Simply put, Fountain Court is a titan of the Commercial Bar, navigating "some of the highest-end, most cutting-edge cases" out there.
Fountain Court pupillage review 2024
Meet one of the Commercial Bar’s most respected sets. “Historically we’re known as one of the magic circle sets,” deputy senior clerk Sian Huckett tells us, highlighting Fountain’s renowned commercial practice. “Within that we have quite a few strings to our bow,” she says, elaborating that the set has recently “boosted our offering with commercial crime, or white-collar.” If the idea of business crime tickles your fancy, the outlook is good: “We’ve brought on very junior tenants in chambers to expand that team bottom up,” says Huckett.
“...you’re involved with some of the highest-end, most cutting-edge cases.”
In Chambers UK Bar, the set shines brightly for its expertise in banking and finance, commercial dispute resolution, financial services, civil fraud, professional discipline and travel, with top rankings in all of these areas. Further, over 180 barristers hold rankings across the set’s departments. So as a pupil, “you’re involved with some of the highest-end, most cutting-edge cases,” one source told us. Reflecting on the set’s trajectory over the past year, Huckett highlights COVID as a significant driver of work, and similarly with "the current financial and geopolitical situation, new workstreams have been created with insurance litigation and aircraft grounded” – the set has a top aviation ranking.
In the commercial sphere, one major matter currently unfolding is Bankim Thanki KC acting for Ukraine in a $3 billion Eurobond claim brought by the Russian Federation – Russia’s invasion and whether it’s justiciable by the English courts is a key issue in this case. In another case, Rosalind Phelps KC defended J.P. Morgan against an $870 million claim brought by the Federal Government of Nigeria in relation to an allegedly corrupt oil deal back in 2011.
The Application Process
Application to Fountain Court starts with a mini-pupillage. To get a place, there’s an interview first. This interview “is to ease you in, see your personality, and see how you’re enjoying the Bar course. There’s maybe a debate question, but you’re not given a problem question.” Mainly it covers “why you want to be a barrister – you don’t want to filter too many people at that stage.”
An interview, after all, isn’t exactly a natural setting, so members can get a more rounded picture of candidates in the more practical setting of the two-day mini-pupillage. “We get to see how mini-pupils behave,” says Paul Gott KC, deputy head of pupillage at Fountain Court. Of course, this also gives candidates the opportunity to get their bearings on the chambers and sample the culture and the work. On day one, “you sit with one or two members, and they show you the practice and you see some court work,” an insider recalled. “If you’re not in court, you then have lunch with a few people.” On the second day, candidates do a written assessment. While the assessment does test legal reasoning, it’s more of an analysis of candidates’ process of thinking – “we always state that any citation of legal authority is not accepted,” Gott underlines, “so it’s all about what you think, not what you know.”
After this, you can apply for pupillage through the Pupillage Gateway, and those who make it through this round will face a panel of seven for a final interview. This is made up of a problem question followed by a more informal conversation. In the former part, “you will be pushed no matter what you say – they want to see how you cope under pressure.” It isn’t that there’s a right or wrong answer – the set is interested in seeing a candidate’s approach to problem-solving, and wants to get a sense of how they think
Think you can handle it? “We’ll take our talent from wherever we can find it,” says Gott, but it’s worth noting that “most people have a glittering array of qualifications.” And while “it’s not always law, and not always Oxbridge,” outstanding academics are a dead cert. This pupil added that “they recognise talent in all its shapes or forms, so I wouldn’t worry about feeling out of place.” Experience is also valued, as “we have quite a few ex-solicitors.”
The Pupillage Experience
Beginning in October, pupils sit in four three-month seats with three supervisors – the first supervisor also oversees the final seat to get an idea of how the pupil has developed. “It’s not unusual for pupils to stumble a little to begin with,” Gott tells us, so thankfully for new arrivals there’s a two-month grace period to get pupils used to the way of working before any real assessments kick in. In addition, Fountain also organise periodic review meetings, to ensure pupils are keeping up with their work and progressing adequately.
Pupils are generally given between 20 and 25 pieces of live work over the pupillage. Pupils get their work from the most junior to the most senior members, so “you get to meet a scattergun of people, which is great. You get to see everything – the whole gamut of commercial work.” Interviewees reeled off an assortment of examples from injunctions to regulatory work, pointing to clients ranging from big banks to insurers to sovereign states. Sounds hefty. Mercifully, “supervisors are good at gatekeeping, and making sure the work is appropriate for a pupil,” one praised. “There’s no point in making someone do the most complicated thing only suitable for a silk!” There’s no advocacy during pupillage due to the high-value nature of the work, but that comes early on after tenancy, with a smattering of County Court hearings to demonstrate your skills.
While gaining pupillage is an achievement in itself, it isn’t the end of the road. The set is just as quick to keep pupils informed that they are doing well, as it is to let them know if things are not going quite so well. A formal appraisal system, made up of reports from supervisors on pupils’ assessments, marks pupils up against the expected criteria, and the final tenancy decision is made by the pupillage committee, which is made up mostly of junior members along with a few silks. “We want everybody to succeed,” says Gott. At £75,000, Fountain Court offers one of the highest pupillage awards in the City.
“There’s a real culture of celebrating each other’s achievements.”
As a junior tenant, “you no longer have a supervisor acting as a gatekeeper,” so, “it’s something you have to start learning to do yourself.” Getting to grips with what you’re comfortable with is key for juniors, but the set also has an understanding clerks’ room, which juniors found “very helpful.” New tenants also have a mentoring scheme which helps to guide juniors on how to manage a practice, and take on new work.
Overall, “there’s a real culture of celebrating each other’s achievements,” one member told us, reflecting on a dinner celebrating Andrew Burrows KC’s elevation to the Supreme Court. Chambers teas, lunches, and formal dinners “draw in everyone from high and mighty silks to junior tenants,” they continued. Members’ families are also invited to some social gatherings, such as the summer party, so “there’s an emphasis on bringing your whole self to work.”
That includes the silks. “Paul Gott KC will at some stage invite you into his office filled with lots of memorabilia,” insiders revealed. Gott himself tells us there’s “quite a lot of eccentricity” among the members, “but that arises with clever people – they’re not boring. Well, most of them aren’t!” he jokes.
All-singing, all-dancing: Among Fountain Court’s many interesting members is 1994 Grammy award nominee Robin Barclay KC!
Fountain Court Chambers
Chambers & Partners describe members at Fountain Court as “a really superb bunch of barristers”, whilst The Legal 500 comments that the set has “done a huge amount in recent years to promote and recruit women [which has made it] one of the most gender-diverse sets at the commercial bar.”
There are two deadlines to apply for a mini pupillage during the year, over the summer and Christmas periods. Application deadlines and the form to apply can be found on the Fountain Court website:
Pupillage is divided into four seats of three months’ duration and pupils are not assessed during the first two months to allow them time to settle in. The first and last three months are spent with the same pupil supervisor, who has overall responsibility for the pupil’s training. All work undertaken during pupillage is relevant to the practice of a member of chambers and is live work. Pupils are encouraged to cooperate with each other, with a view to this supportive ethos being carried on through tenancy.
Applications for pupillage should be made through the Pupillage Gateway, a central clearing house for pupillage applications, which opens in early February each year. Full application details can be found on our website: www.fountaincourt.co.uk.
Why Fountain Court?
• Exposure to the most stimulating work
Pupils gain experience and work with members across all levels of seniority. Recent new tenants have even worked on Supreme Court cases with their supervisors.
• Working with the brightest advocates
Pupillage at Fountain Court is an opportunity to work with some of the brightest and most successful advocates in London.
• Pupils are not in competition with one another
We evaluate each pupil individually based on their own merit and all pupils who meet the relevant standard will be offered tenancy.
• An inclusive and supportive culture
We have a friendly, progressive and modern outlook. We want the best people to join us, regardless of background, race, gender or sexual orientation.
• First rate staffing support
As a leading set, we believe in providing the best service and our leading clerks and administrative team match the quality of our barristers.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Aviation (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Financial Crime (Band 4)
- Financial Services (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 3)
- Product Liability (Band 3)
- Professional Discipline (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 1)