39 Essex Chambers - True Picture

For those seeking a structured four-seat pupillage in areas like clinical negligence, commercial and public law, look no further than this sizeable set with overseas branches in Asia.


The Chambers

“Sometimes you lose a collegiate and friendly dynamic as sets get bigger,” 39 Essex’s CEO and director of clerking, Lindsay Scott, tells us. “But we’ve managed to keep it here and stay close.” That’s no small feat considering 39 Essex is the largest set in London and houses 155 full members – 51 of whom are silks. Alongside its London base, 39 Essex has premises in Manchester, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. “We’ve grown a lot recently,” Scott adds. “We’ve invested heavily in our foreign offices and appointed a new CEO for Asia recently. Our aim for the short to medium future is about consolidating that growth.”

“I wanted broad exposure at the beginning of my career and that’s reflected here. There’s a real benefit in covering four different areas.”

As you might expect for a set of its size, 39 Essex covers a broad range of practices. Chambers UK Bar awards 20 rankings to the set for various areas of work, but it’s rated as one of the best at the Bar for community care, environment, personal injury, and professional discipline matters. Equally commendable rankings are given to its administrative and public law, civil liberties and human rights, education, immigration, construction/engineering international arbitration, local government, and technology and construction professional negligence expertise.

39 Essex's David Hopkins is speaking at the Gen Z Summit on Thursday 3 March. Don't miss out - sign up to attend and ask him all your burning questions about applications and interviews.

This breadth was quite the draw for 39 Essex’s pupils, who each spend time in four different seats during their pupillage: planning and environmental law; public law; personal injury and clinical negligence; and construction and commercial law. “I didn’t want to be overly specialised,” one pupil reflected. “I wanted broad exposure at the beginning of my career and that’s reflected here. There’s a real benefit in covering four different areas.” Scott adds: “We think this process makes for really strong junior tenants after pupillage.”

On the planning side, James Strachan QC continues to be instructed by the Department of Transport to advise on the HS2 project. He also acted with a team for Samuel Smith Old Brewery in the Supreme Court on a significant challenge to the interpretation of Green Belt policy. A recent environment matter saw Stephen Tromans QC advise Bristol City Council on measures to achieve air quality standards, which included banning diesel vehicles in the city centre. Tromans is also acting for the government in another landmark challenge brought by the Good Law Project against the approach to air quality in the context of Covid-19. Construction work, meanwhile, has seen Kate Grange QC work full time as leading counsel to the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry over the past three years.

“We think this process makes for really strong junior tenants after pupillage.”

If 39 Essex’s civil liberties and human rights work is of interest, we can tell you that Fenella Morris QC has recently represented the British Medical Association in a case that challenged changes to the NHS doctors’ pension scheme. Another matter saw Lisa Giovannetti QC lead Rory Dunlop QC in the Supreme Court; the case assessed whether an article in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) prevents the deportation of foreign nationals if they lack access to healthcare in their home country.

Neil Block QC continues to act on numerous clinical negligence matters, including the defence of NHS surgeons against several claims brought by people fitted with metal and artificial hips, as well as a high value birth trauma case. When it comes to personal injury work, Susan Rodway QC has been acting for multiple claimants pursuing cases against Welsh Rugby Union, the Rugby Football Union and World Rugby regarding permanent brain damage caused by concussion and sub-concussive injuries.

The Pupillage Experience

Pupils typically sit with four supervisors across the twelve months. However, on occasion, “pupils might have two supervisors in one seat,” explains fellow co-head of pupillage, Judith Ayling QC. “For instance, in public law, they could have a supervisor with a predominantly claimant practice and a supervisor with a predominantly defendant one.” We’re told there’s a strict adherence to pupils only working for their supervisor/s, except for in exceptional circumstances. “It helps pupils to not feel swamped,” Ayling tells us. “It also makes it easier to assess their progress when they’re not working for 20 members at once.” Grange adds: “The seats are fairly intense, so it’s not just a free-for-all with various members coming along and giving pupils random pieces of work on a Friday night.”

Pupils get on their feet during the secondsix and begin taking on their own cases. This means that they usually get to be in court once or twice a week. “We think it’s good for them to get out without a supervisor,” says Grange, “although we try and limit the amount of work they do so it’s not too stressful and so that they have time for written work for supervisors.” So, what can you expect in the second six? We hear it’s likely that pupils will be in court on low value civil claims a few times a week.

“We try and give rigorous feedback regularly for pupils to learn and address in the next piece of work. It’s about giving constructive feedback clearly and promptly.”

The type of work undertaken is understandably determined by the area of law being practised. Take product liability, for example, which involves long-running inquests or being “in court, a lot!Clinical negligence matters resulted in more written work for one pupil, who spent their time “helping prepare for conferences and putting together skeleton arguments, pleadings, advices on liabilities, etc.” Another pupil added that their commercial construction seat involved “really big, week-long drafting exercises, as well as meeting experts and attending hearings.” Ultimately, “you learn the different cadence and working demands of each seat,” and as you progress, “you begin to add value and actually help the upward trajectory of a case.”

“You learn the different cadence and working demands of each seat…”

Day to day feedback supplements the formal reviews that are delivered within each seat. “Pupils get detailed written feedback at the halfway point and at the end of each seat,” Grange tells us. “This will include a table of feedback on every single piece of work, with an accompanying grade at the end based on our selection criteria.” One pupil explained that these feedback cards aren’t passed on to the next supervisor, “so you enter your next seat with a clean slate and without any prejudice.” Ayling adds: “We try and give rigorous feedback regularly for pupils to learn and address in the next piece of work. It’s about giving constructive feedback clearly and promptly.” Pupils can also expect to complete two advocacy tests (one is not scored) and two pieces of shadow panel work. The first advocacy exercise is led by members of the pupillage committee, who provide informal feedback and tips. As the tenancy decision draws closer, a formal advocacy exercise is set and judged by a senior member of chambers. The exercises set by the shadow panel (members of chambers who are not on the pupillage committee) are different each year and can range from drafting advice to producing skeleton arguments. The exercises are marked by the shadow panel and feedback is passed on for consideration in the tenancy decision.

Both these formal and end-of-year assessments inform a “holistic tenancy decision.” One pupil explained it’s based on a combination of supervisor feedback reports, grading on competencies, the formal assessments, and feedback from clients and other members of chambers. “It’s nice that it’s not determined on accidentally spilling coffee on someone’s floor,” joked a pupil. “Unless you do something that would get you sacked at any workplace, gaining tenancy is about the work you do and demonstrating an upward trajectory across pupillage.” The decision is made around the nine-month mark, with sources informing us that chambers has found third six pupillages for those who have been unsuccessful at 39 Essex. “That’s partly why we try and have the decision making as early as possible,” explains Grange. This eventually is rare though, as 39 Essex has recorded a 92% success rate for retaining pupils as members over the last five years. Three pupils were retained in 2021.

The question then beckons over whether it is truly “one of the most approachable sets at the Bar.” This pupil very much supported this view of 39 Essex: “It was important for me to practise in a friendly environment. Obviously, you’re not going to pick a set just because it’s friendly. But it really is here. You’re not pitted against co-pupils; you’re encouraged to be friends.” Chambers drinks and lunches help foster these connections, in part because “you’re encouraged to talk about things that aren’t the law!” Another added: “There’s metaphorically and literally an open-door policy across chambers. You can ask anyone anything.” Ultimately, “we enjoy being a community rather than a group of individual barristers.”

The Application Process

Applicants must apply through the Pupillage Gateway. 39 Essex typically receives around 350 applications each year and around 60 to 70 candidates are invited to complete a first-round interview. While not mandated, 39 Essex strongly encourages applicants to complete an assessed mini-pupillage before applying. “It stands you in good stead during application,” one source told us. “It’s not a requirement but it was really helpful.”

“…the approach at all stages is about giving someone the optimum chance to do their best.”

Co-head of pupillage Kate Grange QC tells us: “The first-round interview is conducted in groups, with a mix of questions on CVs and applications, with questions thrown in to get people talking. There’s then a scenario on ethical or legal questions to talk through.” One pupil described their experience: “I remember thinking after the first-round interview that I actually had a really nice time,” they said. “I liked the chat and came out thinking I did badly because it almost felt too relaxed, but that’s a reflection of how pupillage is treated. Of course, there are demanding elements and things might be tough throughout the process, but the approach at all stages is about giving someone the optimum chance to do their best.”

Around 25candidates are invited to a second-round interview, where they are given a case study to read “around thirty minutes beforehand and are then asked questions on it.” The case study does not require extensive legal research, and candidates should prepare themselves for being asked questions on an additional topic as well. The interview is conducted by three members of chambers.One source commended the constructive approach to interviewing. “There were no questions designed to simply catch you out,” they said. “You’re very much pushed on difficult legal questions for your views, but they’re genuinely interested in your opinion and pushing you to perform at your best.”

Sources we spoke with frequently praised chambers’ approach during the recruitment process. “They sent round a super helpful guide to us before the second-round interview,” said one pupil, highlighting information that covered IT support, preparation advice, helpful tips, and even advice on what to wear. “That piece of advice in particular really put me at ease,” reflected one interviewee.In addition to these helpful cosmetic tips, Grange underlines that “it’s important to see real engagement from an applicant with our subject areas, main areas of work and ethos.”


Shouldn’t you have left by now?Both Grange and Ayling speak to a “strict 9am to 6pm day during pupillage,” which was backed up by this pupil’s account: “There was one occasion when I was trying to print at 6:04pm and I had five people telling me to leave!”


39 Essex Chambers

81 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1DD
020 7832 1111 Fax: 020 7353 3978

82 Kings Street, Manchester, M2 4WQ
0161 870 0333
020 7353 3978

Email: clerks@39essex.com
Website: www.39essex.com

Chambers profile
39 Essex Chambers is a long-established civil set. It currently has 151 members, including 51 QCs. Chambers has 25 members on the Attorney General’s Panels for civil litigation. It prides itself on its friendly and professional atmosphere. It was described by Chambers UK as “home to some extraordinarily bright people.” Chambers is fully networked and its clerking and administrative services are of a high standard. Within Chambers, members work very hard, however, they also pride themselves on having a thriving and cohesive social life including fortnightly lunches and breakfasts in Chambers and other social and sporting events throughout the year. 39 Essex Chambers is an equal opportunities employer.

Type of work undertaken
• Commercial Law: Commercial regulation; construction and engineering; corporate restructuring; costs; employment; insurance and reinsurance; media, entertainment and sports; oil, gas and utilities; financial services; project finance; energy
• Costs & Litigation Funding
• Civil Liability: Clinical negligence; health and safety; insurance; material loss claims; personal injury; product liability; professional negligence; sports injuries; toxic torts
• Planning, Environmental & Property: Aviation; compulsory purchase; contaminated land; environmental civil liability; environmental regulation; international environmental law; licensing; marine environment; planning; nuisance; rating
• Administrative & Public Law: Central and local government; European law; human rights; judicial review; mental health and community care; parliamentary; cost and funding and public affairs
• Regulatory & Disciplinary: Medical; legal; social care and education; financial services; broadcasting, communications and media; sport; transport; health and safety; building and housing; local government standards; licensing

Chambers awards up to three 12-month pupillages a year. During the pupillage year, each pupil will be rotated between four pupil supervisor seats, covering a broad range of Chambers’ work. The pupils will also do three assessed pieces of written work for other members of Chambers and receive training in, and assessment of, advocacy. Pupils work between 9:00am and 6:00pm, Monday to Friday with no late nights or weekend work expected. Time is given for preparing own work and in the second six months pupils can expect to go to Court a number of times a month. Chambers has an excellent record of recruiting its own pupils as successful junior tenants.

Mini-pupillage is a useful tool for the assessment by Chambers of candidates and vice versa. It is not a prerequisite for pupillage but we encourage those intending to seek pupillage to apply for mini-pupillage if they can, as it helps both applicant and Chambers to decide if the fit is right. There are limited places available. Mini-pupillages are typically two days long, currently being held remotely. Applications have recently shut, with the scheme next opening in late summer/ autumn 2022. Applicants should have completed, begun or be just about to begin the final year of an undergraduate law degree or, if you did not complete an undergraduate degree in law, the final year of a master’s degree in law or the final year of a Graduate Diploma in Law. Check Chambers’ website for details and updates to the timetable.

The pupillage award is currently £70,000 of which £5,000 will be by way of guaranteed earnings in the second six, payable in equal monthly instalments across the twelve month pupillage. Earnings for your own work in the second six months is additional to this award (above the £5,000 minimum). Up to £15,000 of the £70,000 award may be drawn down in advance over the BPTC year and/or for relevant postgraduate study in the year before commencement of pupillage (with pro rata reductions during the pupillage year). Awards and offers are all conditional upon passing the BPTC.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Costs Litigation (Band 2)
    • Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Band 1)
    • Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
    • Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence (Band 4)
    • Community Care (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Data Protection (Band 3)
    • Education (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Immigration (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration: Construction/Engineering (Band 2)
    • Local Government (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 3)
    • Professional Discipline (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 2)
    • Tax: Indirect Tax (Band 3)
    • Travel: International Personal Injury (Band 3)