Setting sail for international waters, Twenty Essex is a growing commercial set with a penchant for public international law and a top-tier shipping practice.
Twenty Essex pupillage review 2024
The moment you walk through the door at Twenty Essex, you’ll pick up on the international flavour of the set. In fact, Twenty Essex proudly declares on its website that the ‘vast majority’ of their work is ‘international in nature’. Yet as practice director Arron Zitver explains, there’s plenty of substance to the claim: “It’s quite easy to demonstrate that, because when you take a look at our spread of cases, the times when we are charging VAT are actually quite rare! Most of our lay clients fall outside of that scope.” The set’s Singapore office celebrated its delayed ten-year anniversary this year too at the Singapore High Commission. “Our office in Singapore services clients throughout Asia-Pacific,” Zitver adds, “within Singapore but also in places like Hong Kong and India.”
"Our biggest practice areas in terms of numbers are shipping, civil fraud and commercial litigation.”
While the set’s main areas of practice “vary from year to year in terms of volume of casework,” Zitver tells us, “our biggest practice areas in terms of numbers are shipping, civil fraud and commercial litigation.” With a top-tier Chambers UK Bar ranking for the team in London, the set’s strength in shipping pulls alongside a hefty reputation in areas such as commercial dispute resolution, insolvency, offshore and international arbitration. There’s also another top-tier ranking in public international law to boot: “Other really strong practices are areas like energy and banking, and it only takes a couple of cases for volume and revenue in a particular practice area to change quite quickly,” Zitver adds.
For those with an interest in the shipping side, one recent case saw Henry Byam-Cook KC represent the owner of a ship in a long-running LMAA arbitration against a time charterer after the ship was delayed for six months in China as a result of the COVID pandemic. On the public international law side, academic-practitioner Professor Philippa Webb worked on the UK’s declaration of intervention on behalf of Ukraine over allegations of genocide against Russia in the International Court of Justice.Where instructing firms are concerned, “it’s a mixture of firms that everyone would have heard of,” Zitver tells us, “Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Herbert Smith Freehills, and a couple of the US firms like Akin and White & Case.A fairly broad spread, but most of our UK instructions come from firms based in London.”
Of course, behind all good sets is a solid plan for the future. According to Zitver: “For us, it’s for continued growth. I joined 25 years ago now, and we’ve expanded massively in terms of numbers.” Along with taking on more barristers to manage the workload, each of Twenty Essex’s three practice directors will be taking an extra clerk into their team. “That’s one of the reasons we have taken on the building next door,” Zitver explains. “The building has given us a new clerk’s room and modern facilities for talks and social events.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupillage at Twenty Essex is divided into four quarters, and, as pupillage committee member Julian Kenny KC tells us: “The business end of it is the first three,” which run roughly September–Christmas, Christmas–Easter, and then from Easter to July when the tenancy decision is made. “For the non-lawyer, most of what we do is commercial contracts – contracts between companies involved in businesses like shipping, commodities, or banking,” Kenny explains, “but public international law – the law that applies to the relationships between states – is another big area for us.” For most of pupillage, pupils will rotate between commercial practitioners, but if you’ve got an interest in public international law, then there is the option to spend one of the quarters with a relevant barrister.As Kenny is quick to emphasise: “What we aim for is not just a line manager relationship, but something more personal, one where you’ll learn from your supervisor in the way they conduct their practice.”
“Your supervisor will bring you up to speed on how to do the core bits of work that you do as a barrister: things like opinions, pleadings and skeletons."
In the first of these quarterly seats “your supervisor will bring you up to speed on how to do the core bits of work that you do as a barrister: things like opinions, pleadings and skeletons,” one pupil told us. As Julian Kenny puts it: “For the first three months, we are just expecting people to be getting used to the culture shock of arriving at chambers.” During this period, there is a programme of training talks designed to introduce pupils to the core areas of work at Twenty Essex: “They are the kind of things that arise in practice, to give you a foundation of knowledge in those areas.” By the time pupils start their second quarterly seat, they will start to branch out and work for other members of chambers. “It really allows you to get a variety of different types of experiences. After all, there’s a subtle difference between how you would plead in an international arbitration context and a court context for example,” one former pupil added.
The third and fourth quarters are non-practising at Twenty Essex: “We have four advocacy exercises to lock in that advocacy aspect,” one former pupil told us, “but the idea is that because there are so many opportunities once you are at the Bar, it really helps to have that twelve months’ careful building of skills.” By the third and fourth seats, pupils at Twenty Essex will work for as many different members of chambers as possible: “The unwritten rule is that if you do a piece of work for someone and that piece of work is involved in a hearing that makes it to court, then you get to go along and watch,” one pupil explained, “so, I was in the Court of Appeal last seat watching my supervisor appeal against the decision not to grant an anti-suit injunction in the court below.”
Every piece of work that pupils do is marked against the standard of a junior tenant, but as pupils were quick to clarify: “It’s not as scary as it sounds! It’s not all on one piece of work, so you have lots of chances.” At the beginning of the second quarter, pupils start a series of advocacy exercises, which involve a week to prepare for and write a skeleton before arguing their case against another pupil in front of a panel of KCs. “That might be something like an appeal under Section 69 of the Arbitration Act, or an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court,” one pupil recalled. As another former pupil was keen to point out however, “this doesn’t mean you are marked against each other. Everyone is on their own journey, and is trying to convert their skills to the highest level they can.” All assessed work is uploaded onto the set’s ‘Twenty Pupils’ portal which allows both supervisors and pupils to review all their work and see their progress.
“I only have to think of my own pupillage to remember how prone to making mistakes pupils are! What we are looking for is spark and potential.”
When it came to the tenancy decision: “We are expecting broadly that they will be hitting the tenancy standard by the end of the third quarter. But essentially, we try very hard to get people over the line,” Kenny tells us. Following a meeting involving the pupillage committee and pupil supervisors, the committee submits a recommendation for consideration by chambers as a whole. “In the end,” Kenny adds, “the decision is still ultimately made by chambers, but it’s very firmly steered by the committee’s recommendation.” Above all, the message to pupils is to not let themselves become too daunted by the prospect: “I only have to think of my own pupillage to remember how prone to making mistakes pupils are! What we are looking for is spark and potential.” In 2023, the set retained all four pupils.
When looking at chambers as a whole: “We do still have quite a family dynamic,” Arron Zitver tells us, “we have ‘casual cake’ on the roof, we have drinks on a Thursday, and we know each other’s families.” This was something that pupils echoed: “One of the first things we were told when we arrived at chambers was that we should support each other. It’s not a competition and they emphasised that they had capacity to take all of us. We really have become friends.”
The Application Process
“What makes our application process different is that it’s simpler and shorter for the candidates than rival sets,” Kenny highlights, “We are very conscious of the fact that candidates don’t have unlimited time for jumping through hoops.” Written applications are reduced to a list of 20–25 candidates who the set interviews. “As a part of the interview, we ask them to do a piece of legal writing on what is essentially quite a fun legal problem,” Kenny adds. (Previous examples include a piece on the law of auctions and how it applies to Banksy’s self-destroying artwork.) “It’s fairly light-hearted. It’s no more than four pages long, and we quiz them on it. But it’s just that one interview, and then a yes or a no.”
"... designed to test your ability to explain something simply and logically."
Designed in such a way that the candidates could take multiple different positions on the matter, the questions they face “are designed to test your ability to explain something simply and logically. It’s about your ability to face reasonably robust questioning on whether you’ve made the right choices.” As is not often the case, candidates will get to see the topic a day in advance. There will also be some standard competency questions: “An example of that would be ‘Tell me about a time that you worked with someone difficult,’” one pupil told us, “So, drawing on your own experiences to see what kind of skills you have in a practical context.”
So, what are the folks at Twenty Essex looking for? “If I start on the subject ‘what makes a good barrister?’ – I’ll end up with a list of attributes that might seem obvious,” Kenny adds, “but the people who absolutely excel are the people who are able to reduce complex situations into a very simple proposition, without the loss of accuracy. That’s what makes the difference.”
Watching the clock:
“If you were still here at 6.30pm they would kick you out!” one pupil joked, “We aren’t given a key to get in out of hours either. The policy is very much that you won’t produce your best work if you are exhausted.”
20 Essex Street,
- No of silks 34
- No of juniors 56
- No of pupils 4
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Four 12-months pupillages
- Minimum degree 2:1 (law or non-law)
- Award £75,000
- Tenancies offered in the last three years Over the past five years, 82% of our pupils have become tenants
The nature of members’ practices is truly international: since 2009 we have maintained a fully staffed annexe in Singapore, and our members are instructed on cases centred on events in countries around the globe. And as a chambers, we have been in the vanguard of changes in how the UK bar operates, seeking to continually improve both the service we provide to clients, and how we build a strong, positive and supportive team across the set.
We aim to recruit the best candidates, based on merit. Twenty Essex is proactive and engaged in broadening access to the bar, and we actively encourage people from all backgrounds and life paths to apply. We are looking for individuals who demonstrate the aptitude and desire to succeed in our areas of expertise. Successful applicants will have excellent intellectual and analytical skills (typically but not invariably evidenced by a first-class degree, although not necessarily in law), be articulate and persuasive both orally and on paper, be able to work under pressure, and have strong interpersonal and teamwork skills.
Please note that applicants must have completed or been offered a mini-pupillage at Twenty Essex in order to be considered for a pupillage.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Cryptoassets (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 2)
- Public International Law (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Shipping & Commodities (Band 1)
Watch Twenty Essex's introduction to pupillage (January 2023):