Old Square Chambers - True Picture

With numerous opportunities to “get out and about,” there are no square eyes at Old Square.

The Chambers

Firmly nestled within one of the City’s finest legal parameters, Old Square’s Georgian townhouse in Bedford Row is decorated with such immaculate style that it feels more like a hotel than a set. Soothing hues of pale green and soft neutrals greeted us in the lobby, before we were shown to a more classical conference room. Whilst we wait for our next gig with Lonely Planet, we’ll move on to more practical reasons for doing your pupillage with Old Square.

“If you’re interested in employment law, Old Square should be at the top of your list.”

With the set’s primary specialisms possessing a degree of crossover, chambers director Sarah Earl lays out that “our two core practice areas are employment and personal injury,” whilst clinical negligence and professional discipline “continue to be growth areas for us which have only gone from strength to strength.”“People-centric” by nature, Earl added, Old Square’s make-up involves a diverse range of personalities who continue to attract “high-profile and rewarding work.” Our sister guide, Chambers UK Bar, guide doesn’t disagree, with the set given top marks for its employment work, leading one interviewee to mention, “if you look at the most prominent employment cases you’ll see that Old Square are on them! - before adding - “if you’re interested in employment law, Old Square should be at the top of your list.”

When asked for a more specific breakdown of the work conducted by the set, Earl confirmed that the core practice areas of employment and personal injury “wavered between 30-40%,” with slightlymore work undertaken on the employment side. Earl continued, “we’ve seen a surge in employment work in the last two years – it was so interlinked with the Covid crisis, and the economic crisis has also resulted in work around industrial action where we work closely with unions.” Case in point, Melanie Tether recently defended UNISON in high-profile unfair dismissal and political discrimination claims brought by a former Regional Organiser. With an expanding arm in investigations too, “we’re often asked to undertake high-level HR investigations; lots of companies are now using that as a method to try to prevent any legal action in the future.” Over on the personal injury side of things, Brian D Cummins is involved in the statuary inquiry into the use of infected blood in transfusions.

The Pupillage Experience

Pupillage consists of four seats each lasting three months, with two taking place in your first six and two in your second. Whilst the first six is non-practising, the “standard procedure is to do a personal injury and employment seat in your first six so that you can see both sides of chambers, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.” Victoria Webb of the set’s pupillage committee confirmed that “each pupil will have four supervisors over the course of the year.” Perhaps ever-more common these days to have multiple supervisors, one junior felt that Old Square had found exactly the right balance. “More than four would be too many, but with three or four you can meet so many people. It’s also enough to have a change of scenery, practice, and input so that nothing goes stale!”

The kind of work pupils can expect to undertake during pupillage consists of “paper work, shadowing in court, client communication and attending conferences,” Webb outlined. Seconded by a junior, “I started off doing work for my supervisors like skeleton arguments, research notes, list of issues, and opinion writing. I once wrote three advices for one supervisor which ranged from a discreet point of law to a court of appeal.” But whilst research notes and pleadings formed the standard first six tasks, one junior was sure to emphasise that “there were certainly no menial tasks – I never scanned anything or ran any favours unless I’d volunteered!”

“I had about three or four court hearings a week in my diary.”

Once second six began, “I started doing infinite approvals, stage three hearings, small claims, some inquests – your typical civil work” relating to live cases. With opportunities in abundance to get on your feet, our sources reckoned this was one of the great things about pupillage at Old Square. “I had about three or four court hearings a week in my diary,” but although that may sound plenty, “they were keen not to overload me.” A great chance to cut your teeth, the substantive court work on offer appeared crucial to pupils’ development.

Assessments are “interspersed throughout the year” and there will be three of them in total. One pupil added, “my first one is at the start of December! It’s early, but that’s because chambers is very interested in what you’ve learned and developed throughout pupillage.” A decision on tenancy results from a blend of the formal assessments, which includes both written work and an oral advocacy presentation in front of a panel, plus perceived progression throughout the course of pupillage. Whilst the formal assessments are important and “certainly contribute to the eventual decision,theyare not determinative,” as chambers looks at the supervisor reports submitted after each three-month seat. The aforementioned oral tenancy committee assessment that takes place every few months also factors in. The tenancy committee will then make a recommendation which chambers will subsequently vote on. A two-thirds majority is required for the pupil to gain tenancy.

The Application Process

Webb tells us that “we run our application process through Pupillage Gateway, so there’s a sifting paper stage and then an interview stage.” For the initial written application made online, one pupil recalled receiving fairly standard questions such as why you want to join Old Square and why you think you’d be a good barrister. Following that, successful applicants will complete the first round of interviews: “You’re invited to chambers and given a problem to think about. They gave me some extracts of contracts, some statutes, and some scenarios before asking for my views on those!” Perhaps a little daunting, rest assured that “you’re not expected to know the specifics of any area of law at this point – only the basics.” The second round of interviews consists of an additional problem as well as further questions relating to the individual’s application, CV, and motivation for applying.

Explaining the criteria that underpins Old Square’s recruitment strategy, Webb outlined, “we’re firstly looking for intellectual ability, which may be evidenced through academic achievements and work experience. We also look at written skills, so how well can someone write and present themselves on paper?” Potential is another consideration, which can be demonstrated through experience in public speaking or mooting, in addition to your motivations for being an advocate, a commitment to chambers’ areas of practice, “and whether they will thrive and see a future here.”

Fair and square by nature and entirely living up to the set’s name, one pupil looked back on there being “no left-field or unexpected questions.” They added, “this actually results in a much fairer application process, because it’s a level playing field for everybody!”

“From my first day as a pupil, I had my door open and people always came in and said hi.”

Asked to describe the culture of the set, it’s fair to say there were no doubts over collegiality here. One junior detailed that things are “very friendly, open, relaxed, informal, and approachable. From my first day as a pupil, I had my door open and people always came in and said hi.” We also heard “I’ve never felt that I couldn’t ask for help, and I’ve never been made to feel bad if I have, even when I should have known the answer!” One pupil agreed with such a take, expressing that “everyone’s been really keen to get to know me, and people are very happy to give advice and guidance. I sit with the most senior member of Chambers who was called in 1960 and they’ve made clear they’re happy to help out and chat over any legal issues.” Social life at the set consists of a summer and Christmas party, chambers lunches every Wednesday, along with a sprinkling of additional meals celebrating special occasions such as a junior becoming a tenant. How nice!

A square deal

Pupil hours are a pretty solid 9 to 6 – “my supervisor is quite strict in making sure we aren’t working too much!"

Old Square Chambers

10-11 Bedford Row,
Website www.oldsquare.co.uk

About Chambers

We are a leading employment, professional discipline, personal injury, and clinical negligence chambers The defining quality of Old Square Chambers is excellence. This is the standard we set for ourselves in the delivery of services to our clients, and the criterion by which we assess prospective tenants and pupils. Members regularly appear before the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the Employment Appeal Tribunal, in leading cases at the forefront of UK law. Chambers was recently recognised as Employment Set of the Year in Legal 500 (2023), Employment Set of the Year by Chambers and Partners in 2022 and Chambers of the Year at the British Legal Awards in 2021. Our members are regularly nominated for and receive awards in their specialisms including members recently being recognised as Employment Junior of the Year, Personal injury Junior of the Year, and Professional Discipline Junior of the Year.

Many of our members are recognised as leading juniors in their field whilst others hold part-time judicial positions, sit on specialist panels, act as mediators, and edit or contribute to leading practitioner texts. Our objective is to select a small number of pupils with the aim of recruiting our tenants from them. We have a strong retention rate and encourage pupils to be collaborative. Chambers is committed to equality and diversity, and we are proud to have a diverse membership which we continue to build upon. We actively engage in several access to the Bar initiatives. We are based in Bedford Row but operate nationally.

Our work

We are a leading chambers in employment law. Our work is balanced between claimant and defendant or respondent and includes the protection of individual rights. We work on behalf of trade unions, commercial organisations, the NHS, and local and central government. In employment we cover all the relevant areas including discrimination, collective action, individual rights, restraint of trade and human rights. Members regularly appear before the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

We also have a thriving practice in the field of professional regulatory and disciplinary work, especially in the healthcare sector, with members often appearing on behalf of high-profile doctors (such as the British Cycling and Team Sky Doctor) and in the High Court seeking injunctive relief. Members also regularly act for dentists, nurses, solicitors, and athletes before their respective regulators.

In personal injury we have an excellent profile spanning all types of litigation, for both claimants and defendants. Particular areas of strength include, catastrophic injury, fatal accident claims, criminal injuries compensation, military claims, disaster, and multi-party litigation.

In clinical law, we have a number of expert practitioners encompassing all disputes affecting and involving the medical, dental, pharmaceutical, and nursing professions, with particular strength in obstetric and neonatal injuries, catastrophic brain injury, delay in diagnosis, and sports injury claims.

We also have a thriving inquests and inquiries practice. Members have worked on most of the high-profile inquests and inquiries over the last three decades, most recently including the Alder Hey Inquiry, Grenfell Inquiry, the Paterson Inquiry, the Leveson Inquiry, the Infected Bloody Inquiry and inquests into the London Bridge and Westminster terrorist attacks. Much of our work involves the use of European jurisprudence.

Who should apply

Chambers offers up to two funded pupillages each year. Each pupil will participate in a non-practising first six and a practising second six. In most instances, pupils will have 4 pupil supervisors in total over the 12-month period. They will sit 3 assessments during their pupillage. In June/July of the pupillage year, a decision will be taken as to whether the pupils will be offered tenancy at the conclusion of their training period. Chambers have an excellent retention record for pupils joining Chambers after pupillage, and in the last 3 years, 6 pupils out of 6 have been taken on as full members. Pupils do not compete against each other and are assessed separately against both regulatory standards of competence and our recruitment criteria.

We are committed to ensuring all our recruitment and selection processes are fair and that protected characteristics are safeguarded.

We use the following criteria to shortlist applications:

Intellectual ability– The score for this criterion is based on the academic qualifications on the CV and/or other evidence of intellectual abilities, such as from the individual’s work experience. A minimum of a 2.1 is preferred.
Written and persuasive argument skills– This criterion is assessed on the basis of the content of the application form.
Potential and motivation to be an advocate– We ask for candidates to be able to demonstrate experience of public speaking (e.g. mooting, debating, other public speaking), representation work or indications of potential in this area.
Commitment to Chambers’ fields of practice– This criterion is assessed on evidence in the application form as to the candidate’s preferred areas of practice as well as the reason given for why they are applying to Old Square in particular. It is not necessary for a candidate to show interest in all core/growth areas to achieve the highest scores.

Our shortlisting and interview process

Old Square Chambers accepts applications via the Pupillage Gateway.

Our shortlisting process is undertaken shortly after applications close and is subject to the above mentioned criteria. Applications are anonymised for this process. We encourage applicants to consider the contents of their applications bearing this in mind, to avoid referencing any protected characteristics unless strictly necessary. Shortlisting of applications usually takes 3 – 4 weeks.

On conclusion of the shortlisting process, we will contact all applicants, advising as to whether they have been invited for a first-round interview, or if their application has not been successful.

Our process usually consists of two interviews, which we undertake in person save for exceptional circumstances (such as difficulties with public transport or applicants residing abroad).

Offers to prospective pupils are then made in line with the Chambers Gateway timetable.

Feedback can be provided to unsuccessful interviewees. We do not provide feedback to individuals who are not shortlisted to attend interviews.

Pupillage programme

Pupils are offered generous funding. Pupils will experience a wide variety of court and paperwork. There is also the opportunity to work closely with silks on complex and sometimes high-profile cases.

Our current pupillage award, for recruitment of pupils from October 2025 onwards, is £70,000, (including guaranteed minimum earnings of £10,000 during the second six, payable at the conclusion of the same). A draw down system facility of up to £20,000 is available for the BTC on acceptance of an offer of pupillage, subject to references.

Mini pupillages

Chambers offer 3-day mini pupillages during specific weeks in June, July and September. We apply the same shortlisting criteria to mini pupillages as we do pupillages, and applications are anonymised for this process. The application process is outlined on our website and is published in January of each year.

Our mini pupillages are not assessed, and they are not a requirement to apply for pupillage with us.

Funding to assist with travel costs is available on application for mini pupillages. Please see our application process details on our website in January for details.

Access to the Bar as a profession

Chambers are committed to further improving access to the Bar as a profession. Amongst our many Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, those specifically related to access to the Bar as a profession include:

- Funded/part funded work experience scheme, aimed at 16 – 18 year old students - Funded/part funded mini pupillage scheme, aimed at students who are in at least their second year of university and can demonstrate an interest in law and specifically, our practice areas
- Bristol Student Union Student Group sponsor
- Sponsorship of several university prizes relating to our practice areas, which include monetary awards and mini pupillages
- Participants in the Bar Council’s Black Intern Scheme annually
- Gold partner of ‘Support Through Court’– this initiative is twofold as it not only supports the charity in its mission to improve on access to justice for individuals without representation, but is directly aligned with their student volunteer programme to allow mentee relationships and raise awareness of the Bar and how to access it as a profession
- A number of members independently volunteer for mentor schemes with the Inns and social mobility programmes, together with attending schools to present to students
- Competitive grants with a high draw down facility to assist students in achieving the BTC on successful application for pupillage

Corporate Social Responsibility

Beyond our Access to the Bar initiatives, Chambers also have in place a number of broader social responsibility commitments, that focus on everything from sustainability to more general wellbeing.

Just some of our initiatives in Chambers are:

- Chambers have a dedicated Equality Diversity and Wellbeing Committee.
- We have in place a mentoring scheme allowing any member of Chambers, regardless of seniority, to seek and be allocated a mentor to assist them in progressing their professional development.
- Chambers are an accredited London Living Wage employer, which is extended to all of our subcontractors.
- We have trained mental health first aiders amongst both the staff and membership, and members of the Committee are available to all members, staff and pupils to assist and support as required.
- We offer various signposting to sector specific resources to assist members and staff with any challenges they may be facing.
- Chambers have a parental leave policy in place to assist members with financial challenges faced when taking parental leave.
- We have several informal WhatsApp groups specifically focused towards individuals with health concerns that affect their practices, and individuals with caring/parental responsibilities.
- We provide free feminine care products in Chambers, that are sustainably sourced from an organization who match what we spend by donating products to those that cannot access them.
- A number of our members provide Pro Bono services via Advocate

Under the heading of sustainability, Chambers also have the following in place:

- All energy suppliers to Chambers are green suppliers
- We use recycled products wherever possible and avoid single use products
- We encourage all members, current and those joining us, to move towards paperless working solutions and where this isn’t possible, to take extra care as to what they print and in what format so as to reduce the environmental impact
- Any merchandising we undertake is with a view to sustainable products that can be reused
- Our facilities in London have sensor lighting in all common areas, LED light fittings (low energy) and thermostatic radiators with central boiler control to reduce wasting natural resources

Pupillage contact

Sarah Earl, searl@oldsquare.co.uk

Social media

Twitter/X: @OldSqChambers
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/old-square-chambers/

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Clinical Negligence (Band 5)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury (Band 3)
    • Professional Discipline (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury (Band 2)