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 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 included public figures such as Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Jeremy Paxman, David Gower and Gary Lineker.
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”. Commenting on the diversity of clientele, one member says: “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 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.
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. The set is currently running its two day mini-pupillages remotely.
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.