We caught up with Michael and Matt, trainees at RPC, to find out about their Litigation work – a key part of the training contract. Here’s what they had to say.
What is litigation?
Michael: Litigation is one of the engine drivers at RPC, so it’s something trainees get really stuck into. Litigation encompasses the whole process of parties taking legal action against each other, from pre-action all the way through to court hearings. Paradoxically, most of what comes under litigation is trying to avoid litigation, because it’s often costly and time-consuming. Crucially, litigation is not just about going to court, it covers all stages of the dispute at hand.
Matt: As a trainee in litigation, most of your time will be spent doing work outside of court, as the time spent in court is a very small part of the lifecycle of a case. An important part of litigation is knowing when court is not the best solution for your client. The litigation process involves aspects like parties exchanging evidence, evaluating your case and your opponent's case, and getting an idea of whether you want to go to court or not – often the decision may be to settle outside of court or pursue other means.
How did RPC introduce you to litigation law as a trainee?
Michael: All RPC trainees have at least a basic understanding of what litigation involves, but it’s not until you work on a case that you come to understand it. I’ve worked on a variety of cases so far, and the supervision I’ve had at RPC has been excellent. No one expects you to be an expert at first, and I found I learnt a lot from listening to the supervising lawyers and getting involved practically in the cases.
Matt: There’s no avoiding litigation at RPC. My introduction mostly involved being part of one big case for 6 months or so and seeing it develop. However, RPC tries to ensure you’re not married to one case, and there’s plenty of scope for you to get involved in other areas. There are both bigger and smaller cases, each bringing different development opportunities, and the ethos at RPC is to ensure trainees get variety in the work they’re doing.
What would be some typical day-to-day tasks working in litigation?
Michael: A big part of my work in litigation at the moment is disclosure, the process of parties exchanging their documents surrounding the dispute. My role in this would be to search through the documents, make chronologies, figure out what happened and look out for evidence which may help or hinder our case; this creates the basis upon which the parties will argue. The partner or associate on the case will often ask for my thoughts when deciding on next steps on the case, so in that sense it gives me a lot of responsibility.
Matt: Bundling is an unavoidable reality of any trainee and is an essential skill to learn when you start out. When preparing for a hearing, my job would be to prepare big boxes of lever arch files containing documents, making sure the pages are paginated, in order, preparing indexes and so on. It may sound like a mundane task, but it’s not as bad as it seems! Another typical trainee task is carrying out research to figure out the legal position on a topic. This is great because it marries theory with reality and reminds you of the theoretical side of the case when you may have got distracted by the practicalities.
What are some of the challenges?
Michael: Working to different deadlines can be very tricky, particularly when you’re helping out on more than one case at a time. Recent legal reforms mean there are more serious consequences for missing a court deadline, so when I have competing deadlines, the court deadline will often take priority. As a trainee, you’ll likely be helping out multiple team members on different tasks at any one time, which means deadlines can build up and you are expected to muck in and stay late if need be. There’s a real sense of comradery I feel at RPC when everyone’s pulling together. Once it’s over, you’ll look back and think about how exhilarating it was to have put such hard work in and will realise it was part of something bigger.
Matt: In the run up to a hearing it can be an incredibly stressful time, as some periods will just be busier than others. There are various challenges I’m finding with working from home at the moment too, such as not having a clear dividing line between work and home and having to work in your home environment. However, I’m sure this is an experience I’ll look back on and reflect on how much it taught me.
What are your favourite aspects?
Michael: I think most of us beginning a career in law at RPC are competitive and love to challenge ourselves, and I’ve found working in litigation can be very rewarding in this sense. Litigation is not just a case of arguing and rejecting every point from the opposition just for the sake of it, it’s instead a very intellectually rigorous part of law. You need to compartmentalise all the details and be very careful in identifying where our liabilities might be, and this may take months to fully understand but that is an enjoyable challenge for me. It can also be exciting when things get acrimonious over email or letter and you have the confidence from your thorough assessment of the case to tell someone they’re wrong!
Matt: One of my favourite things is that my current department are very keen on seeing me as a better lawyer. When I started my training contract, I looked at newly qualified solicitors and thought ‘I can’t possibly see myself like that in two years’ time, how am I going to get there?’. Working in litigation has helped me to walk the path towards qualification by giving me the skills and confidence to stand my own ground and be responsible for my own work. I very much enjoy the learning process at the moment and how I’m able to draw on past experiences to handle each new challenge more effectively.
What advice would you give to an upcoming RPC trainee starting work in litigation?
Michael: Don’t expect to be perfect at anything you do, or even good, because regardless of your academic background, nothing compares to actually practicing law and practicing litigation. No one is expecting you to be a polished litigator as a trainee, so expect to get things wrong and experience steep learning curves. It’s important to have an open mind and to keep talking to your supervisors and getting feedback so you can be constantly improving. Everyone at RPC is very encouraging of you asking questions, no matter how stupid you think they may be. It makes life so much easier for everyone to ask questions to ensure you understand the task, and my colleagues are always happy to explain things. Overall my experience at RPC has been great; I’ve never had Monday morning blues, I really enjoy the office and the people, and it’s a fantastic place to work.
Matt: Don’t shy away from your mistakes, because it’s not a matter of if you’re going to make them, it’s a matter of when. Some really valuable advice I received is the idea of the internal client: treat every single member of your team as if they’re just as important as a client. It’s also essential to be a good communicator. You’ve got to be very good at ensuring you know what you’re doing, and this may mean asking a lot of questions. The key is to talk as much as you can to the people you work with, so you are always on the same page, and you fully understand what is expected of you.
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