Henderson Chambers pupillage review 2024
The British Post Office Scandal hit headlines for all the wrong reasons, when hundreds of former Post Office employees were wrongly accused and convicted of fraud due to discrepancies in the accounts – which were actually caused by glitching software. In this enormously complex group litigation, Patrick Green KC of Henderson Chambers represented around 550 claimants, leading to a ruling that sparked the quashing of dozens of convictions (a process which is still ongoing). In summer 2022, Henderson Chambers hosted an event to mark the outcome. “The event had been postponed due to Covid,” says chambers director Jason Housden, “so it was great to finally celebrate.”
Group actions is a growing area for the firm. Beyond its work against the PO, members acted on both sides of the jumbo Volkswagon emissions scandal, in which the car manufacturer allegedly cheated the testing process of its vehicle emissions – Oliver Campbell KC represented around 90,000 claimants and Prashant Popat KC defended VWV and other manufacturers involved in the scandal. Housden says the set’s growth in this area was “born out of our health & safety, product liability and consumer type work,” in which the set is Chambers-ranked. “Over the next few years, we will continue to see the set recognised as the number one group actions set,” outlines Housden. He adds that “whilst doing so, we will maintain our friendly culture – the core values of the set come to the surface during these high-stakes cases, everyone comes together and gets stuck in.”
“Henderson is homely.”
This chimed with what we heard from pupils and junior tenants. “Henderson is homely,” one alliterative source told us. “I look forward to coming into chambers every day.” The set’s 50-odd members are housed in the office right by the scenic Inner Temple Gardens: “The view of the garden is beautiful and the office itself is really spacious.”
But aside from its cosy dimensions and scenic views, pupils applied to Henderson for its impressive work. This set is best known for its product liability and health & safety expertise, but commercial work forms another big chunk of the practice, spanning regulatory, European law, public law and procurement issues. There are also environment, property and employment matters on the go. It's no surprise that Henderson has a Chambers UK Barranking or six to its name, including top marks in health & safety and product liability, as well as strength in consumer law, environment, IT and inquests & public inquires.
The Pupillage Experience
During pupillage, pupils sit with a new supervisor every three months, amounting to four in total. Throughout their time, pupils will sample most of the set’s practices and work for as many as 15 members of chambers outside of their direct supervisors. A tenant who had just gone through pupillage explained: “All of the work I took on was live work – for the first six months I mostly shadowed my supervisor and helped them on everything they were working on.”
In their first seat pupils go wherever their supervisor takes them. Our interviewees were kept busy with quick email advice, PPI contracts, and preparing for conferences and pleadings. Pupils do get to attend court in their first seat under the protection of their supervisor, a source stated: “I went to Birmingham to watch chambers in a four-day conspiracy case – it was great to witness the cross-examination!”
During their second seat, approximately 50% of newbies' work comes from their supervisor with the other half coming from members of chambers. At this stage of their pupillage, sources took notes during conferences and drafted skeleton arguments with their supervisor's guidance. “We get to see the process of group litigation at various stages,” said a pupil. Our interviewee also mentioned that “we are dealing with the high-end construction products in relation to Grenfell Tower” – Geraint Webb KC is leading counsel for insulation manufacturer Kingspan.
“I’m in court around four times a week at the moment.”
And then it’s into the second six. “Pupils grow their wings after the first six,” sources said. “They’ll start going to court and taking on real advocacy work.” In their third seat, pupils start to work with more members. Sources found themselves getting stuck into quick research tasks and “there are lots of opportunities to do advocacy in court,” shared a pupil. “Once, I had four hearings in one day! I’m in court around four times a week at the moment.” Outside the courtroom, a pupil highlighted “working on last-minute research to answer questions in relation to a fraud case in the Isle of Man. We didn’t have much time to respond to their arguments, so it was quite exciting!”
As the end nears, “supervision starts to tail off towards the end of the pupillage,” but it’s certainly still present. “I still get help from more junior members of chambers. Henderson has a good culture of everyone helping each other.” Newbies go through the appraisal process every six weeks. “The appraisals are a way for pupils to receive active feedback,” says Adam Heppinstall KC, head of the pupillage committee. “They’ll also work out some targets with their supervisor.”
Pupils face oral advocacy assessments at the end of each seat – “the pressure increases each time!” The very first assessment takes place before a junior, then KC and, lastly, a former member of chambers who now acts as a judge. Pupils get constructive feedback after each go, which, combined with feedback from their appraisals, goes towards the tenancy decision.
When applying for tenancy, applicants compile all their work, assessments and feedback into a PDF report to submit to the tenancy committee. The tenancy decision is made in early July by the pupillage committee. “I felt pretty confident,” a junior tenant recalled. “I’d been at the set for a while by then and had done the best as I could. Not every piece of work you do is going to be fantastic, but I knew that I had done well overall and if I hadn’t, it would’ve been communicated to me prior.” The set didn't disclose retention figures for 2023, but in 2022, the set's sole pupil gained tenancy.
Most days, pupils will be in chambers from 9.30am to 6pm with the occasional late finish. Tenants and pupils alike described the culture as “down to earth” and “team-orientated. Everyone's just super helpful; if I’m stuck there’s always someone I can go to for advice.” As one happy camper summarised: “Henderson is always bubbling with members of chambers. We often collaborate on cases together and get together outside of work too.” The social scene at Henderson is still feeling the effects of the pandemic, but pupils can get together for Thursday drinks, the summer garden party and lunches every now and then.
The Application Process
Hopeful pupils need to head to Henderson’s pupil portal to complete their application form. “We use the sift as a way to filter through applications using an objective standard,” Heppinstall explains. “Once they make their applications through the portal, the link will take them to a website provided by Rare where they’ll be asked a range of socioeconomic questions. For example, if their academic performance was particularly high compared to the average grade at their school, they’ll get additional marks. This is done to ensure socioeconomic diversity.”
Two members of chambers sift through the applications. “One of the big changes we have made was to actually shift away from an obsession with the academic side of things,” notes Heppinstall. “We’ve put more emphasis on capabilities that a barrister needs, like good advocacy skills and clarity. Does the candidate show the beginnings of good advocacy skills? Do we understand what they are saying? Are they a self-starter? This is a fairer way of finding out who will be a good barrister.” Applicants will need a 2:1 minimum.
Which then brings Henderson down to a list of 30 applicants who will be invited to an initial interview lasting around 30 minutes. A select few members of chambers and a senior chair attend this first round, in which candidates will answer topical legal questions as well as questions around competencies that make a good barrister, like advocacy, drive, resilience and independence. “One is usually about how they work as a team,” adds Heppinstall, “and another one on how they work under pressure.”
“It’s quite a straightforward and fair process.”
Around 12 to 15 candidates will then go through the final-stage interview where they’ll face around five questions over half an hour. “The final stage involves more substantive questions, involving set advocacy testing, legal developments, class actions liability work and one around a stressful situation,” reveals Heppinstall. One of our junior interviewees said the set tries to take a more relaxed approach to interviewing: “It’s quite a straightforward and fair process. Everyone was friendly and I think chambers made it as enjoyable and clear as possible.”
Heppinstall has some final words of advice for potential applicants: “I encourage candidates to build on the qualities a good barrister has. Can you work well under pressure? Are you personable? It’s also a good idea to take on mooting work and mini-pupillages to show your commitment to the Bar.”
Happy Henderson: Pupils spend four weeks in the Turks and Caicos Islands on secondment. “We try not to make it sound like a four-week Caribbean holiday,” jokes Heppinstall, “They do have to do some work!”
2 Harcourt Buildings (Ground Floor),
Type of work undertaken
Henderson Chambers has unrivalled expertise in product liability (which covers a wide range of commercial work including sale of goods and insurance disputes, multi-party pharmaceutical and medical device claims and regulatory and enforcement proceedings) and is consistently rated as the leading set in this area. Chambers is also widely recognised for the excellence of its health and safety, and environmental work.
Much of our work has an international dimension to it and over the last decade, Chambers has been involved in many of the major commercial and landmark International Group Actions. We are ranked in the top tier by both Chambers and Partners and Legal 500 and are the holders of awards in many of our practice areas.
In addition, members are noted for their expertise and experience in areas including: banking and finance, consumer credit, inquests and inquiries, employment law, regulatory and disciplinary proceedings, public law and judicial review, personal injury, property law, and technology and construction. Several members of Chambers are Treasury Counsel (Civil). Many of them are currently engaged in the Covid and Grenfell Tower Inquiries , the Diesel Emissions Litigation and in the recently concluded Post Office Group Action.
Chambers looks for individuals who can demonstrate a first-class intellect whether via the traditional route of an outstanding higher education record or via proof of success in other professions, in business or in employment. It is a friendly and sociable set which works hard, both at servicing the needs of clients, as well as engendering a nurturing and supportive professional environment. Chambers is looking for potential tenants who can help it meet those twin objectives.
Pupillages are for 12 months, usually with four different pupil supervisors for three months each. Pupils have the opportunity to spend four weeks at Griffiths & Partners in the Turks and Caicos Islands in order to experience practice in another jurisdiction at first hand. Pupils will attend court regularly (on their own cases) during their second six months.
We offer up to 15 bursaries every year of £200 each to candidates who are likely to have difficulty meeting the costs of attending a mini-pupillage with us.
Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing
Equality and Diversity
Henderson Chambers is committed to Equality and Diversity. We regard it as essential to our standing as a leading set of chambers that we should seek to excel in this. We have two equal opportunities officers both of whom are Members of Chambers.
We recognise the obligation not to discriminate against clients, members, pupils or staff on grounds of gender, gender re-assignment, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), sexual orientation, age, disability, marriage and civil partnership and religion or belief is a fundamental and legal obligation imposed on us by legislation and the Bar Code of Conduct.
So as to comply with both Data Protection legislation and the recommendations of the Bar Standards Board members of Chambers, publication of data is made in accordance with the requirements of Part 2, paragraph D.1.2 r.C110.3.s of the Bar Standards Board Handbook.
Friendship and mutual support are at the heart of Henderson Chambers’ ethos. Members value above all the camaraderie that has existed for many years. It is with these factors in mind that Chambers has developed several formal and informal policies and schemes with the specific aim of supporting staff, pupils and members through any difficulties that they may face in their professional life. In recent years, Chambers has focussed on what it can do to preserve and enhance the supportive environment which is so valued. This has led to many discussions about the importance of wellbeing and to the formal polices, practices and schemes that are currently in place.
Henderson Chambers are delighted to have been one of the first chambers to be awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Bar Council in November 2017, for the work of chambers to promote wellbeing across the Bar.
‘Henderson Chambers deserves recognition for its focus on pupil and new tenant wellbeing (including financial support and investing in mentoring) and its general approach to members’ wellbeing, including the provision of counselling and flexible work arrangements /return to work support. We particularly like its ethos – that members look out for each other’.
The Bar Council relaunched the programme in 2023 and Henderson Chambers is pleased to be awarded the new Wellbeing Certificate in recognition for outstanding work to improve wellbeing at the Bar.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Group Litigation (Band 1)
- Consumer Law (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Health & Safety (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Inquests & Public Inquiries (Band 3)
- Product Liability (Band 1)