Maitland is indeed a land of mates – “the focus is on feedback” at this top commercial Chancery set.
Take a Chancery on me
“We’ve just finished a very long trial in Hong Kong,” senior clerk John Wiggs tells us. “It’s a multibillion-pound family dispute where the matriarch has passed away and the siblings are fighting over parts of the company that the family owns.” This particular case is a fine example of what Maitland Chambers shines at: “We sit right in that space between estate and trust disputes with corporate structures involved.”
About 95% of the work at Maitland comes under the commercial Chancery umbrella, but this set appealed not only to those with a “laser focus” on this area of law but also applicants who “didn’t have a clue what commercial Chancery meant!” Wiggs explains: “Our core areas are commercial litigation, trust disputes, insolvencies, civil fraud, property litigation and company/shareholder disputes.” The remaining 5% includes trust advisory, pensions and charities work. Chambers UK ranks Maitland top-tier for commercial chancery, civil fraud and offshore work. It’s also highly rated for its real estate litigation, restructuring/insolvency, charities, company, and partnership practices.
“The silks have the kinds of practices that I want to have.”
“When I’m at lunch on Friday with the juniors, they’re kinds of people I want to be in five, three, or even two years’ time,” one pupil gushed. “The silks have the kinds of practices that I want to have one day in the future.” Alongside instructions from smaller firms, work also comes from the top of the law firm mountain, including the magic circle: Freshfields used Maitland barristers in a Tesco shareholders dispute arising from the supermarket’s accounting misstatement scandal in 2014. Another recent case saw a team of Maitland barristers representing a Russian billionaire, whose fishing company Norebo supplies McDonald's and Birds Eye, in his tussle with another Russian fishing tycoon. The barristers successfully applied to discharge a £350 million freezing order. But John Wiggs stressed the variety junior members would experience here: “We don’t want our barristers to grow up just being the fifth junior on a big oligarch litigation. We want them doing that and cutting their teeth in the County Court too.”
If this is starting to pique your interest, there’s one thing to note before we go any further. Future pupils can probably expect some change in the recruitment process; pupillage committee member David Mumford QC explains that “chambers is doing a top to bottom review from the application to the pupillage itself, then to the tenancy decision.” The whole shebang! “It’s a question of pulling up the floorboards and seeing if there’s anything we could be doing better.” For example, the set’s “running our application form against web engines that will identify gendered language – certain terms that studies suggest disincentivise certain groups.”
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (a pupillage at Maitland)
The pupillage committee sifts through between 100 and 150 applications every year and Mumford tell us that Maitland is “giving careful thought as to what we can do to remove any unconscious biases: for example, whether we should blank out data about which university an applicant attended.” Sources observed: “More than half the people here haven’t done law at uni – it’s very common for people to come from history or maths.”
Maitland now takes applications through the Pupillage Gateway. Thirty candidates come to chambers for the first-round interview, where they’re given a short problem. This may have a legal context but pupils agreed that “it’s tailored so people who haven’t studied law can demonstrate their analytical skills just as well as someone who has.” Mumford elaborates: “It may be a clause in a contract, and we ask them what they think it means.” After 30 minutes of thinking, they meet with a panel of three. There’s a bit of back and forth “to try to relax them,” then probing begins! “It’s done in a friendly way but it’s designed to challenge them,” Mumford clarifies.
Ten to 12 candidates make it to the second round, where they’ll discuss a more detailed problem. “They’ll be given a more substantial set of instructions,” says Mumford. “Much like a client would come to you and explain a situation.” The panel is slightly bigger too – candidates may face up to five members. In both rounds, interviewers look for whether candidates can “hold an argument in the teeth of challenging questioning.” Pupils recalled: “Whatever argument I put forward was challenged fairly comprehensively, but it didn’t feel intimidating.” Candidates should also show strong interpersonal skills: “When they turn up at their first Country Court hearing, is the client going to think ‘I’m in safe hands’?”
A maximum of three lucky ducks progress to pupillage, where they’ll sit with four different supervisors for ten weeks at a time until June. “You get a spread of different areas of specialisms,” sources explained; pupils all sit with the same supervisors but “aren’t encouraged to be too competitive.” There isn’t a huge distinction between the first and second six, though pupils “should see the first half of the year as a learning exercise.” One elaborated: “I didn’t know the first thing about a huge range of areas that I suddenly had to read up on! Supervisors were kind enough to say, ‘You don’t need to turn this round in a tight timescale – go to the library and find out what company law is.’”
“...pages that you’ve written go out in the name of someone really distinguished.”
A ‘non-practising’ pupillage means pupils do a lot of ‘dead’ work: exercises set by their supervisor on closed cases. “The idea is that you have the whole twelve months to develop and make mistakes.” Of course, “sometimes your supervisor gets stuck into a huge thing and it’ll be all hands on deck.” Interviewees told us that in such cases “your supervisor ends up copying and pasting what you’ve written into their document and sends it to the QC, who puts it in their document. Thirty pages that you’ve written go out in the name of someone really distinguished!”
Outside of assisting on live cases, dead work assignments could be anything from skeleton arguments (there’s a dead skeleton joke in there somewhere) to opinions. Pupils do several for each supervisor, who then provides “detailed” feedback: “If 99% of your opinion is really good but you missed the one killer point, they’ll pull you up on it.” Every assignment is graded, and feedback is provided so that “pupils can mark their progress over time to try to attain a standard that will mean they can get tenancy,” says Mumford. “The idea is they should know their trajectory and be able to adjust it.”
The winner takes it all
Pupils are graded on every piece of work but “the tenancy decision isn’t made on grades from October – I don’t think I’d have got an offer if it was! It’s about where you are in May and June and checking you’ve progressed.” Supervisors also compile written reports at the end of each seat and pupils undergo six advocacy assessments in front of a barrister 'judge.' “It’s treated as if it’s an actual hearing,” said pupils – one admitted their “first one was a disaster!” Another pointed out that “if you come to Maitland, you’ve usually got very good grades. Getting knocked back was a bit hard.” Six might be a daunting number, but interviewees “actually wouldn’t have minded if there were more.” If that sounds masochistic, consider that “the focus is on feedback – you can make some howling mistakes!”
“You work hard but under your own conditions.”
Advocacy assessors meet with pupils’ supervisors to “discuss the merits of each pupil and take a view as to whether they’ve made the grade,” David Mumford explains. “That gets distilled into a recommendation for chambers, which is then voted on.” However the policy is to offer tenancy to anyone who has made the grade. In 2019, two of three pupils gained tenancy.
Another telling feature of Maitland life is that “if we’re not in court, most of us mooch around in plain clothes.” A junior agreed that “you work hard but under your own conditions,” adding semi-seriously that “some people are always pottering around in lycra.” We’d advise going easy on the spandex during pupillage. Senior clerk John Wiggs weighs in: “We always encourage pupils to come and talk to the clerks. When they start, we organise drinks with them so they can get to know us.” Afternoon tea is a good opportunity for meeting other Maitland members. “That sounds really pretentious,” a junior scoffed. “Basically, you go to the kitchen and grab a mug of tea!”
9am to 6.30pm is a typical day at the office for Maitland pupils.
7 Stone Buildings,
- No of silks 27
- No of juniors 44
- No of pupils Up to 3
- Contact Valerie Piper, pupillage secretary, [email protected]
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to 3 funded
- Income £65,000 pa
- Tenancies in last three years 5
Type of work undertaken
During the assessment period, pupils sit with four supervisors in rotation, spending ten weeks with each. The set takes the view that it is important for pupils to see a variety of the areas of work done in chambers.
Chambers believes that oral advocacy remains a core skill of the commercial chancery barrister. The set provides in-house advocacy exercises for pupils during their pupillage. These take the form of mock hearings, prepared in advance from adapted sets of papers, with senior members of chambers acting as the tribunal. They provide detailed feedback after each exercise. These exercises are part of the assessment process and help develop essential court skills.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 1)
- Chancery: Traditional (Band 3)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 3)
- Company (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Offshore (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)