This connoisseur of the commercial Bar was “ditching suits long before it became trendy!”
One Essex Court pupillage review 2024
Commercial litigation is to One Essex Court what gin is to tonic. “Almost all the work we do falls under the very broad commercial disputes umbrella. Within that wide spectrum of work however, is a significant amount of highly specialised, complex and high-value legal work, including particularly niche instructions, sometimes within distinct regulatory frameworks," summarised senior clerk Darren Burrows. Despite this focus on disputes, the set itself is by no means a contentious place to work: “The clerking team is great; we have a really supportive culture,” reported a junior tenant. You could say the clerks are a tonic for barristers…
“Our barristers have multidisciplinary practices and can turn their hand to anything.”
Chambers UK Barawards top rankings to the set’s bread-and-butter commercial dispute resolution work, alongside civil fraud, banking and finance, and energy and natural resources. Its competition, tax, IP, group litigation, and international arbitration (commercial and insurance) practices also receive recognition from the guide. These are a few of the core practices highlighted by Burrows, and he adds that the set has seen an increase in renewable energy and competition work in recent years. “There’s a lot of overlap in our sectors,” says Burrows. “Our barristers have multidisciplinary practices, which require them to possess and develop expertise in complimnetary areas of work."
The set’s barristers regularly represent clients in a range of jurisdictions, including the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Cyprus. In fact, Chambers Global considers the set to be a Global Market Leader for its international arbitration work. On the commercial side of things, Daniel Toledano KC, Nicholas Sloboda and Alain Choo Choy KC were involved (on opposing sides) in The Fundao Dam litigation, a $5 billion claim brought by more than 200,000 Brazilian individuals, private businesses and municipalities against FTSE 100 mining company BHP Group, concerning the collapse of an iron ore dam in Brazil. Sounds like pretty hefty stuff!
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage follows the typical market models: the first two last three months, and the third is six months long. Pupils sit with different supervisors for each, at least one of whom will be female. “The aim is to see a diverse range of work and to sit with different sorts of people,” explains Simon Colton KC. Pupils focus exclusively on live work, assisting their supervisors with whatever they happen to be working on at the time. “I’ve seen contract claims, company law, regulatory work and a massive fraud case,” one pupil explained. Meanwhile, a junior tenant suggested that, while you may see some niche practices, “most supervisors work in Chambers’ main areas so you’re likely to get a good sense of energy, banking, and group litigation.” A pupil mentioned having written drafts of opinions, while a junior tenant had done research for first drafts of speaking notes.
“You feel so involved, even as a pupil.”
“You feel so involved, even as a pupil,” our tenant interviewee explained. “It was exciting to be so close to the action, even as a first seater.” Newbies also do work for other members of Chambers on an as-needed basis. There are advocacy exercises for pupils, but these aren’t formally assessed. In fact, “the junior silk who observes isn’t allowed to tell anyone how you did so it’s a safe space to take your baby steps,” a pupil gratefully explained.
A unique aspect of the One Essex Court pupillage is the practising second six. “That’s fun,” a grinning pupil explained. “You get to do work in your own right while still having a supervisor, so there’s still someone in your room to help you.” Colton echoes this sentiment: “We’re very keen to protect our pupils but also keen that they should learn.” One interviewee found that having a supervisor while practising helped transition into life as a tenant and emphasised how “all supervisors see it as part of their role to provide ongoing support after you finish the seat, and even into tenancy.” Pupils can start to take their own instructions, like smaller, low-value contract claims, “asa chance to be in court and get that experience of making submissions and being before a judge.”
“What matters isn’t how you make mistakes but how you respond to them. Firstly, oops. Secondly, ouch. Thirdly, what do I do now?”
Colton clarifies that pupils are only assigned practical work when it’s clear they can meet the client’s needs, and instructing solicitors understand that they’re working with pupils. “Real world experience makes a barrister,” he adds. “But every barrister makes mistakes throughout their careers – it's how we learn. There’s no period it’s ‘acceptable’ to make a mistake because it’s always acceptable. What matters is how you respond to them.” So, how exactly should a pupil go about correcting their errors? “Firstly, oops. Secondly, ouch. Thirdly, what do I need to do now? And how do I make sure it doesn’t happen again?”
There’s no formally-assessed work,but the work pupils do for other barristers is marked and considered as part of the tenancy decision alongside supervisor reports on a pupil’s performance. A tenant loved the lack of formal assessment, enthusing, “it really makes you feel part of the team! Working for your supervisors is much more valuable as a learning experience than doing the same assessment as your co-pupils.” Before the pupillage committee’s final tenancy decision goes to the rest of Chambers for a vote, prospective tenants find out whether they’ll be recommended. However, the senior clerk and head of pupillage committee check in with pupils after every seat so that they know how they’re doing at every stage. “We encourage a reflective approach to work,” says Colton. “What matters is the trajectory you’re on and your openness to learn and improve.”
Despite the formal feedback structure, Colton is clear that “the only tradition we have here is informality.” In fact, according to a pupil, “One Essex Court’s image has always been the most relaxed of the commercial sets.” In practice, our interviewees suggested that this lack of stuffiness translates to a friendly, supportive atmosphere. Everyone’s on a first name basis and there’s no formal dress code. “We were ditching suits and ties long before it became trendy!” Colton boasts, while a junior quipped, “I’m wearing shorts today.” Similarly, we heard the Chambers choir is well-attended by silks, and a great way to get to know them without worrying about trying to impress professionally.
“You’d think you were the only person the clerks were looking after.”
The clerks were praised by more junior interviewees for being helpful and approachable, to the extent that “you’d think you were the only person the clerks were looking after.” Burrows highlights the importance of balance, explaining how “successful barristers need a trusted agent who is both an advisor and a friend. Good clerks as with good friends, should be able to give the barrister unvarnished truth, so they need us to be honest and sometimes quite firm. It's a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.” Although barristers are encouraged to be in as much as possible, a junior tenant explained that the set’s good at keeping an eye on pupils’ hours: “There’s generally no expectation you stay longer than 6 or 6.30pm, but sometimes people do stay later as we’re keen to learn and take part.” A pupil added, “stuff has spilled into the weekends at times, but I haven’t had any really late nights.”
The Application Process
One Essex Court’s application process starts on the Pupillage Gateway. All applicants are assessed against a specific set of selection criteria, which the sets tells us is designed so that both law and non-law students can be assessed on an equal footing. A single panel – made up of “as diverse a selection of barristers as possible to ensure a range of backgrounds and experience,” says Colton – conducts interview. Questions are based on made up contracts or regulations, and applicants are asked to present their advice in response to an issue. A pupil appreciated how “they were generous with the timing. The questions were difficult, but it felt a lot less rushed so I could show my best work.” Specifically, candidates get 90 minutes to prepare for a 25-minute interview. “The idea is to discuss where the strengths and weaknesses of their argument lie. It’s more focused on reasoning than your CV,” Colton explains.
Offers are made after interviews and, throughout the process, the set looks for evidence that candidates meet the selection criteria. “Excellence” is a key word here, as One Essex Court is keen to take on pupils who display intellectual excellence, top presentation skills and who are committed to pursuing this throughout their careers. The set is keen to expand its recruitment and offers mentoring to prospective applicants from underrepresented groups, such as women and people with disabilities. “The pupils who do best are reflective, take feedback and have a thirst for learning,” Colton highlights. “The ones who don’t do so well think they know everything already. You have to see pupillage as a year of learning.”
One Essex Support
All pupils are assigned a mentor for confidential support. “They cannot have a role in tenancy decisions precisely so they can remain non-judgemental.”
One Essex Court
One Essex Court,
Type of work undertaken
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Group Litigation (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 3)