12 April 2017

By solicitor Kathryn Smith

In the second year of my training contract, I followed up a transactional seat in real estate with a seat in real estate disputes – a specialist team within Burges Salmon’s larger dispute resolution department.

Although titled ‘real estate disputes’, a good proportion of the team's work is in technical, advisory property law. I chose the seat hoping for exposure to plenty of advisory work. I also gained new analytical skills, a new approach to my work and a clearer idea of what makes a good property lawyer.

Building on a real estate seat

At Burges Salmon, the teams in real estate and real estate disputes work very closely with each other on matters which have a contentious element, a novel legal point, or other aspects which mean that expertise in litigation procedure or risk advisory work is helpful.

The subject matter is the same – land and rights over land, ranging from ownership to easements, and from solar parks to inner city office buildings. The result is that if you are interested in one team’s work, you will undoubtedly be interested in the other’s. Similarly, a lot of the people you will work with are the same, so there is plenty of continuity.

Personal development

It is immensely useful for your own professional development to get exposure into what happens when things go wrong. Learning how to step in and solve problems can make you aware of important steps to take in transactional work to avoid future litigation.

Secondly, the precision required for contentious work is excellent training for all solicitors, whichever practice area you end up in. As a commercial firm aiming to combine advice, service and value to suit each client, there is usually a level of commercial risk which a client is willing to take for the benefit of the whole transaction. However, in litigation appraisal of risk is slightly different. It is essential that every piece of correspondence is able to stand up in court. Knowing that a judge will read the findings of your research task can be a real test of the rigour of your arguments.

Wider experience

Because real estate disputes is located within the disputes resolution department, trainees will experience a range of other types of work. My experience so far has included a shareholder arbitration, procurement litigation, financial services disputes, and research into insurance law and white collar crime.

Advice for new trainees

It is useful to think about what you would like to get out of the mandatory contentious seat. Many trainees feel that they are not contentious lawyers. While plenty change their minds, for those who do want to end up in a transactional area, your goals for a disputes seat may be different.

What I’ve said for real estate disputes here equally goes for other complementary practice areas. At Burges Salmon, trainees could target their disputes workload towards agricultural and private client disputes, corporate disputes, disputes relating to key sectors such as energy and projects, or even pensions disputes.

As we have six seats, the added flexibility means there is more scope to try out something new, which could turn out to be the practice area you love or could give you a new perspective on another one you have enjoyed.

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A seat in real estate disputes

Knowing that a judge will read the findings of your research task can be a real test of the rigour of your arguments.
Kathryn Smith, Solicitor

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