University: University of Oxford
Commercial litigators represent and advise commercial clients when disputes arise from joint venture projects, civil fraud, commercial and banking transactions, corporate governance, financial services regulation and professional negligence. Disputes can be decided through adversarial processes like litigation or arbitration, or parties may reach a negotiated settlement.
How do you know which part of the profession you’ll be most suited to? The collaborative nature of solicitors’ work is a popular pull for many aspiring lawyers and dispute resolution associate Sean Cannon is no exception. Sean explains that he was drawn to the idea of being part of a trainee cohort and “being among peers who were in the same position” as he was. Plus, having compared the typical assumptions that come with life as a solicitor and barrister, Sean recognised that, while there seemed to be significant opportunities for collaboration at the Bar, he was keen to “join a large firm where you work with a wide range of people at varying levels of seniority across a number of different teams and practice areas” – cue a training contract at RPC.
After completing his training contract, which involved a good mix of contentious and non-contentious work, English graduate Sean qualified as an associate in September 2020.
Heading to court
Sean sits in the commercial disputes department at RPC, having gravitated to this area of law during his training contract: “The firm is quite litigation-heavy, so I completed three litigation seats – two in the commercial disputes department and one insurance seat.
“I enjoyed working towards and around court deadlines and the various stages of litigation. I like having that level of structure in place – the fact you’re always heading towards a defined end point, like a big filing or a hearing date,” Sean says.
Though the legal world can occasionally seem somewhat opaque, Sean suggests the core of his job as a commercial disputes lawyer is easy to grasp: “It is essentially working on disagreements involving a range of commercial parties.” The types of task you might find yourself involved with "are largely driven by what stage the particular disagreement may have reached: you could be working with a client in the early stages to explore the possibility of a claim, or, if things have progressed, assisting with the preparation of the key documents necessary to prepare the case for trial – for example, the statements of case, witness statements or expert reports".
Disclosure can be a big part of a junior dispute resolution associate's role, and Sean has been heavily involved with a large disclosure exercise during his time in the team. A junior associate may find themselves responsible for "arranging the collection of documents, liaising with external document storage and review platform providers, and undertaking the review of the documents themselves under the supervision and guidance of more senior team members".
“I enjoyed working towards and around court deadlines and the various stages of litigation. I like having that level of structure in place – the fact you’re always heading towards a defined end point, like a big filing or a hearing date”
“As a junior associate, I think you can add a lot of value to a case through this type of disclosure work. By doing it well – reading the documents, processing the information, keeping track of how the review is progressing – you’ll have a great overview of the case, which stands you in good stead for taking more responsibility in other areas of the case as it progresses.” It’s therefore important that trainees and juniors in this, and any, practice area are “willing to get involved in any matter” that comes across their desk.
With two years’ experience as an associate in this role, Sean considers some stand-out moments of his career to date. One particular case, which has recently concluded, ran throughout Sean’s training contract and into his first two years as a qualified lawyer. While there isn’t a specific highlight for Sean, he talks about the reward that comes with “looking back on the case now that it has resolved and seeing all the work that went into it”. He adds: “It was great to see how every aspect of the team worked together and all the collaboration that was necessary to achieve the outcome.”
The work that comes with such cases is “challenging, interesting and varied. You learn so much from the people you work alongside, both within the firm and outside. It’s a great, stimulating environment”.
To hybrid or not to hybrid
Given the shift to remote working during the pandemic, and the hybrid approach that many firms have adopted subsequently, maintaining this stimulating environment in which trainees and junior associates can continue to learn from their more senior colleagues is something that law firms are continuing to engage with.
“Hybrid working is beneficial to so many people – the amount of flexibility it offers is hugely valuable in terms of other responsibilities and just general work-life balance. But, on some days, there may be fewer people in the office, and so there may be fewer opportunities for chance meetings or discussions that can lead to really good pieces of work for trainees or junior associates. But I think it is just about finding the right balance – where you can still take advantage of all the great flexibility of hybrid working without losing the cohesion and learning opportunities that you can get from being in the office."
“You learn so much from the people you work alongside, both within the firm and outside it. It’s a great, stimulating environment”
Don’t rule yourself out
The legal profession remains a competitive space, particularly for aspiring lawyers who are seeking out training contract opportunities. Making the most of the wellbeing initiatives at university and within firms is key, but what more career-specific advice does Sean have for those trying to enter the profession?
“Any contact with the legal world is valuable when you’re just starting out,” he says. But this doesn’t mean you must have experience on several prestigious schemes, and not having this experience should certainly not put anyone off applying.
“One of the things I wish I had been told when I was applying is that a lot of the experience you need to be a trainee, you probably already have from going to university, doing extracurriculars and having a part-time job – it’s just about how you package that information.”
Sean urges aspiring lawyers to not discount any experience they’ve had: “Take the time to consider your experience – law or non-law – and how it might be relevant to your application or how it helped you to develop the skills needed to be a trainee.”