Brick by brick, this elite commercial set builds its expertise on a solid foundation of commercial, public and competition law.
Brick Court pupillage review 2024
Good things come in threes, and at Brick Court, that’s commercial, public and competition/EU law. This golden trifecta made it the “ideal landing place” for our pupil interviewees, who found the opportunity to work across all three strands “quite special.”
Senior clerk Tom Burgess outlines that the work is spread (by revenue) “60% commercial, 30% competition litigation and the rest is in public law,” and that Brick Court’s strategy is a simple one: “To be the pre-eminent set in London across our three core practice areas.” If Chambers UK Bar is anything to go by, it’s on track. In addition to top rankings in commercial dispute resolution, competition law, and EU law, Brick Court Is among the best in the biz in energy and civil fraud. It’s also highly ranked in banking & finance, insurance, international arbitration, professional negligence and telecommunications.
“A perfect storm of litigation related to Brexit, COVID, and the war in Ukraine.”
Brick Court’s eminence in these areas positions it as a go-to set for harried businesses during the early challenges of the pandemic. “What we saw fairly immediately was the legal test of business interruption insurance policies, which went all the way to the Supreme Court,” says Burgess. “And in terms of Russia/Ukraine work, we've seen a lot of work and advice, particularly in relation to sanctions upon Russia.” Looking ahead, “I think what will probably happen over the next couple of years (which will then have a tail of about ten years) will be a perfect storm of litigation related to Brexit, Covid, and the war in Ukraine.”
Brick Court is also ranked for its public law work, which Burgess says “grew out of KCs such as Lord Sumption and Sir Sydney Kentridge. They got the juniors of the time involved in public law work who then went on to specialise in this area. Over the last 20 years, that’s really grown.” As a particular highlight, Burgess points to British Sugar’s case against the Secretary of State for International Trade, challenging a tariff exemption that was granted to its competitor, Tate & Lyle. Brick Court’s barristers appeared on both sides of this judicial review – Marie Demetriou KC and Malcolm Birdling acted for British Sugar and Aidan Robertson KC, Tim Johnston and Richard Howell were on the defence.
On the competition side of things, Demetriou also acted for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), as did member Emma Monckton, in a $300 million case against Meta (Facebook), which revolved around the CMA’s decision to prohibit Meta’s merger with Giphy. Daniel Jowell KC led the team for Meta. Over in the commercial arena, Michael Bools KC represented British Gas in its £100 million contractual dispute regarding its gas supply agreement with Shell and Exxon. And in a popping professional negligence case, Tom Adam KC led the team defending a leading tax silk in a £40 million dispute brought by a large group of wealthy investors who entered tax avoidance schemes – the silk in question had advised the promoters of said schemes.
The Pupillage Experience
Each pupil sits with three supervisors for four months each throughout the year, with each seat focused on one of the set’s three specialisms. “I learned an enormous amount from the supervisors,” one interviewee said. Pupils “get work directly from your supervisor at the time, but it’s not unheard of to get it from other sources too. Occasionally the pupillage coordinator will say such-and-such member of chambers has this piece of work and they need a pupil to do some research for them.”
“I got to see a week-long arbitration from start to finish.”
Throughout both sixes, pupils can expect “a lot of legal research and drafting skeleton arguments, pleadings, defences and summary grounds.” Pupils described “an abundance of work” at their fingertips. In the commercial seat, “I got to see a week-long arbitration from start to finish and assist with some skeleton arguments.” Pupils also got to see the ins and outs of intellectual property matters in the pharmaceutical, tech patents and life science sectors.
A particular highlight for one interview was assisting on a Supreme Court case concerning asylum law. As you can imagine, “the cases are so big you don’t have a chance to get on your feet,” but the set’s advocacy assessments “really do prepare you for taking the opportunity as a junior tenant.” The assessments are designed to “mimic smaller advocacies” that junior tenants would encounter.
Assessments are a central focus for pupils during their pupillage. “We had a couple of unassessed advocacy exercises (one in September and another in October) during my first six. They described it as ‘the time to make all your mistakes’ – you can just have a go.” Pupils should make the most of that opportunity, because after October, “everything is assessed.” Pupils complete an assessment every month. “You have advocacy assessment, where you’re given two days to prepare and half a day to do the exercise,” a pupil outlines. “You’ll prepare an oral submission in front of the tenancy committee acting as judges.”
Easter is a time for chocolate eggs and three weeks of written assessments, for which pupils have to “write skeleton arguments covering the three practice areas in chambers.” They’re given one week for each assignment. “The written exercises are set by senior members and then blind marked.” Objectivity is a huge part of Brick Court assessments – pupils are asked to remove any metadata from their assessment document to ensure complete anonymity and fairness in marking. They’ll be assigned three more written assessment – so six in total – in before the tenancy decision is made in early July.
Similarly, pupils agreed the tenancy decision is “super objective. What matters is the quality of work. It’s based on merit – your written, research, analysis and advocacy skills.” The results of the advocacy and written assessments go to the tenancy committee, which also considers the work pupils have conducted for other members of chambers before making their final decision. In 2023, four out of five of Brick Court’s pupils gained tenancy.
The set takes on five to seven pupils a year, making it a pupil intake that’s on the larger side, “which makes it really fun.” With “so many different personalities” across chambers, “I think every year has a different vibe,” observed a junior tenant. Victoria Wakefield KC elaborates that there isn’t a typical type of Brick Court person: “We have a diverse group of people; some like to work more solitarily or work in teams. We pride ourselves on offering an environment that many people can feel comfortable in.”
“We have a WhatsApp group and we get lunch and coffee together. I like that, because the Bar can be a bit individualistic.”
Talking culture, Wakefield wants to dispel any rumours: “Quite often, we’re seen as this giant commercial beast where we eat people for breakfast in the courtroom! That couldn’t be further from the truth.” While going up head-to-head with a Brick Court barrister in the courtroom would indeed be formidable, pupils described the culture as “extremely welcoming” at all levels. On the junior end specifically, “we have a WhatsApp group and we get lunch and coffee together. I like that, because the Bar can be a bit individualistic.”
Hours at the firm work out to a normal 9am to 6pm, and “there is a great emphasis on keeping to those hours.” Another felt that “I think here you can work as little or as much as you like, within reason. You have the flexibility to take on big cases followed by some smaller ones, or even take time off. I never feel burnt out.”
The Application Process
To be considered for pupillage at Brick Court, you must first undertake a mini-pupillage at the chambers. Prospective pupils apply for mini-pupillage through the set’s website (there used to be an interview component too, but it’s now just the written application online). Hopeful candidates will then complete their mini-pupillage in the same year that they apply for pupillage through Pupillage Gateway.
The set has tried to make the mini as accessible as possible, reducing the length to two days, paying a small daily fee and covering reasonable travel and overnight accommodation costs. On the mini, candidates will do some work for their supervisor and complete a standardised test. “We take all this information into account on the pupillage committee,” says Wakefield. “Everything is anonymised and marked against our marking criteria” – which is made available to the candidates. Wakefield continues: “Everything is structured to leave as little space as possible for biases, prejudices and gut reactions to come into it.”
“It’s to test your ability to think, not to see if you’re some kind of encyclopaedia of law!”
The set receives around 155 Pupillage Gateway applications. Last year, 78 were invited to do a mini-pupillage last year. Of these, 15 were called for a final interview for pupillage. For this interview, candidates are given a question to prepare for a week in advance of the interview. It normally involves a Court of Appeal judgment that candidates work from to prepare an argument to the Supreme Court, so that interviewers can see their advocacy skills. In the second half of the interview, candidates will face an unseen question. “It can be daunting,” a junior tenant recalled, “but take 30 seconds to breathe and then defend yourself. It’s to test your ability to think, not to see if you’re some kind of encyclopedia of law!” Wakefield confirms: “We test their intellectual and forensic ability, but also, we look at how people articulate themselves. Not everybody walks through the doors the finished article.”
Ancient history: Brick Court celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2021 with a swanky do at the Natural History Museum.
Brick Court Chambers
7-8 Essex Street,
Brick Court Chambers has long been a leading commercial set of Chambers. We also have particular expertise in competition, international/EU law and in the fields of public law and human rights. In all our practice areas, members of Chambers are regularly involved in the leading cases of the day. Brick Court is fully committed to equality of opportunity and considers it important that family and professional life should be compatible. We are particularly proud of the fact that all female tenants with children have continued in practice at Brick Court.
Candidates are expected to demonstrate outstanding intellectual ability (not necessarily in law), analytical ability, advocacy/communication skills (oral and written) and resilience, determination and self-motivation. There is no Brick Court type: we want to recruit the best candidates whatever their background.
We think it is important to provide a broad training to our pupils. Some will wish to develop a commercial practice whilst others will prefer to specialise in competition, International/EU law or in public law and human rights. An increasing number of our tenants have practices which traverse more than one of these fields. We also take considerable care in relation to the training we provide to our pupils. For example, advocacy exercises under the supervision of senior members of Chambers are an integral part of pupillage at Brick Court. Further information about pupillage can be found on our website.
Mini-pupillages are an important part of our pupillage selection procedures and last for two days either in Chambers or remotely with a standard piece of assessed work being undertaken outside the mini-pupillage. We do not expect to select pupils merely on interview, nor do we expect you to make your choice on such a limited basis. Please apply once you are eligible to do so and before applying for pupillage. The application form, together with a note of any deadlines, can be found on the pupillage page of our website.
All 12-month pupillages carry an award of at least £75,000 which is divided into two parts: £50,000 for the non-practising pupillage with the remaining £25,000 being paid during the practising pupillage. Up to £25,000 of the non-practising award may be drawn down during the year prior to pupillage (subject to Chambers’ approval). Chambers pays for all compulsory courses during pupillage, and for all pupils to accompany their pupil supervisor to a hearing before the European Courts if the opportunity arises.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Group Litigation (Band 2)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 3)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 1)
- European Law (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 2)
- Offshore (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Telecommunications (Band 2)