Introduction to employment
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I recently started the third seat of my training contract, in my firm's employment team. It's a subject I particularly enjoyed studying on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) so I'm pleased to be able to experience the law in practice to see if it's an area I might want to qualify into. I've only been in the department for a short time but I have started to form my first impressions of what working in employment law will be like.
In my firm, we act for both employers and employees, so I have had the opportunity to observe and assist with giving advice from both perspectives. In contentious employment disputes, it can be tempting to take sides with the employee because he or she will have far fewer financial resources and so often seems like the underdog - the David to the employer's Goliath. However, I have found that, so far, the claims brought by employees against our clients have actually been found to be without merit by an impartial judge and I felt that we were doing the right thing by acting for our clients. This was a concern that I had about the seat before I started, so I have been pleased to find that I haven't felt morally compromised in acting for the 'wrong' side of a dispute.
In my previous seats, it was unusual for matters to progress as far as a court hearing. Usually a settlement could be reached through mediation or negotiation and the prohibitive costs of court proceedings would often be enough to encourage clients to compromise before that stage. However, employment tribunal hearings come around far more often and I have already been able to attend three hearings in as many weeks in the seat. I have found this to be an enjoyable and interesting part of the seat and have been able to attend hearings without anyone else from my firm being present for the first time. I have also seen one of my colleagues, a solicitor, conducting advocacy in the tribunal after the client asked that she do it rather than instructing a barrister.
Another side to the work that my firm provides is non-contentious: advising businesses on their HR policies and processes so that they can ensure they comply with the law and avoid disputes arising before they happen. I have found this work to be a useful way to learn more about the area of law and to improve my drafting skills. Usually, non-contentious work is less stressful than contentious as it doesn't involve court deadlines. However, often we need to provide our advice on a same-day basis, which makes it difficult to plan ahead in terms of your workload.
Although I have found this to be a challenge, so far I have enjoyed the seat and am hoping to gain more experience over the next few months before I decide whether employment law is for me.