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How To Become An Employment Lawyer

How to become an Employment lawyerAn employment lawyer will have plenty of people interaction on a day-to-day basis, with much of their time spent giving practical solutions and advising on complex issues. Employment law is a specialist area of practice, and lawyers that want to go into this field will require the motivation to work hard at solving problems and be able to stay pragmatic and focused on the practical and emotional sides that come with resolving client issues. An employment lawyer will need to demonstrate high levels of commercial awareness, attention to detail, organisational skills, the ability to assimilate large amounts of information quickly and relationship management skills.

To become an employment lawyer, you will need to go through the same process that applies for becoming a solicitor or a barrister in the UK. Employment lawyers may qualify as barristers or solicitors and can work in a range of settings, including companies, organisations, charities or the public sector. To become a lawyer through the traditional route, you’ll need to complete a qualifying law degree LLB at university or study another subject at undergraduate level then take the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course. From September 2021 there is a new route to becoming a solicitor being introduced in England and Wales called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

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Solicitor route to becoming an Employment Lawyer

The three main stages to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales are:

Studying a recognised law degree

Undertaking a Legal Practice Course (LPC)

Applying for training contract with a law firm

To become a solicitor, you must complete the vocational Legal Practice Course (LPC) before undertaking a training contract with a law firm. You can then apply for admission to the roll of solicitors. The way that solicitors qualify in England and Wales is set to change from September 2021 for new entrants with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). In effect, this new exam will replace the GDL and the LPC, although there could be a long period of transition for those already studying via these routes.

Currently, in order to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales you must either:

1. Study a Qualifying Law Degree (LLB), before moving on to the Legal Practice Course (LPC), after which you'll complete a two-year period of recognised training, also known as a training contract.

2. Take any degree subject before following up with the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), then complete the LPC, followed by a training contract.

Under the new system, an aspiring solicitor needs to:

1. Hold a degree or equivalent qualification (such as a degree apprenticeship) in any subject.

2. Pass stages 1 and 2 of the SQE.

3. Complete a substantial period of work experience (2 years).

4. Meet the Solicitor Regulation Authority (SRA) character and suitability requirements.

SQE stage 1 includes one practical legal skills exam on legal research and writing, and six functional legal knowledge exams on the following topics:

SQE Solicitors Qualifying Examination

SQE stage 2 is made up of five practical legal skills assessments, which must be completed across two different practice contexts, making ten examinations overall. It assesses the following:

Employment lawyer SQE

Barrister route to becoming an Employment Lawyer

If you planned on taking the barrister route, the initial steps are similar as for a solicitor, ie gaining a law degree or a degree in another subject, followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Next, you need to pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT), prior to commencing a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The final stage is to complete training with a barrister referred to as a pupillage.

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What skills do you need to be a successful Employment Lawyer?

To be a successful employment lawyer you will need certain skills such as research skills, negotiation and communication skills and to excel in problem solving.

This table illustrates some of the key skills that employment lawyers must have:

Employment lawyer skills

Some of specialist skills may vary from the sectors that employment lawyers work in, for example within an in-house corporate team, an employment lawyer may have additional duties such as conducting training, writing briefing papers and working closely with different departments. These additional skills demonstrate the following traits:

✓ Sound understanding and knowledge of commercial and corporate law.

✓ Depending on the requirements of the role, employment counsel may be asked to have a number of years’ experience working in-house or in a law firm.

✓ Strong communication and presentation skills.

✓ Excellent negotiating and drafting skills.

✓ Ability to build and maintain strong professional relationships across the business.

✓ Ability to communicate complex legal issues and risks in terms that non-legal colleagues can understand.

✓ Ability to work in a highly autonomous role and set standards for in-house working procedures including in contract management.

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Where do Employment Lawyers work?

Companies and clients seek the advice of employment lawyers to ensure that as employers they comply with the laws and regulations in hiring and retaining workers. They also seek specialist advice on employment contract templates, senior management employment terms, non-compete clauses where necessary, and other related fields. Being an employment lawyer is an exciting and diverse role and employment lawyers can work in a range of places, including:

  • Law firms
  • Charities
  • Government bodies
  • In-house corporate teams
  • HR departments
  • Recruitment agencies
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What does an Employment Lawyer do?

Employment lawyers assist their clients (employers or employees) in resolving disputes arising within the workplace, which include pay, contracts of employment and unfair dismissal. Employment lawyers also provide specialist advise to prevent future disputes – they are also involved in other aspects, including.

Litigation:

Employment lawyers who represent clients in tribunals, court cases or in arbitration matters spend time preparing briefs and submissions. Their daily schedule will involve reading client papers, researching relevant legislation, liaising with clients to ensure that they have all the information needed for the case and finalising litigation paperwork.

Project-specific roles:

Employment lawyers in a law firm may also undertake large projects assigned by a client company who want to ensure that a new recruitment policy is lawful, or they may advise a company making large-scale redundancies as to how they can do so, whilst acting in a lawful manner. This may save a company a significant amount of time and money in the long run.

Expert commercial advice:

Employment law experts can offer commercial advice on a wide range of employment issues that can directly impact on business performance and growth. This can include developing new business strategies that could align with any new employment regulations or helping in the transformation process for businesses by advising them on hiring, employment structure, pay and tax.

Agreements:

A contract of employment is the principal document that outlines the nature of duties and responsibilities of an employer and employee. Employment lawyers are able to provide advice on the following areas:

  • Breach of contract terms
  • Reviewing of consultancy agreements
  • Employment status and immigration advice
  • Directors’ service agreements
  • Discrimination matters (related to sex, race, disability, age, religion and sexual orientation)
  • Dismissals and disciplinary-related issues
  • Grievances
  • Harassment and bullying
  • Issuing employment claims and representation at employment tribunal
  • Redundancy and lay off
  • Restrictive covenants and confidentiality
  • Settlement agreements and termination packages
  • Transfer of undertaking regulations
  • Unfair dismissal
  • Variations to your contract of employment including salary/wage reductions
  • Whistleblowing at work

Want to study an LLM in Employment Law?

Read our dedicated section on studying a Master of Laws in Employment Law to find out more about the benefits in studying an LLM in this field.

Find out more

What about in-house Employment Lawyers?

In-house employment lawyer’s responsibilities typically include:

  • Providing day-to-day advice on a broad range of employment matters including recruitment, employment contracts, consultation, grievance and disciplinary processes, performance management, corporate restructuring, redundancies, leaves of absence, litigation risks, statutory notice, severance and other regulatory obligations.
  • Developing and maintaining strong relationships with business and HR teams throughout the various businesses within the UK and throughout Europe where applicable.
  • Developing, revising, and implementing employment policies suitable for a commercial environment.
  • Reviewing, analysing and negotiating employment clauses of commercial agreements and employment-related agreements, including staffing, consultancy, incentive, non-compete, volunteer, confidentiality and settlement agreements.
  • Drafting, reviewing and assisting with the implementation of global employment and compliance policies.
  • Developing, implementing and conducting training on employment policies and programs.

In-house employment lawyers will need to:

  • Collaborate with other departments, including HR, on internal investigations.
  • Liaise with the corporate governance and marketing teams so that commercial, pragmatic and salient advice and guidance on business opportunities can be followed at all times.
  • Support and work collaboratively with international legal teams on cross border issues and shared projects.
  • Support other colleagues in the legal team with researched points of law as and when required.
  • Organise and lead workshops and in-house events on employment law regulations and developments.
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Day in the life of an Employment Lawyer

An Employment lawyer’s role is multifaceted and is constantly facing new challenges. There are various strands to the kind of work an employment lawyer will do in a day, and this will depend on where they work and the level of tasks that they can get involved in. Although the legal profession is a highly competitive environment and hard work is key to success, a typical mid-level associate would be ideally placed to see work ranging from processing paperwork to providing advisory services. Employment Law is constantly changing with regulatory updates and news on employment related issues. This can make it highly challenging for lawyers to stay up to date and ensure that the right advice is given to clients at the time when it is sought. Lawyers must be prepared for a fast-paced working culture. Essentially employment lawyers help their clients manage their workforce better. It requires a good balance between imparting advise through the understanding of the laws and regulations and the need to facilitate satisfactory outcomes for clients –working with a wide range of people can often be a task in itself! By advising clients day in day out, employment lawyers get a really good understanding of what it is like to work in that organization. An employment lawyer can influence how people feel about working for an organisation through the advice given. With all the time spent communicating with clients, attending meetings, reviewing paperwork and attending court, an employment lawyer will still need to make time for research and analysis of the recent developments in the law. With a constantly evolving system, employment lawyers can add more value through their opinion and advise to clients thereby building up the goodwill and trust.

In general, day-to-day responsibilities of an employment lawyer include:

✓ Advising clients on aspects of the law relating to their case.

✓ Researching documents and case law to prepare opinions and advisory notes. ✓ Drafting legal documentation such as contracts, notices or claims.

✓ Conducting negotiations on behalf of clients.

✓ Ensuring that agreements are implemented and providing ad hoc services as required.

✓ Representing clients or instructing barristers on the case.

✓ Taking instructions from clients.

✓ Supervising the role of paralegals and training junior associates.

✓ Meetings with partners, associates and in-house support staff

Employment Lawyer salary expectations

Employment lawyers are able to offer a wide range of services in a highly competitive environment with quick turnaround times. Given the demanding nature of advice and support required, employment law professionals are able to charge highly competitive rates. Simplyjobs states that the starting salary for an employment lawyer in the UK ranges between £20,000 to £30,000 whilst experienced professionals could earn anything between £30,000 to £75,000. This would depend upon the size of the firm, level of experience and location. Senior professionals usually earn more than £100,000 a year. According to Totally Legal’s Report of 2018, the average salary for employment law professionals was around £46,054, and junior associates could expect to be earning up to £30,000, whilst an experienced lawyer in London could earn around £75,000 or more.

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Interview with an Employment LawyerInterview with an Employment Lawyer

Silas Biyogo is a Legal & Human Resource Manager at Biodeal Laboratories Ltd in Kenya, a large pharmaceutical manufacturing company with a workforce of over 250 people.

What daily responsibilities do you have in your role?

My daily responsibilities include:

  • Legal representation in Courts. 

  • Receiving and processessing numerous employee relations’ complaints and inquiries via phone calls, emails and in-person visit). 

  • Supporting and advising the leadership with investigations to facilitate a win/win 
solution. 

  • Researching, developing, designing and facilitating the Employee Relations 
Department (ERD) database for efficient maintenance of electronic records including inquiries, complaints, grievances, harassment and discrimination investigations, telephone calls, and statistical data. 

  • Counselling employees and managers regarding interpretation and implementation of company policies and procedures, and relevant employment laws. 

  • Managing employee relation processes, including complaints, interviewing, investigations, data analysis, reporting, and conclusion notifications. 

  • Recruitment, onboarding and training of staff. 


What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office? 


When I get into the office in the morning the first thing I do is go through all of my emails and correspondence. 


Can you give a breakdown of how you spend the average working day? 


My average working day is spent responding to emails, attend to staff grievances, attending court sessions and conducting recruitment interviews. 


How do you handle, organise and prioritise your workload? 


I start by addressing any of the urgent items that have come through and then move onto important projects. 


What sort of projects you manage from day to day? 


On a day-to-day basis I am responsible for coordinating training of staff and conducting performance evaluations. 


What sort of clients do you generally deal with? 


The clients that I usually work with are Kenya Chemical & Allied Workers Union, suppliers of the pharmaceuticals’ raw materials, pharmaceutical regulatory bodies, government ministries, county governments, hospitals, vendors of manufacturing products and the general public. 


How much contact do you have with your clients? 


I maintain regular and close contact with my clients. 


How do you communicate with them (email/phone/letter/meetings)?

I communicate with my clients through emails, telephone calls and letters. Also, because of Covid-19 I now do lots of Zoom meetings too. 


How important is communication for an employment lawyer?

Communication is very important for an employment lawyer as it improves and facilitates understanding and enhances all round feedback.

What do you consider to be the most interesting element of your work?

For me one of the most interesting elements of my work as an employment lawyer is applying alternative dispute resolution mechanisms like mediation, reconciliation and arbitration rather than litigation. 


Why did you choose to specialise in employment law?

I have a passion for the workforce and the employers, as they are the engines of production in any economy, this is why I wanted to go into employment law specifically.

How would you define employment law?

Employment law is the statutes and regulations that govern labour relations between employees and employers – employers’ organisations and employees’ organisations. Employers’ organisations are partners in the employment sector, they negotiate working conditions on behalf of employers in a particular country for example Federation of Kenya Employer (FKE). Employees’ Organisations negotiate welfare terms on behalf of the employees, who are their registered members in a particular country for example Kenya Chemical & Allied Workers Union (KCAWU). 

Did you work in any other fields of law before becoming an employment lawyer?

Before becoming an employment lawyer I worked in the construction industry for seven years. I worked as an Assistant Quantity Surveyor and an Assistant Human Resource Officer, and I used to be part of arbitration of construction disputes, which I was passionate about. It is because of this passion that reason I chose to pursue a legal career.

What qualities does a lawyer need to be successful in employment law?

Research and reading and imperative skills and interests for employment lawyers. To be successful in employment law it is essential to keep abreast of any changes in the employment law and emerging prudence through intensive and extensive research and reading.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an employment lawyer?

One challenging aspect of being an employment lawyer is following up of procedures before decision-making, especially from the management of a company that is not fully versed with the law. 


What is the most rewarding aspect of being an employment lawyer?

I consider the most rewarding aspect of being an employment lawyer being part of growth and maintaining emerging jurisprudence in employment law.

What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers looking to eventually qualify in employment law?

Employment law is an interesting and rewarding field. I would advise anyone looking to enter this field of law to put more effort through intensive and extensive reading of precedents and emerging jurisprudence. 


What was your career and academic path to becoming an employment lawyer?

I started with human resource management, which has a direct correlation with employment law. 
I initially worked with NK Brothers Ltd & Kenya Revenue Authority where I honed my Human Resource Management Skills. I perfected these skills at Career Directions Ltd, where I was in charge of employee relations.

Would you recommend this route, or with hindsight could you have achieved your career goal in a better way?

In my view this is one of the best strategies as my previous work experience provided a critical background to perfect my employment law skills.

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Employment Law firms

Although most top tier law firms have a dedicated team of employment lawyers led by a partner, there are specialist law firms too that are usually small to mid- tiers firms that provide specialist employment law advisory services. Some of the popular names late specialise within this area are:

UK firms

Doyle Clayton

Redmans Solicitors 

Cavendish Employment Law

Global firms

Slater & Gordon 

Norton Rose Fulbright 

Eversheds Sutherland

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