Property specialists with a “record year of growth” behind them and a progressive agenda for the future.
Tanfield Chambers pupillage review
From entry level to the top of the tree, our Tanfield interviewees agreed that “this is not a traditional set. We’re less worried about clinging on to the past; Tanfield is more modern and forward-looking.” Pupillage committee member Daniel Dovar expanded on this idea: “There is a lot that needs to be done to break down some of the perceptions surrounding the Bar; there’s a lot of lingo that’s difficult to shake but so unnecessary! Who else says I’m going to chambers, and not going to work?” He goes on to note that “it does feel a bit absurd that chambers don’t have meetings, we have ‘conferences’, and that we still have to go to court in wigs!”
Chambers chief executive Eamonn Kelly has more examples of Tanfield’s progressive agenda: “We don’t have a traditional model as we have three senior practice managers supported by practice managers who are led by the CEO. There’s no divide between the clerks and barristers - everyone calls each other by their first names.” Barristers' chambers in London are always on a mission to distance themselves from the profession's stuffy feel, but, having spent some time at Tanfield’s High Holborn premises, we can vouch for its lack of stuffiness.
“We’re less worried about clinging on to the past.”
Members were however keen to avoid being labelled ‘relaxed’, which comes with connotations of laziness and complacency. Far from resting on its laurels, Tanfield is very much in expansion mode; Kelly tells us: “2018 was a record-breaking year for the set. We’ve grown both in terms of revenue and our number of members – over the last few years we’ve gone from having one silk to four and now to seven.” Looking forward, it doesn’t seem like anybody’s going to hit the brakes on progress: “That’s not about laying more pressure on members. It’s about working smarter, not harder, and maximising the value for our clients.”
Tanfield is already recognised as one of London’s finer property sets by Chambers UK, which awards them a ranking for real estate litigation work. While property makes up 80% of the total workload,it’s not the only thing chambers does: complementary areas including matrimonial finance, professional negligence, public law and social housing. Members get solo rankings in each of these areas. Pupils were keen to stress that Tanfield’s work “definitely isn’t just buying and selling houses!” For example, Timothy Polli QC recently represented 61 houseboat owners in a dispute over Chelsea Yacht & Boat Club’s practice of charging both market-rate mooring fees and premiums on long-term mooring licences. Restaurant chain Wagamama instructed Christopher Heather QC in reaction to the attempted enforcement of a lease agreement in Eastbourne.
Some of the set’s work has a less strictly commercial dimension. Acting for Harrods, senior junior Michael Buckpitt secured an extension in the High Court on an injunction controlling the activities of animal rights protestors. ‘Party wall’ case specialist Nicholas Isaac worked for Lion Homes on an appeal against an award rising from the redevelopment of Brighton Dome.
The Pupillage Experience
Every pupil spends four months with three different supervisors over the course of their pupillage. “Most of them are property specialists but each has a slightly different focus and style of work,” one pupil explained. “My first one did a lot of enfranchisement work; my second real property and mortgages; and my third was mostly landlord and tenant work.” Entering pupillage can be a daunting prospect so pupils’ “first four months is completely ring-fenced,” Dovar makes clear. That means that “only in exceptional circumstances, such as if one is going to the Supreme Court, should pupils be doing work for other members of chambers.” Trainees will spend the early stages of pupillage attending conferences and trials, mirroring their supervisors, drafting pleadings and getting to grips with the day-to-day running of chambers.
Six months from starting, pupils complete one formal advocacy exercise and a written assessment. “You’re given a defence to draft – normally something property-related – before going in for a mock hearing, acting for the claimant on the other side.” Dovar explains that “it’s mainly to see that pupils are ready to begin standing on their own during their second six and it’s a good opportunity for us to give them pointers.”
“At one point I had an out of body experience while I was interviewing the witnesses!"
Responsibility quickly ramps during the second seat, the second half of which falls into the second six. That’s when pupils get on their feet in court: “Typically you start with possession hearings, which can be can be as quick as ten minutes.” Sources clarified that “you also do other types of applications including summary judgments, strikeouts and relief from sanctions.” One pupil recalled their first time handling their own case in a courtroom: “It turned out to be a more complicated Country Court case where I had to cross-examine the witness, prepare an application for relief from sanctions and complete a skeleton argument. My nerves were quite bad and at one point I had an out of body experience while I was interviewing the witnesses! Fortunately, the judge was lovely.” Another source explained that “the practice managers are really good when you move into your second six. They listen to what you’re comfortable with and give you a day’s prep between hearings if that’s what you need.”
Shortly before tenancy, another written exercise precedes a final interview. “It’s basically an assessed opinion for which you’re given a set of papers and have a week to write it up,” one junior reflected. “I think it’s mainly a test of your time management skills, making sure you can complete the paperwork while still attending hearings.” The committee gathers feedback from everybody a pupil's worked for (including solicitors and clerks) before making a recommendation to the governance board on whether or not they should make the cut. Chambers as a whole makes the final vote. At the time of writing, one pupil had secured tenancy in 2020.
The Application Process
Our interviewees were appreciative of Tanfield’s custom application process, which takes place outside the Pupillage Gateway: “Tanfield restricts what you’re allowed to put down. You’re only allowed to include three examples of work experience, which makes your application more focused; I found when applying to other sets that it wasn’t clear how many you should list.” Dovar also explains that an application to Tanfield “needs to demonstrate an understanding of what we do here.” He clarifies that candidates don’t need to know everything about property law: “We don’t expect them to have a deep understanding of enfranchisement or what the difference between a 999-year and a 76-year lease is.”
From the initial 100 or so who apply, around 25 candidates are invited back for the first interview stage. They’re given a basic legal question: it could be based on “anything that tends to have a legal framework, can be quickly picked up, and has a structure.” Previous questions have covered nuisance claims and injunctions. Dovar explains that chambers is “looking for the ability to quickly assimilate information and present it concisely.”
"There’s much more to cut your teeth on at the junior end.”
This is followed by a more general interview covering candidates’ motivations for applying and their experience, plus ethical questions to test their moral compass. Only five candidates are invited back to the second stage: at 9am they’re given a property-related question based on work one of the members has done. By 4pm they have to submit a legal opinion. Those who’d made the cut in the past advised “planning well, the time goes quickly!” A maximum of two candidates progress to pupillage.
It was Tanfield’s property specialism that drew recent pupils to the chambers’ doors. As one explained: “It’s one of the few areas of law where you still get to go to court on a regular basis, but there are also a lot of academic contractual issues.” Another junior expanded: “Not to be disparaging, but it’s not like other areas of law where you’re never in court… or when you are, you’re sitting behind a leading silk. There’s much more to cut your teeth on at the junior end.”
Locked out of heaven
Pupils don’t work any longer than 6pm: “We’re not given the code to get into the building even if we wanted to!”
2-5 Warwick Court,
- No of silks 7
- No of juniors 52
- 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
Types of work undertaken