This heavyweight set doing “cutting edge” work on “important and influential cases” shows no sign of slowing down.
Blackstone Chambers pupillage review 2022
Barristers at Blackstone are formidable and ever-present figures at the Bar. “The quality of the work we do here is so strong,” one pupil told us. “In addition to the breadth of expertise, you’re working on complex, cutting-edge, high-profile cases.” It has 17 rankings from Chambers UK Bar, 10 of which are top-tier. Our colleagues reckon Blackstone’s expertise in administrative and public law, civil liberties and human rights, employment, European law, financial services, civil fraud, media and entertainment, professional discipline, sport, and telecommunications is among the best at the Bar. The 2019 UK Bar Awards also named Blackstone as chambers of the year, with the 2020 awards seeing it win human rights and public law set of the year. More than 50 of its members are Queen’s Counsel, whose shared expertise spans all areas of commercial, public, regulatory, employment and international law.
It should come as no surprise then that Blackstone members frequently feature in headline-hitting cases, most notably including Lord Pannick QC in the Article 50 and proroguing judicial review cases in the Supreme Court. Members also acted on either side of the high-profile Supreme Court case between Shamima Begum and the Secretary of State for the Home Department in relation to Begum’s citizenship. Kate Gallafent QC plus five other members also recently acted in the appeal brought by Christie Elan-Cane, challenging the government’s policy not to issue non-gender-specific passports.
“We’re also on the three biggest cases in the commercial world at the moment,” senior clerk Gary Oliver tells us. Andrew Hunter QC acting in Privatbank v Kolomoisky, a case concerning an alleged scheme committed by the defendants to misappropriate $2 billion from a Ukrainian bank. He is also acting for one of the lead defendants in Republic of Mozambique v Credit Suisse in a multibillion-dollar civil fraud case. Oliver considers SKAT v Solo Capital Partners another seismic case in the commercial world involving Hunter. And in sport, Lord Pannick QC acted for Manchester City FC against the Premier League in its unsuccessful challenge to the League’s dispute resolution system. Other high-profile sports cases include EFL v Sheffield Wednesday FC and a high-profile dispute between Newcastle FC and The Premier League over the club’s new ownership.
"For many years we’ve needed a bigger boat..."
Blackstone is also a set in growth mode, having nearly completed its two-year £6 million building project and expansion into Garden Court at the time of writing. “For many years we’ve needed a bigger boat,” says Clerk. “But we wanted to stay in Temple Inn. It’s our forever home and will continue to accommodate the collegiate feel that is the most important aspect of the Blackstone DNA.” Its also brought in two “amazing mid-ranking senior juniors” in Luka Krsljanin and Thomas Leary to boost the set’s commercial offering.
The Application Process
Pupils are recruited through the Pupillage Gateway, but the set also has an independent application process for mini-pupillages which are mandated to gain pupillage. Prior to the mini-pupillage, a mix of five to eight QCs and juniors interview applicants on a series of topics. “You give your best ‘for’ argument to a question and are grilled on your response,” said one pupil. “But there’s no real emphasis on legal knowledge, more your ability to respond.” One such question saw a pupil asked whether gender should be a human right.
Jane Mulcahy QC tells us mini-pupillage gives chambers a chance to see the applicants, “and vice versa.” The minis last between three and five days, and include a set piece of work. "Typically, it's something that can usually be completed regardless of whether you have a substantial background in law,” like a contract or a statutory interpretation. Pupils sit with a supervisor who may “take them along to a conference or court,” according to Mulcahy.
Successful applicants then return for a final interview where they are asked to consider a law they thought was wrong, and “give a five-minute presentation on why and how to improve it.” Sources cited presentations on the employee status of gig economy workers or the use of indefinite detention of immigration detainees as examples. Applicants then respond to questions from a panel of up to ten members. Having done the assessed mini-pupillage, one source highlighted that the final interview had “a different intensity as they’re not trying to extract everything they can. It’s more two-way, to an extent, and there’s more scope to ask broader questions about your interests and you as a person.”
“If we give four offers, we want to get four tenants."
Mulcahy tells us that Blackstone “wants people with high intellectual ability,” but says that “it is also absolutely crucial that they are good advocates and can work well with clients.” After all, “recruitment and pupillage is a big investment. We take it very seriously and our aim is to have as many potential candidates from as diverse a base as possible so we can ultimately get the best people.” She adds: “If we give four offers, we want to get four tenants, as our overall intention is to get tenants by the end of pupillage.”
Pupils sit with four supervisors, for roughly three months apiece. While practices often merge and overlap, Blackstone likes its pupils to sit with supervisors in its three core areas of commercial, public, and employment. Pupils are rotated and assessed by the same supervisors. One source told us that “it’s not a pupillage where you work for other members. You have a gatekeeper in your supervisor who controls your workflow.” Mulcahy adds: “You live the life of your supervisor on live work.”
Typical work for pupils involved drafting pleadings, skeletons, and communications to solicitors, as well as advice opinions, all of which feeds into their supervisor’s cases. “It was very exciting to be in court and see brilliant QCs using the work I’d done on a skeleton argument to form a response.” It’s also a non-practising pupillage. “Instead, the emphasis is on doing work for your supervisors that is difficult and out of your comfort zone,” one source told us.
“…almost every case you’re on feels important and influential.”
One pupil highlighted: “I was dealing with human rights arguments in my public law seat and I really enjoyed working on something that was trying to promote change at a systemic level. I found it quite inspiring.” Another added: “It is difficult to pick out specific cases I most enjoyed because we’re working with people at the cutting edge of practice so almost every case you’re on feels important and influential.” Another pupil highlighted that while working on something that went to the Supreme Court was “challenging and a really tricky issue… it’s absolutely the case that everyone wants you to succeed.” Gary Oliver adds that “Blackstone doesn’t just create brains on sticks. We create advocates here, that’s the gift.”
Blackstone poses five written tests – usually pleadings, skeletons, or advice – and seven advocacy sessions, with all pupils assessed on the same pieces. The first of the advocacy sessions is not marked and is “about finding your feet and experiencing witness handling,” with the latter assessments more about “making submissions as if in court.” Assessments are interspersed throughout the year, “which is good, so you’re not facing a big chunk of stressful assessments towards the end.” Results from these assessments work in conjunction with four supervisor reports based on a pupil’s performance in each seat. Work for supervisors is assessed but “it’s not the case where it’s a granular grade for every piece - more that everything you do in a seat is taken into account in the report.” One source added: “These reports are probably the most important when coming to tenancy.” The tenancy committee produces a final report summarising all the material, with all members of chambers then voting on tenancy decisions. Blackstone kept on all four of its pupils in 2021.
“You look at the high-profile nature of the people here and assume they are buttoned up,” one pupil said. “But it is extremely friendly and collegiate.” Well-attended Friday drinks and parties suit the collegial bunch. “Everyone’s self-employed but you feel like you’re part of one entity.” Mulcahy adds: “We’re pathetically friendly with one another. It’s such a friendly and supportive place, and like Hotel California, no one really leaves!” One source also rcealled that pupillage hours were “very positive, strictly 9am to 6.30pm, and didn’t involve working weekends.”
- No of silks 60
- No of juniors 59
- No of pupils 4
- Contact Ms Julia Hornor, chambers director
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to 4: 12 months duration
- Required degree grade Minimum 2:1 (law or non-law)
- Income/award £70,000 (£20,000 drawdown)
- Tenancies offered in the last three years 11
Blackstone Chambers occupies large and modern premises in the Temple and is currently undergoing redevelopment to provide for future growth.
Type of work undertaken
Blackstone Chambers’ formidable strengths lie in its principal areas of practice: commercial, employment and EU, public law, human rights and public international law. The commercial law work includes financial/business law, international trade, conflicts, sport, media and entertainment, intellectual property and professional negligence. Public law incorporates judicial review, acting both for and against central and local government agencies and other regulatory authorities. It also covers all areas affected by the impact of human rights and other aspects of administrative law. All aspects of employment law, including discrimination, are covered by Chambers’ extensive employment law practice, and Chambers’ EU work permeates practices across the board. Chambers recognises the increasingly important role which mediation has to play in dispute resolution. Seven members are CEDR accredited mediators.
Chambers looks for articulate and intelligent applicants who are able to work well under pressure and demonstrate high intellectual ability. Successful candidates usually have at least a 2:1 honours degree, although not necessarily in law.
Chambers offers up to four 12-month pupillages to those wishing to practise full-time at the Bar, normally commencing in September each year. Pupillage is normally divided into four sections and every effort is made to ensure that pupils receive a broad training. The environment is a friendly one; pupils attend an induction week introducing them to Chambers’ working environment. Chambers prefers to recruit new tenants from pupils wherever possible. Chambers subscribes to Pupillage Gateway.
Assessed mini-pupillages are an essential part of the pupillage recruitment process and no pupillage will be offered at Blackstone Chambers unless the applicant has undertaken an assessed mini-pupillage. Applications for mini-pupillage are accepted from 1st October 2021. We strongly recommend that applications be made early in our mini-pupillage application window. Applications should be made in the year before pupillage commences. We presently aim to have mini-pupils on site in Chambers this year, but this is very COVID-19 dependent. We successfully conducted all our mini-pupillages remotely in the previous application round and we plan to conduct them remotely again if the circumstances change.
Awards of £70,000 per annum are available. A partial draw-down of up to £20,000 is available in the BPC year. Since Chambers insists on an assessed mini-pupillage as part of the overall pupillage recruitment process, financial assistance is offered either in respect of out of pocket travelling or accommodation expenses incurred in attending the mini-pupillage, up to a maximum of £250 per pupil.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 1)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 2)
- Competition Law (Band 2)
- Data Protection (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 2)
- European Law (Band 1)
- Financial Services (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Immigration (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment (Band 1)
- Professional Discipline (Band 1)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 1)
- Tax: Indirect Tax (Band 2)
- Telecommunications (Band 1)