Company law: area of practice (barristers)
Company law covers matters relating to the incorporation, ownership, governance, management and insolvency of a company (as opposed to the business or external affairs of the companies, which is better described as commercial law). Practitioners in this area typically work on matters relating to other business associations as well, such as partnerships and limited liability partnerships (LLPs).
A barrister may specialise almost entirely in company law or it may form part of a broader commercial or chancery practice. Cases are typically tried in the Chancery Division of the High Court.
Advice and preparation for company law cases
There are opportunities for junior barristers to get into court (normally on short winding up petitions), though this will not necessarily be the case as your career progresses. Practitioners spend the majority of their time in chambers giving advice and preparing for future cases, rather than on their feet in court. Company law barristers often give advice to companies even where no litigation is anticipated. For instance, a company, or a group of its shareholders, may require assistance in relation to a take-over, a share issue or a scheme of arrangement. When a barrister is working in chambers the hours can be regular, and though the days may be long, working through the night is rare. A practitioner will often be working on several cases at the same time.
When cases do go to court, however, the trials can be lengthy. For example, the trial of an unfair prejudice petition may last weeks or even months and may involve one or more shareholders (typically the minority shareholders) alleging that the affairs of the company have been managed in a way that is unfair and prejudicial to their interests as members of the company. Such cases tend to be fact-heavy where years of the management’s decisions are picked through in court, and preparation for the trial can take many months. During a trial, the hours can be demanding – though this should hopefully have been taken account of in the brief and refresher fees.
Need-to-know information about company law
Companies are subject to a range of regulatory controls beyond traditional company and insolvency law. Partnerships, LLPs and other entities all have their own rules. Practitioners also need to be familiar with most areas of private law (especially contracts, equity and trusts) and, increasingly, relevant aspects of European law.
An interesting case to watch out for in 2015 is the Supreme Court decision in Bilta v. Nazir, which will consider the effect of the House of Lords decision in Moore Stephens v. Stone Rolls Ltd in 2009.
Company law is about as recession-proof as it gets as the Bar, and is also unaffected by the legal aid reforms. While merger work tends to decrease with a slowing economy, insolvency work abounds. There is nothing like the prospect of a company’s collapse to focus the minds of creditors and shareholders.
As a pupil
Pupils will draft documents, conduct legal research and attend court hearings with their supervisors. In their second six, they may appear in court on winding up petitions or other small matters, but there are fewer oral advocacy opportunities than there would be if practising general common or criminal law.
Types of law practised
Good company barristers have...
- Strong legal knowledge
- An eye for detail and commercial common sense
- A capacity to engage with difficult legal issues
ABRA BOMPAS is a barrister at ONE ESSEX COURT. She studied history at University College London (UCL) and was called to the Bar in 2008.