39 Essex Chambers - True Picture

Distinct in its seat-based training model, mega-set 39 Essex Chambers offers a varied pupillage programme.

Vive la différence!

You don't become London's biggest barristers' chambers without a steady recruitment programme. Every year highly ranked all-rounder 39 Essex Chambers welcomes up to three pupils to join its 130-strong membership. Pupils get to experience the breadth of the set’s practice through four seats: civil liability; environmental and planning; commercial and construction; and public law.

The range of 39 Essex’s caseload can be gleaned from some of its recent stand-out work: members have been involved in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Mau Mau litigation and the case of breast surgeon Ian Paterson who was sued by 700 women over claims of botched or unnecessary mastectomies. Members were also involved in the Charlie Gard case and, more recently, were instructed to represent the interests of Sergei and Yulia Skripal after they were poisoned in Salisbury in March 2018.

It's been a busy past few years for 39 Essex away from the courtroom too. A period of active lateral hiring led the set to up sticks and move to glitzy new digs on Chancery Lane in 2015. A name change capped off the process (the set used to be called Thirty Nine Essex Street), and further strategic growth remains on the agenda. In addition to its London HQ the set also has an office in Manchester and two staffed outposts in Singapore and Malaysia, both hubs for mediation and arbitration.

The environmental and planning team made a real name for itself with environmental work,” senior clerk Michael Kaplan notes (the set is top-ranked in this area by Chambers UK), “but it's planning that's extremely busy at the moment, particularly in the residential sphere.” With London's demand for housing at an all-time high, “we're seeing a lot of development consent order cases come through the door, and are keen and able to take on more.” Barristers do a significant amount of advisory work: one silk recently advised the London Borough of Enfield on a £3.5 billion regeneration project.

“We look for people with interests outside their studies."

Civil liability experts cover clinical negligence, personal injury and other insurance-related cases. The most high-value claims often stretch into the hundreds of millions; take the recently settled £170 million claim lodged by Accolade Wines, which argued that faults in the design of its bottling plant and warehouse rendered it unusable, leading to property damage and business interruption losses. By merging its expertise in public, commercial, construction and EU law, “39 Essex is hoping to take on more public sector procurement work over the coming years.” Members already engage in various procurement and PPP/PFI cases and were also recently active on a case over procurement issues related to the government’s tender process for criminal legal aid contracts.


On the subject of public law, it's worth noting that star human rights campaigner, and now shadow Attorney General, Baroness Chakrabarti joined 39 Essex Chambers as a door tenant in 2016. “She's a huge boost to our public law offering,” says Kaplan. Chakrabarti joins a whole constellation of legal stars: in 2017 Chambers UK ranked this set for 19 practice areas and its members picked up a whopping 180 individual rankings between them. With big names, big clients, big variety and big just about everything else, a pupillage at 39 Essex is perfect if you're looking to maintain broad interests at the start of your career.

Pupillage Gateway applications are anonymously sifted, and 50 or 60 are invited for a first-round interview. Between ten and 20 make it beyond the first panel to a second and final interview. 39 Essex also offers mini-pupillages and although completing one is not an imperative to secure an interview, a good mini can help you in the initial application sift.

“You're welcome to branch out and work for other members."

Interviews are held by three-person panels, usually two silks and a junior. Educational attainment is important, but there are other considerations too, says pupillage committee member Judith Ayling: “We look for people with interests outside their studies," and candidates should expect to demonstrate at interview that they can "deal with the pressures of work by maintaining an outside life.” Pupils used to be asked to do a presentation on a topic of their own interest, but this is no longer part of the process. 


An interest in your work/life balance is one that extends into pupillage. “Chambers imposes a strict nine-to-six rule," a pupil shared. "Supervisors set sensible work schedules and expect you to get your work done in the allotted time.”

Pupils spend a seat in each of the four core areas, and are assigned two supervisors per seat (three in commercial/construction). “You're welcome to branch out and work for other members whose practices interest you,” we were told, “but supervisors keep an eye on your workload to make sure it's well balanced and manageable.” When it comes to performance, Ayling tells us that “pupils are expected to progress as the year goes on, so we try to ease them in during the first seat. There's an acceptance that mistakes will be made.” Document sifting, research and writing legal notes are all common pursuits for first-sixers, but by the time they're in their second six, pupils will be managing their own caseload of between ten and 20 matters in total.

Rookies' court appearances are strictly limited to not more than twice a week. "It's a blessing," a baby junior told us. "You’ll want to do as much as you can, but this way you have enough time to learn from your supervisor and prove yourself to them.” Second-sixers' cases are typically low-value, and range from road traffic accidents and contractual disputes to negligence cases and County Court and small claims court work. There's a degree of flexibility when it comes to case selection. One baby junior recalled: “I hadn't done an RTA Stage 3, so I went to the clerking team to see if they had anything I could jump in on. Three days later the briefs were on my desk.”


Our pupil sources were delighted with the support they'd received from junior members before getting on their feet for the first time. “Just before we started the second six, two or three juniors put together a file filled with all their first cases, notes and skeletons,” a pupil told us. “They sat down with us for a couple of hours and talked us through everything, letting us know what we ought to do and what to avoid. The following day I had my first hearing, and those reference points were really helpful.”

"There's always a decent showing at the fortnightly chambers lunch.”

39 Essex's members are a reasonably sociable bunch in other ways too. "There's always a decent showing at the fortnightly chambers lunch, though if you have work to get on with no one will hassle you.” Every now and then emails will go round to support staff, clerks, pupils, juniors and silks organising trips to local boozer the Edgar Wallace. “There's usually a good representative mix that turn up,” a pupil told us. “And quite often I've left without paying for a single drink, despite my efforts.”

Over the course of pupillage, every piece of work submitted is assessed and fed back on, culminating in mid and end-of-seat reviews. Oral and interpersonal skills, intellectual ability, an interest in chambers' work, and – in line with chambers' views on work/life balance – any interests successfully upheld outside the law, are all considered during reviews.

Prospective tenants are also assessed during two written exercises. These are marked by QCs, and tend to be an opinion on a live issue that’s just come into chambers. A formal advocacy assessment in June also feeds into the tenancy decision. Here, pupils complete two preparatory exercises, before using their acquired skills to present something such as an interim injunction. “A good performance on these can definitely help your case,” Ayling explains, “but supervisors' end of seat reports are the most important factor. We look at pupils' ability to progress, achieve and persevere over the year as a whole.” All three pupils gained tenancy in 2017.

Despite its name, 39 Essex Chambers is now based at 81 Chancery Lane, so make sure you go to the right address if you get an interview.

39 Essex Chambers

81 Chancery Lane,
Website www.39essex.com

82 Kings Street,
M2 4WQ

  • No of silks 46
  • No of juniors 84
  • No of pupils Up to 3
  • Contact Emily Formby, Judith Ayling, Kate Grange QC, [email protected], 020 7832 1111
  • Method of application Pupillage Gateway
  • Pupillages (pa) Up to 3
  • Other offices Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manchester

Chambers profile

39 Essex Chambers is a long-established civil set. It currently has 134 members, including 47 QCs. Chambers has 17 members on the Attorney General’s Panels for civil litigation. Chambers 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 and 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 and property: aviation; compulsory purchase; contaminated land; environmental civil liability; environmental regulation; international environmental law; licensing; marine environment; planning; nuisance; rating.

Administrative and public law: central and local government (including education, housing, immigration, prisons and VAT); European law; human rights; judicial review; mental health and community care; parliamentary; cost and funding and public affairs.

Regulatory and 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 two 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. 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.


Mini-pupillage is a very useful tool for the assessment by Chambers of candidates and vice versa. It is not a prerequisite for potential pupils, but since it is likely to increase the chances of the able candidate in obtaining pupillage, we encourage those intending to seek pupillage to apply for minipupillage if they can. There are limited places available. Mini-pupillages are normally for three days and take place between September and February. Applications should be made as early as possible after 1st September up to the end date of 31st October and (save in exceptional circumstances) while applicants are in their final year before undertaking the BPTC. Mini Pupillages will be offered in the period between the making of the application and the end of February 2018. Please check Chambers’ website for details and updates to the timetable.


The pupillage award is currently £60,000 plus second six earnings. Pupils attend court regularly in their own right in the second six and all second six earnings are on top of the £60,000. Of the award £12,500 may be drawn down during the year before pupillage commences. Awards and offers are all conditional upon passing the BPTC.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Costs Litigation (Band 2)
    • Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Band 1)
    • Administrative & Public Law (Band 3)
    • Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence (Band 5)
    • Community Care (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Data Protection (Band 2)
    • Education (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Immigration (Band 4)
    • 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)