Wen Jin Teh (call 2020)
How did you choose your area of law?
I wanted to practice in an area that would be intellectually challenging and offer a range of domestic and international opportunities. A mini pupillage at another specialist construction set made me realise that construction law had the potential to satisfy all of the above requirements and would therefore be a good fit for me personally. My time at Keating Chambers has only served to affirm this initial impression.
Firstly, construction disputes are a specialist, technical area of law and there is therefore always something new to learn. It is extremely satisfying to work together with experts in their fields to put together a convincing case that marries both technical understanding with legal analysis.
Secondly, there is a great deal of international work available as many standard construction forms include an arbitration clause as part of their dispute resolution procedure. During my pupillage, I had the opportunity to assist on disputes concerning construction projects situated all across the world, including Ghana, Singapore, and Australia.
Finally, unlike other areas of practice, construction disputes are scalable; a home renovation project can give rise to the same legal issues seen in a large commercial development. This means that there is ample opportunity for junior practitioners to be instructed in their own right, and to therefore develop their individual case management and advocacy skills at an early stage. For all these reasons, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to practise in this area of law.
What kind of work experience did you gain or would you suggest prior to qualifying as a barrister?
In my opinion, there is no substitute for mini pupillages; they are the best way of experiencing what life as a barrister is like first-hand. Further, as stated above, they can be instrumental in deciding which areas of law you would like to practise in.
However, I would also suggest undertaking a vacation scheme, or some other form of work experience in a solicitors’ firm. This is for two reasons: firstly, if you are not entirely sure whether you would like to be a barrister or a solicitor, such experiences will allow you to better appreciate the differences between the two roles and thereby make an informed choice. Secondly, even if you are certain that you would like to be a barrister, an understanding of the solicitor’s role will only benefit your own practice.
What sort of work did you do during pupillage?
At Keating Chambers, pupillage is divided into four three-month seats; pupils are assigned supervisors of varying seniority to gain an appreciation of the kinds of work that can be expected at different stages of practice. In addition, there are two-week long ‘secondments’ with members of chambers that practise primarily in planning and procurement.
The work varies depending on the stage of pupillage. The first six months are geared towards training, with time predominantly spent completing written work based on a supervisor’s old cases (though at times, you may be asked to assist them on a live case). In the second six, the focus shifts towards doing work for other members of chambers and gaining experience of being instructed in your own right. I still remember waking up at 5 a.m. to get on the train to Coventry for my first hearing!
The tenancy decision at Keating is taken after the end of the third seat, in July. If successful, the fourth seat is then spent addressing any areas that may have been missed in the first three seats, as well as preparing generally for tenancy.
What do you think is the most important skill for a barrister?
The best barristers are able to take extremely complex questions of fact and law, distil them to the most pertinent issues, and present them in a clear and succinct manner. This is a skill that can be improved with practice, which is fortunate as it is also something that I have to work on!