4SB may be a relatively small set, but its premier commercial chancery expertise means it towers above other chambers in London.
4 Stone Buildings pupillage review 2024
“We’re really well established at this level,” says second junior clerk Ryan Tunkel, pointing to 4 Stone Buildings’ premium reputation in all things related to commercial chancery work. The set picks up a top-tier accolade in this area in Chambers UK Bar, which comments on 4SB’s ability to handle an array of high-profile and complex disputes in fields such as insolvency, commercial contracts, and banking and financial services. 4SB also picks up praise for its civil fraud work and recently took on the largest case ever to hit the UK courts in this area: Richard Hill KC and Sharif Shivji KC all assisted with the defence of British software firm Autonomy against claims made by Hewlett-Packard (HP) that it committed multibillion accounting fraud in the context of its acquisition by HP. “To be called upon to work on that case gives you an idea of the calibre of the set,” says Tunkel.
“It’s a training process to build up pupils to become the persuasive advocates we’re looking for.”
Of course, as head of the pupillage committee Andrew de Mestre KC points out, these are just a couple of the excellent areas that 4SB practises in. For example, in the commercial dispute resolution space, de Mestre acted for the liquidator of Stanford International Bank – which collapsed in 2009 after being defrauded to the tune of billions via a Ponzi scheme operated by financier Robert Allen Stanford – against HSBC for allegedly failing to detect the fraudulent activity. Alongside commercial dispute resolution, the set is recognised in the Chambers UK Bar guide for its banking and finance, company law, financial services, offshore, and restructuring and insolvency work. And, says de Mestre, “everyone in chambers covers all the areas – we don’t have separate teams, so a pupil will have four supervisors who will be able to expose them to all the strands of work that we do. Some of the bigger sets, in comparison, are divided into practice areas.”
On that note: with 40 barristers on the books, “we’re a smaller set,” acknowledges Tunkel, “but we pack a punch.” It was the combination of “high-quality work and 4SB’s smaller size that really appealed to me,” said one junior, while a pupil added that “everyone is lovely – we have a very friendly group of people here.” When we asked if the clerks and barristers had a formal relationship, we were laughed at! Tunkel confirms that “the culture we have is unique – everyone looks after each other and we have tea every day. Now we have cake as well, which really draws people in!” What else makes the culture unique? “The excellent clerks,” quips Tunkel. “But jokes aside, clerking support is a big part of it. It’s easy to focus on supervisors, but we make an effort to ensure our pupils are okay and show them how chambers works.” The aim, says Tunkel, is to make sure “pupils are looked after. It’s not a year-long interview,” he says, dispelling a common perception. “It’s a training process to build up pupils to become the persuasive advocates we’re looking for.”
The Pupillage Experience
This supportive culture was appreciated by our pupil sources, with this one emphasising that “the clerks are great at keeping an eye on our work/life balance and encouraging us to take some time off.” Inevitably, we ask about the hours. “During pupillage there’s no culture of presenteeism,” a junior recalled. “You’re expected to get your work done to a high standard, but not to the point where you’re burning out.” A current pupil added: “For most people the standard hours are 9am until 6pm – you're not required to stay late!”
“Our pupils are contributing to active cases.”
Pupils complete four seats of three months and found that both sixes “are pretty much the same, as we don’t get on our feet during the second six.” However, “in the second six things do ramp up a bit. In your first three months at the set, you’re really just getting a sense of what life as a barrister is like, but as you approach and undertake the second six you are getting ready for tenancy and wanting your work to be as close as it can be to the finished product.” Pupils will find themselves drafting pleadings, skeleton arguments, and research notes for their supervisors. “In the second six, you’re not only helping your supervisor – you're getting the kind of work that you might come across as a junior member of chambers. You might accompany a junior member to a hearing, for example.”
Andrew de Mestre tells us that pupils do work on live matters: “Our pupils are contributing to active cases, because it’s important for them to learn those essential skills that come from watching others do the work, like how to speak with solicitors and how to exercise judgement on which tactics to adopt in a particular case.” He adds: “It’s also important that pupils are put under the same time constraints as supervisors, because that will get them used to the reality of practice. Occasionally a pupil may do an old piece of work.”
“...the way an argument is constructed and the demonstration of thought is, while pupils are learning, more important than the opinion itself.”
While pupils may be under deadline pressure, they don’t need to worry about formal assessments. “We measure pupils’ performance throughout the year, and they don’t generally do set exercises,” says de Mestre. “We’re looking to see improvement across the pupillage and encourage pupils to do work for other members beyond their supervisors during the second six – this gives other members the opportunity to see what pupils are like.” The drawback of formal assessments, says de Mestre, is that “they’ll either confirm what you already know, or they’ll cause you to doubt the overall impression you have. If a pupil does one piece of work that someone doesn’t like, it’s just one piece of work. It’s hard to deal fairly with that.” As a result, the set “tries to identify pupils’ strong and weak areas, discuss those areas with them, and feed work to them that will help them to deal with those areas of weakness.” Finally, de Mestre emphasises that “the interactions pupils have with their supervisors where they argue their points are important – the way an argument is constructed and the demonstration of thought is, while pupils are learning, more important than the opinion itself.”
“The tenancy decision is made by the whole of chambers,” de Mestre tells us. “I have a meeting with all the supervisors to see if they collectively recommend the pupil, but I also speak with anyone else who has worked with them and then put the recommendation to the rest of the chambers.” Pupil sources very much wanted to stay at 4SB. “All the juniors’ doors are open at any time,” a source told us. “There’s lots of informal support and you’ll always be sitting in a room with nice people.” On top of the daily tea and cake, we heard that drinks are hosted every Thursday in the clerks’ room, and while the set prefers “organic over organised fun,” there are Christmas and summer parties held every year.
The Application Process
If 4SB sounds like your cup of tea, you can apply to the set via the Pupillage Gateway. “We use the standard application form, but we add four or five questions of our own,” de Mestre tells us. “Those questions give applicants the chance to expand upon why they think they will be a good barrister and why they are interested in our set specifically. They will have to show their ability to present and argue their points in a 200 to 300-word answer.”
“You can be a bright cookie, but you need to have charm and people skills!”
The recruitment committee – which is made up of at least three members – sifts through the applications and invites between 25 and 30 candidates to an interview. This lasts for around half an hour and gives candidates the chance to discuss a legal problem for around 20 minutes and answer more general questions for the remainder of the time. The legal problem is given to candidates 30 minutes before their interview: “They have one page of facts and then have to argue one side of the issue,” says de Mestre. “The interview tests candidates’ agility and what we’re looking for is their ability to relate the things they’ve done to the skills they will need to have as a barrister. Doing lots of mooting is good, but you’ve got to be able to spell out what you’ve learnt from that.”
This source recalled their experience going through the interview process: “The discussion we had over the legal problem was wide-ranging, and the style was conversational rather than combative! The general questions were focused on my CV and why I wanted to join 4SB.” It may come as a relief to hear that 4SB usually conducts just one round of interviews, although that may change, says de Mestre: “The quality of candidates is going up and up. We had 160 applicants this year and unfortunately we can’t interview them all. We are trying to give more first interviews, so we might move towards a two-stage process. The process is always under review!”
Charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent
“So much of a career at the Bar is client-facing, so you really need to be able to deal with people – and that doesn’t just apply to clients,” says second junior clerk Ryan Tunkel. “You will be looking a judge in the eye and trying to come up with persuasive arguments – to do that you’ll need to know how to read people and be charismatic. You can be a bright cookie, but you need to have charm and people skills!”
4 Stone Buildings
4 Stone Buildings,
Since few business disputes or problems lend themselves to rigid categorisation, we apply our core areas of expertise in a wide variety of different legal and commercial contexts. Members of Chambers, both senior and junior, appear before numerous different courts and tribunals in the UK and internationally including the Chancery Division, Commercial Court, arbitral tribunals as well as overseas courts, 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.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 3)
- Company (Band 2)
- Financial Services (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Offshore (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)