FTB's expertise in planning, environmental and licensing allows its pupils to gain"a really firm grasp on a specific area of law.”
Francis Taylor Building pupillage review 2022
“FTB has an unrivalled reputation in planning, licensing and environmental law. It was my motivation for applying here – it’s so niche.” Niche was a word that was thrown around a lot in our interviews. Senior clerk Paul Coveny reiterates: “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.” He continues: “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.” One pupil felt that being at a more specialist set "means you can have a really firm grasp on a specific area of law.”
“It’s fascinating to be working in areas that are so topical, that raise so many interesting issues and are moving so quickly.”
To give some examples of the set's recent cases in the environment sphere, Richard Honey QC represented Exmouth Mussel in a claim against the Environment Agency after mussel beds were damaged after the public body conducted coast protection works in Devon. Elsewhere in chambers, members acted for the West Cumbria Mine in an inquiry into the creation of a new coal mine. In planning, Michael Humphries QC is leading the counsel team representing Heathrow Airport in preparations of the application for the proposed new runway at the airport. For pupils, “it’s fascinating to be working in areas that are so topical, that raise so many interesting issues and are moving so quickly.”
Chambers UK Bar 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, agriculture and local government work. This niche expertise is what it’s all about at FTB. 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.” A pupil source explained: “There’s a nice balance at FTB between somewhere that holds and respects traditions of the Bar but at the same time is modern and forward-looking.”
The Application Process
FTB takes applications through the Pupillage Gateway, with around 120 applications in the most recent round. There’s no requirement to have done a mini-pupillage with the set as “it’s very restrictive and rules out people who may not be able to do that,” says Suzanne Ornsby QC, chair of the pupillage and tenancy committee. Applications are sifted against objective criteria. “We’re looking for intellect and suitability, but we’re also looking to see if somebody’s done something outside the law which they’ve done well at,” Ornsby tells us. “Our hearts sink a little when we see an application that’s simply legally focused.” She says that non-legal experience can be “anything from helping people in the local community to volunteering in Nepal – working in McDonald’s or for a local charity is equally as good as some grand international work experience. It’s all equally impressive to us as it shows applicants are attuned to the wider world out there.”
"Be imaginative and show your commitment and enthusiasm for the areas of law we specialise in.”
Around 30 people are invited to a first-round interview. Candidates are given a choice of debate topics 30 minutes before the interview. “It’s normally not a legal topic, but something topical you present your view on to the three panellists. For me it was about keeping DNA databases for the purposes of crime prevention.” There are also “ordinary questions, such as why you want to join FTB and discussion of your CV more generally.” Ornsby says that this is “designed to be a bit of a discussion rather than a rigorous interview,” and only lasts around 20 minutes. As for standing out at this stage, Coveny reveals that as well as “stellar degrees and a strong academic track record,” applicantsneed to "be imaginative and show your commitment and enthusiasm for the areas of law we specialise in.”
Candidates who make it through to the second-round interview (around 15 people) have 30 minutes to prepare a response to a planning-related legal question concerning a potential judicial review, before getting a 40-minute grilling from members. Ornsby says this round is “very rigorous. It’s designed to be quite complicated.” Here FTB are looking for potential pupils with “a good logical mind who can express themselves clearly with the right instincts for our area of the law.” After the questioning, the three panellists spend about 20 minutes “discussing your motivations and interests.” One sources found that though the interview was “challenging, it never felt like I was being pressured unnecessarily or that they were trying to trip me up. If I was struggling the panel tried to point me in right direction.” Two candidates are selected for pupillage.
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils sit with three different supervisors over their pupillage, spending four months with each. Overall, they get a “nice mix between oral advocacy and written work. The balance in the diet of work you get is interesting.” Pupils tend to spend their first six months “getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of the niche areas of law we cover.” They shadow their supervisor, helping on their work drafting skeleton arguments, researching, “trawling though disclosure” and drafting notes. As a lot of planning work is “about policy rather than black-letter law, it requires a switch in mindset. You can’t start producing opinions unless you’ve got solid understanding of what’s going on.”
The second six sees pupils start their own practice. “It’s typically four days a week paid work and one day of pupillage work.” On their pupillage work, this is the time they get to work with “more senior members of chambers, doing the meaningful work like first draft of opinions, statements of case and helping out with enquiries and judicial reviews.”
"It’s great for developing my court craft.”
Pupils’ practice involves a lot of “working for the Metropolitan Police on civil matters. We have a very close relationship with them.” They bring civil applications, which covers “things like sexual risk, stalking protection or closure orders shutting down a place being used for unlawful purposes.” This type of work is “quite short work" in that "you can do two or three a week. You’re briefed on a Monday and in the Magistrate’s Court on a Thursday or Friday and then it’s done.” Pupils admitted it’s “not the most glamorous work, but it’s great for developing my court craft.” This is because “of the nature of the work – you never quite know what’s going to happen in court.” There is some planning work available for pupils, where “you might not be doing the juiciest cases by yourself,” but could be instructed by “local residents’ groups, charities or sometimes local authorities to give straightforward advice, or work on inquiries or hearings.”
Supervisors range from middle junior to silks – “I think that’s quite important as they share all kinds of knowledge.” Both supervisors and other members that pupils work for were hailed as being supportive: “I always get good feedback on my work – real, practical help. Sometimes you just need to sit down with someone and approach things in a different way.” Pupils get two mentors – a silk and a baby junior. “I’ve always felt I have a point of contact.” The training committee run a structured training and assessment programme for pupils, which includes 12 seminars and two informally assessed written and oral advocacy exercises that take place in their first four months. “It really helps you get to grips with our niche practice areas from the experts themselves.”
Pupils complete four assessed advocacy exercises: two mock High Court hearings and two mock inquiries. Retired judges and senior members play judge and pupils “give them our best possible dry run of how we’d do these cases.” For the mock inquiries, chambers joins forces with an expert consultancy who act as expert witnesses. "We have to organise conferences with witnesses and prepare the case. It’s a really realistic mock inquiry.” After the exercise, pupils get feedback and a score – “the overriding feeling was that they want you to do well and do your best. No one was sat harshly judging you.”
There is also a written assessment where pupils are “given a member’s set of papers to draft an opinion on.” The tenancy decision is based around supervisors’ reports, the formal written and oral advocacy assessments, and formal feedback from other tenants for whom pupils have undertaken work. Every member then gets a vote and pupils need to get approval from 70% of chambers during their year to gain tenancy. “The thing is that we’ve grown a lot over the last ten years. Now it’s not feasible to get round to every member, so we have changed the requirement for a pupil to have undertaken work for everyone.” This approval system means there’s “constant scrutiny on your work – but that’s not always a bad thing. If I’ve done good work for someone, they get in touch with my supervisor and tell them about how good my work was.” Overall, pupils found the whole tenancy process “transparent – it was a great process to go through, a smooth as it could reasonably be.” At the time of publishing, FTB hadn't confirmed how many pupils made tenancy.
"It’s beneficial to have that environment where people are always talking to each other, popping into each other’s rooms, having lunch together and such.”
Pupils tend to work a 9am to 7pm day, but “when you’re working on assessments, you put in extra time.” We heard that “one of the great things with this area of law is you can control your diary quite well. You don’t tend to be briefed last-minute, it’s always weeks and months in advance. It allows you to control your working day a lot more.” When it comes to the culture, pupils told us that “it’s honestly very friendly. Everyone is brilliant and makes you feel respected.” Support is a key part of FTB living – “everyone’s willing to put in time to help you. It’s beneficial to have that environment where people are always talking to each other, popping into each other’s rooms, having lunch together and such.” Whilst working from home, members have stayed sociable by having regular Zoom meetings and “as lockdown lifted junior tenants organised a lovely brunch for us.”
FTB is involved in events with Bridging the Bar, a charity that helps people from diverse backgrounds enter the profession, and the Sutton Trust, a charity that fosters social mobility.
Francis Taylor Building
Francis Taylor Building,
- No of silks 23
- No of juniors 32
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Andrew Briton, 020 7353 8415
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages pa Two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies 2
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
Diversity, inclusion & wellbeing
Information can be found here: https://www.ftbchambers.co.uk/administration/access-bar-equal-opportunities-and-well-being
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Ecclesiastical Law (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Licensing (Band 1)
- Local Government (Band 3)
- Planning (Band 2)