Get up to your elbows in planning, environmental and licensing work at this public law set located in tranquil Inner Temple.
The fabric of society
“Virtually everything we do is public law,” senior clerk Paul Coveney tells us when we sit down to chat with him as the soothing sound of Temple Church's organ drifts through FTB's large sash windows. The set's main areas of practice are planning, environment, licensing, local government and regulatory law. Coveney tell us: “Planning accounts for around 65 to 75% of our work. That includes planning appeals, strategic advice and judicial reviews on projects ranging from a nuclear power station to a runway at an airport to an extension on a semi-detached house in Surrey.”
Members recently appeared for London Underground at a public inquiry over the building of a new tunnel at Bank station and acted for Royal Mail to prevent the compulsory purchase of its Euston delivery office to make way for HS2. Another matter saw members act for objectors to Oldham Council's plan to redevelop a historic mill in Saddleworth to house a relocated secondary school.
Licensing's another large area of work for FTB; the set earns itself a top-tier Chambers UK ranking and covers everything from casino and liquor licensing to organising the right permissions for Tate Modern's late opening hours. Members also successfully challenged a licence review for Fabric nightclub after the famous London clubbing hotspot was embroiled in a drugs scandal.
FTB's environmental law work also wins a top ranking in Chambers UK. “It covers a wide range of areas including contaminated land, environmental permitting and protection of natural habitats,” Paul Coveney outlines. Barristers recently represented West Norfolk Council in a dispute with a knacker's yard over the smell from an incinerator (we won't go into the gory details) and acted for Great Yarmouth Port Authority in a nuisance claim brought by Bourne Leisure over allegations that harbour construction has increased coastal erosion.
“We've already been doing advisory work for energy and transport companies with regards to Brexit."
The set's clients are split fairly evenly between the public and private sector; many of the UK's local authorities call upon chambers, alongside various government agencies and department like Defra or the Highways Agency. Private sector clients “range from airport owners and energy companies, to road and rail operators, retailers, major national house builders and small scale developers,” Coveney says. While most of the work is domestic, there's a small proportion devoted to overseas jurisdictions, particularly with regards to infrastructure development in the Caribbean.
As for the future, Coveney's clear the set is not changing its focus: "We want to maintain and strengthen our leading position in the specialist markets of our existing areas of expertise and stick to what we're good at." He goes on to tell us that “planning and infrastructure planning have been very busy over the past few years, as has residential planning.” He adds: “We've already been doing advisory work for energy and transport companies with regards to Brexit and there'll be a lot more of that as Brexit becomes a reality."
Sex, drugs and... muddy fields
Pupils sit with three supervisors over the year, spending four months with each. “You learn the ropes from your first supervisor and then after Christmas you start working for everyone in chambers, so you see a whole range of work. On any given day you could be working on planning, environmental, rating, licensing, education, compulsory purchase, infrastructure or local government matters – that could touch on anything from highways to policing to ecclesiastical law.”
"[It] basically entails closing down crack dens and brothels.”
“I conducted loads of legal research and produced written notes, but also got to draft skeleton arguments which I'd then chat through with my supervisor,” one pupil told us. “I've also started drafting opinions for my supervisor's smaller cases,” another pupil added, while recent tenants said they'd also drafted pleadings.
Come the second six pupils are thrust up onto their feet to handle their own small briefs. The set's planning and environment cases tend to be high-stakes complex affairs, so pupils “handle fringe matters related to quasi-criminal law, licensing and closure orders." The last of these "basically entails closing down crack dens and brothels.” A pupil elaborated: “We handle a lot of what you might call 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll' cases, and it's great to get real advocacy experience on them. Enforcement proceedings are an area where planning and criminal law coalesce, so for my first ever hearing I was robed up in the Crown Court!” Any other unexpected surprises? “Make sure you buy some Wellington boots! Working on planning matters means lots of site visits – I had to go down a very muddy field in my brand-new polished black shoes. I ended up covered in muck.”
Pupils complete four advocacy exercises – two mock public inquiries and two mock High Court hearings – which are “tough but good fun. They're designed to represent a planning inquiry and cover the issues we might face as junior tenants. We team up with two different consulting firms whose junior consultants act as witnesses, then we organise mock conferences and cross-examine each other's witness in the inquiry.”
The tenancy decision takes into account the assessments, supervisors' reports and comments from other tenants; every member gets a vote. There's “no competition between the pupils; if you're both good enough you'll be kept on. That's made pupillage a really pleasant experience; we've been able to support each other,” one pupil informed us. In 2017 one of the two pupils was made a member.
Getting Pally Mally
Although FTB's not the most sociable of sets, you'll often find people getting together for lunch. Drinks are dotted throughout the year and pupils are also invited to the Christmas party, held in 2016 at the Reform Club on Pall Mall – “it's super snazzy.”
Sources told us: “We are quite a traditional set: everyone dresses smartly, we hold afternoon tea some days and there is a hierarchy reflecting seniority.” Despite this, both pupils characterised the set as “having a big family vibe; people look after each other.” One added: “If you have a question you're encouraged to ask for help and people are very receptive to that. We were really embraced by the clerks too when we arrived.” Pupils put this camaraderie down to “the fact we all work in the same area of law.”
“The set doesn't expect new recruits to have a planning background."
No need to worry if your only experience of planning is watching your parents grapple with the council over a loft conversion. “The set doesn't expect new recruits to have a planning background. I didn't, but I had completed mini-pupillages at sets that covered planning. I'd recommend that,” one source told us.
Top academics are a must – one of two current pupils and four of the six most junior members have Oxbridge undergraduate degrees and the set's barristers have heaps of postgraduate degrees between then. Some kind of practical legal work experience helps too: among recent pupils are a former Law Commission employee, a teaching fellow at UCL, a couple of former paralegals and one individual who'd worked on human rights issues in the US and Africa.
FTB recruits outside the Pupillage Gateway and the process begins with an application form to be returned by 31 January 2018 for 2019/20 pupillages. Around 35 candidates then attend a first-round interview with three members. Applicants are given 15 minutes to read over a “simple philosophical or political problem question, which you can't prepare for. We debated it in quite a casual interview – the interviewers were looking to see if I could speak fluently and think logically.”
There's also time to discuss candidates' CVs and questions like 'why FTB?' The second-round interview features a legal problem question related to planning permission and a judicial review. Again candidates have ten minutes to prepare, before heading into an interview that's “fairly similar in style to the first one but with more challenging questions.”
Pupils are pitted against each other in an annual Christmas quiz “set by a QC with incredible general knowledge. There's not always one right answer, so it's quite hard but you do get points for wit.”
Francis Taylor Building
Francis Taylor Building,
- No of silks 24
- No of juniors 32
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Saira Kabir Sheikh QC, (020) 7353 8415
- Method of application Chambers is not a member of Pupillage Gateway but has its own application form and process. The deadline for applications is 31st January each year. Application forms can be found at: www.ftbchambers.co.uk/ recruitment
- Pupillages (p.a) Two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies Two
- Annexes None
Types of work undertaken
Pupils can expect to read their pupil supervisor’s instructions and papers, research relevant law, attempt their own draft pleadings and opinions for discussion, and accompany their pupil supervisor to hearings and conferences.
After the completion of the first four-months of pupillage, pupils are also expected to undertake written work for, and attend hearings with, other members of chambers as well as their pupil supervisor.
In their second six months, pupils are also able and expected to accept instructions to undertake work of their own. In recent years our second-six pupils have been briefed to appear in a variety of courts and tribunals, including the High Court, county court, public inquiries and various administrative tribunals.
Members of chambers also provide a series of introductory seminars for our pupils during their first six months to familiarise the new pupils with the main areas of chambers practice and the issues of law and practice that most commonly arise.
We also organise a number of formal advocacy exercises for our pupils during the course of the year, including training in the cross-examination of expert witnesses (usually in partnership with expert witnesses from various external planning consultancies), and in the particular requirements of advocacy in the Administrative Court.