Written by Jessica Clements – Trainee Solicitor
It’s 9:01 and my phone is ringing with my coffee barely set down at my desk; it is reception and they have a new enquiry for me. Initial enquiries are a huge portion of most days in a dispute resolution seat. Dispute enquiries can be wide ranging – from employment to land / boundary issues or business disagreements.
I answer the call and this morning’s enquiry relates to an employment issue. The caller has recently tried to return to work after maternity leave but has been dismissed in the process of doing so. It is important, even when you can see from the outset there is a clear issue, to let people talk as much as they need and give you all the details. They may not be aware of what is important to their potential case and in most dispute situations the individuals involved will be feeling emotional. I always ask them to give a summary so I can go back through the details and ask any questions I might have, to fill in any blanks. Finding out the name of the employer is always important with employment queries as we need to ensure that they are not an existing client and that there is not a conflict of interest.
In this instance, the caller is unsure of the potential outcomes available to her and the different routes available to get there. I offer her an initial Ask the Legal Expert meeting with Craig, who is the head of the Dispute Resolution Department. This meeting, I explain to her, will provider her with an open discussion about her situation and what Craig thinks of where she stands alongside his years of experience. From this meeting she may decide that she wishes to instruct us or she may wish to move forward on her own. She’s happy to book this in and be able to sit down with someone to discuss what has happened – so I add this into the department calendar.
Once I have checked through my notes from the phone call, I move on to my first task of the day. A large amount of the work in the Dispute Resolution Department involves debt recovery which can range from a small amount to thousands of pounds. I have a number of new letters that have come in from a variety of clients, either asking me to send a ‘Letter Before Claim’ or, where these have been unsuccessful, to issue proceedings against the debtor.
With a ‘Letter Before Claim’ it is important to ensure I have all of the paperwork to correctly draft it. I also have to check online to see if there have been any updates to the Debt Recovery Procedure or Pre-Action Protocol as the requirements can change suddenly. As with most areas of law, Dispute Resolution is constantly changing and requires a constant awareness of any updates and changes in the law.
Issuing proceedings against debtors is relatively simple using the Money Claim Online Website. It allows for small claims, when simple, to be issued completely online including the Particulars. Where the Particulars are more complicated or the debt is over several thousand, it will require postal serving of the Particulars of Claim on the debtor and the court, along with a certificate of service.
I realise mid-way through my final online application that it is lunch time and save the form, close down my computer and go out for lunch.
The Christmas Market is here and lunch time means a range of choices for lunch and the ability to meet with my fellow Trainees both at Dunn & Baker and at other firms. I settle on an Egyptian lamb wrap and enjoy lunch in the market tent.
I return to my desk from lunch to finish the final details of interest on the last debt we are issuing proceedings on today. Once I have given it a once over and have Craig’s approval, I submit this and download and save the reference copy to the file.
Following this I have a conference with counsel and our client regarding an upcoming hearing. The initial conference is to introduce our client to counsel and talk them through the process of a day at court.
We have an additional upcoming case for which I have been asked to prepare witness statements. I have talked repeatedly over the past few weeks with the client and have a number of documents and summaries that I will have to review before writing this. It is extremely important that we ensure that these are done in the correct format, including everything material to our client’s case, and that they are completed and filed with the court and the other side by the date in the Order, otherwise we risk our client having nothing to rely on at court. Thankfully, through being heavily involved in this matter I have a good understanding of the key arguments and am able to complete a rough draft to go through with Craig and then the client. As I will need to go through and amend this again, I leave the exhibits to one side to confirm with the client if there is anything else that they believe should be included.
The remainder of the afternoon is spent obtaining quotes and availability from counsel on an upcoming injunctive relief order as well as researching this application for my own learning. Our client has recently had an injunction issued against them to prevent them from visiting and worshiping at their local church. There are a number of additional disputes alongside this on which we are advising but as we have just been informed that the hearing for the injunction is the following week, this is taking precedent.
After work I head to Krispy Kreme to pick up some much needed sugar to take along to the first Junior Lawyers of Devon and Somerset Committee meeting of the year. It is my first meeting as Chair and an almost new committee has been formed. The meeting consists of introductions, handovers from the previous committee, deciding on our charity of the year and a proposed social and sporting calendar. We just about manage to finish the tray of doughnuts and cross everything off our agenda before heading home.