It sounds extremely scary. But as a trainee, it is one of the most interesting and exciting experiences you can be lucky enough to have. Admittedly, the lead-up can also be one of the most hectic and stressful periods of a training contract, but I can assure you first-hand that it is all worthwhile. So far during my training contract, I have been lucky enough to help on a design right trial involving kitchen cabinets and also a Court of Appeal hearing in a telecoms patent matter.
So how exactly does a trainee get involved in a trial?
One of the most important jobs for a trainee in the run-up to trial will be the responsibility of the ‘dreaded’ bundles. Every aspiring solicitor has heard horror stories about bundles. However, your experience will be different depending on if your firm are representing the claimant or the defendant. The claimant’s trainee will have the hardest job in having to compile the bundles from scratch. My top tip for this – leave plenty of time. It always takes much longer than you expect and there will inevitably be last minute changes. If you are representing the defendant, you will have to check the bundles that you get sent and make copies of them. This is when recruiting the help of your fellow trainees will be a massive bonus. (My intake have a love of snacks so the promise of sugary goodness works wonders for finding volunteers to help). Bundles are not that bad if you remain organised and keep on top of the changes as you go along. They are also incredibly important because judges have a tendency to get rather grumpy if their documents are not as they should be.
As a trainee, you will also generally be responsible for a lot of the organisational/logistical type tasks. This includes liaising with the court to book rooms for meetings and lunch breaks, booking transcription services, checking dietary requirements and ordering lunches each day. You may also be required to help with any other tasks that you can – I was responsible for booking a removal van and arranging the delivery of our kitchen cabinets to the Rolls Building during mine!
As a trial creeps closer, there will also inevitably be meetings with the client, with Counsel, with your experts and any witnesses which you will attend. These meetings are likely to result in last-minute issues that will require the whole teams’ input to resolve. The pre-trial review may also result in further work being required shortly before trial including any extra documents the judge may request or even further disclosure being ordered on certain issues. A trainee will usually be involved in all of this – hence why the run-up to trial can be extremely hectic!
The trial itself
During the trial itself, a trainee will be responsible for setting up the courtroom, ensuring each team member has a complete set of trial bundles, keeping up to date with documents that are handed up during submissions and making notes of what is said. You will also be responsible for ensuring that there is a plentiful supply of water, stationary and more post-it notes than you can even imagine. At the end of each day, you will also review the transcript of what was said and ensure there are no glaring mistakes which will go on the record!
If you have any witnesses or experts who are giving evidence or being cross-examined, you will also get to sit with them in the witness stand and direct them to the documents relevant to the questions they are facing. (This is where having spent hours looking at the bundles will come in handy!)
Sitting in the witness stand also means you have the opportunity to experience the courtroom from another perspective and seeing a QC cross-examine a witness first hand is usually incredibly impressive. It made me incredibly grateful I was not the one being questioned.
Once the trial is over, you have the nerve-wracking wait until judgment gets handed down and then it will be all systems go again to work on a costs position or if you have lost, consider whether there are any grounds for an appeal.
Whether you win or lose in the end, seeing a trial progress from start to finish is one of the best ways of seeing our legal system in action. As a trainee, it is a chance to become heavily involved within a team, take on responsibility, learn a lot in a short period of time and complete tasks that add a lot of value. I particularly enjoyed watching and listening to the questions and comments between the judge and counsel as the judge got to grips with the topic being argued. It is also an opportunity to have a lot of client contact and get involved with strategy decisions that are being made. If you have the opportunity to attend a trial during your training contract, despite the hard work, I would highly recommend it, it is definitely not as scary as it may first sound.