This commercial set offers the chance to specialise early, plus advocacy experience in the second six.
Build. A. Wall.
Keating Chambers dates back 150 years, but Keating as we know it today has been located on Essex Street for about 30 years. Construction is the keystone of Keating’s offering, and Chambers UK awards it a top ranking in this area and for professional negligence and international arbitration related to construction and engineering. The set's also ranked for energy and public procurement work, proving it's no one-trick pony. “I would describe us as a commercial set with specialisms in things like construction, energy, shipping and offshore construction,” senior clerk Will Shrubsall says. He adds: “Our practice has diversified but we will continue to specialise in our core areas.” Juniors at the set were quick to advise prospective pupils: “Don’t be put off by being pigeonholed. Keating has a variety of work on offer and having a specialism at an early stage can only be a good thing.”
“You have to be able to get on with people from a very practical but intelligent industry.”
Pupils were impressed by the sets’ established tenants: “You have people here who have worked on some of the best contract cases of all time.” John Marrin QC and Paul Buckingham, for example, acted for E.ON in a Supreme Court case over the construction of an offshore wind farm, in which the appellants were awarded €26.25 million. Marc Rowlands and Simon Taylor also acted successfully for long-standing client TfL in a dispute with Heathrow over access for Crossrail over the Heathrow Express infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Alexander Nissen QC appeared in the Court of Appeal for Grove Developments in a case worth £40 million related to a contractor’s rights to interim payments. When it comes to clients, head of pupillage Adam Constable QC told us: “You have to be able to get on with people from a very practical but intelligent industry. They want no-nonsense, straight advice and they like to have a beer with you afterwards.” Pupils agreed: “These people are technical experts but having to overlay the legal facts onto that can be difficult. You’re teaching them the building blocks of the law, but you also have to show you've worked through pages and pages of documents.”
BT phone home
Pupils are assigned a different supervisor for each three-month seat. Adam Constable QC tells us: “Usually the first supervisor is a middle-ranking junior with a lot of pleading work, because that’s usually pupils’ most ropey area.” In the second six, pupils “are often put with younger supervisors where they’ll see lower-level cases and smaller hearings.” In the third seat, pupils are encouraged to take on work from as many members of chambers as possible. “The expectation is that in your first seat you’ll learn as much as possible as quickly as you can,” pupils explained.
To start with a pupil's work consists largely of drafting skeleton arguments, advices and pleadings on 'dead' papers. These usually consist of “something that will come up again and again, like a defects claim.” A source expanded: “At first you’ll be doing quick notes on live claims, but after Christmas it really builds up: you get your own work and start getting out of chambers.” In their first week on their feet, pupils quickly learnt “to leave everything you've done at Bar School at the door. My initial mistakes were trying to cling rigidly to what I’d done before.”
“Heading out on the train for a case worth about £300 was when I first felt like a real barrister.”
The pupils we spoke with had spent time in the County Courts, mostly acting for long-standing client BT on small claims. “In my first case I rocked up and had to explain everything to someone with 20 years' experience,” one pupil regaled. “Somehow we won the case. The feeling of hearing my logic read back to me in court and winning was unreal.” Another junior reflected: “Heading out on the train for a case worth about £300 was when I first felt like a real barrister.”
Pupils are given feedback every three months based on collated information from their supervisors and other members they’ve worked for. There are also three “informally assessed” advocacy exercises throughout the year, the results of which are then given to the tenancy committee. Pupils described the exercises as “a good replica of practice.” Following the committee’s recommendation, members takes a vote that “usually follows the advice of the committee, but occasionally an impassioned advocate will overthrow the decision.” Pupils said: “You get an indication of how well you're doing, but nothing more than that.” A junior who'd recently successfully gained tenancy added: “You’re always going to worry that one small thing will throw it, but it seemed like a fair process.” Two of three pupils gained tenancy in 2019.
Recruiting kicks off with a paper sift done by three barristers, where 60 are selected using a scoring system. These people are then sent a legal problem on which they must write an opinion. The top 40 are invited to interview. “This method gives us a broader base of candidates to begin with, and so a slightly more diverse set of candidates comes to interview,” Adam Constable QC tells us. The first interview is around 15 minutes long, and the last five minutes of each one pits two applicants against each other in a short debate on a non-legal ethical or moral topic. “We find it adds to our ability to see what people are really like,” Constable notes (i.e. don't get angry or nasty).
The top 12 are then subjected to a final interview that's “more of a grilling, at the heart of which is a discussion in a mock conference to see how well applicants are able to deal with legal curveballs.” Another part of the final interview is a five-minute presentation on “an esoteric and interesting subject that can be anything they want.” A pupil noted: “Because you’re doing a written exercise, debating and showing your presentational skills, the interviewers get a much more rounded view of you. It’s a good way to get your personality across.”
“There are always several members going for lunch in Middle Temple Hall.”
Bricks and mortarboards
So what kind of person is Keating looking for? Adam Constable says the ideal candidate is “friendly and ready to roll their sleeves up.” Juniors added: “You should be self-aware, willing to buy into the team ethic and have an eye for detail.” Previous experience in construction is by no means a must according to pupils, who told us: “You just have to be honest and show that you have a genuine interest. Keating is good at understanding you’re not going to have prior industry knowledge.” Adam Constable adds: “You don’t need to spend time doing 15 mini-pupillages and months of mooting. The people that stand out are those who have outside interests that are fascinating and show a person is rounded.” Keating's junior members under ten years' call went to a mix of unis: Durham, Cambridge, Nottingham, Oxford and Warwick.
“We’re like a big extended family here,” Will Shrubsall asserted. Juniors and pupils agreed, with one pupil saying: “If you ever need to ask a question you can always go to your supervisor. I was worried about bothering people as a pupil but that hasn’t been my experience.” Another source added: “Everybody’s on first-name terms which can be alarming when you walk into a deputy high court judge's office.” We also heard good news about the social side of things: “You’re involved in things as much as could be expected – I went along to the Christmas and summer parties and there are always several members going for lunch in Middle Temple Hall on any given day.”
Keating Chambers literally wrote the book on construction law: Keating on Construction Contracts is in its tenth edition.
15 Essex Street,
- No of silks 27
- No of juniors 31
- No of pupils Up to 3
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages pa Three 12-month pupillages available
- Tenancies 3 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.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Construction (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Construction/Engineering (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)
- Public Procurement (Band 2)