Plying its trade across the seas, skies and the whole commercial spectrum, Quadrant means business.
Don't Stop Believin'
Wrapping up our chat in Quadrant's lovely library, senior clerk Gary Ventura summed up the set's recent past as “an exciting journey... one that's still ongoing.” It's an apt metaphor given this set's expertise in shipping, aviation and all things international trade. Ventura explains that Quadrant’s roots “are in shipping, and from there we've attracted work synergistic to our core areas. When I joined 17 years ago we did 80% marine work; now it's just 46% of our practice.” This isn't a case of fortunes sinking, but expansion into new waters – for example, a quartet of banking and commercial barristers joined in early 2018, bringing the total members doing no shipping work at all up to 12. The set's practice also extends to international arbitration, energy, insurance and travel – it picks up a top Chambers UK ranking for the last of these, as well as shipping and aviation.
Quadrant's clout in the world of shipping is such that members were instructed by all three parties in the $130 million 'Ocean Victory' case after the ship ran aground in bad weather in a Japanese harbour. Around 65% of Quadrant's work involves international clients. For example, Guy Blackwood QC represented Switzerland's Taurus Petroleum in a Supreme Court case against the Iraqi oil ministry about state immunity and debt enforcement; Simon Rainey QC represented mining company Timis in a clash with Gerald Metals over activity in Sierra Leone; Rainey also worked on a $242 million embezzlement claim brought by a Chinese aluminium billionaire's associate over the ownership of supercars. On the domestic front, Paul Downes QC represented West Ham United in a dispute with London Legacy over access to the former Olympic stadium (and future West Ham ground) in East London. Most arbitration work is confidential, but we can reveal one case was a $2 billion energy dispute over shares in Nigeria's largest deepwater oilfield.
“It's a technical area which you need to build experience in.”
Pupils appreciated the “variety of projects” they got exposure to. “No two pieces of work cover the same issues," one said. "The questions we tackle are often far from straightforward.” We heard that pupillage entails “around 60% shipping work. It's a technical area which you need to build experience in before you can fully get to grips with it." Deep knowledge of shipping law is by no means a prerequisite for applicants – as long as you know what a boat is, you're good to go. “You don't need a background or experience in shipping law to apply,” one source stressed, and head of pupillage John Russell QC advises that “doing mini-pupillages at any sort of commercial set will help your application. It's not a problem if you've tried a variety of different areas of law.” What will also put candidates in good stead is a businesslike mindset, as 'commercial' is an apt term to summarise not only Quadrant's practice, but also its ethos. Gary Ventura describes commercial barristers as “a fantastic product,” and suggests newcomers to the profession “have to appreciate the need for an entrepreneurial approach. Don't celebrate when a client comes to you for the first time, celebrate when they're returning to you for work again and again.”
Tell me no lies
Applicants first go through the Pupillage Gateway. After an initial sift an unspecified number of candidates are invited to a first interview; 15 to 20 then make it through to round two. There was previously a written test between the two stages but that's been axed for 2019 – but be aware the whole process has fluctuated somewhat in recent years, so there might be a revived written element in future. What's certain is both interview stages involve a problem question for applicants to study in advance and several unseen questions. One interviewee recalled: “There's usually an ethical question, like 'How would you deal with a client hiding the truth from you?'”
John Russell explains that interviewers are “looking for the ability to analyse, develop an argument and present it. We're also assessing candidates' ability to weigh up pros and cons of arguments and their proficiency at shifting gears depending on the circumstances of the situation.” To that end interviewers will sometimes change a fact or the setting of a question to see how a candidate adapts. A baby junior advised: “Preparation is essential. When they ask why you want to join this set, the interviewee who's prepared an answer will inevitably come out on top.” What else? Well, we noticed the set's most junior members attended a mix of unis – Durham, KCL, Westminster, Oxford, Cambridge – and a significant number had done an LLM or the BCL.
Lots to sea and do
Pupils typically sit with four different supervisors for three months at a time. John Russell reveals that “who they sit with isn't set in stone. We decide at each changeover who they're going to next to ensure there's a good fit and so pupils get as varied an experience as possible.” Those we spoke to had had exposure to shipping, trade, aviation, arbitration, insurance and general commercial matters. Pupils can also get work from other members to spread their wings “though less so in the early going.”
“By the second six they'll want to bounce ideas off you.”
Newcomers find their feet on a mix of live and dead cases, for which they'll “do drafts of pleadings or advices, then get immediate feedback.” There were no complaints about having to tackle past cases – on the contrary, sources appreciated “immediately being able to see the supervisor's version of what you've done. As you build experience you'll start to work in parallel with them and by the second six they'll start bouncing ideas off you.” The second six doesn't see pupils getting on their feet, but they do get to sit in court and soak things in. One told us: “The most memorable case I saw was one my supervisor – and the judge – realised was indefensible, but they had to make the best of it. I learnt a lot from that.” Most supervisors also run mock conferences and advocacy exercises to build up their charges' speaking skills.
Recent pupils have also undertaken a formal written and oral assessment with each supervisor, but that might change in future according to John Russell. What he could tell us for now is: “There are regular formal assessments throughout the year to test how pupils perform in a more high-pressure environment and build their advocacy skills.” Interviewees suggested the assessments “are designed to test you not trip you up. It'll often be a straightforward dispute in an unusual setting.” Pupils also receive reports every three months scoring them on the competencies expected of tenants. The tenancy decision is based on pupils' performance across the year and reports from every member who's overseen them. The pupillage committee and supervisors meet to evaluate pupils' abilities and make a recommendation on who should make the cut. “We can take on as many new tenants as fit those criteria,” Russell confirms. In 2018 all three pupils took up tenancy.
Interviewees at Quadrant “found everyone to be welcoming and friendly – you're not treated at all strangely because you're a pupil.” Another pupil added: “People at Quadrant are very down to earth and informal; we take cues from law firms and companies more than from traditional chambers.” The culture is kept going with occasional events including a Christmas party in the library. Supervisors also encourage their charges to get to know the clerks and tend to keep their doors open so pupils can venture in for a chat. “There's a good social feeling among juniors” too – “we'll all go out together for pints after work.” The day of a pupil runs “until the work gets done,” which is normally around 6.30pm; anything later than 9pm is a rarity.
Over the past five years juniors' earnings have averaged £110,000 in the first year after pupillage and shot up significantly thereafter. Wowzers!
10 Fleet Street,
- No of silks 23
- No of juniors 42
- Contact Pupillage secretary
- Email [email protected]
- Method of application Chambers’ application form
- Pupillages pa 3
- Required degree First or high 2:1
- Income £65,000 (earnings not included)
- Current tenants who served pupillage in chambers 34
- Junior tenancies offered in last three years 5
- No of tenants of five years call or under 3
Type of work undertaken
Funding and sponsorship
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2018
- Aviation (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
- Shipping & Commodities (Band 1)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Band 3)
- Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 1)