Tanfield Chambers

The Legal Cheek View

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 52 barristers, including seven 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.

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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!); Kerry Bretherton KC and 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.

What The Junior Barristers Say

Mattie Green

Your journey to pupillage

I studied law at Cambridge as an undergraduate. I went to a state school where not many people applied or went to Oxbridge, but I attended the Cambridge Sixth Form Law Conference in year 12. It was a great experience and gave me the confidence to apply and be offered a place to study law at Cambridge.

After university, I worked as a real estate paralegal at a law firm in the Midlands for six months and then I went travelling for three months before I started the BPTC (as it was then). I received my pupillage offer whilst studying for the BPTC, so I spent another year as a paralegal at a London law firm before I started pupillage.

Prior to pupillage I did four mini-pupillages. My first two mini-pupillages were offered as the prize for winning a mooting competition. I did quite a lot of mooting at university; it was a great way to meet barristers and improve my advocacy. I applied for my other two mini pupillages at sets that do property law after I had decided that I wanted to work in property law to gain more experience of the area.

As well as mini-pupillages, I shadowed a tribunal judge in the Property Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal, which was a great experience that I got through my Inn (Lincoln’s). I also marshalled a judge in the Crown Court.

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The pupillage experience

I applied to Tanfield because I wanted to work in property law. Unlike most, I had really enjoyed Land Law at university. I took part in a property law moot during my second year of university and because I won, I did a mini-pupillage at a property law set, which cemented that property law was for me. So, Tanfield was an obvious top choice. Strangely, I really enjoyed my Tanfield pupillage interview. It was challenging but I felt like the interview panel wanted me to get to the right answer and I felt from that that Tanfield would be a good fit for me for pupillage.

Pupillage at Tanfield is split into three sets of roughly four months with three supervisors. During the first four months the focus is generally on improving your written advocacy through opinion writing and learning how to hone your advice to achieve the aims of your client. You tend to work on whatever your supervisor is working on so there is very little (if any) “dead” work. During the second four months, you start to do some work for other members of chambers. You also regularly go to court with the more junior members of chambers so that you have seen the types of hearings you will be doing when you start on your feet during your second six. In the final four months, you will be on your feet in court multiple times a week, but still doing some work for your supervisor, who is there to answer any questions that come up in practice.

There are usually two assessments during pupillage. The first is an advocacy exercise around half-way through pupillage before you start on your feet. The second is a written assessment which forms part of the pupillage committee’s tenancy decision.

My pupillage started in September 2020, mid pandemic. However, even in those circumstances, I was exposed to great quality work and excellent supervision. A member of chambers said to me in my first week that I will always be grateful to my supervisors, and I realised very quickly why he said that.

Tanfield take up to three pupils with the hope and expectation that all will be taken on as tenants, so tenancy is really yours to lose!

The transition from pupil to tenant

As I had been on my feet for three months already, the transition from pupil to tenant wasn’t as daunting as it might otherwise had been. My diary was booked up almost immediately, which was slightly intimidating, but it was great to see how much work there was in chambers.

Personally, the transition to tenancy was tough at times, but the junior members of chambers were incredibly supportive, and I could (and would) call any one of them up at any time with the next stupid question. In fact, everyone in chambers was really supportive. I have never been turned away when I’ve asked someone if they have five minutes to talk to me about something. Often you just need to “sense check” something when you are a new tenant and the fact I knew I could always do that was reassuring.

What is your practice like now?

In a typical working week, I will be in court two or three (sometimes four) times a week. I will have advisory (paper) work to do, as well as, preparing for my court hearings and attending court. As well as court, I am often in the First-Tier Tribunal. I have been a junior for a senior member of chambers in the Upper-Tribunal and done some devilling for other senior members of chambers.

One of the great things about property is that the work is really varied, so no two weeks are the same.

As to work hours, I try not to work at the weekends because I like to separate my working week from my weekends, but sometimes the case or the deadlines require it.

What is the culture of chambers?

In my experience, Tanfield is a really supportive chambers. From the start of pupillage everyone wants you to do well and feel part of chambers. The juniors are great and across chambers everyone is so generous with their time if you have a question or want to talk something through.

The clerks are brilliant. They just know what they’re doing and do it exceptionally well. They are supportive and regularly check in on how you are doing. The staff at Tanfield are also great.

Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers

My top tip for those wanting to become a barrister is to do at least one mini-pupillage to see what being a barrister actually involves. Speak to a barrister and ask them what it is like being self-employed and check that it is the right job for you.

My top tip for those wanting to secure a pupillage is to make sure you showcase your experiences and skills in your application in a way that shows you will be a good barrister. Identify the top three traits that a good barrister needs and then show us how you have those skills using your experience.

My top tip for those wanting to secure a pupillage at Tanfield is do the above, but also, show us why you want to work in property and, even if you don’t have specific property related work experience, show us why you think the experience you do have will make you a good property barrister. Also, let us see your personality! If you have done something interesting don’t miss it off your application.

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Work/life balance
Social life
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 45
KCs 7
Pupillages 3
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 4/5

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


Pupillage award £80,000
BPTC advance drawdown £15,000


Female juniors 27%
Female KCs 14%
BME juniors 2%
BME KCs 0%