3 Verulam Buildings - True Picture

Money might be funny in a rich man’s world, but 3VB’s mighty commercial and banking practice is no laughing matter.

You, me and 3VB

If you’ve got an eye for all things commercial and want to put it into legal practice, a pupillage at 3 Verulam Buildings could be right on the money. Think big-ticket international fraud cases, commercial disputes, international arbitration and various other specialisms. Practice manager Stephen Penson tells us the set’s had “a successful year of lateral recruitment that’s brought in both a regulatory and white-collar element” to the practice. “Our members benefit from being in a well-regarded commercial set, which them gives a platform for variety.” Well-regarded indeed: 3VB is highly ranked in Chambers UK for its banking and finance, civil fraud, commercial dispute resolution, financial services and IT practices. Penson explains that “the commercial sector straddles a lot of the areas we work in as far as the courts and our clients are concerned.” He adds that members also find time to work on professional negligence, insurance and media and entertainment law.

3VB’s practice extends across a truly global scale: in 2019 Hefin Rees QC successfully obtained a worldwide freezing injunction in the BVI Commercial Court, which included freezing 22% of the Bank of Asia’s founding shares. Keeping on the freezing order theme, Philip Hinks obtained one against a Russian national living in London to the big money tune of £1.34 billion, on behalf of the liquidator of a Russian bank. On a very topical case, 3VB member David Simpson represented the Bank of England and Financial Conduct Authority in a transfer of 440,000 Aviva life insurance policies valued at €9 billion to an Irish-incorporated subsidiary, aimed at mitigating the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit. Andrew Onslow QC and Richard Hanke teamed up to win an $87 million fraud claim for Iranian Offshore Engineering and Construction.

“There has been an aggressive period of growth over the past year.”

“There has been an aggressive period of growth over the past year,” Penson tells us. We’ve never advertised or wanted to increase numbers for the sake of it, but we’re always alive to opportunities and this year we’ve grasped some that have strengthened our core areas.” These include lateral moves from 39 Essex, Outer Temple and Littleton Chambers. Coupled with recruiting two to four pupils annually, Penson explains that 3VB has “settled into a growth rate that’s healthy for us.”

Down for the County

Pupillage is structured as four seats of three months. Each pupil supervisor has various specialisms, so their novice charges will see a mix of matter types which could range from international arbitration to shareholder disputes and possibly even pro bono. 3VB also gives pupils a ‘shadow supervisor’ – usually a more junior tenant – who acts as pastoral support and added backup. Our interviewees noted that they’d been “highly encouraged to network, and you don’t have to put in much effort because members will come to you. I’ve worked a lot for other members; the first seat was where I worked with my supervisor the most.” A source recalled working on “a three-week fraud trial during my first six. It was great and because the barristers were instructed late there was a lot of responsibility available.” Another was “fortunate enough to be on a case with two silks right away in my second six. I did a lot of travelling to the County Court.”

Unlike at many commercial sets, 3VB pupils can get on their feet in their second six. Because of the set’s established banking clients, they’re able to cut their teeth on “cases worth a few hundred or thousand pounds like strikeout applications. Although they’re simple they do get you into the nitty-gritty and sometimes there is some real legal meat to them.” Insiders added that although they were going to court by themselves, they were “still able to get my prepared skeleton to my supervisor before I sent it to the solicitors or to court. It’s nice to have that reassurance.” Post-tenancy, juniors can undertake secondments in a variety of environments including the FCA, the Commercial Court judiciary and even law firms. There are also overseas opportunities, which Stephen Penson tells us “add a real difference to members’ practice and profile.”

“That’s when I was expected to pull my socks up.”

Our sources described a grace period at the start of pupillage and advised incoming pupils to “prepare for the trajectory to ramp up in the second seat between Christmas and Easter. That’s when I was expected to pull my socks up.” Pupillage also comes with four advocacy assessments, the final three of which are assessed. They’re based around cases which are likely to crop up in the County Court including strikeouts, summary judgment and interim applications. Juniors receive feedback immediately afterwards; they told us: “The process is really well done. You’re informed about them enough in advance to have time to prepare and chambers tries to create an environment where you can succeed.” Assessments are sometimes conducted for multiple pupils at once: “I’ve never felt in competition with my cohort,” one assured us.

Pupillage committee member David Head explains 3VB’s attitude to the tenancy decision: “If you’re good enough, then you’re in. We hope to take on all our pupils as tenants and have done for many years.” All three pupils secured tenancy in 2019.

In vino verulam

Asked to describe the environment at 3VB, Head declares that the set is “a world away from 4 o’clock tea. It’s the absence of tradition here that we like.” He adds that there’s a more egalitarian approach to the running of this chambers than some others: “It’s not a set where only senior silks make decisions. Every committee has representatives from every level so everybody has a say how chambers is managed.” We put the same question to pupils, who described 3VB’s culture as “professional but very human and friendly. There’s no competition between pupils – chambers tell you that at the start but they really pull through and show you that you’re not competing.” Pupils are invited along for lunches and drinks, and to internal seminars: “You’re generally made to feel like you’re already a member here.” Stephen Penson adds that 3VB’s seen “a drive towards mentoring for new tenants” and describes the relationship between members and the clerking room as “a partnership. Senior members have an open-door policy, which works well for us and for juniors, because it provides more opportunities to learn.”

3 Verulam Buildings recruits via the Pupillage Gateway. An initial interview lasts about 30 minutes, to which between 35 and 50 applicants are invited. David Head explains that interviewers’ key criteria are “advocacy ability, commercial awareness and temperament.” As well as preparing a case, candidates get to talk more generally about their interests in chambers and its specialisms. Juniors felt 3VB’s blind interviewing approach “has obvious benefits for diversity but also encourages you to bring everything you can to the interview. There are legal questions but they’re at a level that’s accessible for GDL students.”

“People shouldn’t think they have to fit the stereotype of a barrister.”

Successful interviewees go through to a two-day assessment, during which they’ll shadow and assist a member of chambers and complete a uniformly graded three-hour assessment. The assessment period also includes a chance to get to know members of chambers, usually over lunch or drinks. Pupils recalled “really liking the atmosphere of chambers and its people during the assessment period. You can see they want you to do well and try to get the best out of you.”

There’s an emphasis on advocacy when it comes to recruitment at 3VB. David Head explains that as well as intellectual ability, they’re looking for “people who’ve done mooting or debating. They might also have done drama or taken a role in a society where they’ve advocated for themselves or for a group. We also look for interest and understanding of commerce and commercial law.” He adds that “there are many different types of ‘successful’ here. People shouldn’t think they have to fit the stereotype of a barrister.” Commercial interest doesn’t mean you need to have held a City job: you could “read newspapers or the legal press, and be aware of legal cases coming out of the Court of Appeal. You don’t need a practical background – that’s what pupillage is for.” Having said that, several of 3VB’s most junior tenants were solicitors at top international law firms before making the transition to the Bar.

If they feel a need to recharge, members can choose to take a career break for three years, a years’ holiday from rent or to take out £10,000 credit against chambers expenses.

3 Verulam Buildings

3 Verulam Buildings,
Gray's Inn,
Website www.3vb.com

  • No of silks 25
  • No of juniors 55
  • No of pupils 3
  • Contact Please see the information on the pupillage pages at www.3vb.com
  • Method of application Pupillage Gateway; CV with detailed breakdown of examination results and covering letter explaining why 3VB (mini-pupillage)
  • Pupillages pa Up to four of 12 months
  • Required degree grade High 2:1/First
  • Award in excess of £65,000 plus any earnings
  • Current tenants who served pupillage in chambers Approx 45
  • Junior tenancies offered in last three years 8
  • No of tenants of five years call or under 12

Chambers profile

3 Verulam Buildings is one of London’s largest and most highly regarded commercial sets of chambers, its members regularly involved in the leading cases of the day. Recent examples include the RBS Rights Issue Litigation, Tchenguiz v Grant Thornton, Yukos v The Russian Federation, Terra Firma v Citigroup and VTB Capital v Nutritek. Over 70% of 3VB’s barristers are ranked in one or more legal directories, and both its silks and juniors are frequently nominated for and awarded industry accolades for their achievements. 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 set providing a diverse, friendly and informal atmosphere with excellent practice managers, spacious premises and first-class facilities.

Type of work undertaken

3VB’s members are recognised as leading practitioners in a variety of the fields that make up international commercial practice: banking, financial services, commercial and contractual disputes, civil fraud, international arbitration, energy, construction, insolvency, insurance, technology, IT and telecoms, media and professional negligence.

Pupil profile

Commercial practice is demanding and 3VB seeks the brightest and the best. The characteristics we seek in our recruits are a high level of intellectual and analytical ability, very strong oral and written advocacy skills and the temperament and determination to succeed at the competitive commercial Bar. We aim to nurture those qualities during pupillage and in the early years of practice. As a general guide an applicant will be unlikely to reach the first round of interviews without a good 2:1 in their undergraduate studies (as well as a good record on the GDL where applicable). Many successful applicants have a first or a Master’s degree, or both. 


3VB offers up to four 12-month pupillages per year (including deferred pupillages). 3VB is a member of the Pupillage Gateway and, save for established practitioners and other applicants who have obtained dispensation from the BSB from the requirement to undertake pupillage, we invite all applicants to make their application via the Pupillage Gateway website. Chambers is committed to recruiting new tenants from its pupils whenever it can. We provide our pupils with an encouraging and supportive environment, to ensure as far as we can that they perform to the best of their ability during their pupillage year. Tenancy is offered to all pupils who make the grade. 


Two-day mini-pupillages are an essential part of chambers’ selection procedure and it is strongly encouraged that prospective applicants for pupillage apply for a mini-pupillage; please visit our website for further information www.3vb.com/pupillage/mini-pupillage.


The current annual award is £65,000, up to £20,000 of which may be drawn during the year prior to pupillage.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Chancery: Commercial (Band 3)
    • Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
    • Financial Services (Band 1)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Insurance (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 3)
    • Offshore (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 3)