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Case studies

Christopher Dryland

Name, current role and centre

Christopher Dryland, Operations Manager, York

Previous employer

I qualified in 1999 at the City firm Linklaters, before moving to Leeds in 2000, where I worked for Beachcroft and then Walker Morris.

A day in the life...

The type of work I was involved in was high value claims arising out of shareholders disputes, partnership disputes, breach of contract claims and warranty disputes. Typically, due to the size of the cases and the complexity of the issues I would have between 3 to 4 main live cases at any one time.

My days would involve meetings with clients, drafting letters and witness statements, reviewing documents and statements of case, conferences with Counsel, meeting with experts and attending court.

There is no typical day, litigation can bring with it unexpected challenges, and you have to be responsive to your clients’ needs. The day you spend in the office is very rarely the day you had planned at the start of the day. I can remember one Friday, on returning to my office after lunch, I received a phone call from a client who wanted to make an urgent application to court. The application was made over the telephone at 10.30 that evening (once the judge had got home from dinner), and I was still advising the client on the telephone at 1.00 the following morning as I drove home from work.

A very large part of the life of a commercial litigator is project management. You have to co-ordinate the client, counsel, witnesses and experts to make sure that all the deadlines for each step of the litigation are met. You need to be extremely well organised to balance the needs of each client and to keep them happy.

Best moments

One of the best aspects of the job is the relationship you develop with the client. Because I had a handful of major clients I gained a real understanding of the client’s business, their priorities, concerns, and commercial objectives. There was a real sense of being part of a team - you are all in it together, seeking a common goal. Often, once the client is aware of what the legal issues are, the task is then to work out what the best commercial solution is. That is why an understanding of the client’s business is so important.

Working in a large commercial firm also means that you can draw on the expertise of your colleagues, and very often the cases had a cross-discipline element to them.

The vast majority of litigation is settled before it gets to Court, and a key skill of a litigator is to put your client in a tactically strong position, to make sure that any settlement is as favourable as possible. You also have to learn to manage your client’s expectations – whilst your client may think he/she has a strong case, the court might view it very difficultly.

Advice to students

Business clients don’t just expect you to understand the law, they expect you to understand business. With that in mind, make sure that you do whatever you can to increase your commercial awareness. Make sure that you read the papers, listen to the news, talk to people who run or own their own business. Some students at The University of Law even run a virtual company as part of the University’s business game. This will all help you to understand what make businesses tick, and make you a better lawyer.