Pump Court Tax Chambers
Pump Court Tax Chambers is the largest set of chambers specialising in revenue law, encompassing a huge range of advice and litigation – both domestic and international.
Webinar: Pupillage at the Tax Bar
A panel made up from our Members of Chambers hosted a webinar on 14th July 2020. It provided an introduction to Pump Court Tax Chambers and life at the Tax Bar, a short case study and a Q&A session. The panel consisted of: Richard Vallat QC, James Rivett QC, Charles Bradley, Barbara Belgrano and Laura Ruxandu.
Webinar: Women at the Chancery Bar
Zizhen Yang recently spoke about tax practice at the Chancery Bar Association webinar on Women@TheChanceryBar on 3 November 2021, together with a number of other speakers on different elements of chancery practice. The recording can be found here.
The Tax Bar
Practice at the tax bar is most similar to practice at the Chancery or Commercial/Chancery bar. Many members of Chambers act for HMRC as well as for taxpayers. Tax practice itself involves difficult statutory interpretation, a large amount of EU law (even now after leaving the EU) and a good knowledge of chancery and common law concepts (e.g. contracts, trusts, company law and land law): a tax question may depend on the operation of a trust or the interpretation of a contract, and many recent developments in restitution have occurred in tax cases argued by members of these chambers. Junior practice involves independent and led work. Most Members’ practices consist of at least 50% litigious work, and tax cases range from purely legal disputes lasting a day to multiple week witness trials. However, litigation is more likely to involve being in court every few weeks than every few days. Members appear in the Supreme Court and the CJEU. Tax questions come up not only in the context of statutory appeals to the First-tier Tribunal, but also in, for example, judicial review proceedings in the Administrative Court, disputes between businesses about the tax consequences of purchase agreements, claims for restitution in the High Court, proceedings where the Court’s intervention is needed – for instance for the variation of trusts, rectification and rescission, as well as matrimonial finance proceedings and professional negligence claims. Having a mix of clients including the Government adds breadth and dimension to our practices.
We do not expect our pupillage applicants to have any previous experience of tax law. What is required is a good general legal knowledge, as well as a facility for interpreting the often difficult statutory provisions and explaining these clearly to clients (and judges). Commercial awareness, clear thinking and a creative mind will help find practical solutions to the problems presented. Only around half our members did law degrees – a non-law degree is no barrier to success at the tax bar, particularly if it involved explaining difficult concepts clearly. If you enjoy highly technical subjects like contract, equity, restitution or EU law you are likely to enjoy tax.
We work hard to make pupillage a positive learning experience. We want to attract and support the best candidates. We are committed to equality of opportunity for all pupillage applicants and candidates for tenancy: see here for access arrangements. We are Founding Partners of Bridging the Bar, a charity committed to promotion of equal opportunities and diversity at the Bar.
Pupillage application process
We will accept applications for pupillage commencing October 2023 via the Pupillage Gateway from 5 January 2022 to 9 February 2022. We normally offer two pupillages every year. The pupillage award is up to £67,500 for 12 months. We recognise that training for the Bar is expensive and so we provide that up to £25,000 of the pupillage award can be drawn down in the year prior to the commencement of pupillage. For further details, please see the Pupillage Policy.
Advice on pupillage applications
We have explained our pupillage application process below, so please do read that before finalising your application. The Pupillage and How to Get It site contains some very useful general advice on applying for pupillage, written and edited by barristers and careers advisors. The September 2021 edition of Counsel magazine included a Bar Student Guide including general advice on pupillage applications. It is freely available here.
We normally interview about 25 candidates. In making our initial selection for interview, we look for proven academic ability, but also for some evidence of commitment to (and interest in) practice at the Bar. We do not require prior experience of studying or working in tax. We are interested in assessing candidates’ potential to develop as tax barristers, not their current level of legal or tax knowledge. However, we do expect candidates to have given sensible thought to why they might be suited to and interested in a career at the Tax Bar.
Our first-round interviews are based on a short problem given to the candidate twenty minutes beforehand. Typically, it will be a question of statutory interpretation with a relatively simple set of facts. This exercise is designed to test the candidate’s ability to work through statutory provisions, and to weigh the merits of different interpretations. We may also ask about the candidate’s written application, but we only expect a candidate to be able to talk sensibly about what they have written: our main focus is on the problem.
Our second round (of around ten candidates) usually consists of a written exercise to be completed within a set time. We may use this exercise to test how the candidate deals with case law, including how the candidate analyses and applies relevant legal principles. Relevant cases and materials are provided: it is not intended to be an exercise in research. Written answers are anonymised before being marked by the committee, but the final decision is taken in the light of the candidates’ performances over both rounds.
Where necessary, we hold a third round of interviews, where candidates are questioned on their written answers from the second round or are set a fresh problem.
Chambers only offers pupillage to those we believe have the ability to make successful careers at the tax bar (and takes the expected need for junior tenants into account when deciding how many pupillages to offer in a given year). We aim to offer tenancy to all pupils who reach the relevant standard, without regard to the relative performance of any other pupils or the short-term need (or otherwise) for junior tenants at the time the tenancy decision is made.
We know how important it is to support tenants in building their practices. Our new tenants find that, alongside their own work, they are kept busy working with more senior members of chambers on advice and litigation. Our experience is that we would expect our new tenants to be earning significantly more than the pupillage award within the first year. However, we do know that cash flow can sometimes be a challenge at the beginning of your career. For that first year of tenancy, we therefore offer a cash flow scheme to ensure that you receive a monthly sum which is at least equal to the pupillage award.
All enquiries relating to pupillages and mini-pupillages should, where possible, be made by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.