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Barristers' practice areas

Chancery

James Kemp

Trinity Chambers

University: Brunel University London
Degree: Law

Chancery work is split into two areas: traditional and commercial. Traditional chancery includes trusts, probate, real property and tax, while commercial chancery covers a wide range of finance and business disputes. Chancery work often has an international dimension, relating to asset tracing, cross-border insolvency and offshore trusts. Chancery barristers present cases before tribunals all the way up to Supreme Court level and draft a wide range of documentation.


James Kemp is an experienced barrister of 20-years’ call and a member of Trinity Chambers, one of the North of England’s leading sets. His practice is a mix of chancery – “an almost Dickensian term referring to traditional legal issues such as probate and property ownership” – and regulatory law.  

Traditional v commercial

Chancery work is divided into two broad types – the traditional matters that James predominately practices in, and commercial cases, which can range from boardroom disputes to partnership disagreements. “There is an important human element in traditional chancery cases, although the work itself involves very complex law and the application of legal principles,” he explains. “Clients may be home owners, tenants and landlords, or private individuals wishing to, for example, contest a will. Often finding a solution for a client involves peeling back the layers of their life, so in the course of the job I see into the very personal sides of people, albeit briefly.”

Advocacy and strategy

Court advocacy is key, but a high proportion of his time is spent in chambers considering and developing arguments, drafting pleadings, skeletons and advices, and conducting settlement negotiations.

One of the stand-out cases of James’ career perfectly illustrates the human interest, legal complexity and breadth of chancery law. “It was not strictly a chancery case – it had an element of chancery, which shows how varied working in this area can be,” he qualifies. “My client claimed that the deceased was his father and that he was therefore entitled to an inheritance, but his claim was complicated by the fact that the deceased was not named on his birth certificate. We learned that the hospital at which the deceased was treated had a DNA sample, which my client wanted to be tested to confirm paternity, but the deceased’s mother did not want the test carried out and wished to have the sample destroyed. I had to argue why the test should indeed be conducted and was successful, and my client won his case. It is now a piece of case law which has been referred to in subsequent judgments.”

Personal freedom

The freedom that comes with his chosen career is another important element: “I don’t have a boss which means that if I finish my work early, I can go home without having to ask anybody. I’m essentially running my own small business, which is what all barristers do despite the fact that we band together in chambers. That said, one of the nice aspects of the Bar is that when we are in chambers, we don’t really see or treat each other as competitors.”

Due to the multifaceted approach that cases require, prospective barristers need to realise that they will deal with a number of different areas of law comprising of both statute and precedent, upon which they will have to adapt to quickly.

Statute and precedent

Because of the breadth and depth of chancery work – and because “it is not beholden to the sphere of government funding” – barristers in this area do not face the same issues as colleagues those in criminal and family law. For James, the challenge of developing a practice in this area stems from the nature of the work itself: “Due to the multifaceted approach that cases require, prospective barristers need to realise that they will deal with a number of different areas of law comprising of both statute and precedent, upon which they will have to adapt to quickly given the instructions they receive.”

It is also important not to be too disheartened if find that you have not been kept on as a tenant by your chambers once you year’s pupillage is at an end. This is another stage in the journey that many barristers go through, with ‘third sixes’ commonplace before finally securing tenancy. For James, not being kept on by his London chambers as a newly qualified barrister was a chance to relocate back to the North, where he has connections.

He signs off with the following advice for those interested in this field: “If you are really interested in chancery work, go for a set that does chancery work and has a reputation for doing so. To develop a chancery practice, you will need to target one of the several chambers that are known in this area, which underlines the importance of researching the profession you are joining.”