In a time when we have been forced to abandon regular forms of interaction, there has never been a greater focus on the benefits of collaboration within both our personal and professional lives.

While meeting colleagues and stakeholders in swanky office settings or hopping on a plane for a business meeting is still a way off for many of us, the past few months have shown that the virtual environment can be a worthy substitute and, in some cases, a superior alternative to physical meetings.

The strategic partnerships which lay at the heart of dispute resolution are no exception to this change. Clients, solicitors and barristers have all had to shift online, influencing further what was already an evolving dynamic between the three parties.

The evolution of that dynamic was one of the key discussion points for this virtual roundtable, which was hosted by Radcliffe Chambers. Delegates included QCs, senior partners in private practice, and senior in-house legal professionals.

The conversation touched on a range of topics including: what it means to be a strategic leader, what the role of the Bar is in dispute resolution, whether the pandemic has altered the disputes landscape, and what collaboration looks like during lockdown.

The discussion was informed by a research project conducted in collaboration between The Lawyer and Radcliffe Chambers which explored perceptions of the Bar and the need for collaboration in an increasingly globalised disputes landscape.

Within that study, respondents were asked how they saw the role of the Bar changing over the next few years. The most common response was ‘more involvement with the litigation process and more collaboration’.

With more parties becoming involved in the litigation progress from the get-go, the need for strategic leadership has never been more important.

Strategic leadership

So, what does strategic leadership actually mean? David Mohyuddin QC of Radcliffe Chambers explained that: “Devising a strategy with other members of a team is essential when you’re brought in to form an integral part of the litigation process. Someone has to make clear decisions, and that’s where leadership comes in. You have to provide leadership from experience to inform strategy and to help the client achieve its desired outcome.”

“The breadth of expertise provided by all areas of the legal industry within a given stage of a modern global dispute means that different personnel will be better at leading in certain areas”, explained Gary Lidington of Radcliffe Chambers. “Strategic leadership doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a single leader on every aspect of the litigation. Different people can lead on different aspects, as long as the entire team is clear on who is leading at any given time.”

“You need integration of all parts of the team (clients, solicitors, barristers) at an early stage so that roles and responsibilities can be agreed,” explained Lidington. “This isn’t always possible, but the earlier I can get involved as counsel the better strategic leadership I can provide. If you’re coming in much later, your scope is narrower and your advice limited.”

While barristers are increasingly finding themselves involved in litigation at earlier stages than what was traditionally the case, some clients and solicitors still prefer the traditional model and see the Bar’s value in providing a second pair of eyes in the latter stages of a dispute.

One attendee, co-head of one of the largest disputes practices in London, said: “Role definition is key. Solicitors are project managers, whether they want to admit it or not. On the other hand, we don’t do a lot of advocacy, and that’s where counsel is key.”

The changing role of the Bar

The evolution of the role of the Bar and where solicitors and clients alike see their value during a given case was discussed within The Lawyer and Radcliffe Chambers’ recent research project.

When survey respondents were asked where the Bar currently adds the most value, more than 60 per cent selected advocacy and expert written opinion.

One partner in attendance at the roundtable commented that clients and solicitors alike value the impartiality of the expert opinion provided by the Bar. “Solicitors and clients often have deep relationship and some clients worry that lawyers are more concerned with preserving that relationships than actually aiding the individual case. A barrister on the other hand is typically better at telling it like it is.”

The in-house legals in attendance broadly agreed with this assessment. One attendee, head of litigation at a large international bank, said: “Whenever we have brought in counsel, we expect them to be commercially aware but we’re asking them to perform a different role. They’re there to be objective and unemotionally involved in the litigation.”

Another in-house lawyer said: “I can count on one hand amount of times I’ve gone direct to the bar. This isn’t because I’m not a fan of the Bar, that’s far from the truth, in reality I just value the advisory work they provide very highly. Litigation works best when I have the right solicitor close to me, and then the Bar coming in to provide tactical guidance and specialist advice.”

The pandemic’s impact

It is impossible to produce a piece of content in the modern day without referencing the coronavirus pandemic, and this roundtable session was no different.

Respondents touched on the pandemic’s impact on the nature of disputes, and how collaboration is best preserved, or indeed improved upon, within a virtual environment.

“We haven’t seen any marked difference in cases,” said one in-house lawyer. “We’re expecting that there’ll be more disputes as a result of economic contraction, but the way in which we handle these wont be much different to usual aside from lack of face-to-face interaction. This can however make it more difficult when dealing with senior management, external counsel, or witnesses.”

Despite these concerns, other attendees were positive about the remote working arrangement and even hinted that it had helped make disputes easier to work on. “In my experience its been easier to collaborate in a remote environment,” said one in-house lawyer. “We’ve had to throw ourselves into using Teams/Zoom, and now its relatively easy to get a large team of experts together on one call. To do so before the pandemic would’ve been a nightmare. This has democratised things and made them more efficient, which is good news for the client.”

To access the research project conducted by Radcliffe Chambers and The Lawyer, Buying Patterns and the Changing Role of the Bar, please click here.