I did not consider myself a litigator. I am the type of person that will apologise when someone bumps in to me, before apologising profusely as we both engage in that awkward dance as you try to step away from one another but end up repeatedly going in the same direction. Nevertheless a seat in the Commercial Litigation team has revealed to me the benefits of doing a litigious seat and helped me to develop skills that would otherwise have been neglected.
My Commercial Litigation seat has proven to be one of the most interesting that I have done at Ashfords due to the variety it offers and the intensity of the work.
Because Commercial Litigation is a broad umbrella term, each team and fee earner tends to develop a particular focus and as a trainee you are therefore able to benefit from the variety of work that this then offers to you. This diversity is a great opportunity for a trainee as you are able to gain exposure to various aspects of litigation and can begin to get an idea of the areas and niches that might be of interest to you.
For example, I have thoroughly enjoyed working in "horse law" as a Bristol trainee. Strangely enough, when I started my law degree, I didn't exactly have aspirations to end up working within the equine legal system. And yet, recently I have been involved in achieving the equine world's first suspension for a positive test for bromide doping, and successfully defending the "Sandown Seven" following their alleged breach of stop-race procedures.
Further, as part of my Commercial Litigation training I have also done work for the Business Risk and Regulation team who deal with regulatory breaches which have criminal implications. I did research in to the regulation of cannabis in the United Kingdom, as due to liberalisation of the laws around cannabis there are a number of companies looking to target the UK as a potential new market should de-regulation occur.
Trainees do also get involved in more "normal" litigation, assisting in representing claimants and defendants in debt claims for goods or services provided which have gone unpaid. These matters, which often have simple factual scenarios, are a great way for trainees to experience the processes behind litigation and to become familiar with the Court system and application of the Civil Procedure Rules. So, you assist in exercises that you may have been familiar with at law school such as helping draft letters of claim, Defences and attending mediations.
One of the best aspects of litigation is that everything has reached a boiling point. There's an interesting reality-TV-style drama to proceedings as things are usually no longer amicable and the parties are so aggrieved that they've engaged lawyers to navigate the process. Lawyers are required to conduct the technical legal aspects of the matter, but they're also required to ensure that their client does not storm out of a mediation. This is less prevalent in transactional work as things haven't quite reached the same crescendo. As a trainee, it has been great to see how different fee earners have managed their clients in different ways and to develop my own skills on client management.
Such intensity does mean that there's an elevated level of pressure. There are imposing court deadlines and any mistakes issued cannot simply be amended by manuscript or with the other side's agreement, as can occur in transactional work. As a trainee, your role will often involve preparing submissions to the other side or the Court and ensuring that everything is in order. There is no denying that this can sometimes be tedious, and the prospect of ensuring that multiple bundles of hundreds of documents are all expertly filed and paginated is not exactly everyone's cup of tea. But, it's a good exercise as a trainee to understand the processes involved, familiarise yourself with the documents relevant to the matter and provide invaluable assistance to fee earners.
Whilst not every trainee's Commercial Litigation seat might be as varied as cannabis regulation and equestrian sport hearings, the point is that a seat in the Commercial Litigation department is going to be a unique experience.
As I approach the end of my seat, I would say I consider myself to be a litigator now, but I still said thank you when I opened the door for someone