Quadrant’s expertise may be anchored in shipping law, but its members are making waves across the commercial Bar.
Quadrant Chambers pupillage review
“Our roots are in the marine sector but we have successfully broadened out into the synergistic areas and we are now recognised as one of the leading commercial sets," senior clerk Gary Ventura explains of Quadrant. “When I joined 20 years ago, shipping made up about 80% of our work; now it’s around 45%. In the last two years we have attracted lateral hires who have helped broaden chambers' presence in the commercial sector. These individuals appreciate the culture that has been developed over a numbers of years at the set." Out of 67 Quadrant members, there are now 13 who do nothing shipping-related. Chambers UK Bar grants the set top rankings for both shipping and travel (regulatory and commercial); Quadrant also earns accolades for aviation, commercial dispute resolution, and energy and natural resources.
In a massive $1 billion shipping case, Lionel Persey QC represented the Kingdom of Spain in court after the MV Prestige oil tanker sank and spilled millions of gallons of oil into Spanish waters, the largest environmental disaster in the country’s history. As part of a $170 million dispute between joint venture owners of a fleet of vessels and tankers, with elements of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, Poonam Melwani QC obtained a worldwide freezing order for over $60 million. Back on land, Simon Rainey QC defended Iran in $600 million enforcement and state immunity proceedings alleging terrorist activity; and Paul Downes QC represented West Ham FC in a clash with the owners of London Stadium after they blocked a request for increased stadium capacity.
“When I joined 17 years ago, shipping made up about 80% of our work; now it’s around 45%.”
Quadrant’s name appears in all kinds of mammoth cases, but pupils were keen to stress that the set’s success hasn’t gone to members’ heads. “There’s a huge amount of pomposity at the Bar, but we attract people who have a healthier attitude towards self-importance than other sets,” according to one source. “We take the piss out of each other to keep everyone grounded.” Each pupil gets a clerk mentor “to foster a relationship before starting tenancy,” and they were happy to use this launching pad. “Right from the beginning, the senior clerks made a massive effort to help me get my name out there.”
The Pupillage Experience
It’s appropriate that Quadrant pupils sit with four supervisors, each for a three-month seat; they’ll sometimes do two seats with the same member. “Having multiple supervisors is very beneficial because you see different ways of doing things, so you can develop your own style,” sources said. Pupils mostly work alongside their supervisor and focus on whatever their specialism is. They’re not too restricted: “My supervisor had a very broad practice and my caseload varied from shipping to fraud and bribery.” Others had cut their teeth on a mix of dead and live cases across shipping and commodities law, commercial arbitration and “many types of commercial litigation.” Skeleton arguments, written advice and court shadowing are common pupil tasks. “We stress to supervisors that they need to give feedback on any task within a week, when it’s still fresh in pupils’ minds,” pupillage committee head Chris Smith QC tells us.
“Pupils typically work for someone with ten to 15 years’ call, so the matters are fairly technically complicated,” we heard. “The high-value nature of work” at Quadrant means the second six is non-practising, though some get pupils get to stretch their wings on secondment. “I went to a leading London-based insurer, which was a really good way to develop market awareness and get to know key clients in that sector,” a baby junior explained. “Since securing tenancy, I’ve had a steady stream of insurance work coming from that secondment.”
“Pupils typically work for someone with ten to 15 years’ call, so the matters are fairly technically complicated.”
Assessment comes in the form of written and oral exercises once every three months, set by senior Quadrant members (usually silks). Each pupil does the same exercise in the same timeframe, “so we can compare them – not because it’s a competition, but so we can see how their thinking might differ in the same scenario.” These are prime opportunities to impress members who aren’t your supervisor or “involved in the day-to-day of pupillage.” Oral assessments are typically an application for summary judgment or mock appeal hearing, with a QC playing judge: “They ask you questions and try to challenge and test you under pressure to see how you react, then they give you oral feedback straight away.” Quadrant scores pupils against defined competencies; they found the instant feedback helpful “because otherwise I’d have forgotten what I did in the assessment!” One source suggested the three-month gap between tests means “you don’t feel like you’re constantly being assessed.”
Chris Smith outlines Quadrant’s approach: “We emphasise that we’re not just testing whether pupils are good enough. It’s about helping pupils reach that threshold, and we invest in them with a high pupillage award.” £65,000 is indeed at the higher end of the pupillage award scale. Each assessment goes into a file with reports from the pupil supervisors – Quadrant’s pupillage committee assesses the whole file and makes a tenancy recommendation to chambers. “We expose pupils to a small pool of members, and the views of their pupil supervisors are generally determinative. So if their pupil supervisors recommend them for tenancy they are likely to be taken on,” Smith suggests. Two out of three pupils secured tenancy in 2020.
Sources described a “fantastically friendly” relationship between pupils, clerks and barristers: “Chambers laid on a night out for pupils and clerks, which was really beneficial because it can be intimidating going into the clerks’ room before you get to know them.” Quadrant’s magnificent library is the meeting point for various social drinks and client events throughout the year, “and pupils are encouraged to join in. When we put on our Quadrant badges and speak to clients as a team, it really feels like we’re a group of people supporting each other.” One interviewee summed up their sentiments: “I don’t get the feeling we’re just a collection of self-employed people; it feels like one cohesive unit.”
The Application Process
Quadrant sits in the Pupillage Gateway. Chris Smith reveals that they “tweak the application process year on year: we still use the Gateway’s application form, but this year we decided to add our own questions too, as we had otherwise found we were getting the same template answers.” In the interest of diversity, Quadrant signed on to the Rare Contextual Recruitment System in 2020. The external agency sets candidates’ academic achievements against their school’s average. Smith suggests: “It’s very useful because the majority of candidates applying to us have incredibly impressive academics and by using the Rare System we can identify candidates who have overachieved at school, or against the odds."
Between 15 and 30 applicants (26 in the most recent round) take on a written test designed by members. “We don’t want to give an unfair advantage to people who have a law degree, so the test doesn’t include any degree-level legal knowledge,” we heard. The assessment usually involves a two-page legal problem that candidates provide a five-page advice to. “Not all chambers do something similar, but it’s a great opportunity to shine,” pupils suggested. Twelve or so candidates make it through to the interview stage; there will be either be one or two rounds depending on whether Quadrant has set a written test that year.
“It’s not necessarily about knowing the right answer; it’s more about whether you can argue your answer in a persuasive and consistent way.”
Interviewees receive a passage from a case to consider about half an hour before the interview, which is split into two sections: for the first, candidates answer questions about their given case for 15 to 20 minutes. Quadrant deliberately picks cases that they’re unlikely to have read about to ensure a level playing field: “They just want to see your gut reaction, and for you to demonstrate you understand it.” The second half of the interview revolves around an ethical problem, but there’s no need to have brushed up too much in advance: “A lot of it is common sense, such as knowing whether your client is lying,” Chris Smith explains. “It’s not necessarily about knowing the right answer; it’s more about whether you can argue your answer in a persuasive and consistent way. What matters is that you justify what you say.” One junior tenant “gave completely the wrong answer during their interview, but they stuck to their guns and answered so persuasively we gave them pupillage.” Don’t necessarily follow their example – but do take inspiration from their story!
We asked what advice Chris Smith had for budding barristers: “You need to be sensitive, serious and responsive with clients, to show them you’re not a puffed-up balloon who thinks ‘Oh, aren’t clients lucky to have me.’ There’s nothing worse than a pompous 26-year-old in a waistcoat.”
10 Fleet Street,
- No of silks 25
- No of juniors 43
- 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 4
- No of tenants of five years call or under 4
Type of work undertaken
Quadrant Chambers uses the Pupillage Gateway to manage its applications. Thereafter our process involves a series of interviews and a test set. Please see our website for further details.