St John’s star status in the Southwest is underpinned by top practices in personal injury, clinical negligence, family, commercial, and Chancery law.
St John’s Chambers pupillage review 2024
“When people think about barristers, they think ‘uptight’,” a source confessed, adding that this could not be further from the truth at St John’s, where they delighted in a “down-to-earth” culture. It also didn’t hurt that the set is located Bristol: “I liked that I could specialise and live outside London without compromising the quality of work opportunities.” As Simon Rhodes, the chief executive of the chambers, states, “Bristol is a vibrant city with a strong legal market. It’s a really great place to live and work.”
“We have great strength in depth and we’ve added a strong cohort of juniors over the past five years.” says Rhodes. “Our investment in bringing on new pupils is really paying off. Whether your ambition is to become judge or take silk, or to make a difference in the world, do high-quality work, have a great work-life balance, work flexibly, or provide for you and your family – we will support you with any and all of these.”
"We want to be one of the leading regional chambers in the country."
Rhodes was appointed to the position in 2023, bringing with him years of experience as managing partner for law firm Trethowans. He has a clear vision: “We want to be one of the leading regional chambers in the country. We have a great base in the Southwest, but I want us to be clearly leading.” So how is the set approaching this? “We’re ambitious and focused on offering the best client and barrister experience we can. We provide training, coaching, career planning and support to our barristers and staff. Our practice managers are empowered to support their practice area and we are very keen to make sure everyone reaches their potential here.”
The set tends to hire three pupils a year, one for each of its key practices: personal injury and clinical negligence; Chancery and commercial; and family law. It’s nabbed top rankings from Chambers UK Bar in all of these areas in the western circuit, as well as in company law, construction, and real estate litigation. When it comes to clients, “we get regular instructions from solicitors’ firms, local authorities and insurance companies and were working hard to build long-lasting relationships with our clients,” says Rhodes, many of which are in the Southwest.
In the family practice, Lucy Reed KC was recently instructed by Lewis Silkin on behalf of journalist Louise Tickle, who wanted to publish the judgment arising from children proceedings, and include the identity of the parents (both political figures). Personal injury cases to do with injuries in road collisions and accidents at work are very common – member Andrew McLaughlin recently defended Monmouthshire County Council against a claim by a teacher who sustained a severe head injury after being assaulted at school by a group of boys. In a clinical negligence case, James Marwick represented the claimant in a High Court trial concerning the midwifery care provided by a trust. Over on the commercial side, James Pearce-Smith (head of the company and commercial practice) represented a farm manager in their claim against the farm owner for over £250,000 unpaid invoices.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage starts with an induction period where pupils are assigned a supervisor. “In the commercial and Chancery practice, pupils will have at least two supervisors,” so that they can get exposure across both strands. In family, pupils are given one supervisor, but they have the opportunity to work with people who specialise in children’s law or matrimonial finance. Over the course of the pupillage, pupils work for people of different seniorities and specialisations to get a spread of experience. In addition, there’s a quarterly review where pupils can “identify work they are especially interested in, reflect on what they have learned, and hear what we have planned for them in the following quarter,” says Rachel Segal, a member of the pupillage committee. In addition, pupils always have a buddy. This is usually a junior tenant who they can vent to and ask questions.
In the first six, pupils are mainly shadowing and working with their supervisors or members of chambers. “It is a writing-heavy practice, so I found myself attending court, writing opinions, and doing research tasks,” a junior explains. In addition, “if my supervisor had a cross-examination, she would make me try it first and we would discuss how she would approach it. I would also write skeleton arguments, and go to the High Court and Court of Appeal to observe cases.” As they near the end of the first six, pupils are matched with junior members of their department to ease them into the second six.
“Towards the end, I was getting more paperwork instructions.”
In the second six, pupils are on their feet but still expected to follow their supervisor to court. “I was in court a lot more, and towards the end, I was getting more paperwork instructions,” a junior noted. The pupils are expected to do low-level personal injury work such as road accidents. As an insider described, “this is low-value work that pupils can cut their teeth on as new barristers.” They might also get stuck into possession hearings, boundary disputes, construction trials, injunctions, and lots of breaches of contracts.
“The great thing about St John’s is that they don’t expect you to be perfect right away,” a junior praised. “You will get feedback and if it is not up to par, they will ask you to do a second piece of work.” As Segal notes, “we are sensible and realistic about what can be expected. We want them to work hard, but not unhealthily. We take wellbeing seriously, and we tell pupils that they should not be working at silly hours.”
And what’s more, there are no formal assessments. The written work pupils do for most members of the department is assessed gradually. These usually include opinions or pleadings. When it comes to making the tenancy decision, the pupillage committee looks at pupils’ written applications in combination with structured feedback forms by members of the chambers who have worked with the pupils, as well as oral feedback from those that saw the pupils in action. Further, “supervisors collate feedback from clients, judges and assigning solicitors,” a pupil told us. The practice team then votes and if they vote yes, it goes to a chambers-wide vote. In 2023, all three pupils gained tenancy.
“I was looking for a set that did not make me feel ‘othered’ because I was a woman or from a different socioeconomic background.”
We heard there is a bit of a push for more training and social events in order to encourage more people to work from the office. Our sources described the set’s culture as “friendly and inclusive.” Given that each practice has just one pupil, “we aren’t competing with anyone, and that nurtures support.” From Rhodes’ point of view, “as a former solicitor, it was suggested to me that I might not like it as much in a barristers chambers. I'm pleased to say that suggestion was wrong as I'm really enjoying it here. We are really supportive of each other and everyone's committed to the work.”
His message to prospective applicants is that different backgrounds are an asset. “We are committed to being an inclusive Chambers. That’s the right approach for so many reasons and it makes commercial sense. We’re looking for people who add more depth and insight. The more cognitive diversity we have here the better.” In fact, “I was looking for a set that did not make me feel ‘othered’ because I was a woman or from a different socioeconomic background,” our interviewee shared. Out of around 90 members, roughly 45% are women.
The Application Process
St John’s is not in the Pupillage Gateway system. The chambers uses an application form that gets tweaked each year. “We have taken time and care to strip out information that might lead to unconscious bias,” says Segal. “Identifiers such as names of school, university or gender aren’t seen by any assessor on the paper sift.”
In the first round, candidates meet with a panel of three people chaired by a member of the pupillage committee. “The panellists have received diversity and inclusion as well as fair recruitment training,” adds Segal.The interviewers ask competency-based questions and offer opportunities for applicants to show off their analytical skills. The biggest focus at this stage is advocacy, both written and oral. This is assessed over the discussion of a legal problem or case. As an example, “for my year, it was a recent Supreme Court case. They wanted to know how we think and asked us to argue for the other side,” a source said. Ultimately, says Segal, “whether you interned at the International Criminal Court or worked at Burger King, it’s about the transferable skills you’ve gathered and how you articulate them.”
In the second round, there’s a mock trial or hearing before a practice team panel. Candidates are sent materials ahead of time. “Since I was interested in family, they sent me a non-molestation and occupation order,” a pupil revealed. “You send them a skeleton argument. They ask you questions about it and throw in a few more competency questions.” As Segal notes, “we are trying to get a sense of candidates' ability to solve a problem and show us what they can do in oral advocacy.” Candidates can request feedback after the first round, and will automatically be given advice after the second round.
“A tea and cake session…”
And at the end of all of that, it’s time to stick the kettle on. “After an interview, we have a tea and cake session with applicants so that they can come and get to know us,” a junior revealed. “We are hoping you get to the crux of who we are and listen to what life is like at our chambers.”
No cons at St John’s: Just be yourself.As Segal says, “we cross-examine people for a living. We know when someone is not being authentic!”
St John's Chambers
If you are looking for a specialised and supportive pupillage that will give you the best possible springboard for your career at the Bar, St John’s Chambers is the set for you.
Described by the Legal 500 as ‘a Western Circuit Powerhouse’, St John’s offers the perfect chance to build a stellar career at the Bar while enjoying the great opportunities on offer in one of the UK’s most vibrant cities.
We are one of the largest sets in the South West, with over 80 barristers and 7 silks. Chambers UK and The Legal 500 list us as a ‘top-ranked’ leading set in our practice areas, describing us as a ‘must instruct’ chambers.
We were voted ‘Set of the Year’ (outside London) by The Legal 500 Bar Awards 2022, and ‘Chambers of the Year 2022’ by Bristol Law Society, further cementing our position as a standout destination for high-quality applicants who want the very best career without compromising on quality of life.
We are a ‘go-to’ chambers for legal advice outside of London, and receive high-level complex instructions from law firms across the UK, multi-national businesses, high net-worth individuals and people from all walks of life.
We were founded just over 40 years ago by barristers who wanted to do things differently. We have a modern and progressive approach, with barristers, clerks and management working together as the driving force behind our success. We are forward-thinking and proactive in promoting diversity and mental wellbeing at the Bar.
We look for high-calibre recruits who can demonstrate 4 key competencies: excellence in written and oral advocacy, the ability to analyse complex information quickly, to present arguments succinctly and persuasively; and to communicate effectively with all types of people.
Successful candidates will typically have strong academic credentials, but we have no preference as to whether your undergraduate degree is in law or whether you have since transferred.
We look for people who are determined, resilient and motivated. Experience of public speaking and mooting is desirable but not essential. We generally expect our pupils to specialise within one practice group. We take on pupils with an eye to tenancy, so our pupils do not compete with each other.
We are committed to recruiting new tenants from our pupils whenever possible. Accordingly, we offer pupillage to those who we hope and expect will become tenants. Of course there can be no guarantees, but provided that they successfully complete pupillage, our pupils can normally expect to become tenants.
The pupillage committee and heads of practice groups determine the pupillage requirements for the following year by reference to the BSB’s Professional Statement and any specialist checklists. You can be sure your pupillage will cover all necessary aspects of your specialist area, while giving you exposure to a broad range of styles and approaches so that you can find your own.
We intend to recruit three pupils starting in October 2025. Our advert will go live on the Pupillage Gateway on 27th November.
To apply for pupillage, you will need to submit a written application. All application dates will go LIVE on our website from 27th November.
We currently offer one mini-pupillage per month, and as of 2022 at least 50 per cent will go to applicants from non-traditional state school and BAME backgrounds, with the intention of improving access to the bar. Typically, a mini-pupil’s time will include accompanying members to court, attending conferences involving clients and/or solicitors, and reading and discussing paperwork. Mini-pupils will also have opportunity to ask questions about the profession and about pupillage.
£50,000 along with the loan (with an option to buy at second-hand rates at the end of the year) of the latest iPad Pro, Smart keyboard and iPen. The award is paid in 12 equal monthly instalments, subject to a claw-back to the extent of any fees actually received during the second six months of pupillage.
Agriculture and rural affairs, clinical negligence, commercial, construction and engineering, Court of Protection, employment, family and divorce, inquests and public inquiries, personal injury, professional negligence, public and administrative law, real estate, tax, wills and trusts.
Usually 2 x 6 months, but can be up to 2 x 12 months if required.
University law careers fairs 2023
Bar Council Pupillage Fair, Bristol University Law Fair, UWE Law Fair, UWE Mooting Competition
• Mini-Pupillage: As part of the Western Circuit’s ‘BarNone’ initiative we have pledged to offer 50% of mini-pupillages to applicants from underrepresented backgrounds.
• Mentoring: We are also signatories to the ‘BarNone’ mentoring scheme, providing guidance and support to aspiring barristers from underrepresented backgrounds.
• Internships: We are proud to be part of the Bar’s inaugural programme with 10,000 Black Interns which started in Summer 2022, along with organisations such as Matrix Chambers, Keating, Littleton, and Bridging the Bar. Through this scheme we will be offering paid work experience in Chambers.
• Secondary School outreach: We are part of the Bar Council’s outreach program, as well as offering work experience placements to Year 10 students in the Bristol / South Gloucestershire / BANES catchment area.
• Pupillage applications: Before written applications for pupillage are assessed we redact data indicative of sex, gender, and ethnic background in order to limit the scope for unconscious bias. We are also proud to be one of the few chambers to redact the identity of the university and school our applicants attended. All applicants are marked according to measurable and transparent criteria based on key competencies. For more information take a look at our pupillage policy on our website.
• Webinars: We have put in place a program of webinars promoting equal opportunities for underrepresented groups.
• New Pupils: We have a ‘buddy’ system for our pupils so that they have someone other than their supervisor to speak to about welfare issues.
• Barrister and staff recruitment: All of those involved in the recruitment at St John’s Chambers are offered regular Fair Recruitment and Selection training.
• Work allocation: We have a clear and robust policy in place to ensure fair allocation of work and opportunity for our pupils and members of Chambers. All of our clerks have had fair distribution of work training.
• Flexible working and parental leave: We have a generous parental leave policy in place to support our members who become parents whether through pregnancy, surrogacy, or adoption. In addition, we also have a policy in place to support our members to work flexibly where they need or choose to do so.
• Wellbeing: St John’s Chambers was one of the first Sets to be awarded the Bar Council Wellbeing at the Bar Certification. St John’s is also a member of Bristol City Council Wellbeing Charter.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Chancery (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Company (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Personal Injury (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)