The Law: Employment

Employment law gives an opportunity to be part of something that affects every working person in the country

The Law: EmploymentWhats it all about?
Employment lawyers provide essential advice to companies and individuals on the law that governs the way we work and the rights every employee has. This advice is needed when disputes arise on the drafting of contracts, for example, or during the acquisition of one company by another.

The working culture
The amount of work an employment lawyer undertakes and the hours required vary according to their area of expertise. All-nighters might be needed when helping on a corporate deal, or your day might be spent at an employment tribunal during a discrimination hearing.

In the biggest City firms employment specialists do a little of both sorts of work, advising and defending large corporate clients against accusations made by employees.

The pros:
The opportunity to help people
A constantly developing area of law
The chance to do both contentious and non-contentious work

The Cons:
The long hours of corporate transactions
The copious amounts of photocopying involved in litigation

Keep an eye on the news for examples of the sorts of things employees can sue over. Also, try to get some work experience at a Citizens Advice Bureau

Smaller firms, such as Fox Williams or Lewis Silkin, specialise in advising disgruntled staff seeking to bring claims against their employers for unfair dismissal or discrimination. And some firms, such as Russell Jones & Walker, have close relationships with trade unions.

In contrast to working in a corporate group, where junior lawyers tend to play a relatively minor role on large deals, life in an employment group is typically more hands-on, with junior lawyers being given more responsibility.

Why is this interesting?
Employment law has an impact on every adult in the country, as each of us has certain working rights that must be upheld. When a dispute arises the reputation of the company accused is at stake, as well as the career of the employee.

Legislation in this area is constantly changing, with new laws coming into force every April and October, so employment lawyers have to keep themselves up to date with these changes.

Personal and legal skills required
Employment lawyers must be able to understand and appreciate stressful and traumatic situations, as they often find themselves advising distressed clients who have lost their jobs. Clear thinking and good organisational skills are key, as is an ability to learn and keep on top of new facts.

Case Study

Prison officer Carol Lingard sued the Prison Service for unfair dismissal when she lost her job after reporting about prisoners being bullied. The case was the first time that laws on whistleblowing had been tested in a public sector context, as opposed to a private company.

A team of lawyers from Russell Jones & Walker took Lingards case on a conditional fee arrangement (otherwise known as no win, no fee). Devereux Chambers barrister Ruth Downing was brought in on the same arrangement to argue the case.

After an employment tribunal hearing Lingard was awarded damages of almost 500,000. The tribunals decision was heavily critical of the prison environment, and after it was handed down the director-general of the Prison Service admitted live on radio that there had been failings.

The case is expected to encourage other public sector employees to step up and report wrongdoing.