The Truth? You Can’t Handle the Truth!

People make countless films about it, some people wear wigs to do it and up to ten million Americans a day watch Judge Judy preside over it.  Of course, “it” is litigation – one of the most alluring parts of the legal profession.  In the past few months, I have been fully absorbed in Pinsent Masons’ internationally-renowned construction litigation team and have savoured a delicious taste of the high-profile work that swings through the revolving doors of 30 Crown Place.

Pinsent Masons is involved in all levels of contentious construction matters, from humble and intricate UK adjudications to gargantuan international arbitration claims amounting to as much as $1 billion and lasting the best part of a decade. From a training perspective, this has given my eager hands plenty to grab hold of.  While some of that grabbing has inevitably been of boxes of files and reams of photocopied sheets, I have always felt like a significant contributor to the team, heavily involved in researching arguments; meeting expert witnesses, QCs and clients; and even in drafting Adjudication Referrals, Instructions to Counsel and robustly-worded letters to the opposition (which can be so much fun).

All the office-based work is indeed very engaging, but when my seat in a contentious department first began, I was curious to see how close to the actual debate I could get.  Little did I know that in my second week, before I could draw breath, I would find myself sitting in the High Court excitedly taking notes of proceedings whilst our impressive QC delivered the carefully prepared arguments of our team who (as a matter of Firm policy) acted as a squad of junior barristers behind him.  Having enjoyed a successful hearing the high profile of our setting was re-emphasised (as if the $330 million claim hadn’t been enough) when, stalked by bodyguards, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich joined us in the corridor, breaking from his own potentially-expensive contentions in the court next-door.  In the months that followed, I attended two further High Court hearings on that matter (admittedly with fewer celebrity sightings), before participating in a separate seven-day arbitration involving two non-UK parties in January.

At the arbitration, I looked on with joy as our QC expertly carved open witnesses with a cross-examination scalpel and slowly massaged any remaining credibility from the heart of their statements.  Having been fully involved in the preparatory process, I had a strong understanding of the issues, and was therefore able to engage with proceedings and enjoy watching our case smash home.  In those seven days, I learnt far more than I can describe in this brief article about the process of litigation; but perhaps most importantly, I discovered the delight of seeing meticulous preparation bear fruit, the adrenaline rush of being involved in a hearing and the value of working with (and learning from) a mutually supportive, charismatic and intelligent team.

I still live in hope that one day, my dream of hearing “You’re out of order!..This whole courtroom is out of order!” will be fulfilled, but otherwise, my seat in litigation has had more intrigue and drama than I could ever have asked for.

Neal