When a doctor, an accountant or even a fellow lawyer gets sued for negligence, they could do worse than to hail Hailsham.
In an ideal world everybody would be perfect at their jobs, nothing would ever go wrong and nobody would need to sue a professional for negligence. It’s good news for Hailsham that we’ll probably never reach this utopia: 40% of the chambers’ practice consists of medical-related clinical negligence and another 40% is professional indemnity of various types. The set earns strong Chambers UK rankings for these two main practice areas. Quite a high proportion of Hailsham’s members dabble in both professional and clinical negligence but a handful do specialise in just one. These are demanding areas so, as a recent pupil put it, “a sincere interest and enthusiasm for negligence law is really appreciated.”
On the medical side of things, “all the big claimant firms” like Irwin Mitchell and Leigh Day call on chambers’ expertise, as do defendant organisations including NHS Resolution and the Medical Defence Union. Andrew Post QC recently defended King’s College Hospital against a wrongful birth claim which totalled £7.5 million. The claim centred on the hospital’s failure to identify that the child’s gender was ambiguous. The parents argued that had they been aware of this information, they would have terminated the pregnancy.
Much of the professional indemnity practice involves representing unlucky lawyers who are themselves being sued by another party. Nicola Rushton QC recently acted for the law firm Stitt and Co as it was sued for the alleged negligence of its conveyancing solicitors by property developer St Paul’s Mews. The developer’s £1–2 million claim was that these lawyers’ poor work meant houses could not be built on land it had purchased. Members also work for accountants, financial advisers and actuaries, and cases can be far-reaching: William Flenley QC was involved in a Court of Appeal case surrounding a €100 million fraud targeting oil billionaire Edward Heerema which touched on the issue of dishonest assistance by solicitors or accountants.
“Sincere interest and enthusiasm for negligence law is really appreciated.”
You might be wondering about that unaccounted-for 20% of chambers’ practice. Most of it’s made up of costs litigation (which focuses on lawyers’ fees and other costs of a court case), topped up with some regulatory and disciplinary work. Again, Chambers UK ranks the firm in these areas. “There’s been a real boom in costs work recently – it’s become such an important part of how litigation is run,” according to senior clerk Stephen Smith. So, Smith says, more and more “a big commercial case will come to the costs stage and then they’ll bring in the big guns – us.” The client base for this area tends to be more random.The UK Foreign Office recently instructed Alexander Hutton QC as costs counsel in a suit brought by 40,000 Kenyans claiming alleged torture and unlawful detention during the Mau Mau Uprising.
Smith was keen to highlight that a handful of barristers migrated over from various other sets in 2018: “Our main focus is having a strong core of barristers who enjoy a work/life balance and can perform at their best, because quality work is so important. We’ve seen healthy organic growth and we’d like that to continue – in theory we’d like to keep both of our pupils on each year.”
The Pupillage Experience
The first six of pupillage splits into two three-month seats with different supervisors: one in clinical negligence, the other in professional negligence. Pupils will end up seeing a bit of everything chambers does, as their third, six-month-long seat is targeted to cover any blind spots in their learning. Supervisors get “a fair amount of freedom but they know what pupils need to cover and we emphasise that their training is the priority,” head of pupillage Nicola Rushton tells us. Beside their supervisors, pupils complete work for at least ten other members over the course of pupillage; a source found “working for members of varying seniority on cases with different levels of complexity was very useful and interesting.”
Pupils get started by shadowing everything their supervisor does, whether that’s going to court or drafting and comparing notes. Whether the work is dead or from a live case, “supervisors always give immediate feedback” and write up a full appraisal at the end of the seat. “From my first week I was doing lots of drafting, that came to be really beneficial later in pupillage,” an insider recalled. Don’t worry if you’ve got all the medical knowledge of The Simpsons’ Dr Nick – expert reports are always on hand in clinical negligence cases “to help you understand all the different terms.”
“From my first week I was doing lots of drafting.”
The second six involves “striking a balance between taking on your own cases and making sure you’re still impressing your supervisor in the work you do for them.” Pupils can expect to be in court regularly by this point – one said: “It happened at the right time. Members from all levels offer to help with anything you need advice on.” They typically start small on matters like road traffic accident liability hearings and credit hire cases. “Hailsham runs a very open clerks’ room. The most senior clerks work with everybody on their cases including the most junior barristers and pupils,” Stephen Smith says.
“The nature of the beast is that everything you do is assessed to one degree or another,” one former pupil explained. There are two or three formal advocacy exercises to complete before the tenancy decision. These normally take the form of an application and a witness-handling exercise, plus a third task if a pupil needs more practice at something. “If everything’s gone to plan by this point they’re unlikely to be much trouble,” a source assured us. “You learn a lot by osmosis just from sitting in the same room as your supervisor.”
Each supervisor’s appraisal is given “great weight” during the tenancy decision process. The formal exercises are also considered, “not so much in terms of marks, but the comments that came out of them.” A chambers vote is usually unnecessary as “it’s clear if a pupil is ready” – both of Hailsham’s two pupils gained tenancy in 2020.
The Application Process
Hailsham’s recruitment calendar begins with an open evening in January. “Every chambers describes themselves as friendly,” Nicola Rushton points out. “The open evening should demonstrate that we really are!” Of the 25 attendees in 2019, 22 went on to submit a pupillage application. Hailsham uses the Pupillage Gateway but asks applicants an additional question related to clinical or professional negligence, designed so that applicants at any stage of study will be on an even footing. “Including that question is a good way of filtering out applicants that aren’t interested in our specialisms,” Rushton explains.
The next stage is a single-round interview. “Questions aren’t designed to test your point of view on a subject, but on how well you structure your answer and your persuasiveness,” a source who’d aced their interview told us. “The atmosphere is very much one of getting 100% out of you.” According to Rushton “one of the marking categories is judgement, which is tested through an ethical scenario. Emotional intelligence is very valuable in negligence work.” She also advises that “it’s a relatively document-heavy area so information processing is key.”
“We’re looking for pupils with the potential to build their practice here.”
“Our assessment process is geared towards finding the best candidates regardless of their background or any existing connections to the Bar,” Rushton goes on. “We’re looking for pupils with the potential to become members and build their practice here.” Only two of Hailsham’s seven most junior members did an undergrad degree at Oxbridge. Senior clerk Stephen Smith weighs in: “The main thing we hear from clients all the time is that they just want to work with a human being whom they can feel comfortable talking to about topics that aren’t law.”
And are Hailsham’s humans… human? “There’s no dog-eat-dog atmosphere here at all,” according to one insider. “The barristers and clerks are a friendly bunch and strike a good balance between approachability and pushing you to develop your practice when you need it.” Chambers tea “will sometimes take place if somebody’s got a lot of cake to eat through” on their birthday or another occasion. “If you’re looking to go for drinks every Friday night this might not be the place for you,” but juniors get together for dinner once a month or so and there are some social events within chambers too.
You got a friend in me
Throughout their learning, pupils get assigned a recent tenant to act as a junior mentor who can “answer any really stupid questions you might have.”
4 Paper Buildings (Ground Floor),
- No of silks 8
- No of juniors 47
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Clare Elliott Tel: 020 7643 5000
- Email: [email protected] com
- Method of application Pupilage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) 2
- Tenancies offered 100%