Life as a trainee solicitor – ‘Episode 4 – Return of the Office’
I am now 4 months into my training contract with Consilia Legal and following the easing of Coronavirus restrictions in the UK I am now very pleased to be back in the office. I’ve been looking forward to getting back in the office since I started my training contract and although we have been in the office on the odd few occasions it is great to be back in every week.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, it is a huge help to be in the office with the other members of the team being able to listen in on calls, learn by osmosis and just turn around and ask a question without having to put it all in an email or make a call and hope that who you’re ringing isn’t on a call or you’re not disrupting their day. The team were a great help and very accommodating whilst we were working from home by letting me know they were always on hand, but being back in the office is great for my learning and development.
Now that we are back in the office, what am I doing? In terms of workload, it is business as usual. Currently, I am assisting on several litigation matters which is very enjoyable as you get to know the tribunal procedure in a hands-on way that you just won’t learn during the Legal Practice Course (LPC). For those wanting to take the LPC, you will learn the steps of a case such as drafting the ET1 & Grounds of Claim, disclosure and drafting witness statements but you don’t get to see the full picture of what those stages involve. This could be chasing clients for details or approval, emailing the other side about whether or not documents should be included in the disclosure, and even the incidental tasks that you will need to complete such as emailing the barrister’s clerk for a quote.
(side note – try to build good relationships with barristers and clerks early on, they are great contacts to make, and having a barrister you can ask questions of or who would be willing to give you any advocacy tips is invaluable.)
For this blog, I thought it would be helpful for those reading who are considering a legal career to do a breakdown for a specific task so they can see what the task is like in detail. I have picked the disclosure stage of a matter to ‘deep dive’ into.
In a nutshell, disclosure is where you collate all your client’s relevant evidence into a bundle to send across to the other side. All the evidence is referred to whilst drafting the witness statements and then displayed in the bundle at the hearing for the Judges and parties to refer to.
Disclosure will start with the Case Management Order which has been set down by the Tribunal. The Tribunal will set a date when the documents have to be ready to send across. This date is usually for both parties to mutually exchange at the same time.
Once you have this date you will email your client and ask them to provide you with any relevant evidence they have that relates to their case. This evidence can be in any form but usually comprises of emails and written documents such as employment contracts and minutes of the meeting. You will have probably already seen these at the outset of the case and used them to draft the claim but it is good practice to make sure you have everything and you can then decide whether or not something is relevant to the case. This is simply a matter of reviewing each document and analysing the contents, it usually takes a few hours.
Most documents are relevant, but it is important when reviewing all the documentation to take out anything that isn’t. As solicitors, we have to follow the ‘overriding objective’ which is part of the Employment Tribunal Procedure Rules. Part of this is to ‘save expense’, so reducing the bundle size and reading time means saving expense – a judge doesn’t want to read office emails about whose parking space is whose if it’s not relevant to the case.
Once you have all the relevant documents you will start putting them into a bundle for exchange. The usual layout for a bundle comprises of:
- Pleadings (Claim forms and Employment Tribunal Documents);
- Correspondence (between the parties during the course of events that lead to the claim); and
- Documents (Contracts, meeting minutes, payslips etc).
The practical steps we take are to either electronically or in paper form, sort each section of the bundle into date order. Some firms differ in style and break down each segment of the correspondence further, such as a having section for the grievance proceedings and a separate section for disciplinary proceedings but at Consilia, we tend to put everything in date order so you can map out the sequence of events as they happened.
Once you have all your documents together in order you now have to index the documents in a word document. There is no sugar coating this task, it’s long and fiddly, you will have to give each document a number and a title, if the matter has 100 induvial emails back and forth, you’re going to be there a while. As a trainee, this will probably be your job to do but I’d advise taking that time to really learn the case if it’s a matter you have not worked on before as it will help your development to see how a case plays out through correspondence and what evidence your case relies upon.
Once your bundle is indexed and approved it’s time to exchange it with the other side. This is an exercise in itself, firstly to agree on a time for exchange, second, making sure your bundle will actually send over an email and then finally the game of ‘disclosure chicken’; do you send yours first and hope they’ll send theirs across or wait it out to make sure you get their documents and then send your email. It usually always gets sent one way or the other but if you are ever going through disclosure this will definitely happen to you.
Once you have the evidence the other side have sent over it is time to review their documents to see if they have sent across anything that helps or hinders your case. You are essentially looking for the ‘smoking gun’. After this, the parties will have to agree on which documents will go into the final bundle and hopefully that will be that, but this can be a fight in itself and if you can’t agree you will have to put the documents in front of a Judge for them to decide.
The whole disclosure process will usually take at least a month but usually longer depending on the amount of evidence you have.
That’s it for this blog, I do hope you found it useful and informative, this blog especially was focused on those with an interest in a legal career and training contract so for anyone else who has stuck around to the end thanks for reading! For anyone with any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch through LinkedIn or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m happy to answer any questions for those who are thinking about a legal career.