Known for springboarding the careers of some “heavyweight legal luminaries,” this set has a heavyweight reputation at the Commercial Bar to match.
Big fish, small fountain
According to senior clerk Alex Taylor, Fountain Court was a “hotbed in the 80s and 90s for High Court and Court of Appeal judges, and later also lost other silks to politics” – and Taylor would know, since he first came to the set in 1979. Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, Lord Justice of Appeal Henry Brooke, and Law Lords Leslie Scarman and Tom Bingham all sprang forth from Fountain Court. These days, alumni are equally likely to move into high-flying City posts, reflecting the set's current commercial focus: the last three chairs of the Takeover Panel (which regulates mergers) have all been silks from Fountain Court: Peter Scott, Gordon Langley and now Michael Crane. “It’s a reflection of the work chambers has now become known for,” says Taylor.
Fountain Court sweeps the board in the world of commercial litigation with top Chambers UK rankings for general commercial disputes, banking, financial services and civil fraud, plus recognition in several other areas too. Work across these areas typically includes high-profile cases for banks. Timothy Howe QC acted for HSBC in a dispute with one of its service providers over an anti-laundering management initiative across the UK and EU. Meanwhile David Railton QC acted for RBS and four former RBS directors in claims arising out of RBS’s botched £12 billion rights issue in 2008. Outside of bank-related work, Bankim Thanki QC represented Indian infrastructure company GMR in a multibillion-dollar dispute with the government of Maldives over the unlawful cancellation of an airport project. A more unusual case saw Stephen Rubin QC represent a member of the Bahraini royal family in a case against a Bollywood film star consultant who alleges that the sheikh broke an oral agreement entitling the consultant to $1.5 million for every private meeting he set up with Bollywood stars.
In addition to all this we heard from a pupil that “fraud work is growing quickly” after eight white-collar crime experts joined as laterals in 2016. Taylor tells us: “Things are really buoyant – the past two calendar years have been phenomenal.” Financial crime supremo Richard Lissack QC represented Barclays in Abu Dhabi and Qatar in multiple proceedings related to untimely Middle East investments in 2008 totalling over £12 billion. Lissack is also acting for the former CFO of Autonomy who is being sued by HP for $8 billion because of allegations he fraudulently inflated the value of Autonomy before it was sold to HP.
Go chasing waterfalls
All pupillage applicants are required to complete a three-day assessed mini-pupillage before applying via the Pupillage Gateway. Member of the pupillage committee Samuel Ritchie tells us that recruiters see “no name, no gender, just academics and answers." Mini-pupils spend a day in court (availability permitting) and the other two days doing work for members and undertaking an assessed exercise (though we can't tell you what that entails). After the mini-pupillage and Gateway process, applicants are invited to a 15-minute interview that’s “almost like dinner party conversation. You’re not grilled on legal points.” This chat is to “measure how you think, speak and analyse,” so don’t get too comfy – commonly there are questions about current affairs so make sure you read the news.
Around 12 to 15 are invited to a final 40-minute interview in front of six to seven members of the pupillage committee. “It’s intimidating – that’s a lot of people!” one source said. About 20 minutes before the interview begins, applicants are given a legal problem, which they have to prepare a short presentation on. “We’re looking for people who are articulate in their advocacy, responsive and can work under pressure,” Ritchie tells us. The rest of the interview is “a very relaxed, natural to and fro,” we heard from a pupil. “Members ask about your interests and chip in here and there like a normal conversation.”
Pupillage is split into four three-month seats. All work done for the first two months is with just your supervisor and is completely unassessed. “It’s great to get feedback and have the opportunity to try different ways of doing things,” a source shared. All the work is on live cases. “We do a lot of skeleton arguments and drafts of pleadings, along with a fair bit of research,” a pupil told us. “It’s all mentally taxing though, not boring at all!”
For the next six months, pupils sit with two new supervisors for three months each, before going back to their first supervisor for their final seat. From seat two onwards, “pretty much every piece of work is for a different member!” Supervisors act like a “pseudo clerk” and control pupils’ workflow. Daily tasks are similar to those of the first seat, but from now on pupils see “a wider scope of work: general commercial disputes, aviation, banking, regulatory matters, public law, white-collar – there’s a real chance to explore.”
“We’ve really seen the benefits of not letting pupils take on their own cases.”
Pupils at Fountain Court don’t get on their feet to do work of their own. “We’ve really seen the benefits of not letting pupils take on their own cases in the second six,” Alex Taylor tells us. “There’s plenty of time for that later on! Giving them time to learn pays dividends.” As well as this, there are no formal advocacy tests for pupils. Instead, advocacy skills are tested “by asking pupils to explain their written work,” Samuel Ritchie says. Interviewees rated this method: “I feel like I developed so much more because of it.”
This development comes through the “really scrutinous feedback” that pupils told us can get pretty in depth – “people are tactful about the way they word it though!” All members that a pupil works with pass feedback on to the pupillage committee, which sits down in June to read through the dozens of reports and decide who should be kept on as a tenant. “Nothing is considered except for the standard of pupils' work and their responses to the questioning of written work – it’s never personal,” Ritchie states. Pupils agreed and told us that “it helps your anxiety to not have a final assessment – you have the whole year to prove yourself and develop. So the pressure is dissipated.” Eventually two of four pupils gained tenancy in 2018.
Fountain of youth
Pupils can expect to work 9am to 6.30pm each day, but “you can get attached and put in extra hours, though you’re not encouraged to.” A streak of passion runs strong through Fountain Court. “We’re confident in ourselves and passionate about the work we do,” Alex Taylor tells us. Pupil interviewees told us: “I don’t have to be a beige person here. We’re a funny category of people – very geeky, nerdy and a bit removed from reality!” We heard that there are a few “rockstar personalities,” such as RADA board member and gig enthusiast Richard Lissack QC and fanatical collector Paul Gott QC who lives in a converted military landing craft during the week and an actual fort at weekends. “They’re absolute characters!” an interviewee grinned.
“Geeky, nerdy and a bit removed from reality!”
Despite the assurance that “we’re not fusty stuck-up old men here,” it’s worth noting that “more often than not” barristers went to Oxbridge. A look at the CVs of the most junior members reveals a lot of Oxford and Cambridge degrees plus a few from places like Glasgow, LSE and Trinity College Dublin. To its credit Fountain Court has recently been putting on events together with London unis to “dispel the myths of the Bar – it’s not unwelcoming at all!” Pupils echoed that “diversity is an active concern. We appreciate excellence regardless of who you are.”
Interviewees said Fountain Court has a “supportive, relaxed atmosphere,” and while members may find themselves up against each other in court, “there’s a big effort to make sure we don’t feel any competition.” For example, “pupils and junior tenants are encouraged to lunch together every Friday. We’re all good friends and we have a WhatsApp group we joke around on.”
A 2016 office renovation “brought everyone together under one roof” in a building that has beautiful views and showers in the basement.
Fountain Court Chambers
- No of silks 36
- No of juniors 49
- No of pupils 4 (currently)
- Contact Sarah Alexander, [email protected], 020 7583 3335
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to four 12 month pupillages
- Pupillage award £65,000
- Tenancies over the last 6 years 17 out of 22 pupils have been offered tenancy
We know that fitting in mini-pupillages can be particularly difficult for those doing the GDL and will prioritise the Christmas slots for such candidates. Fountain Court will pay £150 as a contribution to expenses upon completion. Applications to be submitted on the form on chambers’ website.
Mini-pupillages should be completed before a pupillage application is made.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2018
- Aviation (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Commercial Dispute Resolution (Band 1)
- Financial Services (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance (Band 3)
- Product Liability (Band 3)
- Professional Discipline (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 1)