Trainee Blog: Contentious vs Non-Contentious

The SRA requires trainee solicitors to experience both contentious and non-contentious seats during their training contract. Some trainees come pre-armed to their training contract with the knowledge that they are either a 'non-contentious' or 'contentious' lawyer. However, it is much more common to be on the fence. Having had experience in both types of seats, this article aims to explain the differences between the seats and reveal the wealth of opportunities that both types of seat can offer.

What is a contentious seat?

A contentious seat involves acting in a dispute between two parties. Typically, we imagine that this takes place in Court, but often disputes do not reach this stage for any number of reasons. It can also involve processes known as "mediation" and "arbitration". You can act for either the claimant or for the defendant.

My first seat was in the Agricultural Property team which involved tasks such as putting together trial bundles, drafting instructions to counsel, and attending trials and hearings. Disputes can last for years so it is unlikely you will get to see a case from start to finish during your seat rotation. However, you will have the opportunity to work on a variety of matters which will each be at different stages of the litigation process.

In contentious seats you are more likely to be involved in collaborative working within a team of lawyers, of varying experience, all working on the same case. Some of the tasks trainees can get involved with are putting together bundles for trial, obtaining quotes for and organising counsel, and drafting correspondence with the other side.  

 What is a non-contentious seat?

Non-contentious work often involves work that is described as 'transactional' or 'advisory'. Typically, you act for the client in a transaction or provide them with advice.

My second seat has been in the Transactional Real Estate team and has involved tasks such as drafting a variety of leases, licences, deeds, and agreements and making applications to the Land Registry.  Non- contentious work is more likely to involve shorter and more regular instructions and there tends to be a number of smaller matters, that can be run by a trainee. This has given me the opportunity to start to build positive client relationships and to take on greater responsibility.

Both types of seat bring a wealth of valuable experience to any training contract. It is certainly worth keeping an open mind when starting a seat you are not sure about (you may end up surprising yourself!). There is no pressure to label yourself as a contentious or non-contentious lawyer and enjoy the learning opportunities of both.