A friendly chambers with a leading product liability practice and one of the best secondments we've ever heard of.
Where the heart is
The legal world can be an intimidating place and the decor doesn't help: law firms with their aggressive minimalism and barristers' chambers with their ancient wood panelling and portraits of law's most formidable figures. Walking into Henderson Chambers you get none of that – following a recent refurbishment, the set has created a homely and welcoming workspace. “We now have a flexible ground-floor conference suite with state of the art technology and a stylish, warm ambience,” says administration manager Helen Ghalem. A pupil added: “It definitely feels like my home away from home.”
Things may be homely, but let that not distract us from the serious business that goes on here. Chief clerk John White breaks it down for us: “Our expertise can be summarised as product liability, commercial, health and safety, and finance and consumer law. Underneath those you have our property, environmental, employment and local authority work. And all of it is linked by the backbone that our work is mostly insurance-related and mostly defendant.” It's that backbone which has earned Henderson the accolade of being the only set with a top Chambers UK ranking for product liability, and one of two with a top health and safety ranking. The set also receives praise for its consumer law, environment, IT and public procurement practices.
“It definitely feels like my home away from home.”
Henderson's areas of expertise tend to overlap, often on high-profile interesting matters. For example, 23 members (eight silks and fifteen juniors) are instructed in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Andrew Kinnier QC is counsel to the inquiry while other members are acting for a number of core participants on product liability, health and safety and regulatory matters. In addition four members recently defended GlaxoSmithKline in a product liability group action alleging that the antidepressant drug Serotax is defective. And one silk recently worked on health and safety prosecutions related to a child falling off a balcony in a Westfield shopping centre, and a man who was electrocuted while repairing a stable block.
John White was also keen to stress Henderson's international credentials: “On some of our bigger cases we have teams flying out to countries such as Ivory Coast, Colombia, Nigeria and Zambia to conduct site visits.” For example, two silks defended Vedanta Resources in the Court of Appeal against a group action claiming its Zambian copper mine caused severe water and environmental damage. And another Henderson duo defended BP in a five-month trial in the Technology and Construction Court against a claim brought by Colombian farmers that an oil pipeline had caused nuisance and environmental damage to their farms and waterways.
Pupils get to reap the benefits of Henderson's international links too in the form of a one-month secondment to Caribbean law firm Griffiths & Partners in the Turks and Caicos Islands. “It's incredible,” pupils agreed. “The accommodation comes with a swimming pool and is a five-minute walk from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.” Sounds dreamy, “but it's not technically a holiday,” one pupil reminded us. “You get to do a real mix of work. I advised on an appeal in a rape case which I never would have done here; I also got to visit a prison, and I did all sorts of property and contractual disputes.”
May the force be with you
However, before you get too carried away daydreaming about the Caribbean, you'll have to secure a pupillage in the first place. Two members sift through all the applications until they are left with around 30 candidates. Academic excellence is a must (we note the current junior tenant ranks are pretty Oxbridgy). But what else is needed? “To be honest people sometimes have too much of the wrong experience and go overboard with mini-pupillages,” notes head of pupillage Adam Heppinstall. “Of course you have to show an interest in the Bar but something like running your own online business or other non-law experience is really valuable too.” Heppinstall puts this down to the importance of being “work ready” – that is to say, “if you're not going to be able to meet and win the confidence of, say, a housing officer in a County Court waiting room, it's not going to work.”
The first interview is in front of a panel of five and lasts 15 minutes. “I had around five minutes of discussing my CV,” a pupil recalled, “followed by some questioning around a recent legal topic. Mine concerned whether Mr Justice Peter Smith should have been fired for abusing his position.” The second round revolves around a more technical legal question – e.g. celebrity super-injunctions – and lasts around 25 minutes.
“Researching the prospect for recovering an insurance policy.”
Four three-month stints make up the pupillage year. Each rotation is with a different supervisor and together they expose newbies to the majority of the set's practices. It's not completely compartmentalised, however, and one pupil noted: “I have done lots of personal injury and healthcare work throughout my whole pupillage.” Junior Rachel Tandy recently defended Medway Council against a six-figure slip and trip claim, while head of chambers Charles Gibson QC worked on a health and safety prosecution related to the injuries suffered by Harrison Ford while filming Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
All pupils' work is live. Writing advices and research notes are staple activities. One pupil was tasked with “researching the prospect for recovering an insurance policy on a double-insurance matter.” Another detailed “producing a research note on particulars of claim in a property case.” Pupils are also able to refine their writing skills drafting defence counter-schedules and skeleton arguments, but noted that “those don't come up as much.” Pupils also begin taking on their own cases during the second six, typically appearing in court a few times a week on low-level things like landlord tenant disputes and possession hearings.
Pupils are marked out of five for each piece of work they do, with three and above the expected score. Pupils also do “a minimum of two advocacy assessments,” Heppinstall tells us, “which increase in difficulty.” At the time of our interviews the set's current pupils had completed two assessments and were awaiting a third. “The first one is in front of junior members of chambers and then you work your way up to advocate in front of a judge,” one source explained. “My first assessment was a contract dispute and the second an application for relief from sanctions.” Heppinstall adds: “We certainly don't make them do it like some form of Roman gladiator contest in front of the whole of chambers – that's hardly a test of skill!” The set has no formal written assessments, though all work completed throughout the pupillage is considered in a dossier of reports, supplemented by feedback from supervisors. In 2019 the set granted tenancy to one of two third-sixers.
“People trying to get everyone to go to their concerts.”
Being a set of just 50 tenants makes Henderson quite an intimate working environment. “I don't find there to be much of a hierarchy,” one source observed. “There are plenty of senior people whom I feel comfortable having a chat with around the office. I am very close to my supervisor and regularly go round their house for dinner. And every time I've been in court, people have made themselves available to bounce ideas off.” A pupil went on: “We hang out a lot as a set of chambers. Every week there there will be something going on after work and it's not just a couple of people attending. Last week we all went to a lecture by Lord Sumption.”
In past years we've noted the large number of Henderson members with musical ability – Charles Gibson plays the electric drums, Prashant Popat DJs and James Purnell tinkles the ivories. “Last year's newsletter was filled with people trying to get everyone to go to their concerts,” one source joked. We discovered on our 2018 visit that the set now has yet ANOTHER pupil who's gifted in the musical arts. So we had to put this to Adam Heppinstall – what's going on? “I assure it's by coincidence rather than by design,” he pleaded. We'll get to the bottom of it one day!
Head of pupillage Adam Heppinstall warns not to go overboard and rack up 12 mini-pupillages: “Four to five is plenty!”
2 Harcourt Buildings (Ground Floor),
- No of silks 13
- No of juniors 35
- No of pupils 2
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to 2 12 month pupillages offered
- Remuneration Up to £70,000 for 12 months (£70,000 award, plus additional earnings)
- Tenancies Six in the last three years
Type of work undertaken
Over the last few decades Chambers has been involved in many of the major commercial and landmark International Group Actions.
In addition, members are noted for their expertise and experience in areas including: banking and finance, consumer credit, 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 Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the VW Emissions Litigation and the Post Office Group Action.
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Consumer Law (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Health & Safety (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Product Liability (Band 1)