Spending a quarter of a century doing one thing may seem like a most improbable earthy existence and a rather mechanical or rote way of life. For me, however, 25 years’ litigation practice split between two very different jurisdictions, England and Wales, and Turks and Caicos, has been characterised by exceptional variety, multi-jurisdiction cases and some testing challenges.

It has been very engaging and often demanding but, thankfully, never boring. I have never found myself ‘ticking away the moments that make up a dull day’. No two days in legal practice have been the same and there have been no comfort zones. I suspect that few other professional disciplines would have offered me as much intellectual multiplicity as the practice of law.

The most obvious difference between these two jurisdictions as a practitioner is that Turks and Caicos has a single legal profession of attorneys. Also, Turks and Caicos, as an overseas territory of the UK, has a British attempt at a codified constitution, a Court of Appeal comprised of judges from many jurisdictions and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its court of final appeal.

As for lessons learnt over time in these parallel jurisdictions… well, so far in my professional life, a few simple observations come to mind with the passage of the years which are common to both and I believe are generally true for lawyers.

One thing is for sure: time is one ingredient in the pursuit of excellence which cannot be avoided and the measure of time in developing expertise is not days or weeks. It is true for the development of skill in the conduct of litigation as in anything: ‘Time will explain.’

Tenacity. Despite a wide variety of experience in my professional life, the foremost lesson I would draw is a recurring one: tenacity is the enduring quality which (apart from a degree of intellectual ability) is most valuable in litigation practice. The sheer bloody-minded survival instinct and determination to persevere, often in the face of fierce resistance, is key. That is not to say one should be inflexible or dogmatic in the face of reason. Not at all. Rather, it means that it is easy to be blown off course if you do not have self-belief, faith in the justification of your argument and a sense of justice in your client’s cause. It takes enduring tenacity to plod on, to keep on course, to keep your objective in sight and to remember that ‘nothing should be out of the reach of hope!’

Early years matter. The foundation of our lives is, of course, critical. It is true for our professional development too. I was fortunate in my early years of practice at the Bar in London to have exceptionally able supervisors in chambers and access to very varied practice from the start. The dividends of early tuition come later, of course. I have also had the benefit and challenge of working alongside and opposite exceptionally able lawyers from many jurisdictions over the years.

The development of one’s legal knowledge, judgment and professional experience is continually evolving. I still very much regard myself as being on a journey of learning. I see now that the value of years of court advocacy experience at the Bar in England (in London and on the North Eastern Circuit) is second to none. It is for this reason that my firm in Turks and Caicos is committed to getting overseas advocacy experience in England for our most junior litigation lawyers. This sort of international exchange is very much to be encouraged, in my view; after all, the language of justice is universal and oral advocacy has a uniquely important place in the English legal system, on which the legal system in Turks and Caicos is based.

Facts matter. There is, of course, a tendency for lawyers to believe their cases are won by their exceptional command of the law and their outstanding advocacy. Sometimes, but a great many more are solved simply by applying basic legal principles to a thorough command and understanding of the relevant facts involved, including an understanding of the sequence of relevant events. Factual ambiguity or misunderstandings are commonly at the root of legal disputes. Law is, after all, the ledger of principles of life applied generally to everyday human activity and does not ordinarily require consideration of the detailed intricacies of legal doctrines. We would not leave verdicts in serious criminal cases to the reasoning of juries if it were not possible to deduce purpose, intention and culpability from people’s actions. If you can maintain a clear understanding of the factual matrix of a dispute, you are likely to keep on course.

Preparation, preparation, preparation. Most people are not particularly interested in detail and surprisingly few look behind headlines. The thought processes and concentration required to practise law, perhaps especially litigation, are not a way of thinking familiar to most people in their everyday lives. There is nothing wrong with this generally and I am sure that overbearing punctilious obsession with detail is what, at times, makes lawyers insufferable company for everyone else! But in truth everything is in the detail and an effective command of detail takes time in preparation. Detail is our currency as lawyers and it is necessary to assimilate facts with clarity, disentangle seeming complexity, and to acquire experience (over years) to be an effective lawyer, in my view. The casualty of failure to attend to detail in preparation is the risk of decisions falling into critical error and consequential injustice.

Take care to avoid a fear of failure. Fear is contagious. It is hard to maintain credibility in steering the course of a client’s case, and to maintain their faith in you as their lawyer, if you look possessed by a fear of failure. The administration of justice is as much a process as it is an outcome. Many journeys, like life itself, have bumps in the road. That is just as true for the progress of a court case or resolving a dispute as it is for anything else. What fear lacks is perspective (and often reason too).

Nobody needs a lawyer who is going to despair at the first hurdle in a court case, or on the first occasion things do not all go according to plan. One must learn to treat ‘the two imposters’ of triumph and disaster just the same. It is important not be deterred by previous bruising court experiences. ‘The past cannot be cured.’ Litigation or dispute resolution should not be unnecessarily confrontational but if you are not prepared to take punches, you should not be in the ring!