If you’re looking for commercial work in a growing set with a presence in Asia, The Only Way is (Twenty) Essex.
Twenty Essex pupillage review
Twenty Essex had a bit of rebrand recently, changing the spelling of its name (from 20 Essex Street) and revamping its website for a fresh new look. Speaking of name changes, Twenty Essex’s clerks are known as either practice managers, assistant practice managers or practice directors (depending on seniority): “The work we do is more strategic than a traditional clerk’s work, hence the different title,” practice director Arron Zitver clarifies.
"...the international flavour of the work here really does set Twenty Essex apart.”
On the subject of doing things a bit differently: Twenty Essex also has a base in Singapore, making it one of only six UK sets to set up shop in the region: “We were invited to open an office there ten years ago by the Singaporean government, as we’re one of the biggest players in the market. We had been visiting clients there for a long time, so we had already established relationships with both onshore and offshore firms that operate in that jurisdiction,” says Zitver. This was a motivating factor for a current pupil when they were deciding where to apply for a pupillage: “So much of the Bar is domestic, unlike law firms, so the international flavour of the work here really does set Twenty Essex apart.” Three of the firm’s members are ranked in our sister publication, Chambers Asia-Pacific, for their expertise in arbitrating legal issues in Singapore. The wider set has earned commendations in Chambers Global for its international arbitration and public international law practice, the latter of which has also earned the set a tip of the hat back in Blighty.
Nods to the set's insurance, energy, civil fraud and shipping and commodities work round off the rankings in Chambers UK Bar: “International arbitration has always been a big part of what we do: these days around 70% of our work is centered on international arbitration and 30% covers litigation, Zitver tells us. He adds that “we’ve also got a growing insolvency team. We found that a number of our silks’ cases had an insolvency element, so we recruited two barristers from South Square a number of years ago and the practice has continued growing since.”
When it comes to instructions, the set is sought out by firms of all sizes. US behemoth Arnold & Porter recently instructed Andrew Fulton QC and Mark Tushingham in a case stemming from the Venezuelan presidential crisis: two rival boards, one appointed by Juan Guaidó (who most of Western Europe and Latin America recognise as Interim President of Venezuela) and one appointed by incumbent President Nicolás Maduro, both claim to represent the Venezuelan Central Bank and therefore have a right to $1 billion of gold held in the Bank of England’s vault. Fulton and Tushingham are representing the Guaidó board in the dispute.
On the shipping side, Henry Byam-Cook QC recently defended the buyer of a specialised cable-laying vessel during a $5 million claim for breach of contract and confidence made by the ship's designer. A recent public international law matter, meanwhile, has seen Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC lead on a case concerning the 1955 Treaty of Amity and whether or not the United States has violated it by allowing victims of Iranian terrorism to bring compensation claims against Iran in US courts.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils typically sit with four supervisors, spending three months with each. The first stint sees pupils working solely for their supervisor, but they gradually build up to doing work for other members by the second seat, “so that we get exposure to different practice areas and more people can see our work,” a pupil explained. This set-up continues through the third seat, while in the fourth seat the tenancy decision is made. A pupil told us that they had regular contact with their supervisor when working remotely: "We have Teams or Zoom calls, just to keep in regular contact. Also, I've never been afraid to pick up the phone and ask questions outside of those scheduled meetings."
"I drafted a skeleton argument about the interpretation of a jurisdictional clause, as well as pleadings for a shipping arbitration.”
Our pupil interviewee told us there’s lots of shipping, commodities, international trade and private international law work to be done: “The set ensures we do the bread and butter work that barristers typically do, so I drafted a skeleton argument about the interpretation of a jurisdictional clause, as well as pleadings for a shipping arbitration. The emphasis is on developing your skills so you can draft well.” If pupils have an interest in a particular area of law, Twenty Essex will put said pupil in touch with a member who practises in that area.
Newbies usually work on live cases, “but we don’t have to stick to a strict deadline. People are understanding if you need a couple more days to get your head around things.” Pupils begin practising in their fourth seat, earning an additional £5,000 in the process: “After the tenancy decision has been made, we’ll gradually get cases of our own to ease us in.”
The set also puts on a training program for new tenants: "We run lunchtime talks that introduce new tenants them to specialist areas of practice at a high level – we cover what they need to know about started in specialist areas and where to go for textbooks and styles of written documents like pleadings," says pupillage committee member Susannah Jones. "That’s alongside sessions we already run on ethics, writing style, virtual advocacy and IT skills."
Pupils complete two unassessed advocacy training exercises and four assessed advocacy exercises during their pupillage with Twenty Essex. For the assessed exercises, “we get one of the set’s previous cases then advocate against each other,” a pupil told us. More generally, every piece of work pupils do is formally assessed against the set’s objective matrices: “Pupils get oral and written feedback within a few days of submitting it, and supervisors get sent automatic reminders from Twenty Essex’s dedicated pupillage portal if they haven’t given feedback,” says Jones. Both pupils and the pupillage committee can track progress on the set’s fancy portal (we saw it, it’s pretty cool).
"So long as pupils meet the standards of a good tenant, they’ll be taken on, which creates a great atmosphere among pupils.”
Our interviewees were keen to highlight that “there isn’t any competition for tenancy space. So long as pupils meet the standards of a good tenant, they’ll be taken on, which creates a great atmosphere among pupils.” Supervisors and the pupillage committee go through all the feedback pupils have received, make a recommendation and then the whole of chambers votes on whether or not the pupil should be offered tenancy: “We’re very collegiate!” says Jones.
Our pupil interviewee also praised the set's culture by highlighting "a virtual coffee rota on Zoom, which was a really good way to get to know people. They made a huge effort during Covid. Now that people are coming into chambers more, I'm having exactly the same quality of social experience in person."
The Application Process
Twenty Essex is part of the Pupillage Gateway, but only recruits those who have done or have been offered a mini pupillage with the set.
“...we're very much in growth mode. We don’t have a limit on the number of pupils we offer tenancy to."
The set interviews between 20 and 25 hopefuls, and gives them a written piece of work to complete at home: “Applicants don’t need any legal knowledge, as it’s a test of how they think,” says Jones. Three successful candidates are usually then offered pupillage. According to Jones, Twenty Essex was the first ever chambers to use contextualised recruitment social enterprise Rare Recruitment: “We’re very proud of that.” The set also works with equal opportunities charity Bridging the Bar; five of the set’s latest mini pupils came through that route.
The good news for prospective pupils, according to Zitver, is that the set is “very much in growth mode. We don’t have a limit on the number of pupils we offer tenancy to; we know that if we don’t take talent on, our competitors will.”
Locked out of Heaven
Pupils don’t get a key to the building “because we don’t want them working long hours, especially not past half six,” says Zitver.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 2)
- Public International Law (Band 1)
- Shipping & Commodities (Band 1)