During a training contract, trainees work across various areas of law and are required to undertake seats in both contentious and non-contentious areas. This is a requirement ensuring the training contract meets the standards set by Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Apart from being a requirement, this also equips trainees to narrow down the area of law they eventually choose to qualify into whilst ensuring that they have gained a well-rounded experience in different areas of law.
What is the difference between Contentious and Non-Contentious seats?
Contentious seats typically involve areas of law where legal disputes are resolved through litigation or other contentious methods, such as commercial and regulatory disputes , employment law or family law. Non-contentious seats, on the other hand, involve areas like corporate law, real estate, or commercial transactions where legal work focuses on advisory and transactional matters rather than courtroom disputes.
Seat one: Transactional Real-Estate – Non-Contentious
I was introduced into the world of non-contentious law via the Transactional Real Estate team in the Bristol office. This area of law involves legal work related to the buying, selling, leasing and financing of commercial properties.
My to-do list often consisted of:
- Conducting research on property law, land use regulations and other relevant legal aspects to support ongoing cases and transactions,
- Preparing legal documents, such as contracts, leases and agreements,
- Assisting in the due diligence process for property transactions, including reviewing title documents, land registry records and environmental reports,
- Resolving title defects or disputes that may arise during property transactions,
- Preparing and submitting Land Registry applications.
One of the advantages of a non-contentious seat is that it's not uncommon for smaller transactions to begin and conclude within your seat duration. This enabled me to run a few of my own matters from start to finish which was a great opportunity to develop my confidence, skills and knowledge. A transactional seat often tends to involve higher levels of responsibility and client contact.
Non-contentious work generally consists of more regular instructions and the ability to build longer-lasting client relationships. Therefore if you enjoy talking with people and supporting them with their general queries, you may be leaning towards non-contentious work.
Seat two: Contentious Probate – Contentious
My second seat was in the Contentious Probate team in the Exeter office. This area involves legal matters related to disputes over the administration of someone's estate after their death. This can include challenges to the validity of a will, claims for provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, disputes among beneficiaries or issues related to the conduct of the executors or administrators.
My to-do list generally consisted of:
- conducting research on relevant laws and case precedents,
- drafting documents such as letters and court forms,
- corresponding with clients to gather information, provide updates on case progress and offering legal advice,
- exploring alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and assisting in negotiating settlements when possible.
Contentious law exposes trainees to essential skills such as courtroom advocacy, legal argumentation and case strategy, requiring them to develop complex analytical skills and critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
I have found that, beyond the adversarial nature, contentious work provides a holistic understanding of the law, navigating complex legal issues, honing critical thinking and negotiation skills. If you thrive in navigating intricate legal problems and finding effective solutions under pressure whilst guiding individuals through challenging situations, contentious work may be for you!
Undertaking consecutive non-contentious and contentious seats has really helped me to directly compare the two types of work, thereby helping me to determine what 'kind' of lawyer I am.
I would argue that there is certainly no obligation to 'pick a side': both contentious and non- contentious work come with a wealth of experience and many trainees find themselves drawn to elements of both and many solicitors have successful careers that incorporate aspects of both areas of practice.
Ultimately, the choice between contentious and non-contentious law depends on your interests, strengths and preferred work environment however there is no doubt that both areas will provide you with a range of invaluable skills that will assist you throughout your career, regardless of whether you choose to identify as a contentious or non-contentious lawyer.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.