Commercial Work in the North: A Pupil’s Perspective

December 11, 2020

By Katherine Traynor

Commercial Pupil Katherine Traynor provides a pupil’s perspective on pupillage outside of London.

There is a common misconception among students that if you want to forge a career at the Commercial Bar, you have to pack up your bags, uproot your life and head to London. For me, at least, that wasn’t the case. Instead, I packed up my bags and moved from Skelmersdale to Manchester

Whilst it is true, that a substantial proportion of the country’s large commercial sets are based in London, there are also highly successful chambers and commercial practitioners located throughout the North. The Northern Commercial Bar does not compromise on excellence!

There is no clear line to be drawn between the various circuits, but there are some differences between chambers within London and those outside. You tend to find that commercial chambers on the Northern Circuit have fairly broad practice bases, often undertaking work including both corporate and personal insolvency, contract, property, professional negligence and banking and finance – whereas there are some generalist sets in London, many are focused on a particular direction like construction and engineering or revenue law. If you want to develop a particular specialism from a very junior stage, then most sets that accommodate this are in London. However, that is not to say you cannot develop any particular specialism at a set in the North – for example, here at Exchange Chambers if you have a particular interest like costs litigation, revenue law or insolvency you are actively encouraged to develop that specialism.

During my interview for pupillage, I expressed a clear interest in developing one or two specialisms, those being revenue law and costs litigation – these have and continue to be encouraged and nurtured by chambers. I have also been actively encouraged to explore other areas of commercial law, in doing so, I have developed a strong interest in both personal and corporate insolvency. Equally, I enjoy the broad range of commercial work I get to explore every day!

Throughout my pupillage, I have assisted with a wide range of commercial litigation, including insolvency, tax, company and contract work. I have also experienced a wide range of commercial litigation before many different judges in the High Court of Justice, Business and Property Courts and County Courts, including company, contract, insolvency, tax and property work. This exposure has continued into my second six.

Working outside London should not slow your career down – in truth, it can accelerate it. The fact that there are relatively fewer commercial barristers in the regions often means that you get your hands on more complex cases earlier in your career.

There is a high calibre of solicitors’ firms in the regions, which attract expert solicitors, high profile clients and a wide range of complex commercial work. Those firms often need to instruct commercial barristers, many of which will prefer to select someone based in an area local to them, rather than paying for a barrister to travel from London to Manchester for example.

On average, pupillage awards are technically higher in London. However, a lot of London sets do not allow pupils to practise in their own name during second six, so there is no independent earning capacity and, the awards advertised in the regions do not take into consideration your own receipts. When you compare like with like you will find that there is not a great deal of difference – and remember that the cost of living outside of London will be lower. Importantly once you are a tenant, there is no reason why you shouldn’t earn as much or more than London-based barristers doing similar work. Remember, if you are self-employed your earnings are dictated to by your own capacity and willingness to work.

You do not have to go to your Inn of Court to attend training – the circuits run the compulsory advocacy and advice to counsel courses! The circuits also often organise further training, conferences and social events so you will be able to meet barristers from all areas.

In my view choosing chambers based on location should be secondary. Choosing chambers you want to call home, flourish at and call your extended family should be your primary concern!

This article has been published in accordance with our pupillage recruitment process.

For more information on how to apply and key dates for the 2022 application process, please click here.

In the following months we will be holding multiple events for those interested in pursuing a career at the Bar, please find them here.