Selborne Chambers - True Picture

This commercial-chancery set is known for its “truly practical pupillage,” (Sel)borne out of its supportive culture and growth at the junior end.

Selborne Chambers pupillage review 2024


The Chambers

Walking through the City of London is an awful lot like flipping through the pages of a history textbook, given the countless historic buildings and monuments that are dotted across the square mile. The walk to Selborne Chambers on Essex Street is no different, but don’t let that fool you into making any antiquated presumptions about this set. Selborne has earned a strong reputation for its commercial-chancery practices while being a reasonably young, “modern and approachable” chambers. In fact, as a pupil summarised, “we’re a set that’s been around for just over 20 years, and with that comes a sense that everyone is a little bit of an upstart maverick!” As many do in their formative teens and twenties, Selborne has enjoyed plenty of growth since its foundation in 2002. Senior clerk Paul Bunting, who’s been with Selborne from the beginning, explains how “we did a lot of property work back when we first started, but chambers has gone down the commercial route over the years.” It’s a reputation that our colleagues at Chambers UK Bar can certainly attest to, as the set is ranked in real estate litigation and commercial chancery, the latter of which is also recognised by the Chambers Global guide.

“We’re working on getting more into the international market by participating in some of the bigger conferences.”

Nowadays, property and commercial are Selborne’s bread and butter, but its other core areas include private client, company, insolvency and professional negligence. “Our trust and probate sides are growing so quickly right now,” Bunting shares. “The aim is to try and raise our profile in those areas where we do a lot of work. In fact, we’re off to Budapest for a trusts conference in March.” This is just the beginning of the set’s expansion into other jurisdictions. As Bunting emphasises, “we’re working on getting more into the international market by participating in some of the bigger conferences. We hope to get onto bigger, better work.” Selborne’s members have already been working on cases in Antigua, Doha and the British Virgin Islands, and the team will be off to the BVI and Cayman Islands again this year.

Bunting also tells us how COVID has meant that the set “has never been busier.” For instance, Nicholas Trompeter KC was instructed by London Trocadero on a High Court claim against its tenant, Picturehouse Cinemas, relating to commercial rent liabilities during the pandemic. Meanwhile, on the commercial chancery side, Stuart Hornett is leading a claim against the ex-chairman of BHS Group in proceedings relating to wrongful trading and breaches of fiduciary duty. However, whatever the matter, a pupil was pleased to say that “barristers here will never turn around and say something is out of their specialism so they don’t feel competent enough to handle it. I’ve been working on a case that engages issues of employment law which I’ve never come across before – it’s the beauty of the work.”

“I did a skeleton in my first seat and my supervisor used a lot of it!”

The Pupillage Experience

Pupils at Selborne usually complete four three-month seats, each with a different supervisor. According to William McCormick KC, head of pupillage, “this enables pupils to get a broader exposure to the manner in which individual barristers do their job. Everyone does it slightly differently, and having four supervisors provides a better overview of all the work we do.” Pupils can expect to start their first six with some historic work, though a junior tenant assured that “it’s not for long, and you get onto live work quite quickly. I did a skeleton in my first seat and my supervisor used a lot of it!” Members of chambers often invite first six pupils to court to observe cases which, for this interviewee, “was a nice introduction to life at the set. Everyone was focused on emphasising how it’s a learning process more than anything.”

Pupils undertake written work for different members of chambers throughout pupillage, which are assessed with feedback. “It can be written or oral,” a junior tenant shared, “but it’s always very detailed, structured and understanding.” In some cases, as McCormick tells us, “supervisors who have previously supervised will give out exercises which have been done by past pupils. It gives some degree of consistency as they can compare a present pupil’s performance with others who may or may not have been taken on.” Furthermore, while supervisors may differ from year to year, the barristers assigning written work typically stay the same. “We trust each other’s judgement,” McCormick elaborates. “If these people say a pupil’s work is good enough, other members will think, ‘if you’re good enough for them, you’re good enough for me.’” Continuous feedback throughout pupillage meant that a junior tenant “had a fairly good idea that it was going well by July,” when tenancy decisions are made using this exact feedback. 

“I went to ten different hearings over the last ten days.”

An advocacy exercise at the end of the first six determines whether a pupil is ready to get on their feet during their practising second six. All our interviewees spoke fondly about this, and Bunting notes how “it has to be so exciting for our pupils. They hit the ground running and away they go.” One beaming pupil explained how “I went to ten different hearings over the last ten days. It’s a truly practical pupillage, and you’re sent to courts up and down the country. Once you’ve coped with one stroppy judge in a county court somewhere, you learn how to deal with them.” In particular, there’s plenty of property work on the junior end, though pupils can also get exposure to some commercial matters. As a junior tenant explained, “it was a lot of smaller property cases to start with, but I’ve also done some company hearings in county courts and in the high court. Most of them are short hearings where you really have to think on your feet.”

Though pupils may still do work for other members of chambers during this time, they can rely on their supervisors for support while taking on cases in their own right. As a pupil relayed, “I’ve asked my supervisor about tactics in cases, as well as more practical questions about billing and managing fees.” However, a WhatsApp mentoring group has been recently established for pupils and juniors to reach out to other members of chambers for all sorts of questions that may pop up: “they wanted to make sure juniors had a forum where they could reach out to people even while many are still working from home post-COVID. People are happy to respond or jump on a call with you.”

More generally, sources described the culture as welcoming and forward-thinking. As a pupil summarised, “although we do have our traditions, we’re not stuffy. There’s a sense that people are friends outside of work here.” We heard that drinks at the pub across the road are common in the summer, and members regularly invite each other for informal lunches and dinners. Regular social scheduling includes an annual chambers dinner and monthly chambers lunch, the latter of which includes quite the spread of “sushi, sandwiches, and so on. They really go all out on it.” Those who attend can chat with their colleagues and bounce ideas off each other, and our greener interviewees appreciated the lack of hierarchy at such events. “Although there’s respect and reverence for the silks – as there should be – there’s no sense that you can’t talk to them,” said a pupil. A junior tenant expressed a similar sentiment, adding how “they’ve been supportive in ensuring I get a nice work-life balance. I was very much 9 to 6 during pupillage, and people would tell me to go home if they saw I was staying late.”

“We also ask a question about candidates’ favourite fictional lawyer. Elle Woods has come up, and others have mentioned characters from Suits, Dickens and Dostoyevsky.”

The Application Process

Selborne’s application starts on the Gateway, with standard questions to get to know applicants’ interests in the set. However, as McCormick explains, “we also ask a question about candidates’ favourite fictional lawyer. Elle Woods has come up, and others have mentioned characters from Suits, Dickens and Dostoyevsky. It allows applicants to show some elements of advocacy when explaining their reasoning.” Two rounds of interviews follow an initial sift of applications, before the recruitment committee picks two final candidates for pupillage. “We only offer two pupillages each time because we’re confident that we can take on a minimum of two tenants a year, but we don’t have fixed numbers for interviews.” says McCormick, “Last year, we interviewed around one in six applicants.”

At both rounds of interviews, a panel of at least three members of chambers asks a range of competency questions. McCormick offers an example: “‘What do you think you’ll like least about being a barrister?’ That gets them to demonstrate they’ve thought about the realities of the job and are ready for the pitfalls.” Candidates also receive a problem about 30 minutes before each interview, so they can look over the issue and present their thoughts to the panel. “We’re not interested in their legal knowledge, but how they solve the problem and approach the argument,” McCormick advises. “It tests their analytical and advocacy skills, and how they deal with challenges from the panel.” One pupil suggested that interviewees should “be absolutely laser-focused and don’t get flustered by the questions. Think of it like a conversation and not a performance. After all, that’s what it’s like when you’re talking to a judge in court.”

Selborne is introducing an open lunch day at the second interview, so prospective pupils can visit chambers to talk to junior tenants and current pupils about what life is really like at the set. However, a junior tenant shared how “I felt like I had a good chance to chat to the barristers when I interviewed. Everyone was warm and welcoming.” To somewhat offset the naturally daunting nature of an interview, the set ensures that its panel is largely made up of more junior barristers. “They know what we’re about but will be more likely to relate to the candidates,” says McCormick, and an insider who’d been through the process agreed, adding, “it very much felt like they wanted me to do well.” What’s more, Selborne is working on bolstering diversity through its recruitment process, so a woman and a barrister from an ethnic minority will always be part of the panel. So, McCormick’s final piece of advice is to “make the application and don’t be daunted by the process. A career at the bar is brilliant and very rewarding, so you should give it your best shot if it’s what you want to do.”

Don’t sell(borne) yourself short?

“We deliberately don’t put a word limit on the Gateway application,” says McCormick. “We want to see whether or not people limit themselves. Saying what you need to say and knowing when to stop talking is an undervalued but important skill for a barrister.”

Selborne Chambers

10 Essex Street,

Firm profile

We are a leading set of barristers specialising in commercial and chancery work. We strive to achieve the best outcomes for our clients by offering high-quality advocacy and advice which gets straight to the point. We provide advocacy and advice for every level of civil court and tribunal in England and Wales, as well as in domestic and international arbitrations and mediations. Much of chambers’ work is done in London, though members frequently advise and appear for clients in foreign jurisdictions (including Bermuda, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Isle of Man, Bangladesh, Israel and the USA).

Our tenants regularly appear in the County Courts, First-tier tribunal (Property Chamber), the High Court, the Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. They commonly appear in or preside over mediations and arbitrations, including international arbitrations, often applying foreign law.

We have a strong focus on introducing student interns from schemes aimed at extending access to legal career experience. For example, we participate in the Bar Placement Scheme, operated by the Bar Council in partnership with other charities. As part of this scheme, we welcome students each year from non-traditional backgrounds for the Bar. We also support IntoUniversity, a charity focused on helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds attain tertiary education or achieve their chosen ambition. This year we were proud to take part in the 10,000 Black Interns Programme, which organises paid internships for Black students across a number of industries. We also had one student from the Access to the Bar Award, which funds two weeks of work for students from backgrounds which do not traditionally have history or opportunities within the Bar.

Main areas of work

Arbitration; civil fraud and asset recovery; commercial; commercial and partnership; insolvency; landlord and tenant; media and entertainment; mediation and ADR; professional negligence; real property; trusts, probate and estates.

Training opportunities

We offer pupils with exceptional intellectual ability and commercial awareness the opportunity to work across the commercial chancery spectrum. The interview process for pupillage will consist of two rounds. The first round may include questions on a legal problem in addition to general questions about the applicant.

A pupil in chambers will undertake a structured pupillage encompassing all principal practice areas. It is envisaged that pupils will spend time with three or four pupil supervisors, each with varying types of practice. Accordingly, a pupil will be exposed to a variety of work within the commercial chancery spectrum. Pupils will be asked to prepare fully for and attend conferences and hearings with their pupil supervisors, produce written pleadings and opinions and undertake legal research, often under considerable time pressure. In addition to working with and for a pupil supervisor, pupils can expect to spend time with other members of chambers before all levels of Courts and Tribunals. Unlike in many commercial and commercial chancery sets, our pupils can expect regular court appearances and instructions in their own right during the second six months of pupillage.

Typically, these include small claims and fast track trials, possession hearings, winding up petitions, case management conferences and interim applications, as well as advisory and drafting work. Pupil supervisors will ensure that all pupils are fully supervised and supported whilst undertaking their own work. Chambers also provides its own advocacy training in addition to that provided by the Inns of Court.

Pupillage at Selborne Chambers equips our pupils with the necessary skills and awareness to face with confidence the various challenges which arise in the second six months of pupillage and the early days of tenancy. It is the intention of chambers to recruit a junior tenant each year, ideally from its own pupils.

All applications for pupillage must be submitted through the Pupillage Gateway which opens in January 2024. We will be following the Pupillage Gateway timetable for applications.

Vacation scheme

We don’t offer a vacation scheme; however, we do mini-pupillages, 12-month pupillages and third six pupillages. This is because during the summer holiday it tends to be a little quieter in some practise areas, whereas the other times of year will allow pupils to get a more meaningful appreciation of how a barristers chambers works.

Other benefits

£75,000 (Pupillage Award)
£25,000 (Bar course drawdown)

University law careers fairs 2024
Cambridge Barristers Fair, Oxford Law Fair, Bar Council Pupillage Fair, King’s College London Chambers Showcase, Legal Cheek Online Pupillage Fair

Social media

Recruitment website: Pupillage Gateway
Twitter: @SelborneTweets

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Chancery: Commercial (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)