During a training contract, it is usual for trainees to spend time working across a range of contentious and non-contentious seats.
The former usually involves litigation, arbitration or some other form of dispute resolution, but may also involve preliminary advice designed to mitigate the risk of a dispute arising in the first place. In contrast, non-contentious seats tend not to concern a dispute and are usually transactional in nature, for example, corporate or transactional real estate.
It is often said that trainees are likely to lean one way of another in terms of their preference towards contentious or non-contentious seats. So far, I have enjoyed working in teams with a contentious focus, namely Contentious Probate and Commercial & Regulatory Disputes
Reflecting on my experience and with a view to assist anyone currently considering whether a contentious seat might be for them, here is what you might expect from working in a contentious team.
Drafting is a standard trainee task across both contentious and non-contentious seats. However, it is especially prevalent in litigation and provides trainees with a valuable opportunity to sharpen their skills.
Tasks vary widely, but may include working on advice notes for clients, drafting agreements and preparing correspondence to the other side. It is also quite common for trainees to assist with the drafting of more complex legal documents, such as pleadings, witness statements and settlement agreements.
Where a matter is in litigation, it is common for trainees to prepare court documents which can range from simple forms through to applications requiring supporting witness evidence.
Trainees are frequently asked to conduct research and report back with their findings. Again, the scope of research can vary hugely from precise points of law, court procedure or on a commercial issue affecting the client.
It is also common for trainees to undertake high-level searches online, for example, to gather information on a property’s value or understand a corporate entity’s structure and ultimate beneficial owner.
Trainees play a central role instructing barristers and other external experts at the outset of a matter or after litigation has begun. This may involve briefing the barrister on the facts and issues in the case, collating the relevant documents and working with them to develop the overarching case strategy.
Trainees are encouraged to attend conference calls with counsel, often to take notes, handle any follow-up tasks and to keep the client informed of any updates or developments. Over the course of my CRD seat, I have had the opportunity to work alongside two barristers (a leading KC and junior), as well as two expert witnesses in an intellectual property dispute heard before the High Court.
Often, disputes involve an international factor requiring legal expertise from counsel outside of the UK which provides trainees with the opportunity to work with lawyers in other jurisdictions.
Trainees also do a lot of case management work. This may involve keeping clients updated, organising data rooms and ensuring key deadlines are appropriately diarised for the team. Bundle preparation is also a rite of passage for any litigation trainee!
Arguably one of the best things about spending time in a disputes seat is having the opportunity to attend court or mediation. I have been very fortunate to have attended several mediations and court hearings so far, peaking with an exciting eight-day trial held at the High Court of Justice in London.
Choosing a contentious seat may be a good option if you enjoy problem solving and enjoy working in a fast-paced environment. The work can be challenging and high pressure, but also very rewarding. Trainees are fortunate in that they have the opportunity to work with lawyers from across the time, dipping in and out of matters in a range of disputes which results in a varied caseload.
Litigators also tend to work in collaboration with teams across the firm, either to provide advice to avoid a dispute arising or to ask for advice on a specific issue, such as tax.
In conclusion, choosing a contentious seat is a great option if you’re keen to develop a wide range of skills, gain a broad range of experience over a range of different practice areas and to get stuck into fast-paced work.