If you’re looking to ask “fundamental questions about discrimination and human rights,” Cloisters’ exemplary employment, clinical negligence and personal injury practices might just be for you.
Cloisters Chambers pupillage review 2024
What quickly becomes clear from speaking to insiders at Cloisters Chambers (usually referred to in the shorthand as ‘Cloisters’) is that this is a set with social justice at the heart of its mission statement. “You’re asking fundamental questions about discrimination and human rights,” one pupil stressed, highlighting the opportunity to work in “the type of law that involves people and real-life effects on them” as the primary draw to chambers.
This manifests primarily in Cloisters’ core practices of clinical negligence and employment – both of which are ranked highly in Chambers UK Bar, alongside personal injury.Human rights and sports law also make up some of the work, but according to senior clerk Glenn Hudson, most of the matters – roughly 60% – are in employment.
In one recent employment case, Paul Epstein KC defended Tesco in a high-profile multi-party equal pay claim (you’ve probably read about that one in the news). On the claimant side, he represented actor Antonia Kinlay in her pregnancy discrimination claim against Brontë Film & Television after she wasn’t cast in the fourth Strike series (the BBC crime drama based on JK Rowling’s Strike novels). Personal injury sees many cases arising from accidents at work, road traffic accidents, and complex brain injury cases. William Latimer-Sayer KC acted for a 13-year-old claimant who sustained a traumatic brain injury in a road traffic accident. And in clinical negligence,member Linda Jacobs acted in an inquest for the widow of a man who died after an operation to remove a benign brain tumour.
“From the beginning, you’re drafting and getting feedback on things like cross-examinations.”
As for what pupils can expect to get involved in, Chesca Lord, head of the pupillage committee, says public law judicial reviews are on the menu. Hudson tells us that public law is actually focus for growth. In fact, “30 years ago, Cloisters was a leading set in the area, so that’s one thing we’re doing more of.” It would be remiss of us to not also comment on the lasting effect that the pandemic is having on the scope of the set’s workload – Hudson highlights investigations as something that was a lot rarer pre-pandemic. “Before, people just went to tribunal and brought a claim, but now we’re seeing two or three investigations a day, as people try to resolve issues without the need for litigation.” Of course, “the nature of it is confidential,” but he hints that “we’ve done that for some very big companies, and a lot of stuff that’s been on the news…”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage encompasses four seats of three months each, two in personal injury/clinical negligence and two in employment, with one of each type in the first and second six. In the first six, cases are generally all live – “you learn so much more than from doing dead cases!” – and pupils go along with their supervisor to hearings and shadow everything they’re doing. “From the beginning, you’re drafting and getting feedback on things like cross-examinations,” a junior tenant told us.In employment particularly, pupils are often in court working on tribunal casework, as well as low-level personal injury and clinical negligence claims.
We heard that in the first six there is a 9am to 6pm restriction on pupils’ schedules, so “you don’t feel pressure to work outside those hours.” This is something that is helped by the set’s carefully monitored workflow, as Lord explains: “We have a policy that work for pupils has to go through supervisors, so they don’t get bombarded! They act as the gatekeepers.”
“… mostly fast-track trials in the County Court.”
The second six is “different” though – because pupils are practising. “The rationale is that you take your time to complete the work,” so pupils may need to work past their former 6pm cutoff. Our pupil interviewee (in their third six) was acting for “both claimants and respondents in the employment tribunal, and doing some personal injury and clinical negligence – mostly fast-track trials in the County Court.” We were told that pupils’ clients could include unions in transport and the education sector, industrial manufacturers, and anything from “major high-street names to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), where you get a huge variety.”
Although Cloisters has a structured assessment programme, pupils reassured us that the set makes efforts to ensure “you feel you can make mistakes; you don’t know how to do the job, that’s the whole point of pupillage!” It’s for this reason that only 10% of a pupil’s assessment for tenancy comes from supervisor feedback, which pupils appreciated: “It allows you to be more creative with how you do things and find out the way that works for you.” Supervisors sit down with pupils at the end of each seat to go through their feedback, considering everything from written work and preparation for court, to interaction with clients.
Outside of this, the other 90% of the tenancy decision is based on four assessments spread across the second six, which include two written assessments – drafting (20%) and legal research (20%) – and two in person – advocacy (20%) and an interview (30%). For the interview, pupils are given either an employment or personal injury topic to prepare for two weeks in advance. At the time of writing, Cloisters had not disclosed the number of pupils who gained tenancy in 2023.
“There’s a strong group of juniors.”
As for tenancy itself? “It’s more informal,” one junior tenant grinned, “and really friendly! There’s a strong group of juniors, with ‘senior juniors’ who are very supportive of ‘junior juniors’.” Such a set-up wouldn’t be complete without a very active Whatsapp group – “I asked if someone would help with a conditional fee arrangement and got a response within a minute!” We were told the social scene is a little slimmer post-Covid, but the set is making efforts to bring people in with anchor days in the office in Middle Temple on Thursdays, lunch every other Thursday, and even neck and shoulder massages for members. Now that’s what we’d call a perk!
The Application Process
Applications are made via the Pupillage Gateway, “and we publish our mark scheme for those applications on our website,” Lord explains, “which includes points for academic achievements, advocacy and alignment with Cloisters.” Typically, around 300 people apply for pupillage, kicking off with a remote written assessment with a non-legal problem question, “just to test how you analyse a set of rules” Lord tells us. A junior elaborated that “you have 40 minutes before it automatically self-destructs.” The assessment is also marked blind by two people to remove any subconscious bias from the process.
“You’re given a written problem based on our core areas.”
Then there are two interview rounds. Between 40 and 50 candidates are chosen for the first one. Here, a panel of four members tests applicants on an unseen non-legal problem. The ten to fourteen candidates that pass this stage are then invited to the final round interview, where Lord says, “you’re given a written problem based on our core areas.” She adds that this stage includes “an employment element and medical injury questions on a fictional set of facts.” After a 20-minute discussion on the exercise at hand, candidates answer and discuss an unseen topical question. Insiders stressed that, while the process is stressful, “they’re not looking for you to get things 100% right – they’re looking at potential.”
And Lord underscores a number of ways applicants can stand out. “Specific to the application form, be concise, especially about mini-pupillages. They’re going to be read by busy practitioners,” Lord chuckles, adding that demonstrating a real interest in employment, clinical negligence and personal injury through work experience, pro bono, or academic specialisms goes a long way. And on top of that? “Everyone at Bar school seemed super intelligent – don’t let yourself be phased by the competition!”
Cloisters’ clerks: Our pupil interviewee wanted to big up the clerking team at Cloisters and told us, “My clerks have been absolutely fantastic and supportive.”
Cloisters are a highly-regarded and long-established set that advises on employment, discrimination & equality, personal injury, clinical negligence, commercial law, regulatory & public law, sport & entertainment with a reputation for delivering exceptional results.
We're renowned for our responsive, first-class client focus and we believe it's this combined with our technical excellence and commercial perspective that enables us to resolve the most complex legal problems for individuals and organisations of all sizes.
Type of work undertaken
Employment and equality: Cloisters have been at the forefront of numerous landmark equal pay cases in the public sector and retail industry worth millions of pounds alongside landmark cases Brazel v Harpur Trust (holiday pay), Smith v Pimlico Plumbers (holiday pay), Forstater v CGD (gender critical beliefs and employment protected), Ashers v Lee (the ‘Gay Cake case’), Gilham v MoJ (judges’ whistleblowing rights), Uber BV v Aslam (worker status for Uber drivers), Paulley v Firstgroup plc (wheelchair access on buses), Taiwo and Onu (migrant domestic workers and race discrimination), O’Brien v MOJ (part-time judges pensions), UCU v University of Stirling (collective consultation), Bull v Hall (sexual orientation discrimination), Stott v Thomas Cook (compensation for disabled air passengers).
Personal injury and clinical negligence: Cloisters is consistently a top-ranked clinical negligence and personal injury set in Chambers and Partners. We continue to be at the forefront of high-value litigation involving catastrophic brain and spinal injury. Recent clinical negligence High Court trial successes include Chapman v Mid & South Essex NHS Foundation Trust (negligence by pain consultant resulted in paralysis 7 years later), the Infected Blood Inquiry (HIV, Hep C and B infections from blood and blood products).
Artificial Intelligence and new technology: A team in Cloisters are drafting a new Bill for the Trades Union Congress to regulate the use of AI at work. Barristers have also worked with Government, the major UK thinktanks on AI regulation and the United Nations.
We welcome applications from outstanding candidates of all backgrounds and academic disciplines.
We see our role as educating, supporting and developing our pupils in line with Cloisters' values which focus on commitment to excellence and delivering exceptional results for the people at the heart of our work. We keep in mind the aims, philosophy and ethos of pupillage and its professional and educational values.
Pupillage at Cloisters is split into four quarters, with a different supervisor for each one. All members of chambers are encouraged to become supervisors once they meet the qualifying period of practice which ensures that we have a wide range of supervisors of different calls, practice areas and personalities. In addition to working with and for supervisors, pupils are encouraged to do work for other members of chambers and to undertake pro bono work through FRU or law centres.
Our pupils are expected to see all areas of our work during their pupillage, which is normally organised through a choice of supervisors. Pupils are told who their supervisor will be shortly before each quarter begins. That choice is informed in part by what pupils have seen and experienced during pupillage so that all relevant areas of the pupillage checklist are covered. There is a formal appraisal at the end of each quarter, in addition to the feedback given throughout pupillage by supervisors.
Cloisters offers up to ten three day mini-pupillages each year. The ten mini-pupillages are split into 2 separate categories which include, 6x Post graduate level applicants and 4x Undergraduate level applicants, i.e. anyone currently in the first, second or third year of their university degree. The mini-pupillage is not assessed and is not a requirement for applications for pupillage.
Cloisters offers two funded pupillages each year. Each pupil will receive an award (currently £60,000 per year). Pupils can request an advance of up to £15,000 during the BPTC year.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Clinical Negligence (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Personal Injury (Band 3)