Personal injury and clin neg take centre stage at this advocacy-loving common law set, alongside a supporting cast of employment, insurance and health & safety capabilities.
Farrar's Building pupillage review 2022
First and foremost, any prospective Farrar’s Building pupil should know is that this is a chambers with a hefty focus on advocacy. “Juniors in their second six can expect to be in court four days a week, every week,” senior clerk James Shaw states (in fact, we were told that juniors can be in court five days a week if they want to be!). The set’s areas of expertise lend themselves well to getting pupils and juniors stuck into advocacy almost from the get-go. Personal injury and clinical negligence matters make up the largest portion of the set’s work, followed by employment, insurance, and health & safety cases. As such, pupils will get “a good grounding in personal injury and clinical negligence, and most will also see a few other areas.”
“Juniors here can expect to be in court four days a week, every week.”
Farrar’s personal injury expertise secures a ranking in Chambers UK Bar, as does the set’s criminal work in the Wales & Chester Circuit. “It’s mainly two of our QCs who do the top-end crime work in Wales,” Shaw explains. “We do receive instructions for other criminal cases, but I wouldn’t say they would be particularly relevant to anyone applying for pupillage.” When personal injury and criminal matters overlap, pupils may get involved (if there’s a ‘death by dangerous driving’ case, for example), but if you’re after a criminal-focused pupillage, you may want to look elsewhere. In the personal injury sphere, Andrew Wille recently represented a man who had been employed on a construction site without adequate training and subsequently suffered an amputation of one leg and neuropathic damage to the other when the dumper truck he was operating overturned. On the clin neg front, Nigel Spencer Ley acted for multiple claimants against Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust regarding poor results seen in cases where upper gastrointestinal surgery had been carried out.
The Pupillage Experience
Over the 12 months, pupils have three supervisors and spend four months with each. The first supervisor is “usually the most senior of the three,” meaning first-seaters have a “real opportunity to get to grips with the kind of legal areas you’ll be working on at Farrar’s.” Pupils saw “the core areas of chambers’ work, including high-value personal injury, clinical negligence and some employment matters.” A current pupil felt the first seat was especially good for getting “really good paperwork opportunities, like drafting advices, defences, counter-schedules and particulars of claim.” The work is usually a decent mix between live and historic cases. Director of pupillage Hannah Saxena explains: “Particularly when they’re not on their feet, it’s helpful for pupils to work on the papers their supervisor would be doing to have a good idea of what’s going on.” A junior tenant recalled getting “a real insight into what practice would look like in around 20 years’ time – you wouldn’t be doing those kinds of matters in your second six!” Later in the pupillage it becomes easier to gauge any gaps in pupils’ experiences. This means that “if they haven’t seen many schedules of loss, for example, we’re able to dig out historic papers for them to do,” says Saxena.
The second seat is “designed to bridge you from the end of your first seat to the period where you start to get on your feet.” Given the seats at Farrar’s are four months a pop, pupils will get on their feet halfway through the second round of four months. That means during this time there’s “a real emphasis on pupils going to see anything and everything juniors are doing in court.” Our pupil sources would spend just under half their time attending court with juniors, while the other half would involve “doing work concurrently with your pupil supervisor – for instance, if they were doing a particulars of claim in a high-value clin neg case, I would be doing it alongside them and then we would compare and contrast.”
“These types of cases were great for honing your advocacy skills and getting on top of effective cross-examination.”
By the time the third seat rolls around, pupils will have already been on their feet for around two months. By this point, pupils estimated they would have “around three to four hearings a week,” on matters like road traffic accidents, credit hire trials or Stage 3 hearings. “These types of cases were great for honing your advocacy skills and getting on top of effective cross-examination,” one junior reflected. Pupils also enjoyed trying “both claimant and defendant work – it gives you a more rounded understanding as well as experience of what these cases entail.” A junior tenant admitted “it can be overwhelming to begin with, but it’s exciting more than anything!” Pupils also added that “if you have questions, you can either ask your supervisor, who is always happy to help, or there’s a WhatsApp group for pupils and junior barristers. If you’re stuck on anything, there’s always someone on hand to discuss or answer questions.”
For each supervisor, pupils have one formally assessed piece of work to complete. “You’ll be given formal feedback, which will go into a portfolio that will eventually go to the tenancy committee.” Although the rest of pupils’ work isn’t assessed in the same way, they emphasised that “you still want to do the best and deliver it at a high standard.” Supervisors also write reports on each pupil’s performance during every seat, which go towards the final decision. Towards the end of pupillage, there is a tenancy assessment that involves a written exercise, an advocacy exercise and an interview. A junior tenant recalled their experience: “The advocacy exercise was challenging and treated as if you were actually going to court. That exercise was carried out in front of four or five senior members of chambers, who then put challenging questions to us.” Sources added that pupil supervisors don’t sit on that panel, in order to “keep it as fair as possible.” When the final decision is being made, other members of chambers can submit feedback on the pupil too. “Clerks also have the opportunity to collate feedback from solicitors from the occasions when you were on your feet,” interviewees added. This year, the set kept on both its pupils.
The Application Process
Candidates can apply to Farrar’s Building through the Pupillage Gateway. Hannah Saxena tells us that the initial paper sift is anonymous: “There’s an option to take out any info about gender, schools, etc, so we just see a number.” The initial application also includes a ‘bonus question’ which Saxena reveals “is never law-related – it’s usually designed to see a bit of the applicant’s personality and how persuasively they write.” A recent example was ‘What object would you have invented if you could?’ Interviewees also recalled another exercise where they were given “a statement they wanted you to argue in five sentences to test how concise you can be.”
“...in the interview we got into a friendly debate about homemade pasta!”
Around 35-40 applicants make it through to the first-stage interview, which is held in front of a panel of three assessors. The interview itself lasts around ten to 15 minutes and is mainly used for the chambers to “try to get to know you on an individual level.” Candidates recalled the panel being “incredibly friendly – they had a genuine interest in wanting to get to know what you’re like.” The first stage also tends to involve “the odd test where you’re asked to debate a particular point.” One source recalled that “in my application I’d mentioned something about experimenting with vegan cuisine, so in the interview we got into a friendly debate about homemade pasta!”
Around eight candidates progress to the second interview, which is “much more in-depth.” Saxena explains that “the bulk of it is the advocacy exercise.” This year, candidates also completed a written exercise linked to the advocacy exercise in the week before the interview. "You have to prepare an application based on a brief you’re given," said one pupil. "Once in the interview, the first part is making that application in front of a panel of barristers who, for those purposes, act as judges.” Saxena emphasises that the most appealing applicants are those who are “comfortable in communicating, holding an argument well and putting up a little resistance to judicial questions.” After the advocacy exercise, there are usually “some other questions – some are based on your application, and some are used to test competency, knowledge of the legal sector, and motivation.”
Saxena is also keen to flag that “we want to recruit people for the long term – a number of our pupils are now tenants and silks.” Farrar’s is therefore “interested in someone with personality.” She elaborates that a large part of the set’s culture revolves around “being very friendly, while also enjoying being good in court.” One junior neatly summed up the set as “a personable family of experts.” This also meant that socialising together was a regular part of chambers life: barristers, clerks and pupils alike can let their hair down at ‘Wine Club’ on a Friday night where “everyone has a drink and a good old chat!” If you’d rather get some exercise in with your socialising, there’s also a ‘Run Club’ on a Tuesday evening. Bigger events include an “annual Christmas curry and karaoke night” as well as “social events with solicitors, which pupils are encouraged to come to.”
Working from home has meant pupils and members have been spread Farrar and wide… but Hannah Saxena reassures us: “We are still touching base with pupils every day.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Personal Injury (Band 3)
Wales & Chester (Bar)
- Crime (Band 1)