If you think Chancery is rad, say hello to Radcliffe, the set offering an even split of top commercial and traditional work at the Chancery Bar.
Radcliffe Chambers pupillage review 2024
“We’re a general chancery commercial set, or a commercial chancery set, depending on how you see it,” quips deputy head clerk Lee Wright, evidencing Radcliffe’s broad yet well-balanced practice: “We’ve grown both organically and through acquisition as we’ve picked up people from different sets, so we now have an even split between commercial and traditional chancery.” A junior tenant summarised, “everything from corporate insolvency to charity via property and probate – you can do it all.” Specifically, Radcliffe earns a top ranking from Chambers UK Bar for its charities practice, gaining additional accolades for professional negligence, restructuring/insolvency, real estate litigation, pensions, and commercial and traditional chancery work in the London circuit. The set’s also picked up a tip of the hat for it’s court of protection (property and affairs) work across all circuits.
On the traditional side, Thomas Dumont KC and William Moffett recently worked on a family property matter, representing the parents in a dispute with their son over the ownership of the family farm he’d worked on since he was 16. Following a falling out, the parents wrote him out of the will, after which the son took them to the High Court where he was awarded half of the farm’s value. In a later Supreme Court case, judges agreed that the High Court had over-awarded the son and ruled that he would have to wait until the death of his parents to receive ownership. Meanwhile, in commercial chancery, David Mohyuddin KC (and peers at other sets) represented the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a high-profile insolvency matter following the 2018 collapse of Carillion PLC. A 25-week High Court trial will determine the outcome of the case, involving thousands of pages of evidence, eight defendants and allegations of dishonesty.
“We’re getting bigger and better cases.”
“It’s an exciting place to be,” a junior tenant explained. “It really feels like it’s expanding, and the commercial chancery side has been building up of late.” Wright elaborates, “we’ve definitely been growing our insolvency and commercial teams, and more recently we’re starting to focus on our international presence.” Specifically, Radcliffe's barristers have been working on cases in Bermuda, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Cayman and British Virgin Islands. “We’re regularly going to these jurisdictions, taking trips out to push our international work. We’re getting bigger and better cases, which is on the top of our agenda.”
The Pupillage Experience
Radcliffe pupils complete four three-month seats with different supervisors across the traditional and commercial sides of the set’s chancery practice. “We try to ensure they get a 50/50 split,” says Radcliffe CEO Fiona Fitzgerald. “But we also take into account what the pupils are interested in, and ensure they get a stint with the relevant supervisor.” Our pupil and junior tenant interviewees appreciated being able to see a broad spectrum of work across the 12 months. Despite the range, Fitzgerald explains that, when it comes to supervision, “we want consistency of approach. That’s why all our supervisors are trained in-house on how to give good feedback, an important part of helping pupils learn.”
Our greener interviewees also appreciated how completing real work that had been done by supervisors was a great, natural way of receiving feedback and monitoring progress. Examples of pupil tasks include opinions, particulars of claims, pleadings and skeleton arguments. “My second supervisor also set me a bit of reading to do around insolvency as it was quite new to me,” a pupil added.
Midway through pupillage, rookies are assigned two formal pieces of assessment: a written paper and an oral exercise. The written test is set by a non-supervising barrister and, most recently, this consisted of a skeleton argument and an opinion on a case. While this is the only formally-assessed written work, a junior tenant explained how “every piece of work you receive feedback on forms your supervisor’s assessment, and ultimately goes towards the tenancy decision.” The oral assessment, meanwhile, takes the form of an advocacy exercise in front of three members of Chambers. “Mine was an application for strike out,” said a pupil. “It probably lasted about an hour and was a really helpful experience.”
The advocacy task assesses whether pupils are ready to get on their feet for the practising second six, which isn’t a typical feature of commercial chancery sets. “Pupils can generally pick up anything within our mainstream areas of practice,” Wright tells us. “That could be anything from traditional chancery work to first-time bankruptcy hearings and winding up insolvency- or company-related petitions.” To put it simply, there are plenty of opportunities for pupils to be in court. “Even if the matters you cut your teeth on at the junior chancery bar aren’t always very high value, the legal issues are fascinating,” a tenant reflected. However, second six supervisors also loop pupils into their ongoing cases, so newbies still get to see the often “more interesting” work of senior barristers. According to a pupil, “it feels like a lot of the research we do is niche and interesting. It’s always something different, like a new area of law to explore or something unexpected in court, and I like that intellectual challenge."
“I already had my own caseload and knew what mistakes not to make, so the transition was seamless.”
By the time tenancy comes around, pupils will have six months of court experience under their belt already. “I already had my own caseload and knew what mistakes not to make, so the transition was seamless,” said a junior tenant. Couple this with ongoing feedback throughout pupillage and you’ve got a match made in heaven. You’ll notice we’ve mentioned the keyword “feedback” a good few times already, and it really is a source of pride for Radcliffe. “The tenancy decision doesn’t come as a surprise as pupils know where they are the whole way through,” says Fitzgerald. “Supervisors carry out an assessment with pupils at the end of every seat to ensure they’ve checked off what they need to and put together a list of things they’re yet to see.” However, when the pupillage committee does make their decision, pupils were clear that, “even though there’s always an element of doubt, from day one we were told that we’d know if something was wrong.”
In the almost 10 years since Fitzgerald became CEO, there’s not a single pupil who hasn’t been given tenancy. Those sound like some good odds, but it’s really down to the fact that, as Fitzgerald explains, “I don't see candidates as pupils but as future tenants and even potential silks.” This means that, from their first day of pupillage, newbies are essentially welcomed in as permanent members of the set. From their first week, pupils will find themselves out on trips visiting clients to gain key communication skills. Newbies are also invited to the set’s many business development and marketing events, such as rooftop drinks for solicitors and different practice area seminars.
“You can discuss serious points of law one minute, then football the next!”
There are plenty of Radcliffe-specific events as well, such as parties twice a year, teas in the afternoons, coffee mornings and lunches. “It’s generally a sociable place,” said a pupil. “For example, when we got our tenancy decisions, they got the champagne out to celebrate and everyone seemed genuinely happy for us!” So, what topics of conversation should you come prepared with? According to our pupil source, “there are a lot of very clever people here. You can discuss serious points of law on minute, then football the next!” More generally, sources described the culture as “friendly and outgoing, so you get to learn how to do the job in a supportive environment where you can always tap your supervisors for advice.”
The Application Process
The set advertises on Pupillage Gateway, but applications are taken through Rare's recruitment portal. Instead, prospective pupils first submit a formal written application, consisting of a CV and cover letter, which is “more of a free-form process than the Gateway, and lets you include what you want to include,” according to a pupil. About 30 applicants make it through to the first interview, which is only 15-30 minutes long and covers the CV and a current affairs question. Previous topics for this question include Brexit and Trump’s impeachment. About half of those applicants, give or take, make it to the final interview stage, and are given a piece of written work to prepare in advance. On the day of the interview, candidates attend talks given by pupils and the CEO on life at Radcliffe, before working with a supervisor to prepare for a mock conference exercise. The actual interview is about an hour long, covering questions on life as a junior tenant and the commercial reality of being a barrister.
“I came out of interviews feeling as though they’d got to know me and had the chance to show them all I could do.”
“We’re looking for intellectual ability, commerciality, integrity, and the ability to just get on and get it done,” says Fitzgerald. “We also like to see other things besides academics that show how they’ve applied their skills in other areas. Those can be things like sporting achievements, music, or intellectual pursuits – anything that shows they’ve got some sort of life experience.” Our pupil interviewee also stressed the importance of showing how you’d be a good fit for Chambers, praising the application process for bringing out all sides of candidates: “They saw my written work, how I’d act around clients, and how I’d be with colleagues at Chambers. I came out of interviews feeling as though they’d got to know me and had the chance to show them all I could do.”
One final piece of advice for anyone considering a spot at the commercial chancery bar: know what commercial chancery is! Even if can be tricky to wrap your head around, a junior tenant advises, “it’s good to join a chancery set having clear reasons as to why you want to practice at the chancery bar as it’s so specific – a mini pupillage can help.”
Radcliffe has offered a third pupillage each year, for the past two years “a sign of our progression and how much work we’ve got available at the junior end."
11 New Square,
Type of work undertaken
• Intellect – being a barrister is intellectually challenging, so make sure your application highlights your academic achievements
• Commerciality – a deep understanding of the issues affecting our clients is crucial to providing the best possible service
• Persuasiveness – you must have the potential to become an outstanding advocate, as evidenced through strong public speaking experiences
• Credibility – we value personal impact and the ability to build long-lasting, collaborative relationships with clients and within Chambers
• Commitment – we are looking for pupils who have strong reasons for applying to Radcliffe Chambers, and for wanting to become a chancery/commercial barrister.
That’s it. There is no Radcliffe Chambers type. We believe that to provide the best possible service to our clients, we need a team that embraces a wide variety of perspectives and life experiences.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- 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 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)