A no win no fee firm that will operate solely for employees at industrial tribunals is being launched today by a law centre-based employment law specialist.
The new firm is believed to be the first exclusively to run actions at industrial tribunals on a contingency fee basis.
Lawrence Davies, an employment specialist at North Lambeth Law Centre, who was formerly at City firm McKenna & Co, said the fast turnover of cases (usually between three and six months) and the lack of disbursements would make the practice lucrative.
Davies, who intends to keep his day job, will work from home in the evenings under the name Lawrence Davies & Co, and claims his outlay was minimal. His intention is to take on a handful of cases each year.
"All I needed was a computer, a fax, an answering machine and stationery," Davies said. He added that many employees were unable to find representation at tribunals because legal aid was unavailable. Contingency fees were permitted for non-contentious cases, including industrial tribunals, in 1974.
The Law Society has said it will only interfere in contingency fee cases if it felt the fees were unreasonable, said Davies.
He had to comply with Law Society rules that said he must wait until three years after he had qualified before starting the practice. While acknowledging his firm could be seen as a further Americanisation of the system, he argued that the only alternative was "the harsh reality of employees not having a fair chance" of bringing actions in increasingly technical employment disputes.
More than half of applicants represent themselves at tribunals and studies show that they receive lower awards than represented applicants, said Davies.
"On the other hand, my own experience has shown that awards in excess of £10,000 are not uncommon. But if the person has no solicitor, then how can he or she know what level of damages to ask for?" he said.
David Hartley, the Law Society head of remuneration, welcomed Davies' plans. "The Law Society is in favour of anything which benefits the client."