Employment law is about understanding the contractual and statutory rights and obligations arising out of the employment relationship. This area of law also includes understanding the rights and responsibilities in relation to office-holders (directors, governors and trustees) and those who are self-employed.
Employment lawyers enjoy a mix of both contentious and non-contentious work. Contentious work (with a dispute its core) includes employment tribunal claims and some civil court claims (eg injunctions for breach of post-termination obligations such as breach of confidentiality or breach of restrictive covenants). Non-contentious work includes day-to-day advisory advice and project work, eg restructures, redundancies and mergers.
A typical employment tribunal claim will settle. But for those that result in a full hearing the matter can take up to a year or more. The process involves filing of the pleadings (the application and the response), disclosure, exchange of witness statements and a full hearing before an employment tribunal judge or a full panel. There may be case management hearings and preliminary hearings required in more complex claims.
What is working life like for an employment solicitor?
Most work can be done by one solicitor, with the assistance of a trainee solicitor or junior solicitor on larger jobs. In big projects or multiple-claimant claims a pair or a team of solicitors and administrative support may be required.
It is unusual to be in the office all week. Meetings with clients are a part of the job and often they like you to see them in their workplace (giving you an insight into their organisation). Anyone who employs people can be a potential client: private, public and third sector (charities).
When you are junior – no matter what area of law you work in – you need to put in the hours if you want to be the best you can be: that often means long hours. Employment law is no different. You can of course work 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, but you will simply not get the ‘miles’ in. So if you are ambitious and want to be your best, you have to work hard in the first five years. You may have to work a weekend to catch-up with work but that is not a regular occurrence.
What work will trainees experience in an employment law seat?
Trainees start with the basics: putting a bundle of documents together in chronological order, indexing it correctly, paginating and copying. Get that right and trainees then get to draft letters and carry out legal research. Once you get the basics right, you will be given lots of responsibility even as a trainee, such as the chance to do your own advocacy (case management and preliminary hearings) before you get to do a full day or two on an unfair dismissal claim.
The best and worst parts of being an employment solicitor
The best part of the job is also the worst. The best part of the job is that you are dealing with and solving people issues. And people are unique, difficult and problematic, which can be great fun, challenging and rewarding. However, sometimes those difficult people can include those instructing you – making your ability to advise challenging.
What impact will Brexit have on employment law?
This area of law will not be affected by the UK leaving the EU. Most employment law will remain the same for at least three to five years. We may get some sanity check on holiday pay and there may be changes on the rights of employees on transfers (TUPE) – but we may not. The only aspect that will affect clients with employees is in relation to the freedom of movement of workers.
We are going to have issues with immigration. Businesses recruit people from abroad on Tier 2 Business Visas – and I understand the NHS and care sector employ a significant amount of workers from abroad due to a skills shortage in the UK. I understand many visa applications are being rejected for people who have the experience and skills needed for a job in the UK that cannot be filled by someone living here. I am confident this will be resolved in good time – I am sure businesses (and large employers like the NHS) will shout loud enough.
Skills employment solicitors need to be successful
- High emotional intelligence as you are dealing with people issues fundamentally.
- The ability to listen, observe, understand your client and its business, and then translate your legal advice into practical advice so your client achieves its objective.
- The ability to write clearly and in plain English.
Types of law practised in employment law
- An element of common law.
KERREN DALY is a partner and head of employment at BROWNE JACOBSON LLP. She graduated with a chemistry degree, followed by a law degree and a masters in law.