One part commercial, one part Chancery, and a sprinkle of other areas… that’s the recipe for Radcliffe’s rapid growth.
The Bar is a selective profession, a tough cookie to crack – but at Radcliffe Chambers, the chances of winning a prized spot as a pupil have doubled. Well, sort of: mathematicians would point out that if you’re not up to the job, your chances have stayed the same. What we’re trying to say is that the firm now takes two pupils a year rather than one, with both of its first twosome being granted tenancy in 2019. It’s one of the clearest symptoms of Radcliffe’s recent growth. Chambers’ workload grew 20% in 2018 and “that continued into 2019,” according to CEO Fiona Fitzgerald. Seven qualified barristers also joined the set’s ranks in 2018, and in 2020 both pupils achieved tenancy too.
The set balances traditional and commercial Chancery work. To be specific, the practice can be broken down as follows: 25% private client; 20% commercial; 20% insolvency; 15% property; 10% pensions; 5% banking; and 5% charities. Instructions come from a variety of international, offshore and UK-based clients and firms. Hogan Lovells and Eversheds are two examples from the top end, but the set takes work from all sorts, regional heavyweights and sole practitioners included. Chambers UK Bar bestows Radcliffe with plenty of strong rankings, from traditional Chancery and Court of Protection matters, to pensions and charities.
“I’m so happy I’ve done pupillage at a chambers that’s really on the rise.”
As for Chancery cases, Keith Rowley QC acted for the Airways Pension Scheme in a dispute with British Airways over a contentious payments increase APS granted its members; meanwhile, Christopher Boardman acted for the claimant in a £3 million Welsh High Court breach of contract dispute over the suspension of a coal haulage agreement.
Property work comes throws up some unusual details: Simon Williams helped win damages for negligence on behalf of an individual whose neighbour’s pottery kiln exploded, setting fire to the client’s house. Fiona Fitzgerald adds that “the property market remains buoyant despite Brexit, and our private client practice has been incredibly busy.” Members also keep busy when companies end up in dire straits: Dawn McCambley represented the liquidators of consultancy firm Bowe Watts Clargo in misfeasance, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty proceedings brought against the company’s former director.
Radcliffe “isn’t historically known for offshore work but there’s been a push to change that,” according to Fitzgerald, who declares that “chambers is constantly looking to improve. We’re seeing more and more cutting-edge work related to unusual offshore trusts and tech.” A pupil described Radcliffe as “vibrant, dynamic and ready to adapt to change. I’m so happy I’ve done pupillage at a chambers that’s really on the rise.”
The Application Process
Radcliffe recruits outside the Pupillage Gateway, asking applicants for a covering letter and CV. Previous applicants considered it “a very thorough and fair process. There’s more freedom to include what you want rather than trying to fit your whole self into a 150-word box.” Pupillage committee member Daniel Burton explains that “a lot of Chancery law is based around written work, so it’s good to introduce that element as soon as possible in the process.” Five key criteria up for consideration are intellect, commerciality, persuasiveness, credibility and commitment. “Print and read the first draft of your cover letter aloud; it’s a good way to weed out any troublesome sentences,” one source recommended.
Up to 30 candidates come in for a 15-minute first-round interview: “You’re asked ethical questions and about your background. They’re looking at fairly standard competencies.” The best performers progress to a more stringent second round, a one-day mini-pupillage. Candidates are sent a drafting exercise to do beforehand, usually an opinion related to Radcliffe's work. They shadow members in the morning before getting another set of reports for a mock conference. “You get every opportunity to show how good you are,” judged one source.
“We’re looking for all-rounders with the potential to become modern barristers.”
Daniel Burton reveals interviewers are “looking for all-rounders with the potential to become modern barristers. That means having excellent legal skills, but also being able to market themselves.” Fiona Fitzgerald agrees: “50% of the puzzle is intellectual rigour, and 50% is commercial ability and having the skills to deal with clients.” A pupil suggested that “this set prides itself on bringing in socially adept people.”
Radcliffe’s seen an uptick in BAME applicants recently, and is looking to boost diversity. In 2018, chambers hosted its first student camp for ten students from non-traditional backgrounds, inviting even more for the 2019 edition. “The problems with diversity at the Bar begin at sixth-form level,” says Fitzgerald. “We follow the scheme up with long-term mentoring and we’re encouraging other chambers to get involved.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with four different supervisors for three months at a time, seeing a spread of commercial and traditional Chancery work. Daniel Burton says that the pupillage committee “works to ensure pupils see a broad spread of what chambers does, taking into account any of their personal interests or requests.” And sources praised their teachers: “All my supervisors have been really approachable. They clearly want to help you develop, and helping them on cases is a fantastic feeling.”
The first six months of pupillage involves both shadowing your supervisor and taking on some tasks for other members. “When papers come in for your supervisor, they’ll give you the first crack at them,” we heard. Opinions and skeleton arguments are pupils’ staple, while occasional dead work is “useful as you get to see the completed project.” Daniel Burton suggests: “An important skill is learning how to best assist your supervisor. It’s especially invaluable to be able to take notes well at trial.” At the end of each seat, the pupils’ supervisors mark them on every piece of work they’ve done, and meet with their next supervisor “to work out what they might have missed out on or need practice at.”
Everybody takes on their own cases during their second six, balanced with continued work for their supervisor and other members. Pupils “mostly take on insolvency cases: smaller matters like winding-up applications and bankruptcy hearings.” Our sources were taken to shadow similar proceedings in advance and said: “It’s not so scary or stressful when it’s your turn. I really enjoyed putting into practice what I’d been learning.”
“I really enjoyed putting into practice what I’d been learning.”
Trainees were also helped by the formal advocacy assessment, where pupils put together a skeleton to argue before a panel of three members: “I found it really useful as a warm-up before doing my own cases,” one said. This assessment and supervisors’ reports count towards the tenancy decision, as does feedback from clerks and solicitors who’ve instructed pupils – “their opinion is really taken into consideration.” The pupillage committee gathers all this feedback and makes a recommendation to chambers on whether to grant tenancy.
The Radcliffe of Radcliffe Chambers, in case you were wondering, is Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a famous 20th century Chancery silk who drew the partition between India and Pakistan in 1947. The set chose this name in 2006, when Radcliffe was formed by merging 11 Old Square and 11 New Square. Daniel Burton recalls that “one had regular chambers coffee mornings, the other afternoon tea… so we kept both! It’s really important that people get to chat regularly to help cohesion within chambers.” Sources spilled the tea for us: “I find it’s a lovely opportunity to hang out with members in a less formal environment. We’ll be talking about football then five minutes later I’ll learn something really interesting about charities law.” A handful of barristers tend to go for drinks most Fridays, and you can almost always find a group in the Members’ Common Room in Lincoln’s Inn around lunchtime.
“I came in expecting to join a relaxed set and my time here has only confirmed that,” one of our insiders concluded. Long nights poring over papers aren’t the norm here, at least not among pupils: 9am to 6pm is a typical day and “you rarely need to work on weekends."
Mind the Radcliffe edge
“Get any experience you can before applying,” a baby junior advised. “Whether it’s mini-pupillages or volunteering at evening clinics, it will look good on your CV.”
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