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So you want to be.... a commercial litigator?

Who: Gurpreet Singh

Local authority: Kent County Council

Role: Commercial Litigator

I started out at the Bar in independent practice before joining Kent Legal Services. Having never worked in local government before, I originally worked with the department on a secondment from chambers to gain a greater understanding of local government law – that was back in 2010 and I am now a permanent feature in a diverse team here.

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When I joined I mainly worked on commercial property disputes, ranging from high-value disrepair claims, disputes over sale contracts to contamination disputes over land. One of the great things about working here at Kent Legal Services is the ability to expand practice areas and work at the cutting edge of dispute resolution. Lawyers are really encouraged to be innovative and we are supported in pursuing opportunities that make our service to our clients of the highest possible standard.

Now, my principal areas of practice cover the breadth of commercial litigation. On a normal day this can include working on property, procurement and construction disputes. I have also recently been involved in company and fraud disputes. Most of these disputes are very high value and complex in litigation terms; they probably aren’t usually worked on in-house within local government.

You would be right for thinking that this isn’t ‘traditional’ local government law and it probably isn’t – but Kent Legal Services isn’t a traditional local government legal services team. Our clients include other local authorities around the country, fire authorities, police departments and schools. Being able to work for such a diverse client base on disputes that genuinely matter to stakeholders is one of the reasons I have stayed with Kent Legal Services for the time that I have.

So what makes a successful litigator? I don’t think there is a single skill that determines this. However, I do believe that the following skills contribute to the success of a litigator:

  • You have to possess strong written and oral advocacy skills;
  • You should have the ability to reason clearly in an analytical and logical way;
  • Without a doubt, you have to be able to synthesize complex legal and factual materials efficiently;
  • Having the ability to gauge and anticipate risk at an early stage as well as translating that risk to your client is crucial when time often isn’t on your side;
  • Working in local government, as with any large organisation, you have to be able to manage the interests of numerous stakeholders and be able to prioritise the right course of action in often very difficult circumstances.

I often give an example of a ‘30/70 split’ in answering ‘what makes a successful lawyer’ (not just a litigator). I believe that a client expects a lawyer to know the facts of a case, the law (or be able to find it) and then how to apply it – that accounts for the ‘30’. I also believe that a client driven solution and how you deliver the advice accounts for the remaining ‘70’.

The client wants to know the answers and options; they want the advice delivered to them in a way that is suitable for them (as your audience) and they want to be able to rely on you to guide them through to the end result with confidence.

I am probably at risk of oversimplifying this and there are books on the subject and very worthy professional bodies that help lawyers acquire the right skills so that they can deliver for their clients.

Gurpreet Singh is a barrister in the litigation, employment and education team at Kent County Council

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