A top criminal law set that puts pupils through their paces.
It’s no secret that the Criminal Bar was under great pressure even before the Covid-19 crisis; criminal barristers voted collectively to stage a walkout in July 2019, demanding reform. “Given all the changes, I wanted to be at a set with the best reputation in the country for criminal work,” pupil interviewees reasoned. Their faith in 2 Bedford Row is well founded: this set has long been top-ranked by Chambers UK Bar for its criminal practice as well as health and safety work, and it picks up further rankings for financial crime, professional discipline and sports know-how.
2BR’s members also have expertise in niche areas including military, cybersecurity and environmental law, but crime remains the core of its offering and makes up the bulk of its workload. “For me it’s the most interesting area of law,” a pupil declared. “You might be working with the same legal points, but you’ll never have the same day twice.” Another explained their initial attraction to 2 Bedford Row: “I was struck by the fact that a junior tenant had spent time during their third six in the Privy Council on a death penalty appeal. The idea you could be doing that kind of work so early on was very exciting to me.”
“Given all the changes the Criminal Bar has been through, I wanted to be at a set with the best reputation in the country for criminal work.”
A deeper dive into the set’s criminal practice reveals how technical, complex and high-profile such cases can get. Tracy Ayling QC recently defended a man accused of being part of a gang involved in the grooming of young girls in Oxford, which included a complicated ten-week trial. Another recent example saw Kieran Vaughan QC secure acquittal for a defendant accused of masterminding a plot to smuggle half a tonne of cocaine from Colombia on a private jet. At the junior end, Kevin Toomey recently defended a woman accused of murdering her uncle; she in turn alleged that he’d subjected her to years of sexual abuse. In the financial crime space, 2BR’s clients include corporate entities as well as oligarchs, fund managers and prominent business owners. Simon Baker represented entrepreneur Dominic Chappell following his prosecution for various counts of tax fraud arising out of his takeover of BHS from Sir Philip Green.
The Pupillage Experience
Rather unusually, 2 Bedford Row requires pupils to complete three sixes rather than the standard two. Head of pupillage Allan Compton explains: “We found for many years we were rejecting some pupils who turned into absolute stars. Twelve months really isn’t enough time to fully understand the extent of an individual’s ability; we invest in four pupils a year in the hope we will take on four tenants.” The blueprint for the first six is “entirely dependent on who your supervisor is,” one pupil clarified. “I was mainly doing financial crime work, while another pupil spent their first month with their supervisor on a hijacking case in the Old Bailey!” Primarily shadowing their supervisors to start with, pupils also complete research and handle written advocacy. They’re also often sent to shadow third-sixers in a Magistrates’ Court to get an idea of what’s in store.
Moving into their second six, pupils can expect to be engaging “with the full range of work you’d find in the Magistrates’ Courts.That includes everything from drinking and possession of drugs charges to domestic abuse cases.” Pupils can expect to be out and about a lot during this time, typically juggling multiple trials a week. “My first time I was in the court was fine: I thankfully only had to say five words,” a now baby junior said. “At this point, I’m rarely nervous about going to the Magistrates’ Court, and only sometimes nervous about the Crown Court – it depends on the nature of the case.”
“Jury advocacy is a very different beast to anything else.”
The idea of getting on your feet so quickly (and often) may be daunting, but pupils assured us 2 Bedford Row runs “a great training programme. Every Tuesday there’s a session led by a member of chambers that will focus on a different area of advocacy.” One junior tenant explained that “jury advocacy is a very different beast to anything else. It’s a lot more performative and often less legalistic.” Once they’ve gained tenancy, Compton tells us the set expects newbies to “fairly rapidly be doing more Crown Court than Magistrates’ Court work. That should come within their first six months.” He also tells us: “There are various secondment options that junior members are encouraged to consider, including placements with regulators, banks and the CPS.”
Pupils get a feedback form for every piece of work they do. These are collated in the run-up to the tenancy decision; there’s also a mock trial exercise for pupils which the whole set is invited to watch. “It’s a pretty gruelling experience,” interviewees conceded. “Two pupils will act as the prosecution and two will act as the defence, while other members play witnesses and a senior member will take the role of the judge.” To make things fair, all pupils are marked to standard criteria.
“The chaotic nature of practising in the Criminal Bar means that you inevitably need a slightly different character to survive.”
All this makes for a tough pupillage, but a thick skin is a key quality for anyone to thrive at the Criminal Bar. We asked Allan Compton how the practice differs from commercial work: “The chaotic nature of practising in the Criminal Bar means that you inevitably need a slightly different character to survive. For example, you have to be comfortable not being in control of the whole process.” Does that have any significant effect on the set’s culture? “I think there is very much the sense that we are all in this together,” Compton reasons. “We recognise the need to step in and help colleagues out where necessary, even at very short notice – it’s very much a culture of rolling with the punches.”
Pupils also need to roll with the long hours that come with criminal law – 12-hour days or longer are not uncommon. Compton assures us that “the days of exhausted pupils working 48 hours for supervisors are gone – we’ve really clamped down on that.” What’s more, members do still find the time to let their hair down. A pupil entertained us with their story: “When I first got my offer, William Clegg QC – a giant of the Criminal Bar and a former head of chambers – threw a big garden party for myself and the other pupils with a BBQ and some very nice rosé.” The source felt “you get the impression that though everyone is an individual, there’s a real sense of community here.”
The Application Process
2 Bedford Row has returned to the Pupillage Gateway in 2020 with “completely revamped marking criteria,” head of pupillage Allan Compton tells us. “We are trying to consider factors that have been given less weight in the past, including candidates’ backgrounds, the challenges they have faced, and any adversities they may have had to overcome.” Providing an example, he says chambers would “consider a candidate with less impressive A-level results that grew up in a single-parent household.”
“…designed to test an individual’s ability to marshal an argument at speed.”
Around 70 candidates complete a first-round interview. They’re required to give a short presentation on a topical issue – they learn the subject just 30 minutes before – as well as to wrestle with an ethical question. The presentation is only a minute long and is “designed to test an individual’s ability to marshal an argument at speed,” Compton explains. “In 2020 candidates were asked to justify the extension of cameras in court for the whole trial process,” while a current pupil who’d shone in their interview had to argue “whether male and female circumcision should be treated as equivalent.”
Applicants who score higher than 70% in the set’s new marking criteria return for a second interview. This revolves around a legal question, “typically something like a bail application. You’re interviewed by a five to six-member panel, acting as they would in the Court of Appeal.” Candidates should also be prepared to answer more general questions about their life experiences during both rounds, providing “evidence of their commitment to the Criminal Bar,” which is especially important to 2BR as “attrition rates at the junior end of criminal law are so high,” Compton reminds us.
Keeping it 100
Just as in the year before, 2BR granted tenancy to all four of its pupils in 2020.
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.