Want a set that feels and operates more like a law firm? No5 has a network of offices, “modern policies” and a superb reputation in various practices at the Bar.
No5 Barristers' Chambers pupillage review
“We’re very relaxed as a chambers,” one of our interviewees commented when describing the atmosphere at No5. “We’re open and modern in how we operate. In some ways we operate as a law firm more than a barristers’ chambers.” There are a lot of features that make No5 unique. One of the most notable is that it has network of offices spanning Birmingham, Leicester, London and Bristol, which gives pupils the chance to undertake pupillage in a specific practice area group. “I like that as it gives you better prospects for tenancy and your future career,” one pupil told us. Popular groups include business and property; personal injury and clinical negligence; public law; employment; and family – “you can specialise from day one.”
Chambers UK Bar bestows heaps of praise on No5’s work in the Midlands circuit. Most of its rankings fall within the top tier, and celebrate the set’s prowess in areas like chancery, clinical negligence, crime, employment, family, immigration, personal injury and planning. Across all circuits, No5 is recognised for its Court of Protection work in the health & welfare space. On the chancery side, Mark Anderson QC recently worked on a matter that involved a claim brought against the majority shareholder of a company, which accused them of misappropriating £1.85 million of the company’s money. A recent clinical negligence case, meanwhile, saw Christopher Bright QC secure a settlement of around £5.2 million for a claimant who had to undergo an above-knee leg amputation. If employment matters are of interest, then Charles Crow recently acted for Lidl GB during the successful defence of an unfair dismissal and disability claim (where fraud was alleged to have been committed by the ex-employee). Cases are predominantly confidential on the family side, but we can tell you that No5 is praised for its work relating both to children and to matrimonial finance.
“I like that as it gives you better prospects for tenancy and your future career.”
Member of the pupillage committee Samir Amin emphasises that the law firm feel means that No5 barristers have the luxury of “modern policies that you expect in most industries except the Bar, like parental leave.” There’s also an entire IT department, a marketing department and even a library – “it’s great to go and sit in the library and use the books. It feels very scholarly,” said one junior. The size of this set – over 260 barristers – means that this is a great place for people “who were initially unsure of being a solicitor or a barrister. It’s the best of both worlds. We have that corporate feel,” concluded our junior source.
The Application Process
No5 receives around 300 applications each year via its portal outside the Pupillage Gateway. Applicants apply for specific practice areas – Amin tells us that “particular groups always attract a lot of applications, for example personal injury, clinical negligence and public law.” However, group choice doesn’t affect hiring decisions “until the final round. Every person sifting through applications is looking at a mix of candidates and the panels themselves are comprised of a mix of groups as well.”
Application sifters are looking at four criteria. The first and most obvious is academic prowess, then comes evidence of legal experience and the law. The third is evidence of advocacy or public speaking – Amin tells us this “doesn’t have to be law-related – it can be mooting, debating, presentations, performing or a political interest.” The fourth element centres on a set of “specific” questions on the application form. No5 releases a pupillage brochure on its website that “goes into detail on what we look for in pupils, what they can expect as a pupil and also about each group and their work.” Around 80 applicants are invited for a first-round interview. To get through that many interviews, No5 has around nine panels conducting nine interviews each. “We’d prefer to give as many people as possible an interview in order to allow them to fully demonstrate their capability. This is as many as we can do while still ensuring consistency between panels.”
“....particular groups always attract a lot of applications, for example personal injury, clinical negligence and public law.”
Amin tells us the first-round interviews “give us a feel for the person. We start with gentle questions about their hobbies and interests, so it’s a nice relaxing start.” They then go on to topical legal questions that have “no right or wrong answer. For example, in past years we have asked, ‘Was the Home Secretary right to take away Shamima Begum’s passport?’ and ‘Does the right to protest outweigh the public health emergency?’” They then ask questions to gauge applicants’ commercial awareness. We heard from a baby junior that they came out of their first-round interview “feeling like I’d just had a great chat with some really intelligent people. I didn’t feel battered and bruised. The panel are all willing you on.”
Those who impress (around 15–20) are invited for a one-day assessed mini-pupillage before attending their final interview. The mini also gives them the opportunity to “have a completely off-the-record chat with a junior member of chambers.” The assessment comes in the form of a “written piece of work involving some sort of problem.”
The final interview is the only time that an applicant’s group choice is taken into account. The last interview is assessed through four facets: the written work done on the mini, an advocacy task, an ethical problem and a legal case analysis. Every candidate is given the same case a couple of hours in advance, which they’re then asked about in the interview. Amin tells us the advocacy tasks are “not necessarily law-related. Candidates speak on a topic for a few minutes and then are asked a Bar ethics question. We’re looking for their gut reaction, how they argue their viewpoint and their thought process.” The panel (which consists of between four and seven members) is “not hostile and there are no really stupid trip-you-up questions. The tone and feel was really nice, but they were essentially interrogating why you wanted to be there,” recounted one interviewee. The number of candidates each group extends offers to varies based on business need.
The Pupillage Experience
Most sets have their pupils sit with various members during pupillage, but at No5 pupils formally sit with one supervisor for the full 12 months. One junior tenant told us: “I loved it because you develop a deep relationship with your supervisor. I didn’t have to go back to square one to prove myself – and it also means that during the tenancy decision they see your full progress.” Pupils’ first six sees them “getting stuck in with everything your supervisor is doing, so things like writing opinions and drafting pleadings.” During non-pandemic times, they also shadow supervisors in court. After three months or so, pupils branch out to work with other members – “you get wide exposure to the group and constant feedback on everything.” At the fifth month, pupils spend a lot of time with juniors in court, “seeing the practical reality of life on your feet – where you stand, what happens when papers come in last-minute and small procedural issues.”
“...you get wide exposure to the group and constant feedback on everything.”
Moving into their second six, all pupils are expected to begin standing on their own feet in court and can “do a mix of a second practice area if you want to. For example, juniors tend to pick up a lot of personal injury even if they’re not in that group.” Pupils in some groups can find themselves “in County Court doing hearings or small cases many times a week. Hearings can be 15 minutes long sometimes.” There’s also group work, like “doing research on big cases that have complex elements.” Pre-pandemic, “normally I would have been sent up and down the country to courts – you get to learn the train times very well!” During COVID, however, “I did work for my supervisor. I was very lucky as we get on well. My supervisor made sure I was emotionally supported and that I had enough work.”
To aid with the pastoral side of things, pupils are given a mentor who is a junior under five years’ call. “If you need someone to go to off-record, they won’t have any say in your tenancy decision. It means if I’m struggling and having a bad day, I can say I find it hard and ask questions without worrying.” Pupils also have meetings with the pupillage committee at four regular intervals during the year. Amin tells us that “in advance of those reviews we ask for pupillage supervisors to give us a report, highlighting areas of improvement and progression.” The pupil gets to see the report and comment on it. “The number-one focus for us is that no one should get to the end of pupillage and be refused tenancy for something that they hadn’t been told about in advance and could have rectified. Transparency is key.” The meetings are also there as a “pastoral responsibility too. We ask how they’re getting on, especially with other junior members, and answer any questions they have.” Pupils described the meetings as “really open and honest conversations with the pupillage committee, where they say what you need to work on. It’s very laid back and straightforward.”
“The number-one focus for us is no one should get to the end of pupillage and be refused tenancy for something that they hadn’t been told about in advance and could have rectified.”
When it comes to formal assessments, No5 only requires pupils to do one in the form of an advocacy exercise halfway through pupillage, which is a “brief assessment in front of two members of the pupillage committee. It’s just to make sure before they send you off to court – to double check you’re not going to embarrass yourself!”
The formal tenancy decision process happens at around ten months in. There’s “no application, interview or vote, which takes the pressure off.” Each supervisor produces a final report, which incorporates feedback from other members of the team. The head clerk of each pupil’s group incorporates feedback from solicitors and clients along with their own comments. “There’s a standard which is excellence. The pupillage committee apply it when considering offering you tenancy. If you meet that standard, you will get tenancy.” Amin adds that “business need is dealt with at the stage of offering pupillage, so we offer pupillage with view to offer tenancy. It removes any competition between pupils.” Pupils told us that they’re “not being constantly scrutinised or assessed. It’s an open, transparent process.” In 2021, No5 retained all three of its qualifying pupils.
For pupils, we heard there’s a “strong emphasis on not working too late or working weekends. You’re not allowed to be in after 6pm. I’ve been told on several occasions to go home.” Junior life can involve working “sometimes till 4pm, sometimes till 10pm, sometimes all weekend.” However, due to the size of the set, you can “reject work from clerks as there’s always someone else who will do the work. It allows flexibility and the reaction is always that it’s fine, no problem.” The size is also good for the pupil network, which has a WhatsApp group to “support each other – it helps with work and mental health.” This makes No5 a place where pupils “never feel out of depth. I always have someone to go to if I have a problem.”
Joining a set with a network of offices was a big win for this junior: “A move is never off the cards – we have clients from all over the country!”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Band 3)
- Chancery (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 2)
- Company (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Family: Children (Band 1)
- Family: Matrimonial Finance (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 1)
- Immigration (Band 1)
- Personal Injury (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
The Regions (Bar)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)