’t looking for “a type,” Aliyah Akram explains that “our job is not just legal but also very personable. We need pragmatic, friendly people who can navigate that.” Each year 12KBW recruits up to three pupils. The set’s “work in progress” diversity plan hopes to improve accessibility to the Bar, and members can get involved with social outreach programs: “We work with schoolchildren from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping set them on the path to get the skills they need to maybe one day earn a pupillage.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with three 12KBW members for four months each. They work for the first supervisor exclusively, “who is very hands on, providing a steep learning curve.” Typical pupil tasks include advices, defences, applications, witness statements and skeleton arguments – “the Bar toolkit is covered.” Because supervisors tend to be quite senior, pupils experience “high value complex claims,” but also go to court (often with more junior members) “to see what they will be doing in a few months.” Pupils’ second and third supervisors will usually work in different practice areas; and provide their charges with chances to work for other members of chambers too. “They fill out the colour and paint the corners to give as comprehensive a picture of the work chambers does as possible.” Halfway through their second seat, pupils begin to get on their feet in court on “run-of-the-mill applications and smaller value claims.”
General personal injury will inevitably fall into pupils’ laps; other common practices include defective premise work, and employer or product liability. Here’s a recent example: “Someone had an allergic reaction to a restaurant takeaway bought via an app. The question was, who was liable there?” Pupils found interesting cases come from areas of law they “hadn’t even considered before. You put on your thinking hat and do the research!” Interviewees concluded that personal injury work is “so cool,” if not for the injured parties. “There’s always more to learn as so much falls under the umbrella.”
“…to give as comprehensive a picture of the work chambers does as possible.”
Interviewees found their claimant-side practice “lets you see the human impact of the law.” One baby junior explained: “I worked on a prosthetics case for a young girl brought against a local authority. We got a big award and I felt for the first time that I’d made a difference to a person’s life.” Does that mean defendant-side work can be more difficult to grapple with? “In some ways it’s easier to treat defence as more of a legal exercise. If you did just claimant work you might struggle emotionally after a while,” an interviewee told us. “Defences are interesting, complicated black-letter stuff.” 12KBW encourages a claimant/defendant split: “It gives your practice variety and learning both sides helps if you end up landing on one side in the future.” Once pupils secure tenancy, “chambers has infrastructure to help you build your practice” including networking and marketing events. “Two months into tenancy I’m already doing the kind of work I want; you’re not just handed the dregs.”
Supervisors aim to give real time feedback about pupils’ standing. “Pupillage and tenancy seems like an inscrutable and daunting process, but they made it transparent,” we heard. Pupils receive feedback on their written work, but the real confidence boost comes when “you see your supervisor use a paragraph that you wrote! It’s great to see your work reflected in theirs.” Pupils then go away and appraise themselves on “where you’re at and need to improve – I felt in control.”
Tenancy decisions are based on pupillage as a whole. “I did one terrible piece of work, but I was told what I’d done wrong and my next piece got better,” a source shared. “It’s all about your trajectory.” Everyone in chambers can have their say via a feedback form marking pupils on “intellectual ability, presentation skills, judgement, interpersonal skills and dedication.” The last is difficult to assess – “it’s basically about whether they’re interested in doing the work we do,” Aliyah Akram says. She tells us 12KBW “recruits with the intention of keeping pupils on as tenants. Over the last few years we’ve retained almost everybody.” The decision is ultimately made by pupil supervisors, the head of pupillage and head of chambers; in 2020, all threepupils were kept on.
Miss the mystery: "When people haven’t been offered tenancy, there’s been a clear reason and explanation."
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