Housing "premier league people" in "premier league accommodation," QEB has grown a healthy family tree.
“We define family law in quite diverse terms,” QEB senior clerk Howard Rayner begins. “Members work on matters related to trusts and pensions, companies, jurisdictional issues, conflicts of treaties and child law.” Comfortably lodged in the serene surroundings of Temple Gardens, the set picks up a Chambers UK ranking in matrimonial finance and 21 of its 34 members earn individual accolades. It’s matrimonial finance work which brings in the bulk of QEB’s instructions – around two-thirds – 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. Firms which call on QEB’s aid range from “top-ranked family law firms” like Penningtons Manches, Mills & Reeve, Withers and Harbottle & Lewis to smaller outfits.
Asked whether Queen Elizabeth Building is looking to extend its own family tree much further, Rayner declares that chambers is "very proud of the family environment in chambers and if we get bigger and bigger, which we could easily do, we would lose that. We have premier league people, premier league accommodation and a premier league clerks room and we don’t need to change that.” There are no fears of falling into the relegation zone either, and Rayner reassures us that QEB is reacting to market changes: “We are at the vanguard of changes in dispute resolution processes. Adapting doesn’t necessarily involve growing.” Pupillage supervisor Rosemary Budden agrees: “There’s very little movement at chambers as we recruit exclusively from our own pupil ranks and so we’ve all built a rapport over a number of years.”
“You get this bizarre look into the deepest, darkest secrets of somebody’s personal life.”
Compared to civil and criminal law, our interviewees compared family law to being on the set of Jeremy Kyle. “It can get super dramatic,” one noted. “You get this bizarre look into the deepest, darkest secrets of somebody’s personal life. I’m not a voyeur but it’s often interesting!” Other sources saw the appeal of family law as striking “the right balance between dealing with people, rather than just financial institutions, and good levels of advocacy. We go to court around three times a week, which is more than commercial barristers typically do.”
Everybody’s seen some family drama, but QEB tends to deal with spats that are more extreme than fighting for control of the television remote: member James Ewins represented Prince Louis of Luxembourg in a contested financial remedies application over assets owned by the country’s royal family, as well as a wife in an application for her husband’s committal to prison for not paying her maintenance. Catherine Cowton recently acted for a husband in divorce proceedings with more than £180 million worth of assets on the line. Cases which involve children can be similarly high-stakes: William Tyzack got involved in a matter brought by a mother seeking permission to remove her children from Bosnia to Serbia.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with three supervisors, each for about four months at a time. “They start out with their first supervisor halfway through September; transition to their second over the Christmas holidays; and move to their third half-way through April. The tenancy decision is made by early July,” Rosemary Budden explains. It’s not uncommon for pupils to find their first seat challenging, as family law is so different to other practices. Budden points out that “across the three years of studying a law degree, there will probably only be two weeks of family law within that. We are a very specialist set and there is a lot to learn.” Given that pupillage also touches on complex finance and trusts law it’s a relief to learn that “there’s definitely a grace period until the Christmas holidays.”
The first seat is dedicated to laying the basic ground work, with supervisors “showing pupils the ropes” and their charges trying to keep up. In contrast, sources described the second seat as “the engine room of pupillage, transitioning from theory into practice,” before the pupil’s third supervisor takes them “under their wing, and teaches them how to make their own successful practice.” QEB also assigns pupils a junior contact – normally a tenant with at least one year’s experience– to bring them along to court and prepare them for getting on their feet.
“…the engine room of pupillage, transitioning from theory into practice.”
According to our interviewees, during the first six of pupillage “you basically do what your supervisor is doing. If they are writing an opinion, you write an opinion and if they’re doing a telecom, you write a telecom note for them. When you move to your second supervisor, you still do work for them but towards the end of the six you would start on your own practice.” Pupils’ diaries will fill up with two to three court visits each week during the second six and “although we work on smaller money cases like basic children abduction and molestation matters, it is a steep learning curve.” Clearly, this isn’t an area of law for the faint of heart. Second-sixers find themselves juggling court cases, assessments and assisting their supervisor. To make sure pupils experience a spread of work within family law, Budden informs us, QEB “sometimes arranges an exchange with another family set that has more care work going on. We like to think of ourselves as a boutique with 34members and are always conscious of who is doing what, so we are open to sending pupils out to see specific types of work.”
Between Christmas and July, pupils complete five or six formal assessments – these, along with their performance throughout pupillage, are considered during the tenancy decision process. In recent years, the assessments have included one formal and one more laid-back advocacy test; two written exercises plus another drafting first appointments; and one more assessment in a conference format. “We try not to drag out the same assessments every year and so we tweak which ones we include,” Budden tells us.
At the end of each four-month block of pupillage, supervisors write a report grading each prospective tenant from one to four on areas including presentation, communication and persuasiveness. Interviewees felt a degree of pressure to “make sure not to piss anybody off” during their pupillage, though Budden reassures us that a pre-decision meeting takes place between pupils and their supervisors to address any concerns they have. 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. QEB had not finalised its 2020 process at the time of going to press.
The Application Process
If you’d like to join the QEB family, start your journey by sending in an application via the Pupillage Gateway. Budden informs us that the set has “moved to a new system. We previously used to have one round of interviews but now we have two.” QEB invites 30 applicants to the two-day first-round interview; the best ten return for a second one-day grilling on a case study. “These are never a test of knowledge of the law," Budden reveals. "It’s more about how a candidate thinks about something and their approach to problem solving.” Going into more detail about the criteria involved, Budden explains that “the case studies are determining the candidate’s ability to weigh up factors and their reasoning. The remainder of the questions are designed to assess interpersonal skills, tenacity, resilience, ability to get on with others, advocacy and intellect.”
“Questions are designed to assess interpersonal skills, tenacity, resilience, ability to get on with others, advocacy and intellect.”
“We are very engaging, cooperative and an exceptionally friendly set which doesn’t hold a lot of meetings,” says Howard Rayner.Throughout pupillage, QEB also avoids burdening its pupils with demanding hours. Those we spoke to told us that supervisors were strict on them sticking to a 6.30pm home time, “and if they saw us staying late they’d tell us to stop the work and go home.” Baby juniors preferred their hours regime after tenancy: “I’d much rather go a hundred miles an hour some days and 15 miles an hour on others, as opposed to a constant 70 every day.” Fair enough.
Tea and sympathy
“Half of this job is people skills,” whether that’s dealing with a client crying in court or networking with members at 4pm chambers tea every day.
Queen Elizabeth Building QEB
Queen Elizabeth Building,
- No of silks: 6
- No of juniors: 28
- No of pupils: 2
- Contact:Andrew Campbell, Secretary 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
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 2021 for a pupillage beginning in September 2022. 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.