When the cold winds of insolvency loom, try migrating South – to South Square.
South Square pupillage review 2024
In 2021, the plan of attack at South Square Chambers was to prepare in earnest for the problems that come with a fragile global economy. Two years later, and ‘fragile’ might be a bit of an understatement. What hasn’t changed, however, is the set’s resolve to help companies navigate perilous waters. South Square’s restructuring & insolvency practice has been top ranked in the Chambers UK Barfor over two decades, and brings with it a range of other practice areas, as this pupil explains: “Restructuring & insolvency pulls everything into it, from negligence matters to trusts, employment, IP and more.” In fact, while the majority of the set’s work revolves around restructuring & insolvency, its overlap with other practice areas means that cases can cross into three or four different areas of law. South Square also receives nods from Chambers UK Bar in banking & finance, company, offshore, and the commercial chancery.
For the barristers at South Square, there is the opportunity to work across jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Guernsey, Jersey, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Gibraltar. For those we spoke to however, the biggest draw of the set’s restructuring-heavy caseload is the amount of court time it affords compared to other commercial practices. In one recent case, Tom Smith KC represented gym chain Virgin Active on its restructuring in response to gym closures during the pandemic. In a separate case, Smith successfully defended New Look against an application brought by landlords challenging its company voluntary arrangement (CVA). On the commercial side, Smith acted as lead counsel for Primeo Fund (a Madoff feeder fund) in a $2 billion claim against HSBC, its former administrator. In a down-to-the-wire case, Glen Davis KC acted for Nationwide Accident Repair Service on urgent administration applications to save 2,500 jobs – so urgent in fact that it involved calling up the judge at his home in the run-up to a midnight deadline!
Footy fans take note, as South Square has a penchant for sports matters too: Mark Phillips KC has appeared before FA disciplinary Tribunals for players and managers such as Arsène Wenger, Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry, and members have represented UEFA in its prosecution of Manchester City FC in a dispute over financial fair play rules. If football isn’t your thing, don’t fear, Lewis Hamilton has relied on the South Square’s skills a few times too.
The Pupillage Experience
You might say that South Square likes its pupils to see the in(n)s and outs of the set. Perhaps unusually, pupils will rotate supervisors every six weeks. “We switch supervisors more frequently than any set I’ve heard of,” one pupil told us, “which translates to around eight or nine across the whole pupillage year.” This approach has its merits, as this pupil explained: “Everyone is different, so rather than being stuck on one case for months on end, we see a wider breadth of what people are involved in. You get more exposure to how people work, and how people build relationships.” As one pupil put it: “If there are any personality clashes, at least you’re not stuck with them!”
“Our pupils will always be an active part of what their supervisor is working on.”
The pupillage at South Square is non-practising, so there’s no need for any nerves about getting on your feet for high-stakes matters in your second six. “We do work for whoever needs it,” one pupil told us, “which quite often involves research.” For the pupils at South Square however, that research will increasingly relate to active matters: “We try to avoid work on dead cases, except in assessments,” Tom Smith KC, former head of the pupillage committee at South Square, tells us. “Our pupils will always play an active role in what their supervisor is working on.” For pupils, this might include draft pleadings and skeleton arguments too, as well as opportunities to attend meetings with solicitors and prepare for court.
Pro bono is woven in and treated on an equal footing. “Recently, I worked on the COIN (Company Insolvency Pro Bono) Scheme,” one pupil revealed, “which is allocated like normal work, and involves working with those who don’t have representation in court.”
“Supervisors are very forgiving about a lot of things, but you’re expected to learn from your mistakes, and act on them.”
There are seven formal assessments throughout a pupillage at South Square, including two opinions, three advocacy assessments, and two pleadings, The advocacy assessments require pupils to review papers and form a skeleton argument. This is then heard at a mock trial, with two members of chambers acting as judges. As a general rule, pupils are given one or two days off to prepare for each assessment (depending on how complicated the case is!).
When it comes to the tenancy decision: “A far greater weighting is placed on the views of supervisors,” Smith explains. This was something that pupils at the set were quick to echo: “The feedback we’ve received from supervisors is always the main element. Supervisors are very forgiving about a lot of things, but you’re expected to learn from your mistakes, and act on them.” The final decision is made by the pupillage committee based on the feedback pupils receive from each seat. Pupils receive written feedback at the end of each seat which their supervisor will discuss with them. The idea here is that pupils have a good sense of their progress throughout the pupillage, so there should be no surprises when the tenancy offers are made.
Pupils at South Square were quick to highlight the quality of the pupillage team at the set in getting newbies integrated into the set’s culture. “They do an excellent job making people feel welcomed and getting lunches and drinks organised,” one pupil chimed. “They ensure you get feedback on your work, and they play a role in marshalling the juniors to provide tips and tricks to pupils.” For Smith, there has been a conscious effort from the set not to expand too much: “It just helps to preserve the sense that everyone knows each other. We have an open-door policy, so juniors feel comfortable wandering into the rooms of senior members of chambers if they need advice on an issue, or just want to catch up. We do a fair amount to ensure members and staff see each other on a regular basis, be that monthly chambers lunches and members and staff drinks, as well as various summer and Christmas parties.”
Hours at the set tend to remain at a healthy 9am to 6pm. “Of course, there are cases where you might work longer, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.” Phew. As one former pupil put it: "There are more than enough late nights during tenancy, so there’s no sense in making people work late when they don’t have to.”
The Application Process
South Square takes on two to three pupils a year, “because we take them on with a view to them making tenancy,” Smith tells us. Aspiring South Square heads (if we can call them that) apply through the pupillage gateway, before a two-stage interview process. The set has adopted a method by which candidates are weighted by a social mobility scoring, as a means of attracting a diversity of talent from a range of economic backgrounds. Applicants who have approached the set via a mini-pupillage proceed straight to the first round.
Since it’s unlikely that many prospective candidates will know much about restructuring prior to pupillage, “we put a lot on the interview rather than their academic track record,” Smith explains. “They need to express that spark and drive, and genuine interest in our core practice areas.” The first round of interviews is made up of debate-style questions fired at candidates by juniors: “The questions are related to current affairs, things like: ‘Should the NHS provide healthcare to smokers?’” And it’s highly likely that you’ll be asked why you’re interested in a commercial and insolvency practice, so come prepared!
“We are not looking for huge repositories of legal knowledge, but a strong power of analysis, and an enquiring mind.”
Candidates who successfully make it to the second round will face a panel of five senior members, including silks. “Their questions will revolve around a legal problem that you’re given just before your interview,” one former pupil recalled. “It won’t be specific to banking and insolvency, instead they just want to get an idea of how you answer the questions. It’s about testing your logical flow and thought process.” As Smith reiterates: “We are not looking for huge repositories of legal knowledge,” but rather, “a strong power of analysis, and an enquiring mind.”
Diversity in practice: South Square participates in the COMBAR Mentoring Scheme for Under-Represented Groups at the Bar. As a part of the scheme, South Square commercial barristers mentor aspiring pupils one to one.
3-4 South Square,
Whilst our pre-eminent reputation is built on a track record in restructuring and insolvency, our expertise in banking and finance enables members to provide practical and commercial solutions to a wide range of complex business law issues.
Type of work undertaken
Insolvency & Restructuring, Banking & Finance Litigation, Commercial, Company Law, Arbitration & Media, Offshore, Civil Fraud, Sport, Insurance, Trust & Property
Chambers provide 12-month pupillage opportunities. Applicants must apply through the Pupillage Gateway. We all also offer third six pupillages and applications are accepted on an ad hoc basis. At the outset of pupillage, we anticipate offering pupils tenancy. Pupils receive feedback from their supervisor at the end of every seat, so they are aware if they are on track and meeting the required level. It should be noted that pupils are not competing with one another for a place in Chambers.
Funding and benefits
Diversity and inclusion are extremely important to the members and staff of South Square. Our Pupillage and Diversity and Inclusion Committee work closely with external organisations including the Bar Council, COMBAR, 10,000 Black Interns Programme, the Black Talent Charter, Women in Law Pledge and Rare Recruitment. Chambers also work with a number of charities and initiatives that are committed to providing access to justice for all. We are proud supporters of Advocate, a charity that provides legal assistance for people who cannot get public funding and are unable to pay for a barrister. All incoming pupils are provided with a mentor at the start of pupillage. Pupils are encouraged to meet with their mentor on a regular basis. We also organise lunches/dinners with the most recent juniors every 2-3 months for pupils to socialise and discuss their pupillage journey thus far.
See chambers’ website for further details www.southsquare.com/about us
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 2)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 4)
- Company (Band 3)
- Offshore (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)