Falcon soars high over the land (law) and preys upon meaty property cases.
Let's get logical
Sandwiched between a café and what claims to be 'London's biggest vape shop', the Fleet Street entrance to Falcon Chambers is a little more humble than most chambers. But what goes on inside is far from it: this 40-member set wins top marks in Chambers UK for agriculture and rural affairs and for real estate litigation. It's hardly a surprise then, that the sources we spoke to at Falcon loved land law. “I liked that it's quite logical,” commented one. “It's got quite strict rules, and you have to work out how they fit together.” Although property's a big part of Falcon's practice, work is not all boundary disputes and landlord and tenant cases. The issues the set deals with, one source said, “are wider than I had initially thought. It's not just land law you do here – there are so many other things that come into it.”
What does Falcon's range of work look like? Chambers director Edith Robertson tells us: “A lot of the work we do is based on contracts, as well as things such as rent reviews, extensions, and easements. It can also involve some pretty esoteric stuff, like who owns a riverbed.” Cases involving mines and minerals are also not unheard of, while telecoms work has seen “a big area of expansion recently as there is a new telecoms code out which creates issues in connection with land owners and operators.”
“Every single day I do things that could be problem questions in exams.”
Stephen Jourdan QC, chair of the recruitment committee, elaborates: “Most of our cases are about the interpretation of documents and the application of legal rules to facts.” Our junior sources said this means work is “very book-heavy, and bears more similarity to being a student than other areas of legal practice. Every single day I do things that could be problem questions in exams.” According to Jourdan, “cases also tend to be quite short, typically two to four days.”
Recently members have worked on a dispute over a leak from a pipeline onto land that was about to be sold; on a case in which an estranged son had been promised the family farm but his father had got dementia and his mother had broken off relations with him; and on a dispute about the need to replace hundreds of windows in the brutalist design classic Trellick Tower in West London. There's some advisory work too: barristers recently added their property and planning nous to a $2.9 billion mineral transaction.
All these case examples may make you wonder how much prior knowledge or experience in property law it helps to have to get pupillage here. Stephen Jourdan says: “Many of our successful applicants have virtually no knowledge of property law. We look for potential rather than knowledge, and have rejected academics who teach property law and accepted people who've never opened a property textbook.”
A uni away from uni
Given this, newcomers are placed on a week-long crash course run by Cambridge professor Martin Dixon. “It's absolutely brilliant,” insiders said. “It's such a good start to learn in an environment where you are not being judged. It was with people from other sets too, so the environment was almost like a university.”
Pupils do stints of three months each with four supervisors. “The first three months are an opportunity to find your feet and get given some constructive guidance,” a recent tenant told us. “I liked that there was consciously more weight put on those parts of pupillage where you feel more confident.” We heard that “there isn't a huge step change between the first and second six,” although in the second six “you do get your own work and you start shadowing juniors, to get a more realistic sense of what practice will be like when you start out.” Writing is a constant activity as “most work is a mixture of drafting opinions and drafting research notes” along with “being sent off to research strange little points of law.” Court visits are dictated by “as and when your supervisor goes, which will depend on whether they have a big case or not. In my first three months I spent 13 days in court, then in my second three months I didn’t go at all.” Another source said: “I went to court maybe three or four times in my second six and was also led by a silk in the High Court, though that was unusual.” Interviewees liked working with different types of clients as “you can be working for giant companies, individuals or families.” Hours for pupils are set at 9am to 6pm, and there's also time for chambers tea and lunch every Friday, which provide an opportunity to mingle with other members.
At the end of every seat, supervisors submit feedback on their pupils to Stephen Jourdan, who then sits down with each pupil to run through it. Tenancy is decided in June or July, and feedback from the second and third supervisors carries most weight. Jourdan says that “as we are a set which does a lot of written work, the quality of your writing is very important,” while further warning against being too much of a wallflower during pupillage. “Some pupils are so nervous about making a bad impression that they don't make any impression!” One final hurdle comes in the form of three advocacy exercises throughout pupillage, the second and third of which are assessed.
“I think assessment is transparent,” a recent tenant opined. “It's also formalised, which is really important, and the meetings you have with Stephen are useful as they enable you to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie.” The end result is that the final decision “doesn’t come as too much of a surprise.” For those who receive a 'no' it's not all doom and gloom, as Falcon “does try and make sure you are best placed to go elsewhere,” an interviewee told us. “My co-pupil took all of two days to get a third six at Landmark.” In 2018 both pupils gained tenancy; in 2019, the decision wasn't announced in time for our publication date - check the set's website to find it.
The Million Pound Drop
Falcon doesn't use the Pupillage Gateway, so applications for pupillage begin with a form on the set's website. Some background and academic information is requested, alongside questions about achievements outside academia and an essay question. Jourdan tells us: “We attach a lot of importance to the essay question. It's an opportunity to show you can write clearly and persuasively.” The question itself “is deliberately something that could come up in a general studies exam” – recently it was whether British citizenship should be sold for a million pounds.
“We attach a lot of importance to the essay question.”
After applications have been submitted, there’s a paper sift to bring the 50 to 100 applications down to around 20. Successful candidates face a panel of three for 15 minutes, with a lucky five to seven chosen to face a final panel of five. Analytical ability is probed in both interviews through challenging problem questions. One source said they were asked to “argue that marital coercion should be brought back, despite the issue being very one-sided.” Falcon isn't just looking for silver-tongued brainboxes however. According to one source: “There is definitely an emphasis on you as a person during the questioning. Everybody is interested in your hobbies, as people here do lots of interesting stuff – many play instruments, there are a lot of classicists and I personally tap dance and do musical theatre.”
One final hurdle, between the first and second interview, is a written exercise. Jourdan revealed candidates are “given a document to look at and a statute we have invented. It sets up some legal principles and we ask applicants to apply them to the document. The document is very short and very badly drafted and they have to write an essay to say if it creates a lease or licence.”
Founded in 1990, Falcon was one of the first sets to specialise and also one of the first to break out of the confines of an Inn.
- No of silks 11
- No of juniors 32
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Gavin Bennison, [email protected]
- Method of application Application form available from 1 December – see chambers website. Closing date 3 January 2020
- Pupillages (pa) Up to two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies offered in the last two years 3
Type of work undertaken
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)