The one constant in commercial litigation? Variety.
And navigating such a rich spread of work can be incredibly rewarding. As a commercial litigator, you learn about diverse fields, resolve multiple matters and connect with new people – every day.
Plus, you’ll nurture a range of evergreen traits like time management, stakeholder engagement and negotiation.
But what other litigation skills will you need to thrive?
We asked two lawyers practising in different areas – Jennifer Coburn and Jodi Palmer – what commercial litigators bring to their teams. And uncover just how far these skills can propel your development, too.
Skills that stay with you for life
Working in litigation exposes you to a range of legal fields – so it’s ideal for rapidly expanding your professional toolkit.
You’ll build confidence navigating new areas like employment law, taxation, corporate governance and more. And the skills you develop today, you’ll be able to lean on throughout your legal career.
“On any given day my team could be advising on criminal law, administrative law or statutory interpretation, or appearing in court for a range of criminal or civil matters,” says Jennifer Coburn, Director of Environment Litigation at the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and College alumna.
“That makes transferable skills so valuable in our department because of the sheer breadth of work we engage in and how deeply involved we are in all of our cases.”
1. Learning rapidly
To navigate the world of commercial litigation, you need to get up to speed quickly. And that's going to accelerate your professional growth as you adapt to matters when they come through.
Jodi Palmer, Vice President Legal & Compliance at Volvo Group Australia, began her career in litigation and continues to leverage these rapid learning skills.
“I might get pulled into a meeting about a recall – about which I may know very little. So I’ll ask the engineering experts: What safety issues do we need to be aware of? What does this mean from the driver’s perspective?” says Jodi.
“It’s okay if you don’t always know the details. But you need to show initiative and find out – quickly.”
2. Swiftly solving problems
While litigators hone a spectrum of skills, one stands above the rest for Jennifer: problem solving.
“If you can identify the core issue in a complex matter, that will make all other skills, like time management and managing client relationships, flow much more easily,” says Jennifer.
In other areas of law, you might become proficient in particular processes and structures. In property law, for example, each deal is structured similarly. And each step – like registering, titling and selling – remains largely the same.
In commercial litigation, however, you’re often resolving a new problem each time – and need to prepare fresh, forward-thinking solutions for your client.
“You’re constantly taking in new information and then processing that to deliver the best result possible,” says Jodi.
3. Managing time efficiently
With such a variety of work on their plates, commercial litigators soon learn to prioritise deadlines – to develop structures around which tasks are completed.
Because even though you may be juggling many matters, you need to prevent yourself from veering off on tangents.
How? By staying focused, identifying roadblocks and progressing each matter as efficiently as you can. “Often, you’ll be jumping from one file to another,” says Jodi. “So when it’s a busy day of meetings, you need to be really clear with people about what you can get done – and when.”
4. Communicating complex ideas
Commercial litigation exposes you to a range of files and fields – so sourcing and translating ideas between stakeholders is key.
“You don't have to replace expert witnesses. But you do need to be skilled enough in the topic to understand both the client and the expert, and act as the liaison between them,” says Jodi.
Similarly, commercial litigators use communication skills to better understand their client’s underlying challenges. Jennifer prizes this core skill in her team – and it’s one you can develop, too.
“Getting to know clients and the nature of their work is key. Our role is to support them to achieve what they want – whether that’s achieving compliance outcomes like a successful prosecution, getting legislation drafted or implementing a new policy,” says Jennifer.
5. Resolving disputes deftly
When your client is engaged in a dispute, your goal is clear: resolve the issue, so your client can get back to what they do as quickly as possible.
The legal process is a double cost to your client. The time and money they spend with you is time and money they're not spending on their business. So it’s not always about ‘winning’.
And that calls for nuanced mediation skills. Like recognising when your presence can hinder, rather than help, the resolution process.
“One thing I’ve found valuable is to try taking the lawyers out of the room. Sometimes legal arguments are barriers to the parties coming to a mutual settlement,” says Jodi.
When it comes to resolving disputes, it's not about showcasing the strength of your case. It's about securing a good outcome for your client.
Careers in commercial litigation – and beyond
If you’re considering building your capabilities in commercial litigation, you don't need to start at a big firm. Rather, a small firm will give you access to your own clients and files much earlier.
“Commercial litigation is a fantastic training ground for junior lawyers, particularly in smaller firms. You’ll run the same steps as you would on a multi-party, multi-million-dollar litigation,” says Jodi.
And once you’ve developed those commercial litigation capabilities, where can you direct your career?
As a Director at the Department, Jennifer values the skills commercial litigators bring to her team.
“When commercial litigators join us, they hit the ground running. From handling big matters to dealing with difficult issues to navigating around unexpected roadblocks,” says Jennifer.
“They know how to balance competing interests and can see through the details to get to the heart of the problem quickly. They’re able to clearly determine what the client wants – and develop the practical steps to get there.”
Whether you’re finding your feet or feel like a change, commercial litigation is where you’ll get a taste of many different areas. And you’ll develop skills that will stay with you and support you. Throughout your career, and your life.
Want to upskill in commercial litigation? Learn about the Master of Laws (Applied Law) majoring in Commercial Litigation.