Shipping law prowess, insurance expertise and commercial acumen are powering this 400-year young set into the future.
London isn’t short of walking routes rich with history, from the tourist-trampled Oxford Street to hidden nooks and crannies that even many residents won’t have ever seen. King’s Bench Walk is one such storied street – but for the members of chambers at number 7 on the Walk, present-day accomplishments are as important as past glories.
Eddie Johns, one of 7 King’s Bench Walk’s affable clerks, agrees that there’s “certainly a long-standing legacy at this chambers.” He’s not exaggerating – its history traces back to the sixteenth century and the present chambers were built all the way back in 1685. “We are a very well-established set,” Johns deadpans. “We’ve been going for donkey’s years.” Neither he nor we could quantify the length of a donkey’s year, but we can share plenty of information about 7KBW as it stands today.
Pupils arrived at this set longing to “experience some of the best commercial law work available at the Bar.” A glance at Chambers UK confirms that they’ve come to the right place: 7KBW earns top commendations for its insurance, shipping and commodities work and scoops up high rankings for commercial dispute resolution, international arbitration, energy and natural resources. Johns explains that shipping and insurance each make up a quarter of the set’s practice; the other 50% is commercial work. “We’re proud of our tradition of being a shipping set but are keen to point out that’s not all we do. We do have a strong commercial practice as well.” Accordingly, pupils and junior members see a mix of areas. One told us their “main practice has been oil and gas. Thirty to 40% of my work has been energy-related, the rest has been general commercial or civil fraud disputes.” Another had “predominantly done insurance work including some marine insurance.”
“We’re proud of our tradition of being a shipping set, but we’re keen to point out that’s not all we do.”
On one notable shipping matter, Robert Bright QC successfully represented a banking consortium in a mortgage dispute with Stallion Eight Shipping Co. – the Court found that the group didn’t breach its $15.7 million loan contract. Jonathan Gaisman QC was instructed on a particularly high-profile marine insurance claim: the insurers of the Brillante Virtuoso, a tanker carrying 140,000 tonnes of fuel, allege that the attack and subsequent burning of the ship was staged and a massive example of insurance fraud. Also in insurance, David Edwards QC acted for a US medical device manufacturer pursuing a $25 million claim for indemnity over sums paid to patients affected by allegedly defective hip implants.
As for the commercial side of things, Gavin Kealey QC recently wrapped up a ten-year case representing Smith & Nephew in a multimillion-dollar Tennessee suit over artificial knee implant devices. Junior member Jessica Sutherland acted for Hardy Exploration & Production to enforce a £70 million international arbitration awarded in Kuala Lumpur against the government of India.
The Application Process
7KBW streamlines applicants through the Pupillage Gateway and welcomes successful applicants in for a single interview: “Having to do just one is really nice because you can put all your focus on that one performance.” Applicants receive a legal problem in advance; they’re required to prepare a skeleton argument and submissions for an advocacy exercise. “Interviewers take a rigorous approach with questions as you’re making your submissions but they strike the right balance between that and being friendly,” a source recalled. “They make sure to pitch the question so that GDL candidates can compete on an even footing with law students.”
“Don’t overcomplicate things,” one source recommended. “Make sure you’re focusing on answering the question that’s been posed.” It will also stand you in good stead to “think in commercial as well as legal terms throughout.” Interviews present the perfect opportunity to demonstrate why a 7KBW pupillage is right for you: “You’ve got to understand the job of a barrister. Work out why you would fit in as a member here and why this path would be better for you than becoming a solicitor, for example. Think about it carefully – enthusiasm counts for a lot.”
“Think in commercial as well as legal terms throughout.”
Depending on the quality of applicants, 7KBW welcomes between two and four pupils each year. Once they were through the door, the ones we spoke to “quickly got attached to this chambers because everyone’s so friendly.” Johns – with near 30 years’ experience at the set under his belt – describes 7KBW as “a really stable chambers characterised by longevity. People don’t tend to shift around and go elsewhere – it’s a nice place to work and people wouldn’t stay for so long if it wasn’t.” Another source shared this view: “People don’t do grudges or split off into factions, it just doesn’t happen here.”
Good thing too – members falling out would quickly get awkward given that “there’s lots of socialising outside of work here,” be that in lunches, drinks or “silks visiting each other in France.” There’s organised fun too – a Christmas party organised by first-year tenants and a “raucous” yearly night out with the clerks in tow. Afternoon tea traditions live on at 7KBW, though pupils are only allowed to attend on Wednesdays. “I think it’s about protecting us,” one reckoned. “It means you don’t feel the need to go every single day.” We’re not saying that pupils need protection from terrifying barristers: “First-year tenants have helped me out and walked me round the garden to talk things over when I’ve had a wobble.” Johns longs for this to remain the case: “There’s not a churning-out culture here. I hope we don’t ever take on a corporate air and try to compete with solicitors’ sheen.”
The Pupillage Experience
7KBW has changed the structure of pupillage going forward: all pupils now do three seats with three different supervisors before the tenancy decision. While each seat counts, the first is designed “to break you in” so that pupils “get up to the required standard quickly.” Pupils sit with their supervisor and shadow their practice, working almost exclusively on live cases. “There’s a lot of emphasis on getting you involved in as much as possible,” whether it’s research, acting as support on big opinions and pleadings, or attending trials across the country. Our interviewees found that “every part was interesting,” but the odd highlight stood out. “There was a massive oil and gas case about a transaction worth over $100 million and we had to prepare for the trial in seven weeks,” one reminisced. “I was there as a pupil at the bottom experiencing in a very quick timeframe how it all works; that was a great opportunity to see high-level practice.”
Pupils don’t get on their feet, but that’s no bad thing according to our sources. “It’s non-practising up until an offer is made,” one clarified. “The distinction between the two sixes is that there’s more assessed work in the second – though your supervisors are assessing your performance throughout.” Accordingly, pupils’ hours tend to remain uniform: days start at 9am and wrap up between 5.30pm and 6pm. The thinking behind this is that “you’ll have plenty of time to do long hours in the future! During pupillage the emphasis is fully on your training because you’ve got to cram all of it into a year.” After the first few months in chambers, pupils can start to take on work from other members; their supervisor’s there to make sure they don’t get overloaded.
“Pupillage is not about being the finished product straight away.”
Formal assessments begin around Christmas, after pupils' bedding-in period. Everybody completes around four standardised written assessments for silks alongside three advocacy exercises. “It’s the same sort of thing you’ve been doing day-to-day,” one source explained. “The only difference is they tend to be slightly bigger, maybe 20 pages instead of ten. I found it challenging but definitely not impossible.” Pupils were keen to dismiss the idea that everything rides on these assessments: “The written work is important but chambers takes a holistic view to pupillage. It’s about how good you’ve been throughout the year and whether you’re ready to become a member here.” Remember also that pupillage lasts a year for a reason – “it’s not about being the finished product straight away.”
King’s Bench Walk this way
In 2020, two pupils secured tenancy at 7 King’s Bench Walk.
7 King's Bench Walk
7 King's Bench Walk,
- No of silks 23
- No of juniors 42
- No of pupils Up to 4
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to four 12-month pupillages offered
- Required degree grade Minimum 2:1 (law or non-law)
- Remuneration for pupillage At least £65,000
- Tenancies offered Six in last three years
- No of tenants of five years call or under 9
Type of work undertaken
Applications should be made via the Pupillage Gateway 2021 season for pupillages commencing in September 2022. Deferred pupillages commencing in September 2023 will also be available but will only be offered in exceptional circumstances.