2 January 2008
Whats it all about?
Employment law is modern, fast moving and challenging. Employment lawyers have experienced an enormous influx of work over the past 10 years, due to a large degree to the Blair governments focus on family-friendly rights in the workplace. Employment law covers a broad range of areas: advisory work to corporate clients on restructuring companies, employee relations, managing the individual employment relationship, advice arising from transactions, such as property and corporate sales and acquisitions, litigation in the Employment Tribunal and High Court and advice to individuals on their employment rights.
Employment lawyers advise on contracts of employment, statutory rights (such as unfair dismissal and discrimination), transactional matters, employee competition issues and on a broad range of day-to-day employment issues. Employment lawyers advise public and private sector clients, charities and individuals. Trainees and junior lawyers are involved in all aspects of the work, including research, preparation of documents and pleadings in litigation, attending court and client meetings and preparing and delivering training on recent developments to clients.
The working culture
In contrast to larger departments, junior employment lawyers take on many tasks from providing employment law advice in the context of transactional work, to providing day-to-day advice to clients and acting in employment tribunal claims. Solicitors tend to handle their own caseload under the supervision of the partners and play a key role in managing client relationships and advising clients. Employment lawyers are also regularly involved in providing training and updates to clients.
Sound technical ability and strong research skills as well as a genuine interest in the rapidly changing law in this area are prerequisites. Employment law is constantly under review so practitioners must keep up to date with the case law and new legislation which arrives in April and October each year.
Practising a broad range of disciplines, including contentious and non-contentious work, brings with it a number of challenges. Strong organisational skills and the ability to work under pressure are paramount. A hands-on and flexible approach to client work is required, as is the ability to understand and appreciate a clients specific concerns in a given situation, including the commercial issues at play. Employment law is often emotive and stressful for the parties. Issues such as damage to a companys reputation often arise, particularly in the context of Employment Tribunal litigation. Employment lawyers need to understand these wider concerns to obtain the right result for clients. Negotiating skills are often used in the context of handling litigation as many Employment Tribunal claims settle through negotiation or mediation.
Strong drafting and good communications skills are also vital. Employment lawyers are regularly required to produce letters, agreements and litigation documents with little notice. An ability to rapidly learn the facts of a given situation, advise and communicate effectively is also important. An interest in conducting employment tribunal advocacy may also be an advantage.
Employment lawyers often have to address challenging situations and must be able to adapt to the changing face of the modern workforce. Cases and legislation often feature in the news as they raise topical questions about the society in which we live. For example, in the recent case of Azmi v Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council (2007), the Employment Appeal Tribunal had to consider whether a local authoritys instruction to an employee to remove her veil when carrying out her duties as a bilingual support worker constituted religious discrimination. Changes in legislation often have far reaching consequences for both employers and employees. A major change in the law, due to come into force on 1 October 2007, is a change to the Working Time Regulations to increase the statutory minimum holiday entitlement from 20 to 24 days for full-time workers. Future increases in statutory holiday are also proposed.