To find out more about what life is like as a pupil in Keating Chambers, see Paul Bury's and Sarah Williams profile of their year in pupillage below:
Profile: Paul Bury
Year of Graduation 2004 University of Oxford
Degree Subject: Law
Current Position and Area of Practice: Tenant
Practising Construction, Engineering, Energy and Procurement.
Anyone looking to become a commercial
barrister with some interest in understanding how buildings, infrastructure and
energy projects are designed, engineered and built should consider applying to
The first thing to say is that no specialist
construction knowledge is required. I
did not study engineering, architecture or even work on a building site
previously (although I did once assist in constructing a flat-pack shed). When I was looking for a set of Chambers to
apply to, I looked for those which had a strong reputation in the traditional
areas of contract and tort law. Based on
my studies of cases such as Murphy v Brentwood, Linden Gardens
v Lenesta and Ruxley v Forsyth, I was aware that construction disputes could
throw up interesting legal issues and factual disputes.
Pupillage at Keating – as with any set of
Chambers – was a daunting prospect.
However, within a short time of starting the trepidation was more than
mitigated by the supportive attitude of pupil supervisors, the friendly
atmosphere in Chambers, in particular amongst the more junior members who
recall what going through pupillage could be like, and the camaraderie with
In my first three months I shadowed my pupil
supervisor at conferences and court appearances, and spent time in Chambers
contributing research and drafting to assist my pupil supervisor with these
cases. The work varied from a highly
legalistic dispute in the High Court over the interpretation of an indemnity to
drafting claims in an adjudication between domestic home owners and their
builders. In between assisting with
these cases, I spent as much time as possible practising my drafting skills and
learning from my pupil supervisor’s feedback.
This was the time to ask the questions that seemed silly, and make the
mistakes that everyone makes during pupillage, and I am grateful that I was
allowed the time to find my feet in that way.
After Christmas – and overcoming the hurdle of
the first review – all the pupils in my
year started taking on work from other Members of Chambers. This is the most important way to get
yourself noticed. As every Member of
Chambers has a vote at the final decision in July, it was important to do work
for as many as possible. This work could
vary from a discrete piece of legal research to a lengthy advice or pleading,
which would then be discussed (or picked apart) at a feedback session.
In parallel to this work we would be given
regular advocacy and written exercises. These usually took the form of an
application or oral submissions in respect of a discrete issue that would be
heard by a silk in Chambers. While we all understood that these exercises were
used to assess us and required quite a lot of work, they were also great
opportunities to get advocacy advice from a barrister who regularly acted as an
arbitrator, adjudicator or judge.
After six months we also started receiving our
own instructions and getting on our feet in Court. Our very approachable team of clerks were
able to get us small claims trials so that we could build our advocacy
experience. In my second six I was
probably in court once a fortnight and was also able to do advisory and
pleading work and start to develop a relationship with instructing solicitors.
The tenancy decision was made in July, towards
the end of our third seat. Pupils make a
formal application to Chambers and their application is considered on the basis
of reports gathered from their pupil supervisors and the Members of Chambers for
whom they have worked. In my year of
four pupils, two of us were offered tenancy (both of us accepted) and of the
other two, one quickly found a third six at a good set of chambers, and the
other chose to join a leading city law firm as in-house Counsel.
Following the decision, I was immediately
thrust into a complex and extremely interesting international arbitration case
for a magic-circle firm over a project in Moscow and the work has continued
apace ever since. I have now been a
tenant for over a year. My practice has been a mix of being led on large
arbitrations or trials on the one hand, and writing advices, drafting
pleadings, and advising in conference on my own cases on the other. I have had the opportunity of working on an
international arbitration case in Hong Kong
for over two months. I have also
conducted two lengthy multi-track trials in the County Courts and have appeared
frequently in smaller disputes. At times
it can be very intense: everyone in Keating Chambers works hard, and weekends
can be interrupted, but we are well rewarded for it. Most importantly though, Keating Chambers is
a friendly place to train and to practise, with a flow of interesting clients
and work. I have greatly enjoyed my
first year of practice here. I can even
say I enjoyed the year of pupillage.
Profile : Sarah Williams
Year of Graduation 2004 Cambridge University
Degree Subject: Natural Sciences
Current Position and Area of Practice: Tenant Practising Construction, Engineering, Energy and Technology
To quote the learned scriptwriters of The Simpsons “Nothing you say can upset us, we're the MTV generation. We feel neither highs nor lows.” For anyone growing up in the 90s and 00s, there might be a certain amount of identity with that statement. What better way to test it, then, than through an assessment process derived from a generation long gone?
Yes, you have done your bar exams, received your pupillage offer and relaxed safe in the knowledge that you have the next few years sorted. You go off travelling to South America and all seems well. However, the time comes when you walk through the front door of chambers and are escorted to your supervisor’s room. Some feel nervous, others challenged, but none yet disappointed – at least, that’s what we hear from those that survived. Compared to other types of assessment that you’ll be familiar with, the pupillage process benefits from firm foundations in reality. From the beginning, you are immersed in the established practice of a barrister who will also usually be someone looking forward to your help with the workload.
The nature of the supervision programme means that the person to whom you are allocated may be only a handful of years ahead of you – giving an insight into the sorts of work you might be doing yourself within the decade. Or alternatively, you could be sitting with a senior junior whose practice may be dominated by one or two large scale, high value cases. Some individuals have developed niche practices within chambers, exposing you to the specifics of procurement law, international arbitration, party walls or insolvency. Whomever you sit with, the diversity of characters and practices in chambers lends itself to a colourful year for Keating pupils.
If you like what you see here, it may be that you want to stick around beyond pupillage. To do so, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that there are a number of assessments to get through. The long term informal assessment is carried out by your supervisors – through work given to you and discussions about your chosen approach. You will also be given work by other members of chambers who wish to form their own view of you. Keating also requires you to do three formal advocacy assessments against fellow pupils plus a written assessment that will be considered alongside the work from your peers. The results from all of these will be considered carefully with your application for tenancy.
However, it is not all assessment. In your second six, your diary begins to fill up and your relationship with the clerks develops. Your own work comes in the form of paperwork or court hearing and must be managed alongside work for members of chambers. However, this is the moment when you get to send out a piece of work with your name on it or perhaps to dabble in a bit of cross examination in a small claim or fast track trial. The second six is probably the most important part of pupillage because it is only here that you get a taste of the responsibility you are asking for as a tenant. It is also arguably the most fun because you finally have the liberty to do the job you have been training for.
One nice surprise I remember from the pupillage at Keating was the sense of welcome that we received – there are great efforts made by the barristers to make you feel part of the group whether at formal events or just in an excursion to the pub. You will be invited to the Christmas party (which is held in January, naturally) and can attend the various relevant law lectures for free. There is also the crown jewel event of the Keating Garden Party previously held in venues such as the Royal Opera House and the Orangery at Kensington Palace.
All in all, I would describe the Keating pupillage as a year of great highs and paranoia-infused lows – whether sitting in a gloom of failure at your laptop over a mediocre piece of feedback, or doing a little celebratory dance in the corridor after a good court hearing (yes, I will admit to that). It turns out, then, that pupillage is anything but MTV.