4 Stone Buildings is a no-nonsense commercial chancery law set, where a lofty intellect and a personable manner are valued equally.
“When I first came here,” says senior clerk David Goddard, “it was more a chancery set, now it’s more company commercial, commercial and company insolvency work.” Goddard would know, he’s been at the set an impressive 37 years, and recently watched Robert Miles QC be appointed Justice of the High Court (Chancery Division) – “I interviewed him into pupillage.” Despite all this expansion, the set continues to sit at the top of the pile in Chambers UK for commercial chancery work in London.
Goddard summarised the set’s make-up: “We’re roughly 50% commercial and financial services, 30% insolvency, and 20% chancery and things like judicial review.” Goddard illustrated some recent highlights in a “big commercial civil fraud case.” 4 Stone, led by Miles QC, acted for the defendantsin The Liquidators of Hellas Telecommunications (Luxembourg) II SCA v Apax Partners LLP & Others. The claimants alleged that the Apax Group had acted fraudulently in its €3.4 billion refinancing of the Hellas telecoms group in 2007. The court ruled that the claimants were required to pay the defence costs after the claimants discontinued their case after just four days. While the firm mostly takes on businesses as clients, it also represents individuals as it did in Navigator Equities Ltd v Filatona Trading Ltd, where Jonathan Crow QC successfully represented Russian oligarch Vladimir Chernukhin against Oleg Deripaska in a high-profile Commercial Court trial. The court found that Deripaska had been responsible for organising an armed seizure of a development site in Moscow, which was a joint-venture asset. Talk about a hostile takeover.
“We don’t expect pupils to turn up and produce work that is up to standard. Pupils need to be hitting the required standard at the end, not the beginning.”
Goddard highlights a pragmatic strategy for 4 Stone: “How we go forward depends on the climate.” So, “if there are a lot of takeovers then that’s what we’ll focus on. If there’s a lot of insolvency, as we’re unfortunately expecting, then we’ll get into that.” The set “keeps an eye on the business world and tries to tailor what we do around that.” 4 Stone Buildings typically takes on “two pupils a year and, if they meet the standard, we take them on,” and likes to grow “very much from the bottom.” Goddard notes that the chambers has “only ever taken on one member as a lateral hire.”
The Pupillage Experience
According to our sources among the juniors and pupils, pupils “sit with four pupil supervisors,” spending three months with each. One pupil told us: “You will do work for both supervisors and for other members.” Unlike some sets, where the second six is characterised by pupils taking on their own clients, at 4 Stone Buildings there’s “no practice in the second six. The intensity goes up, you’re given a bit more responsibility and there’s a bit less hand-holding, but you’re not doing your own cases.” Typical tasks, we heard, were “drafting particulars, skeletons and cross-examination, and research,” but it “varies from supervisors to supervisor.” Head of the pupillage committee, Andrew de Mestre QC, describes the work as “homogeneous. There’s company insolvency, commercial litigation, banking services, and pupils would expect to be exposed to all areas. The split will depend on the supervisor’s practice that year.” De Mestre notes that “cases often cross areas.” So, while there will be “some pure insolvency in insolvency work, equally there’s a lot of litigation where the underlying case is a contract case.”
“It’s generally all live work.”
With so much on the go, De Mestre sees no point in making students work on previous cases. “It’s generally all live work,” De Mestre explains. “It may happen that a live piece of work will be given to the next pupil to see how they compare. But it tends to be live work.” De Mestre says that even if “a supervisor is involved in a large case, he or she will arrange for the pupil to do other work for other people, but even that would generally be live work.” For the set to achieve its aims of developing rather than hiring already fully-fledged barristers, it is important “to get pupils to draft, not just feed them a diet of legal research,” says De Mestre. “Supervisors tend to have a lot of complicated work, and you can easily end up with pupils doing just research.”
Tenancy is decided “principally on your performance throughout the year,” says De Mestre, and, added one junior, “there are no formal assessment sessions like at some chambers.” It was a system that pupils and juniors liked. “The view is that it’s artificial and people are stressed enough. There’s nothing your supervisor is going to learn from a formal assessment that they don’t already know.” Instead, one junior explained, “you get feedback on work throughout the year and if there are things that could stop you gaining tenancy, feedback is provided at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“You don’t need specific legal knowledge. You use legal analysis, but not specialised knowledge.”
The tenancy decision, therefore, is based on “continual assessment, with substantial feedback to ensure we can see if there’s been improvement,” says De Mestre, and the decision is “taken by the whole chambers.” De Mestre adds that while there is “no formal grace period, we don’t expect pupils to turn up and produce work that is up to standard. Pupils need to be hitting the required standard at the end, not the beginning.” As part of the pupillage, De Mestre explains that “supervisors do particular exercises. So, in the second six, pupils conduct mock conferences with supervisors as mock clients, and give advice, both tactical and legal.” These mock conferences “tend to focus on the area where improvement is needed most to provide pupils with opportunities to improve on weaknesses we’ve identified.” 4SB had not finalised its tenancy decision by the time we went to press in 2020; both pupils were taken on in 2019.
The Application Process
For those hoping to join the set, “we’re on the Pupillage Gateway and use that timetable and form,” says De Mestre. In addition to the standard “who you are, academic results” boxes to fill out on the Gateway, “we add four or five bespoke questions looking to see how applicants argue.” If you clear that hurdle, “people are invited to an interview,” one junior explained. That interview has “two parts,” says De Mestre. “The first part involves a legal problem,” which is given to interviewees before the interview. Candidates then “have to present and argue a point,” with a “Q&A afterwards.” In total, De Mestre says, the first part takes “around 20 minutes.” Juniors and pupils liked that “you don’t need specific legal knowledge. You use legal analysis, but not specialised knowledge.” One junior added: “The set is interested in whether you’re clever, and if you’ll be able to meet the standards after you’ve learnt the area of law it does.”
The “second part,” says De Mestre, involves “more general questions.” What the set is looking for is “how people identify points of importance, how they sift through information and how they answer the question, and do they display empathy towards the audience, for example.” Candidates also need to be quick on their feet and to “stand their ground. Everyone’s done a mini-pupillage, but what have they learnt?” For the set, the focus is on what people have gained from their experiences, “rather than what the case is, or the factual details.”
“...the calibre on paper is all quite staggering and phenomenal.”
The days where academic excellence would suffice are gone. Although, as Goddard says, “the calibre on paper is all quite staggering and phenomenal,” a strong CV is just “a gateway,” adds De Mestre. When deciding who joins the set, Goddard says, “a lot depends on personality, how they get on with people. Are they easygoing? Can they talk to clients easily?” Goddard adds that “you’ve got to have the intellect and relay it to the court in an easy manner. Clients don’t like to see barristers getting a hard time from the judge because they aren’t answering the question.” De Mestre concurs: “Once you’re in the interview, we’re interested to see how people argue a point in the face of counter-argument. It’s amazing how hard it can be, but it’s incredibly important in court.” While quick thinking is required, De Mestre insists the set doesn’t have a particular personality type in mind. “One of the great criticisms is that you’re picking people like you,” he says, acknowledging the problem of implicit bias. “There are people who argue aggressively, some are more understated.” For the set, there’s “no one prescribed way to be a good advocate, and we’re trying to avoid making judgements about people’s character.”
The set, Goddard says, “has a family feel,” aided by a daily tea, something it kept up, virtually, during lockdown. For the juniors, it’s an opportunity to “drink tea, warm up, and chat to other members of chambers.” Despite a nod to tradition with the tea, pupils said it’s “not a formal set. People think we’re old-fashioned, but we’re not corporate. We do top-end corporate work, but it’s not a corporate atmosphere.” De Mestre says it’s this atmosphere that sets the set apart. “We’re still reasonably mid-sized in an age where lots of chambers are getting bigger and bigger. But we still know everyone, we have an open-door policy, and we encourage that.” Juniors added that in addition to the tea, “we have two parties a year – summer and Christmas – butwe’re not a set full of party animals.”
“We like discussing intellectual and sometimes strange topics.” Like? “One time there was discussion around the biology of seagulls and whether they were capable of developing gout. It turns out they can’t because they don’t have the right enzymes.”
4 Stone Buildings
4 Stone Buildings,
- No of silks 8
- No of juniors 30
- No of pupils 2
- Contact David Goddard, 020 7242 5524
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillage application deadline (2019 start) In line with Pupillage Gateway timetable
- Pupillages Two 12-month pupillages offered
- Tenancies Up to two per year
- Mini-pupillage deadlines Rolling
- Awards £65,000 pa
Since few business disputes or problems lend themselves to rigid categorisation, we cover a wide range of related legal specialisations in addition to our core areas of expertise. Members of Chambers are just as likely to appear in the Commercial Court or in front of arbitral tribunals as in the Chancery Division, and we are also frequently instructed in cases overseas, particularly in the Caribbean, the Channel Islands, the Middle East and the Far East.
All pupils work in their pupil supervisor’s room, read their papers, attend their conferences, draft pleadings and documents, write draft opinions and accompany their pupil supervisors to Court. Pupils are treated as part of Chambers and are fully involved in the activities of Chambers while they are with us.