While a pay packet of £100,000 may no longer represent the top of the market for junior solicitors, the amount was yet to be achieved at the Bar. Until now.

News that Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers has increased its pupillage award by 43 per cent, from £70,000 to £100,000, has been met with shock by sources within the barrister community. The enormous leap means that the specialist tax set is now believed to be offering the highest pupillage award at the Bar. Pupils will have the option to draw down £25,000 in advance to cover postgraduate legal training fees.

It contrasts with the cautious approach seen among commercial chambers, which have also faced mounting pressure to raise their pupillage awards to compete for top-tier graduates in a similar vein to their deep-pocketed City cousins.

Ben Stern, senior clerk at Gray’s Inn, told The Lawyer: “Chambers is doing extremely well and has a constant flow of high-profile work. We didn’t need to wait and see.”

Gray’s Inn, jointly led by Milton Grundy and David Goldberg QC, only has 12 tenants of whom four are silks. The leading corporate tax chambers boasts expertise across direct and indirect tax, as well as private client mandates. According to The Lawyer’s Litigation Tracker, Gray’s Inn has often represented those litigating against the HMRC. Morrisons Solicitors, RPC, KPMG Legal, and Vinson & Elkins are among frequent instructors.

Its dramatic increase put Gray’s Inn around £25,000 above the Commercial Bar’s magic circle sets. Blackstone recently became the final elite chambers to offer £75,000 to incoming pupils starting in 2023, joining Brick Court, Essex Court, Fountain Court, and One Essex Court. The prestigious pack already faced pressure to keep up with commercial rivals. 3VB, Twenty Essex 4 New Square, Wilberforce and Quadrant are among chambers also offering awards of £75,000 to new joiners.

The £30,000 boost for Gray’s Inn pupils-to-be also defies expectations that leading chambers would next raise awards to between £80,000 and £85,000. Many have periodically increased pay in chunks of either £5,000 or £10,000, as opposed to such a dramatic £30,000 boost.

Separating the specialised set from full-service chambers, however, is its ad hoc approach to recruitment. While Gray’s Inn now offers two to three pupillages each year, it has trained just three pupils within the last five years. In fact, there was a three-year gap between 2021 joiner Ben Blades and 2018 starters Harry Winter and Samuel Brodsky (who joined as a third sixer from Maitland), all of whom were granted tenancy. The next junior up is Laura Inglis, also hired in 2018, who previously trained at Brick Court before spending three years at Slaughter and May.

“We take fewer pupils (one or two, rather than five or more) than the top commercial sets so each individual is really important to us. The financial investment is commensurate to our wider commitment to them,” said Stern.

Although other chambers will be unwilling or unable to match Gray’s Inn’s eye-watering sum, many operating in different areas of law won’t feel the need to. The sentiment from Bar insiders is that if they’re not competing for barristers focused purely on tax, then what’s the point? However, the same can’t be said for tax boutiques. Gray’s Inn’s whopping pupillage award will surely catch the attention of tax enthusiasts choosing between specialist sets and commercial or chancery chambers with a tax offering, such as Blackstone, One Essex Court, Devereux and Wilberforce.

It also widens the gap between Gray’s Inn and some of its closest competitors. Pump Court Tax Chambers, which offers two pupillages annually, and Temple Tax Chambers, which doesn’t specify its limit, each award pupils a much lower £67,500. Field Court Tax Chambers meanwhile has paused its pupillage intake, while Old Square Tax Chambers and 11 New Square are only taking applications for third six month pupillages.

Gray’s Inn didn’t need to increase its pupillage awards by £30,000, especially given its direct rivals pay pupils less and hire as-and-when. However, one explanation is the fierce competition for tax talent beyond the Inns. Pupils starting at Gray’s Inn will now earn significantly more than first-year trainees at leading corporate firms such as Clifford Chance (£50,000), Freshfields (£50,000) and Slaughter and May (£50,000), as well as Big Four accountancy giant PwC (£44,000).

Ultimately, the tax boutique’s decision to hire new talent for two consecutive years, rare by its standards, and hike pay indicates a broader strategy. “We are looking to grow, but organically and only if the right candidates come along,” said Stern.