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Barristers' practice areas

Civil law

Andrew Scott

Blackstone Chambers

University: University of Oxford
Degree: Law

Civil law involves relations between persons and organisations. It encompasses a very broad range of legal issues, including those relating to contract, tort, probate and trusts. More specifically, civil law covers disputes that range from employment to professional negligence, and from education to property.

It was not the Bar, but a career in academia that initially beckoned to Andrew Scott after finishing his law degree at the University of Oxford. He stayed on to teach law and research topics in multi-jurisdictional commercial litigation, but soon came to realise that “it is just much more fun arguing cases for real than reading about them.” Mind made up, he left Oxford for a similarly intellectual, but more hands-on vocation.

Andrew was called to the Bar in 2010 and is currently a tenant of Blackstone Chambers, a leading commercial set in Temple, the heart of the City of London’s legal district where the Inns of Court are based. He has developed a broad civil disputes practice that covers a range of different areas of law. “About 90% of my practice is commercial cases, typically with a cross-border or international element, which could either be foreign parties or legal issues, or foreign legal proceedings taking place alongside those in England and Wales that require coordination,” he explains. “At the commercial Bar in London, it is very rare nowadays to encounter any sizeable commercial litigation that does not involve a foreign element.” Within that 90%, Andrew’s cases vary across banking, restructuring and fraud work. The remaining 10% changes from year to year: “At the moment, a large proportion is made up of competition cases.”

Life as a litigator

His workload can be split into two broad categories – litigation and advice. “Most of my practice is litigation work – it might start out as advisory, but usually it turns into proceedings of some kind,” he explains. “Often in a commercial case, proceedings will begin with a flurry of interim applications or an injunction – possibly a jurisdiction challenge. If a case doesn’t settle after that early skirmishing, the parties will dig in and prepare for trial. At any time, I will have a number of cases at different stages of the journey from advisory work to trial preparation.”

Much commercial litigation is resolved out of court, but Andrew still gets plenty of opportunities to conduct trial advocacy in certain types of case. “Trials between sophisticated entities, provided they don’t involve fraud allegations, will typically settle because it is rarely in the interests of two businesses to incur the costs of a public trial,” he observes. “But when you are fighting cases between individuals, or where there are serious allegations of fraud, settlement is less common because the whole point of the litigation in many such cases is for one party to have their day in court and prove that they are right.”

Whether it is written or in court, all of our work as barristers is done with the intent to persuade someone – be that a client, a judge or even someone on your own team.

As Andrew has grown more senior, opportunities to be ‘on his feet’ in court have become more frequent. One particular case stands out as a milestone in this particular regard: “I successfully applied for a freezing order to restrain a share dividend worth some $95 million, which had been proposed by a Middle Eastern company that my client was litigating against. The litigation was particularly complicated and had several moving parts, and it was the first sizeable injunction that I obtained unled – that is, without the supervision of a more senior barrister. The injunction also turned out to be critical to the outcome of the case, which settled soon afterwards. It reflected the career stage that I have now reached, where I am doing more cases on my own and conducting my own advocacy.”

The power of persuasion

Advocacy, clearly, is the cornerstone of the job, as well as one of its most enjoyable aspects. “It is ultimately the reason that we do this,” he enthuses. “Whether it is written or in court, all of our work as barristers is done with the intent to persuade someone – be that a client, a judge or even someone on your own team.” Rivalling advocacy in its appeal is the sheer unpredictability from one moment to the next.

“That is what made me want to stop being an academic and come to the Bar in the first place. It isn’t part of a barrister’s job to look for problems – they come to us.” There is another side to an  unpredictable workload, though, and giving up any semblance of control over his time during certain periods can be a source of frustration: “If you are working on a case and some important development happens that needs to be addressed urgently, it just has to be done. For example, during the preparation for an injunction there is often no time for anything beyond the work it requires. And particularly in the very early stages of my career, I was surprised by the  unpredictability of the working pattern. During that first couple of years when you are trying to build your practice and make contacts, you have very little control over your diary. The cost of being self-employed is that there are times when you must be fully focused on the job.”

Public funding crisis

Turning his thoughts to issues facing the wider barristers’ profession, Andrew highlights different areas of concern that “very much depend on the area of the Bar that you are targeting for your career. There is a public funding crisis at the Bar which primarily affects practitioners in criminal and family law, but I think it is also beginning to affect the courts, because the consequence of having inadequate representation due a lack of funding to provide barristers is that judges have to take on more work, which puts added pressure on the system. It may sound dramatic, but I’m not sure how someone who wants to be a criminal or family barrister would achieve that now without some alternative form of income, at least in the early years of your practice. The crisis in that area of the Bar is systemic because it impacts on how we deliver justice.”

Meanwhile, “in the corner of the Bar where I practise, the challenges are very different,” he continues. “Our issues arise from the need to retain London’s status as an attractive centre for international dispute resolution. That is critical because, as I have said, most of the commercial work that we see nowadays is international, and that work provides revenue for solicitors, barristers and a whole host of other industries which spin out of litigation. London is not the only place where this kind of work is done – there are centres around the world, such as in Singapore or the Middle East, that are competing for it. We practitioners must try to ensure that London remains an attractive place for people to come and have their disputes resolved.”

Finally, Andrew offers his advice on the four essential skills and attributes that you will need to succeed at the Bar: “The first you could describe as ‘shot selection’. Clients take for granted that you will be on top of the law and the facts of the case – what they are really looking for is to take all that material and extract the critical points that are going to win the case, whether they are points of law or factual detail. The next two are more obvious – hard work and endurance are essential, and it is important to put in the hours necessary to crunch through the material. You also need to be willing to work in teams with solicitors – the reality is that the vast majority of litigation is working in small groups within a much larger team.” It is certainly instructive that even among self-employed barristers, the nature of a career in the legal profession is highly collaborative.