In our ‘Getting into…’ series, we speak with lawyers at different stages of their careers to learn how they got into the law in the first place, why they chose their practice area and what their job involves.
For our Commercial Litigation edition, we spoke with Steve Kuncewicz, an Intellectual Property Solicitor and Partner at BLM in Manchester.
What did your route to qualification look like?
I’d say I took the road less travelled by trying to write a novel, a screenplay and break into advertising before spending a year in recruitment around 2000. I got the opportunity to take my Police Station Advisor’s accreditation with a Criminal Legal Aid Firm and spent two years in Interview Suites and running around Magistrates’ Courts before starting the part-time LPC at Manchester Met and being offered a Training Contract at Cobbetts. A roundabout way into commercial law is way more common these days than it was twenty years ago, and I’ve always been grateful for the two years I spent working in Criminal – it was an amazing apprenticeship, and after that very little in my career has ever truly surprised me. I wouldn’t have been given any of the opportunities I’ve had since if it wasn’t for my Tutors at Manchester Met, specifically Lyn Jones, Jackie Panter and Mandy Smith. I’m still working on the novel and screenplay.
How did you end up in commercial litigation?
I knew very early on that I wanted to be a litigator, although I’ve become much more comfortable with non-contentious work over the last ten years or so. I knew it even more on the first day of my Commercial Litigation Seat, under the tutelage of Nick Carr. He was and is a huge influence on my career, and along with Robert Roper and Susan Hall gave me all the support I needed to carve out a niche in IP, Media and Privacy Litigation.
What is the most interesting case you’ve ever worked on?
I can’t talk about most of the cases I end up working on for obvious reasons, but I’ve acted for several defendants on the wrong end of Search Orders and Interim Injunctions involving high-stakes disputes. They focus your attention very quickly, and tend to forge very strong relationships with your clients.
What does your typical day involve?
First off, COFFEE. Then, working through overnight e-mail, checking in with the wider team, prioritising what needs to be done that day and making time every day for ongoing Marketing and BD – usually through Twitter and LinkedIn.
How much advocacy do you do in your role?
Nowhere near enough – at one point, I was planning to seek Higher Rights of Audience but I’ve been privileged to watch some truly great advocates at work over my career, specifically Alastair Wilson QC and Michael Hicks at Hogarth Chambers, and Andrew Caldecott QC, David Hirst, Jonathan Barnes and Richard Munden at 5RB. Having good relationships with Counsel adds real value into disputes, and I’ve been lucky enough to develop several.
Typical working hours?
In lockdown, there’s no such thing! Other than that, unless there’s an urgent Court or Client deadline, I tend to start around 8 and finish around 6 and pick up a few e-mails over the course of the evening to keep the decks as clear as I can for the next day. The firm works very hard to make sure we maintain a good work-life balance, but there are times where clients and cases have to come first. One case took up half of a week’s holiday at Center Parcs, but luckily my family and friends were very patient with me.
What’s your team structure like?
We have a team of 5 Partners, 2 Associates, 4 Solicitors and a wider team of Paralegals working on Financial Litigation. The structure’s pretty flat and very agile, meaning that we can all pitch in quickly whenever and wherever needed.
Why did you choose to join the firm you’re currently at?
I was part of a team move from Slater & Gordon to BLM in 2017, and I joined that team because they’re an extraordinary set of people. We’re a close-knit bunch, and working open plan tends to mean that clients get a more holistic response than other firms who may work in smaller groups or established silos. We’re all very much friends out of the office, and although we’re missing out on our usual Christmas parties this year, the reunion’s going to be something to look forward to (to say the least). The wider BLM teams made us very welcome, and created brand new opportunities for us, so we’re excited about what comes next both during and after lockdown.
Who would you recommend a career in commercial litigation for? What top three qualities are needed?
Curiosity, resilience and a sense of humour. I love my job, but it can take a toll on your clients and on you. Maintaining your mental and physical health has never been more important, but it’s worth it to spend your day solving problems and making a real and immediate difference in an evolving area of law.
What are the best case law/resources to get a feel for commercial litigation?
I’d be lost without PLC, Westlaw and LexisNexis, but I’d strongly recommend signing up for as many alerter services as you can and keeping an eye on social media for breaking news from other law firms or legal commentators.