Commercial law: area of practice (barristers)
Commercial law is generally concerned with business disputes. These can be broad and varied, ranging from simple breach of contract claims to disputes over complex transactions involving multiple parties and causes of action. This area of law is intellectually challenging and stimulating, often involving complex legal issues. You get to work with some incredibly bright people, and there is a buzz about being involved in high-value and high-profile cases. It is also financially rewarding and provides more security than some other areas of practice.
The blend of advocacy and chambers work in commercial law
You may take cases on your own, or as a junior in a larger team of counsel. Your own cases often start with advisory work, before you draft pleadings, and then prepare the case for the trial, at which you will perform advocacy. Led junior counsel will undertake legal research and prepare notes, draft pleadings and aid in preparing for a trial.
Commercial cases typically take between one to two years to reach trial, although simple cases may be quicker and complex cases can take much longer. It is also common for cases to settle before trial. Higher value cases are usually heard in the High Court (Commercial Court, the Chancery Division or Queen’s Bench Division) and lower value cases are heard in county courts.
Clients range from large multinational businesses, to smaller businesses and private individuals and shareholders. A junior barrister may have around ten cases of their own on the go, and one to two larger cases in which they are being led.
What aspiring barristers need to know about the commercial Bar
The opportunities for junior barristers to get on their feet are more limited than other areas of practice. Although it will vary from week to week, generally you will be in court once per week and spend the remainder of your time in chambers doing paperwork or giving advice in conference.
The hours can be long, especially when court deadlines are approaching, and late night stints are necessary. This tends to intensify as you get closer to trial, and during the trial itself the case will be pretty all-consuming.
There may be overseas travel for cases in different jurisdictions or for arbitrations, but the majority of the work is UK based. There is also an element of socialising with clients, usually after hearings.
Students should be aware of the Supreme Court decisions on the appeal concerning penalty clauses in Cavendish Square Holding BV v. Talal El Makdessi UKSC 2013/0280 and ParkingEye Limited v. Beavis UKSC 2015/0116. Students should also be aware of FHR European Ventures LLP and others v. Cedar Capital Partners LLC  UKSC 45 – the Supreme Court decision considering the issue of constructive trusts and proprietary remedies in respect of bribes.
Is commercial law recession-proof?
Commercial litigation has held up well during the recession, with plenty of work for commercial barristers. It is also boosted by the fact that the English courts have an international reputation for excellence, meaning that parties across the world choose to litigate here. Recent changes to the costs regime and a rise in fees for issuing claims have contributed to an increased interest in alternative ways of funding claims.
What sort of work do commercial pupils undertake?
Pupils are generally expected to work from nine to six, although this may vary depending on their supervisor’s workload. In particular, hours may be longer before and during trial (whether their supervisor’s or their own). During pupillage, typical tasks range from undertaking legal research to producing first drafts of pleadings or other documents for their supervisor. In the second six, pupils will start taking on their own cases. Throughout pupillage, there are also a number of oral and written assessments.
Types of law practised by commercial barristers
CHARLOTTE DAVIES is a barrister at LITTLETON CHAMBERS. She studied modern history at the University of Oxford and was called to the Bar in 2006.