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From transactions to trials: the shift from a non-contentious to a contentious seat

Introduction

I am a trainee solicitor currently in my second seat of my training contract. One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of my training contract so far has been the move from a non-contentious to a contentious seat. Starting in the residential property department and moving into the family department, I have experienced a huge shift in terms of the type of work that I am involved in, the parties that I work with, and my day-to-day schedule. In this blog, I want to share my journey, insights, and key takeaways from working in both types of legal seats.

What is contentious and non-contentious work?

Contentious legal work revolves around disputes and the processes involved in resolving them, whether through litigation, arbitration, or mediation. This type of work includes tasks such as drafting clients’ statements, negotiation and representing clients in court. Non-contentious work is transactional work which involves advising clients and drafting documents which are usually between two parties not involving any disputes.

My experience and key take-aways

The move from the residential property to the family department has challenged me to improvise, adapt quickly to change, and develop a range of invaluable skills. It has demanded preparation and a willingness to step out of my comfort zone. The main change I have experienced in terms of my day-to-day schedule is the shift from an office-based role to a role which involves spending a lot of time in court.

The nature of the work that I was involved with in the residential property department was generally transactional. I would assist clients with the legal aspects of buying and selling houses, and transfers of equity. This involved a lot of drafting, raising enquiries, interpreting search results, and updating clients, estate agents and lenders on the progress of transactions. I generally worked in the office every day and much of the work was carried out electronically. The nature of the work I have been involved with in the family department is more sensitive and can be quite emotional. I spend a lot of time attending court hearings and meetings and therefore have experienced advocacy and cross-examination first hand. I still do a lot of drafting and desk-based work, so finding a balance and planning tasks around court hearings and meetings has taken some getting used to!

Both departments are similar in the sense that they can both be extremely fast paced, demanding effective time-management. They have both required me to carry out legal research and summarise/ advise clients on lengthy documents, so communication skills have been essential and transferrable.

I am only a few weeks into my new seat in the family department, and I am excited to see what the future holds, but for now, here are some of my top tips that have helped me settle into my new seat in the initial few weeks:

Embrace the change – the move between contentious and non-contentious seats inevitably involves a shift in mindset and skillset. I have learnt to prepare for the changes and expect the unexpected! The change has given me the opportunity to learn new ways of thinking and working. Having the experience in  both seats has given me a broad insight into different areas of law which will be helpful when it comes to deciding what I want to qualify into long-term.

Stay organised – from my experience, keeping a diary / calendar / to-do-list has been helpful to organise myself and manage deadlines effectively. Starting a new department can feel overwhelming as everything is fresh and unfamiliar, making it difficult to discern urgent tasks and prioritise them. When given a task on something I am unfamiliar with, I often query deadlines and urgency so that I can prioritise and manage expectations.

Carry a pen – I often ask my supervisor several questions over the phone or in-person. This could be about a particular task, file, or process. Having a pen handy allows me to capture important details for future reference. In the past, I’ve had conversations and later forgotten key points, so this habit has become essential.

Ask for feedback  – being proactive in seeking feedback from supervisors, colleagues, and mentors has been very beneficial for me. It has allowed me to identify areas of strength, giving me confidence that I am carrying out particular tasks correctly or demonstrating a particular skill well. It has also allowed me to consider areas of improvement at an early stage so that I can perform better in these areas in future.

 

 

 

Teleasha Vrioni-Wright