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Employment Law Area of Practice: Careers in the UK

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 6 minutes


Reading Time: 6 min

What is Employment Law?

In simple terms, employment law is a framework of laws that covers the relationship between employers and employees. Thus, on one hand, a part of employment law is concerned with the rights of an employee and the obligations he or she owes to the employer. Conversely, the other section of employment law deals with the employer’s rights and the duties and obligations they owe to their employees. 

To ensure that a fair balance is struck between employer and employee, the UK employs a host of legislation, statutory authorities, regulations of conduct and processes through which the law is administered and followed to see that at least an attempt is made to ensure that parties involved are not shortchanged. 

Employment law is an area where the work of the lawyer tends to vary depending on which side of the fence he or she is on. 

The Leading Law Firms in this Area

When it comes to employment law, Chambers and Partners lists Allen & Overy, Lewis Silkin, Simmons & Simmons, Herbert Smith Freehills and Baker McKenzie as the leading (Band 1) firms in the UK. These firms are known for having some of the best-ranked lawyers in the UK showing great strength across the full spectrum of employment law. Some of the other leading firms include Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Dechert, DLA Piper, Mishcon de Reya and Addleshaw Goddard. 

Type of Clients 

Aspiring lawyers should be aware that a large majority of clients in this area of law are employers. As such they should be comfortable dealing with clients from a wide variety of fields and industries, such as banks, insurance companies, private equity firms, tech firms, retailers, manufacturers, education establishments, gaming companies, as well as membership bodies and charities. 

This should not be taken to mean that clients that are employees will not be taken by these firms, as firms will also advise employees.

What kind of Work is Involved?

The work involved in employment law has to do with everything to do with the workplace. This includes the hiring of personnel, advertisement of vacancies, the recruitment process, the rules governing employees, remuneration, the promotion and movement of employees, the benefits and perks that are provided, organisation restructuring, forced exits, voluntary exits and litigation.

There are however two sides to employment law: contentious and non-contentious work. A lawyer dealing in contentious work will cover everything from dismissals to breach of contracts, to harassment, redundancy/lay-off and discrimination on the grounds of age, sex, religion and disability. While non-contentious work will involve providing advice, drafting, transactional tasks and dispute resolution through arbitration and negotiations.

A Day in the Life of an Employment Lawyer

Generally, on a given day, an employment lawyer can help explain the client’s rights to him or her. This includes explaining the applicable laws that apply to the case and the options available to the client. If the client is an employer, the lawyer may spend the day helping employers remain compliant with various laws. In cases where the litigation option has been exercised, employment lawyers will spend their day assisting in such suits; they could be representing employees who are filing a such lawsuit or be defending employers against such actions.  

The point is that there’s no typical day for an employment lawyer as an employment lawyer could be representing an employer in one instance and on another day be representing an employee. 

Average Earnings of an Employment Lawyer

The average salary for an employment solicitor is £52,500. Entry-level positions start as high as £40,947 per year while most experienced workers make way over £100,000 per year. While these figures are nothing to be scoffed at, employment solicitors working for the leading firms in the City can earn a lot more than what we have stated. Let us use a few examples. 

Trainees at Simmons & Simmons get £46,000 and £50,500 in their first and second years while their newly qualified lawyers take home a cool £100,000. If you train at Herbert Smith Freehills you walk away with £50,000 and £55,000 as a trainee and £120,000 as a newly qualified solicitor. If this is the amount you get at top firms, imagine how much you’d get as you gather more experience! 

Furthermore, as an employment barrister, if you are self-employed, you may be able to enjoy higher salaries than solicitors.

Skills Necessary to Be Successful

To succeed as a lawyer in this sector, clients will want to see you bring solutions, and the following skills will help you achieve such:

  • Analytical: A lawyer always needs to be able to analyse the situation and the facts of a case and interpret that against the relevant law. 
  • Responsiveness: Being able to respond quickly and accurately to a client’s issue will go a long way to helping that client arrive at an informed decision. 
  • Business sense: Clients want practical advice, rather than an academic explanation of the law.
  • Agility and adaptability: Employment law is an area that is always changing, so you must be able to go with the flow, operating in a constantly changing environment. 

Work-Life Balance in Employment Law

It goes without saying that if you work in the City (London) that you’ll be leading a busy working life often which might affect your life outside of work.  A large and complex case can involve multiple lawyers and having to work in multiple departments at a given time. Such cases may require you to stay beyond 8 pm to iron out the details that you need to sort out. That being said, there will be periods when a case or project is winding down or has finished allowing you to catch up with your life. 

What does a Trainee’s work/duties look like?

In most cases a trainee’s workload will not always be the same; this is because of the various category of employment law he or she could be working at a given time. For instance, the work carried out in the area of discrimination will differ from that of termination of a contract. 

Another example, a trainee working in employee relations will find that his/her responsibilities will include helping the team to ensure timely, commercial and effective employee-relations support is provided. Further, they could be assessing cases, taking ownership of low-risk issues and referring higher-risk issues to senior team members.

Regardless of which area of employment law the trainee works, a trainee will in most cases work as a supporting member of the employment teams. Generally, they’ll 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 various documents such as employment contracts or policies.

How Do I Become One?

The route of becoming an employment lawyer is the same as other areas of law. 

First, you should complete a law degree which takes three years, and then take the LPC if you want to be a solicitor or the BPTC if you want to be a barrister. Once you have completed the LPC, you then need to get a training contract with law firms dealing in this sector. If you took the BPTC then you need to take part in a pupilage with a chambers. 

Those with degrees in other fields can become employment lawyers by following the above steps in addition to taking a conversion course (the SQE or GDL). By 2032, the SQE will replace the LPC.

Who Might be a Good Fit?

Since this is an area of law where emotions tend to run high sometimes; who wouldn’t shed a tear when an employee who is the breadwinner, or who wouldn’t be in rage when he or she is told that a company has discriminated against an employee based on race and the like. Thus, someone who seeks to be an employment lawyer should be someone that can learn to stay professional at all times and not let his or her emotions run riot. This is because you’ll be dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of human nature, and there will be the tendency to react to stimuli. 

Regardless, an employment lawyer should also be able to be friendly, approachable and empathetic, especially when dealing with employees. 

Recent Trends 

The National Living Wage increased on 1 April 2022 to £9.50.

Statutory family leave payments – the rate of statutory maternity pay, paternity pay, adoption pay, shared parental leave and parental bereavement pay increased to £156.66 per week from 3rd April 2022.

The financial award for compensation for unfair dismissal increased to £93,878 in April 2022.

Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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