Falcon Chambers' real estate prestige offers "limitless opportunity" within the property sphere.
Originally located at 11 Kings Bench Walk, Falcon Chambers as it is today was set up in 1990, after operations were relocated to a quiet courtyard just off Fleet Street. The move made Falcon one of the first sets to break out of the confines of the Temple and venture further afield – well, round the corner at least. It was also one of the first sets to break with convention and ditch the 'address or head of chambers' formula so commonplace for naming barristers' chambers.
Falcon's 1990 move to a finer piece of real estate was appropriate for what was and is undoubtedly the best set for property law at the London Bar. Chambers UK ranks Falcon alone at the top of the market for real estate litigation and agriculture and rural affairs. Although chambers' 40 members do not stray out of the property sphere, our sources emphasised the breadth of work which is nonetheless on offer here. “When I arrived I thought I'd mostly be doing land law and landlord and tenant work,” one pupil recalled. “Obviously there's a lot of that, but chambers also takes on lots of wider tort law and negligence matters. We cover public law – particularly planning and judicial reviews against land-owning public bodies – as well as company insolvency, tax, trusts, banking, and some classic Chancery stuff. The broad variety honestly came as quite a surprise.” This hidden wealth of opportunity means that “as a pupil you'll rarely do the same thing twice.”
“The fact that I'm at a specialist property set definitely makes me feel that down the line I could become something of an expert in a particular area.”
Over the past year Falcon's members have engaged in all sorts of property-related litigation. For example, barristers worked on a high-profile agricultural land dispute between a decorated SAS veteran, a landowner and a Liberal Democrat peer. They also acted for TfL and Crossrail in a multimillion-pound compulsory purchase case, and helped Folkestone-based arts charity The Creative Foundation bring home a Banksy, which a tenant had unlawfully removed from a landlord's property to ship off for sale in the US.
Falcon appreciates that few of its new starters will have studied its specialisms in any great depth, so stages an intensive course in landlord and tenant law towards the end of September. Pupils then spend three months each with four supervisors. “The first and fourth supervisors tend to be slightly less senior,” we hear. “The logic behind that is that the first three months are of lesser weight when it comes to the tenancy decision.” During this period pupils tackle standard opinions, pleadings and bits of contained research, “so that once the three months are over you're in a good position to cover the basics.”
Second and third supervisors tend to be more senior, as “that period is most crucial to the tenancy decision.” One junior was grateful to have been given a bespoke pupillage checklist, which “went into great detail on all the tasks I should be aiming to do and skill sets I needed to acquire. Once I demonstrated one capability the focus shifted onto a new area I had yet to try out. It's a highly development-driven approach.”
"Once I demonstrated one capability the focus shifted onto a new area I had yet to try out."
During their second and third seats pupils have a crack at opinion writing, drafting orders and researching specific legal points. They also shadow their supervisor and some more junior members in court. Second sixers can also expect to start receiving instructions from Falcon's clerking team. Our sources had tackled possession and interim hearings in court, and handled their own paperwork in the form of opinions and pleadings.
At the end of each quarter supervisors pen progress reports, which are submitted to the head of the recruitment committee, Stephen Jourdan QC. “I'll then meet with the head of chambers and each pupil to go through the report,” he tells us. “We're keen to find out if there's anything we can do to improve pupils' development opportunities, and we let them know what to aim for over the coming months.” Over the course of pupillage, rookies also partake in three advocacy exercises. “The first is a possession action, as junior tenants deal with a lot of those in the County Courts,” and pupils' performances in the second and third are taken into consideration during the tenancy decision. Falcon does not have any formal written assessments.
Towards the start of summer the recruitment committee convenes to consider the amassed reports from supervisors, as well as those provided by other members pupils have worked for. After weighing up the evidence, Jourdan writes up a report for each pupil, which is sent to members ahead of a tenancy vote. Falcon's single pupil took up tenancy in 2016 after both pupils had in 2015.
Birds of a feather
Beyond the workload, what's life like at Falcon? Pupils noted that “we act for all sorts of clients – from huge multinational companies all the way down to families fighting against compulsory purchase orders on their homes – so everyone here is adept at holding an interesting conversation with different types of people. Members are also good at reassuring you when you're stressing over the tenancy decision!” Chambers tea and a chambers lunch every Friday provide ample opportunity to chew the fat with fellow Falconers, and rookies liked the fact that “people appreciate that it's important to take this time out of their schedules. We're all busy, but the internal environment is better for it.” Pupils' office hours are set at a reasonable 9am to 6pm. “We try to encourage some kind of balance," says Jourdan. "Of course the workflow isn't consistent, but there are no points for staying in the building when you've got nothing to do.”
"We ask applicants to argue in favour of something most people would disagree with.”
Those interested in applying should bear in mind that Falcon doesn't use the Pupillage Gateway, preferring instead to put up its own application form in autumn. “It's a fairly simple document,” a current pupil revealed. “It asks for two academic referees, details of your educational qualifications, legal work experience, and a short essay to test written advocacy.” Jourdan tells us “the essay isn't legally based. It focuses on a controversial proposition, such as 'Should NHS treatment be denied to smokers?' – we ask applicants to argue in favour of something most people would disagree with.” The ability to argue a point concisely and forcefully is a must at this stage. There's also a section covering applicants' interests and achievements outside academic life. “You're going to be here for at least twelve months,” pupils elaborated, “so chambers wants applicants who are interesting, engaging, and have more to their life than just the law. Clients value that too.”
Of Falcon's 100 or so applicants, 20 are invited to a first-round interview. This lasts roughly 15 minutes and covers three legal questions, presented to hopefuls half an hour in advance. “It's important to read quickly, think clearly, be articulate and keep your head under pressure – or at least maintain the appearance of calm under pressure!” Jourdan advises. Between six and eight return for a 40-minute second interview with a panel of five members. Interviewees are grilled on five questions, two of which are prepared in advance. “Prior to arrival I was given an extract from Smith and Hogan's Criminal Law on the defence of marital coercion,” one pupil recalled. “It was a simple document, only about a page and a half long. I had to present the argument in favour of retaining the defence, and then had to argue for its reinstitution after it had been abolished. It was difficult because it was a stupid defence that should never have been on a statute book in the first place!” After the second round is over, Falcon usually hires two new pupils.
Falcon Chambers has some big property law experts under its roof. Take Janet Bignell QC and Charles Harpum, for example, who literally wrote the book on registered land law.
- No of silks 11
- No of juniors 29
- No of pupils 1
- Contact Tricia Hemans, [email protected]
- Method of application application form available from 1 December 2016 – see Chambers website. Closing date 31 December 2016
- Pupillages (pa) up to two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies offered in the last two years 4
Type of work undertaken