Traditional and commercial chancery work combine at this esteemed set, which offers second-to-none experience in charities matters, as well as a deep dive into insolvency, professional negligence and real estate cases.
Radcliffe Chambers pupillage review
“One big thing about Radcliffe is that it has the practising second six in the pupillage. It’s part of the big attraction of Radcliffe,” one junior tenant enthused. You’re probably thinking ‘Wait, isn’t that normal?’ – not at the Chancery Bar it’s not. The other part of the attraction is the sense of momentum at the set: “It’s clear this is an ambitious, quickly growing set. Radcliffe is growing at a quick rate and is attracting new QCs all the time.” Interviewees added that Radcliffe provides a home for “sharp and smart people – it’s a great place to kickstart being a barrister.” Community is also important for these folks: “If you want to practise but you’re insular and isolationist, Radcliffe isn’t for you. Everyone’s very approachable and friendly here.”
The set balances traditional and commercial chancery work. Mathematically, that looks like: 25% private client; 20% commercial; 20% insolvency; 15% property; 10% pensions; 5% banking; and 5% charities. Pupils get a chance to sample all these areas. The set is highly ranked in Chambers UK Bar across all circuits for its property & affairs Court of Protection work. In London, it’s noted for its work in the following areas: charities, traditional and commercial chancery, pensions, restructuring/insolvency, professional negligence and real estate litigation.
“...sharp and smart people – it’s a great place to kickstart being a barrister.”
Radcliffe’s traditional chancery matters are largely confidential, but the set’s members are well known for handling Inheritance Act claims in this area. On the commercial chancery side, meanwhile, a recent insolvency case saw Jeremy Cousins QC act for a claimant developer which alleged that appointed receivers had undersold a £250 million development project. A recent professional negligence matter has involved around 200 claimants taking action against an insurer over its funding of a professional negligence claim (on the defence side) that centred on the advice given to buyers of property in a development that was controlled by the Mafia in Calabria. Radcliffe is widely praised for its charities work, and here Robert Pearce QC has been representing the trustee of the National Fund against the Attorney General, who requested that the trust’s funds should be released to the National Debt Commissioners (the trustee argued that the funds should be used more practically for charitable purposes).
According to CEO Fiona Fitzgerald, Radcliffe has seen “a large amount of international growth recently. We’re doing a lot of work in offshore jurisdictions such as Bermuda, and lots in Russia and in Singapore.” COVID-19 impacted the set’s work “for about six weeks – but actually we’re currently having our best year ever, particularly at the junior end.” After increasing its annual intake from one to two pupils, Fitzgerald tells us Radcliffe is “considering whether to go for three pupils next year .”
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Radcliffe have been making changes to the pupillage process to “ensure it’s as fair as possible.” Working with external advisers such as Rare Recruitment, Fitzgerald tells us the set is “trying to bring in pupils who are from more diverse backgrounds. That’s very important to us.” There’s also the set’s student barrister work experience programme, where local sixth-formers come into chambers for seminars, court visits and the chance to spend time with barristers.
The Application Process
Around 150 people submit a CV and covering letter off the Pupillage Gateway. At this stage, to stand out from the pack, member of the recruitment committee Kate Selway advises candidates to “consider holiday jobs and experiences, not necessarily legal, to help build maturity and confidence." If applicants are also able to “develop a sense of general commercial awareness, that will assist a candidate immeasurably too.” First and foremost though, is the need to be someone “with drive and commitment combined with real intellectual rigour. They really need to have that before they set foot in chambers.” Doing a mini-pupillage isn’t a prerequisite, but Radcliffe offers them. In 2020, the set ran an online pupillage evening for “more than 500 people!” Fitzgerald told us that there wasn’t enough time to answer everyone’s questions, so Radcliffe “set up a YouTube channel and filmed members’ answers to the questions people asked.” Like and subscribe! Radcliffe’s mini-pupillage scheme has now reopened post lockdown.
Radcliffe releases a pupillage handbook that is “jam-packed full of really useful information.” Selway tells us that the set has put considerable effort into producing a full and informative pupillage policy statement because “you can’t get the best out of a candidate if they’re worried about the process. From a diversity perspective, we don't want people from underrepresented backgrounds being put off because the application process is a mystery. We want candidates to know exactly what is expected of them during the process."
“...no Radcliffe type. The only proviso is that we look for both academic brilliance and someone who has commercial awareness and is solutions-focused.”
Up to 30 candidates come in for a 15-minute first-round interview where they’re asked “questions like ‘If you could make any law, what would it be?’” Selway says that “we like to see candidates showing us their personality and their thought processes. Sometimes, there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s about how they express themselves orally. We have our mark scheme on the website so they can see clearly what we’re looking for.” We heard from those who have gone through the process that the panel are “looking to get the best out of you, not to trip you up. It’s quite pleasant.”
A maximum of ten people are invited to a second-round interview. Candidates who are selected for a second round interview are asked to produce a written opinion in advance of the interview. Two hours prior to this interview, candidates are given a “conference problem so that they can prepare to advise the panel. One panel member plays the solicitor, one plays the client.” 25 minutes of the interview is a mock conference scenario measuring “whether you have oral communication skills under pressure, and the social skills needed to explain to the client.” Selway says the final section of the interview is devoted to asking “ethical-type questions to see whether candidates demonstrate good intuition for when something is right or wrong, and whether they ask for help if they need it." Fitzgerald tells us that overall, there’s “no Radcliffe type. The only proviso is that we look for both academic brilliance and someone who has commercial awareness and is solutions-focused.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with four different supervisors for three months at a time, which enables them to see a spread of commercial and traditional chancery work. “You see at least a little of everything.” The first seat involves working “mainly with your supervisor and getting to grips with how it all works. I was doing a lot of applications with my supervisor and seeing the day-to-day workings of litigation,” a junior recounted. Pupils then go on to start drafting opinions and skeleton arguments as they enter their second seat, which involves “increasingly doing work for other members and making sure people know who you are. There’s a big emphasis on meeting everyone.” Pupils at this stage are also “encouraged to go to court with junior juniors to get a flavour of what we’ll be doing soon.”
Everybody takes on their own cases during their second six, but will also continue work for their supervisor and other members. Last year, this was “atypical due to COVID. I didn’t have a hearing until July, which is unusual.” Normally, pupils find themselves doing around two hearings a week as well as “smaller bits of junior work.” This stage lets pupils get “really used to court appearances. My friends are surprised at how often I’m in court on my own!” The expectation is that pupils “cover all of chambers’ core areas – junior insolvency work, winding-up petitions, property tribunals and even a bit of charities work.”
“My friends are surprised at how often I’m in court on my own!”
Pupils conduct a lot of assessed work. At the end of their first six, they undertake an advocacy assessment. “Before you’re able to go to court, you’re put through your paces in front of a panel of three members.” Pupils found this “enormously helpful. It’s based on live work so you’re having to solve a puzzle which doesn’t necessarily have a solution.” Their mettle is tested – “there was a bit to test composure and trip us slightly. There was one curveball question that came out of nowhere!” Formal and “fairly technical” written assessments also contribute to the tenancy decision. At the same time, all work done for supervisors and other members is looked over – pupils get frequent feedback but also “don’t feel like we’re being constantly scrutinised!”
In 2021, all qualifying pupils were kept on as tenants (this has been the case at Radcliffe for the last ten years). “The process isn’t competitive,” said one. “Whether we’re kept on is a decision that is made independently of each other. We get on well and ask each other questions without feeling that competitive edge.” Fitzgerald tells us that “we work very hard to ensure our pupils are happy. That’s one of the most important things for us.” We heard that supervisors run a “strict 9am to 6pm working day for pupils. They don’t want us working weekends and evenings.” Once they’re juniors Radcliffers can expect “busier periods,” with a few late nights and some weekend work depending on the matter at hand.
Radcliffe was described by interviewees as a “very sociable place. If you don’t want to participate in our culture, you’re not Radcliffe material.” The set holds a daily tea at 4pm in chambers. “It’s an important thing for us as Radcliffe isn’t super large, but we’re split across three buildings. So there’s a whole raft of chambers you wouldn’t meet without chambers tea.” There's also a coffee morning held three times a week at 11am. Since COVID, the set’s “pulled out all the stops to make pupillage as normal and sociable as possible.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 2)
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 3)
- Chancery: Traditional (Band 2)
- Charities (Band 1)
- Pensions (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)