If it’s a specialist employment, commercial and sport set you’re after, come a Littleton closer…
Littleton Chambers pupillage review 2024
There’s no two ways about it, Littleton is as big a name as it gets when it comes to the Employment Bar. “You won’t find our barristers suddenly dabbling in IP or something like that,” chambers director Liz Dux tells us. “We don’t dabble in areas of work that we’re not specialists in.”Yet Littleton’s expertise doesn’t stop at employment. The firm has spent the last five years focusing its efforts on commercial work, which incorporates fraud, insolvency, financial services & banking, commercial contracts, and shareholder disputes. “I would say around 45% of the work that we do is employment,” Dux explains, “by which I mean statutory and High Court employment. Then commercial work and civil fraud make up about 35%, with sports making up the rest.”
As those at the set are quick to highlight, Littleton has been ranked a top-tier employmentset by Chambers UK Bar for over ten years. In a recent case, David Reade KC acted for the receiver and PwC in employment claims arising from the high-profile collapse of Carillion. Elsewhere, Paul Gilroy KC represented a national retail trade union in a class action against Tesco related to the threat to several hundred employees’ pay, hours and benefits.
Outside of the employment arena, member Anirudh Mathur acted pro bono for an asylum seeker seeking interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights to prevent his removal to Rwanda as a part of the UK government’s Rwanda asylum plan. As for sports highlights, John Mehrzad KC led a team of international lawyers for Cardiff City in a financial dispute that arose from the transfer agreement for Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash over the English Channel in 2019.
“There are aspects of employment law that really dovetail with commercial law.”
One thing that current and former pupils were unanimous on was the seamless crossover between the set’s specialisms. “There are aspects of employment law, such as bonus disputes, and employee competition matters, that really dovetail with commercial law,” one former pupil remarked. “Equally, there are aspects of employment law that have flavours of sports law to them, whether that’s disciplinary or doping issues. Even on the commercial side of things, you might come across disputes over the payment of transfer fees, which is in many ways a sports issue.” This, sources felt, “makes for quite a cohesive approach to the work that we do.”
The Pupillage Experience
“The way that it works is that we break the twelve months down into four different supervision periods,” explains Dale Martin KC, head of pupillage at Littleton. For each of these three-month supervision periods, pupils are allocated different supervisors from across the spectrum at chambers: “When we allocate pupil supervisors, we try to ensure that there is a balance in terms of the practice area, the style of the advocate, and the level of seniority.” This, Martin adds, “ensures that by the time pupils approach the tenancy decision, they would have had a broad experience of the work that we do, and hopefully an idea about what they do or don’t want to focus on in practice.”
As one pupil put it: “The first six months are non-practising, and then during the second six months, you might start to have some preliminary or minor hearings in your diary.” The general consensus was that pupils at Littleton are unlikely to spend much time on their feet during the second six, but sources were quick to emphasise why: “As a general rule, the focus is on training. They are trying to make you the best that you can be,” one pupil commented. “Obviously, if you're primarily concerned with your own cases, that will take time away from training with your supervisors. So I've been quite grateful for that.”
“I was in the Supreme Court within my first two weeks watching people do a hearing.”
Naturally, there is still plenty of opportunity to spend time in court. “One of the great things about early practice at Littleton is getting really strong exposure to advocacy work from the get-go,” one former pupil told us. “I was in the Supreme Court within my first two weeks watching people do a hearing.”
Formal assessments at Littleton begin around December, comprised of four advocacy assessments and two writing exercises. “The formal advocacy assessments are set piece events assessed by people within the pupillage committee,” Martin explains, “but they often involve submitting something like a skeleton argument beforehand so that we are able to assess their written advocacy as well.” The assessments vary from simple applications to advancing arguments: “We run one on the cross-examination of witnesses, and the written exercises cover both opinions and pleadings” one former pupil said. It’s also worth noting that any work pupils do for other members of chambers outside of the standardised assessments are also given a mark.
“We make our decisions in early July, which means that the tenancy decision is effectively based on the first three seats,” Martin explains. At Littleton, the tenancy decision is a democratic process, agreed by all members. “We sit around a table, all of us, and mull over the evidence. We hear from supervisors first, as they have the best evidence in front of them, but there is a tenancy pack in front of all of us.”
This tenancy pack includes supervisor reports, written feedback on all the work that a pupil has done, their assessments, and feedback from the clerks and instructing solicitors. “I should stress that they are not looking for a finished product from the outset,” one former pupil reassures future candidates. “What they ultimately come to look at is whether there has been an upward trajectory.” In other words, “whether they have made their way to the standard of a junior tenant in chambers.” In 2023, the set retained its sole pupil.
“There is a real sense in chambers that the clerks and senior management have your back.”
Talking culture, a former pupil commented of the Bar that “although you are colleagues, a lot of the time you're not working directly with each other,” but even so, at Littleton, “I’ve found that a number of colleagues are now my close friends, and I will frequently email or ring a couple of my old supervisors if something comes up! There is a real sense in chambers that the clerks and senior management have your back.”
Pointing to their hours as an example, our interviewee went on: “I remember in my first three months, if I was sitting in chambers from 6pm onwards, some people would put their head in and say, ‘You should be going home soon.’”
The Application Process
Reaching the first stage of interviews is a competitive process, with Littleton typically interviewing only an eighth of those that apply. The first stage consists of a legal problem question, with successful candidates invited on a two-day mini-pupillage involving both oral and written assessments.
The final stage is a full interview with the head of pupillage and three others, where a further legal problem is given to the candidate, before they face follow-up questions. The last eight or ten candidates are seen all in one day, with a chance to meet the barristers at Littleton, and ask questions themselves.
As Martin puts it: “I do admit that that is a time-consuming process for the candidates and for the barristers. But it's valuable, because it allows us to focus down on the candidates that we really want.” This,Martin adds, is reflected in the percentage of the set’s pupils that are offered tenancy: “History has shown that we take on pupils with the intention of getting them where they need to be to offer them tenancy.”
Insiders said the process is as much about candidates getting a feel for the set as it is the set getting a feel for the candidates. “Chambers is a community, and they want to know that whilst they can trust you with the work, they can also have a conversation with you,” one pupil told us. “People sometimes forget that the application process isn't always about skills. It's also about personality.”
According to Martin, there is no set type of person at Littleton: “If I could identify a common thread, I think it would be that we take our work seriously, but behind the scenes we don't take ourselves too seriously – or most of us don't!” For Dux, this translates to a willingness to get stuck in. “We don’t struggle to get people to offer to do the jobs on behalf of chambers that you’re not rewarded for, like helping with pupillage or helping with recruitment,” she says. “Our barristers are all just very nice, normal human beings.”
Many hands make Littleton work: Littleton’s democratic approach to the tenancy decision means that as soon as a pupil is awarded tenancy, “they immediately have a vote in the process, just as a silk has a vote in the process.”
3 King's Bench Walk North,
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, 2023
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 5)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 2)