Combining tradition with cutting-edge commercial work, 4 Stone Buildings could be just your cup of tea.
No stone unturned
4 Stone Buildings, nestled in the heart of Lincoln’s Inn, has been run by senior clerk David Goddard for an impressive 35 years. He is naturally well-versed in the set’s history and its transition from “a quiet Chancery set to a racier commercial one.” This metamorphosis is owed in part to a QC called Peter Curry who spiced things up with his specialist company expertise and renegade reputation. (He’s the only barrister to have taken silk twice after working as a solicitor between stints at the Bar.)
The set’s workload can be roughly split into 50% commercial and financial services; 30% insolvency; and 20% Chancery and things like judicial review. “Another thing we’re interested in maintaining is our international work," says Goddard. "Around 30% of our income comes from overseas jurisdictions." He adds jokingly: "I still like to see our barristers in London but they keep jet-setting!” Cases carry barristers off to destinations like the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.
"I still like to see our barristers in London but they keep jet-setting!”
Clients are mostly businesses but do range “from big corporations to individuals,” Goddard informs us. “We’re happy to do smaller cases too, even though people may assume we only do larger ones.” He also mentions work for the government on things like judicial reviews, and lists Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills and Freshfields among the set’s most prominent solicitor instructors. Chambers UK awards 4SB a top ranking for its commercial Chancery work, as well as high scores for its company, civil fraud, offshore and restructuring/insolvency practices.
Among the set’s most revered QCs is John Brisby, who recently represented a creditor in what is thought to be the second most valuable bankruptcy proceeding ever in the UK, namely that of property investor Glenn Maud. Meanwhile Richard Hill QC has a track record of handling Middle Eastern financial services matters, for example representing the Kuwaiti Al Khorafi family in a case against Swiss bank Sarasin over the mis-selling of financial products worth $200 million.
Jonathan Crow is another well-established QC at 4SB, and he has appeared in the Supreme Court (or before the Law Lords) more than 35 times. He recently worked on a case brought by a Turkish millionaire who is under criminal investigation and is claiming that it is politically motivated; the case involved company law, human rights and public policy. These are all big cases for big clients, but David Goddard says this isn't the only avenue of work the set's pursuing: “We used to do a lot of work with regional firms and we’ve got a group going up to Birmingham soon to get that back on track.”
Pupils spend three months each with four supervisors. “There’s no dead work at all,” one informed us. “I was immediately brought in on a live case and got stuck in right away.” Typically, pupils don’t spend any time on their feet, but a baby junior informed us: “Occasionally you’ll ‘wind up’ a company and speak in court for 30 seconds or so.” Juniors added: “During your first six in particular you’re highly encouraged to go to court to see what members are up to and spend the morning watching them in court.”
Pupils reported a varied workload of “drafting skeleton arguments, pleadings and particulars of claim on things like breaches of contract and bondholder disputes.” One source beamed: “I’ve had bits of my skeleton arguments copied into the argument that actually made it to court. Supervisors really value your opinion.” Another interviewee added: “I’ve done a lot of offshore stuff. I was involved in an international case over a claim for half a billion dollars which was pretty exciting.”
"I was involved in an international case over a claim for half a billion dollars."
Unlike many other sets, 4SB doesn’t do any advocacy assessments. Instead, supervisors “take every piece of work into account and give you continual feedback, which is good because you can implement changes right away.” A baby junior reflected that this mode of assessment “allows room for mistakes which as a pupil you’re going to make,” and assured us: “I tell every pupil that if they meet the standard they’ll get in based on their work and ability.” Pupillage committee member Andrew de Mestre adds: “We start thinking about tenancy early on. We keep pupils informed of feedback because we don't want to waste money on them! We've seen people turn things around and gain tenancy after making substantial improvements.” 4 Stone Buildings has a good recent track record of retention: both pupils were taken on in 2016 and 2017 and in 2018 one of two was.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, 4SB is back in the Gateway system. Until now the set invited around 20 applicants in for one single interview, but Andrew de Mestre reveals: “Being in the Gateway has increased the number of applications we're getting so we’re thinking about operating a two-round process in 2019.” So watch this space. Currently interviews are 30 minutes long and split into a problem question which applicants have 30 minutes to prepare a presentation on. The whole thing “is more of a test of agility and responding to questions rather than a test of legal knowledge.” The second half of the interview is a series of questions based on the application form. Don't be surprised if the interview's not super chatty. “We’ve eliminated questions that increase the risk of unconscious bias, like personal chit-chat,” de Mestre explains. Pupils also noted that 4SB “is one of the only chambers where the senior clerk interviews you as well. He’s there to assess whether you’re going to be able to communicate well with solicitors and clients.”
"One of the only chambers where the senior clerk interviews you as well."
Asked what kind of person thrives at 4SB, David Goddard reckons: “You have to be able to make complex things sound simple and get on well with people. When I see people being successful, that's usually more because they are good communicators than because of their legal ability.” Andrew de Mestre adds: “You have to be the kind of person who wants the buck to stop with you. You need a sense of responsibility and inner confidence to be able to make big decisions.” In the interview he says he’s looking for “fluency of presentation, ability to think quickly, ability to stand your ground, and being able to explain why your experience has equipped you with the core skills you need to become a barrister.” When we looked at the bios of the set's dozen or so members under ten years' call, we found that all but one had attended Oxbridge at some point, four had studied abroad and most had half a dozen prizes and/or scholarships to their name.
Queens of the Stone Age
4 Stone Buildings has a reputation for being a bit old-fashioned; given its traditional clerking room, daily tea, the Oxbridge pedigree of its members, and the fact it has just eight female members, you can see where that comes from. Andrew de Mestre acknowledges this, noting: “We’ve taken substantial steps to amend our hiring process and the pupillage committee is now made up of two women and two men. We follow the fair recruitment process as advised by the Bar Standards Board and in terms of wider diversity the situation at the Chancery Bar is being looked at by the Chancery Bar Association.” One junior felt: “It’s true that we are more traditional in our makeup, but the real selling point here is that everyone’s unbelievably nice.” Another source added: “It’s difficult to quickly improve statistics because we don’t hire laterally.”
Ultimately a set like 4SB can only become more diverse by attracting and recruiting a wider range of candidates, which is the set's goal. So don't let anything we've said above put you off, whatever your background. And remember that appearing a bit old-school doesn't make a workplace unfriendly. “I can’t stress how much I’ve enjoyed it here,” smiled one pupil. “We’re a collegial, friendly set of chambers.” Chambers tea is held every day – “people think that's old-fashioned but really it’s just a nice way to meet people and make sure you don’t become an antisocial hermit,” one baby junior told us.
There are two major parties annually, which both pupils and prospective pupils are invited to. We heard that one of them “once resulted in someone drunkenly riding a tuk-tuk at 4am.” We were assured such moments of wild abandon are occasional, with sources describing the set on a normal working day as “basically a group of happy nerds having interesting conversations.”
4 Stone Buildings
4 Stone Buildings,
- No of silks 7
- No of juniors 30
- No of pupils 2
- Contact David Goddard, 020 7242 5524
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillage application deadline (2019 start) In line with Pupillage Gateway timetable
- Pupillages Two 12-month pupillages offered
- Tenancies Up to two per year
- Mini-pupillage deadlines Rolling
- Awards £65,000 pa
Since few business disputes or problems lend themselves to rigid categorisation, we cover a wide range of related legal specialisations in addition to our core areas of expertise. Members of Chambers are just as likely to appear in the Commercial Court or in front of arbitral tribunals as in the Chancery Division, and we are also frequently instructed in cases overseas, particularly in the Caribbean, the Channel Islands, the Middle East and the Far East.
All pupils work in their pupil supervisor’s room, read their papers, attend their conferences, draft pleadings and documents, write draft opinions and accompany their pupil supervisors to Court. Pupils are treated as part of Chambers and are fully involved in the activities of Chambers while they are with us.
Sponsorship and awards
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2018
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Chancery: Commercial (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 3)
- Company (Band 2)
- Financial Services (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Offshore (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)