Real estate expertise and an added pupillage vacancy make Tanfield hot property.
“People think property work is dry and stuffy, but it’s not, it’s something that affects everyone,” a Tanfield junior tenant reflected. “Unlike commercial law where people are used to litigating, a lot of our clients have never been in court before, which can be extremely stressful for them.” As a specialist property set, Tanfield is primarily known in real estate and property law, but chief executive Eamonn Kelly tells us: “We are getting more and more commercial, banking and mortgages work, for which we do have strong expertise too.” But if you’re not keen on property, this isn’t the place for you: about 80% of Tanfield’s work is focussed on the practice, with a bit of private client and commercial disputes thrown in for good measure.
“A lot of our clients have never been in court before, which can be extremely stressful for them.”
The set’s strength in real estate litigation is affirmed with a strong Chambers UK Bar ranking – several members have earned their own individual rankings in the practice too. One such individual, Christopher Heather QC, is representing Wagamama in its dispute with the developers of a shopping centre in Eastbourne, who are trying to enforce an agreement for the restaurant to take a lease of premises that are being built in an extension to the centre. On the residential side of things, Andrew Butler QC was called on in a dispute between two occupiers in a luxury block of flats in Kensington: Butler’s client attached a chandelier to the floor joists of the flat above, which was allegedly too heavy and prevented the upstairs occupiers from letting the flat.
Tanfield currently has just under 60 members and Kelly tells us the plan is to grow. “The state of the market suggests sets should retract pupillage, but we actually plan to increase our model,” says Kelly, before revealing: “We’ll be taking two pupils rather than one in 2022.” Reflecting on COVID-19, he says: “We’d had consecutive strong years of growth, then the pandemic hit. Luckily chambers was built on a strong, integral property model which has maintained and even today accelerated chambers’ growth.”
Unlike most sets, Tanfield doesn’t have clerks. Well, it does, but they’re known as practice managers. “Tanfield operates differently from other sets, where senior clerks traditionally manage everything from HR to finances, but we feel that those different aspects require different skill sets,” Kelly tells us. “We have specialists for marketing and HR, senior practice managers control day-to-day clerking activities and I control the general management of the set.”
The Pupillage Experience
Rather than following the traditional first and second six structure, Tanfield pupils get three supervisors throughout pupillage, spending four months with each. “You’re ringfenced from the rest of chambers for the first three months,” an interviewee explained, “so you only work for your supervisor, developing your written advocacy skills and observing hearings.” To mitigate any COVID-induced disruption to pupillage, the set’s sole pupil in 2021 was paired with supervisors who spent the most time working in chambers (which is on Chancery Lane). “It meant I could ask questions there and then,” the pupil told us (the junior members’ WhatsApp group also came in handy).
During the second seat, pupils encounter a mix of work from their supervisor and other members. They also attend court with junior members – physically or virtually – “to see the kinds of cases we’ll soon be doing ourselves.” This also forms part of preparation for the mid-term assessment, which pupils sit halfway through pupillage: “It’s usually some form of landlord-tenant written advocacy exercise.” To keep things interesting, pupils argue the opposite case in a mock hearing before members of chambers who "iron out any errors before we unleash the pupil on the public.” Pupils aren’t thrown in the deep end, though: in addition to informal feedback, there are formalised bimonthly meetings to review the work pupils have done in relation to the set’s competency matrices.
Junior members typically do a lot of possession work, which we heard can be tricky to deal with: “There can be a lot of raw emotion involved in evicting people from their homes.” On the flip side, “some tenants want the possession order so they can obtain alternative housing from the local authority” – and we heard members can see everything in between the two extremes!When the case involves a short tenancy, “the initial hearing only lasts 15 minutes. Initial possession hearings are good cases for a very junior property barrister because they are relatively straightforward.” Due to the pandemic, “government decisions meant possession work was either suspended or cancelled,” explains Kelly. “Luckily other elements of the practice picked up: property is a vast practice and there were a number of written pieces they could do instead.”
“I do hearings at least once a week.”
Despite the shortage in possession work, the latest pupil still got a real mix of work, including forfeiture and charging order hearings. Pupils begin representing clients six months into pupillage. “I do hearings at least once a week,” our interviewee estimated. “I was in the County Court recently on a service charge dispute.” The final seat comprises the same sort of work, but with a lot more court appearances.
Although the complexity of work inevitably increases between pupillage and tenancy, “the practice managers handle everything so well that you barely even notice it.” There was one key difference for this junior tenant though: “I didn’t do any led work as a pupil, but that changes when you get tenancy” – our interviewee had just been led by head of chambers Philip Rainey QC in the Court of Appeal representing 33 tenants in a service charge dispute, and at the time of writing was being led by another QC in a right of way dispute in the High Court. Much of the work members do in their first year of tenancy is shaped by their pupil supervisors’ practice: “My first supervisor did lots of probate, which I’ve continued with now I’m a tenant.”
The tenancy decision at Tanfield starts with a final written assessment (usually an opinion or application draft) before the pupillage committee gathers feedback from everyone the pupil worked with. The governance board then rubber-stamps the committee’s decision on the pupil, and then members vote on the decision.
On the culture side of things, a junior tenant recalled that “when you’re a pupil people stop and talk to you all the time.” Our pupil interviewee concurred that “even though most members work remotely, everyone’s still made an effort to come and say hello in person when they’ve come into chambers.Something that really stands out is that people know there would’ve been an open-door policy if we’d all been working in chambers, so they’ve told me to ring or email them whenever I want instead.” And luckily, Tanfield’s Friday drinks continued virtually: “It was a great way to meet members of chambersand created a sense of community in the first lockdown. Maybe I shouldn’t say that drinks were my favourite part of pupillage… but it’s a really happy memory!”
The Application Process
Tanfield isn’t part of Pupillage Gateway, but it follows the same timetable. Hopefuls start with an anonymised online application form: “It’s good because you can only put down three legal experiences, rather than everything you’ve ever done.” Members of the pupillage committee then score the application. An insider told us: “We all meet together afterward to make sure our marking is aligned.” Over 100 applications are whittled down to 25 at this stage.
“You don’t have to try to reinvent the wheel, rather show you can use logic to reach a sensible conclusion.”
Those applicants are then invited to an interview. Candidates are given half an hour to prepare a legal problem and an ethical problem, then discuss the issue with a panel of members: “It’s not necessarily a case of right or wrong answers, it’s more about seeing how you got to your conclusion.”
Next, the set emails the final five candidates a legal problem, which they have to provide an answer to by the end of the day. From there, one or two applicants are then offered pupillage. Our pupil interviewee shared: “The best tip I got when I applied for pupillage is to understand you don’t have to try to reinvent the wheel, rather show you can use logic to reach a sensible conclusion.”
Sound the Alarm
Pupils aren’t allowed to work before 8am or after 6pm: “I don’t know the door code so I’d set the alarm off if I try to work in chambers any later!”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)