Interested in law that can effect positive, real-world change? Then check out Cloisters, which stands out for its employment, personal injury and clinical negligence work and is full of “exceptionally bright and kind people.”
It was the “activist heritage and ethos of using law to further social justice” that clinched one pupil's decision to apply to Cloisters. This reason represents Cloisters well: this is a set that's famed for headline-hitting employment, personal injury and clinical negligence work, with all three areas ranked highly in Chambers UK Bar. “Cloisters is at the coalface of developing equalities law,” another source told us. “It’s not just applying the law, but developing it further in a progressive social justice trajectory.” A five-day pro bono pledge from each member exemplifies this commitment.
“Cloisters is at the coalface of developing equalities law.”
Senior clerk Glenn Hudson tells us that employment cases make up around 60% of the workload in chambers, with the rest split between clinical negligence, personal injury, sports, and human rights work. “There’s also a far greater amount of advisory work coming through,” Hudson highlights in relation to COVID-19 related enquiries. “The pandemic has thrown up lots of interesting and difficult questions for employers, like whether you can mandate people to have both vaccines before coming to work.” He also anticipates a “slow build” increase in human rights and public law work, which is being augmented by a junior tenant who brought with them an impressive book of clients in both fields.
“The quality of work continues to excite me,” Hudson adds. “There are too many cases of note to mention!” I guess we’ll try! On the employment front, Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri successfully represented Uber drivers in a landmark Supreme Court case that confirmed their status as workers and not independent contractors. Paul Epstein QC also successfully represented Tesco in an equal pay challenge that could have cost the supermarket £4 billion.
“To know that you can turn to some of the leading figures in their fields at the Bar is brilliant.”
Members also advise on high-profile personal injury matters: William Latimer-Sayer QC and Tamar Burton recently acted for claimants against pharma company GSK and the Department of Health following injuries caused by swine flu vaccines. Chesca Lord also acted on behalf of a 12-year-old claimant who sustained a serious brain injury after being run over on the pavement by an HGV driver. In clinical negligence, Simon Dyer QC secured a £16.3 million settlement on behalf of the claimant in a case involving a delayed birth that led to serious brain injury. Latimer-Sayer also acted in a £22.8 million cerebral palsy claim following negligence during another claimant’s birth.
Beyond the front page splashes, Cloisters has “a super supportive environment,” according to Chesca Lord, head of the pupillage committee. “Everyone has their door open and you can genuinely ask anyone any question.” One of our pupil interviewees agreed: “People really do want to help you here. To know that you can turn to some of the leading figures at the Bar is brilliant.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils complete four seats of three months each throughout their pupillage: these are usually split half and half between employment and clinical negligence/personal injury. “The first six is about educating pupils,” Lord informs us. “We're making sure they see various aspects of life at chambers and learn how to do things.” Assignments here usually entail “smaller pieces of work that a barrister might have already done,” according to one source. Things then ramp up in the second six, when pupils get on their feet and take on their own cases. Lord tells us that pupils will “typically be in court several times a week,” doing more “Employment Tribunal casework and lower-level personal injury and clinical negligence claims.”
“It’s a very nurturing pupillage.”
One pupil recounted how they'd progressed over their first two seats: “Things might start with smaller ad hoc tasks, which then build up. You might go to a hearing with a supervisor and sit in on schedules of loss discussions, listening and absorbing. Then after your second seat you’re asked to contribute on a regular basis; you feel you’re developing.” “It’s a very nurturing pupillage,” adds Lord. “When I supervise pupils, I give them the first go on things I’m working on and we will then go through the version that goes to the client, to explain the differences.” Due to the differences in workload (between pupils and practising barristers), we’re told that pupils are encouraged – often told – to be out of the door on time. “If people see you around after half six, they send you home,” Lord tells us. However, when it gets to the point where you're taking on your own cases, “you can work for as long as you need to.”
Work for other members usually includes research tasks on live cases, fact management exercises, building chronologies, and helping to draft skeleton arguments and particulars of claim. “My very first seat was during the Grenfell Inquiry,” one pupil told us when sharing a work highlight. “Working day in, day out on the highest-profile legal matter at the time made me really feel like I’d arrived at the Bar.” Another added: “The quality of supervision is extremely high. It’s a good mix of being forced to step outside your comfort zone with each task and then being supported when you get things wrong.”
“Working day in, day out on the highest-profile legal matter at the time made me really feel like I’d arrived at the Bar.”
That level of support no doubt comes in handy, as tenancy decisions at Cloisters are heavily based on three assessments. “One of the strengths here is that we have a very structured assessment programme,” one pupil pointed out. These three formal assessments cover legal research, advocacy and drafting and are weighted at 20% each. Another 30% comes from a pupil's performance during the final interview, where pupils tackle “a big meaty employment or personal injury topic, which you’re given two weeks in advance.” The remaining 10% comes from the feedback from supervisors, clerks and staff members.
“The structure largely excludes a decision being determined by a popularity contest,” this pupil explained. “We recruit with a view to offer tenancy,” adds Lord. “Our goal is to take all pupils on and we hope to do so through a clearly structured and transparent process.” Knowing your chances aren’t determined by how pally you become with the right people “makes you feel comfortable interacting with anyone across the year,” according to one pupil. “You’re not constantly worried or watching what you have to say.”
The Application Process
This commitment to a fair and equitable ride characterises Cloisters’ application process. Pupillage Gateway applications are scored on academic achievements, excellence outside academia and a candidate’s ethos. Application reviews are “all blind double marked,” Lord tells us. “Applications are marked against a clearly defined mark scheme that’s published on our website in order to be as transparent as possible.” One pupil added: “The application process is tough but fair, and these structures break down the 'old boys network' to forge a more progressive and empathetic approach to life at the Bar.”
Around 40 to 50 candidates are chosen for the first round of interviews, which involve a panel that tests applicants on an unseen non-legal problem. “You’re grilled and probed on your presentation, as they throw facts at you to see how you respond,” a pupil explained. “But it’s very clear from the beginning that you’re welcomed and you never feel like they’re against you.”
“It’s tough being grilled by four members, but you have the best chance to put yourself forward.”
Those who make it through to the final interview round tackle a problem they’ve had “plenty of time to prepare for.” One source commended this approach: “It’s more realistic being given something so far in advance, as no decent solicitor would hand you a brief an hour before court! It’s tough being grilled by four members, but you have the best chance to put yourself forward.” A topical question is usually posed at the end of the interview, with previous years' topics including diversity quotas in the judiciary or the implementation of the sugar tax.
Lord offers her advice for the process as a whole: “Provide evidence of a commitment to our practice areas,” she says. “Whether in work experience, pro bono, or academic specialisms.” Lord adds that beyond making every word count during an application, candidates should understand how they align with chambers. “There’s an overriding sense of using the law as a force for good here,” concluded one pupil, so bear in mind that there's a “real shared commitment to contributing to something greater than the law itself.”
The world is your cloister!
New tenants waste no time when it comes to racking up trial experience. One pupil advised that “if you don’t like courtroom advocacy, this might not be the place for you, as from the first year of tenancy you will do three, five, or seven-day trials. We’re masters of the tribunal process here and at the coalface.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Clinical Negligence (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Personal Injury (Band 2)