Essex Court Chambers’ unique rotation system gives pupils a grand tour of the set’s esteemed practices in areas like civil fraud, international arbitration, and public international law.
Essex Court Chambers pupillage review 2024
Given its status as part of the Bar’s ‘magic circle’ set of chambers, you can expect the work at Essex Court Chambers to be first-rate. “We’re a full-service commercial set that covers everything in terms of complex litigation and arbitration,” says senior clerk Joe Ferrigno. “We’re very international and our clients can range from large corporations to individuals to States.” ECC is praised across six Chambers guides, including Chambers Global, High Net Worth, USA, and Asia-Pacific. In Chambers UK Bar, the set’s standout practices include civil fraud, commercial dispute resolution, international arbitration, and public international law. Other areas that receive high praise include commercial chancery, energy, insurance, offshore, shipping & commodities, and tax.
“...we’re always looking for new trends; at the moment we’re active in areas such as cryptocurrency, climate and environmental law.”
“We’re concentrating on our core areas and continuing to grow,” adds Ferrigno. “Maintaining our balance between litigation and arbitration is part of our USP, and we’re always looking for new trends; at the moment we’re active in areas such as climate and environmental law and cryptocurrency.” Part of ECC’s growth has been achieved via “a few strategic lateral hires, but we’ve also recently grown by 11 KCs organically,” Ferrigno tells us. The set’s premises in Lincoln’s Inn have also had an upgrade of late: “We’ve invested in technology and re-vamped all our rooms with new audio-visual equipment to make sure we remain cutting-edge in the way we operate, both domestically and abroad.”
Recent work in an international arbitration matter saw David Joseph KC act for British energy company Cairn (now Capricorn Energy) during its $1.2 billion investment treaty dispute against India. A commercial dispute involved Andrew Hochhauser KC representing two subsidiaries of Japanese holding company Nomura against a former employee who claimed for wrongful dismissal. In addition, public international law matters have seen Alison Macdonald KC act for the Republic of Mauritius in a maritime boundary claim against Maldives, and Ben Juratowitch KC representing the Government of Gabon during a sovereignty matter against Equatorial Guinea.
Aside from its top work, ECC stands out from the crowd for its unique ‘rota’ system (keep reading for a detailed breakdown). One pupil enthused: “The set’s emphasis on the standard of work and not so much on how you charm your supervisors really differentiates the pupillage experience from the rest. I don’t feel pressure to hit it off with everyone, and each seat is short and sweet – at the end of the day, it's your work that matters.” Beyond the rota system, one of our interviewees applied to ECC for its “spread of work across arbitration and public international law – the diversity of opportunities here are compelling.”
The Pupillage Experience
The pupillage is focused on ECC’s core areas, which are: commercial arbitration; contracts; banking and insolvency; civil fraud; insurance; commodities; shipping; and international law. Pupils will sit with eight supervisors across the year and will spend the most amount of time – the three to four months up until December – with their first ‘main supervisor’, as member of the pupillage committee Emily Wood KC explains: “That is really a period of training that allows the pupil to learn the ropes. We give them regular feedback, but we’re not assessing them during that period, as it’s for them to find their feet.” This pupil confirmed that “your first supervisor will basically get you up to speed with the work and show you the full commercial practice. You’re able to make mistakes throughout the first few months!” As January rolls around, the rota system begins; pupils will rotate through seven seats and spend around two to three weeks in each. “It’s a great way for us to see the scope of the commercial practice and each seat is only a couple of weeks long so it’s not too intense,” a pupil concluded.
“I’ve been in the High Court and the Supreme Court and had the opportunity to see some great advocacy.”
“There’s not a huge distinction between the first and second sixes,” a source added, because pupils don’t formally get on their feet and start practising until they gain tenancy. However, our interviewees had attended court frequently to observe their supervisors in action: “I’ve been in the High Court and the Supreme Court and had the opportunity to see some great advocacy.” When live matters are in full flow, pupils will help to draft documents and work on cross-examination notes. Pupils are also given past cases to work on, where they will be tasked with the likes of drafting pleadings, skeleton arguments, opinions, and research notes: “You get a good amount of time to read the papers and do your research. You don’t feel too pressured and on a weekly basis you can expect to get three pieces of work.” Cases are interesting from the offset: “One of the first I worked on involved a state entity and a central bank, which raised questions about public international law. You can get involved in lots of large cases involving banks, insurance companies, and other corporates, as well as smaller matters in the aviation industry.” Pupils return to their ‘main supervisor’ at the end of the rota system and run through all the work they’ve done.
All pupils will rotate through the same supervisors over the course of the pupillage. There are a number of assessed advocacy exercises to complete during the rotation period, as Emily Wood KC explains: “Reports are written up on pupils’ performance across the exercises, which are designed to be fun at the same time. We also have a conference skills exercise, where a member of chambers plays a difficult client – we see how the pupil gets on, and most say that they enjoy it!” We also heard that pupils have “at least three appraisals during the year, where you write up a list of things that you think are going well and things you are struggling with. You send this off to your supervisor and have a meeting – the advice from my appraisals has been very useful.”
The tenancy decision is made early May. Supervisor reports play a key role in determining the outcome: “The system is fair because the only people who have a say on whether you’re taken on or not are those you’ve worked with. Every pupil works with and is assessed by the same people. We have quite a few silks on the rota, who work to get the best out of our pupils.” In 2023, all three pupils were taken on as tenants.
“...it's nice to know that you’re working with people who are at the top of their game and know that area of law inside out!”
Interviewees tended to work between 9am and 6pm. “We very rarely work later than six and weekend working is also pretty much unheard of,” a source appreciated. Another added that the culture is “pretty casual and not formal or stuffy at all: people are interested in you and hoping that you’ll be kept on.” Informal drinks for pupils and junior barristers are held across the year, “which are very helpful because you’re surrounded by people who have just gone through the pupillage and are happy to give you advice.” Christmas and summer parties give pupils a chance to meet a broader array of members, as do occasions where members are made silks: “They’re very generous and invite you along! You can strike up conversations and get to know people.” Overall, “it’s a friendly, caring set that is filled with motivated and intellectually curious people. Members are happy to have chats about recent cases that are going on. What I’ve found remarkable is that whenever I’ve opened up a case report I’d see that a member of our chambers has appeared in that case – it's nice to know that you’re working with people who are at the top of their game and know that area of law inside out!”
The Application Process
The recruitment journey to ECC starts with an application made through the Pupillage Gateway, which contains questions that are unique to the set. The initial application also involves a written task “where you write around 500 words on the advice you would give based on a set of facts. It’s more commercial rather than law-based, and you want to make sure that you’re on top of all the facts! It’s similar to the kind of work you would be doing on the pupillage.”
“We’re looking to see if you can articulate yourself clearly in a way that judges and clients would be persuaded by.”
Around 30 candidates are then invited to an interview that is divided into two parts. The first requires interviewees to tackle a problem question that is given to them 30 minutes before the interview. “We’re not looking for legal knowledge,” says Emily Wood KC. “The question surrounds a fictional law that we ask candidates to apply to a scenario. We’ll invite them to talk us through their analysis of the problem and assess their logical thinking and rigor.” The interview panel typically consists of between three to five members of chambers, and during the second half the interview one will lead the questioning. “This part of the interview is about the candidate,” confirms Wood. “The questions are based on the candidate’s application and we’re looking to see whether they match our recruitment criteria.” These are: intellectual ability; advocacy potential (written and oral); tenacity; teamwork; organisational ability; judgement; integrity; and self-motivation.
ECC only conducts one round of interviews to select “the best and brightest irrespective of where they have come from,” says Wood. “Once you’ve made it to the interview all that matters is your performance and how much you impress us with your analysis of the problem that we set. We’re looking to see if you can articulate yourself clearly in a way that judges and clients would be persuaded by. We’ve got a really broad spectrum of practice areas here, so we’ll be gauging your interest in those, too.” A pupil advised future candidates to “relax and read through the problem question, as you want to be settled before you go into the interview. It’s a rigorous and fair process, and they care a lot about the written work.” Senior clerk Joe Ferrigno explains that “the interview process is very much a friendly one that is designed to bring out the best in candidates. We want to make sure we see them shine as we’re passionate about first-class barristers.”
Train and train again: Essex Court runs in-house programmes for pupils that cover advocacy and conference skills, as well as introductory lectures on its practices.
Essex Court Chambers
24 Lincoln's Inn Fields,
Our members offer advisory and advocacy expertise on disputes relating to all aspects of business and commerce, both domestic and international. Our core areas of work include commercial litigation, civil fraud, international commercial arbitration, international trade, energy, shipping, PIL, insurance/reinsurance, banking and financial services. But our members enjoy the freedom to develop their own specialisms. Many have done so, in a wide range of areas. This means that pupils and junior tenants can see a broad range of work.
Our members are supported by an enthusiastic, active clerking team from the earliest stage of their practice. Our work is intellectually challenging. We seek to recruit the best and the brightest. A degree from Oxford or Cambridge is not a prerequisite of pupillage with us; not all of the top talent is concentrated in a small number of academic institutions. We encourage applications from all. We welcome applications from law and non-law graduates and for deferred pupillage.
We are committed to equality of opportunity. We will make reasonable adjustments for disabled applicants.
Undertaking a mini-pupillage is strongly encouraged. You are also encouraged to attend our Student Open Day. Reasonable travel and other expenses are refunded for both.
Please see our website for full details of pupillage, mini-pupillage and our Student Open Day, including when and how to apply.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 2)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 1)
- Offshore (Band 2)
- Public International Law (Band 1)
- Shipping & Commodities (Band 2)
- Tax: Indirect Tax (Band 2)