Undisputedly, a class area of law…
Litigation, or dispute resolution as it’s also known, involves assistance with disputes and claims which may arise in the course of any commercial transaction or deal.
Such matters could arise between different companies, or between companies and individuals.
Issues which fall under litigation can range from contractual matters, banking transactions and fraud, to mergers and acquisitions, regulatory mechanisms or competition, corporate management and restructuring problems.
Why is litigation important? What does it involve?
Often when people think of litigation, they think of lawyers taking claims to court or defending claims brought against their clients. However, due to the cost and damage to business relationships that occur during court battles, dispute resolution is often used.
Most top law firms have specialist litigation and dispute resolution departments, whilst smaller or specialist firms concentrate all their resources on litigation.
Often, work as a trainee will begin by preparing documentation or conducting research on relevant laws and case histories or drafting preliminary motions before the court.
Eventually though, you will move on to more complex activities as you gain experience.
Litigators usually work closely with colleagues from other departments (e.g. banking and finance, corporate, commercial and real estate) and a whole host of other support staff.
Litigation is subject to frequent changes and developments over a period of time.
Here in the UK, there are growing trends of American style class action suits, protests against the escalating costs of litigation, third party funding and a noticeable growth in the number of solicitor advocates.
What makes a good litigator?
A litigator requires good communication and negotiation skills. However, it’s not so much about arguing cases but making a cogent and reasoned case in favour of your client’s interests.
You’ll need to have a strong academic background and be flexible and creative when it comes to tackling new challenges.
In order to be a good litigator, you will need a keen sense of commercial awareness, a good command over legal and technical principles and the ability to present facts, law and strategies in a reasoned and persuasive manner.
A Day in the Life of Simon Hart, Commercial Litigation Partner at RPC
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
Grab a coffee, check the FT headlines and then catch up with team members to discuss the various projects that they are working on - in that order.
If I am working for clients in Asia, the morning is likely to involve calls to those clients before they close for the day.
First thing in the morning is also a good time for catching up with other partners in the team over departmental issues such as recruitment, business development and case resourcing.
How do you handle and organise/prioritise your workload?
My priorities are primarily client driven.
On the larger cases, you have to sit back and work out where you want to be - or don't want to be - in six or eight weeks' time and then work backwards from there to assess what the team needs to be doing today (or should have been doing yesterday).
For all the complaints about the burden of email, used properly and with thought, it can be an effective tool to help organise and communicate.
The one rule I try to live by – and often fail to – is to resist the temptation to focus on the easy or enjoyable tasks first. You have to bite the bullet; otherwise the tedious yet potentially important tasks never get the true focus they require.
What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in litigation? How does it differ from an associate role?
I think there are three differences. First, you are ultimately responsible for everything that goes out of the door: the advice that is given and many of the judgment calls that are made.
So, you need to be on top of the strategy, as well as the detail, of a number of cases and that can be very different from being a junior associate.
Having a good team around you and discussing issues across the team, is key to delivering effectively.
Second, as a partner, you are far more involved in discussions about recruitment and case resourcing. Those issues are at the heart of a successful business.
Finally, and critically, you need to be replacing the cases that settle or otherwise finish with new work.
That doesn't happen automatically. However busy you and the team are at any given time, you have to keep your eyes on the horizon and be working out where the future work is going to come from.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
Typically, on the client facing side there will be projects relating to all facets of the case load – whether that is disclosure, witness statements or trial preparation.
The degree to which you are involved day to day in the minutiae of those matters depends on the case, and the client.
However, ultimately, you have to manage and lead those work streams. Beyond that, I am continually involved in various business development and marketing projects. I am also heavily involved in HR issues for the department.
That is a real focus for us; if you get bright, motivated people in the right place in the team you are half way to a successful business. Scrimping on the time spent on people issues never pays in the long run.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
The beauty of being a litigator is the variety of people and organisations that I get to meet over time.
Our clients vary from London institutional investors (eg pension funds); New York hedge funds; banks in Europe and Asia; high net worth individuals in multiple (often glamorous) countries; corporates from anywhere in the world and individuals from around the corner.
The spectrum of individuals within those organisations is enormous.
Interview with Sarah Pearson, Commercial Litigation Trainee at RPC
In just a few words, could you explain the sort of work you do in litigation?
We assist clients in resolving complex disputes, considering their commercial and economic needs, with recourse to litigation where necessary.
I am sat within the Banking Litigation sub-department, so there’s a lot to learn about the banking and financial industries as well as litigation itself.
My role as a trainee is varied. A typical day can involve assisting with the disclosure process, drafting witness statements and preparing exhibits, and preparing know-how bulletins for distribution among the wider department.
Why did you choose this seat?
I was keen to gain hands-on experience on big ticket litigation, and knew trainees in the department were given a lot of responsibility very early on in the seat.
The Commercial Disputes team is one of the most rapidly growing departments in the firm, with fast-paced and interesting work.
RPC has taken the stance that it will generally not act for investment banks and other financial institutions, meaning it is one of the few firms of its size able to act against the banks.
Accordingly, I knew that the seat would present an opportunity to work on high profile, precedent-making cases.
I was aware that regardless of whether I decided to apply to qualify into the department upon qualification, the skills I gained would be readily transferable to other areas of law.
I wanted exposure to the challenges involved with international work crossing multiple jurisdictions. My involvement with a Russian case has definitely given me this experience, and trips to Russia to interview witnesses were an unexpected bonus!
I'm looking forward to building on my international experience in my next seat, when I will be joining the Hong Kong Commercial Disputes/Insurance team for six months.
How has this seat helped with your commercial awareness?
My seat in Commercial Disputes has really put current affairs in context. Since starting, I have started to see news stories in their wider socio-economic context; now when I read a news article I think of the legal repercussions for both our clients and the firm.
Any legal proceedings arising out such news stories will continue long after the headlines have ceased, so I now also find myself considering more historic commercial events in a different light.
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?
My seat has been fairly atypical because I have worked almost exclusively on one case since joining the department three and a half months ago. The case is one of the largest in the department, and is not going to trial until January 2016.
However, as there are a myriad of issues within case it is similar to working on a series of small cases.
In another case, for a household name, I assisted with an application to the court and asked to appear before the registrar at court to request that certain procedural steps be taken.
Although slightly nerve-wracking, it was a great experience and shows the responsibility given to RPC trainees.
Trainees in the team are expected to turn their hands to anything and everything, including all stages of litigation and alternative dispute resolution, whether the subject of the dispute is a work of art, derivatives or an automotive supply agreement.
Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?
Definitely – I have been pleasantly surprised how much so!
After working on the case for around one month I attended witness interviews in Russia, assisting with numerous documents and taking notes of the interviews (which are forming the basis of the witness statements that are currently being drafted).
I also have regular interaction with barristers (from junior barristers to QCs), and numerous experts. It's insightful to see the relationship between the different parties, especially in light of the different cultures due to the international nature of the work.
How does this seat compare with others you have completed?
My first seat, Real Estate, was extremely different from Commercial Disputes. The cases in Commercial Disputes tend to be higher value and longer running, which invariably means my role is less high profile than on the smaller cases in Real Estate.
Working mostly on one case means I am fully immersed in it and have greater personal investment in it, but in Real Estate it was satisfying to see matters develop from the first instructions to their conclusion.