Three is a magic number, and 3 Verulam Buildings definitely casts a spell in banking, fraud and international arbitration – and it’s even conjuring up a crypto practice…
3 Verulam Buildings pupillage review 2024
3 Verulam Buildings is no new kid on the block, but even with its top-notch commercial credentials, the set is still “ambitious” to grow. “We are historically known for our banking and finance practice,” says senior clerk Stephen Penson, who adds that this makes up around one fifth of the set’s work. “We’ve consolidated ourselves in dispute resolution, and that involves a lot of fraud and international arbitration.” This is all reflected in the set’s performance in Chambers UK Bar,which bestows top marks for its banking & finance, financial services and civil fraud expertise, along with respectable rankings in international arbitration and group litigation.
“We’re a natural place for existing clients to seek advice from in the crypto space.”
3VB’s approach to growth is tied to its hiring strategy. Not only is it now taking up to five pupils a year, but “we’re aggressive in lateral hiring at the junior silk and junior tenant levels,” says Penson. One example of a recent joiner is member Chloe Bell, who specialises in digital assets and smart contracts – a growing area for the set. “As a set steeped in regulation experience, we’re a natural place for existing clients to seek advice from in the cryptospace,” says Penson. In one recent case, Bell defended a claim against cryptocurrency exchange Kraken for breach of FCA regulations. Elsewhere, David Quest KC got a discharge of injunction against cryptocurrency exchange Binance. By the by, Quest and Bell are both among the few barristers that are top-ranked in cryptoassets by Chambers UK Bar.
Of course, this is one sliver of what you’ll find at 3VB. As businesses emerge in the post-Covid era, Penson points to an increase in business interruption cases, telling us “we’re seeing insolvency advice, banking disputes and unpaid loans as a result” of the challenges from lockdown. “There’s also a general focus on growing all of our areas in an international space, where we’re seeing different centres opening in places like Singapore, and more recently, Abu Dhabi,” says Penson. By way of example, Ewan McQuater KC recently led the team representing Dubai Islamic Bank and Noor Bank in litigation with the administrators of NMC (a private healthcare provider) in the Abu Dhabi Global Markets Court.
The Pupillage Experience
3VB’s pupils sit in four three-monthseats. “It’s four seats in four different commercial practices,” head of pupillage David Head KC outlines, “so there’s different emphasis and we make sure they see that variety.” Pupils sit with supervisors in their offices, and the “supervisors are drawn from senior juniors,” one pupil told us, explaining that, “they’re people on the cusp of KC, so they have that time and attention to give to you.”
Head tells us that while there is an effort to make sure newcomers sit with people whose specialisms match their particular interests, the set sees variety as integral to pupils’ growth – “we’ll make sure you learn the White Nook even if you’re not a litigator!” So newbies can expect to work on anything from court and fraud, to financial services regulation, to “huge” international arbitrations.
In the first six, pupils do live work, “assisting the supervisor with every aspect: legal research, drafting, sitting in with clients, and attending court,” Head explains. This is when pupils gets the opportunity to work on “bigger scale” matters, a junior tenant explained. “Most of the work you do as a pupil is with bigger clients,” like banks.
“My supervisor came along to my first hearing and he was my biggest supporter.”
Pupils can take on their own work in the second six with smaller clients. “There are opportunities to be sole counsel, so there’s a focus on advocacy and building that confidence on your own cases,” one pupil told us. This is when their practice starts to take shape of what they can expect to build up to after pupillage. A junior tenant told us, “I’m doing a couple of group actions for around 90 different clients who are all investors in two companies who didn’t publish their information.” As a pupil, “I could go to County Court and resist an application myself.” Along the way, they still have their supervisors for support: “My supervisor came along to my first hearing and he was my biggest supporter – he even went around the clerks’ room saying how marvellously it had gone!”
Interviewees praised the level of support they received across pupillage. “Supervisors have always offered their time and been so approachable – one KC spent an hour talking to us about how to build your practice!” we heard. This carried through to their hours. “My supervisor was strict in saying that you show up at 9am and leave at 6pm. If they saw me taking a book home, they’d want to know why!” While days inevitably get longer after tenancy, we were told that pupils’ hours were “so protected from the get-go. People want you to deliver your best work, and you can’t do that working all hours of the day.”
At the six-month mark, Head tells us: “I will sit down with the pupils and say, ‘This is a summary of things you’re doing well and things to improve on.’ We tell them if they’re on target for tenancy.” Alongside this check-in, pupils undergo four advocacy exercises through the year, the first of which is unassessed. “They were typical applications you do at the junior end in a commercial dispute, with two KCs that played judge,” one pupil explained. “It’s always daunting, but they were useful for cutting your teeth on!”
The tenancy decision is made in July based on “evidence from the supervisors – at the end of every seat the supervisor will write a detailed report,” says Head. “We also receive reports from all of the people you do work for and pull together all that evidence.” The set did not disclose its 2023 retention figures.
“I thought it was a hazing trick when I started, but it actually is true!”
At a glance, one might have preconceptions of 3VB’s culture given its position in the commercial world, but one junior reassured us that “it’s quite unstuffy and everyone’s really straightforward.” Another shared that “unless someone has ‘engaged’ on their door, you’re encouraged to open it up if you have a question. I thought it was a hazing trick when I started, but it actually is true!” As for the social scene, “there are real friendships in the set – even as a pupil there are juniors I regularly go for coffee with.” And there’s afternoon tea “every couple of months or so with everything from Pimms to cups of tea and scones.”
The Application Process
Applications go through the Pupillage Gateway, and have reached as many as 200 in recent years – “scary numbers,” says Head. As such, he says, “we are university blind, and we anonymise all applications” to ensure that unconscious bias doesn’t play a part. The application itself covers what you can expect to see on the Pupillage Gateway form and a writing exercise. “I think mine was an essay on the definition of ‘integrity’,” one junior recalled. “So it’s something you can engage with no matter your knowledge of the law.”
In the first round, “we whittle the 200-odd applicants down to a cohort of 45 to 50 people who each face two panels with three barristers in each,” outlines Head.Candidates are sent a simple legal problem a week or two ahead of the interview, but again, there’s no need for detailed knowledge of the law because “everything you need is on those sheets of paper,” says Head. “You don’t need to get the right answer; you just talk about the issues and then we have a wider discussion which will last around 25 minutes.” The interview panel also typically asks applicants about their CV at this stage: your past studies, mooting experience, and student body memberships are all up for discussion.
“They were just seeing how I would cope with the pressure!”
Up to 20 candidates are then invited to the second-round interview, where they’re faced with “a slightly trickier problem,” says Head, “but it’s something GDL students should be able to deal with.” Here the panel is composed of four barristers who grill candidates for 30 to 40 minutes. “We ask candidates to pretend we’re a firm of solicitors, so they can show evidence of their ability,” Head reveals.One pupil we spoke with emphasised that it really was “just a case of applying principles to facts and questioning my take.” Ultimately, the process was understandably daunting, but those who had been through it could attest that “they were just seeing how I would cope with the pressure! I really got the sense that it was about the raw materials as opposed to the finished product.”
IARDU at 3VB: The set’s International Advisory and Dispute Resolution Unit supports members to do pro bono on an international level.
3 Verulam Buildings
3 Verulam Buildings,
Recent examples include SKAT (the Danish Customs and Tax Administration) v Solo Capital Partners LLP; Phones 4U v EE and Others; Rowe & Ors v Ingenious Media Holdings plc; JSC Commercial Bank Privatbank v Kolomoisky & Others; Stonegate Pub Company v MS Amlin & Ors; Byers v Samba Financial Group; The Financial Conduct Authority v Arch and Others; ENRC v Gerrard & Dechert LLP; PCP Capital Partners LLP v Barclays Bank; Barclay v Barclay; Libyan Investment Authority v Société Générale SA, Stati v The Republic of Kazakhstan; The RBS Rights Issue Litigation; PJSC Tatneft v Bogolyubov; and Goldman Sachs International v Novo Banco SA. Members of chambers are also involved in high-value complex international commercial, energy and treaty-based arbitrations. 3VB prides itself on its professional expertise and the outstanding opportunities afforded to all tenants to build leading commercial practices. It is a forward-looking, friendly and diverse set, with excellent practice managers, staff and first-class facilities.
Type of work undertaken
As a minimum, candidates should have an actual or expected 2.1 in undergraduate studies (and a good record on the GDL where applicable). Many successful applicants have a first-class degree or a master’s degree, or both.
Equality & Diversity
3VB is committed to furthering equality of opportunity and diversity. We strive to ensure that the principle of fair and equal treatment is upheld in all areas of our business, including recruitment of pupils, members, and staff and also in the areas of practice development of members of Chambers and promotion of staff.
We recognise the importance of having a workplace that is free from discrimination in any aspect of our business on grounds of race, colour, ethnic or national origins, nationality or citizenship, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital or civil partnership status, age, disability, religion or belief, political persuasion, pregnancy, or maternity, or social or educational background. Quite independent from any standards imposed by legislation or the Bar Standards Board, we believe that increasing diversity and inclusion makes good business sense. We know we achieve better outcomes when we have access to talent, perspectives, and experience from all walks of life.
Chambers has a very active E&D Committee and a detailed Equal & Diversity policy. 3VB is committed to assisting all members and staff to manage their family responsibilities and to enjoy a rewarding career in Chambers. We have comprehensive maternity & paternity and flexible working policies which reflect our philosophy in this regard. All members and staff in chambers are required to attend at least one E&D related training /refresher course every calendar year.
3VB is committed to social responsibility. Part of 3VB’s strategic plan is to contribute to society, promote justice, and support access to the legal profession. Of course, many individual barristers and staff give their time, enthusiasm, and money to help their own favourite causes, but chambers itself has as part of its core values a commitment to contributing to its community and acting in a socially responsible way.
3VB is pleased to assist various projects and organisations in the local community. 3VB also takes part in outreach programmes. We are:
• A corporate member of JUSTICE and now, the only barristers chambers to be a member of The JUSTICE60
• An accredited London Living Wage Employer and have committed to pay at least the London Living Wage to both employees and subcontracted workers, such as security and cleaning staff. All of our suppliers must also pledge to 3VB that they are paying their workers at least the London Living Wage or Living Wage (depending on their location).
• A donor (one of only two chambers listed) to the Bingham Appeal, which established the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law
• A Gold Sponsor of the National Bar Pro Bono Centre, through our continuing contributions to the Free Representation Unit and the Bar Pro Bono Unit
• A regular participant in and supporter of the London Legal Walk
• A Legal Partner of Advocates for International Development
• A major sponsor of BAILII
• Members of Advocate, the Bar’s pro bono unit, as “Gold” members. Chambers also actively encourages individual pro-bono work from the outset of practice and throughout members of chambers’ careers. All new junior members are expected to do an Advocate case within the first 2 years of practice and fourth seat pupils take on an Advocate case under the supervision of or (where required/appropriate) jointly with their pupil supervisor. This builds up a connection to the work done by these organisations and helps our members appreciate how important it is.
We are proud to be a diverse set of chambers. At present, representation at Chambers by minority groups is over 19%, which is higher than the national average. We want to encourage more diversity at the Bar and help address structural problems that inhibit individuals from groups that are underrepresented. This is why we support and participate in organisations such as:
• The Sutton Trust, as funding partners and as participants in its summer “Pathways to Law” programme
• Bridging The Bar. As a founding Partner, we support their mini pupillage scheme, which is a genuine ‘path to pupillage’ for students from non-traditional and under-represented backgrounds aspiring to a career at the Bar. We will also participate in their “BTB Academy” involving 6 BTB candidates coming to chambers for approx. 2–3-hour training sessions over four consecutive weekends, focussing on the types of advocacy exercises pupillage candidates may be asked to complete at pupillage interviews.
• The Black Talent Charter, which aims to boost recruitment, career progression, retention, and promotion of Black talent in the finance and professional services sectors. We are engaging with other sets who are also supporters in order to work together in order to develop strategies to setting achievable targets.
• The Bar Council’s Women in Law Pledge. Since 2019, 3VB has been one of the first signatories to the Women in Law Pledge. 3VB maintains its own action plan and diversity targets. We are committed to the progress of gender equality, elimination of gender discrimination and pledge to make positive change for the legal profession
• Mentoring For Underrepresented Groups. 3VB works with COMBAR in a mentoring scheme, to support and encourage individuals from groups which are underrepresented at the commercial bar to pursue careers as barristers. Those underrepresented groups include women; people from minority ethnic backgrounds; people with disabilities; LGBT+ people; people who spent time in care; and people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
• Pegasus Access and Support Scheme (PASS). Established by the Inner Temple and sixty-two different partner chambers, the aim is to improve access to the profession and to support high achieving students from under-represented backgrounds by providing the experiences they need to be able to thrive at the Bar. It aims to do this by securing a mini pupillage in chambers for each participant. PASS also supports participants by providing a focused professional and advocacy skills development programme.
Chambers is committed to providing a working environment in which its members and staff are safe, secure, and healthy. A work environment conducive to good physical, emotional and psychological health is one that is stimulating and challenging. Such a work environment strives to meet personal needs and business challenges through considering health and well-being and by improving the way in which our work is conducted. Please see our Wellbeing policy for further information.
3VB has grown to almost 100 members of Chambers. But it maintains a collegiate and welcoming environment for all. Chambers arranges internal talks and seminars on wellbeing and regular Chambers social events which are well-attended.
Several members and staff are trained Mental Health First aiders. 3VB provides an Assistance Program (EAP) for all members, their families, staff, and their families, through a major provider, that offers free and confidential counselling, referrals, and follow-up services to anyone who may have personal and/or work-related problems.
3VB is committed to running a business that is environmentally sustainable and we continually strive to minimise our impact on the environment. Our Environmental Policy and action-plan sets out how we intend to achieve this. We have ongoing reviews to ensure we maintain and develop an integrated, comprehensive, and practical sustainability policy that ranges from how we source our energy and office supplies, to how we print and recycle. Through the work we have done to date, and commit to continue doing, we are a Founder Member of the Bar Council’s Sustainability Network programme, a signatory of the London Clean City Award Scheme, Premium members of the Camden Climate Change Alliance and members of the Greener Litigation Pledge.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Cryptoassets (Band 1)
- Group Litigation (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 2)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Financial Services (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 2)
- Offshore (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 3)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)