Property law: area of practice (barristers)
Property law at the Bar is vast and varied. It focuses on disputes over the creation, ownership, transfer and protection of property interests, as well as the impact of relationship breakdowns, death and dissolution of partnerships. It involves landlord and tenant, commercial, agricultural, residential, local authority and development property and covers buildings, green space and everything in between.
What is life like as a property barrister?
A typical case will involve advising a client about a dispute, drafting letters before action and encouraging settlement out of court. If a settlement is not forthcoming then you will move on to draft or respond to court proceedings, encourage mediation, attend court for interim hearings and finally attend court for a trial. Clients are often landowners, tenants and businesses, and cases tend to be tried in county courts, the High Court and property tribunals.
Some simple cases involve being instructed only to attend court, particularly in the junior years. A barrister might have around three of those per week, alongside four or five ongoing matters. Property barristers generally spend about 30 per cent of their time in court and 70 per cent in chambers; however, as you become more senior, chambers’ work demands more of your time.
It is important to attend and present seminars and participate in business development. The work/life balance can be quite good in property, although a career at the Bar is demanding on your time in general.
Property is a legally challenging area of practice so there is great satisfaction in ‘finding the answer’ through all your research. However, there is a lot of law, which means it may feel as though you will never have a full grasp of it – there will always be something you don’t know.
Is property law recession-proof?
Property law is fairly recession-proof because there will always be ownership of land; in the current financial climate there is less development work but more disputes as people care more about trying to retain their leases and enforce their contracts. The Law Commission is currently consulting regarding termination of tenancies, which, if changes are made, will affect this area of law.
Legal aid reform has also affected the social housing element of property because a lot of aid has been revoked; this means attending court against a litigant in person happens more often than before. The area can attract media attention in cases such as squatter hearings, Rent Act tenancies or the consequences of big developments (such as rights to light).
What can you expect as a pupil in property law?
A property pupil tends to work from about 8.00 am to 6.00 pm with the odd half day, some longer hours and occasional weekend work. You are often in the hands of solicitors and are dependent on when they give you instructions, which makes a nine-tofive job as a barrister very unlikely, but this is the case with any area of law. A pupil will usually research and provide draft pleadings and advice for a supervisor as well as having lots of opportunities for basic possession hearings in the second six.
Aspiring property law barristers should be aware of cases such as Street v. Mountford regarding leases and licenses and Stack v. Dowden on trusts of land. It is also important that they are able to handle people in tense situations who are dealing with what is often their biggest asset – their land.
LAURA TWEEDY is a barrister at HARDWICKE who specialises in property law. She studied law and a masters of jurisprudence at the University of Durham and was called to the Bar in 2008.