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James Stacey - dispute resolution

Dispute resolution law: area of practice

The recession had an inverse effect on dispute resolution departments, explains James Stacey – partner at Slaughter and May.
Dispute resolution solicitors collaborate closely with clients, witnesses, barristers and other solicitors in their team.

Dispute resolution is, by its nature, an adversarial area of practice; there are two sides to every case and the opposition will always formulate a counter argument. Dispute resolution lawyers must focus on detail and think tactically to achieve the best result for the client.

Dispute resolution lawyers are often involved when the client first anticipates an issue that might not be capable of being resolved amicably. Occasionally, solicitors are required to advise on a very urgent basis, for example if the client requires an urgent injunction against another party to freeze assets worldwide.

Throughout the course of any dispute you will always be considering whether your client is going to be best served by settling the dispute, and if so tactically what is the optimum timing to achieve the best possible result.

The court process for dispute resolution matters

If settlement is not possible, the dispute is ultimately heard by a court, or by an arbitral tribunal if the parties have agreed to that disputes should be subject to arbitration. In either case, the steps to the ultimate hearing are often similar. The party bringing the claim states their case, and the party defending the claim has the opportunity to respond. The parties then identify and disclose to each other the documents – emails, instant messages, recorded telephone conversations – that relate to the dispute. Individuals who can speak about the facts of the dispute are interviewed and witness statements prepared.

In certain cases, independent experts are also engaged to give their expert view on points in dispute, ranging from what caused an explosion in a power station to the correct valuation of a company. Although disputes can be settled within a few weeks or months, if they proceed to a hearing this can take up to a couple of years.

How much client contact am I likely to have?

The size of the team depends on the dispute, but typically there are one or two partners, two or three associates and a couple of trainees, who work closely together on the case. You can expect to have daily contact with the client to discuss developments and tactics. You may also spend significant amounts of time out of the office – interviewing witnesses, meeting experts or ensuring evidence has been correctly identified.

The court or tribunal will set a procedural timetable (known as directions) for each of the steps. This gives lawyers a slightly greater degree of insight than in many areas of practice regarding which periods are going to be particularly busy – and allows you to plan accordingly.

How recession-proof is this area of legal practice?

The recession seems to have had an inverse effect on this area of practice; many dispute resolution lawyers have been busier than ever over the past few years.

What sort of work will I be given as a trainee solicitor?

Trainees’ work is varied and they are an integral part of the team. At the early stages of a dispute trainees are involved in identifying the scope of the documentary evidence – often at the client’s premises – and then piecing this evidence together to determine the relevant facts. Trainees also assist with witness and expert interviews and, if a hearing takes place, attend court.

The types of law dispute resolution solicitors use in their job

  • Contract.
  • Tort.

Good dispute resolution solicitors have... 

  • An analytical and tactical mind.
  • The ability to work in a team – you collaborate closely not only with other members of your department, but with clients, witnesses and barristers.
  • The ability to get the most out of a variety of people.
  • Attention to detail – everything you draft will be subject to scrutiny by the other side.

James Stacey is a partner in the dispute resolution group at Slaughter and May. He graduated with a degree in law (jurisprudence) from the University of Oxford in 2000.