With construction, technology, banking, international arbitration and more pumping through its practice, 4 Pump Court has set the bar high for all things commercial.
4 Pump Court pupillage review 2022
“Our work falls under the commercial umbrella,” says senior clerk Carl Wall, “but the practice areas come in different guises.” Construction and energy account for around 40% of 4PC’s instructions, making it the biggest piece of the pie. Shipping, commercial litigation and technology make up roughly 15% each, while insurance, professional negligence and banking compose a combined 20%. The set picks up Chambers UK Bar rankings across all of these areas, with IT and professional negligence singled out for top accolades.
Having “invested heavily in our Middle and Far Eastern profile” over the last decade, the set’s international arbitration work has increased significantly in recent years. In fact, construction-related arbitration has earned the set a high ranking from Chambers UK Bar. The arbitrations often relate to energy plants, airports, transport systems, universities, and shipyards, but specific details are highly confidential. Elsewhere within the set, Stephen Cogley QC and Alexander Wright recently achieved a €225 million worldwide freezing order against a Russian oil refinery following allegations that it sold oil to a third party despite prepayment agreements with a VTB Bank subsidiary.
The set recently welcomed three new silks and two juniors in just over twelve months, so Wall says “there’s no doubt we’re growing.” Culturally, juniors told us the set “really values loyalty – we build our client relationships over a long time, and our head clerk has been here since the beginning.” James Hatt, head of pupillage recruitment, was a 4PC pupil himself. “We’re a set that people stay at,” he says.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with three supervisors over the course of pupillage: two for three months each and a third for the final six months. The first six is non-practising, so pupils spend their time working for their supervisors. “At the end of the day, they’re the ones who sign off on your pupillage and accredit you to be self-employed, so they give you tasks to meet that criterion.” Said tasks include drafting “a lot” of documents for active cases: “Surprise, surprise, commercial law is about drafting pleadings, statements of case and advisory letters to clients.”
“I helped out on a major trial where we represented the FCA.”
Pupils’ work depends on which area of law their supervisor specialises in. “My first supervisor did a mix of technology and construction disputes with a bit of construction-related professional negligence,” one told us, “but my second supervisor was big on financial services and banking, so I helped out on a major trial where we represented the FCA against individuals for misrepresenting their financial products to consumers.” Other supervisors were “big on the shipping industry, which is a beast in and of itself but incredibly interesting.” Speaking of which, 4PC’s Nicholas Vineall QC recently represented Manchester Shipping in claims of around $30 million arising out of the breakup of a Russian shipping empire.
Rookies also attend conferences with solicitors, clients and experts. Pupils did a bit of research “but not as much as I expected. They’re more concerned about honing your drafting skills so you can communicate clearly with clients, the other side and judges.” If the supervisor doesn’t have an active case on the go, pupils work on historic cases of around six months old. Newbies occasionally work for barristers who aren’t supervising them, but “it’s not that common because 4PC likes to give you just one source of feedback in the first six.”
Pupils begin practising a week or two into the second six: “Most commercial places don’t let pupils begin practising that early, so it’s cool 4PC does.” Cooler still, we heard there’s a “steady line of road traffic accidents on the insurer side here, so I’m often marched down to County Court to represent an insurer. It’s a chance to hone your cross-examination skills.” Pupils continue working for their supervisors in the second six as well.
“We didn’t feel like we needed to knock each other out!”
Assessment comes in the form of two oral and two written exercises in the first six. The written part is blind-marked by members of chambers, whilst the oral portion – an application and a mock hearing – is conducted in front of a panel of three members. “My co-pupil and I were against each other in the hearing, but it was actually really fun,” one shared. “We didn’t feel like we needed to knock each other out!” Pupils also get feedback on work they’ve done throughout the pupillage, though “not every bit of work is graded.”
Ahead of the tenancy decision, the pupillage committee gathers reports from supervisors and other members who’ve worked with pupils. "We base the decision on the reports, assessments and anything else relevant,” says James Hatt, head of pupillage recruitment. “We then make a recommendation to the heads of chambers,” though the heads tend to approve the committee’s decision. Both the set's two pupils were taken on in 2021.
“Having someone to turn to in the good times and the bad is vital.”
Overall, our sources felt “pupillage isn’t a competition – we’ve been told that if we’re both good enough we’ll both be taken on, so we’re comfortable helping each other out.” Pupils and juniors five years’ call and under also get a clerk mentor. “No matter how friendly people are, pupils don’t always feel comfortable sticking their head above the parapet, so the clerk mentor is someone ‘safe’ to talk to,” they said. “Having someone to turn to in the good times and the bad is vital.” Members find more camaraderie in Middle Temple Hall, where they often have lunch together. In keeping with a “very un-stuffy” vibe, juniors and QCs are on a first-name basis, and a few lucky souls are even given nicknames.
The Application Process
4PC recruits outside the Gateway, so the application cycle kicks off with an application form on the set’s website, which is “a chance for applicants to show their written advocacy abilities,” says Hatt. “Of course we look at academic achievements, but we also look for people with good judgement and the ability to get on with people in different spheres.” Ultimately, “what stands out is common sense.” A look at the set's most junior members shows that a lot of them studied at Oxbridge, but the group also contains graduates of Trinity College Dublin, Glasgow and Durham. It’s also worth noting that 4PC doesn’t require candidates to have done mini-pupillages.
“You’re not a professor so sometimes the best answer is ‘I don’t know, but this is what I think.’”
4PC gets roughly 100 applications each year, which are sifted down to 16 top candidates. The first interview focuses on legal analysis. Candidates are given a legal issue to prepare whilst waiting to be called in, then have to advocate for a certain side in the actual interview. “It’s very much about analysing the problem and responding to our questions,” says Hatt. The interview panel consists of four barristers at mixed levels of seniority. “We try to get a spread of backgrounds and types of practice,” says Hatt. “It’s a friendly process but we do try to probe and get people to think on their feet.” A pupil emphasised that “they’re not trying to trick you into an answer. You’re not a professor so sometimes the best answer is ‘I don’t know, but this is what I think.’” Hatt has this advice: “When answering questions, show good judgement in a calm and authoritative matter.” One junior recalled that “most of the interview was a general discussion about my interests and why I wanted to become a barrister.”
Five to six lucky candidates are invited back for a second interview which is structured around oral advocacy. The potential pupils are given mock court papers earlier in the week beforehand, then advocate in a 15-minute mock hearing on the day. Hatt tells us: “We decide who to take very quickly, then make a recommendation to the heads of chambers. We make offers as quickly as we can after interviews, subject to the heads’ availability.” Pupils are afforded £70,000 upon joining the set, one of the highest awards at the Bar.
______ up the jam
Every Friday, 4PC members enjoy a fill-in-the-missing-song-lyric competition before heading down to their local.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 5)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- Financial Services (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Construction/Engineering (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)
- Property Damage (Band 2)
- Shipping & Commodities (Band 2)