For a firm family focus and a close-knit culture, QEB is the place to be.
Queen Elizabeth Building QEB pupillage review 2022
“We’re a specialist family law set, dealing with cases like high-end divorce, child law, domestic violence and financial remedies,” as Queen Elizabeth Building’s senior clerk Howard Rayner puts it. Indeed, to drive this home, QEB earns top marks from Chambers UK Bar forits family law work in the matrimonial finance sphere. Unsurprisingly, this area work brings in a large chunk of QEB’s instructions – around three-quarters – while child abduction cases and private law, forced marriage, civil partnerships, foreign divorces and TOLATA (Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act) cases provide the rest. The set currently has seven silks and 27 juniors, and has also kept on both its pupils as tenants in 2021.
Twenty-one of the set’s members earn individual rankings in Chambers Bar UK, 20 of which are for matrimonial finance. A large portion of the matters taken on by QEB barristers are confidential given their nature, but there are a couple we can highlight. In a recent case, Stewart Leech QC successfully acted for a Russian oligarch in a matter where the oligarch’s ex-wife was seeking to secure a £5 billion pay-out after their divorce, which would have been the highest divorce pay-out in British legal history had the wife succeeded. Elsewhere, Lucy Stone QC acted for the wife in a divorce case concerning the application of the ‘compensation principle’, where the wife was awarded compensation (in addition to equal share of the family’s wealth) for the loss of a chance to have a successful City law career so she could look after the couple’s children.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with three supervisors across the twelve-month pupillage, each for about four months at a time. The first seat is dedicated to laying the basic groundwork, the second seat is generally where pupils get their footing and the third seat helps newbies transition into actual practice. On the set’s supervision style, Andrew Campbell explains: “Each supervisor has their own style, but generally we’re a more hands-on set of chambers.” Even during remote working, QEB kept lines of communication tight. Campbell continues: “We have a friendly, supportive and inclusive pupillage; we don’t just give pupils work and make them figure it out. We’ve tried our best to keep support lines strong throughout lockdown, and since working remotely, the supervisors have been checking in with pupils every day.” These catch-ups often took place over Zoom, though pupils have been starting to flurry back into chambers at the discretion of their supervisor. QEB also assigns pupils a junior contact – normally a tenant with at least one year’s experience – to build their confidence in court.
"...the set makes sure you see a variety of work so you’re prepared for your second six."
During their first six, pupils follow their supervisor’s lead. One pupil elaborated: “You don’t take on your own cases - you’re doing what your supervisor is doing. Still, the set makes sure you see a variety of work so you’re prepared for your second six. I got involved in some pretty large cases at the High Court.” In particular, one junior recalled seeing “a lot of private children's work and family law applications, as well as some civil work and inheritance applications too.” Andrew Campbell describes the type of work pupils get up to as “mainly live work, which is comprised of financial remedies type of cases, such as the money side of divorce.” A pupil said: “I’ve done lots of family law applications, and some children work at the junior end – your workload is really dictated by the types of instructions that come in.”
When their second six rolls around, pupils’ diaries start filling up with their own court cases, alongside assessments and as well as continuing to assist their supervisor. “It was a tough experience, but chambers tried as hard as they could to alleviate any concerns I had; they went above and beyond to make sure I could contact them with any questions.” During the second six, pupils typically attend court two to three times a week. “I had a couple of court appearances in person but most of them were remote; my supervisor was really good at making sure I was able to get that experience,” an interviewee noted.
At the end of each four-month seat, supervisors write a report grading each pupil from one to four on areas including presentation, communication and persuasiveness. These reports form part of the ‘tenancy pack’ that is given to the whole of chambers. One source explained: “Chambers tries to be as transparent as they can be, you get feedback throughout the pupillage that you can discuss with your supervisor and are made aware of the areas you need to work on.” Pupils will complete an unassessed advocacy exercise before Christmas, followed by one informal advocacy assessment and one formal advocacy assessment later in the year. During the advocacy assessment, pupils are joined by some of the top silks in the country, who act as judges. Unsurprisingly, the formal advocacy assessment is designed to be a little harder than the first: “It’s a great opportunity to delve into the law and the scenarios you’re given.” Pupils will also do one conference assessment, and two written assessments across the year. “Although it’s always daunting and you’re desperate to do your best, at the same time it’s comforting to know when the tenancy decision is made you have a real body of work to fall back on.” Every member has a say in the final tenancy decision, but head of chambers Tim Amos QC has the final word on who makes the cut.
The Application Process
If QEB tickles your fancy, prospective pupils can submit their application via the Pupillage Gateway. Andrew Campbell elaborates: “We use the Gateway and follow the timetable required by the BSB. Once the application forms are centralised through the portal, members of chambers then shortlist applicants for interview.” QEB invites around 30 applicants to the two-day first-round interview; the best ten return for a second one-day interview to work on a case study. Both rounds are centred around a problem question which takes up half of each interview, followed by a competency-based question. Campbell explains that “the first interview is designed to test their intellectual ability and attitude towards solving problems – the competency questions are then used to assess applicants’ persuasiveness.” During the first-round interviews, newbies are accompanied by three members of chambers, then in the second round, four members attend including the head of chambers. When looking back at the day, our interviewees found the application process a positive one: “It’s easy to think you have to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind but you must compose yourself and take deep breaths to really think about what you’re saying. For me, although it was nerve-wracking, I found it a very structured and useful experience.”
"It's not like civil law, nor is it just about helping people. You’re practising litigation and for every person you do help, there’s a person on the other side who you are working against."
The best advice? Be you! Campbell states: “We look for variety, we don’t want mundanity in our tenants or pupils, nor do we want people to be something they aren’t.” Still, the set welcomes interviewees who are confident, articulate, have good temperament and can stay calm under pressure. Campbell explains that “when selecting pupils, it’s really about looking at these qualities and then looking for examples in which they have demonstrated them. A good example would be volunteering for a charity.” Campbell gives a couple of words of advice on how to be a successful barrister in family law: “It’s important to understand what it is to be a family lawyer – it's not like civil law, nor is it just about helping people. You’re practising litigation and for every person you do help, there’s a person on the other side who you are working against. I’d suggest researching family law as much as possible and get as many mini pupillages as you can.”
As for the culture, many felt the size of the set fostered close-knit relationships. One source appreciated that “the set is small, which gives the benefit of knowing everyone and everyone knowing you. We also have an open-door policy so you can go into anyone's room at any time and ask a question and they’ll always greet you with a smile.” People remain hard-working yet casual at QEB: “Unlike traditional sets, there’s no expectation to address people as Miss, Mr, or Mrs; everyone's on a first name basis.” The set puts on Chambers Tea in the head of chambers’ room with tea and biscuits every day at 4pm sharp, though during lockdown this was moved to webcam. The social calendar is mainly composed of ad hoc parties and social gatherings, not to forget the Christmas bash!
QEB works with the programme 'Advocate' to provide pupils with pro bono opportunities, and given the set’s family law focus, there’s plenty to go around. A pupil stated: “Pro bono is really encouraged – people are drawn to family law through their desire to help people, which is definitely true for QEB.”
Queen Elizabeth Building QEB
Queen Elizabeth Building,
- No of silks: 7
- No of juniors: 31
- No of pupils: 2
- Contact: Andrew Campbell, or Sophie Clayton Secretarys to the Pupillage Committee
- Method of application: Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages: Two 12-month pupillages
- Award: £35,000 pupillage award (plus earnings in second six and from devilling)
- Tenancies: Four tenancies offered in the last three years
- Annexes: None
QEB is a leading set of family law chambers, particularly well-known for dealing with the financial consequences of divorce, but with immense experience in all aspects of family law including: jurisdictional disputes, foreign divorces, pre-marital agreements, civil partnerships, injunctions both financial and domestic, private law child work, child abduction, Inheritance Act claims and disputes between former cohabitees.
QEB has been established for well over 100 years and is consistently rated as one of the top-ranking sets for family law. Members of QEB have been involved in many of the most important cases of legal principle, including: White, Sorrell, Miller, Spencer, Marano, Robson, Schofield, Jones, Z v Z (No. 2) Petrodel v Prest, Mittal and Cooper-Hohn, AB v JJB (EMR Modification), Arif v Anwar, Broomfield, A v B (CJEU), E v E (Art.19 and Seisin B 11a) and Fields.
Many members of chambers have continued into high judicial office and Lord Wilson sits in the Supreme Court.
The practice of family law is hugely varied and clients come from all walks of life. International and conflict of laws issues arise increasingly often. An ability to deal not only with complex financial disputes, often involving commercial issues, but also with child-related or other emotionally fraught and sensitive situations, is essential. We are looking for applicants with a strong academic record (minimum 2:1 law or non-law degree save in exceptional circumstances), good legal and analytical skills, and an ability to communicate sensitively with a wide range of people at a critical time in their lives.
QEB offers two pupillages each year. A 12-month pupillage at QEB offers top-quality training and very good financial support in a busy, friendly environment. Pupils have three pupil supervisors, but are also encouraged to work with other tenants at all levels to gain a broad experience of our work. Pupils are automatically considered for tenancy, and our new tenants are only recruited from our pupils. QEB’s reputation is such that where a pupil is not taken on, he/she is usually well placed elsewhere.
Chambers is a part of the Pupillage Gateway system. Applicants should apply in early 2022 for a pupillage beginning in September 2023. Please consult the Pupillage Gateway website for details of the timetable.
Applications for mini-pupillages are made by application form. Please consult our website at www. qeb.co.uk for full details
Chambers offers a pupillage award of £35,000 pa, plus earnings in the second six and from devilling. Pupils do not pay chambers’ expenses or clerks’ fees. Chambers also funds the compulsory Inn Advocacy and Practice Management Training Courses.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Family: Matrimonial Finance (Band 1)