Employment law: area of practice
Employment lawyers advise companies and their employees on a range of people-related issues, covering not only staff, but consultants and agency workers, and members of limited liability partnerships. Employment law is a mixture of common law and domestic and statutory legislation. It is also continually developing following changes in the prevailing political climate in the UK and Europe.
What types of cases do employment lawyers advise on?
Employment lawyers advise employers on managing issues such as sickness absence, performance management, redundancy and termination in accordance with the law. They may also advise employee clients on their rights in preparation for internal processes, such as a disciplinary hearing. This work is often done by telephone and email.
The variety of employment tribunal claims you may come across as an employment solicitor
Most employment-related litigation in the UK is undertaken through employment tribunals. These claims vary in length and complexity from a simple unfair dismissal claim, which can take a day, to a complex multi-year discrimination claim, which requires a hearing lasting several weeks (or even months). A simple claim might involve a single lawyer, supervised by a partner. Complex claims may involve teams of lawyers and trainees working on the various stages of the litigation from drafting a claim form and defence, to identifying relevant documents to disclose to the other side and preparing witness statements. Employment law and the treatment of people can be critical to corporate transactions and outsourcing. Lawyers will be involved in due diligence, risk assessment, and drafting and negotiating appropriate provisions for the allocation of risk through the contractual documentation. Based on my experience, employment lawyers will have to work long hours on occasion when there are formal litigation deadlines to meet or a client has an urgent deadline. However, on average, employment lawyers with advisory and/or litigation practices are often able to manage their working hours and, ideally, the flow of work will be steady over the course of a year.
Changes to employment law
There is a lot of change at present to family-friendly law in the UK – in particular, the introduction of shared parental leave and wider rights to request flexible working and these attract a great deal of media attention. For financial services institutions, the European regulation of remuneration is a huge issue politically and in practice.
Employment law is always interesting – in many cases it relates to a breakdown in communications and the issues that arise out of unmanaged expectations. Advisory work and litigation offers an incredible opportunity to learn about how different organisations work (eg to explain why it was reasonable to dismiss a person for poor performance, one needs to understand what good performance at that particular role might look like). The constant changes in the law keep it interesting!
Is this area of law recession-proof?
Employment lawyers are always needed – the recession may have increased litigation whereas in more profitable times there is more work on employment contracts and transactions.
What sort of work can you expect to be given as a trainee?
Trainees may be involved in researching relevant law, drafting emails and may advise the client directly. They can play a key role in the litigation processes – particularly on documents, and have the opportunity to take on more responsibility in some cases by showing how well they know the case.
Types of law practised
- Some tort (eg misrepresentation).
- Statutory (UK and European).
Good employment solicitors …
- Are interested in their client’s business and can develop rapport with different people.
- Enjoy rapidly changing law and analysing case law.
- Work well in a team.
Andrea Finn is a partner in the employment, pensions and incentives department at Simmons & Simmons. She graduated in European legal studies from Oxford University in 1996; part of her degree was spent at Université de Paris II.