Tanfield Chambers - True Picture

Steadily building up its handsome property practice, Tanfield has a no-nonsense expansion blueprint.

Build it and they will come

Once upon a time (2001, to be exact), two Temple sets tied the knot before running away together to Holborn to start a cosy new life as generalist common law Tanfield Chambers. The present-day incarnation specialises largely in real estate work, housing a team that's been humming along nicely in the past few years. CEO Eamonn Kelly tells us: “We've recently taken on five juniors and continue our expansion through lateral hires; we currently have four QCs and plan to increase this significantly over the next few years. We don't want to grow for the sake of it, we want to bring in the right people with a property focus.”

Tanfield's foundations rest firmly in property: of the set's 60 or so members, the majority practise solely within this field. It's not all bricks and mortar though, as the set also has a hand in complementary areas like employment, professional negligence and private client. The set's only Chambers UK ranking is for its property work, but note that 21 members pick up individual rankings spanning eight practice areas. Our sources were keen to emphasise the range of work chambers takes on, including “a good mix of tribunal and court cases.” A growing base of solicitors provides Tanfield with lay clients of every shape and size, from large corporations seeking right to light easements to aggrieved neighbours duelling over the boundaries of their gardens.

“A good mix of tribunal and court cases.”

At one end of the spectrum, head of chambers Philip Rainey QC recently argued successfully for a squatter's rights to a £400,000 house, a case which sparked fevered reactions in the tabloid press; at the other end, leasehold enfranchisement specialist Michael Buckpitt represented house-building giant Taylor Wimpey in a right of way dispute related to former Ministry of Defence land. Other recent matters include Kerry Bretherton QC acting for a transgender woman suing the Department for Work and Pensions for refusing to pay her a state pension from age 60, and senior junior Andrew Butler representing a victorious tenant in a residential lease insurance squabble.

Wannabe pupils tend to have been on the hunt for a Chancery pupillage, rather than a real estate gig specifically, when their search led them to Tanfield's door. “I was initially impressed by the good balance of interesting and specialist work the set does,” one recent tenant reminisced, “and then when I came in for interviews everyone was so friendly. I knew pupillage was going to be testing, so it's reassuring to do it somewhere you get on with people.”

Don't risk it for a biscuit

Summarising the application process as “rigorous and no-nonsense, like chambers itself,” those who have previously braved it revealed “there were no silly questions like 'if you were a biscuit, which one would you be?' Instead, it was all focused on the way you think.” The set recruits outside the Gateway. Around 100 candidates complete a straightforward initial application each year. The pupillage committee invites roughly 25 prospects to an initial interview, split into a first part centred on their CV and motivations and a second discussing a legal problem. Sources stressed: “The interview process is designed so you don't need to know specific legal principles.” Successful candidates progress to an assessment day (this was previously a two-day mini-pupillage, but this has been changed for 2018). The day consists of a written exercise where “you're sent into the library with a laptop,” before a “rigorous” final interview. Tanfield takes on a maximum of two pupils a year, but sometimes plumps for just one.

“An interest in property law” is the first trait a prospective pupil should have, our sources said. “That and having a logical mind, as it's a particularly logic-focused area.” Kelly says that while good academic credentials are a must, “it's important to have your own interests that make you a unique candidate.” The pupillage committee is also “really keen on candidates that understand marketing. That comes in useful when you're bringing in your own business as a tenant down the line.”

“It's a particularly logic-focused area.”

It's also important to gel with the culture Tanfield has established. Director of pupillage Dan Dovar tells us: “We're a sociable set and look for personalities that fit with that.” Our inside sources explained: “The culture here is friendly and straightforward. There's nothing pretentious about Tanfield, but you've got to pull your weight when it comes to the work.” That said, pupils stick to a fairly strict 9am to 6pm working day, and “there's a brilliant rule” to keep eager beavers from working too hard: “You're not allowed into the building before 8.30am, and have to leave before lock-up at 7pm, so there's no temptation to stay too late.” Members unwind and chew the fat at weekly 5pm Friday drinks, while juniors often organise their own curry nights. And although this is by some measures a Chancery set, “there's no chambers tea or anything like that.”

Tanfield of dreams

Pupils rotate through three four-month seats, each with a different supervisor. They spend their first six months “very much protected – if another member of chambers wants you to help with something, your supervisor has to sign off on it.” Seats aren't defined by particular practice areas, but a hefty amount of real estate work is guaranteed. “I did all property matters for the first eight months of pupillage,” one interviewee revealed. “The first few months are very research-based, focused on deepening your knowledge in the area.” Opinion drafting and court visits fill the rest of the schedule, and Tanfield hosts “very good in-house seminars and conferences” which pupils are strongly encouraged to attend.

In their second six pupils get up on their feet, taking on their own cases with looser ties to their supervisor. Sources told us that possession claims are the “bread and butter in the early days,” before a move towards small commercial cases. The final months of pupillage especially involve “lots of advocacy – that's a big draw of working here.” An interviewee recalled: “It's not as daunting as I expected, if you're thrown a curveball on a case – and you will be – you're always able to call on someone.” By this stage, pupils are also more likely to work for members other than their supervisor in order to broaden their experience.

“Lots of advocacy – that's a big draw of working here.”

Pupils are encouraged to keep a diary listing their work and summaries of the feedback from each task. “Feedback is very much a conversation – it's constant, you get it on everything you do,” we heard. There's one formal advocacy exercise and one written assessment six months in – the latter is “usually based on a possession or forfeiture cases” according to Dovar. The advocacy exercise is “the more daunting” of the two, interviewees said, but “really useful practice before going to court for the first time.” When Tanfield has two pupils, they're pitted against each other in a mock hearing.

Shortly before tenancy, another written exercise precedes a final interview, in which “the pupillage committee drill down into your work in minute detail.” The committee gathers feedback from every member a pupil's worked for, as well as solicitors and clerks, before making a recommendation to the governance board on whether or not they should make the cut; a meeting of all members of chambers takes the final vote. In 2018 the set's single pupil successfully gained tenancy.

Tanfield Chambers owns its own Holborn premises, and members can invest their pensions in the property. Safe as houses!

Tanfield Chambers

2-5 Warwick Court,
Website www.tanfieldchambers.co.uk

  • No of silks 6
  • No of juniors 60
  • No of pupils 1
  • Contact Daniel Dovar, [email protected]
  • Method of application Application details on chambers' website under recruitment
  • Pupillages (pa) Up to two 12-month pupillages
  • Tenancies Up to 2

Chambers profile

Tanfield is a leading, specialist property set and a ‘force to be reckoned with’ in real estate litigation. Operating from its own, member-owned premises just outside Gray’s Inn, Tanfield adopts a flexible and ‘unfussy’ approach, and is committed to excellent client care. All members, from its silks to its ‘junior juniors’ pride themselves on being open, friendly and approachable and are supported by a responsive and helpful practice management team.

Types of work undertaken

The core of Tanfield’s work is real estate litigation, including commercial and residential landlord and tenant, mortgages and securities, leasehold enfranchisement, right to manage, contractual sale of land, development agreements, overage, agricultural law, easements, public rights of way, restrictive covenants, boundary disputes, party walls, rights of light, trusts of land, service charges and social housing. The work extends into professional negligence, commercial and ADR, and administrative law. Tanfield also has a complimentary private client practice dealing with trusts, matrimonial and Court of Protection work.

Pupil profile

Chambers is committed to recruiting, on a strictly equal opportunities basis, pupils with a strong academic background and with a demonstrable commitment to a career at the Bar. Candidates are expected to have a first or good second class degree. 


Divided into three periods of four months with different pupil supervisors. Pupils will gain experience of a variety of courts and tribunals as well the opportunity to work with as many members of chambers as possible. During their second six months, pupils can expect to be on their feet regularly. Their work will consist mainly of possession claims and interim applications. Other likely work could include small claim trials, fast track trials and tribunal work. 


Chambers offers one mini-pupillage a week, save for Christmas and New Year, when we have a break. Application details can be found on our website under 'Recruitment'.

Funding, sponsorship and awards

Pupils will receive an award of £60,000, of which half is by way of guaranteed earnings from their second six. £15,000 of the award is available, on request, during the BPTC year. 

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2018

Ranked Departments

    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)