5 Stone Buildings
The Legal Cheek View
Despite having just 39 tenants, including 9 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.”
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 Penelope Reed KC acting for the Respondent in the first proprietary estoppel case to reach the Supreme Court; Ruth Hughes and Tomos Rees representing HMRC in a case considering a subcontracting company’s involvement in the allocation of funds raised under an EIS share subscription; and Henry Legge KC and Eliza Eagling successfully defending an art dealer in a professional negligence claim involving a painting by 18th-century French painter, Jean-Baptise-Siméon.
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, though some improvements are desired by tenants. 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 offers two pupillages per year, each with an award of £65,000. 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.
What The Junior Barristers Say
Your journey to pupillage
I studied for an undergraduate law degree (although it is worth noting that a large number of barristers in chambers instead completed the graduate diploma in law). I then worked as an editor on the law reports of several overseas jurisdictions, including the Cayman Islands and the Channel Islands. I then studied for the Bachelor of Civil Law degree at Oxford before doing the Bar Training Course at BPP.
I did quite a large number of mini-pupillages: perhaps 9 or 10. While doing that many isn’t a requirement, I found that it was a really good way to learn more about what a chambers was like. It’s surprising how much you pick up over the course of a couple of days! My mini at 5 Stone Buildings was a standout—I enjoyed that everyone seemed more social and happy to have a chat, rather than just being chained to their desks.
I also volunteered with the Free Representation Unit in the social security and employment tribunals before applying for the Bar Training Course so that I had a bit of experience of preparing a case and advocacy, as well as dealing with clients. I’d recommend FRU as good way of getting some real experience of what being a barrister involves!
The pupillage experience
As I mentioned above, I was really drawn to 5 Stone from my mini-pupillage at I found that it was a friendly set with a more relaxed atmosphere. The nature of the work was also a big plus for me: a genuine mix of work that involves human interest and complex legal problems, and responsibility for a large number of your own cases alongside being led.
The format of pupillage is pretty standard: four three-month periods, each with a different supervisor. This is a good way to get to grips with the range of work chambers does. One of your supervisors might spend more time in court (including the Court of Protection) and another might expose you more to advisory work involving trusts and taxation. Overall, I saw an incredible range of work, from mediations involving warring siblings, giving advice on the construction of a will or a trust deed, to a hard-fought case involving the authenticity of various artworks.
Most of the training comes by way of shadowing your supervisors and completing work for them. It’s a tried and tested method, and I found everyone was more than ready to help me and to give feedback on work. Chambers has also introduced some formal assessments to the pupillage process: an advocacy exercise (with a practice exercise beforehand) and a written exercise. While these might sound daunting, they are genuinely a good way to get some practice in before having to do the real thing! Again, everyone was really supportive and made it as stress-free as it could be.
In theory, pupillage is non-practising for the full 12 months, but I found towards the end of my second six I started picking up a bit of my own work. This made for a good transition from pure pupillage to practice and the ‘soft launch’ meant that I’m not quite so lost now that I’m the junior tenant.
Overall, the idea behind pupillage in chambers is to get you ready for practice (though, even then, other members of chambers are more than happy to help you out). The focus is on you developing the skills and knowledge that you need, rather than being weighed and judged for a year.
The transition from pupil to tenant
As easy as could be! There is always someone around to answer any questions I have, from the basic to the esoteric. The great deal of exposure that I was given over the course of the year to chambers’ various practice areas also means that I usually have a rough idea of where to look for the starting point to tackle a new case, even if it takes a large amount of time and effort to get from there to a solution! The clerks have also made sure that I have a steady stream of work at the right level on which to cut my teeth. While I think the transition is always going to be pretty stark, chambers had given me a great environment in which to take the final step into life as a fully fledged barrister!
What is your practice like now?
I’m at the very start of practice, but already things are a bit of a mix. For example, I’ve advised on: a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows eligible individuals to bring a claim against an estate if no reasonable financial provision has been made for them on a person’s death; the rules on who is entitled to a grant of letters of administration on an intestacy; and whether a trust should be set up to provide for a family member, the structure of the trust, and the law on taxation of trusts. This limb of chambers’ work usually involves helping individual clients with quite difficult problems (both factually and legally).
Chambers’ work normally means that members aren’t always in court. Having said that, I have an application for pre-action disclosure coming up and starting out there are opportunities to get on your feet!
I’m also assisting on a couple of led cases for HMRC in the tax tribunals to determine entitlement to reliefs in tax legislation as part of the Attorney General’s junior junior panel. This work involves pretty pure legal analysis, delving into the legislation and cases which have interpreted it, and applying it to quite complex facts. It also offers a good chance to be involved in large-scale litigation and work as part of a large team.
What is the culture of chambers?
At the risk of excessively banging the drum, the culture in chambers is supportive, close and friendly. This is helped by the fact that chambers is comparatively small and a large number of juniors come in regularly. Everyone is ready to help out with any work problems you have, as well as just going for a coffee or a drink, or listening at the end of a rough day. While work sometimes becomes full-on, people in chambers are well aware that work isn’t everything and that downtime is important. There are plenty of social events as well as more casually grabbing lunch and coffee. The clerks and staff are also incredible and make sure you have all the support you need!
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
I’d strongly recommend coming in to do a mini-pupillage if possible. While it is by no means compulsory for applying for pupillage, it gives a good snapshot of life in chambers and the work we do.
I’d also recommend reading the pupillage qualities and abilities guidance, which is available on the website, and thinking about ways that you can demonstrate how you satisfy the abilities and qualities set out there in your application. Think carefully as well about why you want to do the work that chambers does!