University: University of Durham
Commercial litigation involves the resolution of disputes in the corporate and commercial sphere, including those arising out of joint venture projects, civil fraud, commercial and banking transactions, corporate governance, financial services regulation and professional negligence. The Jackson Reforms, which came into force in April 2013, have significantly changed the court process, including the way litigation is managed, especially in relation to directions and costs.
Susan Garrett’s introduction to the legal world could not have been more dramatic; whilst at school she was hit by a car driven by one of her teachers, who then failed to offer an adequate apology. As a result, Susan encouraged her parents to instruct a solicitor and to take him to court. Despite the case being somewhat boring and pretty uneventful, it sparked Susan’s interest in law and inspired her to embark on a career as a lawyer.
From this young age Susan began to explore where her legal interests lay and went on to study law at Durham University. She took up a number of vacation placements to better understand the difference between the work of a barrister and a solicitor. She decided that a career as a solicitor was most appealing for two reasons: “Firstly, I liked the team spirit and that you get involved in bigger teams and being a barrister seemed to be a bit more of a lonely profession. Secondly, in a law firm as a solicitor you are closer to the clients, especially commercial clients. I like to really get under the skin of clients in a commercial context and as a barrister you are one step further removed.”
Susan completed her training contract at what was Herbert Smith (now Herbert Smith Freehills) and describes it fondly as “a fantastic two years. I was one of many trainees and made some great friends, I was part of a great cohort of trainees and I was lucky enough to do 12 months of litigation; six months of shipping litigation and six months of commercial litigation. I had the opportunity to do some great work and had a great time working in the City.”
The opportunity to get stuck into big litigation cases during her training contract meant that Susan knew that this was the field that she wanted to work in. She is now a commercial litigation partner at Addleshaw Goddard and her work mainly involves running large commercial conflicts and disputes of an incredibly varied nature, including “shareholder disputes, warranty claims, judicial reviews and a lot of tax litigation and pension litigation in particular.”
Variety is key
The variety of matters that Susan takes on means that her workload is spread across multiple cases simultaneously: “I have quite a few big disputes that take years to resolve, they may be going to trial in the next year or in 2019 and some of which may be on trial for a month or more. I also have many matters that are not based in the courts, there are many disputes that clients need to sort out before the commencement of proceedings, through mediation or commercial negotiation, so I have a real mixture of cases and can be involved in up to 30 or more at any one time.”
Susan has always been keen to work on a diverse selection of matters, but as a partner she now bears ultimate responsibility for the outcome of the cases she takes on: “The main difference of being a partner to when I was a junior solicitor is that, essentially, the buck stops with me and I have overall strategic responsibility for the cases while leading my team. Whereas, when you are newly qualified or a trainee, you are part of a team and you usually work on one small specific element of a case or help on a selection of different aspects, but you don’t have the overall responsibility of running a large case.”
However, the pressure of being ultimately responsible is offset by the high that comes with working through a difficult case and securing a great result for a client: “I’m an adrenaline junky and as a litigator you move from one high to the next, it’s always great winning trials, obtaining worldwide freezing injunctions and getting a really good settlement for a client. Often the client is in a very difficult position and they are trying to resolve something that is really critical for the survival of their business, and what I enjoy is devising a strategy to help get clients through the process with their business intact.”
"You’ve got to have an eye for detail and be analytical, and you’ve got to think strategically and enjoy problem solving"
On the flip side of this, the mundanity of one aspect of the role can be frustrating: “Recording time in six-minute units is a less enjoyable aspect of my job, I am lucky enough for most of my work to be enjoyable, but time recording is a bit tedious.”
Competition is on the rise
Looking to the future, Susan anticipates that increasing competition will precipitate change in the market: “Price pressures, the cost of regulation and the fact that it is a very competitive market means that I would expect to see some consolidation in the market, but perhaps not as much as in other areas. A number of law firms have failed but we are fortunate that Addleshaw is financially strong and we have fantastic clients, but weaker firms will start to fall by the wayside and we will see more consolidation.”
In the dispute resolution sector, funding is a key talking point: “Addleshaw Goddard is at the forefront of how litigation is funded and the market for third-party funders has become very competitive, so we are going to see more and more big group litigation funded by third-party professional funders.” For those looking to pursue a career in dispute resolution, an aptitude for analysis is an absolutely crucial part of being a successful litigator: “You’ve got to have an eye for detail and be analytical, and you’ve got to think strategically and enjoy problem solving, as these are the kinds of things you will do on a daily basis”. Equally, collaboration is key, as Susan advises: “If you want to work in a law firm you have to enjoy working as a team, whether you are in private practice or in-house, it is hard work but it is incredibly interesting and rewarding.”
Broadening your horizons is also important – getting as much experience as possible as early as you can will make things much easier in the long run: “Try and get internships at a variety of different firms doing different work and build up your experience early on,” offers Susan. “Get a wide variety of experience in different kinds of disputes and work areas. Then you can decide whether you want to specialise in something and identify what really interests you. Doing disputes in diverse areas helps you to develop the necessary skills to analyse any problem so that you can work with the client to create a resolution.”
Susan stresses that utilising the opportunity to gain experience was absolutely invaluable in determining what field she most enjoyed working in and that this enjoyment has been key in helping her build a successful and rewarding career: “Ultimately, if you do what you enjoy you will have a great career and won’t grow weary of it, and you will end up being really successful as you are doing what you enjoy.”