Keep calm and Keating on: construction and commercial cases are all in a day’s work for members here.
“Someone once said that if you can build it, and if there’s a delay or defect to the project, we can deal with it,” senior clerk Will Shrubsall says of Keating Chambers. Construction law is one of the biggest cogs in the machine of its practice, but the set has a broader commercial practice: “The vast majority of our work arises out of construction, engineering and infrastructure projects around the world,” Shrubsall elaborates. “We do a vast amount of work related to energy, rail, hospitals, roads and schools.”
Chambers UK Bar acknowledges the set’s expertise with top rankings for construction; international construction and engineering arbitration; energy and natural resources; and public procurement. “Our public procurement team is relatively small, but we have top leading silks and a number of highly recognised juniors,” Shrubsall notes. “We’re looking to organically grow that area with pupils that come through.” Keating is also open to lateral growth, as was made clear when Charles Banner QC made the leap from Landmark Chambers, bringing with him a caseload including Heathrow’s third runway dispute. You’ll often see Keating’s name on cases linked to the capital’s transport: Sarah Hannaford QC recently led a team for train manufacturers Alstom in a dispute with London Underground over the procurement of a new fleet on the deep-tube lines.
“You have to be shrewd as well as intelligent in the commercial world. That’s what we’re looking for.”
In other areas of Keating’s practice, Adam Constable QC represented Keadby Generation as claimant in the High Court after a fire destroyed Yorkshire’s Ferrybridge power station and caused £70 million of losses. Fellow members Marcus Tavener QC and Tom Owen took roles on a £150 million professional negligence case surrounding a shopping centre development and the scope and nature of duties for surveyors, architects and other construction professionals. Many prospective pupils were drawn to the set’s commercial prowess, but head of pupillage Lucy Garrett QC pre-warns that “you have to be shrewd as well as intelligent in the commercial world. That’s what we’re looking for – not just academic knowledge of law but the necessary pragmatism to use it as a tool in the service of your client.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage at Keating consists of four seats of three months, each with a different supervisor. Lucy Garrett QC elaborates that “although we’re all members of a broad church, there are some members that focus more on different areas like procurement or oil and gas. We make sure pupils see the different aspects of practice.” Each pupil will sit with supervisors of various seniorities. The first seat acts as an introduction: Garrett explains that “the first three months are seen as a learning curve. We don’t let pupils do work for anyone else in chambers in their first three months, only their pupil supervisor. They should be allowed to make mistakes without it impacting their prospect of gaining tenancy.” Pupils tackle both live and historic work, most often drafting pleadings and opinions. A junior also recalled time spent on “skeleton arguments and advices, which were fairly short and discrete.”
“They should be allowed to make mistakes without it impacting their prospect of gaining tenancy.”
“You get more involved in the practice of your supervisor” from the second seat, while also starting work for other members of chambers. Pupils sorted through “pleadings, defences, particulars of claim, replies – lots of drafting!” By the third seat they’ll usually be on their feet and start taking on “little pieces of work in our own right.” A junior member recalled providing “advice over the phone on contractual points; helping a solicitor draft a defence; and working on a few hearings in County Court – small procedural applications or resisting summary judgment.” Our pupil sources also received “an introduction to adjudications, which are a big feature of construction law.”
The experience of getting up in front of a judge was “incredibly nerve-wracking at first,” but a leap of faith worth taking. “A lot of it is about being fearless, doing your best and being polite.” More recent pupils had a spot of bad luck in the timing of their second six: when Covid-19 hit, many hearings were cancelled or postponed. “Our clerks and supervisors have been trying to get us cases, but there’s just been fewer of them to go around,” pupils lamented. They’d be likely to handle “three or four hearings during the second six” in normal circumstances. “It picks up more after the tenancy decision,” which usually precedes pupils’ fourth seat.
“A lot of it is about being fearless, doing your best and being polite.”
Pupils also undertake three assessed advocacy exercises over the year – “the third exercise is more important than the first,” to account for progress over time. A silk judges each session, and they usually resemble “mock court hearings based on real cases.” Each pupil supervisor will provide a detailed report on their charges and assess them against the set’s criteria. “Every member a pupil works for will complete a standardised form that goes to the tenancy committee,” sources said. Keating’s committee will review all the documentation and produce a report on who should earn tenancy. Interviewees reckoned “reports from your supervisors carry the most weight, especially from your second and third seats.” Sources also emphasised that Keating is “looking for a trajectory of improvement to demonstrate you’re learning and continuing to improve while practising.” In 2020, all three pupils secured tenancy.
“A lot of people have their head down and work very hard, but they will also be friendly and social,” sources suggested. They were especially relieved to find that “barristers are very willing to field questions from junior members of chambers.” Pupils felt well supported, even during the 2020 lockdown: “The clerks have checked in on us repeatedly, telling us how they’ve been managing to get work and checking in on our wellbeing. They’re pretty attentive.” In more normal circumstances, “we normally go for drinks with members on a regular basis,” pupils said – it certainly helps that Keating Chambers is located across the road from multiple popular pubs. The set hosts Christmas and summer parties, and more active members can get their sweat on as part of chambers’ netball and football teams. If you’re more of a foodie, there’s a weekly chambers lunch which “all staff and barristers are invited to.”
The Application Process
Prospective applicants can find Keating on the Pupillage Gateway. The set marks initial applications anonymously to “eliminate opportunities for unconscious bias to creep in.” After this paper sift, around 50 applicants receive a “written case study, upon which they produce an opinion.” These will often be based on a real case, sometimes simplified to ensure the process isn’t too challenging. Lucy Garrett QC gives us more detail: “We provide the candidate with an extract from the relevant legal textbook that covers the principles they’re advising on. We’re not trying to test how well revised someone is like an exam – we’re trying to work out how good they are at applying the facts to the case.”
“We’ve seen all sorts of cool topics presented on, from teaching a chimpanzee to talk to motorbike cornering.”
Some 25 to 30 candidates who’ve shown promise progress to a first-round interview at Keating Chambers in front of a panel of around five pupillage committee members. Candidates will typically answer questions based on their CV and application form and complete an advocacy exercise. “In my interview the committee asked me whether it was defensible that there were only two women on the Supreme Court,” a current pupil reminisced. “I had to argue that it was, which was trickier!”
Between ten and 14 candidates earn places in a second-round interview in front of a similar-sized panel. This involves a five-minute presentation on a topic of the candidate’s choice: “We’ve seen all sorts of cool topics presented on over the years, from teaching a chimpanzee to talk to motorbike cornering,” Garrett reveals. That’s followed by a return to the candidate’s initial case study opinion: a successful applicant recalled that “the panel changed some facts from the case study and then asked whether it would change the advice I gave.” Candidates usually have to also answer 15 minutes of structured questions, often including ethical questions. The panel marks each candidate individually and the combined mark is expressed as a total percentage – to secure pupillage at Keating, candidates must score at least 85%. At first, the top three performers will receive an offer; Garrett adds that “if the fourth or fifth candidate gets more than 85%, they might receive a pupillage offer if one of the top three refuses.”
Build build build
Though construction is key at Keating, sources stressed "a preconceived interest in construction law is not at all essential."
15 Essex Street,
- No of silks 30
- No of juniors 33
- No of pupils Up to 3
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages pa Three 12-month pupillages available
- Tenancies 6 offered in last three years
Type of work undertaken
Chambers’ area of practice is dynamic and challenging. The relevant principles of law are constantly developing and the technical complexity of disputes requires thorough analytical skills.
Members of Keating Chambers regularly publish books, articles and journals. Keating on Construction Contracts, the leading textbook in its field, is written and researched by current members of Chambers, along with the Construction Law Reports. We also contribute to Halsbury’s Laws of England and Chitty on Contracts.
Comprehensive training in the core skills is required for practice in our field. To this end, pupils are encouraged to prepare drafts of pleadings, advices, letters and other documents that their supervisor or another member of chambers is instructed to prepare. Pupils are also asked to prepare skeleton arguments for hearings. They attend conferences with clients, both in and out of chambers and, of course, hearings in court, arbitration, adjudication and mediation.
Diversity, inclusion & wellbeing
We are committed to equality and diversity and welcome applications for pupillage from candidates from all backgrounds and all sectors of the community with the ability and determination to succeed as a barrister.
We aim to be at the forefront of gender diversity. We have a high percentage of females in Chambers across barristers and staff including a high proportion of female silks currently at 21%. We have recently signed up to the Pledge for more female arbitrator appointments. We have also arranged targeted events for female students over the past four years to give them exposure to the Commercial Bar with talks from female judges, members of Chambers and pupils on their careers.
We recognise the importance of the TECBAR BAME Network and its efforts enhance BAME inclusion, participation and progression at the Technology and Construction Bar. We have supported this by hosting CV workshops in Chambers to provide support and encouragement to BAME people considering a career at the Bar. We have also adopted a contextual recruitment system for our pupillage, mini-pupillages and senior staff which will improve our approach to secure people in Chambers from diverse backgrounds who might be disadvantaged by the traditional means of recruitment.
We continue to look for means of providing support outside of Chambers and are excited to sponsor London Pulse Corporate Netball Cup which will raise funds secure positions for talented athletes who otherwise would not be able to afford to be part of the London Pulse academy programme, as well as an extended education on matters including nutrition, performance lifestyle and the management of studies with training and wellbeing.