5 Stone Buildings

The Legal Cheek View

Despite having just 37 tenants, including 9 silks, 5 Stone Buildings has quietly amassed one of the stronger capabilities at the chancery bar. The set is regularly instructed on a variety of interesting matters, offering a mix of high-profile and complex work. 5 Stone Buildings do traditional chancery work, with clients usually being individuals, and practise the areas of inheritance, offshore, trusts, court of protection, pensionsm, art & cultural property, property and tax, among others, are the cornerstone practices.

While some barristers here focus on litigation, others do more non-contentious work, with the set defining themselves as experts not generalists. Cases often include “juicy facts”, meaninging “the Daily Mail loves reporting on our cases”, says one member in the 2021-22 Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey. Members at the set were involved in litigation surrounding the estate of the british painter, Lucian Freud. Penelope Reed QC and Hugh Cumber were the first to go to the Supreme Court with a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 in Ilott v Mitson. With the set’s strength in art and cultural property, Henry Legge QC and Luke Harris helped establish outright ownership of a valuable medieval Islam rock crystal jar.

Barristers at the set have also worked on high profile tax avoidance cases. Sam Chandler worked as junior counsel for HMRC regarding the Ingenious Scheme, in which investors used tax breaks designed to help stimulate the UK film industry to avoid tax. This litigation attracted sizeable media attention, not just for the £800 million tax bill at stake, but because investors in the scheme reportedly included public figures such as Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Jeremy Paxman, David Gower and Gary Lineker.

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Recent cases include Mark Blackett-Ord and William East appearing in a High Court will forgery claim with the value of Indian and English estates worth in the region of £35 million, Oliver Marre and Amanda Hardy QC appearing in a case in which anonymity and reporting restrictions were granted, and David Rees QC and Hugh Cumber were successful in the Supreme Court  “Staveley Case”, concerning the inheritance tax treatment of transfers between pension schemes and omissions to take pension benefits.

Commenting on the work on offer, one member says: “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 has to 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.”

There are “definitely periods of hard work” at 5 Stone Buildings, the pandemic having far from dampened activity in the set’s practice areas. However one insider reveals: “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 does a lot of written advice meaning members can balance work around life, alongside the advisory work which allows a “real breather from fighting in court”. We are told pre-pandemic, home working was very much possible. 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”. It also helps the areas of work undertaken are well paid.

5 Stone Buildings has 9 QCs including Amanda Hardy QC, chair of the Chancery Bar and David Rees QC, chair of the Court of Protection Bar Association. Past members include a former Supreme Court Justice and High Court judges. The set is large enough for there to always be a good number of people around, but small enough for everyone to know everyone well. The “extremely supportive” colleagues is “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”. A junior WhatsApp group was set up during the pandemic which is apparently filled with questions, answers and general chit-chat.

Turning to pupillages at 5 Stone Buildings, the set offers just a single pupillage each year. The chosen one benefits from at least three supervisors and experiences a “diverse” range of briefs, with a “nice mix of advisory and contentious”. The work is “complex and high-value” enough to provide “excitement,” but not so technically intricate to be beyond rookies. During the 12 month training period, pupils will develop drafting skills, build knowledge of chancery law and observe conferences and hearings. Second six pupils do not tend to undertake much of their own work, as the focus here is on learning. Pupils recruited by the set often have substantial high-level legal experience prior to joining. Simon Douglas worked as an associate professor of law at Oxford University, for example.

With the areas of law practised at the set being quite specialised, everyone is said to be aware that a pupil in chambers has a lot to learn. Members “set aside a very generous amount of time and effort for training pupils”. One former rookie 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.

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 with one member saying “it’s very nice to just be able to ring up the clerks and ask for help. I am well aware that many self-employed people do not have that kind of support”. There is also a “smart” annexe, however, nothing can ever be perfect — only the clerks have air conditioning.

The social life is said to be “one of the great things about 5 Stone Buildings”. “You don’t just come in and keep to your room”, one insider tells us. People are always popping their heads through the door or congregating by the kettle here, with it being “a real privilege to be able to laugh so much with other people at work”. Tenants enjoy daily teas and frequent lunches. There is also “nearly always someone who is up for a drink after work”.

The set has been actively developing its corporate social responsibility involvement in recent years, assisted through its partnership with the Heart of the City Programme which conducted an audit of its work in this area. Members have contributed to several initiatives including the Chancery Bar Association’s ‘Step into law and More’ programme, headed up by Amanda Hardy QC, whereby school students from non-traditional backgrounds will be mentored, with the “aim of helping them to realise the aspiration of entering into a professional career such as law”. The set also offers work experience to sixth former students from non-traditional backgrounds through the Bar Placement Scheme.

5 Stone Buildings looks for pupillage candidates with career motivation, intellectual ability, communication skills and personal qualities. It has taken on the “vast majority” of pupils in recent years. Achievements of applicants are also put into “the context in which they were gained”. First round interviews are competency based, and if successful, candidates are invited to an assessment day which includes an “informal lunch” with junior members. Just how informal, we aren’t sure.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Tomos Rees

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!

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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!

Deadlines

Mini-Pupillage

March 2023
Applications close 15/01/2023

Pupillage

Applications open 04/01/2023
Applications close 08/02/2023

Mini-Pupillage

June 2023
Applications close 15/04/2023

Mini-Pupillage

October 2023
Applications close 15/08/2023

Insider Scorecard

A*
Training
A*
Quality of work
A*
Colleagues
B
Facilities
A*
Work/life balance
A
Social life
B
Legal Tech

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to C and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2022-3 completed by barristers at the set.

Key Info

Juniors 30
KCs 9
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 4/5

*Figure is for the five most junior members of chambers; does not include postgraduate studies.

Money

Pupillage award £60,000
BPTC advance drawdown £15,000

Diversity

Female juniors undisclosed
Female KCs undisclosed
BME juniors undisclosed
BME KCs undisclosed