Expansion is on the cards

Political factors are likely to have a major impact on the practice of employment law, according to The Lawyer survey.

When asked what issues will most affect this area of practice, 95 per cent cited a change of government.

Other issues are already making an impact on employment law, including European legislation and case law, and domestic legislation covering the transfer of undertakings and the possibility of the adoption of the social chapter.

Lawyers also have their eyes on the new Disability Discrimination Act, which will come into effect later this year and is predicted to result in more applications being made to industrial tribunals.

One partner says he believes that, generally, “discrimination claims will increase as employees become more aware of their rights under the existing laws as well as the media coverage of the impact of cases from Europe as well as the UK cases in particular Seymour- Smith”.

Although a number of the firms surveyed had noticed a decrease in trade union work and unfair dismissal claims, the vast majority – 92 per cent – considered that the amount of work in all aspects of employment law are set to increase.

Another employment specialist says: “We are seeing a growth in all areas of employment law, and no decrease in any particular area, apart from, perhaps, basic employment documentation.

“Most employers these days are fighting unfair dismissal cases whereas previously they have been prepared to settle.”

This trend is confirmed by the fact that of those surveyed, 83 per cent acted predominantly for the employer rather than the employee, and 68 per cent of the firms also involved advising parties in the private sector.

These proportions may alter. One lawyer believes that if “there is a change of government then almost certainly there will be fundamental changes in the law relating to trade unions and their rights, industrial action and possibly more secure individual rights for employees”.

Another predicted area of growth is breach of contract claims in industrial tribunals with a corresponding decrease in civil court claims in this area. Maternity rights and termination settlements will also increase, and there is likely to be a growth in giving advice about flexible working practices, service agreements and restrictive covenants.

Other areas of practice to note include worker representation and workers' councils as well as the liability of directors in international employment law.

Almost all areas of employment law are regarded as fertile and are likely to become more so after the next election, regardless of which party wins.

The only problem on the horizon appears to be the practical one, as noted by another partner, “of whether the industrial tribunal system, which is already suffering a backlog, will be able to manage the boom, whatever the next government will be”.