Building your practice with Farrar’s: there’s plenty more to this London set than a penchant for personal injury.
Farrar’s Building pupillage review 2024
As the old saying goes, change is a part of life. You might be forgiven for thinking that the bar has resisted that change more than other professions, but that certainly isn’t the case at Farrar’s Building. The set has history aplenty, but the focus of life at Farrar’s has evolved: “25 years ago, it would have largely been a criminal set,” personal injury barrister and pupillage director Joshua Hedgman tells us, “but we’re very clear that what we offer now is a civil pupillage.” According to chief executive and director of clerking Paul Cray, around 60% of the set’s work is personal injury, from industrial disease to accidents abroad. “Of the remaining 40%, there’s quite a range of work that spans several practice areas including commercial and property insurance disputes, clinical negligence, employment, professional discipline, public inquiries and inquests,” Cray explains, “But the criminal aspect of our practice has reduced over the years to the extent that it now forms a much smaller part.”
Historically part of the Wales & Chester circuit, Farrar’s Building has retained its strong link with Cymru, and while the main office is located in London, a number of the set’s barristers appear in Welsh courts. In fact, Farrar’s receives a tip of the hat for its criminal practice in Wales and Chester by Chambers UK Bar. It’s also earned a place in the rankings for personal injury work in London. Speaking of which, one recent case saw Andrew Arentsen act for professional footballer Jordan Jones, who was on the receiving end of a career-ending knee injury whilst playing for Swansea City against Fulham. In the capital, Tom Bourne-Arton represented a man bringing a claim against Transport for London who skidded on a manhole cover while riding a moped and fractured his knee.
Where crime is concerned, members represent both defendants and victims in a number of high-profile cases, including murder. They’re also known to appear at inquests and public inquiries into deaths, on behalf of bereaved family members and other parties. For example, Matthew Kerruish-Jones recently acted in the inquest into the highly publicised death of 35-year-old Kevin Clarke, who died after being restrained by police in Lewisham.
Farrar’s Building boasts a unique management structure made up of the chief executive, head of chambers, deputy head of chambers and 14 directorships: “I have an overarching responsibility for strategy, leadership, and the development of members and staff,” Cray tells us, “But within that, we have 14 director roles where each person takes responsibility for something, whether that’s marketing, finance, recruitment, compliance; anything you’d expect a business to have to think about.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage at Farrar’s Building is split into three four-month blocks, each with a different supervisor: “In that initial period, your first supervisor is probably going to be someone a bit more senior,” a former pupil recalled, “the idea is that you’ll get some exposure to the paperwork side of the more weighty legal issues.” As you might expect, the task of a pupil’s second supervisor is to gear them up for second six. As Hedgman puts it: “Of course, in the second seat, a pupil will have two months where they’re not on their feet, before they reach the six-month stage. At that point, they’ll start doing their own cases, so it’s mainly about preparing them for that.” During that window, pupils will also be sent out and about with more junior members to get a glimpse of the sort of cases that they’ll be starting with.
In the early stages of pupillage, there’s plenty on offer to get pupils accustomed to the paperwork behind the headline cases: “Right from the very start, my supervisor had me working on things like counter schedules and drafting,” one former pupil commented, “my first supervisor had a predominantly personal injury-related practice, which gave me a really good grounding in how personal injury works, and exposure to the sort of stuff that’s likely to come my way in the not-so-distant future.”
Come a pupil’s second six, Farrar’s prides itself on the amount of court time on offer, with pupils working on the likes of small-claim insurance disputes covering road traffic accident liability. One former pupil even recalled being in court “three or four times a week.” Yet crucially, pupils will still get the respite of time out of court to focus on their paperwork: “There is a rule in chambers that we are not on our feet more than four days a week,” one pupil clarified, “so you still have the one or two days a week to focus on the work that you are doing for your supervisor or anyone else in chambers.”
“I was more or less treated as a tenant, even though it still said ‘pupil’ on the bottom of my e-mail signature.”
“The final seat is much more relaxed, because at that point pupils are a few months into their own cases,” Hedgman explains. By that point, supervision becomes more hands-off and play more of an advisory role: “I was more or less treated like a tenant, even though it still said ‘pupil’ on the bottom of my e-mail signature.”
When it comes to assessments, Farrar’s approach is to keep formal tests to a bare minimum: “Our pupils will do one formally assessed piece of written work for each supervisor, so three pieces of formally assessed work over the course of the year” Hedgman tells us. These assessments are, pupils told us, “usually some form of drafting, whether that’s a skeleton argument or a piece of advice.” There’s also an advocacy exercise which forms part of the tenancy interview towards the end of the year. “But that is caveated with the fact that the tenancy decision is not based on one piece of work alone,” one pupil commented.
At the end of each seat, a pupil’s supervisor will complete a report on their performance, and there’s space for a pupil to include their own comments before the reports go to the tenancy panel. As Hedgman explains, the report includes comments from clerks, clients and instructing solicitors, but it is the tenancy panel that makes a recommendation to chambers: “We convene a panel of six or seven members of chambers that interview both of the pupils and make their recommendation to chambers,” Hedgman explains, “butI've been doing this for 10 years, and I don't think I've come across a year yet where their recommendation hasn't been followed.”
The Application Process
For a former pupil we spoke to, there was one thing in particular that stood out from the application process: “While there is of course an element of demonstrating your knowledge and ability, more so than other sets, there was also an assessment of what you’re like as a person, and whether you would fit the mould.” From the off, the 14 candidates that are invited to a first round of interviews are asked about their application, the experiences they have had, and their hobbies and interests: “The first round is a 15-minute interview,” Hedgman tells us, “After those first few questions, we then ask them to pick a side on a particular issue and then argue for or against it, probe them on that and see how they handle it, before a ‘what would you do if this happened?’-style ethical question.”
At that stage, the 14 candidates are narrowed down to eight, who are then invited back for a second round of interviews which last around 45 minutes. “Our second round is comprised of a half an hour-long mock case. We play the judge, and we ask them to present the arguments that they will have had a week to prepare, along with a skeleton argument” Hedgman outlines. This is then followed by 15-20 minutes of questioning aimed at getting to know the candidate better, from their CV to finding out more about them as people.
“I sent a message on our group WhatsApp and within five minutes I had three members of chambers calling me.”
So, why is it that there is such an emphasis on who prospective pupils are as people? “One of the driving forces behind recruitment is our culture,” Paul Cray adds, “and you can see that cohesiveness around you from day one. New recruits see it in their conversations with staff, in their conversations with our director of recruitment, and in their conversations as part of the interview process.” As one of Farrar’s pupils recalled: “I remember getting something late on a Friday night and opening it that Sunday evening, and I hadn’t done anything like it before. So I sent a message on our group WhatsApp and within five minutes I had three members of chambers calling me and saying, ‘right, what can I help you with?’” While Farrar’s prides itself on being a modern, sociable set, that’s not to say that it’s without its traditions: “I’ve just organised the Christmas curry, which we would certainly call a tradition by now, but a more modern tradition!” Hedgman clarifies.
Try before you buy
“Prior to pupillage, there’s often pressure to know exactly what area you want to end up in and how you’re going to get there,” Hedgman adds, “but there shouldn’t be. Take your time, don’t be afraid to be open to different things.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Personal Injury (Band 3)
Wales & Chester (Bar)
- Crime (Band 2)
- Personal Injury (Band 1)