A few blocks from Temple and the chambers of old, commercial-minded Hardwicke is proof the Bar can keep up with the times.
Go Hard or go home
Modern, functional, diverse… not the first words you might associate with the Bar, but the folks at Hardwicke are hoping to change that. Tucked to one side of New Square you’ll find a chambers that covers commercial dispute resolution, construction, insolvency, insurance, personal injury and clinical negligence, private client, professional liability, property… and probably some kind of kitchen sink law. Receiving instructions from the likes of Baker McKenzie, Pinsent Masons, Eversheds and other firms of that stature, Hardwicke has “carefully refined its areas of practice so as to establish its profile as a leading commercial set" with expertise in the areas we listed, according to CEO Amanda Illing. “Our structure and outlook are modern, which manifests itself in an open and friendly culture – if there’s one thing that we’re known for, it’s our co-operative and friendly culture.”
Chambers UK points out that the set is well-known for property damage, commercial dispute resolution, construction, professional negligence, real estate litigation and social housing. Illing recalls that “in 2012 we had 84 barristers here, and in 2019 the number was the same; what’s different is our ranks have diversified and income has doubled in that seven years. Having cracked our 2020 vision a year early, we’ve just launched our 2030 plan.” How much will things change? “There’s the possibility to grow to a hundred barristers if we choose, but that isn’t necessary to our growth.” Looking around Illing’s office – decorated with fluorescent lighting and LGBTQ pride flags – and the plush modern rooms at Hardwicke Chambers, it’s easy to see a contrast with the stuffiness that lingers in other areas of the Bar.
“…the diverse makeup of chambers as well as the diversity of work on offer.”
Hardwicke pupils were impressed by “the diverse makeup of chambers as well as the diversity of work on offer.” Property damage involves cases rooted in the Middle East and Asia as well as closer to home; Paul Reed QC recently worked on a £20 million claim after the foundations of Accolade’s wine factory in Bristol failed. Fellow Hardwicke member Catherine Piercy represented a piling contractor accused by United Utilities of pouring concrete into one of its sewers, despite them not having worked on the site for eight years prior to the discovery.
Over in construction you’ll also find disputes, construction insurance, insolvency, energy, renewables and professional liability. Nigel Jones QC acted on a £45 million loss and expense acceleration claim in a dispute over responsibility for delays to work on the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline. Members also handle personal injury cases ranging from brain and career-ending limb injuries to spinal fractures and fatalities. Charles Bagot QC and Jasmine Murphy defended airline Lufthansa in a £7 million claim brought by a former male model who alleged loss of earnings due to an exacerbated squint.
Work Hard, play harder
Hardwicke pupils do three four-month seats, each with a different supervisor and two ‘wingers’. They’re not there to help pupils get dates – the pupillage committee explains that wingers “make sure we get enough feedback about the pupil’s performance; they tend to be slightly more junior than the supervisors.” Pupil sources explained that in each seat “you’ll be expected to do three pieces of work for each winger as well as what your supervisor sets you.” Committee member Michael Wheater emphasises that the set “provides pupils with a pupillage that aligns with their interests. We won’t force them into anything – if someone wants to do hardcore commercial litigation throughout, for example, we can certainly do it though we wouldn’t recommend it.” Particulars, skeletons and advices are common tasks: “It’s a paper-based practice here and the balance doesn’t change over the seats aside from taking on your own work during the second six.”
Early cases for pupils to run with include “anything from gas injunctions and small claims to fast track trials, insolvency and commercial hearings.” Wheater confirms that pupils receive formal advocacy training to prep them for getting on their feet, “whichalso helps pupils deal with esoteric matters like infant settlements in personal injury, for example.” The set also runs training on court admin – something that’s rarely covered during pupillage. One pupil praised past junior members who’d collated crib sheets to aid pupils with formulaic applications.
“They want to see that you can be the person who can jump between two different topics simultaneously.”
Supervisors complete a pupil feedback form at the end of each seat. Rather than handing out school-style report cards, Hardwicke favours “holistic feedback which answers the question, ‘is this pupil ready to be a tenant here?’ There is scoring but we’re more concerned with qualitative feedback than the numbers.” Junior pupillage committee member Katrina Mather describes a ‘family support system’ at chambers: “We’re all gunning for the pupils and don’t want to give a negative decision. It may sound cheesy, but we have the view that if we aren’t offering tenancy then it’s likely we’ve done something wrong.” Pupils also complete self-assessments to track their own progress through pupillage.
The pupillage committee assigns a member to each pupil; they’ll collect all their feedback over the course of the year, before a tenancy decision around July. “We don’t have a system where we’ll only take you on if there’s a ‘vacancy’,” Mather explains, which helps reduce competition between pupils. “If you’re good enough, you’re good enough – we’ve got more than enough junior work to go around.” Our pupil interviewees reflected on the diversity of pupillage: “It’s intellectually challenging to move between so many different areas of practice but that’s reflective of the assessment process at Hardwicke; they want to see that you can be the person who can jump between two different topics simultaneously and represent Hardwicke in each.”Both of the set's two pupils achieved tenancy in 2019.
Apply Hardwicke a vengeance
Hardwicke’s application process begins at the Pupillage Gateway. Three members blind-mark applications; the best 40 or 50 candidates earn spots in the first interview round. “For the first round we try and get a broader membership involved in the interviewing,” insiders revealed. “There will always be a baby junior as they have the most recent experience of the whole process.” Current pupils appreciated the relaxed atmosphere during interviews, recalling that “there was a great sense of humour in the room. We were treated courteously and of course the questions were probing and pressing but the process didn’t have that hard-edged, slightly aggressive approach taken at some sets.” The goal of the first round is to assess candidates’ thought process, rather than any legal knowledge. “It sounds ridiculous, but in the 15 to 20 minutes we were given problem questions and had to cross examine on the basis of a nursery rhyme – ‘why did the wolf kick the house down?’,” one chuckling source recalled.
“You’re on a charm offensive for at least nine months so just be breezily cheerful.”
Up to 12 of the candidates who fare best against the big bad wolf progress to a 30-to-45 minute second round interview. “This time there’s a panel of five members from the pupillage committee,” sitting in, “ranging in seniority but undertaking the same analysis of how the candidate interacts with people, their communication skills and their thought process.” Interviewees receive case study questions a couple of days before coming in for interview; they complete a written piece to talk through and receive “a friendly grilling from the panel. We want them to stand up to the challenge and be persuasive, don’t just fold your arms and agree with us,” Katrina Mather stressed. “Our day job is about that back and forth.” Quirky questions help to reveal candidates’ personalities; we heard of “one who answered in Mandarin and another in Japanese.”
Pupils confirmed that “the positivity and open-door policy they talk about in marketing has proven true during pupillage.” Monthly lunches, wine and cheese evenings and ski trips help pupils get to know members – pupil sources said “there will always be a social and political element to the pupillage. No matter how friendly the set is, you’re on a charm offensive for at least nine months so just be breezily cheerful.”
Hardwicke invites all its final round interview candidates for ping-pong and drinks, to interact “outside the horrible confines of an interview."
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 5)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence (Band 4)
- Property Damage (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Social Housing (Band 4)