Top sets post 100 per cent retention as work mounts

Several leading barristers’ chambers have reported 100 per cent retention rates for their newly qualified barristers as work levels for junior tenants soars.

One Essex Court and Blackstone Chambers have managed to retain all four of their pupils and ­subsequently offered them tenancies.

Elsewhere, sets that have smaller pupillage intakes, such as Essex Court Chambers, Wilberforce Chambers, 3 Verulam Buildings and Maitland Chambers, have all also managed to retain 100 per cent of their pupils who are due to qualify in October this year.

Blackstone senior clerk Gary Oliver said: “We had an exceptional group of four pupils who have all been offered tenancy this year. It’s a testament to the hard work put in by the entire pupillage committee and demonstrates the quality of applicant that Blackstone attracts.”
Meanwhile, those sets that have not managed to get into the 100 per cent club have claimed that there is no retention rate targets within chambers and that recruitment is based purely on talent.
Derrick Dale QC, of
Fountain Court, whose set offered tenancy to only one of its two pupils for 2010, said: “In general terms Fountain Court doesn’t seek to cap or limit the number of tenants it recruits. If a pupil has the potential, we want to recruit them. That’s the only criterion.
“We’re more than happy to recruit all the pupils in any given year, which we’ve frequently done in the past. Going forward, given the large amount of work at the junior end and that we have now had five new silks made up this year, we’d very much like to recruit more new ­tenants at the junior end.”
The nature of litigation may have changed, with fewer cases reaching court and alternative dispute
resolution becoming increasingly popular, but
the junior commercial bar seems to be as busy as ever.
This is reflected by the fact that many sets no longer feel the need to pay guaranteed earnings to newly
qualified barristers because, with the right support from clerks, juniors can quickly be earning sums equal to or above the salaries of their solicitor counterparts.
First junior clerk Danny Smillie of Wilberforce said: “We’ve never found the need to put in place a guaranteed earnings scheme because there’s more than enough work for junior tenants not to warrant it.”
That said, the first six months can be tricky due to the time lag between work being done and payment being received, and many chambers offer interest-free loans or other forms of ­monetary support.
For example, Blackstone offers no guaranteed earnings but an interest-free loan of up to £30,000 for tenants to take during the first 15 months of practice, repayable at the end of that period.
This upturn in work, ­coupled with a pay war triggered by One Essex Court’s decision to up its pupillage award last autumn (a move that subsequently set many awards at £60,000), could be one of the reasons for the excellent retention rates.
Andrew Onslow QC of 3 Verulam Buildings said: “I think, with the size of the current pupillage awards, chambers are starting to perhaps make an extra effort to recruit pupils who are going to be kept on.”
Whatever the reason, prospects for junior barristers seem brighter than
ever before.