Francis Taylor Building is a leading planning and licensing law set. It is home to 55 members, of whom 23 are QCs including two associate and two academic members. It offers two pupillages per year, each with an award of £65,000. This set has a strong reputation in planning, land valuation, infrastructure, environmental, local government, licensing, religious liberty and ecclesiastical law and regulatory crime. Its members have worked on cases involving everything from wind farms, mines, social housing and the controversial, but ultimately never-to-be, London Garden Bridge.
This set often takes on cases where the issue is the subject of a fiercely fought public campaign or will have an impact far beyond the parties involved. Recent examples include HS2, Heathrow Airport’s third runway and acting for the appellants in the Supreme Court challenge of the government’s voter ID plans. Jeremy Phillips QC assisted the Manchester Arena Inquiry and three members were involved in the public inquiry of the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial, which secured planning permission to be located next to the Houses of Parliament. Clients include nightclubs, festival organisers, developers, local authorities and government bodies. With such a high calibre of work coming through its doors, is it any wonder one member tells us: “I have never been bored on a single day during the years I have worked at FTB”.
Work/life balance is not easy, or consistent, at the bar, but barristers at FTB have the autonomy to choose how many cases they take on. While some members work long and hard, one says this is because they “keep saying ‘yes’ to work because it is so interesting!”, with another adding: “I probably work too hard and for too long, but I am self-employed and have to make hay while the sun shines”. There is also “no pressure at all” from the “best clerks” to take on work you are not interested in.
Pupillage at FTB is “well structured” and split into four-month periods, with three different supervisors. You can expect to read your supervisors’ instructions, conduct research, draft pleadings and opinions as well as follow your supervisors to court and conferences. You will also be given the opportunity to attend seminars conducted by members of chambers. After the first four months, pupils are expected to do work for other tenants. In the second six, pupils take on their own work and may be on their feet in a variety of courts, tribunals and inquiries.
During the training year, pupils will complete several formal advocacy and written exercises, which include learning how to cross examine expert witnesses. One former pupil says, “I had first class pupil supervisors who went the extra mile to teach the ‘soft skills’ needed to succeed”, while another tells us how their “brilliant pupil master” taught them “everything about presentation and licensing”. Beyond pupillage, the “very high quality” training continues, and consists of regular seminars and round tables on relevant areas of practice.
Overall, the set has a “warm, family-esque atmosphere” where “all colleagues are super supportive, without exception”. Members are known to congratulate each other on appointments and good cases. Commenting on the support of colleagues, one FTB tenant says: “On a day to day basis, members will be helpful with giving their views on any legal issues about which the individual may have no experience or want a second opinion. On occasions members will go out of their way to assist with problems, whatever they may be”. During the pandemic, senior clerks made a point of calling every member to check in and catch up. Another tells us: “I have always been able to knock on the door of a colleague’s room or ring them up to ask for help. This applies across all levels of seniority”.
Francis Taylor Building is based in “the single best building in the Temple”, according to one member, with the calm and studious atmosphere helping set members up for the day ahead. Built in 1957, replacing buildings destroyed by the Blitz, some rooms are particularly attractive with views of the Temple Church and the Master’s secret garden, and all benefit from large, open sash windows. Despite the confines of a listed building, the layout is “modern and up to date”, with client-facing areas said to be “excellent and air-conditioned”. One insider responding to the Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey 2021-22 says several rooms could do with a refurbishment, with some plug sockets apparently located in very odd places. Technology is “adequate” but adapting, with the installment of more video conferencing facilities and the set “always looking to improve”.
With the average working hours being par for the course at 50-59 hours, some fun is required. You can look forward to Christmas dinner, impromptu as well as organised monthly drinks evenings, and the opportunity to take lunch and tea in chambers. Chambers tea moved online during the pandemic which is said to have been well attended every day. That said, you certainly won’t find yourself press-ganged into Friday night drinks. In the words of one former pupil, “everyone is very friendly, but people keep themselves to themselves. A lot of members work from home, and they live all over the country”, which bodes well for any rookie looking to escape the hustle and bustle of London at some point.
FTB is a founding member of the charity Bridging the Bar, which is “committed to the promotion of equal opportunities and diversity” at the bar. The set has a partnership with the Sutton Trust – a group which works with 16-18-year-olds from less advantaged backgrounds – and also runs an annual mooting competition, with the 2020 final judged by the former Supreme Court judge, Lord Kerr, who has sadly since passed away.
To reach the first round of interviews, pupillage applicants should demonstrate “academic achievement and intellectual ability” as well as “advocacy experience and achievement”. The set also looks at applicants’ non-legal work, wider interests and life experience. To get a flavour for chambers life, it offers approximately 40 unassessed mini-pupillages each year. Tenancy is nearly always offered to pupils on completion: since 2012, FTB has recruited 15 tenants from its pupil pool.