University: Queen Mary, University of London
Employment lawyers work across all areas of employment law, including, for example, handling discrimination, staff restructuring and whistleblowing issues. There has been increased focus on employment law in recent years, due to a combination of new legislation, government policies and employees’ increased awareness of their rights. Trainees assist with a wide variety of work, such as the employment aspects of corporate or commercial transactions, preparations for tribunal claims, attending hearings and meetings, and helping to draft documents such as employment contracts or policies.
“There’s no typical day in the life of an employment solicitor,” says Lewis Silkin partner Tarun Tawakley, who completed his training contract at the firm before qualifying in 2009. Tarun is “a full-service employment lawyer by trade with a particular focus on clients in the technology and financial services sectors”, and with secondments to the legal team at a major international oil company and an international investment bank, and a stint as head of employment law and commercial litigation at Deliveroo under his belt, it’s fair to say that Tarun has been kept busy by his legal career so far.
The solicitor route was always the one for Tarun. He explains, “I really enjoy solving complex problems on behalf of my clients, leveraging both my legal and broader expertise to try and do so,” he explains. It’s this broader advisory nature of practice that’s always appealed and completing vacation schemes and mini-pupillages in the early stage of career research confirmed that this was an attractive career to pursue.
The thorny details
Undertaking a vacation scheme and training contract at Lewis Silkin introduced Tarun to the firm’s market-leading reputation in employment law. He urges candidates to get involved in open days and similar programmes where possible as “these can be a great way to identify the right firm for you and give you valuable insights into the practice and culture of the firm, which you can reference in training contract applications”.
Now partner at the firm, Tarun reflects on his training contract as a formative time in his career development. “There are obviously differences between my life now as a partner and when I was a trainee,” he says. “Lewis Silkin gives its trainees real and practical experience of handling cases and drafting advice, witness statements and transaction documents.” More of his time is now spent “on strategic calls on matters”, Tarun is quick to point out that it’s not all about the big calls. “I still get stuck into the thorny details of a dispute or set of facts and identify that key piece of evidence, legal argument or commercial pressure factor that’s going to deliver the optimal outcome, and I love it!”
Life cycle of employee issues
The work of an employment solicitor is broad and “offers a good mixture of contentious and non-contentious work”. On the disputes side, this could mean working on “employment tribunal litigation or high court litigation”. On the non-contentious side, it might involve “advising on a broad range of employment aspects of transactions, initial public offerings or even commercial deals where employees are likely to transfer from one business to another”.
Lawyers in this field are closely involved in the full life cycle of employee issues. Tarun explains what this means: “That could be drafting contracts, sign on bonus letters, or other equity terms when individuals join businesses; defining and implementing policies that apply during the employment relationship; dealing with the employment aspects of transactions and business growth; and then, at the end of employment relationships, dealing with any disputes or potentially employment termination and disputes over post-employment restrictions.”
There’s a real variety to the work and great opportunities for lawyers in this field to get to know their clients, how their organisations work, and the issues they’re currently facing. Among these issues currently influencing Tarun’s clients and the employment sector is the fallout of political movements like MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as the impact of covid-19 on businesses as they implemented furlough schemes and the future working from home as a result of the pandemic as well as addressing challenges thrown up by the current cost of living crisis.
“Unlike some other fields, the law is constantly changing and evolving with the times when it comes to employment law”
“Unlike some other fields, the law is constantly changing and evolving with the times when it comes to employment law”, which is why it’s such an exciting and dynamic area to work in. A key recent development in the practice area has to be the growth of the gig, or platform, economy and the appropriate classification of gig workers – something that Tarun played a chief role in during his time at Deliveroo. “Successfully defending the employment status of Deliveroo riders, bucking the trend of case law involving platforms in the UK and internationally, was very significant,” he says.
“As lawyers we often get to advise on the law but being able to shape it was a really unique opportunity. I worked with law makers to create new legislation being passed across Europe and beyond to define the working relationships for individuals in the platform economy.” Of course, not every day in the office is exciting as this, but it certainly counts as a shining highlight in Tarun’s career so far.
Moving on to a slightly dimmer outlook in terms of commercial trends, Tarun reports on the “significant amount of market uncertainty in response to the cost of living crisis”. This means that “a number of companies are looking to reduce their cost bases and futureproof their businesses, regrettably resulting in potential headcount reductions”. Employment law can be cyclical like this, Tarun explains, mentioning that the year he qualified was just after the Lehman Brothers went bust, so the first year or two of his career involved “large scale redundancy exercises in financial services”.
Tarun is quick to point out that “there are some really interesting and positive things we can do to support our clients. For example, helping to define their future of work strategy – whether they’re looking to be remote first or hybrid; how they best reflect their brand values in their employment proposition; or the roll-out of broader ethnicity gap reporting and other initiatives to address social inequalities.”
“There are a range of unique employment law considerations arising out of the metaverse that our clients are starting to grapple with”
Adapting to new technologies is on the cards for all commercial solicitors in the modern world, but for employment lawyers the onset and implications of technology is even more important. Tarun gives an example: “There are a range of unique employment law considerations arising out of the metaverse that our clients are starting to grapple with, and it’s interesting to be at the forefront of the law in that regard.” As for his own team, he’s keen to emphasise the importance of agility and listening to client demands: “The very best professionals will adapt the quickest and deliver the best service to their clients.”
It should be remembered that with the variety of work comes the human impact – meaning that no two cases are ever the same. “It’s important for employment lawyers to understand that behind every piece of advice you give, or every restructuring you advise on, are individuals whose real lives are going to be impacted.” As such, Tarun cites emotional intelligence as a key skill for lawyers to develop in this practice area. He highlights other necessary strengths (beyond legal knowledge) including demonstrating a curious mind and using your broader experiences to identify the best solutions for your clients.
In his final words of wisdom, Tarun reflects on the significance of work experience in building a legal career. “You can gain experience through open days at law firms, working as a paralegal, or through pro bono activities with your university,” he lists. “I volunteer at a pro bono clinic where I’m paired with law students. It’s a great way for them to get practical experience in taking instructions, dissecting issues and giving practical, quick commercial advice.” And for those transferring from another career, Tarun affirms the benefits of experiences in other jobs or industries: “You’ll have gained potentially huge insights in your current role that’ll be of value to future clients. Make sure it shines through in your application forms as that’s one of your main unique selling points.”