Trade secret

EEF undertakes the legal work of large businesses but is structured like a trade union. Joanne Harris reports on an employment lawyer’s Shangri-la

Peter Schofield, explaining the work of the well-kept but flourishing secret that is EEF, says: “We’re an odd mix – a bit in-house, a bit like a law firm.” EEF started life in 1897 in the Swan Hotel, Carlisle, and until quite recently was known as the Engineering Employers’ Federation. It was designed as a trade union for engineering companies (it is also known as ‘the manufacturers’ organisation’), but when the marketing people were brought in, the name was formally changed to the more snappy EEF.

Schofield, who goes by the grand title of director of employment and legal affairs, says the move was partly to reflect EEF’s diverse nature. The 6,000 members are primarily manufacturing and engineering companies, but increasingly other organisations such as large utility companies, football clubs and an NHS trust have come on board.

In return for their membership fee, which is fixed according to the size of the business, EEF members have access to a wide variety of services. These include health and safety advice, economics, employment relations and extensive legal advice for employment law issues.

For much of its existence, EEF was a traditional trade union, bargaining and negotiating terms and conditions on behalf of its members. This aspect of the organisation’s work ended in 1989 – the same year that Schofield, a former academic, joined EEF as its first legal adviser.

Schofield now heads a department that numbers 60 across the UK. At EEF’s head office in London there are six lawyers, all from a City background. In essence, EEF’s lawyers act as the in-house employment teams for member companies. They are always on call and available to offer advice on a problem. Unlike a law firm, there is no hourly billing – EEF is a not-for-profit mutual organisation, so money is not the overriding issue.

“Members join regionally,” Schofield explains. “The lawyers in the regions will do the day-to-day advisory work and will do their employment tribunal work for them.”

With as many members as EEF has, that means a lot of cases – Schofield estimates that the organisation dealt with 2,100 employment tribunal cases in 2004.

The London office, which handles appeals, saw around 25 cases in the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT). During his time at EEF, Schofield has also taken cases to the Court of Appeal and the European Court of Justice – although not yet to the House of Lords.

For standard employment tribunal work, EEF’s regional teams undertake the advocacy. When it comes to appeals, Schofield prefers to instruct counsel and sometimes external solicitors.

Although counsel vary, Schofield has a list of preferred barristers he often turns to. It is headed by Thomas Linden and James Laddie at Matrix Chambers, with Helen Mountfield of the same set also instructed regularly. Schofield also turns to John Bowers QC and Gavin Mansfield of Littleton Chambers, or 11 King’s Bench Walk’s Christopher Jeans QC and Clive Sheldon.

“We’ve become quite wedded to Tom and James at Matrix,” Schofield says. “James Laddie started by doing a seminar for us. Everybody was highly impressed, so we thought we’d try him at the EAT and we’ve been using him ever since.”

He adds that EEF can offer counsel the chance of appeals work and judicial reviews. Mountfield is currently working with EEF on a judicial review case involving EEF and the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), an adjudication body for trade unions (Linden is representing the CAC).

For some of the more complicated issues, such as the new Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), Schofield will go to solicitors.
“If I refer people, I tend to refer to people who’ve moved on from here,” he explains. Salans’ Peter Cooke is one such solicitor; Beachcroft Wansbrough’s Nick Chronias and Richard Linskell of Lincoln’s Inn firm Dawsons Solicitors are others.

Schofield is also in charge of EEF’s own legal affairs. If, as happens occasionally, an employee of the organisation brings an employment claim, he prefers to look for outside help, with Salans the usual port of call. The firm is also advising EEF on modernising its constitution.

Internationally, EEF has recently signed an agreement with the employment lawyers’ network Ius Laboris. Because international firms tend to have higher rates, EEF has always sought advice abroad from independent outfits on a goodwill basis. With Ius Laboris, Schofield will have an easy route to foreign employment specialists. Within the UK, however, he is extremely proud of his team. “The great attraction for lawyers here is that there’s no billing, no time-recording. If you like employment law, you can really get involved in employment law,” Schofield says.

EEF negotiates with the Department of Trade and Industry on new legislation and produces guides about new employment laws, usually prompting a flurry of activity prior to timetabled implementation in April and October. The attraction, according to Schofield, is the variety and breadth of the work. “It’s a privileged position to be doing this job,” he says.
Peter Schofield
Director of employment and legal affairs

Organisation EEF
Sector Manufacturing
Turnover £30m
Employees 550
Legal capability 60
Legal spend £10,000-£20,000
Director of employment and legal affairs Peter Schofield
Reporting to Martin Temple, director general
Main law firms and counsel Salans, Thomas Linden (Matrix Chambers) and James Laddie (Matrix Chambers)