Feast your eyes on the competition, public and EU law specialists with undeniable Euro-vision.
Monckton Chambers pupillage review
In the red corner! The chance to “work on huge cases where you might be appealing to the Court of Justice of the European Union on behalf of Google or Apple.” In the blue corner! A pupillage during which “you’re fighting for the rights of child refugees.” Which tickles your fancy? Trick question, there’s no need to make your mind up – mixing the two shades to form a pleasing purple, Monckton members work on “an enormous range of work spanning public, commercial, EU and information law plus everything in between,” according to one pupil. “I liked that there was scope to represent massive multinationals but also individuals in need too.” Another junior weighed in: “A key selling point for me was the chance to work on both the claimant and defendant side of law within the public sphere.”
First junior clerk Steven Duffett tells us there are some other colours bleeding into the picture: “We have recently hired a number of commercial law experts with established practices. As such, we can now offer a distinct commercial practice independent of our competition work. That has added more strings to our bow that potential applicants should keep in mind.” EU and competition law remain Monckton’s raison d'être and these “form the umbrella which covers most of the areas that members work in.” To give you an idea of the set’s prestige in this field, renowned European human rights law expert Ben Emmerson (played by the magnificent Ralph Fiennes in Official Secrets, an Iraq War docudrama) left Matrix Chambers in early 2019 to join Monckton’s ranks.
“I liked that there was scope to represent massive multinationals but also individuals in need too.”
Given all this Europe talk, you may be wondering why we haven’t mentioned the B-word yet. At the time of our interview in summer 2019, Brexit was yet to take place and it was “difficult to measure its impact,” Duffett declared in a statement we suspect he’s given a few thousand times. “We have however had a lot of people requalify in Ireland to maintain legal privilege in EU courts; that’s a contingency plan for the worst-case scenario.” For now, at least, the set doesn’t seem to have suffered any significant slowdown and all our interviewees were keen to highlight how busy things were: “There’s a real lack of availability across the board, which is a good sign!” The set earns top Chambers UK rankings in both EU and competition law as well as in telecommunications, tax and public procurement work; it also picks up strong accolades for its human rights, public law, sport, data protection and environmental law capabilities.
Brexit has in fact brought in work: Gerry Facenna QC represented two MPs in a case before the Court of Justice of the European Union to determine that Article 50 is unilaterally revocable. A Monckton team lead by Philip Moser QC successfully defeated a challenge brought against HM Passport Office over the procurement contract for blue passports. To give you an idea of the varied practice here, Moser also advised on a car accident where a farmer drove into a suspected metal thief and left them paraplegic.
On the public law side of the practice, Tim Ward QC acted for mobile network operator O2 in a Court of Appeal review of Ofcom’s decision to auction off more of the radio spectrum for mobile phone companies to use for 4G and 5G services. Finally, one for the sports fans – Paul Harris QC and Fiona Banks recently acted before the FIA Court of Appeal for two teams competing in the 2018 Le Mans event, challenging a decision to disqualify them after one team finished first. This was due to the questionable legality of adding a part during refuelling.
The Application Process
Applicants begin at the Pupillage Gateway and complete a question unique to Monckton: “It ensures people aren’t just applying to us without thought as to who we are and what we do,” head of pupillage committee Meredith Pickford QC tells us. A recent example was a question on the controversial ‘gay marriage cake’ dispute.
“It ensures people aren’t just applying to us without thought.”
The first-round interview is pitched at “average intensity,” one junior told us. “It wasn’t just a chat but there are some questions focused on getting to know you as well as some competency-based ones and some probing about your previous experience.” Post-probing, the interviewers typically throw in a topical discussion point for good measure. Recent examples include whether or not the FBI should be able to decrypt iPhone data; and whether the government should enforce plain packaging on tobacco products.
Those who impress are invited back for a more formal second-round interview in which interviewees discuss a legal problem in front of a seven to eight-person panel. Pupils advised future applicants not to “entrench yourself in one position, it’s okay to backtrack on your thinking!”
The Pupillage Experience
Monckton’s pupils complete four three-month seats, each with a different member supervisor; they are however given the option of staying with their third supervisor for the fourth seat. “There are a core group of supervisors who rotate every year, but you typically sit with at least one specialist in public law, one in competition, and do one mixed seat,” pupils explained. That’s not set in stone – we spoke to one source whose first seat was in tax and procurement law.
By the end of their first seat, new arrivals are quickly farmed out to other members of chambers to round out their pupillage and get exposure to a range of different cases. We spoke to one junior who “worked for various NHS bodies that were bringing proceedings against a drug manufacturer. I was helping conduct research and draft bits of the skeleton argument.” Brexit preparations – or lack thereof – have also brought in a steady stream of work. As one pupil explained: “I worked on the case where Eurotunnel sued the government for awarding a shipping contract to a company without any ships. Following that, I was involved in the case that followed where P&O sued the government for settling with Eurotunnel on the terms they did, helping to draft a response to the statement of facts.” It’s not all politics – legal aid work is also on offer. For example, we spoke to a pupil who’d been “helping a child with disabilities secure accommodation from the local authority.” The increasing prominence of the set’s commercial practice has also “provided juniors with more to cut their teeth on, principally in the form of cancelled flight cases,” Duffett explains.
“Considering how high-profile the work is, it’s remarkably relaxed.”
There’s no practising second six and Monckton doesn’t put a great deal of emphasis on formal assessments during pupillage. “There are a number of advocacy exercises throughout the year which are taken into account, but they are principally there to improve skills – they’re not hard passes or fails,” Meredith explains. Instead, all pupils’ work is assessed consistently throughout the year; they’re also provided with feedback forms throughout pupillage “so you always know what path you’re on and the areas you need to improve in.” Approaching tenancy “you have a fair idea of where you stand.” In 2020, Monckton did not disclose how many of its pupils became tenants.
It’s not just the tenancy decision that’s kept as stress-free as possible. “Considering how high-profile the work is, and how busy we are, it’s remarkably relaxed” at Monckton according to our sources. They cited administration manager Wendy Holmes as a “great example. Every Monday she knocks on everybody’s doors and check how we’re all doing, she’s our resident friendly face.” Another highlighted the “very relaxed” relationship between the clerks and barristers: “There is no formality. It’s very much ‘How was your weekend? Good luck in your half marathon next week!’” Don’t worry – running isn’t mandatory…
With or without EU: You can find a Brexit Blog on Monckton’s website – it’s a good way to keep up with the potential ramifications of the process.
1 & 2 Raymond Buildings,
- No of silks 20
- No of juniors 45
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Claire Bowers, 020 7405 7211
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Two 12 month pupillages
- Seats 4x3-months
- Mini-pupillages (pa) Up to 50
- Mini-pupillage deadline(s) Please check www.monckton.com
- Tenancies Six offered in the last three years.
Monckton does not, however, expect candidates to have any experience or expertise in the specialised areas in which chambers practices, merely an interest and enthusiasm for the work that is done. Chambers welcomes applications from candidates who have degrees in subjects other than law and are taking (or have taken) the GDL.
It is not only intellectual skills that Monckton is looking for: the chambers is seeking candidates with the personal skills to win the trust of clients and judges alike. Monckton Chambers is a dynamic place to work. Members actively engage in speaking at conferences and seminars, in London and internationally, and in contributing to a variety of publications, ranging from Monckton’s own marketing materials, to specialist journals and practitioner texts. Monckton is looking for junior tenants who will bring real energy to chambers.