When the diplomatic service inexplicably decided it didn’t need me, I needed a job. The university careers office had suggested law as an alternative. My father was a barrister and I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps (I didn’t fancy working as hard as he did); I didn’t think I had his gift of the gab; I was more of a team player, and much less self-sufficient than him. So I accepted Ashurst’s job offer as an articled clerk starting on £1,250 a year.
I have not found any one sector easier or more challenging than any other. The challenges emerge from the facts of each case, not the nature of the case.
Financial disputes can involve huge sums of money, or occasionally the reputation of a business. Financial services regulation and professional negligence cases are equally challenging, and individuals are often in the line of fire. They face not only risks to reputation but the loss of their livelihood. This produces special challenges.
There are similarities between advising banks and law firms. For example, the main point of contact is usually the general counsel or a member of the financial institution’s legal team. In both cases there is a degree of distance or objectivity.
Where there are disciplinary claims against individuals in the bank or the firm, matters become more direct, personal and potentially emotional. The lawyer representing the individual builds a close and personal relationship with the client. I enjoy that relationship and try to help at a personal as well as a professional level.
Since I started working in dispute resolution, the number of documents to handle has increased dramatically. These documents have assumed much more procedural importance, meaning disclosure requires time and resource. It is still rare for disclosure to produce documents that justify the expense of the process. Partly as a consequence, teams are bigger and project management is more important. As the costs are higher, clients (unsurprisingly) look for greater efficiencies. Making better use of technology is part of the answer. Courts are more heavily involved in case management and alternative means of dispute resolution have grown.
It is vital to treat people well. Litigation is an adversarial process, but the people running it, on either side, usually respond better to reason and good manners than confrontation and aggression. That is likely, in turn, to produce a better result for the client.
Getting a new instruction always provides a personal buzz as does the gratitude of clients when a case ends. Other highlights include when, as a young disputes partner, I was entrusted by a senior corporate partner with a bet-the-company dispute for Trafalgar House over the construction of an oil rig. Others would be successfully defending Imperial Tobacco against smoking-related claims and a huge arbitration ($5bn+) over a joint venture dispute.
Brexit may present profound challenges to City solicitors and their clients. The City of London Law Society(CLLS) is working to support the government during this process, and is working for a Brexit that is good both for our clients, our firms and the UK economy at large. Our position is that maintaining or replicating the status quo with respect to the benefits the UK currently enjoys on these matters is crucial.
We need, both for the future success of our businesses and as an important part of society, to attract and motivate a diverse (in all senses) workforce. There is commitment in the sector, but more needs to be done to encourage greater cooperation and collaboration in achieving a more diverse and inclusive profession. The question of solicitor judges is also topical, as a way to bring diversity to the judiciary and to help address judicial recruitment shortages. The CLLS is in discussion with the MoJ and the judiciary about how to make the process more welcoming to solicitors and how to encourage younger solicitors to see the judiciary as an option for those who do not want to stay in the City.
Finally, we need to find a way of making the role of City solicitor as enjoyable in the next 40 years as I have found it over the last 40.