Adam Creme, UnisonName: Adam Creme

Position: Head of legal services

Organisation: UNISON

In Hot 100 for: Led his team to victory on one of the most important employment cases in recent years, R (on the application of Unison) v Lord Chancellor.  Read his full Hot 100 profile

What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?

Around about the second day of my articles the partner I was working to asked me to go to the EAT and sit behind Counsel. I was pretty terrified and met up with counsel knowing nothing about the case. 

Counsel was in a fairly old, fairly shiny suit, carrying a battered school type case/satchel and when he opened it the papers seemed a bit disorganised. I was more worried by now.

Counsel was called on to present his case and from the moment he opened his mouth until the moment he sat down I was completely stunned. The eloquence, the clarity of thought, everything really. 

It was “don’t judge a book by its cover” made real and taught me a very valuable lesson about underestimating people and being personally underestimated. I’ve carved out a bit of a career due to the latter. 

Counsel later became a VERY senior judge. 

Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?

The two greatest influences have been Diana Kloss and Hazel Carty, both lecturers at Manchester University.

I was pursuing a postgrad there but was able to take some undergraduate courses in legal method and labour law. This was the first time I had learnt any law.

Their courses were the reason I took the conversion course to law and opted to specialise in employment law (at that time a tiny specialism that meant I had to come to London). Everything that has happened in my legal career has flowed from being taught by them.

I got to see Diana for the first time in many years at the ILS conference in September and was able to tell her what I’ve been up to. I think she was pleased. 

What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?

Joining UNISON for six weeks in 1993 as a locum solicitor and deciding to stay.  Many reasons why but 2017 would be enough alone.

After four years of being roundly slaughtered at every legal level we got a hearing for our ET fees case in the Supreme Court. We were challenging the legality of the fees being levied for bringing ET cases on the basis that they discriminated against women in particular and that the dramatic collapse in cases was an obstruction of access to justice. 

Everyone said we were wasting our time bringing the case to the Supreme Court. 

We won by 7-0 and the case has become one of the most important constitutional cases ever including a stellar judgment written by Lord Reed. The case is now referred to as the UNISON case, the rise in ET cases is known as the UNISON effect.

We had no idea things would end up that way. We were simply convinced that the ET fees were just “wrong” and that was honestly the starting point for our case. We built everything around that gut feeling. It drove us all the way to the Supreme Court. Sometimes you just have to follow your instincts!    

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?

That’s a tricky one as there aren’t many such jobs – but obviously applying to work in a union legal department when a vacancy comes up would help.

What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?

I’d have been interested in being a part time Employment Tribunal Judge but it would have been tricky to commit to. Perhaps as I get older although I suspect I would not be the MOJ’s first choice.