You’ve worked on a number of high profile matters throughout your career so far: to what do you credit your success?
I am not sure that success is necessarily the right word for it but my progress, such as it is, has all been down to having the great good fortune to have been in the right place at the right time when some nice jobs have come along. I have also been very lucky to have made some really good friends along the way. When I started out, some kind senior juniors and Silks were good enough.
to trust me with their cases and their client contacts. Over the years, I have also become blessed with a very loyal group of clients, who seem to find my idiosyncrasies tolerable and – apparently – enjoy working with me. The loyalty and support of this band of solicitors has undoubtedly helped my progress at the Bar. Indeed, I still get instructions from the first two gentlemen who were brave enough to instruct me on my first and second ever cases.
Why did you become a barrister?
I always liked the idea of being a lawyer of some sort. I studied politics at ‘A’ level and the law-making process fascinated me. I also studied history A-level, and I loved the process of reconstructing a narrative from past events, trying to piece together what
actually happened from scraps of incomplete documents and partial recollections. I went on to study law at UCL, because I thought that studying law would be a bit like studying history and politics, but with better prospects of getting a job at the end of it. I soon got to like the intellectual challenge of turning the abstract principles of law – mere words on a page – into usable tools that you could do things with, such as solve real-life world problems. (Or cause them, as the case might be.) My tutors at UCL, and then Wadham College, where I studied for the BCL, rightly advised me that the Bar would give me a better chance at turning what I liked about studying law into a paying job. Also, I have always found myself a bit of a round peg in a square hole, so the freedom the Bar gives me to do the job in the way that I think is the best way (as long as clients agree) has always suited me.
What have been some of the most memorable, enjoyable, or rewarding cases you’ve worked on, and why?
For me, it is not so much the cases but the people. All the cases I have found rewarding and memorable (or, perhaps, memorable for the right reasons) have been cases where the solicitors, the clients and sometimes the team of experts have all been good fun to work with. When the atmosphere is right any case is a good one, no matter what the legal issues or the merits. It is great when the team knows it is possible to do a serious job, in a serious manner, without taking oneself too seriously. If I had to choose one case as the most memorable, it is probably K/S Victoria Street v House of Fraser. All the legal team were enormous fun to work with, especially my Leader, and the client was supportive throughout. I also take a bit of pride in the fact that one of the arguments we won was genuinely a game-changer. Indeed, the Property Litigation Association is now lobbying to get this judgment reversed by statute, so I feel I added my tiny handful of grit into the machine with this one.
How much of your work is through direct instructions, and have you noticed any trends over the last few years?
Direct instructions account for very little of my practice: probably less than 15%. Having said that, five years ago it was probably less than 5%. I would like to have more arbitration work, which is usually from surveyors instructing by direct access. The biggest advantage of arbitrations is that sane parties can agree that the “Jackson/Mitchell” regime does not apply and so procedural rules can remain the servants of justice between the parties.
What advice would you give to juniors at the property Bar?
Be yourself. Do not compare yourself to others, do not copy and do not compete. If you feel you have to race against anybody, race against yourself, and try to do better today than you did yesterday. Be prepared for bad days in the office. Property litigation is a truly challenging discipline, so be prepared for things to go wrong. Stuff happens: if it is your fault, be pragmatic and deal with it honestly and fairly. If it is not your fault, well, que sera, sera. I believe that the vast majority of cases win or lose themselves, no matter what the barrister says or does – for better or worse. Lastly, work hard but set limits. This job will eat your life if you let it: never forget it is only a job. Make sure you keep back some time for a life.
How do you relax?
I am a dedicated student of proper relaxation and I enjoy conserving energy through personal inertia. I also doggedly support the Williams Formula 1 team. I have always had an affinity with their ethos – for them, it is all about the getting the technical side right. A journalist once described Williams as an engineering company that goes racing, which reflects my ideal approach to a case: get an elegant design with all the mechanical details as precisely engineered as possible and, hopefully, you might make yourself something that could be a winner.
Nicholas Taggart was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah