A stalwart of the Employment Bar, this set is gaining a more commercial edge.
Little mix it up
Littleton has undergone a shift in focus recently. Sitting down with us in the firm's digs on King's Bench Walk, senior clerk Jason Drakeford tells us: “Five years ago our work was 80% employment and 20% commercial; it's now closer to 60/40.” This change was prompted by the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees in 2013 (since ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court). Drakeford says of the fees: “As a set where High Court business protection work forms a large part of our employment work we were less impacted by the downturn in statutory employment cases than some other sets."
Littleton's future strategy has a "particular emphasis on establishing ourselves as the go-to High Court business protection set while maintaining our expertise in and emphasis on all aspects of statutory employment work," Drakeford adds. This means juniors "have a much more varied practice from the start," sharpening their advocacy skills in the Employment Tribunal, while also working on bigger commercial cases in the High Court. Littleton snagged a Chambers UK commercial disputes ranking for the first time in 2017, alongside continuing top-tier recognition for employment.
“Somewhere that would get me into court in less than five years.”
Pupils and baby juniors told us this mix was one of the main things that drew them to Littleton alongside the opportunity to do advocacy early on. One source said: “I was looking for somewhere that would get me into court in less than five years, but I also wanted to do commercial law.” The push for a broader practice shouldn't put off those keen to do pure employment work. “If a suitable candidate said, 'I really want to focus on employment,' that wouldn't go against them,” says Drakeford. “We have a number of practitioners who just do employment.”
On the employment side of things joint head of chambers Naomi Ellenbogen QC has recently handled a large number of equal pay claims made against Sainsbury's. Other members tackled a novel Court of Appeal case about whether protected disclosure is in the public interest. Recently the set also took on a separate Court of Appeal case on how far whistle-blowing protection should extend to doctors in training. On the commercial front members have worked on a dispute on the enforceability of a worldwide freezing order issued by a Cypriot court. Others worked on a spat over the ownership of a hedge fund.
Little shop of horrors
Applications to Littleton go through the Pupillage Gateway. For the 2020 pupillage season Littleton will make use of the Rare Contextual Recruitment System as part of a concerted effort to improve diversity. The set had already established the practice of removing candidates' names from their applications to prevent bias. Looking at the bios of the set's 15 members under ten years' call we found graduates of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, KCL, Birmingham and Trinity College Dublin – we noted that all but two of the 15 had attended Oxbridge at some point. According to head of pupillage Dale Martin, the first thing Littleton looks for is “academic performance – we're looking for candidates from good universities with high 2:1s.” But what is a good university? According to Martin, assessors are issued with Times Higher Education's World University Rankings to guide their judgement on this. After academics, leadership and advocacy skills are the next most important qualities the set looks for.
About 20% of applicants are invited to interview, where they're set a legal exercise: they're given an hour to “read two competing Court of Appeal judgments and are then invited to discuss those judgments, and indicate what they would do if they were the third judge, where they would disagree and why.” The issue in question is always related to contract or tort law and “might explore duty of care, remoteness or causation.” Applicant numbers are then shaved in half again with those remaining invited to a three-day assessed mini-pupillage, during which they must complete a further written exercise. Another half then bite the dust and the remaining few are invited back for a final interview. Dale Martin advises that throughout the interview process applicants should “show their aptitude for clarity of expression and legal reasoning.” And if things do go wrong during the interview, “show humility and admit that there might be a point you overlooked. It's better to do that than to pretend unconvincingly that it hadn't escaped your attention.”
Pupils rotate through four supervisors during pupillage and must complete four formal advocacy assessments. According to sources, pupils start by “just doing work for your supervisor, more or less tracking their caseload.” This means drafting pleadings (for instance, “for the collection of money on behalf of a bank”) and skeleton arguments (on things like “restrictive covenants – there are a lot of those going round”). The first three months of pupillage “are very much seen as a settling-in period,” and after Christmas “you begin formal assessments and work for other members of chambers which is all marked and given a score out of ten.” Work is still filtered and agreed upon by the relevant supervisor, ensuring pupils aren't too overburdened.
In the second six pupils start to take on their own cases. When and where very much “depends on the market – right now there is a lot of call for pupils because companies want the cheapest option! That's terrific for a pupil, because it's often stuff that is appropriately complex.” So you might find yourself “working for respondents who want to deal with terrible or unclear employment claims.”
“I had one pro bono case where the claim form was written in all capital letters.”
There is also the opportunity to do some pro bono, with one source confirming they'd taken on a Free Representation Unit case. “I said to my supervisor I had not done any advocacy since Bar School, so he said, 'Go get an FRU case and we will build it into your schedule.'” While the experience wasn't too different from paid work, sources noted that “private clients are better organised. I had one pro bono case where the claim form was written in all capital letters and it took a long interview to figure out exactly what was going on."
Little at large
Pupils' set working hours are 9am to 6pm, although one source found “there will be times when supervisors are up against a deadline, and you will find yourself working slightly longer hours.” More generally sources found “there's a certain down-to-earth and relatable quality to the people here – we're inclined to talk a lot.” The Employment Bar does tend to appeal if you're a 'people person'. Dale Martin comments: “Showing an interest in and enthusiasm for the job is really quite important. I like to see that in others and still find it interesting to talk to new people coming in and get their perspectives on cases.” One junior source enthused: “It's really easy to pick up the phone to anyone in chambers if an issue comes up which makes you think: 'Oh god I don't know the answer, but if I ask this person they will know.'” There's chambers tea on Mondays, often held on Littleton's rooftop terrace in the summer. In 2017 Littleton held a summer barbecue for members and their families for the first time; we also heard of a formal dinner in March and a team marching in the London Legal Walk.
Tenancy is decided by a vote taken by all members presented with supervisor feedback and a report of the pupils' performance on the formal assessment. Substantive pieces of work for other members are also taken into account, and potentially feedback from clerks and solicitors too. Junior sources found the process “very transparent as we mark out of ten rather than just giving you wishy-washy feedback. The general position is that if you are getting seven out of ten that's good.” In 2019 the set retained both of its two pupils.
Littleton's roof terrace was recently done up and is now it's “all covered in astroturf with heaters and bean bags. One of our juniors does quite a lot of work out there!”
3 King's Bench Walk North,
- No of silks 10
- No of juniors 42
- No of pupils 1 (currently)
- Contact Felicity Schneider, administration director
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Two 12-month pupillages
- Required degree level 2:1 (law or non-law)
- Income £67,500 award (earnings not included)
Type of work undertaken
During your 12-month pupillage you will have the benefit of three pupil supervisors in succession. Your pupil supervisors will provide support and guidance to you throughout your pupillage, ensuring that you understand not only the nuts and bolts of a barrister’s work, but also the ethical constraints which are such a distinctive feature of chambers’ professional life.
After six months, you will be entitled to take on your own work. Typically, pupils in Littleton Chambers have been briefed once or twice a week. Your pupil supervisor will provide assistance in the preparation of these briefs to ensure that your client receives the best possible service from you.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 5)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 3)