If planning, environmental and licensing work tickles your pickle then take a gander at Francis Taylor Building.
Since its formation in the 1920s, FTB has developed into “a specialist planning, environmental and public law set,” senior clerk Paul Coveny explains. “We’re a relatively niche set of chambers and we focus on our core areas, which are planning, environmental, licensing, regulatory and more general public law.” The set's clients are split fairly evenly between the public and private sector. Many of the UK's local authorities call upon FTB’s expertise, as do various government agencies and departments like Defra and the Highways Agency. In Coveny’s own words, “typical clients are developers or operators who need permission to do or build something. On the other side of that fence we act for public authorities and planning authorities as well as gaming or gambling bodies. We also work with residents’ amenity and interest groups like Greenpeace and Save the Earth.” So whether you want to rage against the machine or oil its wheels, FTB might be of interest.
Members recently advised the London Borough of Hackney on a challenge to the legality (under the Equality Act 2010) of its new licensing policy, brought by local pressure group We Love Hackney. The Environment Agency instructed Richard Honey to advise on the case for safeguarding land to construct a new Thames Barrier, to be built by 2070; and Michael Humphries QC acted on a project to reopen Manston Airport in Kent, which would require extensive compulsory purchase powers as the site is currently owned by a company with plans for a housing-led scheme. Compulsory purchases play a role in many of FTB’s cases: Guy Roots was involved in a claim for compulsory purchase compensation for the construction of a football stadium, in place of granting planning permission for a high-rise residential site. Some members also do ecclesiastical work, including Mark Hill QC who represented a group of parishioners to challenge the construction of a building in a consecrated churchyard.
“We’re determined to grow in a sustainable way.”
Chambers UK ranks FTB top in ecclesiastical law for all circuits, and in environment and licensing law in London; the set also scores high marks for planning and agriculture. Coveny adds that members are frequently instructed by top-level City players like Clifford Chance and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner as well as national and regional firms including Womble Bond Dickinson and Burges Salmon. Shedding light on FTB’s strategy for the future, Coveny explains: “We’re growing organically and focusing on our core areas to strengthen our market position. We’re not looking to broaden our practice areas; we’re determined to remain focused and grow in a sustainable way.”
The Da Vinci code
FTB recruits outside the Pupillage Gateway. The process begins with an application form which current pupils found “easier than the Gateway one, because there’s more scope to give answers that show you off to the best of your ability.” Around 35 candidates then attend a first-round interview with three members of chambers. What kind of person fits the bill? Juniors suggested that prospective pupillage applicants tend to be interested in “diverse types of advocacy; getting the chance to do expert cross-examinations from an early stage; or they just find that law related to houses floats their boat.”
As for standing out at the interview stage, Coveny reveals that as well as “stellar degrees and a strong academic track record,” applicants “need to be imaginative and show your commitment and enthusiasm for the areas of law we specialise in. I’ve had potential candidates drop me a line and pop in for a coffee and I’m always happy to make time to meet with people and talk about chambers.” Juniors agreed that “while you’re not expected to know everything about planning, it’s good to have done some research. It can be as basic as reading through the national planning policy framework or watching a public inquiry in the High Court.” Candidates who make it through to the second-round interview have ten minutes to prepare a response to a planning permission-related legal question and a judicial review, before getting a grilling from members.
“While you’re not expected to know everything about planning, it’s good to have done some research.”
Sources told us that FTB “isn’t the most social chambers. Part of that is because people are often away on planning inquiries.” They felt that its culture is built around “keeping the best bits of Bar tradition. Members from all levels come together and talk; everybody knows everybody and because we’re in a specialist area we have the best people in the field here.” Others added that there’s “a real focus on modernising. For example, we have a rule where you can’t have an all-male panel if you’re hosting an event.” Speaking of events, there’s a chambers lunch every day in one of the conference rooms as well as regular chambers tea. FTB also hosts evening shindigs which all members can attend; a recent example was a private viewing of a Da Vinci exhibition.
Woop woop, that’s the sound of the (Met) Police
Despite FTB’s relatively niche focus, pupils see “a great deal of variation” within the work that chambers offers. “I’ve had a supervisor who did a lot of immigration work and some environmental law nuisance cases; another who focused on environmental planning law; and some random cases about animal safety and exporting animal products,” one source revealed. “There’s still a lot I’ve only had a taste of, like compulsory purchase and rating or licensing.”
Pupils sit with three different supervisors over their year of learning, spending four months with each. “For the first four months you’re in more of a shadowing role and work very closely with your supervisor, having a stab at whatever they’re doing.” An insider said: “You never get stale work – it’s always live even if you’re just dipping your toe in.” We heard plenty of praise for the supervision and support on offer: “I’ve been doing cases and writing opinions in my own name in my second six, and if you walk into the office of a QC or a very senior junior they’ll drop everything to have a chat with you about the case.” That means “you’re able to get up to standard very quickly and by the time you’ve finished with pupillage you’re ready for tenancy. In the second six your work is expected to be as good as if you were a practising barrister.”
Getting on their feet for their second six, pupils are typically “instructed on applications for the Met Police, civil applications for things like closure orders and sexual harm prevention orders. They usually consist of a day of preparation and then a day or two in court.” A source who’d worked on planning applications revealed that “you end up doing quite meaty work because you’re acting for someone who can’t afford a more senior barrister.” They concluded that pupillage provides “a good balance of work that eases you into advocacy without you needing to be in court every day. I recently had my first experience wigged and gowned; people are very good at bringing you on and giving you experience you might not get otherwise.” The learning curve continues post-tenancy decision: one baby junior even told us that they were due to appear in the Supreme Court.
“…eases you into advocacy without being in court every day.”
As well as their day-to-day work, pupils complete four advocacy exercises: two mock public inquiries and two mock High Court hearings. These are “opportunities to practise your skills and gain experience rather than formal assessments. A lot of what we do isn’t taught on the BPTC so it’s important to try it out in a friendly environment before the real thing.” Members watch pupils and provide feedback, but these exercises “don’t play a huge part in the tenancy decision.” One interviewee described the advocacy practice as “perhaps the single most useful learning tool in pupillage.”
The tenancy decision is largely based around supervisors' reports and comments from other tenants – every member gets a vote. Pupils learn whether or not they’ve earned tenancy on the last day of their penultimate month of pupillage, which is pretty late compared to other sets. Our sources reasoned that there are “arguments for and against that. The advantage is that you get as much time as possible to prove yourself, whereas the downside is that you can be unsure of where you stand.”
In 2018 both pupils took up tenancy. In 2019, the decision was set to be made after we went to print; check back soon for an update.
Francis Taylor Building
Francis Taylor Building,
- No of silks 22
- No of juniors 34
- 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 pa Two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies 2
Types of work undertaken
The competition is fierce but the rewards for those selected are substantial. The selection process has three main stages. At each stage, candidates are assessed by reference to the following criteria: intellect, academic achievement, advocacy experience and achievement, extra curricular activities and suitability for and interest in Chambers areas of work.
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.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2019
- Ecclesiastical Law (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Licensing (Band 1)
- Local Government (Band 3)
- Planning (Band 2)