What do we mean by contentious? Well, contentious work relates to disputes between parties, often involving court proceedings. This is in contrast to non-contentious or ‘transactional work’ in which parties are often aiming to achieve the same goal.

Here are some key differences between the two styles of work:

Timescale and deadlines

In a transactional department most of the deadlines for pieces of work are dictated by your client or the other party to the transaction. This can mean you have a long period of time working on an issue which is not time sensitive to the parties or, conversely, there can be very short periods of time for important issues to be agreed.

In contrast the pace of contentious work is largely determined by the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) which sets out strict time periods for each aspect of the court process. As a result in contentious departments you may have a more rigid and predictable timetable of work.

Communication with ‘the other side’

It is often the perception that in non-contentious work, communication with the other side’s solicitors is less adversarial and friendlier than non-contentious. This is sometimes the case, although don’t be surprised if you hear more heated discussions over the terms of a sale and purchase agreement than you do between other sides of a dispute!

The introduction of a strict costs regime alongside other changes in litigation has meant that many contentious issues are settled before they reach court, so contentious lawyers are frequently involved in settlement negotiations and discussions, rather than just advocacy.

The work

Transactional seats can be very diverse in their range of clients and the specific facts, motivations and objectives of the transaction, but most deals tend to follow a similar structure. There is a separate department for each type of work (for example Real Estate, Corporate, Pensions, Banking & Finance). In this work you can often rely on precedents which are reviewed and amended to ensure that you meet your clients’ needs.

Contentious work often covers a wider range of areas and can include disputes over a variety of issues and combines different departmental areas. The writing style is more formal, and you will always have to comply with certain requirements, but there is scope for a creative approach which offers trainees a chance to develop their free drafting skills.

Contentious work may consist of:

  1. Research and fact gathering.
  2. Advising clients on the merits of their case.
  3. Corresponding with the other side to reach a resolution and corresponding with the court if we can’t.
  4. Drafting, filing and serving statements of case (particulars of claim, defence, reply etc).
  5. Preparing witness statements and expert reports.
  6. Instructing and briefing counsel.
  7. Attending hearings and mediations.

Non-contentious work may include:

  1. Meeting with clients to discuss their commercial aims for the transaction.
  2. Legal research into discreet areas of law.
  3. Negotiating the terms of contracts or agreements.
  4. Drafting ancillary documents and extensive agreements.
  5. Amending documents provided by the other side’s solicitors.
  6. Carrying out post-completion tasks and filings of documents with (for example) the Land Registry or Companies House.