A license to skill: Francis Taylor Building equips pupils with the tools they need to succeed in planning, environment, and licensing work.
Francis Taylor Building pupillage review 2024
“Francis Taylor Building is a set where you will hit the ground running on your first day with fun and exciting work,” enthused a junior insider at the set. Senior clerk Paul Coveney details that it’s “predominantly planning,” which accounts for 65% of the work. Land law and infrastructure are also core building blocks, with barristers acting for developers and operators who need permission to build. The set also works on government challenges, acting for public authorities and planning authorities. And then there’s a small but key piece in the licensing work of pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as in the gaming and gambling spheres.
“Planning and environmental work are very blurred and interrelated.”
These niche areas are central to FTB’s strengths, says Coveney: “We are a very niche and specialist set and it is to remain that way. We are valued as specialists.” Chambers UK Bar holds the set in high regard in all of the above areas, but when it comes to environmental work, this is a top set in London. It’s been a busy area for the set, particularly “with climate change being a hot topic as we enter the housing crisis and feel the increase of pressure on land and the green belt,” says Coveney. He adds that “planning and environmental work are very blurred and interrelated, as climate litigation arises when someone is planning to build.”
In one matter that nicely illustrates this intersection, James Pereira KC advised Luton Airport on its planning applications to increase its capacity, which have to take into account environmental factors like greenhouse gas emissions and noise impact. Elsewhere, Richard Honey KC was instructed by the Government Legal Department to defend the government’s Net Zero Strategy (the UK’s climate change plan). On the planning side, Morag Ellis KC was instructed by Burges Salmon on behalf of Cardiff Parkway Developments for its planning application for a new railway station and business park to the east of the city. Simon Bird KC acted for Barson Developments as the appellant in a planning inquiry into contentious proposals to redevelop the former Basingstoke Town Football Club stadium into housing. Licensing is another stand-out area for the set – in one recent case, Gerald Gouriet KC represented the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on an application to revoke Lotus Club’s premises licence, after three people were stabbed at the Clapham venue in February 2022.
The Application Process
The set takes written applications through the Pupillage Gateway. Candidates are expected to set out both their legal and non-legal work experience and must answer questions about why they want to be a barrister. Merrow Golden, member of the pupillage committee, highlights that topical questions have recently been added on things like pollution and other climate change issues. “It gives candidates a sense of the issues that come up in our line of work," says Golden, “as they may not be aware of the scope of our work and how topical it is."
These applications are then sifted according to criteria. The chambers primarily looks for intellectual ability (like academic achievements, awards and scholarships), advocacy experience (examples of debating, mooting, public speaking and written advocacy), and suitability for the area (examples of interest in public law, planning, environment and licensing). All these areas are ranked on a points-based system. Other non-legal work experience, interests and life experiences are also taken into consideration (but awarded fewer points).
“We are looking for a basic knowledge of public law principles.”
Around 30 successful candidates then move on to the first of twointerviews. The interviews are relatively short at around 20 to 30 minutes. “We give candidates a problem question, which is designed to be thought-provoking and to test candidates' basic knowledge of public law principles,” states Golden. This forms the basis of most of the interview. She reiterates that “it’s more of a discussion, so we appreciate the back and forth.”
This round is then whittled down to 10 to 15 people for what Golden describes as the “more challenging”final interview. Candidates will deal with another problem question. As such, it tends to be a planning-related legal question about a potential judicial review. This interview then takes place with three members of the pupillage committee. The committee takes into account all the scores candidates have received through the recruitment process in making their final decisions. Ultimately, two people are then given offers, with a reserve in place.
The Pupillage Experience
Over the course of pupillage, pupils sit with three supervisors for four months at a time. These can be a middle junior all the way up to a silk, and pupils felt they really benefited from these relationships. “At the beginning, you follow them around and shadow their work, but gradually you start going to meetings and start doing your own work – but you’re still able to ask them silly questions!” a pupil told us. “Normally, the first four months ease you into your pupillage, but I was very much hands-on-deck from the get-go!” This interviewee was assigned onto live work including first drafts of statements and working on opinions for their supervisor’s deadlines. “It was very much the real experience by working to deadlines and understanding how things work, so I wasn’t shocked going on into my pupillage.”
“A great case to do first drafts of opinion, looking at tricky environmental issues.”
In the second six, pupils begin their own practice, including advocacy in court. It sounds scary but when we asked the pupil how it was, they confirmed “the more you go to court, the easier it gets, because you learn you cannot hide from the weakness in your case.” The work they did depended on who their supervisor was, but we heard of pupils working with the Metropolitan Police on prevention orders and large judicial matters, for example. One got involved in inquiry work for a solar farm, which was “a great case to do first drafts of opinion, looking at tricky environmental issues.”
The set puts pupils through their paces with four advocacy assessments, two mock inquiries and two mock high court exercises. The latter involves retired judges and senior members playing judge, and pupils are expected “to reflect as close to what senior members are doing as possible.” The other two main assessments are mock inquiries. “The pupils work with junior planners on a mock inquiry to complete a cross-examination in front of a planning judge,” explained a junior. “The assessment is rigorous, but it prepares you well, as any future work won’t be more difficult than this!” According to Golden, "if candidates request it, we like to give feedback on the experience instead of it being a file job.” Finally, there is also a written assessment where pupils have to give opinions on a matter, similar to that of their day to day.
At the end of each seat, supervisors complete a report for the pupil, highlighting their work and progress through the pupillage. It is then down to these reports and the aforementioned assessments to inform the tenancy decision. This is made through a vote by every member of the pupillage committee and successful pupils need to receive a substantial majority of the vote (no less than 70% vote) in their favour to gain tenancy. The committee is also conscious to allow pupils to respond to feedback, which they appreciated: “The ability to comment on anything you are concerned about during the process is unusual but proactive, so the process is pretty transparent,” said one junior. In 2023, both pupils gained tenancy.
“There is a family atmosphere because the chambers is small, and so is the Planning Bar.”
As for the set’s culture, a pupil said, “Francis Taylor Building is a good mixture of traditional barristers’ chambers with a modern approach.” A junior barrister added that “there is a family atmosphere because the chambers is small, and so is the Planning Bar, so often you will be working with and looking out for each other.” Drinks and social events happen often, especially when celebrating achievements such as a member becoming a silk! The juniors also hyped up the chambers WhatsApp group: “We can ask questions in there, whether it's in court or just generally, and it’s pretty responsive.”
Chip off the old blog: Pupils are expected to contribute regularly to the set’s Environmental Law Blog. “It is a benchmark piece in the industry, and it helped me build my knowledge and practise the way I want.”
Francis Taylor Building
Francis Taylor Building,
Types of work undertaken
The selection process has three main stages. Full details of the criteria for each stage is available on Chambers’ website.
Our training programme is designed to ensure pupils develop the competencies set out in the BSB Professional Statement, Threshold Standard and Competencies.
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 court hearings and conferences.
After the completion of the first four months of pupillage, pupils are also expected to undertake written work for 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, Magistrates’ 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 and written 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.
Sponsorships and awards
Access to the profession is an acute issue which Chambers seeks to address. Chambers is involved in initiatives aimed at increasing diversity including as a founding member of the Planning and Public Law Mentoring Scheme for Underrepresented Groups at the Bar, Bridging the Bar, a founding member of Bridging the Bar, the Sutton Trust Pathways to Law Programme, Pegasus Access support Scheme and the Middle Temple Outreach Programme. Further information about this can be found on chamber’ website.
Chambers is committed to well-being. We have an established a mentoring scheme for members, providing structured opportunities for knowledge sharing and for help and advice to be available across all levels of seniority. We host quarterly social events for members and staff and Chambers’ tea on weekday afternoons.
We give careful thought to ensuring our marketing events appeal to a wide range of clients, and are held at different times of day, for greatest possible access. This includes both academic and social events.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Ecclesiastical Law (Band 1)
- Rating & Valuation (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Licensing (Band 1)
- Local Government (Band 3)
- Planning (Band 2)