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.

A Day in the Life of...

Sam Coppard & Melissa Wilkinson, Second seat trainees, DLA Piper

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

Sam: Within the corporate department, I regularly assist with due diligence, draft and review transaction documentation (such as board minutes and ancillaries) and attend client meetings and calls.

Melissa: I have spent my first two seats as a trainee at DLA Piper in Commercial Real Estate - six months in Planning and six months in Transactional Real Estate. Commercial Real Estate attracts investors, drawn to the potential of making considerable gains with comparatively small risk. In order to minimise the risk, we carry out due diligence on each transaction, and report to the client.

How has this seat developed your commercial awareness?

Sam: This seat has developed my commercial awareness as a significant amount of my day-to- day work revolves around business and commerce in the marketplace. Clients expect both a legal and commercial aspect to their advice, and therefore I regularly stay up to date by reading business papers and the financial press to enable me to remain commercially astute.

Melissa: DLA Piper provides its trainees with the opportunity to network with clients, colleagues and other professionals, which I believe not only improves your awareness and knowledge, but also builds your professional network. We are encouraged to attend as many events as possible throughout our training contracts (and there is usually free food and drink available!).

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?

Sam: I have worked on a variety of projects within the department, including a number of large international M&A transactions, private equity deals and an initial public offering. The work has included a mixture of both short-term tasks (such as research tasks) and long-term projects that last the entire seat, which overall provide a well rounded experience as a trainee.

Melissa: DLA Piper ensure that trainees get involved in a variety of different transactions, and my training contract so far has consisted of good balance between both short-term and long- term tasks. Transactional Real Estate trainees in the Sheffield office often have the opportunity to undertake two months in ‘Plot Sales’ whereby we act for building developers who are sellingnew-build houses (plots) to individuals. This enables us to see a complete transaction from start to finish.

Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?

Sam: I am in direct contact with clients on a day-to-day basis, whether that be by email, telephone or the signing and completion meetings at the office.

Melissa: Despite being under close supervision, trainees at DLA Piper get a sizeable amount of direct exposure to clients. I am encouraged to have direct contact with clients, and currently do so on a daily basis, but with the security of knowing my work can be checked prior to being released. It is an invaluable method of raising your confidence.

How does this seat compare with others you have completed?

Sam: The corporate seat has enabled me to experience a wide variety of transactional work by being involved in a number of client projects throughout the seat. This is in direct comparison to my previous seat in Intellectual Property, which involved a greater amount of contentious and litigious work. Despite the difference in the type of legal work, both seats require similar transferable technical skills, such as drafting documentation.

Melissa: Planning is a fairly niche area of Real Estate, but not without its excitement. The Planning team at DLA Piper usually are appointed to large, interesting projects which provide trainees with a high level of responsibility.

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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