What's It Like To Work In Employment Law?
Ashley Wootton is an Associate in Employment Law at Simmons & Simmons. He enjoys daily interaction with some of the most senior business professionals in the UK, and works on behalf of investment backs and digital media companies. Read more about his experiences and expertise below...
Can you give us a brief overview of what employment law is all about?
Employment law, broadly, covers the relationship between employees and employers, including what employers can expect from individuals at work and the rights of those individuals in the workplace. It can include advising employees on their contract of employment or how to negotiate an exit from their current employer; or can involve advising companies on how best to run a grievance or disciplinary procedure or defend a tribunal claim. It can also involve the management of major projects, such as a large scale redundancies or transfers from one company to another.
What are some of the daily tasks that you come across when working in this area of law?
My work is split between contentious and non-contentious advice. Contentious advice means helping employers (usually) on how to navigate and conduct a litigation process to achieve the best result. This includes going to the Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal, High Court and Court of Appeal. Non-contentious advice can involve providing day-to-day support to HR professionals, drafting contracts of employment, employee policies, remuneration policies and restrictive covenants. It can also involve supporting our colleagues in other departments who need employment advice as part of a larger project or transaction.
Why did you choose to specialise/qualify in employment law?
I enjoyed the academic side of employment law but mainly the practical application of it in everyday life. I enjoy the daily interaction with senior business professionals in advising them on how best to approach a particular issue or project that relates to their employees.
In your experience, what qualities or attributes does a lawyer need to work in this area of law?
Analysis, responsiveness and commerciality. A lawyer always needs to be able to analyse the situation and the facts of a case and interpret that against the relevant law. We also need to be respond quickly and accurately so that a client is able to make an informed decision. Finally, clients want practical advice, rather than an academic explanation of the law.
Have you ever had to work on a case where you feel sympathetic to the other side, i.e. employees that are getting fired? How often does that happen? How do you handle that?
You certainly sometimes empathise with the other side, particularly when someone is losing their job. However, we must always act in the clients’ best interest and there is usually a very good reason why we would be advising an employer client on how to dismiss an employee, whether that be for a conduct, capability or a redundancy reason.
What kind of clients do you find yourself working with most?
At Simmons & Simmons, we almost exclusively act for employer clients. Many of these are in the financial services and technology sectors. These include some of the world’s largest investment banks, asset managers and digital media/gaming companies.
How would you describe your workload? Do busy periods alternate with lulls or is it all go, go, go?
Being a solicitor at a City firm is invariably busy, although there are certainly times that are busier than others. A large and complex case can involve four or five solicitors working on it at one time and can take up much of your day. That said, there are periods when a case or project may have finished or being entering a quiet period where we can then catch up on other tasks.
In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of working in employment law?
The ever changing nature of employment law makes it both interesting and challenging. A change in government will result in a change of approach to employment rights, such as with the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees and the increase of the qualifying period of unfair dismissal from one year’s service to two years’ service. We need to be able to react to any changes as they happen, or ideally before they happen so that our clients are as well prepared as possible.
Where do you see your career progressing from here?
I would like to continue my development where I am now, working on some of the most complex and interesting cases and transactions in the industry. I would ideally like to experience a secondment within one or two of our clients, which is something that Simmons & Simmons is able to offer. Working with high profile clients and top tier rated employees will help me develop further and gain the necessary experience for my career to progress.
Have you had any particularly memorable cases while working in employment law? Can you tell us a little bit more about one (confidentiality permitting, of course!)?
My first case was while working at another firm. I acted for a senior employee who had been dismissed by one the largest companies in the UK. The claim was one of unfair dismissal and race discrimination. It was a difficult case against some of the brightest lawyers and barristers in the country. I also conducted my own advocacy at Tribunal in that case against a highly respected Counsel.
What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers looking to eventually qualify in employment law?
An aspiring employment lawyer should have an interest in the area of law, a desire to work with people, whether that be with employees or senior managers within companies (or both) and the drive to achieve the best outcome for your client. I would advise gaining as much experience as possible before beginning a training contract, including vacation schemes at a variety of firms at different levels and if you are able, a voluntary experience at a Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau is also very helpful experience and rewarding.
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