When I opened my envelope from Brodies and learnt that Insurance and Risk Litigation was to be my first seat, I felt both excited and nervous. The word litigation jumped out at me screaming court appearances, public speaking and something I knew very little about. I often hear of trainees choosing to complete a litigation seat later on in their traineeship, preferring to settle in to trainee life rather than being up on your feet in court very early on. I will discuss my experience of completing a litigation seat as a first year trainee.
It is common to think of litigation as fighting for the rights of the pursuer. However, I found it very interesting to work within the Defender team, framing arguments to successfully defend claims. I worked within the Casualty, Shipping and Professional Negligence teams which ensured my work load was very varied.
As a first year, you can appear in any stage of a small claim action (claims worth less than £3,000) or the first calling of a summary cause action (claims worth between £3,000 and £5,000). Second years can appear in more complex ordinary actions, if they have a restricted practising certificate, so completing a seat in litigation as a second year will be a slightly different experience. I found completing a litigation seat early on in my traineeship provided a smooth transition from the Diploma into real life practice. My appearances in the small claims court were challenging but as my civil tutorial notes were fresh in my mind and with support from team members I was well prepared for my appearances.
On completion of my first appearance I felt like a trainee lawyer. Presenting your case in front of a Sheriff is one of the best experiences I have had during my traineeship (and nerve racking!). My court experience has vastly improved my confidence in my public speaking ability; after presenting cases in court other speaking opportunities appear nowhere near as daunting.
Working within the Professional Negligence team has given me real examples of common mistakes solicitors can make and skills to mitigate complaints. I think every trainee should spend time within this team; learning about common pitfalls early has kept me on my guard. It is necessary to become an expert in the relevant field of each PN claim. One day you might have a client with a claim against them in the field of medicine, the next might require you to know the ins and outs of the responsibilities of auditors. My research skills have therefore developed enormously. Selecting the key information the fee earner requires is a transferable skill relevant to every seat.
I was based in Edinburgh for the duration of my time in litigation; I therefore had the benefit of visiting the Court of Session on an almost weekly basis. Covering court runs has strengthened by understanding of the court processes and the drafting requirements for an array of documents such as defences, caveats, productions, tenders and petitions.
Perhaps as a second year it might be easier to hit the ground running – already having formed relationships in the firm and being settled in to your traineeship. However, there are so many transferable skills to be gained from time spent in litigation which can act as a great foundation to continue your traineeship.
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. I have enjoyed the responsibility of handling my own cases and framing my own arguments. I am now completing a seat in the Corporate team here in Edinburgh, and there are many skills that I have brought with me from my time in litigation.
On June 1, 2016