Commercial law: area of practice (barristers)

Andrew Scott from Blackstone Chambers explains how commercial barristers litigate or advise on often high value and high profile cases to resolve commercial disputes.

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I would encourage all applicants undertaking the applications process to do what they can to familiarise themselves with work that a particular chambers actually does.

Commercial law is concerned with disputes arising from commerce or other business. The variety, complexity, and cross-border nature of contemporary business relationships is such that commercial disputes involve a wide range of legal and factual issues. It is an intellectually challenging area, which affords the opportunity to work on high profile and high value cases.

What case do commercial barristers work on?

Cases fall into two main categories: advice and litigation. You may be instructed with a leader (usually a senior barrister) or as sole counsel. Either way, you will likely work as part of a larger team with your instructing solicitors. Litigation typically involves: the parties stating their cases; providing disclosure, witness (and sometimes expert) evidence regarding the parties’ positions; and, finally, a trial. The time that process takes depends on the nature and complexity of the dispute and the volume of material that it generates. Many cases will run for several years. Commercial disputes are typically tried in the Commercial Court or the Chancery Division of the High Court.

Clients are typically businesses such as banks, insurers, traders or wealthy private individuals.

A commercial practitioner will likely have many different cases on the go at any time; each at different stages. The percentage of time spent in chambers and in court varies widely depending on the nature of the dispute, whether you are led or unled, and the stage that the litigation has reached. For example, about 25–30 per cent of my time is spent in court.

As for work/life balance, the implications of a commercial practice depend on how much work you take on and what stage the dispute has reached. The process of preparing for and attending trial is particularly demanding. Commercial disputes are also unpredictable; there are occasions during which you may unexpectedly have to work long hours if the case requires it, eg because it is necessary to make or respond to an application for an urgent injunction.

What should you know about work as a commercial barrister?

The best aspects of commercial practice are its legal and factual variety and complexity, and the opportunities it affords for advocacy in high profile and high value cases. The worse aspect is the implications that commercial practice can, on occasion, have for work/life balance.

Students should be aware of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Rock Advertising Ltd v. MWB Business Exchange Centres Ltd [2018] UKSC 24 (no variation clauses); Morris-Garner v. One Step [2018] UKSC 29 (negotiating damages); and Wood v. Sureterm Direct Ltd [2007] UKSC 24 (contractual interpretation).

Is work at the commercial Bar recession-proof?

Commercial disputes continue to arise during a recession and continue to be litigated in the English courts. Certain sectors, such as restructuring and insolvency, may well have benefited from the current economic climate.

What does Brexit mean for commercial barristers?

Provided that the terms upon which the UK leaves the EU preserve the accessibility and attractiveness of the English courts to foreign litigants, I would not expect Brexit to have an immediate adverse impact. Whether there is such an impact over the longer term will likely depend on the wider impacts that Brexit has on the economy and in particular the financial services industry, which continues to generate a considerable amount of commercial litigation.

What will you do as a commercial law pupil barrister?

Pupils in my chambers are expected to work between 9.00 am and 6.00 pm; occasionally, longer hours may be necessary, eg during a trial or urgent applications. Typically, a pupil will prepare research notes on legal issues, notes on evidence, and first drafts of statements of case, submissions, and cross-examination outlines.

I would encourage all applicants undertaking the applications process to do what they can to familiarise themselves with work that a particular chambers actually does. Mini-pupillages are the most effective means by which to do this. It also helps to look at recent cases involving practitioners from the chambers to which you are applying.

Types of law practised as a commercial barrister

  • Contract
  • Tort
  • Property
  • Private international law
  • Civil procedure

ANDREW SCOTT is a barrister at BLACKSTONE CHAMBERS. He read jurisprudence at the University of Oxford, graduating in 2004. He went on to research and teach on issues of jurisdiction and applicable law in cross-border and typical commercial disputes at the university. Andrew was called to the Bar in 2010.

Skills and attributes sought in commercial barristers

  • Academic excellence
  • Analytical skills, including the ability to deal with and simplify abstract concepts and complex facts
  • Teamwork skills
  • Clear drafting

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