Coco Chanel’s No5 may have set the bar high for perfumery, but the members of No5 Chambers have done so for various areas at the Bar, especially in the Midlands.
“Fundamentally, I wanted somewhere big with a great diversity of work,” one junior member neatly summed up for us.We heardsimilar comments from other No5 interviewees, who enthusiastically recalled lodging their applications with the largest set of chambers in the UK. No5’s chief executive and director of clerking, Tony McDaid, tells us that the set’s size “can lead to those outside thinking we are a melting pot of common law lawyers, but nothing could be further from the truth: we have always been driven by quality, not quantity, and we decided a long time ago that the way forward was to specialise. We adopted a strategic plan that saw the creation of seven specialist groups, each with their own bespoke clerking team, group head and strategic plan.”
Birmingham is the firm’s biggest and oldest office, followed by London, which has “in excess of 70 members and offers the same full service as Birmingham,” McDaid points out.Further expansion saw No5 open in Bristol and Leicester (in 2004 and 2012, respectively), but McDaid adds that another site could be on the cards: “We expect at some point in the future to also open an office in the North of England.” For now, the set’s reputation remains strongest in the Midlands, where Chambers UK Bar bestows nine top rankings on No5’s clinical negligence, family, crime, employment, planning, health & safety, immigration, personal injury, and company law capabilities.
"We have always been driven by quality, not quantity, and we decided a long time ago that the way forward was to specialise."
In this part of the country, Mohammed Zaman QC recently acted for the former director of Northampton Football Club during a £4 million (plus) matter related to alleged breaches of fiduciary duty and preferential payments. Other examples of recent work include Michael Dick’s representation of the ringleader of a ‘grooming’ gang in Huddersfield during a three-month trial in the criminal court; London-based Philip Rule’s defence of the principal defendant in an alleged drug conspiracy and money laundering matter; and, also in the capital, planning expert Hashi Mohamed’s handling of a case on behalf of Marden Parish Council involving a Gypsy and Traveller site’s planning permissions.
The Application Process
If this has piqued your interest, then pupillage committee member Harpreet Sandhu tells us that No5 “is primarily looking for people who want to specialise in the following areas: business; property; crime; personal injury and clinical negligence; public law; and planning and environment law.” Pupils are based in either Birmingham or London, though availability of practice-focuses in each location varies year by year “based on business needs," Sandhu explains. Keep your eyes peeled.
No5 recruits exclusively outside the Pupillage Gateway. All candidates are required to fill out a “fairly standard application form,” which features a mini essay-type question and space for applicants to showcase their awards and accolades. Here candidates also state their preferred practice area (see below) and location. The initial 300 or so applicants are sifted down to around 75 candidates, who are then invited to participate in the first round of interviews. At the paper application stage, “we are primarily looking for a demonstration of a candidate’s commitment to the Bar,” Sandhu says. “For example, someone who has undertaken research or taken the time to get practical experience in the area that they want to practise in.”
“We ended up discussing baking and how to bake the perfect Yule log!”
Interviews by their very nature can be intense, but pupils made it clear that No5 took a more relaxed approach to the process. As one pupil joyfully told us, “we ended up discussing baking and how to bake the perfect Yule log!” A topical question is also discussed: “It’stypically a current issue with a legal bent to it,” Sandhu explains, who advises incoming interviewees “to keep abreast of recent developments in the law and current affairs.”
Those who impress (around 15 candidates) are invited to participate in a mini-pupillage, which provides “an opportunity for us to engage with candidates in a less artificial way,” Sandhu points out. One pupil recalled: “I went to court and attended a conference. The people I went with weren’t part of the pupillage or recruitment process so I could ask questions about chambers – it all felt quite relaxed.”
All candidates are presented with a legal-based question upon arriving for their final interview. This question provides the basis for the interview, which, for one pupil, “lasted around 45 minutes and took place in front of nine members of chambers.” That may sound like a daunting format, but one source reassuringly explained that “everyone was friendly. My palms weren’t sweating compared to other interviews! I ended up doing a role play, which turned into a laughing fit and we even spent a couple of minutes talking about The Real Housewives of New Jersey!”
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. But this is not as limiting as it sounds, Sandhu reveals: “Although pupils are placed to specialise in one area, we do encourage them to go and gain experience in a second or third area of law. While supervisors will be looking after them for the first three to four months, they will be working for other members and going out with juniors to get experience.”
“Although pupils are placed to specialise in one area, we do encourage them go gain experience in a second or third area of law.”
One pupil interviewee gave us some more insight: “I applied for property and that’s my main area, but I’ve also done some personal injury work, which is great because it provides more opportunities for advocacy.” Similarly, another source told us: “I’m a criminal specialist, but I recently spent time in immigration, public and family. I’ve also been working on a few personal injury cases because in the early days of criminal practice your diary can be quite empty.”
Day to day, pupils often spend their time assisting their supervisors. “I often do the work of my supervisor two days in advance of them doing it too. For example, if we were drafting a defence, I would get the papers, conduct the research, and then draft it. My supervisor would then draft their own version and we would compare the two. It’s a good way of working because when she’s doing the research herself, I can begin to understand her thought process.” Others reported attending court “almost every day, drafting attendance notes and looking after the client,” while another interviewee highlighted that summarising interviews and evaluating evidence were stock pupil tasks. Moving into their second six, all pupils are expected to begin standing on their own feet in court and begin taking on their own cases in preparation for tenancy.
"Nobody is in competition with each other.”
When it comes to formal assessments, No5 only requires pupils to do one in the form of an advocacy exercise halfway through pupillage. However, there are four reviews that take place throughout pupillage – at the third, fifth, ninth and eleventh-month points. “In each review supervisors write a report and an email gets sent back across chambers asking for feedback,” a pupil informed us. They found the process a useful way to gauge their own progress: “One of my pieces of feedback was that I lacked confidence, which was helpful to get in advance of being on my feet.” The final decision on tenancy is made following a recommendation from the pupillage committee; however, Sandhu makes it clear that “we offer all pupillages with a mind to give pupils tenancy after – nobody is in competition with each other.”
Culture-wise, a pupil reflected that “operationally it feels corporate because it’s so big, but not on a personal level.” A relaxed dress code helps to keep things casual, especially near to Christmas, “when you see some quite horrendous seasonal jumpers around!” one interviewee quipped.Another highlighted the generosity they’d experienced: “They will never let you buy lunch. It’s a tradition. If we go out for drinks and dinner it’s the same thing.” McDaid, discussing the atmosphere, emphasises that “the days of the Dickensian formality served their purpose and the Bar survived and prospered through that period, but it has given way to a modern relationship that works better for everyone. ‘Mr’ and ‘Miss’ have been replaced with first names and there is a raft of policies, including wellbeing and respect policies, which mean that everybody knows where the parameters are to ensure everyone in our business is treated equally.” In keeping with most sets, pupils rarely work past 6pm.
A league of their own
“We were the first and thus far only chambers to take up back-of-shirt sponsorship of a football team when we sponsored Birmingham City Football Club for three years," McDaid tells us. "We've had season boxes at football and cricket grounds, the ballet and the theatre to name but a few.”
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