Personal injury work is the jewel in this set's esteemed crown, but its insurance, civil and commercial expertise also command great respect in court.
Crown Office Chambers pupillage review
“It’s increasingly rare to find a set with such a range of high-quality work in different practice areas,” one pupil interviewee declared. Crown Office, however, is one of those rare gems: “I didn’t know which sort of law I wanted to practise. Studying an area and practising it are two different things, so I wanted the opportunity to try all sorts of matters, then make a decision further down the line,” explained a junior tenant when asked why they chose this particular set.
Senior managing clerk Andy Flanagan put this in numbers for us: “Pure insurance (mainly on the insurer-backed side), professional indemnity, property damage and construction make up about 40% of our work.” Since the pandemic, however, the set’s seen a huge influx of pure insurance work, like business interruption coverage. According to Flanagan, “there isn’t a big insurance law firm that doesn’t use us. BLM, DAC Beachcroft, Kennedys, DWF and Clyde & Co all come to us.”
On the insurance side, Andrew Rigney QC and Caroline McColgan recently represented Zurich in the Supreme Court in a test case brought by the Financial Conduct Authority concerning business interruption coverage and COVID-19. Most members do a bit of clinical negligence and personal injury work, which forms about 35% of the set’s matters. The final quarter comprises criminal regulatory, product liability, health and safety, and sport. A recent matter required the set's combined knowledge in product liability and clinical negligence: Harry Lambert and Michael Kent QC represented over 100 claimants in a case against GlaxoSmithKline, which alleged that the pharma company's antidepressant drug Seroxat was defective because patients became clinically dependent on it. The case was so high-profile it became the subject of three Panorama programmes. Elsewhere, Alexander Antelme QC is representing Rydon, the main contractor for the original refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower, in personal injury proceedings following the fire.
“There isn’t a big insurance law firm that doesn’t use us."
Crown Office has picked up Chambers UK Bar rankings for almost all of the above mentioned categories; its health and safety, property damage and personal injury practices are rated cream of the crop. In fact, our sister publication thinks so highly of Crown Office’s personal injury work it’s awarded the practice two rankings, in both the London and all-circuits categories. Internationally, Crown Office has earned a ranking in Chambers Global for its construction expertise: “The Middle East is our main stomping ground,” explained Flanagan. “We started off doing mainly construction arbitration but now we do a range of disputes from building work to big power plants, shipbuilding and insurance.”
Cricket fans might be interested to know that former professional cricketer Maurice Holmes joined the set as a barrister in 2015: “He has some great contacts so we’ve been doing lots more sports work the past couple of years. We’ll be building that practice through internal growth, rather than taking on new members, combining the expertise we have into an offering that we can send to specialist sports law firms.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils do two three-month seats in the first six and a single six-month stretch in the second six, with a different supervisor in each stint: “Usually your supervisors will have slightly different practices: my first supervisor did insurance and professional negligence, my second did professional discipline and clinical negligence and my third did a mix of all of those," commented a pupil.
Pupils primarily work for their supervisor during the first six, but also do the odd bit of work for other members here and there. Different people inevitably have different styles of supervision: “One of my supervisors set me tasks related to the case he was on, so we’d work alongside each other then discuss it after. My other supervisor gave me assignments from cases she’d worked on in the last year or so.” Either way, “it’s all geared towards training. I never did dead work like bundling because that wouldn’t be helpful for me. Pretty much every piece of work I did was research and drafting, and they [supervisors] tried to spread me across defence, advice and counter schedules.”
The first six also comes with three written and four oral advocacy assessments to prepare pupils for where they’re headed next. The advocacy assessments “tend to be small, self-contained procedural matters so you can prepare alongside your normal work. You then present your argument to a board of members who you haven’t worked with before, so that you can impress more people.” Advisory pieces make up the written assessments: “I had a couple of weeks to do them alongside my other work.” The written assessments are marked anonymously, but “if a pupil hasn’t performed as well as they should have, we’ll give them an additional assessment so they get another chance.”
Farrah Mauladad QC, head of the pupillage committee, told us: “I strongly believe that supervisors are there to help pupils, not catch them out. Pupils have overcome the main hurdle, which is the competitive application process, so we’re there to help them meet the criteria to become a member of chambers.” Crown Office has a rule that pupils get feedback on every single piece of work they do. At the end of each seat, the supervisors – plus anyone else the pupil has worked for – will send their feedback to the head of the pupillage committee. Pupils then have a review with the head of the committee, “which is a good time for us to tell them how they’re doing and vice versa.” Crown Office makes the tenancy decision before pupils move into the second six: “We take on all pupils with the view of eventually offering them tenancy. Our pupils are not competing against each other,” says Mauladad.In 2021, Crown Office retained two of its qualifying pupils.
Pupils get their own cases from the clerks during the second six: “I’ve been in court twice a week since they gave me tenancy. It’s the most nerve-wracking part of pupillage but it’s the reason everyone comes to the Bar, so it’s also the most exciting part.” Luckily, the set operates an aunts and uncles mentorship system (comprised of junior tenants in the year above) to help pupils get on their feet: “I met with mine and they talked me through typical cases, giving me tips and tricks to deal with them.” A junior tenant explained: “The aunts and uncles system is valuable because they’re not allowed to tell anybody if you’ve asked a silly question, which is very liberating. My friends at other sets even asked my aunt and uncle questions through me!”
“The aunts and uncles system is valuable because they’re not allowed to tell anybody if you’ve asked a silly question, which is very liberating."
This year, the set chose supervisors who worked in chambers, rather than remotely: “No matter how good technology is, pupils learn best by physically sitting with their supervisors," says Mauladad. "This way they can discuss matters as they arise, ask questions and listen in to telephone calls etc. Chambers offered pupils the choice between working remotely or from chambers or a combination of both.” One pupil was partway through their second seat when the pandemic hit, so they stayed with their second supervisor for longer than planned for additional support: “There was an understanding throughout chambers that we were all working through an unknown experience together. My partner has children, and chambers were very considerate about home schooling.”
Flanagan and the set's COO sent monthly newsletters “just to keep that sense of togetherness going.” When there’s not a pandemic on, chambers hosts Friday night drinks in the conference room: “The newest members organise it, so it’s not remotely stuffy,” Mauladad told us. One pupil added: “The clerks always come for drinks and people are friends outside of work. Some barristers can take themselves too seriously, but that’s not the case here.” The set celebrated the newest tenancy decision at Middle Temple’s new garden bar.
"Some barristers can take themselves too seriously, but that’s not the case here.”
The Application Process
When it comes to recruitment, a junior tenant offered these words of wisdom: “Applicants try to tick the same boxes as people they’ve seen succeed, but the reality is that too many people have the same experience. Ask yourself, ‘What will make them remember me?’ I used to run a magic wand business – which probably isn’t the sole reason they hired me – but when I started pupillage a QC came up to me and said, ‘You’re the person with the magic wands!’" A pupil added: “So many people want to send copy-and-paste applications to get as many out as possible, but showing you actually know about the set – like reading cases it’s worked on – will make you stand out.”
The set doesn’t process applications through the Pupillage Gateway, but follows the same timetable. To address diversity and inclusion, the set welcomes an external speaker (who trains the Bar Council) to train members on D&I within recruitment every year: “Everyone involved in recruitment is trained in fair sifting to make sure the criteria is fair.”
The task of securing a pupillage is notoriously competitive, and the system at Crown Office Chambers is no different: out of 110 applications, only 30 people were invited for the first interview round in 2021. Two members of chambers usually conduct the interview, which is about “getting a feel for the candidate, and them getting a feel for us.” Applicants answer a couple of questions “to test their analytical skills.” Fifteen candidates make it to the next stage. The second round sees candidates providing answers to lengthier legal problems in front of a panel of four or five members: “We give them the relevant law. It’s not about academic/legal knowledge, it’s about assimilating information in a short space of time and using their analytical skills to present to the panel,” Mauladad explains. The panel then ranks the applicants and the top three are offered pupillage.
(Not) heavy is the head that wears the crown
Pupils stick to a fairly forgiving 9am to 6.30pm schedule: “It’s extremely rare to work outside those hours.”
Crown Office Chambers
2 Crown Office Row,
- No of silks 24
- No of juniors 76
- No of pupils Up to 3 per year
- Contact Maurice Holmes
- Method of application chambers’ application form, downloadable from chambers’ website
- Pupillages (pa) Up to three 12-month pupillages per year
- Income £65,000, comprising £55,000 award plus £10,000 guaranteed earnings
- Tenancies offered in last three years 8
Junior tenants undertake a range of work with an emphasis on developing advocacy skills. In addition to working on their own paperwork and accepting junior briefs, junior tenants in their first years of practice are generally in court several times a week. They have the opportunity to specialise as their practices develop. This blend of early advocacy and advisory experience gives them the edge over their contemporaries at many ‘pure commercial’ and ‘pure’ common law/personal injury sets. It also keeps work varied and allows members to make a more informed decision about specialisation.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Personal Injury: Industrial Disease (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Health & Safety (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Construction/Engineering (Band 3)
- Personal Injury (Band 1)
- Product Liability (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 2)
- Property Damage (Band 1)