Tricky business...

Commercial law disputes deal primarily with contract and/or tort laws. It involves issues that arise in the course of running a business at any stage of the commercial cycle.

Such disputes are brought before courts for legal restitution when other methods of resolution, such as arbitration or mediation, have failed to provide a solution acceptable to all interested parties.

Why is commercial law important?

Commerce is at the core of a democratic society and, in order to be strong economically, it must be attractive to businesses.

One way of doing this is to have a strong set of laws and regulations protecting businesses that enter into agreements with others and providing resolutions when things don’t go to plan. Commercial law provides that platform.

Most commercial disputes are heard in Commercial Court or in county business courts when the dispute relates to that particular jurisdiction.

They can also be brought before the Queen’s Bench or Chancery divisions of the High Court, or the Technology & Construction Court (TCC).

Break it down for me a little bit!

A commercial lawyer’s work begins with obtaining necessary instructions and supporting information and documents from the clients. The case is reviewed thoroughly and the important facts and data are picked out.

Lawyers then research case law and former precedents, prepare pleadings and arguments, and attend regular briefing sessions with clients.

They will arrange for settlement where viable, and present motions and arguments before courts if the case proceeds into litigation.

Understanding a client’s needs is an important quality for those involved in commercial law. Other skills and talents required are: negotiation, commercial awareness and time and people management.

Commercial lawyers need to keep up to speed with the current business and commercial climate, changes and amendments in legislation, and regulations in all jurisdictions that are involved.

Commercial lawyers are normally required to have: a top-class degree, experience of participation in extra-curricular activities whilst at school or university, experience in debating, public speaking and moot court trials.

Work experience in a non-legal commercial sector will be an added advantage.

Emma Roe is a partner in Commercial Law at DWF. Here, she highlights the development process from associate to partner and the type of clients DWF work with…

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

Definitely get the kettle on – I can’t function without at least a few cups of tea first thing. I like to be in the office before the phones and emails kick in so I can clear my head and get myself organised for the day.

How do you handle and organise your workload?

I’m a list maker so my ‘To Do’ lists are vital for keeping me on track. Obviously things tend to shift through the day as new work comes in; timescales move and you need to be adaptable.

What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in commercial law? How does it differ from an associate role?

Large parts of my role are now about supervising others and developing their expertise so I think that step from associate to partner is really about shifting your focus from your own workload to that of others around you.

Managing a team and focusing on developing the best people around you is, I think, one of the most rewarding parts of how the job develops when you move into a partner role.

Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day? Which aspect of commercial law is dealt with most frequently by DWF?

As well as continuing to undertake my own workload of general commercial and IP enquiries I also manage one of our key client retainers for commercial contract work which is both a challenge and very interesting.

DWF have some really strong relationships working alongside in-house counsel for our clients where we focus on being an extension of their internal team which really gives you a close insight into their business.

What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?

The pull towards Commercial law for me was the variety of work and that has not let me down. 

It continues to be reflected in our client base with everything from your traditional metal-bashing type of industrial business, to national retailers and charitable organisations. It sounds cliché, but no two days are the same… which is what I like about it!

Robert Worsfold is a Commercial Law trainee at DWF. Working with a range of clients, he notes that “a commercial seat particularly hones and develops drafting and client communication skills”. The area of law is vast, but stimulating…

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

Commercial law is vast, but at its most basic, the work can be regarded as the reviewing and drafting of commercial contracts, and providing commercial solutions to clients.

How has this seat developed your commercial awareness?

Reviewing agreements on a daily basis really forces you to consider the drivers of a commercial deal.

Some aspects of an agreement may be critical to one client, such as providing for a short payment period, asserting ownership of intellectual property or including a non-solicitation clause, whereas other clients may consider such issues as less crucial to their business.

The seat therefore requires an awareness of the commercial priorities of each client, together with an appreciation of the practical implications of the agreement.   

However, commercial awareness is not just confined to the drafting and negotiation of particular clauses. It also includes an appreciation of the manner and format of presenting back to the client.

Commercial work often involves producing high level reviews of agreements, where precise and concise communication is crucial. Other clients may prefer a more detailed analysis/report of the risks involved. 

Sitting in commercial has developed my ability to analyse the priorities and concerns of clients and communicate those findings effectively back to those respective clients.

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?

Whilst commercial generally offers a mix of long and short term work, the bulk of my workload in the seat has been relatively short-term isolated tasks. 

More time-consuming work has ranged from drafting services agreements for the leading UK provider of training conference facilities to running matters for an international supplier of in-flight goods.

This included amending, advising on and producing high level reviews of various framework and goods and services agreements.

Some smaller, more isolated tasks have included preparing new terms and conditions for certain clients, and drafting simple variation agreements and intellectual property assignments.

Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?

From my experience, commercial work requires you to have regular direct client contact. In order to ensure that the final agreement reflects the client’s priorities and concerns, there must be clear and constant dialogue with that client.

The format of that contact is predominantly by email, but the work also includes regular telephone calls and meetings with clients.  

Moreover, there is direct client contact when summarising agreements as part of a contract review – clear and concise client communication is an important aspect of a commercial seat.

How does this seat compare with others you have completed?

Commercial is a challenging but thoroughly beneficial seat. It requires an appreciation of the client’s circumstances and a consideration of the practical and commercial implications of each aspect of the agreement.

Given the nature of the work, a commercial seat particularly hones and develops drafting and client communication skills. The work is stimulating and is far less process driven than the previous contentious seats I have experienced.

After completing a commercial seat, I feel more equipped to deal with the commercial issues that will crop up when working in any practice area.

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