Falcon Chambers flies high in the property law sky, while dipping a talon in the telecoms pool too.
What persuaded junior tenants and pupils to make their nest at Falcon Chambers? “They’re so highly regarded in property law, which is what I wanted to do,” one source put it simply. The 46-member set positively soars in real estate litigation and agriculture & rural affairs, bagging top Chambers UK rankings for both. With clients ranging from individual landlords and tenants all the way up to massive companies and developers, the cases Falcon’s barristers deal with are wide-ranging. Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC, for example, recently worked on the Tate Modern’s dispute with tenants of four flats overlooked by the gallery’s public viewing space. In another case, Stephanie Tozer QC handled a dispute about whether bed retailer Dreams met conditions in an agreement to surrender one of its stores – specifically whether it was obliged to pay damages for dilapidations. Other clients have included major gay nightclub XXL as it sought to resist possession by a developer in a £1.2 billion development, and WH Smith as the tenant in lease renewal proceedings against two landlords at a shopping centre in Croydon.
“As their seniority increases, they’ll work on more commercial property and higher-value matters.”
Senior clerk John Stannard says junior tenants usually begin their practice handling a “higher percentage of residential property work, and as their seniority increases, they’ll work on more commercial property and higher-value matters.” Obviously, property is key to Falcon Chambers, but it’s not all privacy disputes and landlord/tenant spats day in, day out. “We also have a huge focus on agriculture and rural affairs, infrastructure, and natural resources,” Stannard explains.About a third of the set handles rural and agricultural matters on a daily basis, so juniors will get to grips with those kinds of cases too. “There’s also environmental work to go around, with mines and minerals and energy featuring, which is quite specialist.”
Stannard continues: “There’s also been a lot of expansion in our telecoms practice,” elaborating that there’s recently been “a mass influx of code work” to the set. “For around seven or eight members, 40% of their practice is centred around telecommunications.” On a recent case, Stephanie Tozer QC acted for Vodafone in its application for the right to keep fibre optic cables within an electricity cable wire crossing the respondent’s land.
The Application Process
Falcon doesn't use the Pupillage Gateway, so applications begin with a form on the set's website. “The process starts earlier than most other sets,” juniors pointed out. Alongside supplying the usual background information, applicants answer questions about their achievements outside academia. There’s also an essay question, which is “designed to bring out a candidate’s ability to write concisely,” according to Adam Rosenthal QC, head of the recruitment committee.
Three members of chambers whittle down the initial flurry of applications down to around 20 candidates for the first-round interview. Here, three interviewers probe candidates for around 20 minutes. Five to seven lucky candidates are invited back for the final interview. Before that, candidates have to undertake a written exercise. Rosenthal explains: “They are then asked to write a short essay which is to be a persuasive piece of writing stating whether the document creates a lease or a licence.”
"The panel’s eyes lit up when I mentioned a point about rent control and housing benefits.”
The final interview takes place before a panel of five. Noting the differences between the first and second interviews, sources said: “There’s definitely more pushback in the second interview to test your skills, but it wasn’t a hostile environment.” Candidates are then faced with problem questions and asked to construct arguments in hypothetical scenarios. Legal knowledge isn't required for these exercises; the aim is to test candidates' advocacy and analytical skills. Still, this insider reckoned “it’s worth knowing a thing or two about property law. The panel’s eyes lit up when I mentioned a point about rent control and housing benefits.” While knowing some factoids about property law is sure to impress, Rosenthal emphasises that “it’s a common misconception that pupils need to have existing knowledge of landlord and tenant law. We don’t expect any prior involvement in landlord and tenant law or the industry.”
The Pupillage Experience
To account for the expected gaps in property law knowledge, the set places pupils on a weeklong property crash course run by Professor Martin Dixon of Cambridge University. “It was incredibly useful,” one course graduate praised, while another said: “Martin is great at explaining land law as well as inspiring us about its importance.” But rather than a formal schedule of classes, they said the course “is basically a great opportunity to chat about property law for a couple of hours.”
After that, it ramps up. The pupillage structure has pupils sit with four supervisors for three months each. “Some sets have a ‘thou shalt do work for one member of chambers’ commandment,” one junior joked, “but that’s not the case at Falcon.If there’s something interesting happening elsewhere in chambers, supervisors will encourage us to take it on.” Insiders felt their first three months were for “making mistakes and learning the law,” while the second six holds “more weight on the tenancy decision.”
“There was one dispute over a chandelier.”
We heard “there’s a lot of residential work on the junior end. We’ll be acting for the landlord and tenant in the context of real people rather than the commercial context.” One pupil described the type of work they got exposed to: “Alongside restrictive covenants and joint ventures, you get to see the classic neighbour disputes.” Properties in cases included shopping centres and railway networks. “The stories around the cases can be fun,” one source shared. “There was one dispute over a chandelier.”
Day to day Falcon pupils worked a manageable 9am to 6pm schedule, with plenty of time for chambers tea and lunch every Friday, which was a welcome opportunity to mingle with other members. Although they won’t fly the nest to go to court with their own work in the second six, pupils do get to shadow juniors right from the off. “They make an effort to take pupils along to interesting case hearings or standard possession hearings,” sources said. Pupils were also given “a lot of heavy black-letter law research” to do, as well as a lot of writing tasks, including “a wide range of opinion writing and drafting skeleton arguments.”
Rosenthal says “the quality of writing is very important” when it comes to the tenancy decision. At the end of each seat, supervisors write up their feedback on pupils, which is then collated in a report and reviewed around June or July by the pupillage committee. Rosenthal explains that there’s “a lot of weight placed on pupil supervisors' reports since supervisors have seen a good cross-section of the pupil’s work.” Our insiders appreciated Falcon’s approach to assessment. “I liked that there was no specific day where I had to be 100%,” one shared. “It may be a nine-month interview, but it allowed me to shine where I can shine.” That said, it’s a good idea for pupils to shine as brightly as possible for a couple of “semi-formal” advocacy assessments. Semi-formal, you say? “We try not to make them too formal,” says Rosenthal, while junior sources understood “they’re in place to see if we’re good enough to be sent out to the courts.”
For those who aren’t offered tenancy, having the Falcon name stamped on your CV unlocks other opportunities. “Other chambers know the calibre of pupils at Falcon,” says John Stannard, and adds that on occasion the set liaises with other chambers that are interested in recruiting Falcon's pupils who don't gain tenancy. There was no need for that this year, however, as both pupils gained tenancy in 2020.
Falcon Chambers was one of the first sets to host a virtual mini-pupillage session during lockdown, explaining the application process, life at the Bar and the work of the set.
- No of silks 13
- No of juniors 32 (33 from January 2021)
- No of pupils 1 (from October 2020)
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Application form available from c.1st December – see Chambers website. Closing date c.8th January 2021
- Pupillages (pa) Up to two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies offered in the last two years 3
Type of work undertaken
Few of our applicants will have studied our speciality in any depth, and therefore we provide an intensive course in landlord and tenant law at Falcon Chambers, usually held in the last week of September.
Applications should be made by chambers application form which will be available from the website from the beginning of December 2020 for pupillages starting in October 2022. The closing date and interview dates are yet to be confirmed. More details are available on our website. Falcon Chambers does not receive applications through the Pupillage Gateway.
Successful pupils who become junior tenants are usually fully employed doing their own work shortly after being taken on.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Chambers’ Equality & Diversity and Wellbeing committees are well-established and take the lead in mainstreaming best practice in diversity, inclusion and wellbeing across all aspects of Chambers life. Wellbeing training has recently involved a series of external-led seminars on mental health best practice, effective communication and constructive feedback. All members of Chambers were recently offered Bar Council-approved advanced training on how to avoid and deal with allegations of discrimination or harassment, and take-up was very high. Members of Chambers involved in recruitment also undergo advanced E&D training prior to joining the committee.
On a more informal note, an internal mentoring scheme is in the early stages of operation, providing opportunities for mentoring at and between all levels of seniority (QC, junior, pupil). During the recent lockdown period, Chambers produced a couple of short videos for external audiences highlighting Chambers’ support for Pride month and Mental Health Awareness Week 2020.
The Recruitment committee, meanwhile, pursues its own initiatives and is committed to attracting pupillage applications from talented students irrespective of background. For instance, Chambers hosted an open evening in November 2019 which was specifically targeted at GDL students from widening participation backgrounds or on part-time or distance-learning GDL programmes. Chambers was also one of the first sets (if not the first set) to offer a ‘virtual mini-pupillage’ Zoominar for prospective applicants during the lock-down period, in recognition of the difficulties faced by prospective applicants in securing mini-pupillages at this time (particularly applicants from underrepresented groups). The take-up in both instances was enthusiastic. Chambers hopes to hold more such events in the future.