Doing some of the country’s most fascinating criminal work, 2 Bedford Row trains barristers with a challenging and rigorous pupillage.
Executive Producer Dick Wolf
A life in the demanding world of the Criminal Bar is something many people may have fantasised about at some point in their lives, inspired by Rumpole of the Bailey or more recently by Martha Costello in Silk, the new BBC sitcom Defending the Guilty or (the Brit version of legal classic) Law & Order. They all present a fictionalised portrayal of the lives of criminal barristers, exactly like those who work at 2 Bedford Row.
The set works on real-life cases that could well fill half an hour of a nail-biting TV drama. Head of chambers William Clegg QC recently defended the son of a Kuwaiti millionaire who was charged for beating up a Saudi prince outside a nightclub – he negotiated the fine down to a minuscule £750. Meanwhile, fellow silk Jim Sturman QC defended an Oxford University student who received a suspended sentence for stabbing her then-boyfriend, after the judge ruled there were 'many, many mitigating factors' including her being 'an extraordinary able young lady'. Barristers work on some of the most high-profile crimes in the country, with Richard Whittam QC recently prosecuting the murderers of both MP Jo Cox and fusilier Lee Rigby.
“During pupillage, the largest part of your work is crime.”
Not everything at 2BR is crime though. “In days gone by, it was all crime,” senior clerk John Grimmer tells us, “but over the years we’ve diversified.” As well as gaining a top Chambers UK ranking for crime work (and another for financial crime), 2BR picks up rankings for health and safety, professional discipline and sport. One health and safety case saw Richard Matthews QC defend a construction contractor involved in the death of a lawyer who was crushed after three half-ton windows landed on her in Mayfair. However, “during pupillage, the largest part of your work is crime.” Pupils “cover the full breadth of criminal work,” which provides an experience that’s “very cool – the novelty doesn’t wear off!”
Can't do the time, don't do the crime.
Learning the job is all about getting real-life experience at the Criminal Bar. That’s why this set demands its pupils all do a third six after their initial twelve-month pupillage, creating what is “essentially an 18-month job interview!” The extended time means “you get a whole year on your feet, a year to stretch yourself and take the opportunities presented to you.”
"The Magistrates' Court – it’s a jungle!”
The first six is spent on different cases, “entirely dependent on who your supervisor is.” This could mean working on manslaughter, robbery, kidnap or fraud. Trial experience can come early on, especially if the supervisor specialises in white-collar crime. “One pupil worked on an eight-week trial straight off the bat!” we heard. More typically, first-sixers spend their time doing research, handling written advocacy, and completing “intensive weekly training.” Towards the end of the first six, pupils get sent off to court with the third-sixers “to see and learn what goes on at the Magistrates' Court – because it’s a jungle!”
The next two sixes are spent on your feet, “getting used to going to court daily and building your portfolio.” At this stage, travelling to “at least two places in one day is common,” and pupils felt a step up in terms of “discipline and rigour.” Senior clerk John Grimmer tells us that “at the beginning pupils are going primarily into the Magistrates' and Crown Courts – though there might be the odd foray to a tribunal.” Pupils deal with assault, domestic violence, theft and driving offences – defending private clients in road traffic prosecutions is particularly common. Pupils reckoned 40% of their work was private and 60% legal aid in the second six, moving to a 50/50 division in the third six. The split is similar for junior tenants – 2BR is doing less legal aid work than it used to as a result of funding cuts.
Crime of passion
Overall, says John Grimmer, “our pupils are extremely busy.” He’s not joking – criminal work is notoriously demanding on barristers’ time, given the number of cases undertaken and prep time needed. First-sixers can expect to be working a good 11 hours a day, and once you’re on your feet, “14-hour days are not uncommon.” Despite it being “full on,” pupils relished the opportunity “to be pushed to do your best.” In addition, the nature of criminal work means it would be easy to get caught up in your cases emotionally, so there's a need to be “very well grounded,” says Grimmer. Pupils advised distancing yourself emotionally from the work: “We have to have a calm, no-nonsense approach. There’s no room for waffle or faff, just an intellectually honest approach.”
If this comes across as a little cold, rest assured the set harbours a “deep camaraderie,” one interviewee beamed. Pupils have time for a “healthy” social life – the group “tries its best” to grab drinks together and “sometimes hangs out at the weekend and always chats on our WhatsApp group.” Sources noted the “great support from people at every level – you can call anyone and trust them with anything.” John Grimmer tells us this is all part of a “real ethos to teach and support the next generation.” As well as weekly advocacy training, supervisor meetings and email summary reports, pupils enter the clerks’ room at the end of each day for a catch-up. Grimmer explains: “We regularly communicate verbally with pupils to see how they’re getting on – because it’s hard work!”
“I only played the witness and my palms were sweaty!”
Every piece of work pupils do has an associated feedback form – these are collated and taken into account when it comes to the tenancy decision, along with a mock trial exercise at Blackfriars Crown Court at which William Clegg plays the judge. The exercise is “nerve-racking,” instilling fear even into first-sixers – “I only played the witness and my palms were sweaty!” Although a healthy three of four pupils gained tenancy in 2019, interviewees felt “you can never tell” if it’ll happen for you – “you’re aware how high the standard is!”
Speaking of standards, 2 Bedford Row is pulling out of the Pupillage Gateway for 2019, so you'll need to apply directly to the set. As mentioned above, experience matters at the Criminal Bar, so make sure you've done enough minis. Personality and gumption are very important too. Head of pupillage Louise Oakley says applicants need “something about them that will make them stand out. We are always looking for people from a diverse range of backgrounds.” For this reason, 2BR isn’t necessarily looking for the most traditionally academic applicant. “We are looking for people with strong advocacy skills – if you feel that you fit this profile then we want to hear from you.” The set's most junior tenants come from a mix of unis including KCL, Warwick, LSE, Cambridge, Durham, Sussex and Kent.
Pupils praised the “calm” vibe that prevails at 2BR's interviews, where applicants in the waiting room are put at ease by current pupils and Louise Oakley’s two dogs –“a pug and a French bulldog.” Interviewers spend a minute at the start of each interview putting applicants at ease. “My interview was at 7pm on a Saturday and they told me, ‘Don’t rush!’” shared one source. The first interview involves stating five points for and against a given motion, and the second round contains a formal advocacy exercise in front of a bigger panel, which applicants are given a day to prepare.
The first interview’s final question is ‘How should we remember you?’ – so get choosing your quirkiest (but most positive) attribute ahead of time.
2 Bedford Row
2 Bedford Row,
- No of silks 16
- No of juniors 45
- No of pupils 4
- Graduate recruitment contact Louise Oakley, 020 7440 8888
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) 4
- Tenancies offered according to ability
Type of work undertaken
Assessment for mini-pupillage will be based upon three criteria:
- Commitment/dedication to the criminal bar
- Insight into the areas of practice within chambers
Applications should be sent to Rhys Rosser. The application should contain a Curriculum Vitae and a covering letter – both documents should each be no longer than one page maximum in length.
Places are usually given between four and six months after an application is received should it be successful.
Due to the confidential nature of our work and restrictions at some courts, we are unable to offer mini-pupillages to anyone under the age of 18.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Crime (Band 1)
- Financial Crime (Band 2)
- Health & Safety (Band 1)
- Professional Discipline (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 3)