Despite having just 39 tenants, including nine silks, 5 Stone Buildings has quietly amassed one of the stronger capabilities at the chancery bar. With its key strengths lying in traditional chancery, tax, pensions, and Court of Protection work, several members also work in areas such as professional negligence, art and cultural property, and even ecclesiastical law. A go-to set for clients, it should also be at the top of the list for any aspiring traditional chancery barristers, especially given its high ratings in training and quality of work.
As a traditional chancery set, the work carried out by tenants at 5 Stone Buildings tends to focus on problems facing individuals rather than companies. Commenting on this aspect of the work, one tenant tells us: “everything I do involves a person or a family or, very occasionally, an interesting object. You learn all about the family dynamic and (for example) the heirloom that everyone is fighting over.” This human interest is then combined with complex law, sometimes centuries old, which must be “traced through hilariously antiquated judgments”. Reflecting on the diverse clientele, another member tells us: “I might be acting for a very wealthy aristocrat one week, then an extremely vulnerable client in Court of Protection proceedings the next, then someone who desperately needs the small legacy they have been left under a will.” A junior jokes, “our clients may not always be charming but they’re always interesting”.
While some barristers at 5 Stone Buildings focus on litigation, others do more non-contentious work. Whether it be disputes concerning the administration of estates or advising on taxation of works of art, the set is regularly instructed on a variety of interesting matters, offering a mix of high-profile and complex work. We are told that cases often include “juicy facts”, meaning “the Daily Mail loves reporting on our cases!” Of course, it won’t always be exciting stuff. One junior at the set tells us that the quality of the work on offer is “very variable, but it is always satisfying to solve others’ problems and earn gratitude”.
Some case highlights from the past year include Ruth Hughes acting in a case raising questions regarding the validity of certain provisions within Lasting Power of Attorneys, such as whether “should” constitutes a binding instruction, Penelope Reed KC and Elis Comer successfully working together on a proprietary estoppel claim, and three members appearing in a Court of Appeal case centred on revocation clauses in wills.
Whatever tenants at the set are working on, there are inevitably “periods of hard work”. However, one tenant at the set tells us: “I genuinely think that the area of work we do is one of the best kept secrets at the bar in terms of work/life balance”. Members will of course work hard when coming up to trial, “but that only happens occasionally rather than all the time”. The set’s work involves a lot of written advice meaning members can balance work around life and take a “real breather from fighting in court”. One member thinks this is a reason why the set has “so many wildly successful women in chambers who have had multiple children, and have stayed at the bar and gone on to take silk”.
On top of the good work-life balance, the “extremely supportive” colleagues are “one of the many upsides to 5 Stone Buildings”, with members known to be generous with their time and knowledge. This promotes “a real culture of bouncing ideas off each other”, helped by the fact “you will be able to speak to someone who is the go-to person in the relevant area of law”. Chambers tea and WhatsApp groups are popular places for tenants, especially juniors, to ask questions of one another. All in all, “doors are always open, right up to and including the head of chambers”.
Tenants at 5 Stone Buildings also frequently socialise with one another, especially the juniors. People are always popping their heads through the door or congregating by the kettle, with it being “a real privilege to be able to laugh so much with other people at work”. One insider tells us: “there is something social happening most weeks. It’s always good fun, and not too work/case orientated”. Regular events are supplemented by “frequent spur-of-the-moment quick drinks at the end of the day”, we are told.
In terms of 5 Stone Buildings’ premises itself, the set is based in a Georgian stone building within the confines of Lincoln’s Inn. The outside is “beautiful and historic”, and still bears the marks of wartime air raids. The inside is what you would expect: high ceilings, cool rooms, old furniture with traditional decor — chancery barrister style. One member says: “it’s a million miles away from a sweaty open plan office, but it’s not quite like a sleek city boardroom either”. Apparently, some members like to keep wine in their room and hang up art, while others keep it more minimalist. Conference rooms are light and neutral with all the modern features. Clerks and out-of-chambers support provide IT help. Whilst there are “small mishaps, there is a very competent and highly responsive team”. There is also a “smart” annexe, however, nothing can ever be perfect — only the clerks have air conditioning.
For those sold on traditional chancery, 5 Stone Buildings is offering one pupillage for 2024, with an award of £75,000. Over the course of the pupillage year, pupils will sit with four different supervisors, each of whom will have a different focus to their practice, enabling pupils to gain experience in a range of work. The work is “complex and high-value” enough to provide “excitement,” but not so technically intricate to be beyond those new to chancery law. During the 12-month training period, pupils will develop drafting skills, build knowledge of chancery law, and observe conferences and hearings. Unlike at many other sets, second six pupils at 5 Stone Buildings do not tend to undertake their own work, as the focus here is on getting up to scratch in the specialist areas in which chambers practices.
We hear from current and recent pupils that tenants “set aside a very generous amount of time and effort for training pupils”. One former pupil tells us: “there is nothing quite like undertaking live or dead work then having it appraised by your supervisor — an expert — and getting very detailed feedback (everyone in chambers likes details!)”. With such attention paid to pupils’ work, they “learn a phenomenal amount in a short space of time”. The training is also said to be very supportive, with no culture of putting unnecessary pressure on pupils.
Those looking to apply for pupillage at 5 Stone Buildings should make their application through the Pupillage Gateway. Following the paper sift, shortlisted candidates will be sent a case study to complete. Those who impress will be invited to a first-round interview in front of two members of chambers. The interview will focus on key competencies. The final stage of the application process is an assessment day which takes place with a larger panel of members of chambers, and also provides an opportunity to learn more about the set.
5 Stone Buildings state that they are looking for candidates who can demonstrate intellectual ability, career motivation, communication skills, and personal qualities such as teamwork and organisational skills. The set has been actively developing its corporate social responsibility involvement in recent years. Members have contributed to several initiatives including the Chancery Bar Association’s ‘Step into Law and More’ programme, whereby school students from non-traditional backgrounds are mentored. The set also offers work experience to sixth form students from non-traditional backgrounds through the Bar Placement Scheme.