Key challenges facing employment lawyers
Published: 21 Aug 2014 By Natalie Saunders
Natalie qualified at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London, specialising in employment law and share incentives. Following this, she founded Pharos Legal, which was shortlisted in the niche firm of the year category at the 2013 Yorkshire Lawyer Awards. The firm provides commercial and pragmatic advice to employers and to individuals on the full spectrum of contentious and non-contentious UK employment law and HR issues. Natalie is also an experienced speaker and trainer. Her particular specialist topics include all areas of employment law and the cross-over between employment law and strategic HR / managing for results.
The top 5 challenges currently facing employment lawyers can be classified into two key areas:
- Technical challenges created by the law and its practical application; and
- Challenges in gaining client work – the threats that are presented by competitors.
Introduction of tribunal fees
Many who live and work beyond the walls of the legal arena have openly begun to disregard the introduction of fees, labelling it as a “bad employer’s charter”. Regardless of which way you look at this rather significant change, the knock-on effects involve a circa 79% reduction in claims overall with an 80% cut in sex discrimination claims, and unpaid wages and holiday pay claims down by 85%. Understandably, these statistics are causing consternation in employment departments across the country, particularly where they have had a historical reliance on contentious work.
ET fee remission regime
Employment law is fast-moving and requires more up-to-date knowledge than other, slower evolving areas of law. As such, diligent practitioners are used to having to assimilate and retain large volumes of potentially complex information. Even so, the fee remission rules (even in their simplified form) involve 28 pages of guidance notes. Enough said. How would a litigant in person fare when faced with those?
Calculating holiday pay for employees who receive commission and/or who work overtime
There has been an amount of headline-grabbing (but potentially premature) doom-mongering following the case of Lock v British Gas Trading Ltd.
The difficulty is, we cannot advise clients with any certainty until we hear the outcome of the EAT cases ofWood and other v Hertel (UK) Ltd and another and Fulton and another v Bear Scotland Ltd ,so clients seeking clarity are, at this stage, able to get little more than a “watch this space” response from a sanguine adviser.
Challenges in gaining client work
Competitors – the race to the bottom
There is stiff competition for employment work, from lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Many businesses quote for work at a price which, on the face of it, would appear to leave little room for profit. Buying work in is tempting if your pipeline looks a little shaky, but ultimately business practices which involve deep discounting tend to devalue the product in the medium-long term. Loss-leading offers lend themselves to a perception in the mind of the buyer of a “commoditised” product of little intrinsic worth.
Competitors – scare-mongering
Some employment law advisers deploy scare tactics to secure the sign-up of employers (SMEs in particular) to long-term contracts with no ability to terminate in the event of being unhappy with the service. They emphasise the risks to employers of six figure pay-outs being awarded to disaffected employees, choosing conveniently to ignore the reality that most awards tend to sit in the £5,000 - £10,000 range.
If this particular sales approach is not one that appeals, you will need other ways of attracting work. We find that most of our instructions come from recommendations and referrals, so doing a good job and keeping clients happy is our most successful route to securing new business.