This set’s got aviation in the back, top rankings attached, Chancery work in stacks, and commercial work to match.
Contrary to its name, XXIV Old Buildings is a forward-thinking set. That’s according to pupillage committee member Steven Thompson QC anyway: “Although Commercial Chancery sounds like an old-fashioned label, it’s a modern collection of work that can span trusts and estates work through battles for corporate control and financial services disputes to aviation litigation, both domestically and internationally.” Thompson adds that the set handles “high-value and urgent” work in the civil sphere. The set straddles Chancery and commercial work to great effect, earning top rankings from Chambers UK Bar for its traditional Chancery and offshore practices, closely followed by a flurry of high scores for its commercial Chancery, civil fraud, aviation, and partnership work. Chambers director Sue Medder tells us: “Chambers’ USP is its experience and expertise in international trust litigation. Increasingly, however, the skills honed in such litigation have been of great use in many other areas of law."And this wide range of practice areas was attractive to a pupil who “didn’t want to nail my colours to the mast of a particular area of Chancery.”Some were also drawn to the set’s “somewhat niche practice in aviation law.” More on that shortly…
“The concepts of law and equity are the golden thread that runs through what we do.”
Thompson is keen to dispel any misconceptions that the work is at all “unmanageably wide-ranging.” Instead, he explains that “because barristers’ chambers have usually aligned themselves with an area of law rather than an area of business, it isn’t that wide. The concepts of law and equity are the golden thread that runs through what we do.” Elaborating on the set’s business strategy, Thompson tells us: “We’ve decided to grow organically. Our pupils and junior tenants are our primary source of growth. We think it creates a more cohesive atmosphere and a better structure of work.”
As we mentioned before, XXIV’s members are a dab hand at dealing with complex offshore matters. For example, David Brownbill QC recently acted for the claimant in a multi-hundred-million-dollar claim against a Saudi bank in a Supreme Court case. Stephen Moverley Smith QC acted for the claimants in a claim in Gibraltar to recover $10 million worth of stolen art deco furniture from a French bank. On the more traditional side of Chancery work, Elspeth Talbot Rice QC recently handled a family dispute over a collection of Chinese porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Closer to home, Rice also handled a dispute regarding the ownership of a village in Dorset. Edward Cumming QC recently acted for philanthropist Jamie Cooper on an appeal over the court’s jurisdiction to supervise the administration of charities, which arose out of the divorce between Cooper and Sir Christopher Hohn. Sue Medder tells us that the set also works “at the more exciting end of aviation,” including tackling the consequences of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the spring of 2019. Edward Cumming QC also recently advised Monarch Airlines and helped secure the release one of its former aircraft, which was grounded just before it was scheduled to take Jet2.com holidaymakers to Tenerife.
The Pupillage Experience
Some pupils lean towards Chancery work (wills, trusts, 1975 Inheritance Act claims), while others focused on the commercial side (banking fraud, contractual disputes). What pupils do depends on which supervisor they sit with, but they can also take on tasks from other members at chambers. Over the course of pupillage, pupils typically sit with four different supervisors for three months at a time. Sources told us that pupils tend to start out as generalists: “One day you’ll be working on financial services and the next you’re challenging the validity of a will.”They added that “you’re expected to make a valuable contribution to a live matter, but typically you’ll be drafting applications and the usual skeleton arguments.” One source recalled “helping out on a matrimonial finance litigation. Most people of means structure their estates through trusts, so it’s not unusual to have a Chancery junior on such a case.” This pupil was also kept busy with “a massive commercial piece of litigation for a major healthcare provider.” Pupils also enjoyed getting stuck into “exciting international matters. Around half of my work has had international or offshore elements.”
Senior practice manager James Ladbrook adds that juniors can get stuck into “Regulation 261 applications, which are essentially flight delay disputes. They’re a good opportunity to appear on your own in front of a judge.”Some pupils and juniors were indeed able to get on their feet, but cautioned that this isn’t representative of pupillage as a whole. “You have to be patient,” one source reflected. “It’s taken me until fairly recently to start seeing direct progress, such is the variety of work here. The precision, academic rigour and research required to formulate some of these arguments means that it’s satisfying when it pays off.”
“The lack of formal assessments is a real positive.”
XXIV sets no formally assessed tasks: pupillage is a constant process of assessment. Yikes. Steven Thompson QC says: “Pupillage may feel like a year-long interview, but from our perspective it’s a year-long training.” Our sources echoed this idea, explaining: “It’s a marathon rather than a sprint.” Pupils also assured us that “the process here isn’t about pitting people against each other,” adding that “the clerks are very good about keeping an open dialogue about capacity, so there’s no unnecessary pressure.”Pupils have reviews with their supervisor every one and a half months to consolidate feedback, and overall interviewees felt that “the lack of formal assessments is a real positive.”Thompson goes on to tell us that chambers has kept on “roughly 1.5 pupils per year.” These figures reflect an average taken over the last few years, so future pupils need not worry about which one of them will be severed in two. Our interviewees assured us that “over the years, people who haven’t been kept on have said they knew it was coming.”In 2020, both its two pupils became tenants.
The Application Process
The application process at XXIV Old Buildings kicks off with candidates submitting a simple form explaining why they desire pupillage at the set, followed by an online aptitude test “that was designed to recognise the risk of unconscious bias and minimise its effects,”Steven Thompson QC explains. The top 16 performers in the test automatically go through to a 15-minute interview with a three-member panel, and a further 16 are also selected for the interview from the next best 32 based on their application form.
“Even when you’re not working with someone on a case, there’s a constant discussion about how you’re doing.”
From those interviewees, the 12 brightest pupillage prospects progress to an assessment day testing their written, oral and negotiation abilities through a series of tasks. Thompson tells us: “There’s a structured negotiation between four people; it’s really interesting to see how people use their interpersonal skills.” He adds that the assessment day is attended by as many barristers as there are candidates. Pupils reflected that the “big advantage”of the process is its “efficiency – the whole process only takes two to three weeks.”Sue Medder tells us that along with excellent academics, applicants also need to demonstrate “interpersonal skills, and be commercial about generating work.” Any final tips for this stage? Thompson quips: “If you have the necessary core skills but haven’t ever spent the evening drinking warm wine, you can learn to do that.”
Pupils felt that the culture at XXIV Old Buildings “doesn’t have any of the stereotypes you might expect at the Chancery Bar.” They were pleased to report that the set has left the tradition of ‘chambers tea’ in the 19th century, opting instead for sunny evenings at the pub, chambers lunches and even five-a-side football matches on occasion. According to Sue Medder, this atmosphere is helped along by the set’s “transparency of billing. Every single barrister knows exactly what everyone earns, which leads to an openness and an understanding about what people are doing within the set.”She adds that there’s “no 'upstairs downstairs' culture,”while a junior source had these words of wisdom for potential applicants: “Don’t assume that Chancery commercial sets are cut-throat, unfriendly or even lonely places. Even when you’re not working with someone on a case, there’s a constant discussion about how you’re doing.”Others agreed: “If you ever need someone to bounce ideas off of or foolproof your arguments, you can knock on anyone’s door.”
XXIV's application deadline was once among the earliest for the Bar, but as all sets now run in line with the Pupillage Gateway timetable, you've got some more time to prepare your application.
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