Legal Information Centre

25 September 2008 by Mary Heaney

Using an employment lawyer

To help give you an idea of what to look for in an employment lawyer and what to expect from their service we have asked solicitors who act for employees what advice they can provide.

Legal proceedings should help alleviate the emotional and financial strain of an employment dispute rather than exacerbate the problem, which is why it is vital to consult a good employment lawyer.

To help give you an idea of what to look for in an employment lawyer and what to expect from their service, we have asked lawyers who act for employees what advice they can provide.

What to look for in an employment lawyer

Choosing an employment lawyer who specialises in the field is of utmost importance, according to our panel. Employment lawyer Helen Moore, of Tayntons, warns: “It’s a complicated area of law that requires a full-time department.”

Moore also warns against using a commercial lawyer unfamiliar with representing employees. However, employment lawyer Ellie Hibberd (right), of Dawsons, suggests that it can be useful if your lawyer has some experience acting for employers as well. This means that your employment lawyer can appreciate the demands of the other side of the dispute and perhaps help bring about a quicker resolution.

All employment lawyers interviewed by emphasise the importance of feeling comfortable with your lawyer. Resolving an employment dispute is a collaborative process. Since it can be a stressful experience, it is very important that you do not feel at all intimidated by your lawyer.

Employment lawyer Kitty Falls (left) of law firm Eric Robinson advises: “Make sure you work with an employment lawyer who understands your problem and who you get on well with.” She is also keen to remind employees seeking legal advice that they can change lawyers if they are not happy and request that their paperwork be transferred to someone else.

How you can help your employment lawyer

Employment lawyer Jonathon Mansfield (right) of law firm Thomas Mansfield LLP emphasises the importance of consulting a lawyer before taking precipitate action such as walking out of your job. An employment lawyer can help resolve a problem in its nascent stages or through internal proceedings so that you can remain with your employer. Diane Massey of employment lawyers DSM Legal also draws attention to the urgency of seeking legal advice by highlighting the short time limits for issuing proceedings in an Employment Tribunal.

However, employees cannot pursue their rights until they have officially raised a grievance with their employer. Time can be saved by doing so before consulting an employment lawyer as an employer¹s grievance policy should be easily accessible for advice on how to raise a grievance.

Louise Lawrence (right) - also an employment lawyer at Dawsons - suggests how you can prepare for the first meeting with your employment lawyer. You should try to set out a chronology of events for your lawyer and bring copies of relevant documents, such as your employment contract, copies of company policy and any correspondence.

Dawsons’s Hibberd also suggests that trade unions can be useful for assisting with an employment grievance, particularly as they are likely to know more about the details of your job.

What your employment lawyer should be able tell you

Kitty Falls says that during your initial consultation your employment lawyer should be able to give a good idea of the likely outcome, but she warns that “there is never 100 per cent certainty.”

It can be hard for an employment lawyer to give a precise answer since they cannot know how the employer will react, according to Hibberd. However, she says, your employment lawyer should be able to provide you with a range of possible outcomes.

Hibberd also says your employment lawyer should be made aware of your ideal result. An employment lawyer should also warn you of the limitations of your case. She says that many people, for example, would like to be reinstated in their jobs when this is normally quite hard to achieve.

When it comes to costs Helen Moore warns that being told the hourly rate is not a particularly useful guide to how much you will have to pay your employment lawyer. She also says that a price quote for a piece of work running right up to the employment tribunal stage can be misleading since many cases do not go this far.

Instead, she advises asking your employment lawyer for a breakdown of costs for each step of the process. This way you can get a quote for using your employment lawyer up to the point of raising a grievance, then up to the point of issuing proceedings or up to the point of reaching a settlement.

How you can pay your employment lawyer

It is also important to ask your employment lawyer about available payment options. Although you may be seeking retribution, Kitty Falls cautions that your case may simply not be cost effective. She also warns that legal aid is not available until you reach the stage of an Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Legal expense insurance is another option that employment lawyers support as cover is provided via an insurance policy. Helen Moore strongly advises that individuals pay for such cover, which can be attached to a home insurance policy, and points out that it can pay for a lawyer in other situations such as personal injury actions.

However, Hibberd warns that insurance companies are often reluctant to allow you to choose your own employment lawyer. Falls suggests they are more likely to agree to pay for your own employment lawyer if you have already had a free consultation before seeking their support.

Often, you can also negotiate a conditional fee arrangement (also known as ‘no win, no fee’) with your employment lawyer.

Click here to read 'How an employment lawyer can help your business'

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