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Barristers' practice areas

Commercial dispute resolution

Liisa Lahti

Quadrant Chambers

University: University of Cambridge 
Degree: Law

The commercial Bar covers a broad range of practice areas, including banking and financial services, sale of goods and shipping,  insolvency, professional negligence and civil fraud, insurance/reinsurance and oil and gas law. Barristers also handle matters for commercial clients that overlap with discrete areas of law such as employment, intellectual property and competition. Although advocacy is an important skill for commercial barristers, there is also a heavy emphasis throughout pupillage on developing a full understanding of commercial law principles and honing one’s drafting skills.

Training as a solicitor before deciding to requalify as a barrister gave Liisa Lahti a well-rounded perspective of the differences between both types of lawyer, as well as a clear-eyed sense of why she is more suited to life as a barrister. “There are definitely pros and cons to both professions,” she observes. “I chose the Bar because I really enjoy working through difficult legal problems and taking the time to develop my arguments – a luxury solicitors often don’t have. I was also looking for a high degree of personal responsibility.”

Wider economic conditions at the time she qualified had an influence on Liisa’s early cases. “When I started at the Bar, there was a lot of banking work around due to the fallout from the financial crisis,” she explains. “I enjoyed it and so stuck with it. However, one of the nice things about the Bar is the ability to work in more than one area of expertise, so in addition to banking and finance disputes, in the past I have also handled a variety of cases ranging from shipping, to the sale of goods and fraud.” 

Following the paper trail

Her wide-ranging practice involves a mix of advocacy in court and time in chambers spent developing arguments by analysing the facts of cases and the relevant law, and drafting advices and correspondence. “There tends to be more paperwork involved at the commercial Bar than others such as family and crime,” she explains. “This is because the cases tend to be longer and rely more on detail – both legal and factual. You need confidence, rigour, a good memory, commitment and an ability to boil things down, whether legal analysis or factual matters.”

More teamwork than you think

Contrary to the popular belief that barristers mostly work alone, teamwork is also an important aspect of the role. “Especially in larger cases, there is likely to be a lot of liaising with your instructing solicitors, as well as the QC leading the case and other members of the counsel team,” she explains. “There are frequent discussions about the progress of the case and how to develop strategy going forward. One of the most enjoyable aspects of practising as a barrister is forming strong professional relationships with senior barristers and solicitors, as there is so much to learn from others and the Bar is quite close knit – it is a supportive profession in my experience.”

There tends to be more paperwork involved at the commercial Bar than others such as family and crime because the cases tend to be longer and rely more on detail – both legal and factual. You need confidence, rigour, a good memory, commitment and an ability to boil things down

In addition to honing her legal expertise, as Liisa has progressed, she has also developed “more practical skills, such as making strategic and tactical decisions on cases.” The autonomy to make those decisions is at the core of the job’s appeal. “I enjoy independent intellectual challenges and being self-employed,” she says. “The biggest challenge is that there is no off switch because often, the decision as to how much you work is purely up to you and you want to do a good job.”

The rewards are well worth the challenge. One of Liisa’s career highlights so far was taking a case to the Supreme Court. “It was a truly amazing experience,” she recounts. “The rigour and speed of the judges’ thought process was inspiring.”

A changing world

Are there any wider issues affecting the commercial Bar that aspiring barristers should know about? “A lot,” she laughs, highlighting that “there are various ongoing investigations by regulators into the financial world, while the consequences of covid-19 and the lockdowns imposed as a result of it are creating various challenges for businesses and cybercrime is ever present. And as always in the law, we are to a certain extent dealing with yesterday’s problems, but there is no telling what yesterday’s problems will be the day after tomorrow.”

To face these challenges and keep up with a changing world, she believes the Bar needs to continue to modernise. “This means being ever more inclusive and diverse,” she argues, “as well as staying connected with global, political and financial developments to remain relevant and continue to be a source of legal expertise and high-quality advocacy.”

Liisa signs off with some valuable advice for future barristers: “Think carefully about where your strengths and interests lie. Being a commercial barrister is very different from other areas of the Bar both in terms of your day-to-day life and in terms of the work that you will be doing, so it is important to get to know the differences. As clichéd as it sounds, be yourself – the best advocates are. That said,  think carefully before you answer questions and be as precise and logical in your answers as you can. There are many different ways to be a barrister. There are plenty of stereotypes but no one form of background, character or intellectual curiosity makes a perfect barrister.”