Banking and finance: area of practice (barristers)

Natasha Bennett from Fountain Court says that you’ll have the opportunity to learn about complicated financial instruments and resolve disputes in this intellectually challenging area.

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It may take some time to familiarise yourself with banking jargon since it is not taught as part of a law degree or GDL.

Banking and finance law focuses on the resolution of disputes arising in the context of banking relationships or other finance backgrounds. These disputes usually relate to the performance of one party’s contractual (or other) duties. Clients are typically banks, private equity houses, fund managers and financial advisers and their customers.

Typical cases in banking and finance at the Bar

There is no such thing as a ‘typical banking and finance case’ – each case is different and has its own facts. As a barrister you will advise on strategy and draft the particulars of claim (acting for a claimant) or the defence (acting for the defendant), which set out the key components of the case. You may then be asked to review drafts of witness statements or expert reports. Cases often settle, as they usually include a commercial entity that will consider whether it is worth the cost of fighting through to trial.

Depending on the size of the case it may take over a year to get to trial. Prior to the trial you will need to prepare a skeleton argument, your oral submissions and cross-examination. Unless you are being ‘led’ by a more senior barrister, you will do the advocacy at trial. You may also be asked to advise on the merits of the case and/or represent your client at interlocutory hearings prior to trial.

Usually barristers will do a mix of smaller cases where they are the sole barrister and larger cases where they are part of a team. Typically a barrister would have between six and ten open cases (although not all active), but the number will vary according to the sizes of the cases. Around 80% of work is conducted from chambers, with the remaining 20% in court. Cases are heard primarily in the Commercial Court in London, but sometimes in the Queen’s Bench Division or Chancery Division.

Long hours are a possibility; however, ‘crunch times’ are predictable and you can plan a work/life balance. The work does not usually require overseas travel, but there are opportunities for counsel to appear in courts in, for example, the British Virgin or Cayman Islands if they wish.

Familiarising yourself with banking and finance as a junior barrister

It may take some time to familiarise yourself with banking jargon since it is not taught as part of a law degree or GDL. However, this intellectual stimulation is also one of the best parts of the work – both in figuring out how the law and complicated banking instruments in issue work. You are also allowed the time to make sure your client’s case is presented in the best possible light. As banking evolves, you may also be exposed to blockchain, cryptocurrency, cyber fraud and fintech, which are all having an impact on this practice area.

There are a few cases that have taken place over the last two years of which students should be aware: Property Alliance Group v. The Royal Bank of Scotland [2018] EWCA Civ 355 (LIBOR manipulation and interest rate hedging mis-selling); Fortress & Ors v. BNP Paribas & Ors , the ‘Golden Belt’ litigation [2017] EWHC 3182 (the Commercial Court found for the first time that an arranging bank owed a limited duty of care to investors in a capital market offering); and Sharp & Ors v. Blank & Ors , judgment imminent (Lloyds HBoS shareholders argued Lloyds and its directors failed to fully disclose the troubled state of HBoS’s finances in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis).

Brexit implications of banking and finance law

As long as banking and finance contracts continue to include jurisdiction clauses in favour of the English courts (which seems likely given the courts’ good reputation), I do not think this area of law will suffer too much from the UK leaving the EU.

What will you do as a banking and finance pupil barrister?

Pupils usually arrive around 9.00 am and leave around 7.00 pm, and late nights or weekends working are not expected. Pupils may be producing first drafts of particulars of claim, defences, skeleton arguments and advices, and research notes on particular legal problems. From the start pupils will be working on cases and tasks assigned by their supervisor or another member of chambers. After the tenancy decision, pupils will be given their own small cases in the county courts and opportunities to practise their advocacy skills.

Types of law practised within banking and finance at the Bar

  • Contract
  • Tort
  • Equity
  • Conflicts of laws

NATASHA BENNETT is a barrister at FOUNTAIN COURT CHAMBERS. She graduated with a degree in law from the University of Cambridge in 2007 and a masters in law (BCL) from the University of Oxford in 2008. She was called to the Bar in 2009.

Skills and attributes sought in banking and finance barristers

  • Analytical brainpower and attention to detail, with the ability to assimilate large amounts of information
  • Teamwork skills
  • Excellent technical legal ability
  • Commercial awareness

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