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When it comes to property law, Tanfield Chambers is one of the biggest names in the business. Having particular expertise in real estate litigation, the tenants take on some of the biggest cases in this area. Made up of 48 barristers, including six KCs, Tanfield is a set looking to grow, with a higher-than-usual three pupillages on offer this coming application round. If property law appeals to you, this should be one of the top chambers on your list.
Tenants find themselves working on matters ranging from lease disputes to property damage, development issues to trusts of land. Whatever the issue, if it involves property, Tanfield will have someone who can jump on the case. Whilst land law is not always the most popular subject amongst law students, practicing property law is very different to the academic side. Tenants are keen to emphasise how interesting their work is, on both a factual and a legal level.
Barristers find themselves representing everyone “from local authority tenants to CEOs of multinational corporations,” one source tells us. The range of clients helped to keep the work varied and exciting. Often, there is a real “sense of responsibility” as the outcome of a case that you are working on can have an enormous impact on someone’s life. For example, juniors often find themselves doing possession work, which can see people evicted from their homes. This can obviously be emotionally challenging work.
When it comes to legal interest, insiders tell us that property work provides “constant intellectual engagement”. As one barrister explains: “property law is endlessly interesting, and often a case can turn on a small point of construction”. For those law students who have enjoyed technical analysis, property law may suit them perfectly. It is certainly not for the faint of heart: a junior at the set summarises that property law is “a very technical but very satisfying area to work in” whilst another concurs that it is “difficult and time-consuming but almost never boring”.
Given their reputation in the market, Tanfield’s barristers often work on some of the biggest cases in property law. The past year alone has seen Mark Loveday and Mattie Green appear in an appeal against the largest reported service charge bill demanded for an individual flat (an eye-watering £430,411.50!); Katie Gray successfully represent the appellant in acrimonious trusts litigation in the High Court; and Andrew Butler KC appear in a high-profile case involving a multimillionaire who sued his wine tycoon neighbour for putting up shutters rather than curtains in his £3.2 million Kensington flat. Excitingly, it also saw Loveday and Amanda Gourlay appear in the first ‘right to manage’ case to reach the Supreme Court. Impressive stuff!
Whilst property is certainly the jewel in Tanfield’s crown, there are some other practice areas worked on by tenants. Banking and finance, professional negligence, and commercial disputes are examples of growing areas at the set. There are also tenants working in completely different areas such as matrimonial finance. Recent non-property cases have included Andrew Butler KC winning a trial of issues of liability and causation in respect of a significant fire at an oil recycling site in Essex. Property does, however, remain at the crux of the set, and any aspiring pupil should have a property focus.
Given that they are a property set, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there are plans for a refurb of Tanfield’s own premises. We are told by some insiders that this is much needed. Whilst the rooms are “large and comfortable”, chambers is said to be “a bit tired after 13 years” and “in need of a spruce up”. The IT provided has also recently been upgraded to support “seamless” working from any location, something which is essential in the age of working from home. We are also told that there is plenty of tech support available if you ever have a problem.
Speaking of working from home, it seems that this has continued as a trend post-Covid. Insiders tells us that there are less people coming into chambers than before, which does have an impact on the social life at the set. Prior to Covid, we are told that it was “common to have lunch with colleagues every day” and that “there was always someone knocking about for a pint in the evening”. Social life is less strong now, but the friendly and supportive nature has remained. Juniors describe it as “a strong group” with “lots of people who go out of their way to provide time, advice, and support when you have a tricky legal problem”. Even if they are not coming into chambers, this support is provided over Microsoft Teams. Indeed, the supportive nature of the set is one of its biggest strengths.
When it comes to work-life balance, it is inevitably a struggle at the bar. As one junior puts it: “I work very long hours but that is the job”. Another adds that it is the “usual tightrope between maintaining a good practice and sleep”. The balance does, however, appear to be better at Tanfield than at many other leading sets. One tenant confides: “I have plenty of work, but I also get to collect my children from school most days” and adds that they are “very happy with the balance at Tanfield”. We also hear that pupils are forbidden from working in chambers beyond 6pm!
Speaking of pupillage, those lucky enough to secure it at Tanfield can expect to sit with three supervisors throughout the course of the year, allowing them to see a range of work. During the first six, you will focus on improving skills such as opinion writing as well as observing your supervisors and other members of chambers in court. In the second six, you can expect to be on your feet, taking on small cases such as possession work. One junior at the set tells us that “the practising second-six is a great way to cut your teeth while still having the support of your supervisor”. The training during pupillage is generally highly-rated, with past pupils saying that it “set them up well” for tenancy.
Those considering applying should make their application through the set’s own application form – they are not on Pupillage Gateway though do follow the same timeline. The application forms are anonymised and marked, with around 20 of the highest-scoring candidates being invited to an interview. The interview consists of two parts: a discussion and analysis of a legal problem shown to candidates 30 minutes before the interview, and a competency-based interview consisting of competency-based, situational, biographical, and ethical questions. In total, the interview lasts around an hour. The approximately five highest scoring candidates from interview will be sent an exercise which will involve conducting legal research and writing an opinion which will form the basis of a short, structured final interview. Pupillage offers will then be made, each coming with a generous award of £80,000.
Tanfield states that they consider all applications for pupillage on merit, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or any other protected characteristic. They are looking for candidates who can demonstrate skills such as intellectual achievement and effective communication, setting out their criteria in full on their website.