“Getting close to the sun: pinch points in Commercial Litigation”, a talk on commercial litigation by Ian Gascoigne – Marie Tay
Marie Tay gives us an insight into commercial litigation, thanks to a talk given at The City Law School by Ian Gascoigne, Partner at Eversheds, LLP.
Commercial litigation: analysing the legal position, identifying useful tactics and tailoring them to meet the goals of different clients against the backdrop of today’s challenging economic climate.
For those who have always liked the idea of a role in commercial litigation, here’s what it involves in a City firm.
Its foundation is in contract law, lots and lots of that, almost every aspect, but particularly formation, breach, remedies of termination and damages and the application of limitation and exclusion clauses. Add occasional aspects of tort and company law plus the Limitation Act 1980, which determines when claims are made too late. Add in arbitration law, if that is the chosen dispute forum, and you’ve got the life of a City solicitor in commercial litigation.
The commercial dispute lawyer also needs a detailed knowledge of the court rules, as well as experience in the use of mediation. Today, the main practical aspects for the clients are estimating costs accurately and then controlling them.
And the most satisfying part of the job? Using the process productively for the client's benefit: that wonderful feeling of winning against the odds, deploying the right strategy and getting your opponent to settle on terms close to your client's goal.
What essential skills are needed?
1. Forensic skills
Being able to work around the unhelpful documents, but making full use of the good material. The ability to identify significant written and oral evidence which will win your client the case is a crucial skill.
2. Strategic skills
The battle plan and how to achieve a victory or a desirable settlement. The client may expect a ‘leave no stone unturned’ approach. Identifying the other party’s vulnerable areas in the dispute and applying the right strategy at the right time to press home the advantage, such as making a well-judged offer to settle under Part 36.
Being a first year student is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. There are so many decisions to make in addition to the overwhelming amount of workload and information that is thrown at us. The year has just begun and I already feel like time is flashing before me and it is just a matter of time when we will be in our second year and having to apply for vacation schemes and training contracts. As an international student I had no idea what vacation schemes and training contracts were until I started here at City.
The Law school system in the UK is quite different compared to Canada, where I am from. I quickly began to realize that the most effective way for me to get an idea of what’s to come would be to attend a few of the many workshops and events that are available to us.
I had attended an event at Freshfields a few weeks back where I got plenty of useful information and a better understanding of a legal career in London, so when I heard that Freshfields was holding another event at City I jumped at the opportunity. I have always been interested in commercial law so the fact that the event was based on ‘commercial awareness’ was an added bonus.
Commercial awareness is one of the main criterion that commercial law firms look for in their potential future lawyers. But what is commercial awareness and how can one acquire such thing?
What is ‘commercial awareness’?
Jessica Booker, the trainee recruitment manager at Freshfields was the perfect person to elaborate on the concept since she interviews people every hiring season to see if they have commercial awareness or what she likes to call ‘commercial insight’. She sees the word awareness as something that you can teach yourself, whereas having insight is more of a skill.
We all know that there are 24 hours in a day, but do we always remember that we can maximise their usage through proper Time Management or TM?. This means managing your books, your notes, your surroundings, your day and yourself.
It’s all about structure
Have you ever thought why working in a library is so pleasant? It’s not just because you will find a flat desk, free warmth and friends to have a “quick” cup of coffee with when you are weary.
It’s because the information that you need has been helpfully arranged and made easy to locate by your librarian.
Replicating the library structure in your own work space will help you to avoid wasting time locating material before you get started on an assignment. You can do this by:
- Arranging books properly by subject or author on a bookshelf rather than on the floor.
- Sorting out notes in subject files with proper file dividers and a contents list at the front of each one file.
- Ordering documents into folders with sub-files to make information easy to locate on your computer.
- Getting your stationery stationary, together with all your other work paraphernalia. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ may sound like boring advice but searching for a stapler, which when located is devoid of staples, is not only time wasting but is likely to terminate your work session through frustration.
The training contract process can generate a swamping amount of paper or computer space if you are not careful. Paper applications and correspondence can be most easily handled if you file them in firm alphabetical order with a contents list at the front of your file. The contents list should include the following to indicate how each individual application is proceeding:
- Date application was sent and to whom.
- Date acknowledgement was received (if any). If your application is not acknowledged after a couple of weeks, you may decide to send a polite enquiry, taking the same care that you did over the application and covering letter.
- Date of interview/assessment day. Make some very brief notes of your impressions of the firm, the interviewers and what you spoke about.
- The result of the interview. Don’t throw away rejection letters in disgust.
- The date by which you should provide an answer to an offer.
You will then be able to see at a glance how many applications are outstanding and if – and it does happen – a firm phones you up at short notice to ask you for interview, you will be able to find a copy of your application and covering letter. Trite as it sounds, it’s astoundingly important to remember in minute detail what you told your interviewing firm about yourself in your application.
As part of our "Lost Footage" series of video interviews (recorded in 2010 and disastrously mislaid) comes this gem with Marie-Louise Orre, a City LPC graduate. She talks us through her life as a shipping lawyer, covering what drew her to law, offering interview tips, discussing commercial awareness and the importance of a great academic record with interests outside of law.
LPC students at City met up with their mentors at the end of April in an evening of networking at Grays Inn. Organised by Deputy Programme Director Linda Jotham, the legal practitioners acting as mentors were largely CLS alumni with others coming from respected law firms across London.
Mentors will offer informal advice and guidance as well as a window into the realities of their work, and are committed to at least 18 months contact.
Most of those acting as mentors will be 2 years qualified; meaning that they still remember the qualification process clearly! Linda Jotham and the LPC team did their utmost to try to match mentors and LPC students carefully, whether by size of firm or area of practice.
Mentors came from a diverse range of specialities; litigators in professional negligence and financial services, corporate lawyers, pensions lawyers, private client, family practitioners and property lawyers. There was also a spread with those from large magic circle firms, medium-sized City firms, provincial firms and high street practices. There were criminal practitioners and those from local authorities too. Those with more out-of-the-ordinary requirements were also catered for, with one student being matched up with an equestrian lawyer.
Jo Joyce completed the LPC at City Law School in 2009 and subsequently secured a training contract with Shoosmiths. She says she is delighted to be able to return as a mentor:
"I particularly enjoyed the small collegiate environment of the City LPC. The tutors know you by name and continue to take an interest as your career progresses. What really sets City apart is the high quality of tuition - the lecturers are experts in their field but they are also excellent educators."
What did the LPC students think?
"It was a fantastic opportunity to talk to someone in a firm about what its like to work in certain levels of firm, and to talk to him about what I want and where he would recommend. He was very nice and very helpful. He has kindly offered to review some of my applications and make suggestions of where I may have gone wrong and to ask around as to whether there would be any work experience opportunities in the types of firms I would be seeking a training contract at." (Aimie Farmer)
Ever wondered what furry walls or fungus have to do with the GDL? Well, it can certainly be part of your future career. And if you think that’s a tall tale, wait till you meet Giles Peaker - successful housing lawyer, Chair of the Housing Law Practitioners' Association, founder and editor of the Nearly Legal: Housing Law News and Comment site and… former GDL student at City University. The Legal 500 2011 describes Giles as "one of the most impressive housing solicitors working today".
As a law student, it’s always gratifying and certainly reassuring to meet GDL alumni who survived the course, been there, done that and went on to reap the rewards of all that hard work. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel after all.
So how did Giles achieve all of this? And more importantly, any tips for us juniors on life as a solicitor and the practice areas of housing and public law in general?
Giles was previously a senior lecturer in History of Art and after a thirteen-year career; he turned to law in pursuit of new challenges and intellectual stimulus. By now, you must be thinking, “Wow, a teacher who went back to school” and wondering what made him take the plunge into law. Giles shared that it was the unique combination of intellectual challenge together with the practical context of real-life facts that attracted him. Likewise, he was drawn to City University’s academic model of the GDL programme as opposed to other GDL providers, which were more formulaic-driven.
After all, isn’t it the academically challenging environment of City that ups the game a notch by allowing us to hone our analytical skills even further? For there’s a heightened sense of satisfaction when you’re able to distinguish yourself from your peers. Hands up, everyone who loves a good intellectual spar.
1) As a Canadian, what city & province are you from and why did you make the choice to come to London & The City Law School?
My decision to leave Vancouver, B.C. to attend law school in London was, well let’s just say, an easy one. Two years in one of the most active legal centres in the world? What more could you want! The work experience, travel experience and life experience that I would gain from attending law school abroad, was definitely enough to make me apply. City had come highly recommended from a friend of mine who had completed the GELLB program two years earlier. The advantages of City being in the centre of London were endless as well- it was an easy pick for me.
2) What were some of the challenges you faced while living and studying in London (please discuss culturally & academically)?
Since opting not to stay in student accommodation, finding a flat to rent was by far my biggest challenge. From not being able to rent a flat without a guarantor, to not being able to open a bank account without an address, to not being able to get a mobile phone without a bank account, made the first few weeks of law school seem like a breeze! Academically, the biggest challenge was teaching myself how to recognise the important concepts while skimming over the less important ones.
3) What were some of the drawbacks of being so far away from home, if any?
I would have to say the biggest drawback for me was the limited ability to network in the city I ideally wanted to work and live- Vancouver.
4) Did you partake in any extra-curricular activities while at City Law? If so, what programs, was it fun & was it valuable to your education & professional endeavours?
Being a bit of a keener, I definitely wanted to participate in everything that came my way. However, despite the little ‘in-class’ time you have, you quickly realise the large independent study component of the course and can really only partake in a few extra-curricular’s- or at least, that’s what I found. I joined the Canadian American Law Society (CALS) as Peer Mentor Chair, which was a great opportunity to help out the community. We were able to organise law events, raise money for charity and volunteer at organizations like Habitat for Humanity. I also participated in the Free Representation Unit (FRU) training and went to the bulk of the legal education career events and open days.
The City Legal Market – past, present & future – a talk by Robert Sutton, Senior Adviser, Macfarlanes – Marie Tay
The City Legal Market - where leading solicitors gather - is a place that calls for versatile capabilities and wit along with the ability to adapt to new challenges constantly. And it’s a place where the faint-hearted or egoistic need not apply. Set against a background of Eurozone instability and the arrival of a number of US law firms on the scene, today’s City Legal Market is a far more competitive one.
Is there still a place for the GDL/LLB graduate whose goal is that increasingly hard-to-obtain training contract?
The answer is still a resounding yes. For it is said that competition brings out the best in us. And most certainly, while the entry of the US firms fosters competition between City firms, this also means that there is now a wider range of opportunities available.
Good news then for those seeking employment at City firms. For all that’s left to do is to prove yourself. Except that you need to do this in a more prominent manner than before. As City lawyers now play larger roles in the driving or organising of transactions, you need to be equipped with additional skill sets along with the all-important legal knowledge such as administrative and communication skills, a ‘what if’ intellect and the ability to lead.
Signing up on facebook will mean you getting reminders of application deadline dates for individual firms 1 month, 2 weeks, 7 days and 3 days before they expire. What are you waiting for?
I hope you all found my January tips useful, kept your resolutions and are ready for some more.
This month we will look in detail at group exercises, written exercises and problem solving exercises /tests of judgement /case studies
The bad news is there are no easy ways to help you here because it’s all about behaving in a way which is appropriate and helpful to the objectives /needs of the group.
• In a quiet group draw others in
• In a noisy group use names to get a word in edgeways
• Engage body language with all
• Watch feet...observers watch these!
• Don’t try and play a role if it’s not you. Be yourself and adopt the role you are most comfortable with.
• Stare at the observers (we hate it!)!
• Try and ensure the contributions you make are a mix of original thoughts and those which build on those made by other group members.