Insurance, general commercial and shipping law steer this ship, but that’s knot all it has to offer... With a “warm and supportive” culture and a right royal social life, pupillage at 7KBW is fit for a king.
7 King's Bench Walk pupillage review
Two words dominated our conversation with 7KBW’s senior clerk, Greg Leyden – ‘civil fraud’. The set is doing increasingly more of this work: “Our civil fraud work, while distinct from our purely commercial/contract disputes practice, is rooted in the sectors we ordinarily serve, such as shipping, trade, insurance, and business-to-business claims, all of which can see a lot of fraud, so it flows from our core areas, we do have the background for it, and increasingly, are recognised for it.” Joe Clayton, one of the set's clerks, chimed in: “It gives juniors more strings to their bow. Every 20 years or so the insurance market becomes quite soft, so we get less instructions. Fraud, however, almost always stays hot.”
7KBW’s practices can be broken down as follows: 50% insurance and shipping and 50% professional negligence, civil fraud and general commercial: “The vast majority of our members do all sorts of general commercial work; some choose to centre that in shipping and insurance disputes, but most take a broader approach.” Leyden was keen to point out: “It’s entirely up to the individual barrister which cases they want to do and which clerk they want to work with. We absolutely do not push our barristers to certain types of work; in fact, we're open to them developing new areas, such as professional discipline, for example, auditors' negligence.” A pupil we spoke to had been involved in all of the set’s practice areas, whilst junior tenant Julia Gibbon added: "We don't have the same sort of divide in practice areas that other sets have. Lots of people here have very broad practices which change over time."
"It was an extremely important case for thousands of policyholders who urgently needed answers."
Covid-19 inevitably arose in the set’s insurance practice: a team of five 7KBW barristers were involved in a business interruption insurance test case brought by the Financial Conduct Authority against a number of insurers concerning Covid-19 business losses. Incidentally, Julia Gibbon worked on this case during pupillage: "It was an extremely important case for thousands of policyholders who urgently needed answers on whether their policies would respond, so its progress was massively accelerated by way of a leapfrog appeal to the Supreme Court." On the shipping side, Stephen Hofmeyr QC is representing the salvors of £32 million worth of silver, which they salvaged from a ship that sunk in World War Two. The South African government, which technically owns the silver, is contesting payment to the salvors.
It’s this sort of work that’s earned the set top-tier rankings for both insurance and shipping in Chambers UK Bar. It was also named as Chambers’ Shipping Set of the Year and Insurance Set of the Year in 2020. The set also picked up rankings for commercial dispute resolution, energy, professional negligence and international arbitration in the commercial and insurance spheres. Its new concentration on civil fraud gets a tip of the hat, too.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage is typically non-practising “given the nature and scale of the disputes we deal with.” Newbies sit with four supervisors during pupillage, spending three months with each: “The first seat is designed to introduce you to chambers’ work so the majority – if not all – of the work you do is for that supervisor.” This seat is unassessed. Pupils primarily work for their supervisor, but might do a bit for other members come second seat – “chambers is very good at ensuring everyone who wants to give you work has asked your supervisor first. They don’t just throw work at you.” There’s usually an advocacy exercise at this point.
The third seat “is when the real assessments begin and things get a bit more challenging.” Pupils do five written assessments and at least one advocacy exercise within two months, whilst continuing to work for their supervisor. “The assessments are similar to the work you do ordinarily but they’re usually set by a senior silk rather than your supervisor. It’s typically a written piece of advice based on an instruction that that silk’s been given.”
The final seat is designed to “bridge the gap between pupillage and tenancy, so you do a bit of work for your supervisor but also some of your own work.” Rather than setting pupils one final make-or-break assessment to decide tenancy, 7KBW takes every assessment into account: “We don’t crescendo to a crisis point,” explained pupillage committee member Clara Benn. “Most pupils will not produce perfect work from the get-go, and we do not expect them to do so. A classic weakness is to take too much of an academic attitude towards work and/or to include irrelevant detail simply to demonstrate that the pupil has considered but not dismissed a point. Pupillage is a learning curve. We just need to see a trajectory of improvement in response to feedback.” Every member who the pupil has worked for will fill out an evaluation form, though more weight is given to supervisors’ opinions. The pupillage committee then meets to discuss and formalise the tenancy decision. In 2021, 7KBW awarded tenancy to both its pupils.
“Pupillage isn’t a stress test. We don’t pile on huge amounts of work.”
Pupils stick to a fairly strict 9.30am to 6.30pm timetable. Benn was keen to tell us: “Pupillage isn’t a stress test. We don’t pile on huge amounts of work or expect pupils to work late into the evenings or on weekends.” The set also makes sure their new tenants have been exposed to every practice they're interested in post-pupillage: "I saw less shipping work during pupillage so I completed secondments with a shipping firm and with the insurance and reinsurance group of another firm which often instructs us. It's a nice way to make contacts and get exposure to different issues."
“I struggle to think of a set that has better barrister/clerk relationships than us,” declared senior clerk Greg Leyden. Benn backed him up: “We do drinks in the clerks’ room every Friday from around 5pm. It’s a great way to wind down after the week and to catch up with other barristers and the clerks. We have an outstanding clerking team.” Fun isn’t reserved for Fridays only, though: “We have afternoon tea every day and pupils are invited once a week. It sounds old-fashioned, with QCs holding court, but it’s not like that – it’s very casual and non-hierarchical. It provides an opportunity for getting to know other members of chambers on a personal level, which is helpful if you are suddenly thrust into working together for the first time.” 7KBW made sure to continue these soirées during lockdown: “We make an effort to keep in touch. One of my colleagues recently came down to visit me in the countryside while I was on maternity leave," recalled Benn fondly.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of the people here."
Junior tenants set up their own WhatsApp group during lockdown – which has continued post-pandemic – and made a point of taking pupils to lunch to get to know them once restrictions were eased: “I couldn’t speak more highly of the people here. Regardless of how senior people are, everyone wants to hear your view and go for a drink at the end of a tough case.” Gibbon added: "Trying to build a practice as a brand new tenant during a pandemic could have been really tough. Luckily I have a mentor who was my pupil supervisor when we went into lockdown, so I can talk to him as and when I need advice." Joe Clayton, another of 7KBW’s clerks, told us: “I speak to juniors every couple of days. Most of the time we don’t talk about work, we just catch up. The more you know about someone, the easier is it to work for them.”
The Application Process
7KBW is currently reviewing its recruitment process, but this how things stand currently: the set streamlines applicants through the Pupillage Gateway, before inviting successful applicants in for a single interview. “Usually it takes the form of a mock application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Candidates provide a very short skeleton argument then make the application to the ‘court’, comprising members of chambers of varying seniority,” explained Benn. 7KBW provides the exercise a few days in advance, “which sets us apart from most other chambers. We believe this is a fair and effective means of testing candidates because barristers will never go into court not knowing what a case is about.” We hope not, anyway.
A current pupil reflected: “It was quite tricky because they could ask you literally anything, but it was very fair in that you didn’t have to cite any legal authority or do any research so it didn’t matter whether you’d done a law degree or not. They just want to look at the quality of your argument.”
After the exercise, applicants answer more general questions based on their application form: “The interviewers seemed genuinely interested in me. I remember leaving other interviews feeling unsure about how it went, but I left this one with a smile on my face.” Every interviewer completes diversity and inclusion training before the recruitment round; the set will be using Rare Recruitment for the next round, a specialist diversity recruitment company. Depending on the quality of applicants, 7KBW welcomes between two and four pupils each year.
7 King’s Bench Paw-k
Proving that life at 7KBW isn’t all work and no play, senior clerk Greg Leyden invited his puppy, Luna, to join our video call.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Insurance (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 3)
- Shipping & Commodities (Band 1)