For a balanced and rigorous pupillage full of commercial, public and EU work, follow this yellow Brick road...
The best things come in threes: The Lord of the Rings, French hens, Destiny’s Child, etc... Brick Court’s trio of core practice areas are no exception: the set’s commercial, public and competition/EU work all pick up excellent rankings in Chambers UK Bar. “Our three strands are sexy areas of law,” says senior clerk Paul Dennison. “They allow pupils to get a unique kind of breadth.” Pupils were excited to work at the “top level across these areas,” and also mentioned the highlight of “getting to be part of those cases that fall on the boundaries between the practice areas.” So, just what have Brick Court’s barristers been up to of late? On the commercial side, Neil Calver QC worked on the $1.5 billion dispute between three Ukrainian oligarchs over the sale of the steel plant Donbass, while over on the public front Maya Lester QC represented Cypriot company Lamesa Investments in a $30 million matter that examined the status of US secondary sanctions in English law contracts and penalty measures applied to Russia. When it comes to EU law, top-ranked QC Marie Demetriou has been representing a Romanian individual who is trying to enforce a multimillion-pound ICSID arbitration award against the Romanian government, which has been opposed by the European Commission as the payment would (in the view of the Commission) be classed as unlawful state aid.
“...we've got a number of big-hitting silks who draw in work through the door.”
“We attract clients and solicitors who are involved in top-level litigation,” Dennison adds. “That’s largely down to our historic reputation and brand for this sort of work – we've got a number of big-hitting silks who pull in work through the door.” At the time of our calls, a lot of the work coming through to Brick Court was Covid-19 and Brexit related. “We’re in the eye of the storm,” Dennison explains. “We’ve had lots of trade deals coming through because of Brexit, and Covid has presented us with business insurance litigation and breach of warranty cases.” Overall, Brick Court “thrives under pressure because we’re able to adapt quickly and navigate cases through our types of work.”
When discussing the set’s academic reputation, one pupil joked that the external perception is that “we’re all brains on sticks who come in, shut the door and then don’t talk to anyone and go home and watch Wagner or something. I honestly don’t know why it has that rep!” Dennison acknowledges that “chambers has a reputation, but it’s a massively friendly place. The support network in place for pupils is first class.” Our pupil interviewees agreed and told us that “there’s a culture of knocking on doors to chat, no matter how senior.” We heard of Christmas parties, Friday drinks and (socially distanced) events in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. “Shortly after lockdown the junior barristers contacted pupils and organised a Zoom drinks event. They wanted to make sure that we didn’t feel isolated, and that’s emblematic of our generally very welcoming culture,” one source recalled. Pupils also told us that Brick Court “instils a sense that you can do this job in sensible hours most of the time. We work 9am to 6pm pretty religiously.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with three supervisors and usually sample the “classic Brick Court mix” of the three main practice areas. With commercial supervisors, interviewees had worked on expansive and complex “cases going on with parties all over the world.” We specifically heard of work coming in from Africa and the Middle East on disputes in sectors such as banking and energy. Here pupils drafted opinions, orders and skeleton arguments, but also conducted research and attended meetings with solicitors. Stephen Midwinter QC represented the British Virgin Islands-based fund Fairfield Sentry during a $6 billion matter tied to the fallout from the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the application of a section from a BVI insolvency act in a foreign court.
On competition/EU work, pupils contributed to a lot of pharmaceutical, telecoms, transport and cartel matters. Helen Davies QC recently represented energy company Prysmian against the National Grid and Scottish Power regarding a follow-on damages claim resulting from a power cables cartel decision made by the European Commission. Here pupils worked on tasks similar to those mentioned above, but a real highlight for one was “attending case management conferences, where you could see the real top barristers in their field in action.” Overall, pupils liked this work as it gave them a “whistle-stop tour of how a Chancery Division trial works and the opportunity get involved in all the stages.” Again, “pure public work” gave pupils access to cases operating “at the highest level,” including a lot of Supreme Court work. Barrister Robert McCorquodale has recently been working on a case that stemmed from the removal of the people of the Chagos Islands from their islands in the Indian Ocean; McCorquodale made an argument before the Supreme Court on the admissibility of a Wikileaks-obtained diplomatic document in court. Pupils typically don’t do any of their own work until after the tenancy decision, when they do “little County Court things. But it wasn’t as scary as I imagined – I felt really prepared.”
The assessments are “very well organised. You always know what’s on the horizon and what the next task is.” Pupils undertake seven advocacy exercises, but the first two are unassessed as “we just want to get them comfortable with the process,” says outgoing chair of the pupillage committee Michael Bools QC. “You don’t know what’s hit you,” a pupil reminisced. “It’s not like mooting at all. But it is realistic – it’s the kind of grilling you’d get from a High Court judge.” There are sixwrittenpieces of assessed work, which cover each core area of Brick Court’s practice. Each one is assigned on a Monday morning at 9am and pupils are required to submit the work by 5pm Friday. “It keeps it to the week, and you don’t do work for supervisors – it’s protected time and the idea is that you’re focusing entirely on that piece of work.”
The tenancy committee goes on to review the reports from the advocacy and written exercises, as well as the work pupils have conducted for other members of chambers. Pupils liked that “there’s a big emphasis on it being an objective decision.” After the tenancy decision is made, a celebratory champagne party is held on the roof. In 2020, Brick Court kept on two of its threepupils. Once pupils become juniors, they can “keep a broad practice. You have a meeting with the clerks about your future practice. I wanted to do all three areas and they said ‘absolutely!’”
The Application Process
Initial applications through the Pupillage Gateway are anonymised “to cut out any sort of unconscious bias,” Bools tells us. These are given to the pupillage committee and some additional reviewers, who Bools says are “looking for evidence of outstanding intellectual ability – and not necessarily in law.”
Each application is marked ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to indicate whether a candidate should be invited along to an interview for a mini-pupillage at Brick Court. “If there’s disagreement, it’s put to the chair of the pupillage committee to decide,” Bools adds.
Out of over 300 applicants in 2019, around 125 were offered an interview. These initial 15-minute interviews are conducted by two members of the pupillage committee. Bools tells us the interview questions are “designed specifically not to require any legal knowledge and test analytical ability and reasoning. We’re looking for how they construct an argument, how they think on their feet and how they defend a position.” After this, interviewers score candidates against a set of criteria that include analytical ability and keeping calm under pressure. The results determine who gets offered a mini-pupillage – in 2019, 67 people were offered minis.
"We’re looking for how they construct an argument, how they think on their feet..."
Mini-pupillage is also scored against standardised criteria, and assessed work is blind-marked. After standardisation, the scores are added to the “master spreadsheet,” which Bools tells us “incorporates everything from the application to the mini-pupillage work – we then have an A3 spreadsheet that ranks all those who did the mini-pupillage in order.” The spreadsheet decides the 15-or-so who will get a final interview. The final interview is split into two parts. The first deals with a case report that applicants are given in advance for which they prepare a two-page skeleton argument to present for 15 minutes in front of the panel. Bools tells us interviewers then “probe a bit to assess the candidate’s ability to reason and think logically.”Then there’s part two: the unseen question, which interviewers pose and then “test the candidate’s position and whether they can maintain an argument on their feet.” After more standardised scoring, the panel comes to a collective score and makes pupillage offers to around five people a year.
Roka and (maki) roll
Successful applicants are taken to fancy Japanese restaurant Roka for lunch, where they can network with Brick Court barristers who are working on matters they may be interested in.
Brick Court Chambers
7-8 Essex Street,
- No of Silks: 44
- No of Juniors: 50
- No of Pupils: 5 (currently)
- ContactPupillage Manager: Mrs Lyana Peniston
- 020 7520 9881
- Method of application
- Pupillage Gateway Pupillages (pa): 12 months – 5
- Tenancies offered in the last three years: 7
Brick Court Chambers has long been a leading commercial set of Chambers. We also have particular expertise in EU/competition law and in the fields of public law and human rights law. 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 generally expected to have a first or good upper second class degree and to demonstrate outstanding intellectual ability, not necessarily in law.
We regard it as important to provide a broad training to our pupils. Some will wish to develop a commercial practice whilst others will prefer to specialise in EU or competition, 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. 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 for applications, can be found on the pupillage page of our website.
All 12-month pupillages carry an award of at least £65,000 which is divided into two parts: £45,000 for the first six (non-practising) with the remaining £20,000 being paid during the second six (practising). Up to £25,000 of the first six 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.