Commercial connoisseurs at One Essex Court seek those with “a maturity of judgement” and “a nimbleness of intellect” to join their top-class ranks.
One Essex Court sits in the centre of Middle Temple and is regarded as one of London's top sets for all things commercial. “The great thing about being a commercial set is that we can house many different groups under the commercial litigation umbrella,” senior clerk Darren Burrows highlights. And OEC does just that – the set’s barristers dabble in everything from banking and finance to energy to civil fraud to general commercial disputes, each of which gains a tippy-toppy Band 1 ranking from Chambers UK Bar. Pupils were drawn to “the many massive cases coming into chambers,” one of which saw several barristers defend Tesco against shareholder claims arising from an overstatement of trading profits.Burrows also noted: “We do a good deal of banking and finance-related work – we’re still involved in cases that have their origins back in the financial crisis over a decade ago.” For example, Malcolm Gammie QC recently appeared for HMRC in the successful dismissal of an appeal by the administrators of Lehman Brothers in the Supreme Court; the issue at hand was whether the administrators had to pay £5 billion of statutory interest to HMRC before paying interest to creditors.
“So many silks with high-calibre practices.”
This is a set where standards are high: OEC houses multiple stars of the Bar including head of chambers Lord Grabiner QC and Laurence Rabinowitz QC. A junior tenant reflected: “There are so many silks with high-calibre practices, taking on so many massive cases that they’re always in need of juniors. So you know you’re never going to be out of work.” At the same time sources felt “although people are working on very serious, high-pressure cases, the people here are friendly, the atmosphere is down to earth, and everyone is approachable.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage is split into three chunks: two three-month stints and a final six-month stint, each with a different supervisor. “For the first three months you mostly work for your supervisor, rather than doing a huge amount for other people in chambers,” one new tenant recalled. Pupils do a bit for others over this period, but it’s during the second three months that “you start to get farmed out a bit more and work for a wider range of people.” Pupils start out with legal research and drafting notes or opinions. Sources had also helped prepare for hearings, which means “preparing openings and cross-examination scripts for witnesses” or “drafting more formal documents like pleadings and skeleton arguments.” Pupils go along to court with their supervisor on big cases, but the clerks also arrange for them to “go to small County Court hearings with a first-year tenant, which is really helpful because the nature of the County Court is very different to the High Court.” As for the range of work chambers does, pupils see “absolutely everything,” though there can be slight variations – one rookie had seen “a little bit more energy work,” for instance.
It’s during pupils’ second six that things get more juicy: pupils get on their feet thanks to small County Court cases which the clerks seek out especially for them. New tenants and current pupils had handled “small hearings, mainly road traffic accidents” in their second six and appreciated “the opportunity to do some advocacy and get used to having a client of your own.” Sources reported that RTAs “normally involve some cross-examination – not just an application – so it’s really valuable getting that type of work.” One interviewee reflected: “It’s certainly exciting! I think everyone is a little nervous the first time they go to court, but one of the strengths of starting advocacy in your second six is that you’re not just parking it until you’re a new tenant.” Sources emphasised that this means “there’s a lot of support from your supervisors – you’re not cast out into the world.”
“You've got to show improvement and that you're learning.”
The tenancy decision is made halfway through the final six. There are no formal assessments, rather “the principal assessment is done by supervisors based on the work a pupil has done along the way, taking into account the fact that the pupil is likely to improve over the course of the year,” pupillage committee member Anna Boase explains. All work is assessed: each supervisor writes a report based on pupils’ work. If a pupil has worked for another member of chambers, that member will also fill out a mark sheet on that work. In order to be successful, one interviewee highlighted, “you’ve got to show improvement and that you’re learning.” Another added: “Being responsive to your supervisor is key, like adapting what you do to be most helpful to them.” Based on supervisor reports, the tenancy committee meets and makes a recommendation as to whether or not a pupil should be taken on. Chambers as a whole then votes and “more often than not they follow the recommendation.” In 2020 all three pupils were made tenants.
OEC recently set up a mentoring scheme for pupils: each pupil has a mentor for the year, who importantly “doesn’t participate in the tenancy decision at the end, so hopefully pupils feel it’s someone they can have an open conversation with.”
“People have treated me like part of chambers from the day I arrived."
All our interviewees agreed that OEC has a friendly and generally relaxed nature. “When Inner Temple Hall is open, everyone goes to have lunch there every Friday,” one source reported. “And that's people of all levels of seniority – I could be sat next to a pupil or next to Laurence Rabinowitz, who would happily have a conversation about how much he hates Chelsea!” Football rivalries aside, pupils felt “people have treated me like part of chambers from the day I arrived.” Socially, the set hosts drinks every last Thursday of the month, “which are well attended.” One pupil also mentioned that “once a month all the women in chambers meet up for lunch – it’s a nice way to meet more senior women in chambers.”
Interviewees estimated that they “normally come in between 8am and 9am, and leave sometime between 6pm and 7pm.” There are times when the hours get longer though. “I did some work on a massive trial when a member of chambers got brought in as lead counsel very late in the day,” one pupil recalled. “They needed someone to do legal research, and there was a lot of it, so I was working into the early morning.”
The Application Process
All applications to One Essex Court are made through the Pupillage Gateway. We were curious what OEC asks applicants now the Gateway application form is more flexible. “We asked students to describe what law they would change and why,” Anna Boase informed us. “That gave us the opportunity to get students to do a short piece of written work and show us how they write, how they argue, and what their ideas are.” Three members review every application, then the set invites around 40 people to a first-round interview. “We give students an hour in advance to look at a statutory interpretation problem,” Boase reveals. “They then come into the interview, and we invite them to present their answer as though they were advising a client. That allows us to see how they present orally and allows us to ask questions to see how they deal with that.”
Around ten successful candidates are invited to a second interview which sources reckoned “follows exactly the same process.” Boase adds: “The problem question is even more legally focused, and based on a genuine case a member of chambers has had to deal with.” Despite the question being a firmly legal one, a junior advised: “Knowing a lot more law isn’t going to help you; doing well is more about taking the basic principles you know and working out which are relevant and how they apply.” Those who tend to impress are those who “understand and can articulate a sensible answer in response to all aspects of the problem – those who identify a clear structure in their answer and follow that path.”
The fifth element
In addition to a maximum of four commercial pupils, One Essex Court takes on one IP pupil a year, though that person can also do a commercial seat as part of pupillage.
One Essex Court
One Essex Court,
- No of silks 41
- No of juniors 65
- No of pupils 5+
- Contact Joanne Huxley, secretary to the pupillage committee
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Five plus of 12 months
- Required degree grade Ordinarily a first-class degree (law or non-law)
- Tenancies: Both pupils offered tenancy
- Income Award of £70,000 plus earnings during second-six
- Other offices Singapore
Type of work undertaken