Construction law: area of practice (barristers)
Practice as a construction lawyer involves work in technically complex disputes. The law that governs relationships in the construction industry provides a detailed framework to help resolve issues that have a technical flavour and are often contained within a mass of detailed evidence. Typical clients are employers, contractors and sub-contractors in the construction industry. These may vary from those engaged in domestic projects to large industrial projects.
Litigation as a last resort
Many disputes are resolved outside the traditional process of litigation. You will be regularly instructed in adjudication, mediation and arbitration as well as cases that are tried in the technology and construction court in London. A typical case may involve an initial instruction to advise, having considered correspondence relating to a dispute. Following this advice, the parties to the dispute may engage in alternative dispute resolution, which might involve an instruction to advise for the purposes of mediation or to appear at a mediation. If the mediation does not succeed, the next stage will be the drafting of the statement of case and advising the client on the evidence that needs to be prepared for a possible trial hearing.
The technical aspect of construction law often leads to a need for expert evidence. You will be involved in selecting, and assisting with the instruction of, an expert at this stage of the dispute. The parties and their solicitors will prepare factual and expert evidence and the claim will then go to trial – at which you will appear as an advocate. The preparation stages will take many months and the hearing of a complex case may last several weeks or months in court.
As a construction barrister you will spend a large amount of time in chambers preparing cases or advising clients. You are likely to spend less time in court than in many other areas of practice. When you are busy with trial preparation, or if you are working on several cases, you will need to work long hours – well into the evenings and over weekends.
You should consider this area of practice if you enjoy the technical aspects to commercial relationships and are happy with working through detailed and complex issues of fact. You should not consider it if you want large amounts of oral advocacy from the start of your practice and if you are unwilling to socialise with clients out of hours.
The recent developments in adjudication law and the severe recession in the construction industry have had an effect in reducing the volume of work for some practitioners, but the Bar is likely to be less vulnerable to recession than other professions.
As a pupil
As a pupil you will arrive at or before 9.00 am and work until 6.00 pm or later; you will need to be prepared to work some evenings and weekends. You will be involved in drafting witness statements, advices and statements of case. You will also be involved in researching the law for your pupil supervisor. In your second six months of pupillage you will act for your own clients in court in simple cases of modest value. You may also be involved in assisting members of chambers other than your pupil supervisor in researching law or drafting written work.
Types of law practised
Good construction barristers have…
- Analytical brainpower, clarity of expression and the ability to work hard.
- The ability to work as a sole barrister in a team – or in a much larger team of barristers, solicitors, experts and professional clients.
GEORGE WOODS is a barrister at 4 PUMP COURT. He graduated with a degree in modern history from Oxford University in 2001 and was called to the bar by Middle Temple in 2003.