Something aspiring lawyers tort to know about...

Torts are not tasty European cakes with lashings of icing. They are wrongs committed by one individual against another individual. Tort law allows individuals to claim against any losses they suffer as a result of another’s action.

Many of us are familiar with “no win, no fee” personal injury law firms, which are most often associated with this area of law. However, this is just one part of a much wider area of law that covers loads of different types of tort; from slander and trespass, to noise pollution and false imprisonment.

Why is it important? What does it involve?

Tort law encompasses a range of issues in society and offers a number of different career opportunities.

Essentially, the purpose of this area of law is to ensure that individuals do not suffer unnecessary loss. Loss can take a variety of different forms. For example, my actions may prevent someone from working due to an injury they sustain from them. In this case, the court may decide I need to pay for any losses incurred. Alternatively, I could say or write something about another person which damages their reputation (this is called slander when spoken and libel when written) and they may sue me to claim damages against the harm I may have caused.

Lawyers working in this area will have to work alongside individuals who feel they have suffered a loss. Their task is to ascertain whether there has been a loss, what type of loss it is and convince the court to side with their client. As with all areas of law, it will involve lots of paper work and an array of support staff are needed; from secretaries and legal executives, to reporters and court interpreters.

Break it down for me a little bit!

Tort law sometimes requires you to act quickly. In particular, in slander and libel cases you will be up against the clock to prevent irreparable damage from occurring, rushing to prevent articles from being published or television programmes from airing. You may also find yourself working on high-profile cases where discretion will be of paramount importance.

Your clients will stretch the entire social spectrum, so having a knack for getting on with all types of people will be a great asset. Understanding and empathy are also essential traits and you will need the ability to convey complex matters in an easily accessible way. You should also be able to handle large volumes of work, perform well under pressure and work to tight deadlines.

A ‘Day in the Life’ of Rebecca Quillish, Trainee in Tort Law at Herbert Smith Freehills.

In just a few words, could you explain the sort of work you do in tort law?

Interesting, diverse and international!

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

I usually check my emails to see what has come in overnight. We often work with jurisdictions all over the world and so any number of things can happen between London falling asleep and waking up the next day! I then update my to-do list accordingly, so that I have a clear plan of what the day ahead holds. I like to deal with quick and easy tasks first, before settling down into longer pieces of research and drafting.

Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend the average day in this seat?

The honest answer is that every day is different. I have been fortunate to attend a number of court hearings, which invariably results in a very busy morning preparing for court! Otherwise, I typically deal with the filing of applications, liaising with barristers' clerks and keeping on top of the correspondence as the matter progresses. I spend a fair chunk of my day drafting letters and witness statements, or researching a point of law for a document that my supervisor is working on.

How much do you correspond with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?

I liaise with partners in my group on a daily basis. Particularly on the cases that involve smaller teams, I have had great exposure to senior partners and calls with the client, often then typing up a summary of the call for circulation afterwards.

What sort of responsibilities do you have as a trainee in tort law? Are you tackling hands-on project work or undertaking more general research and protocol training?

The level of responsibility you have as a trainee is impressive, and markedly improves during your seat. I spend the majority of my time working on cases; however, I have also had the opportunity to complete research for business development. In terms of the work I do on matters, I complete both administrative tasks (such as keeping correspondence files up to date) and more in-depth research and drafting.

What kind of projects have you been working on so far? Do you tend to take on short-term tasks or work on longer-term projects?  

Typically, trainees get involved in long-term cases in litigation, and see a small window of an ongoing matter. Within the context of larger matters (that can often last years) I have been involved in a freezing injunction and a number of short applications, which I have worked on from conception to completion.

Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?

I often produce client-facing work, attend calls and I have been fortunate enough to attend court a number of times.

Which area of tort law are you most interested in?

Negligence, particularly in cases involving professional advice.

How do you keep your head up when you’re dealing with potentially sensitive matters?

I always try to make sure that (where I can), I fully complete tasks before I head home for the day. I find it hard to relax if I have left a half-finished witness statement on my desk. Fully completing the task I am working on allows me to separate work and home, and not become preoccupied by sensitive cases.

How does this seat compare with others you have completed?

I completed a seat in finance previously, and the two are so different it is almost impossible to draw a comparison! I have really enjoyed completing research tasks and being required to think strategically when making decisions – something that disputes work offers in abundance.