Making the most of Maitland: Commercial chancery prowess, a host of international work, yet still “a set full of normal people!”
The term ‘Chancery’ is one that you’ll find floating about a fair bit in conversations about a career at the Bar, particularly where sets like Maitland are concerned. Put simply, the Chancery Bar revolves around disputes over property (in the broadest possible sense). The ‘traditional’ Chancery covers things like trusts, probate, real estate and charity disputes. The ’commercial’ Chancery is the realm of company law, financial services and banking, insolvency and civil fraud, and it’s this latter portion that makes up the lion’s share of the work at Maitland: “A lot of our work falls under that umbrella,” senior clerk John Wiggs explains, “so that encompasses general commercial disputes, company shareholder disputes, and a lot of fraud and insolvencies.”
Yet there’s plenty of other strings to Maitland’s bow: “We’re also very strong in the charity sector - despite it being quite a niche area, we have four or five specialists in that space,” Wiggs adds, “The crypto/technology/AI space is also one of the areas we are really focusing on and watching, like everybody is and we have positioned ourselves as the go to set in that area.” And, as Wiggs points out, there’s good reason for this: “It sits really well with the main core of what we do, as a lot of crypto-type or digital asset cases are more often that not, fraud and/or Insolvency cases”. Alongside a top-tier commercial chancery Chambers ranking in London, Maitland can boast strong rankings in charities, civil fraud, restructuring/insolvency, real estate litigation and company law, among others.
Falling under the commercial chancery wing of Maitland’s offering, one recent case saw Matthew Collings KC successfully defend a £70 million claim for conspiracy over the auction of a collection of classic cars. The collection included a Ferrari which became the second most expensive car ever sold at auction. If, on the other hand, it’s the set’s ever-growing crypto practice that tickles your fancy, Maitland’s Darragh Connell recently acted for one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world over a fraud claim in the High Court. Interestingly enough, the case was the first time the English High Court has permitted alternative service by NFT.
According to Wiggs, Maitland is “about eight months into a business plan,” which has included a rebranding, an internal refurb, “and a refocus on our objectives.” “We continue to focus on our historical geographical areas from where much of our international works flows, but we are now also looking at Africa and India,” Wiggs adds, “and to that end, we’ve recently taken on a very well-known and respected “Senior Advocate” (equivalent of KC), from India who will assist with our profile in that market.” As Wiggs explains, there’s an international element to almost everything that comes across the Maitland desks: “It’s difficult to put a percentage on it, but almost every substantial dispute we work on here has an international flavour to it. Whether it be litigating in an offshore jurisdiction, an arbitration away from these shores or litigation here where the parties are from other countries.”
The Application Process
Prospective pupils at Maitland apply through the pupillage gateway. The initial paper sift is the first step, which involves assessing the applications under four headings: reasoning & analytical ability, advocacy, judgment & interpersonal skills and temperament. As pupillage committee member James Kinman explains, “each of those are given a weighting. Reasoning and analytical ability is given a weighting of four, advocacy is given a weighting of two, judgment is given a weighting of two and interpersonal skills and temperament is given a weighting of one.” If you’re unsure of what that means in practice: “It means one mark on reasoning and analytical ability is worth four times as much as one mark on interpersonal skills and temperament,” Kinman adds. Reasoning and analytical ability is generally demonstrated through academic achievements (but not always), with the rest assessed by a candidate’s answers to the questions in the application form.
Successful candidates will then be invited to a first round of interviews, conducted by two members of chambers. “The first-round interview will initially consist of several competency-based questions,” Kinman explains, “something like ‘give us an example of a situation in which you worked as a team.’ Then the bulk of the interview will be taken up with an exercise where they will be asked to advise on a legal problem.” Before you panic, one pupil at the firm was quick to offer reassurance: “I did the interviews as a GDL student, so with very little legal knowledge at the time. All I had was the basics of contractual interpretation, and that basically is all you’ll need for the exercise.” This is something that Kinman echoes: “It’s a short passage of contractual text, and they are asked to tell us what they think about it – what it means and what its effect might be.” In fact, as Kinman highlights, he’s reluctant even to describe it as a legal problem: “We put a lot of effort in to ensure that it's not a test of legal knowledge. It is something that can be answered by anyone who's got the skills that we're interested in - even if they haven't opened a contract or textbook in their life.”
“They will give you different glosses on the situation and then see how you are able to respond in real time to those changes.”
From among the top performers in the first round of interviews, Maitland puts a selection forward for a second-round interview which sees them sat in front of a panel of five members of chambers with a longer form of the legal problem: “Not an extension of the question they've already considered,” Kinman clarifies, “it will be a new question, but it will have more materials for them to consider.” According to one pupil: “They will test you on it by altering words and asking how that might impact your analysis. They will give you different glosses on the situation and then see how you are able to respond in real time to those changes.” When it comes to the final decision: “We're frequently asked at recruitment fairs whether it's just for people who got a double first from Oxbridge, and the answer is no. Once you’ve been invited to interview, to a very great extent, what you put on your application form isn't really referred to again.”
The Pupillage Experience
“Pupillage at Maitland doesn’t map the six months that you would have in a practicing pupillage,” one pupil explained, “it’s primarily divided into an assessed and an unassessed period.” The assessed period spans nine months, split into four ten-week seats with supervisors. “We try and make sure that across the four seats, the pupil will be able to cover a range of work across chambers’ practice areas,” Kinman adds. Perhaps even more important than the area of work, however, is a checklist of skills that all pupil’s will need to demonstrate – “opinion writing, skeleton argument writing, drafting pleadings, drafting emails to solicitors and that sort of thing,” one former pupil recalled. While the work assigned to pupils varies, newbies at Maitland will come across a mix of ‘live’ work (something their supervisor is currently working on) and ‘dead’ work: “A typical situation would see your supervisor say: ‘OK, what’s something interesting I’ve done in the last year’, and then they will set their pupil that task, before giving them their own work to compare it to.” There benefits to this approach too: “In bar school, I was doing skeleton arguments that were one or two pages. In our job, we’re sometimes writing 25-page skeletons. Until you get the job, it’s hard to train for it.”
“The aim is to ensure that at any given time, the pupil knows where the benchmark is, and how far they are from it.”
Despite being a non-practicing pupillage, there is plenty for opportunity for court time: “Anytime your supervisor goes to court, you'll go to court with them,” one pupil told us. Feedback also forms an important part of the learning process for pupils. Maitland operates by a process of continuous feedback, where pupils are given an indicative grade (loosely corresponding to the standard expected of a junior tenant) for every piece of work they do: “A is the standard of junior tenant, and then there'll be grades B, C, D etc. The aim is to ensure that at any given time, the pupil knows where the benchmark is, and how far they are from it.” But rest assured, the expectation isn’t that new pupils will be getting As from the word go: “The focus is on training,” a former pupil explained, “so the purpose of the grading is to identify the areas where you might need more training.”
Running alongside the four seats is an advocacy assessment programme, which pupils described as a “mixture between training and assessment. Those start in January, and there’s one every month for five months. So, you do five in total.” As Kinman puts it: “We need to make sure that they're given a chance to develop the advocacy skills that they will need for practice.” To do so, pupils will take part in mock hearings before members of chambers. Usually, these mock cases will revolve around papers that have come from real-life junior practice, and the pupils will be asked to present the case as though it were a real piece of work. Afterwards, pupils will be provided with “detailed feedback on what went well and areas for improvement.”
At the end of the assessment period, the pupillage supervisors sit down in a room with the team of advocacy assessors and discuss each pupil in turn: “We’re very much of the view that chambers will have enough work for as many good tenants as we can find,” Kinman clarifies, “If you meet the standard, you'll be offered a spot.” We heard that where historically, the decision was put to a chambers-wide vote to seal the deal, Maitland has recently undergone a constitutional change to ensure that the decision is down to those with first-hand experience of a pupil’s progress.
“I was at the pupillage fair last week with my former co-pupil, and I guess the main thing we kept saying to people was that it's a set full of normal people,” one pupil told us, “there are people you can chat to about law, or about their house move, or about their kids, and so on.” It’s something that translates to the pupil’s relationship with the clerking room too: “The clerks are situated pretty much on the way in and out of chambers,” one former pupil added, “I think most members go and say hi when they come in.” Hours are reasonable too: “We're really quite strict that pupils should only do a 9:00am to 6:00pm day, and not really work at the weekends. Pupillage is a tiring process because you're learning so much every day, so you need the space to be able to absorb that.” In 2023, 3 of 3 pupils were offered tenancy.
“There's no real divide between pupils and tenants in the social events that we go to,” one told us, “every Thursday we have Pub Co, which is the pub trip for which organisational responsibilities rotate between junior tenants.” There’s also Chambers Tea at 4pm, for those better suited to a more old-school chancery tradition!
7 Stone Buildings,
Type of work undertaken
We offer legal advice and advocacy of the highest quality both domestically and internationally. We are consistently ranked as a leading set in all our areas of expertise across the commercial litigation and arbitration, civil fraud, company and partnership, insolvency and asset recovery, offshore and trusts, and related fields (including banking and financial services, real estate, media and entertainment, IP, cryptoassets, professional negligence, tax, private client, charities and ADR) . We appear across a full range of UK civil courts and tribunals including the Supreme Court and Privy Council as well as in Caribbean, Asian and other jurisdictions. We have the strength and depth to provide representation and cross-disciplinary expertise across the whole range of matters, from a junior for a relatively modest claim to a team with the ability and experience to tackle the largest, most urgent and most complex cases in ways which are comprehensive, imaginative, efficient and effective.
Maitland Chambers has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, both within our own set of Chambers and across the Bar as a whole. We are proud of that commitment. We are also proud of our internal processes for fair recruitment, which reflect (we believe) the very best practice currently in use at the commercial and chancery Bar and are kept under regular review.
But we also understand that, given the long-term and structural inequalities of life in our country, more is required to ensure that our Chambers (and the commercial and chancery Bar as a whole) fully reflect the diversity of the society which we serve. We welcome applications from people from all sections of society regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, belief or age and encourage applications from groups presently under-represented at the commercial and Chancery Bar. Current chambers initiatives specifically designed to promote such applications include:
- Our in house Mentoring Scheme for potential applicants from ethnic groups underrepresented at the commercial / chancery Bar (including, in particular, black applicants)
- Our regular Women at the Commercial Chancery Bar events
We are also strongly supportive of initiatives to increase the diversity of new talent joining the commercial and Chancery Bar generally, including through our participation in the Sutton Trust’s Pathways to Law programme, the Social Mobility Foundation’s Bar Placement Scheme, our sponsorship of the Cambridge Law Faculty’s Access and Widening Participation Scheme, the involvement of our members in the Chancery Bar Association’s “Step into law and MORE” scheme, and the participation of members in a wide variety of mentoring schemes and other outreach activities.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Cryptoassets (Band 1)
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 3)
- Company (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Offshore (Band 2)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)