In his second Trainee Blog, Sunny Sidhu talks about how he’s enjoying his time in the Litigation Department and about going into battle in court.
I am currently halfway through the second contentious seat of my training contract – with myfirst being in Family and second seat now in the Litigation. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the feeling that I was going into “battle” every day on behalf of our clients, however I quickly realised that protecting your client and their interests is rewarding and often, exciting.
The White Book
I have found The White Book is any litigators ‘Bible’ in Litigation. It contains the Civil Procedure Rules and Practice Directions which underpin everything which a contentious Solicitor does. There are two volumes and the pages are tissue-paper thin. An updated set is published each year and this year, there have been numerous changes to the rules because of the Jackson reforms, especially in relation to costs and the court’s case management powers. Rule 1.1 of the Civil Procedure Rules explains that the overriding objective of the White Book is to enable the court “to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost”. This reference to “proportionate cost” is a recent addition to the overriding objective and highlights the ever-increasing judicial focus on disputes being resolved in a fair and proportionate manner.
At first, the White Book is daunting. Someone will say: “look it up in the White Book, the answer will be in there” and you panic that you might have to read thousands of pages to find the answer. You soon realise though that, like any book, there is an index and the book is divided into clearly defined sections. You will soon find your way around it and feel comforted by its existence!
Bundles & Instructions to Counsel
One part of a Trainee Solicitor’s role in any Litigation team is the preparation of bundles for mediations, Counsel, court hearings and trials, in addition to drafting instructions to Counsel. With regards to bundles, it is imperative that they are prepared precisely and provided to the court in good time. During my first seat in Family I remember one Judge saying that it is “always worrying” when bundles arrive late and even more worrying when supplementary bundles have to be provided to the court because documents have been omitted in the first instance. Tactically, this is not the impression you want to give the judge and while bundles are not the ‘be all and end all’ of a matter, I have found that you feel more confident if you know that your bundles have been compiled correctly and in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules.
Over time, I have learnt that the key to a successful bundle is not to rush into paginating it because inevitably you will omit documents and have to start all over again.
I have been lucky enough to attend court on numerous occasions during my seat. It is such a great experience to watch the advocates, either my colleagues (and Kristy Ainge is a Solicitor Advocate herself) or an independent Barrister, conduct the proceedings. However, I also had to get some advocacy experience of my own under my belt. Therefore, my supervisor allocated me a straightforward possession hearing to do on my own and initially the thought terrified me! In the days before the hearing I made sure that I filed the relevant documents at the Court and served them on the other party – I didn’t want to be caught out by not carrying out the procedural steps properly. I spent most of the morning of the hearing worrying about what I was going to say and reading through the papers repeatedly. I knew I would be nervous so I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I kept reminding myself to call the judge ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am,’ to speak clearly and slowly, and to smile and be confident. What I have learnt is that when doing advocacy as a Trainee Solicitor it’s crucial you prepare your file and know what you are asking the court for. Friendly advice and support from experienced lawyers in my team helped me prepare for my appearance.
On completion of my first advocacy hearing I felt like a Trainee Solicitor. Presenting your case in front of a District Judge is one of the best experiences I have had during my traineeship. My court experience has vastly improved my confidence in my public speaking ability; after presenting future cases in court other speaking opportunities appear nowhere near as daunting.
If a case reaches trial, then the costs incurred by both sides will often be high and emotions running even higher. Managing the client’s expectations and ensuring every important detail is covered by Counsel is imperative, but to an extent, as a Solicitor the result is out of your hands by the stage that the trial starts. For this reason, you must be certain that you have done all that you can for your client from the moment of first instruction up until this point.
I would thoroughly recommend volunteering for a seat in Litigation early on in your traineeship. I was pushed out of my comfort zone from day one and have enjoyed the responsibility of handling my own cases and framing my own arguments.