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.

3 Verulam Buildings pupillage review

The Chambers

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 gives them 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 told us in 2019. “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.”

The Pupillage Experience

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.” Two of three pupils had secured tenancy when we went to press in 2020, with the third decision pending.

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.”

The Application Process

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 year’s 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 28
  • No of juniors 57
  • No of pupils 3
  • Contact Please see the information on the pupillage pages at www.3vb.com
  • Method of application Gateway (for pupillage); see website for mini-pupillage
  • Pupillages pa Up to four of 12 months
  • Required degree grade High 2:1/First
  • Award £70,000 award plus any earnings
  • Tenancies: 
  • 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

3VB is one of London’s leading sets of barristers’ chambers, and its members are often involved in the major commercial and international cases of the day. Recent examples include 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, Tchenguiz v Grant Thornton UK LLP, Terra Firma v Citigroup, 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 and first-class facilities.

Type of work undertaken

3VB’s members are recognised as specialists in categories that span the full range of commercial law including international arbitration, investment treaty work, banking and financial services, commercial and contractual disputes, civil fraud, energy, natural resources and infrastructure, construction, insolvency, insurance, technology, IT and telecoms, media and entertainment, and professional negligence.

Pupil profile

Commercial practice is demanding and 3VB seeks the brightest and the best. The characteristics we are looking for are intellectual and analytical ability, oral and written communication and advocacy skills, and the temperament and determination to succeed at the competitive Commercial Bar. 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.


Pupils sit with four pupil supervisors for three months each. 3VB’s pupil supervisors are ordinarily drawn from the senior juniors. Pupils also have the opportunity to work with many other members of chambers during the course of pupillage. Pupils are exposed to a range of cases, advocacy training exercises, and top-quality expertise from which to learn their skills, all in an encouraging and supportive environment. During the practising second six months, pupils are given the opportunity to undertake advocacy on their own account, to build up experience and earnings. Tenancy at 3VB is offered to all pupils who make the grade. Pupils are invited to many chambers events and socialise regularly with members and staff. 3VB normally offers up to four 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 BSB dispensation, all candidates should apply via the Gateway.


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


The pupillage award is £70,000 per annum. Up to £20,000 of this award can be drawn down during the year before pupillage.

Equality & Diversity:
3VB is committed to equality of opportunity and diversity in the workplace. 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 and we will not tolerate discrimination against clients, members of Chambers, pupils or staff on grounds of gender, race, ethnic or national origin, nationality, citizenship, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, age, religion or belief. In particular, we believe that this will help us to recruit and retain members of Chambers and staff of the highest quality from the widest pool of talent. Chambers has a very active E&D Committee and a detailed Equal & Diversity policy which is regularly reviewed. 3VB is committed to assisting all members and staff, male and female, to manage their family responsibilities and to enjoy a rewarding career in Chambers. We have comprehensive maternity & paternity 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.

At 3VB, we believe in contributing to society, promoting justice, and supporting 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. Chambers supports St Mungo’s and Crisis UK and, through our own charity, the 3VB Charitable Trust, Chambers is pleased to assist various other projects and organisations in the local community. 3VB also takes part in outreach programmes with schools, promoting the profession especially to those groups of society currently under-represented. We also fund a number of academic prizes and a substantial graduate law scholarship. We are:
• A corporate member of JUSTICE and, now, the only barristers’ chambers to be a member of The JUSTICE60
• A donor (one of only two chambers listed) to the Bingham Appeal, to establish 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.

3VB takes part in outreach programmes with schools, promoting the profession especially to those groups of society currently under-represented. We also fund a number of academic prizes and a substantial graduate law scholarship.

Overall, the percentage of people from ethnic minorities working at 3VB (working on the basis of those who have willingly disclosed this information) is proportionally higher than that of the UK working age population. However, we are doing as much as we can to encourage applicants.
3VB is working with five other sets of Chambers to create a mentoring scheme, which aims to support and encourage individuals from groups which are underrepresented at the Bar of England and Wales (and in particular 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. The scheme is called Mentoring For Underrepresented Groups: a scheme run by Commercial Barristers’ Chambers. We also support the Social Mobility Foundation, a mentoring scheme for promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds and work with several universities other than Oxbridge to encourage applications from a wider range of candidates.
We are proud signatories to the Women in Law Pledge created by the Bar Council of England and Wales, The Law Society, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). We are committed to the progress of gender equality, elimination of gender discrimination and pledge to make positive change for the legal profession Bridging the Bar: We have signed up to Bridging the Bar. Their mini pupillage scheme will be administered by volunteer panellists in different specialists areas. The scheme is a genuine ‘path to pupillage’ for students from non-traditional backgrounds (and under-represented backgrounds) aspiring to a career at the Bar.

Several of our 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. We are updating our Wellbeing Policy, and will run a programme of wellbeing talks and events for our members and staff.

We have an environmental policy and one of our key aims is to be a zero-waste-to-landfill chambers, with 100% of our waste composted, recycled, or turned into usable electricity and heat within the next 2 years. We belong to the City of London’s 'Clean City Award Scheme', whose aims are to:
• Promote good waste management practices
• Encourage waste minimisation, reuse and recycling
• Ensure compliance with Duty of Care regulations
• Encourage City businesses to take pride in their surroundings
• Provide a forum for City businesses to exchange waste management initiatives

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2020

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)
    • Public International Law (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)