With tip-top specialist pupillages in areas like commercial and family, why not let St Philips be the patron saint of your journey to the Bar in the Midlands?
St Philips Chambers pupillage review 2024
As the old saying goes, home is where the heart is. In 2018, after a two-year experiment in London, St Philips decided to come out of the capital and refocus its efforts on Birmingham: “A key turning point for us was investing our money back into Birmingham,” Joe Wilson, St Philips’ director of clerking, tells us. “We refocused our efforts where we had an established reputation, and that meant maintaining our office in Leeds as well.” St Philips takes its name from the Baroque 18th century cathedral in its home city and has built a prominent place for itself in Brum, too. The set is now one of the largest in the UK and has around 150 members split between its Birmingham and Leeds offices. “At the stage when I was applying, I was apprehensive about working in London,” one pupil recalled, “coming from the North, it always seemed so busy! But when I first walked into the building in Birmingham, I was in awe.”
St Philips offers specialist pupillages that see fledgling barristers focused on one of the set’s core practices for the entire training period. “We’ve got a large number of sub areas, but they all come under five main practice groups, each of which is managed by their own senior clerk,” Wilson explains, “business and property; employment and personal injury; crime; regulatory; and family.” According to Wilson, the business and property group accounts for the greatest proportion of the set’s work, followed by family, crime, employment, regulatory and then personal injury. St Philips receives a robust set of ten top-tier Chambers UK Bar accolades, including reverent nods to its commercial, crime, employment, and family expertise.
“…the city is very fortunate in that all of the top financial institutes are here – Goldman Sachs has just landed, and a number of the major national and international law firms have offices in Birmingham.”
“Our client base in Birmingham and beyond is vast,” Wilson adds. “Focusing on Birmingham – the city is very fortunate in that all of the top financial institutes are here – Goldman Sachs has just landed, and a number of the major national and international law firms have offices in Birmingham.” In one recent commercial case, James Morgan KC acted for Primus International Holding Company during a multimillion-pound damages assessment following a trial against Triumph Controls over a share sale agreement. Elsewhere, on the employment side, Edmund Beever defended the Government Legal Department and the Home Office against a disability and unfair dismissal claim brought by an individual with alleged PTSD. The claimant had been dismissed on the grounds of misconduct and misuse of emails while in employment, and the hearing partly sought to determine the relevance of their mental state on their conduct.
St Philips’ current strategic plan will see it through to 2025: “For a long time, the business and property group has been the main force, especially because work in crime and family was primarily publicly funded,” Wilson explains. “But there is a big pursuit for privately-funded work in those areas now, which is why you see those groups hot on the heels of business and property in respect of billing.” In addition, “one of the big areas that’s been hugely successful for us has been the cross-fertilization of work between groups. This is just one of the benefits of being in a successful multi-disciplinary set.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils spend the first three months of their specialist pupillage with a main supervisor, while months four and five are spent with people in different subsections of their chosen practice area. The final month of the last six is spent shadowing juniors in their practice area so that pupils become more familiar with the kind of work they will be doing when they are on their feet. This is done under the supervision of their main supervisor. “The first six is structured so that you spend a lot of time shadowing your supervisor,” one pupil explained, “but you also spend time shadowing those at the junior end of the Bar, so you can see what you will ultimately be doing.” For one pupil specialising in family law, the opportunity to move beyond the guidance of their main supervisor provided helpful exposure: “I was able to spend a month doing finance divorce proceedings, then a month doing care work to plug the gaps in my knowledge.” For Ali Tabari, the head of the pupillage committee at St Philips, meaningful supervision is the backbone of the pupillage: “We don’t subscribe to the old school model of osmosis. We have a structured supervision model that involves regular feedback and a planned programme of organised and meaningful work and progress (including in-house advocacy sessions).”
The first six is capped off with time to prepare for the Midlands Circuit Advocacy Weekend, which is a compulsory part of the training for all first-sixers at St Philips and operates under a pass/fail system: “You travel down on the Friday, and are given an advocacy exercise,” one pupil explained. “You do it, and then they show you how to do it better, and then you do it again implementing their corrections.” Pupils have so far aced this part of the process, but if there ever were any concerns about a pupil's performance at this stage, the pupillage committee would discuss potentially postponing the date upon which a pupil got on their feet.
“It was a challenge, but I had other barristers here at St Philips who I could go to and ask for advice.”
The second six gives pupils the opportunity to get on their feet: “I’m in court almost every day,” one enthused, “and that’s split between physical in-court appearances and remote hearings at the moment.” As a source was quick to highlight: “I was doing things like drafting cross-examination questions; actively practising the skills that I would need to use; and getting the chance to represent clients in all areas of family law.” This pupil, meanwhile, explained that they’d “worked on a particularly difficult case that involved a vulnerable client who required an interpreter and was unfamiliar with the laws of this country. It was a challenge, but I had other barristers here at St Philips who I could go to and ask for advice.”
Pupils are reviewed once every three months, and the process involves submitting a self-review before sitting with a supervisor to go through their comments: “We don’t have a strict series of gradings. But there is formal assessment against the criteria set out in the review form,” Tabari explains. “We run through a series of checklist assessment points which are evaluated in something akin to a traffic light system.” If any issues are flagged, the idea is for pupils to work on them in subsequent months. “The reviews were focused on my own needs and what I felt I needed more experience in,” one interviewee recalled. “One of the great things about being on the Midlands Circuit is that you just don’t have that same sense of competition between pupils.” At the end of the twelve months, the committee will look at each pupil’s performance across the pupillage and make a tenancy recommendation to chambers: “It’s then put to a whole-chambers vote,” Tabari tell us, adding: “The committee’s recommendation will be put through unless eight or more people object, at which point there is a meeting. But that’s not happened in my time in chambers, which is a reflection of the way in which the pupils are trained.” All 5 pupils gained tenancy in 2023.
The Application Process
Given St Philips’ specialist routes, candidates apply for one of three available streams: civil & commercial, family, or crime. “We knew we needed to be more scientific about recruitment and get a better idea of how candidates would respond to real-life situations,” Tabari tells us. “So, the first stage consists of a written application in which we look to put more emphasis on a candidate’s responses to situational judgement questions (based on characteristics that are good predictors of future performance), as opposed to simply going on what grades they have achieved.” In fact, your pre-university educational history and even your name remain unseen at the first stage: “So long as you’ve got sufficient academics to get your application through the paper sift, the people who are actually looking at your question responses won’t know what they are.”
“We are in the business of making good barristers.”
Those who demonstrate top-tier situational judgement are then invited to attend an interview. Here, candidates will provide their answers to three questions: “In the first round, if you make it past the paper sift, you are marked only on the quality of your answers to the same three questions that all candidates are asked on the night,” Tabari adds. The best candidates are then taken through to a final round, where they are asked to work through a legal problem (which they have a week to prepare), and then the best of those then progress to a full interview, which will include a review of their CV.
“We are in the business of making good barristers,” Wilson tells us, “so, whatever we can do to help, we will.” This extends to an emphasis on wellbeing that is in part supported by a partnership with a local charity that provides a free and independent listening service at the set: “We have someone in two days a week, and he really has become part of the furniture,” Wilson remarks. “It’s not always easy to speak to a colleague about personal or professional problems, so to have a truly independent listener has been really valuable.” Interviewees were quick to flag the culture of support at St Philips, with one telling us that you can’t fail to walk down the corridor without someone saying hello. As this pupil explained: “An ‘open-door policy’ is a bit of a cliché, but there’s no other way to describe it! I once phoned someone who was busy, and within two minutes she had arranged for someone else to call me to help me with my question.”
Closing in on the capital: According to director of clerking Joe Wilson, St Philips has recently increased its pupillage award by £10,000.
St Philips Chambers
55 Temple Row,
Main areas of work
Birmingham: Business & Property, Crime/Regulatory, Family and Employment/Personal Injury
Leeds: a smaller office primarily servicing Employment, Criminal and Regulatory work
Each supervisor is committed to majority in-person contact with their pupil, and there are at least 3 supervisors per pupil in the first Six. Pupils can expect to be in court 2-3 times per week, as a minimum, and closer to 4-5 times per week in their second Six.
Each group offers internal training, including 1:1 advocacy sessions, and pupils are encouraged to take part in seminars/workshops with clients. Each pupil is reviewed every 3 months by the pupillage committee, and assesses them against a number of criteria on something close to a traffic light system. They are also encouraged to undertake a range of pro bono work.
Approximately 20 mini-pupillages are offered throughout the year, with several mini-pupillages being offered to candidates through dedicated programmes with local universities, and with the Midlands Circuit.
Benefits include Discounted rate with chambers' accountants including VAT registration, access to private healthcare scheme and Cyber security insurance Chambers was also one of the first sets nationwide to have a dedicated Wellbeing programme, which pupils can take advantage of.
University law careers fairs 2024
• BPP Law Fairs
Recruitment website: https://st-philips.com/pupillage/
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Chancery (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Company (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Family: Children (Band 1)
- Family: Matrimonial Finance (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)