Property law: area of practice (barristers)
A property law barrister gives advice to companies, organisations and individuals who are, or are potentially, involved in property disputes. Housing lawyers will also advise local authorities and housing organisations. Cases are usually contentious, but many don’t end up in court. If a case does result in proceedings it often settles before a hearing or, in particular, before the final hearing.
Property law barristers work with a range of clients
Commercial property clients are wide-ranging, but are typically organisations or individuals who are involved in commerce. They might be landlords who let residential property or commercial tenants who rent warehouses or offices and want to deal with disputes surrounding their rented property.
Property law barristers also act for individuals on matters such as boundary or rights of way disputes. Cases vary depending on the client but involve issues such as break clauses – where clients want to dispose of a lease or landlords want to prevent tenants from breaking the lease – or rent reviews, for example. Housing lawyers will deal with possession claims in respect of domestic property brought by social landlords.
The number of cases on the go at any one time varies; barristers may have 30–40 cases at once, but they come and go. You’ll get a case where you’re asked to advise or to draft proceedings; once you’ve done so, you may not see that case again for several months. If a case settles then your work is done, but if it goes on to trial then your input is needed periodically. If a case is about to go to trial, then that will dominate your time for a few days or weeks. Others will only require a couple of hours or a couple of days at a time. You try and manage it so you get an even spread of work, but it often doesn’t work out that way.
Court vs. chambers
Property practitioners can expect to be in court one and a half days per week on average; during a trial you may be in court every day for two weeks, followed by a couple of weeks in chambers when there’s no trial taking place. Property cases are usually tried in the county court, but occasionally they’re tried at the High Court or at specialist tribunals, such as the Lands Tribunal. Junior barristers tend to spend more time in court than senior barristers because they do many more short cases, such as domestic possession claims.
The highs and lows of property law
Property barristers sometimes have to work weekends or very late hours, but you’re making your own money so you’re working hard for yourself rather than for somebody else. On the upside, there are no set holidays so you can dictate your own breaks.
The most enjoyable part of property law is the intellectual challenge; no matter how badly the facts are against you, there’s always a legal loophole you can find as a way around. Property barristers work with a lot of expert witnesses, such as surveyors, quantity surveyors and valuation surveyors. Barristers sit down with their expert and work out how best to cross-examine the other side’s expert, rather than reading a book to learn about the technical side of things.
Aspiring commercial property law barristers should be aware of the recent series of cases relating to AGAs – authorised guarantee agreements – under the 1995 Landlord and Tenant Act; a good example is K/S Victoria St. v. House of Fraser, which reached the Court of Appeal in 2011.
Workloads are more up and down since the recession. What comes up in property law tends to reflect the economy generally; if the economy is strong then you get a lot of rent review cases but if, as in 2012, the market is in downturn then you tend to get a lot of litigation around break clauses because tenants can’t afford their rent. There might also be a lot of insolvency or repossession work.
As a pupil
A property law pupil normally works regular hours from about 9.30 am to 6.00 pm but if you’re assisting your supervisor on a particular case then you need to be flexible enough to stay until that work is done. In your second six you’ll have the opportunity to take on your own cases, usually small interim applications or small possession cases; hours will then reflect the work you have to put in for the case.
Good property law barristers have:
- Stamina and determination
- Good advocacy skills, both written and oral
- The ability to identify problems.
Types of law practised:
DAVID HOLLAND QC is barrister at LANDMARK CHAMBERS. He was called to the Bar in 1986 and took silk in 2011. He studied law at Cambridge University.