Having chosen a name to fit its areas of practice over ten years ago, this specialist planning and environment chambers is now a leader in its field, offering pupils exposure to a surprisingly broad array of work.
Going to ground
Picture the scene: it's 2002 and two barristers' sets – Eldon Chambers and 4 Breams Buildings – have decided to combine forces and merge, capitalising on the contemporary turbulence at the planning and public law Bar. Now the new set needs a name. 'Eldon Breams' is a non-starter. (Sounds too much like a turn-of-the-century American railroad tycoon, doesn't it?) So the new set held a competition. "It was one of the clerks who came up with the name 'Landmark'," reveals senior clerk Jay Fullilove. The inspiration? "Well, you just need to look at the City's skyline from Fleet Street where we're based." In truth, of course, the name is happily appropriate for a set specialising in public law, planning, environment and property; it's a pleasing aptonym, which represents stability, reliability and a hint of tradition – just the ticket at the modern Bar.
You can find Landmark Chambers just a few doors down from the Royal Courts of Justice and within view of St Paul's Cathedral. Positioned in such a famous location, it's appropriate that “land is at the core of chambers' work; it binds together everything we do.” The same source went on: “The link between property law and land is obvious and planning and environmental law are both intricately connected to how land is used and how the public interest in land use is balanced against private rights of property ownership.” So if you're interested in how private rights (to property) are mediated and controlled by public bodies, then this is just the place for you. Landmark also does a lot of public law work which isn't planning-related, so if your heart lies in pure public law work (or pure property for that matter) Landmark offers a comely prospect too.
"Aggrieved members of the public objecting to planned developments... local authorities making the decisions... developers bringing forward new projects – [they] all come to us for advice."
Chambers UK awards Landmark top rankings for local government, planning and environmental work, as well as recognising its capabilities in real estate litigation, and agriculture and rural affairs. Barrister Stephen Whale recently represented the Leith Hill Action Group in contesting a controversial planning application by Europa Oil & Gas to drill for oil in the Surrey Hills, which are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Members have also been advising on disputes related to the expansion of Gatwick Airport and the development of Battersea Power Station. Some planning disputes have a distinctly commercial flavour to them: for example, Dan Kolinsky QC acted for Arsenal FC in its challenge to Islington council's decision to let them hold only three concerts a year (rather than six) at the Emirates Stadium; the Gunners pleaded that they needed the income, which the planning inspector refused to buy given the club's penchant for splashing out on pricey players.
Meanwhile, on the environmental side, Richard Moules successfully upheld the City of London's decision to undertake £17 million worth of environmentally disruptive improvement works to Hampstead Heath ponds in the name of flood prevention; the decision had been challenged by the Heath & Hampstead Society, but in this case safety concerns trumped environmental ones. In another local government case, James Maurici QC represented the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales in the High Court, defending a decision to suspend councillor Patrick Heesom from Flintshire County Council for bullying behaviour and harassment.
Secretary to the pupillage committee David Blundell says that Landmark is “looking for candidates with a real interest in, and commitment to, the areas in which we practice.” Blundell suggests this interest and commitment can, for example, be demonstrated by “working for a specialist law centre or doing a master's.” A junior tenant helpfully added: “If you're interested in planning, why not get in touch with your local council to see if you can spend a fortnight working with their development control team? There are also plenty of NGOs and voluntary bodies you can gain experience with.” Take note that “a bare assertion of interest in planning law isn't likely to cut the mustard when you're in competition with others who've spent time developing expertise before they even apply.”
Applications are made via the Gateway system, and the set receives somewhere in the region of 200 a year. Three members of chambers sift through the initial pile of applications, filtering it down to about 40. These individuals are then invited to sit a time-limited written exam, during which they answer a short question. “The subject is topical and broadly legal,” Blundell explains, “but no previous knowledge of any particular area of law is necessary. We're looking for excellent legal writing and reasoning skills.” The written tests are marked by three members, and the number of remaining candidates whittled down to 20 or less. These promising individuals are invited to an interview with a panel of five or six barristers and the chambers director; up to three offers of pupillage are then made.
"I find myself acting directly for a planning agent, rating agent or chartered surveyors' firm, with no solicitor in the mix."
A baby junior told us a bit about what their practice looks like: "My focus is on planning law. In this area instructions often come in on licensed access, so I find myself acting directly for a planning agent, rating agent or chartered surveyors' firm, with no solicitor in the mix. As a junior I'm starting out acting for aggrieved members of the public objecting to planned developments. As you become more senior you start working for the local authorities making the decisions being objected to, and when you're more senior still you'll work for the developers bringing forward new projects – those clients all come to us for advice."
A piece of the pie
Pupils undertake three written assessments (at Christmas, Easter and in the summer) and one advocacy assessment. The written assessment is set by a silk and uses a set of papers from a real case; it's usually a written response such as an advice or opinion. Reports are produced by the markers and the pupils get “very comprehensive” feedback. In fact, throughout pupillage feedback is continuous. One pupil told us: “Every time I've done a piece of work, my supervisor has been prepared to talk it through with me.” The advocacy exercise, which takes place around Easter, is an opportunity for pupils to get as close to the real thing as possible: using a real set of papers from a recent case, aspiring barristers get to stand before a part-time judge. All of this is taken into consideration when the tenancy decision is made. The set has strong retention rates, having made tenants of all but one of the 11 individuals to have completed pupillage here in the last four years. All three pupils took up tenancy in 2016.
Every Monday at 4pm, everyone at Landmark gets to enjoy “chambers cakes,” a get-together in the upstairs conference room where the sweet-toothed can sate their appetites. Landmark is a pretty sizeable set and one pupil admitted: “There are still people in chambers I haven't met. That's probably just because of the way the office is laid out. But I certainly feel I can talk to anyone, including the heads of chambers.”
Landmark by name, Landmark by nature, this set should be high on your list if planning, public law or property are your bag.
180 Fleet Street,
- No of silks 30
- No of juniors 58
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Carolyn Entwistle, HR and administration manager
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to three of 12 months duration
- Tenancies in the past three years 7