Chancery law is the plat du jour at Serle Court, which has a new, female director. Here come the serles!
Serle Court pupillage review 2024
“We still have the bones of a traditional chambers, but we have a more modern approach to things,” a Serle Court pupil explained. What does that mean? Well, following the retirement of the previous head clerk, the clerks’ room was restructured so that it is now led by two practice directors (no longer called clerks,) and women make up the majority of staff, with many in leadership roles. As Emma Quin, deputy practice director, elaborates, “it’s a change for us and we’re excited about the future. We want to get everyone involved and giving ideas and feedback we can implement.”
A current pupil gave us further insight into this modernization: “We’re working in newer areas like data protection and IT,” whilst the traditional element was summarized as “very high-quality work that’s consistently in the news.” It’s this balance between tradition and modernity that you can see as you walk through the corridors of Serle Court, where antique staircases lead to modern conference rooms. A sleek, glass door welcomes you into the building, contrasting the heavy, medieval doors you’ll find as you venture further in. The harmony of old and new is quite literally embodied in Serle Court itself, a balance that’s especially striking considering the set was only founded in 2000.
“One thing that probably unites everyone is fraud.”
When it comes to its practices, Serle Court offers a blend of traditional and commercial chancery work. Chambers UK Barawards the set top rankings in both traditional and commercial chancery, as well as in its offshore and partnership practices. In fact, the set’s commercial chancery, offshore and disputes work is held in such high regard that it’s earned itself a spot in the Chambers Global rankings. Quin highlights that trust and probate work covers a large chunk of Serle Court’s output, while IP and alternative dispute resolution have been growing in recent years. A pupil elaborated, “one thing that probably unites everyone is fraud” – we’ll specify, that’s the work – “as it crops up in lots of different ways and distinguishes Serle Court.” Although there’s an overlap between domestic and international matters, Quin estimates that just under half of the set’s work is offshore and largely linked to trusts or ocmpany structures in the Caribbean, Channel Islands, or other offshore jurisdictions.
On the traditional Chancery side of things, Giles Richardson KC was instructed by the executors of the late Marquess of Bath’s estate to advise on claims from his ‘wifelets’ (mistresses), some of whom live on the Longleat Estate. On the commercial side, Philip Jones KC, Gareth Tilley and Max Marenbom represented HMRC in its claim against General Electric to rescind an earlier settlement due to allegations GE obtained the settlement by fraud.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils at Serle Court complete four three-month seats, each with a different supervisor. "We try to ensure each year’s pupils are supervised by all or at least some of the same group of supervisors so there’s consistency in the assessment of pupils,” explains Zoe O’Sullivan KC, head of the pupillage committee. For the fourth seat, there's room for pupils to indicate areas of interest to get matched up with a supervisors in that field or, at the very least, have a chance to work with members of chambers who work in those areas. “Supervisors are understanding of what people might want to see, and will keep an eye out for opportunities,” said a pupil, noting that opportunities can pop up with other members who may be attending trials or hearings.
“They’re never blowing dust off something from the annals just to find something to occupy you.”
“The focus is on live work where possible, ensuring you’re exposed to different types of work and exercises,” summarised a junior tenant. “They’re never blowing dust off something from the annals just to find something to occupy you. Dead work is assigned to assess your level at something, or to show you something that you haven’t already seen from live work.” Our greener interviewees were able to try out a variety of work, including IP, civil fraud, partnership, insolvency, trust and probate. We heard supervisors encourage pupils to get used to drafting skeleton arguments, writing opinions and helping prepare for trials. One junior found that “going to court and seeing exemplary counsel showing off their incredible skill was exhilarating. I was helping proof witnesses and draft proofing scripts, while also assisting various members of the team with preparing written submissions and evidence.” A pupil elaborated, “I’ve been able to go to hearings and trials in the Supreme Court, High Court and Court of Appeals. Hopefully, by the time I’ve finished pupillage, I will have been able to see the full range of courts in the jurisdiction.”
Although the second six is non-practicing, pupils complete two assessed advocacy exercises during pupillage. Here, members of chambers observe and roleplay as judges or witnesses during a mock trial. “It seemed that the focus wasn’t to test you, but to see where you were at,” reflected a junior tenant on their own experience. “Though unrealistic for civil proceedings, we got taken through cross-examination and evidence-in-chief. There was a pause after handling each witness to take feedback and try things again.” Pupils also mentioned that papers are taken from work that members of chambers have already done, so it’s “reflective of what you may get as a junior and challenges you while helping you progress as an advocate.” As O’Sullivan puts it, “there’s nothing like doing advocacy to get better at it!”
The tenancy decision is made nine months into the pupillage, taking advocacy exercises and supervisor reports into account. These reports explain what went well and what could be improved upon, and pupils also write up an assessment of their own experience after each seat. Supervisors and pupils discuss these reports during end-of-seat appraisals which, according to a junior, “are organic processes where your supervisor treats you as someone they’re working with and giving feedback to. It’s transparent, gentle, and designed to help you improve.” Progress remains a consistent theme across supervisors as they discuss pupils’ strengths and room for improvement with the following supervisor to hand over the torch.
Pupils and junior members of Chambers can also interact with more senior barristers at in-house seminars. “They cover anything from social media presence and improving marketing, to arbitration questions and cost budgeting,” said a junior. “It’s helpful for pupils and newer tenants to attend talks delivered by more experienced members and ask questions.” An informal lunch typically follows, meaning these events are a good time for both learning and socialising. Thursday Chambers drinks and formal parties offer further opportunities for scheduled mingling, but informal drinks at the local pub are standard. “People here just get along really well,” Quin adds. “Barristers and staff at all levels attend drinks and events, and I often see many going out together."
Sources generally described the set’s culture as friendly and welcoming, with a pupil highlighting the “respect for work-life balance.” Specifically, pupils can expect to work from 9am to 6pm, and any extra time commitments aren’t treated as a given. As a junior tenant put it, “there’s a great deal of care to make sure you don’t exhaust yourself.” Insiders agreed that there’s no Serle Court type as the set attracts a range of personalities. “That’s evident from day one,” our junior interviewee assured. “They’re interested in learning about you, your interests and what you bring to the table. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, which makes it a cohesive community where people feel happy to be themselves.”
The Application Process
“When we take on pupils, we’re normally expecting them to join us as tenants," says O’Sullivan. “We already think of them as future colleagues.” To be in with a chance of starting a career at Serle Court, prospective pupils first complete an application on Pupillage Gateway. Around 30 to 35 applicants make it to the first interview, while 10 to 12 are invited to a second. At interview, candidates are given a legal problem to look at, which “isn’t the sort of question where you need an academic, legal background to do well,” according to a pupil. O'Sullivan explains, “we want to see how candidates present arguments and respond to questioning.” The firm added: "The first interview focuses on a legal problem as well as more general and non-legal questions designed to allow candidates to show how they meet chambers’ selection criteria. The second interview takes the form of a mock conference based on a legal problem, with the candidate playing the role of counsel advising their solicitor and lay clients." Interviewees are also asked to define a legal concept in layman’s terms, and to describe how they dealt with a difficult situation in the past. Candidates tackle a moral, political problem which again assesses their skills in arguing instead of a correct answer. O’Sullivan offers last year’s question as an example: “Should healthcare workers have unrestricted rights to strike?”
The process is designed to be as blind as possible, with a different panel for each round of interviewers. O’Sullivan explains that, while many applicants will have done a mini pupillage with the set, it’s by no means a requirement. There are three reserved mini pupillages for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, and those three are guaranteed a first interview for pupillage. To further diversify recruitment, Serle Court developed a 45-minute, multiple-choice situational judgement test. This doesn’t require any legal ability and is intended to “attract people who may not necessarily perform so well on the formal parts of a traditional application but have the abilities, nonetheless.” This test is designed to help extra people get through but is not used to exclude those who do well elsewhere in the process.The SJT will be mandatory for all candidates wishing to apply to Serle Court, though candidates will not be disadvantaged in any way if they perform poorly on the test. The set is also involved with the 10,000 Black Interns scheme and welcomes school students from underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds to visit Chambers.
Colin all IP fans...
A recent learning seminar focused on the M&S v Aldi caterpillar copyright dispute, wrapping up with a slice of the contested cake for all!
6 New Square,
Widely recognised as a leading set, Serle Court is recommended in 11 areas of practice by Chambers & Partners and 12 areas of practice in Legal 500. Serle Court provides a stimulating and inclusive work environment and a modern approach.
Type of work undertaken
Serle Court’s core areas of chancery and commercial practice are: civil fraud; commercial litigation; company; insolvency; international and offshore; partnership and LLP; private client, trusts and probate; property; mediation; and arbitration. Other areas of expertise include: administrative and public law; art and cultural property; banking and financial services; charities; competition law; court of protection; EU law; insurance and reinsurance; intellectual property; matrimonial finance (trusts and company law); private international law; professional negligence; regulatory and disciplinary; sports, entertainment and media; telecommunications and information technology; and tax.
We welcome applications from well-rounded candidates from all backgrounds. Chambers looks for highly motivated individuals with outstanding intellectual ability combined with a practical approach, sound judgment, an ability to develop good client relationships and the potential to become excellent advocates. We have a reputation for ‘consistent high quality’ and for having members who are‘highly intelligent, user-friendly, approachable and supportive’ and seek the same qualities in our pupils.
Chambers is committed to equality and diversity and encourages applications from women, LGBTQ+ individuals, people of minority ethnic origin and people with disabilities, as well as candidates from other underrepresented groups in the legal sector.
Chambers aims to recruit up to three pupils each year.
For more information and details about how to apply, visit our website at: https://www.serlecourt.co.uk/join-us/mini-pupillage.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 1)
- Chancery: Traditional (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 2)
- Company (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Offshore (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)