“A sense of harmony and excellence” drives commercial kingpin 7KBW’s rich insurance and shipping law practices.
7KBW pupillage review 2024
Anyone well-acquainted with the commercial bar will be well-aware that 7KBW’s reputation precedes it. And sitting within its deep pastel green walls, amongst light woods and under golden chandeliers certainly sets the scene. “There’s a sense of harmony and excellence,” pupillage committee member, Sandra Healy grins, “that hit me” – and it’s a reflection of both the set’s “rich history” and its current practice. Members generally work on an assortment of general commercial matters, with particular strengths in insurance and shipping. The rest is made up of a range of other areas, including banking and civil fraud, professional negligence and energy.
Senior clerk, Greg Leyden, tells us that, particularly because of Covid and the invasion of Ukraine, insurance work for both insurers and the insured has been buoyant. It’s no surprise then, that amongst 7KBW’s Chambers UK Bar rankings, the chambers'insurance practicestands tall, alongside their shipping & commodities offerings.
Leyden draws our attention to the set’s civil fraud work and its professional negligence practice, highlighting their work on “one of the highest value collapses. We were on both sides of the Carillion audit dispute, and we had all the counsel who were involved in that… that gives you some idea of how we’re seen in the market both by those who provide and those who receive the audits.” In another case, around 60 members of 7KBW have been involved in litigation relating to the post-invasion grounding of aircraft in Russia.
With regards to the main practices, shipping has seen a pick up in the market. Alistair Schaff KC recently represented owners of a vessel detained by the Venezualan court where smugglers had strapped cocaine to the vessel in Atlas Navios v Navigator. Peter MacDonald Eggers KC is currently acting for the shipowner in Delos Shipholding v Allianz Global in a war risks insurance claim of $45 million for the detention of a vessel in Indonesia. The insurance practice is also still scrubbing up residue from Covid-19 business disruption claims. Over the past year, Sushma Anand acted successfully for insurers against Pizza Express, reducing the pizza chain’s £200 million claim to £250,000 at most.
“We support the judiciary – and people still come back as full-time arbitrators!”
By all accounts, business is certainly booming, and even though Leyden tells us, “I don’t think it’s an aim to become bigger,” but “we are growing! We’ve taken on eleven people in the last few years, just through taking on the pupils that we’ve had in chambers.” Over the past couple of years, chambers has granted all their pupils tenancy, something that has led to a healthy level of growth with little trimming at the top end. “We have lost a couple to the bench which is something chambers has always been proud of,” Leyden muses, “the fact that we support the judiciary – and people still come back as full-time arbitrators!”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage occurs over four three-month seats. Pupils work mostly for their supervisors in the first two seats with more focus on assessments for other members of chambers in their third seat. In their fourth seat, they transition into developing their own practice. Although the nature and scale of the disputes mean pupils don’t get involved in everything their supervisors are working on, pupils still have the opportunity to dive into live matters: “You’re given a lot of time to find your feet in your first seat, but “right from the start I was doing live work!” One pupil even told us they were in a live hearing in their first week, though “it really does depend on your supervisor.”
“It’s on the training side of things, rather than feeling your being tested.”
Of course, supervisors also need to balance their flexibility with a pupil’s needs, so “supervisors set dead work too – pleadings, revisits to old skeletons to write opinions… you have discussions about the different approaches because it’s useful to compare your styles.” Sandra Healy, who sits on the pupillage committee, tells us that for supervisors, “there will be certain ‘go-to’ files that are good for pupil work, but we also recognise the value and fun in getting the pupil involved in the day-to-day live work for them to see how we handle day-to-day decisions!”
After completing work, pupils talk it through with their supervisor and get the chance to ask questions. So, “the focus is on learning about their practice and getting to know that – it’s on the training side of things, rather than feeling your being tested” for the first couple of seats. At the end of the first and second seat, pupils do have advocacy exercises where they appear in front of a panel of members of chambers (usually a silk and two senior juniors). There are some further written assessments in the third seat.
Pupils perform five written assessments for senior members of chambers over a period of two to three months in their second and third seats. Over the seat, pupil’s still do work under their supervisors, but under the assessment period “you don’t do as much work for your supervisor – the assessments take priority.” For the tenancy decision, work outside of assessments is also considered, but Healy does stress that “we look at the full body of work so if they commit a howler, it’s not the end of the world. No single opinion can scupper or make an application, so the emphasis is on the training.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of the clerks.”
The tenancy decision kicks off the fourth seat, which begins with “a period of relaxation where you still have work but you’re not being formally assessed. You have a supervisor, but you are allowed to take instructions – the focus is on developing your practice.” We heard that pupils were on their feet from the outset, only a few weeks after the tenancy decision, in county court, but still worked with more established members in tandem. While juniors do have full autonomy over the work they take on, “there’s a lot of insurance work at the moment, a wide range: Russian aviation is the really big, really exciting one, working on some quite data driven work which is really exciting!” Insiders all in agreement when commenting on the variety of interesting work, which is testament to the “very much give and take relationship” with the clerking room. “I love our clerks!” one junior exclaimed, “we have strong working relationships which is very important at the junior end. It doesn’t feel like the pressure is on here. I can do as much of, and whatever type of work I want to do, so I can’t speak highly enough of the clerks.”
“Chambers is traditional… but it’s by no means stuffy!”
One the social side, one interviewee mused, “chambers is traditional… but it’s by no means stuffy! It’s a cohesive group of people who support each other.” The set “isn’t the sort of place you’re out for drinks every day,” but they do host teas and other events, following the covid dip. “There’s an appetite to meet each other more, getting out and seeing solicitors a bit more,” Healy explains, so this alongside the hiring of a new marketing director is anticipated to make things a little more “fun, and good for business.” For juniors in particular, “workstreams with solicitors, working together is quite nice. It’s good to build up those relationships with people who will be partners when we’re seniors.”
The Application Process
Applications for the set run through Pupillage Gateway – “you don’t have to get mini pupillage to get an interview” – and follow the standard Gateway questions. “We review this against published objective criteria,” Healy explains, which include intellectual ability, analytical ability, advocacy, temperament and commitment to the commercial bar. “I think they asked, “what makes you different?” The advice I would give is say something that isn’t legal,” one pupil passed on – “some people put down crazy things and it’s been the hook that’s gotten interviewers chatting!”
“Without all the fluff around the sides you get into the meat of the problem quickly.”
7KBW now holds a first-round interview for around 60 to 65 people who pass the initial sift. Candidates are given a short period to consider a written problem and then ten minutes in interview to answer and discuss the problem question, which they get to see shortly before the interview takes place with assessors. So, says Healy, “without all the fluff around the sides you get into the meat of the problem quickly. You can get a feel for who will withstand the intellectual demands, and who can communicate points clearly and succinctly.”
A further 30 people make it through to the final round interview where they produce a skeleton argument on an appeal to the Supreme Court. Candidates receive the exercise a few days in advance, then have a mock ten-minute conversation with the client on what they believe the appeal’s prospects are. “The legal problem in the final round interview is more court orientated,” Healy outlines, but nonetheless, “we don’t want them to feel intimidated – we want them to show their best.” A pupil we spoke with reiterated the point, emphasising that “they’re trying to throw you around to see how you respond but it’s a challenge, not a test – they’re very open to a number of different approaches.”
Healy is keen to highlight that throughout the process “we do not want applicants to feel like they need to squeeze into a box or fit a mould. As far as we are concerned, there is no box or mould that applicants should fit into.” Indeed, Healy highlights the various initiatives they use to account for applicants’ backgrounds, including Rare contextual recruitment where, “you can see that someone may have had the most almighty battle to get their degree – we want to have a way of taking that into account fairly.”
King of Kings: "I love our clerks! We have extremely strong working relationships, which is so important at the junior end."
7 King's Bench Walk
7 King's Bench Walk,
Type of work undertaken
Applications should be made via the Pupillage Gateway 2023 season for pupillages commencing in September 2024. 7KBW selects candidates by a two-round interview process. Not all candidates will be interviewed. All candidates are assessed on the basis of the same objective and fair criteria, as listed on our website.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 3)
- Shipping & Commodities (Band 1)