What does an employment lawyer do?

Written by: Catherine Wasilewski, Sellick Partnership
Published on: 30 Jun 2021


Thinking about specialising in Employment Law? Catherine Wasilewski, Principal Consultant at Sellick Partnership, outlines the key responsibilities for an employment lawyer as well as the development path for this high in demand role. 

Employment law is one of the most popular choices of specialism for professionals entering the world of legal practice. Due to the high volume of employment law cases being dealt with by firms every day, there will always be demand for skilled employment solicitors - and those who pursue this pathway will find that it yields a wide variety of opportunities.

Whether you choose to work primarily with businesses or individual claimants, employment solicitors are relied upon to provide crucial services that play a key role in keeping the world of business operating smoothly and fairly, while also ensuring that staff at all levels have their rights protected and upheld.

Here, we will take a closer look at exactly what an employment lawyer does, as well as providing information on the pathways that professionals can take to establish themselves and thrive within this challenging but rewarding field of legal work.

What are the key responsibilities of an employment lawyer?

Employment law is a broad specialism, designed to regulate and properly guide the legal relationship between employers and their staff. In the most general sense, the most essential responsibility of an employment lawyer is to uphold the laws that govern these relationships, ensuring that each party upholds their rights, duties and obligations to the other.

On a day-to-day basis, these responsibilities become more granular and easy to categorise. Most employment lawyers will specialise in acting on behalf of employers (respondents) or employees (claimants) - although there are some mixed roles, generally speaking this division is fairly well-established, in order to prevent potential conflicts of interest from arising.

Even within these divisions, the type of work remains very varied, splitting again into one of two main categories:

  • Non-contentious support work, including:
    • Employment contract and document drafting
    • Providing advice on current company policies and processes
    • Overseeing restructures, buyouts and mergers
  • Contentious claim support, including:
    • Helping workers make a claim over demotions, wage disputes, whistleblowing or unfair/constructive dismissal
    • Evaluating and providing advice on the merits of employee claims
    • Sitting in on internal grievance processes
    • Representing clients during employment tribunal cases

Because of the diverse nature of the work, the day-to-day responsibilities and career experiences of an employment lawyer can be significantly varied. They will have to advise on a range of different client queries, with a broad spectrum of different potential outcomes.

As such, these roles can be ideal for professionals who wish to broaden their horizons and expand their legal experiences. Employment law roles can be as broad or as niche as your own preference, and there are plenty of opportunities for candidates from a diverse range of professional backgrounds.

What kind of salary and development opportunities are available to employment lawyers?

Providing an average salary estimate for employment solicitors is always likely to be an imprecise exercise, due to the significant variations that exist between different parts of the country. As a rule, you can generally expect to receive comparable salaries to other commercial areas of law, but this will depend on where your employer is headquartered, as well as the size and profile of the firm.

As an illustration, you can generally expect claimant work done with a trade union on behalf of employees to be less lucrative than working with larger companies, particularly in the case of big-name firms dealing with blue chip clients. However, no matter what area you choose to go into, there will be considerable opportunities for further professional development and career advancement.

As you accrue more experience and expertise, you will gain more opportunity to work on bigger and more high-profile cases, as well as greater autonomy to pick and choose your work. You will also be able to pursue promotions and more senior roles, whether this means becoming a partner, senior associate or head of legal at a firm, or moving into the business world and taking on a managerial position within a company’s HR division.

What skills and qualifications are needed to become an employment lawyer?

Beyond the basic legal qualifications expected of any solicitor, there are no qualifications specific to employment law that would be expected of a professional in this field. This means that successful employment lawyers can come from a range of educational backgrounds - some are fully qualified with CILEX, whereas others (especially in the field of advocacy) can get their start without formal qualifications in place, on the strength of their skills and prior experience alone.

As with any area of law, the key to lasting success is having the right skills profile for the role. In the case of employment law, these include the following:

  • Great interpersonal skills and empathy, as employment law is all about working closely with people to solve their problems
  • Mental flexibility to come up with highly technical, commercially-minded but also pragmatic solutions, in a fast-moving environment where new case developments are frequently
  • Attention to detail, with a proactive focus on keeping up with the latest high-profile cases in the news - such as the recent Supreme Court ruling on the employment status of Uber drivers - that can change the landscape and set new legal precedents
  • Talent for public speaking, if you intend to pursue an advocacy or barrister role, as this will mean you will have to present cases in court settings and think quickly on your feet. Desk-based roles are available for those who would prefer not to pursue this route, although strong communication skills are still essential

The variety and flexibility available in employment law means that there is no one correct pathway to success. If you are just starting out in this field, the most important priority is to try and obtain some strong, varied experience in relevant areas, whether this means choosing relevant elective courses at LPC and degree level, or by approaching local law firms for work experience placements.

By building a solid grounding in employment law basics and honing your most relevant skills, you will be able to build a long, successful and varied career in one of the most dynamic and exciting fields of legal practice.