XXIV Old Buildings - True Picture

This heavyweight chancery set offers incomers a tailored pupillage where “the major emphasis is on training and learning.”


The Chambers

“We’ve maintained our position, kept our powder dry and have just been doing what we’re good at,” head of clerking Paul Horsfield tells us, rather humbly. We say humbly because XXIV Old Buildings is especially good at what it does: our colleagues at Chambers UK Bar consider the set among the best in the business for traditional chancery and offshore work, with XXIV also picking up high-end rankings for its aviation, commercial chancery, civil fraud, and partnership work. “It was the set that had the best blend of commercial big-ticket stuff along with specialist areas,” one junior reflected. “And one that also maintained a well-rounded offering of traditional chancery work.”

What this means for a XXIV Old Buildings pupil is “a really intellectually stimulating pupillage with a breadth of high calibre work,” with this source adding: “You’re just as likely to get instructions on an aviation dispute or a big dispute in High Court, as well as a breach of trust or offshore shore trust advice. In short, it’s the best place for a genuine blend of practice areas.” The set’s “unrivalled reputation” for commercial and chancery work extends beyond its London home, with members plying their trade in places like Bermuda, Dubai, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Geneva (where XXIV Old Buildings also has a base). “50% of our revenue came from domestic markets last year,” Horsfield informs us, “and the remaining 50% was from other jurisdictions.”

“…a really intellectually stimulating pupillage with a breadth of high calibre work.”

Let’s give you a bit of a peek into what the substance of XXIV Old Buildings’ work entails: a recent commercial chancery case saw Alan Steinfeld QC represent a major shareholder in one of Russia’s largest aluminium companies during a dispute over the transferring of holdings from one party to another. Another matter saw Stephen Moverley Smith QC act in a headline-hitting case in Gibraltar concerning a claim for dishonest assistance against RBS after a local law firm was found to have stolen from a client account. A highly publicised fraud matter has seen Francis Tregear QC acting on behalf of a Swiss investment bank during an $800 million (plus) case levelled at the Public Institution for Social Security’s (PIFSS) previous investment manager and various banks – the PIFSS is a public authority in Kuwait.

If the sound of aviation work appeals, Philip Shepherd QC recently appeared in the Supreme Court during a case concerning economic duress and unpaid commission claims between an airline and a travel agent.Steven Thompson QC acted in a dispute over a contract concerning long-term maintenance of a client’s jet engines used in a freighter fleet. With a steady stream of high calibre work coming through the door, Horsfield tells us that XXIV Old Buildings is not looking to change course any time soon: “We’ve kept it simple and going forward we will continue to do that. People will continue to look to our expertise.”

The Pupillage Experience

Pupils tend to sit with four supervisors across the pupillage for around three months apiece. “Every barristers’ practice is so subtly different,” pupillage coordinator EdwardCumming QC explains, “so we don’t have clearly defined practice seats.” So, instead of a seat in insolvency or a seat in commercial litigation, for example, pupils will complete “fluid seats that aren’t as clearly delineated as they are at other chambers.” Accordingly, pupils see a “broad range of work within commercial chancery practices.” Frequent and “ongoing monitoring sessions” allow for tailored pupillages and make sure individuals see “a fair cross section of work across each year.” One pupil explained: “Supervisors have similar enough practices, so it’s not a stark distinction between targeted seats. At the same time, we have weekly pupillage review sessions six weeks into a seat and discuss what’s been covered, so when choosing the next supervisor, the committee considers what hasn’t been done.”

The result? “By the time you’ve finished pupillage you’ll have worked on small procedural applications in the Crown Court as well as on massive and complex contractual interpretations or trust deeds that play out live in court.” Pupils are likely to spend time “getting to grips with papers and courses of action; drafting pleadings that help prepare for hearings; drafting skeleton arguments; prepping trial bundles; and working on cross and shadow cross examinations.” As Cumming neatly concludes, pupils will do “every task in a lifecycle of a case.”

“The area of law is quite paper-based,” one pupil added, “so there is less of a focus on oral advocacy like in other sets, and instead it’s about making sure your written work is up to scratch with other advocacy work fed in.” Sources found that they spent quite a lot of their time working on non-live assignments for their supervisors “alongside some work that fed into bigger live cases.” The latter meant involvement in “big, syndicated loan” andprofessional negligence cases, as well as insolvency claims in the Court of Appeal and “some very heavy commercial stuff on a massive case involving a billionaire who thought their money had been invested improperly.” Horsfield explains that in light of the aviation industry being ground to a halt in the pandemic, customary aviation work for pupils shifted. “We had to adapt and, as well as actively seeking out other opportunities for good oral advocacy experiences early in practice, our juniors have been busy working on supporting senior counsel on bigger ticket cross-border matters, for example.”

“They care more about development here and getting you to be the best at the Bar.”

Like most other commercial chancery sets, pupils don’t tend to take on their own work – even during the second six. Instead, “the major emphasis is on training and learning.” Education and development are aided by “constant feedback from supervisors, alongside formalised sessions every six weeks with feedback from your supervisors.” This makes sense in light of the set’s approach to assessment. “They care more about development here and getting you to be the best at the Bar,” one pupil told us.

There are no formal, end of year assessments at XXIV Old Buildings. “Chambers cares about your growth as a barrister in a holistic sense across pupillage,” one pupil revealed. “Special assessments can feel artificial and arbitrary, but the holistic decision is made from your evolution and an assessment on growth.” They added: “Week by week, your iterative and gradual improvement of work product – that increases in complexity and quality – is how you’re ultimately assessed.” This assessment is also gleaned from the six-week pupillage review sessions, where a formal written supervisor report is discussed and actioned. “We sit with the pupil and discuss development points and the feedback from supervisors,” Cumming tells us. “That feedback is especially useful and helps us develop bespoke training and plans going forward.”

At around the nine-month mark, tenancy decisions are made. “Our aim is to take on every single pupil every single year,” Cumming emphasises. Supervisor reports are passed to the pupillage committee throughout the year, which then “sits and reflects on the reports and the work done for other members,” before making a tenancy recommendation to chambers. “As far as I’m aware,” one pupil told us, “chambers follows the recommendation of the committee. There’s no arbitrary chance of a cantankerous member blackballing a pupil.” All three qualifiers were retained in 2021.

We’re told this collaborative decision-making process reflects an environment that doesn’t cater to sharp elbows or promote a competitive culture. “We’re an open and supportive set,” Cumming proudly points out. “One thing that struck me is just how friendly a place this chambers is,” a pupil added. “I feel very welcomed and supported here.” Sources noted that going for coffee, lunches, and drinks after work with other members are commonplace activities. “Friday fish and chips is also a really big thing,” another interviewee highlighted. Enhancing these bountiful spreads is a “real collegiality and lack of haughtiness that is stereotypically associated with the chancery bar.” Instead, open doors and answered questions reign supreme: “There’s a really relaxed culture of asking more senior members for guidance; it’s super helpful,” an interviewee concluded.Sources also praised the set’s approach to mental health as well as its “insistence” during pupillage that a strict 9am to 6pm working day is adhered to. “Chambers is insistent on maintaining the welfare of its pupils. It’s important to remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint” one wise interviewee noted.

The Application Process

XXIV Old Buildings does not recruit through the Pupillage Gateway and instead favours a bespoke application form. Pupillage coordinator Edward Cumming QC tells us this allows greater freedom for applicants applying to multiple sets, as well as streamlining the process. “Our own application form is a lot simpler and easier,” Cumming notes. “The feedback we’ve had from applicants is positive. It’s lighter weight and easier to use.”

Cumming continues: “We revamped the application process five years ago, when we sat down and worked out what we thought could objectively be assessed during applications for those on the trajectory to become great barristers.” This resulted in a “set criteria” being published online for applicants to refer to, alongside an initial online critical thinking aptitude test.

Those who pass the reasoning test and impress on paper are invited to a first-round interview, which was dubbed “more traditional” according to one pupil. “It’s traditional in the sense that you’ll be asked about your CV and thrown questions like, ‘What drew you to the Bar?’” Cumming highlights that the first interview is a chance for the set to see how the candidates satisfy the criteria, but – importantly – it’s “a collaborative process, rather than us pretending to rip the applicants apart!”

The top twelve candidates then return for an assessment day in chambers and are tested on their oral and written advocacy abilities, plus a “lot of important skills” that can be showcased through group discussions and negotiation exercises. “On the whole,” one pupil mused, “I think it was a tough process, but one done as humanely and as kindly as possible.” Another added: “There’s a good personal element to the process, which is also a stimulating intellectual exercise.”


XXIV Old Buildings

24 Old Buildings,
Lincoln's Inn,
Website www.xxiv.co.uk

  • No of silks 13
  • No of juniors 31
  • No of pupils 3
  • Contact Edward Cumming QC
  • Method of application Online application form. Please see www.xxiv.co.uk for guidance
  • Pupillages (pa) 3 12 month pupillages
  • Tenancies Usually up to three per year
  • Other offices Geneva

Chambers profile

XXIV Old Buildings is a commercial Chancery chambers of 44 barristers based in Lincoln’s Inn. Its members provide specialist legal advice and advocacy services in the UK and worldwide on a range of contentious, advisory and transactional matters to the financial, commercial and professional community and to private individuals. Our expertise covers all areas of dispute resolution, litigation and arbitration.

Type of work undertaken

The barristers at XXIV Old Buildings specialise in a variety of commercial Chancery areas with a particular emphasis on trusts and estates and commercial litigation. Areas in which members regularly take instructions include arbitration; aviation; charities; civil fraud, asset tracing and recovery; company; construction and projects; financial services; insolvency; international and offshore; partnership; pensions; professional negligence; real estate litigation and trusts, probate and estates. XXIV Old Buildings is known for its pre-eminence in international work, both contentious and advisory. With offices in both London and Geneva, the barristers at XXIV Old Buildings regularly appear in courts and tribunals across the world including the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Jersey, the Isle of Man, the DIFC, the Bahamas, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and Malaysia.


The set likes to recruit its junior members from those who have undertaken pupillage with the set. Chambers is therefore careful that its pupils acquire all the skills necessary to make them successful commercial Chancery barristers. During a 12 month pupillage, a pupil will have, on average, four pupil supervisors with whom they will spend the majority of their time. Each year the set is looking for pupils with a first or 2:1 degree, though not necessarily in law, who have an enthusiasm for the type of work the set does, sound judgment and the application required to succeed in a very competitive and intellectually demanding environment. Application is by short online application form. Chambers will be recruiting for pupillage commencing in October 2021 in Autumn 2019. The deadline for applications is Monday 25th November 2019.


Chambers accepts applications for mini-pupillages throughout the year. Application is by short online application form. Please see our website www.xxiv.co.uk for details of how to apply.


c. £65,000 per pupil.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Aviation (Band 2)
    • Chancery: Commercial (Band 2)
    • Chancery: Traditional (Band 1)
    • Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 3)
    • Company (Band 3)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
    • Offshore (Band 1)
    • Partnership (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)