With construction and commercial work at its core, budding barristers at Keating can really build a name for themselves.
Keating Chambers pupillage review 2024
“If you can build it, we can work on a dispute with it!” one pupil exclaimed while summing up the work done at Keating Chambers. “I can look out the window at the London skyline and point out buildings we’ve worked on.” The set has been involved in everything from matters tied to the Shard to Heathrow Airport to the HS2 railway line. Outside London, Keating has had a hand in work behind the Hinkley Power Station in Somerset, the Mailbox shopping centre in Birmingham, and further afield, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. “The great thing about construction as an area is that it’s tremendously broad,” our pupil interviewee concluded. Joint Director of Clerking Will Shrubsall explains: “We class ourselves as a commercial set of chambers, with engineering and infrastructure disputes at our core.” If you delve deeper, you’ll find that in addition to pure construction work, the set is seeing an uptake in PFI (Private Finance Initiative) disputes and issues related to the Building Safety Act. Energy matters are also very common, including onshore and offshore disputes. Among these larger practices, Shrubsall tells us you’ll also find the set’s specialist groups that deal with public procurement and planning and environmental law.” The result is a mix of domestic and international disputes, which director of business development Marie Sparkes tells us “ranges between a 60/40 and a 70/30 split,” respectively.
“...a lot of money is being invested in infrastructure projects as people are looking to rebuild economies and countries.”
The Chambers UK Bar guide confirms Keating is the crème de la crème of the work it tackles. It is one of the top sets for construction work, including related international arbitration and professional negligence matters. The set’s public procurement and energy & natural resources capabilities are also rewarded with tip-top rankings. The pandemic saw Keating build on its strengths, Sparkes tells us: “We were fortunate in our area of work as disputes continued and escalated. Following the pandemic, a lot of money is being invested in infrastructure projects as people are looking to rebuild economies and countries. There are lots of domestic and international projects going on, and if they do run into difficulties, we are well placed to pick them up.”
Among Keating’s notable cases of late is Charles Banner KC’s involvement in a judicial review challenge concerning Heathrow’s third runway, as well as Alexandra Bodnar’s involvement in Thames Water’s claim alleging damage to the London sewerage system due to the impact of a nearby construction site. Sparkes also explains the set has a number of barristers acting for the bereaved and the survivors of Grenfell; Emma Healiss is one of them and is sitting in the counsel team on Phase 2 of the inquiry. On the construction side, Alexander Nissen KC has been acting for a part of the Hammerson Group during their £25 million dispute over the defective construction of a shopping centre car park, as well as a developer during a multi-party action brought by Prudential and Pets at Home over the subsidence of warehouse premises.
Looking ahead, Sparkes adds: “In order to stay as one of the top two construction sets in the UK, we are looking at potential lateral hires. We’re growing the international and domestic regions we’re working in and looking at practice areas that complement construction.” With that in mind, Sparkes emphasises that “we very much have a family-orientated ethos at Keating; we want to stay at a size where everyone is a very important part of the set.”
The Pupillage Experience
“You know exactly what you’re getting into,” a pupil told us, referring to the set’s transparency and detail when it came to the structure of the pupillage. Pupils complete four seats of three months with different supervisors each time, who also range in seniority. During your first seat, you’ll be working “almost exclusively for your supervisor.” Lucy Garrett KC elaborates that “there’s a steep learning curve, and pupils are allowed to make mistakes so they can learn from those mistakes. We’re only worried if they keep making the same mistakes!”
It’s in your second and third seats where your responsibility broadens. “The emphasis, as you progress further, is to get more work,” a pupil told us. It’s from this point onwards that the “pupil starts to do work for other members of chambers as well,” Garrett explains. By the time the third seat rolls around, Garrett tells us the aim is to have pupils “doing work for as many members of chambers as possible.” Fret not, however, as Garrett assures us that the pupil’s workload is “all controlled by their supervisor to protect them from being overworked. This is useful when people stop you in the corridor and ask you to help out, as it can be hard to say directly, ‘I’m a little overwhelmed.’” There can be some excursions to mix things up a bit: one pupil recalled joining a silk for two weeks to do some planning work in another part of the country. “You do get real-life court experience quite quickly,” a pupil noted. “I’m impressed with the extent to which they’re willing to get you involved and let you have a go.” Our source highlighted “doing all the work for the advocacy preparations and being in the room for the advocacy. I also did some drafting before a silk and got some comments on it in real time.”
"You have excellent legal minds to test yourself against and they push you to think on your feet."
During pupillage, pupils complete six assessments in their first nine months, including three written advices and three oral advocacy assessments. “You might be writing a skeleton argument and presenting it before a silk in a mock two-hour hearing – they make it as close to real life as possible!” a pupil commented. To some, this may sound daunting, but this pupil rationalised it rather well: “There’s an element of nerves naturally, but the good thing is that it’s as close to being in front of a real-life judge as you can get, so you’ll feel prepared. The feedback is fantastic and there’s no element of a trap door to catch you out.” In fact, a pupil source “found the oral advocacy to be the most rewarding assessment. It’s ultimately what being a barrister is about. You have excellent legal minds to test yourself against and they push you to think on your feet. They won’t let you get away with anything less than your best performance!”
The tenancy decision is made by the tenancy committee towards the end of the pupils’ third seat. “Everyone the pupil works for will write a report and send it to the tenancy committee,” Garrett tells us. The reports are discussed by the committee against a fixed set of criteria. The committee then writes a report to chambers with a conclusion that “members of chambers look at in detail,” Garrett explains, before casting votes. “It’s rare for chambers to decide against a decision by the committee,” she says. “We then immediately take the successful pupils out to celebrate!” Sometimes, those who are not successful will be given more time to impress, Garrett tells us: “We can be flexible depending on the stage of progress the pupil has reached. On occasion we have offered pupils further periods of pupillage.” If the decision is not to offer tenancy, the set tries to help with the next stage of the pupil’s career: “Our pupils always go on to do third sixes elsewhere or (if they prefer) move over to a solicitor’s firm or move into a different industry. Pupillage at Keating is a great platform from which to move onto something else.” In 2023, all three pupils secured tenancy at Keating.
Our sources were keen to highlight the inclusive atmosphere they experienced at chambers. “Considering commercial and construction sets are typically male-dominated, we’ve got quite a few women,” we heard. This past year, female members of the set organised a number of events to build a support system for one another: “As a young female tenant, it’s great to have that extra support.” The set has rolled out training programmes on important issues such as menopause and racial awareness. Women at Keating can also get networking with peers at the Arbitration Lunch Match, which is a blind date style event matching female arbitration practitioners, and for the last six years, the set has run an annual “Women at the Commercial Bar” event.
This feeling of inclusivity also permeated into the wider social scene. “I had the sense from day one that there were close friendships in chambers,” a source told us. “This invariably means there are informal drinks often!” Our sources also made quite a bit of noise about the set’s very own band, ‘Demolition’!
The Application Process
If that sounds like your jam, here’s how you can apply. Keating can be found on the Pupillage Gateway, and the process consists of four stages. It kicks off with an paper application. Marking is anonymised; the names of educational institutions and protected characteristics are redacted. “People work hard against the odds to get into Oxbridge, and that’s not to be denigrated, but it’s problematic to bring assumptions of the quality of a university to a form,” Garrett explains. The top 70 candidates who make it through the initial paper sift are then “invited to write a short opinion on a set of papers from an historic case.” Garrett tells us candidates are always “provided with the extracts from the relevant textbook as they’re being tested on skill, not knowledge. It’s about how you apply the law to the facts,” she stresses. Candidates will usually have to “score 80% or more” on this exercise, Garrett tells us.
“Every stage is an advocacy exercise. It’s impossible to overestimate the value of paying attention to key details and going a bit further in your analysis.”
50 successful candidates are then invited to a first-round interview – up from 25 in 2022. This stage includes a debate question where you’re “going back and forth with one member of the recruitment panel.” Around 12 to 14 candidates are then put through to the second interview stage, which includes a discussion of their written opinion from the second stage. Insiders told us candidates can also expect “more classic pupillage interview questions" at this stage. A key tip from one of our sources was to keep in mind that “every stage is an advocacy exercise. It’s impossible to overestimate the value of paying attention to key details and going a bit further in your analysis.” There are three pupillages on offer at Keating each year.
Strong foundations: Second-round interviewees are taken out for drinks “to get to know chambers more before their final round,” adding to the transparency of the process.
15 Essex Street,
Chambers’ area of practice is dynamic and challenging. Most of our cases are contractual disputes, but principles of tort, restitution, mistake and misrepresentation frequently arise. The cases are intellectually challenging, and the complexity of the disputes requires thorough analytical skills. Cases involving members of Keating Chambers are regularly featured in The Lawyer’s “Top 20 Cases of the Year”. Chambers is based in modern premises just outside the Temple. In their first years of practice, tenants can expect earnings equivalent to those in other top sets of commercial chambers.
Type of work undertaken
Our members 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.
It must be emphasised that no specialist or technical knowledge of construction or engineering is required or assumed. However, a sound understanding of the principles of contract and tort law is essential. Chambers assess all applications using its own selection criteria which includes (1) intellectual ability, (2) ability to work in teams; (3) written advocacy and (4)0 oral advocacy. We emphasise that Chambers puts no limitation on the type of experiences and evidence which a candidate may rely on to demonstrate each of the criteria. Save in exceptional cases, we expect applicants to have an upper second or first class degree, whether in law or not.
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.
We are fully committed to equality and diversity in both recruitment and the provision of services, and all applications (be it for staff, tenants, pupils or mini-pupils) are considered on merit alone.
Most recently, in September 2022, we were delighted to launch a new social mobility scholarship in partnership with Gray’s Inn, designed to support Bar Course students from backgrounds under-represented at the Bar. The scholarship awards £15,000 to the winning candidate, and will support a Bar Student from a background under-represented at the Bar, who may not have otherwise been able to embark on this journey. We will also offer the successful applicant an unassessed mini-pupillage at Keating Chambers and mentoring.
In Summer 2022 and 2023 we collaborated with Lamb Building to host a Summer School. This enabled us to reach a wide range of students who might not have otherwise considered coming to the Commercial Bar. The events were run virtually to ensure maximum accessibility. As well as learning what it is like to practice in these areas, sessions covered pupillage applications, interview skills, advocacy and life as a pupil.
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. We are signed up to the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge, which seeks to improve the profile and representation of women in arbitration, and achieve greater female arbitrator appointments. We also arrange targeted events for students to give them exposure to the Commercial Bar from the perspectives of female judges, members of Chambers and pupils, who will discuss their career highlights.
We recognise the importance of the TECBAR “BAME” Network and its efforts to enhance 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 ethnic minorities considering a career at the Bar, and two Keating barristers were involved in authoring The Specialist Commercial Bar & Black Inclusion – First Steps Report. In 2020 we were pleased to announce ourselves as founding partners of “Bridging the Bar”, supporting their mission to ensure equality of opportunity and diversity within the Bar of England and Wales at all professional levels.
We were one of the first five sets to sign up to the 10,000 Black Interns programme. This initiative aims to transform the horizons and prospects of young Black people in the United Kingdom by offering paid work experience across a wide range of industries. The aim is to provide training and development opportunities and to create a sustainable cycle of mentorship and sponsorship for the Black community.
We have also adopted a contextual recruitment system for our pupillages, mini-pupillages and senior staff recruitment, which will improve our approach to secure people in Chambers from diverse backgrounds who might be disadvantaged by the traditional means of recruitment.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Construction (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Construction/Engineering (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)
- Public Procurement (Band 2)