A modern, pragmatic approach to save your business time, stress and money
I was recently approached by an HR Director to provide a quote to deal with a preliminary employment tribunal hearing after the MD of the business had seen one of my LinkedIn posts stating that my company provides a better-value, more pragmatic service.
The third-sector business was defending a race discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal claim which was emotive, as it felt it had gone out of its way for the employee and the label of ‘racist’ hurt. The business didn’t want to spend a fortune defending the case, neither did it want to pay out the employee. It certainly didn’t want to spend hours of management time working on the case, thinking about the case, feeling pressure and stress as a result.
Its law firm of 20 years had provided it with a very expensive quote to deal with the hearing (which was in effect a one-hour Zoom hearing to discuss the admin and management of the case (no substantive points of law to be determined).
When the HR Director rang me, she said her MD didn’t want to ‘waste money’ on lawyers’ fees to represent them at the hearing. She asked me if I could provide a quote to deal and also to deal with the full hearing, should it go that far.
Following a 30-minute Zoom call, the MD decided to take the case from his law firm with whom he had a 20-year relationship and pass it to me, a lawyer completely unknown to him other than through my LinkedIn posts, based on the other side of the country.
- It was clear to me that the MD’s priority was to try to get rid of the case as quickly as possible, as painlessly as possible, with as little cost as possible, and without any admission of liability. My job was, therefore, to make that happen. My job wasn’t to spend hours perusing legal cases and preparing for a full hearing now, which with any luck wouldn’t happen as we would be able to get the case withdrawn, struck out or settled before that point. That just simply wasn’t the brief. That approach would make me money but wouldn’t benefit the client and it wouldn’t result in the outcome they wanted or needed.
- I made the business no promises that I couldn’t fulfil, but I did say I would review the documents in a high-level way (not poring over the facts and spending hours racking up fees), which would save time and cost. I would then provide an overall opinion of the case. One email, not a 10-page legal advice quoting cases and reasoning. That could wait for the full hearing and submissions to a judge if we got there.
- I sent an email setting out briefly what I thought the key merits and weaknesses of the case were, what the case would cost the business if it lost or won and, importantly, the tactics I would use to try to get the case concluded before preliminary hearing. Tactics that hadn’t been suggested by the law firm including: issuing a costs warning to the claimant and requesting to the tribunal that it convert the administrative preliminary hearing to a substantive one to determine whether the claimant had more than 51% likely prospects of success and, therefore, whether she should be allowed to continue with her claim.
- This all cost the client 3 hours’ worth of my time at a rate less than the lawyer (who was significantly less experienced than me) had quoted them.
Will the case conclude before the hearing? I honestly don’t know, as I haven’t spoken to the other side yet so I don’t know how likely they are to dig their heels in, how well they have been advised (and therefore how realistic they are about their chances of winning), and whether they are paying for their legal fees (and therefore whether they take the ‘nothing to lose’ mentality). This part of the process isn’t about legal skill or knowledge as much as negotiation skills.
The point is though that my client now feels that their case is in safe hands. They feel that someone is on their ‘team’ with their best interests at heart. They trust me that my suggestions are there for their own benefit, not to make me as much money as possible to drag out the case.
This isn’t a criticism of the associate who provided the first quote. I feel for her as I was there once. She will be guided by an industry that loves detail and often loses sight of the bigger, commercial business picture. She will be influenced by the fear from her seniors that ‘the regulator’ will be scrutinising her every email, quote or letter to her client. She will also be influenced by the daily hours’ target she will have been working to. She won’t be made partner unless she can show she meets her billing targets and those targets will be very hard to reach unless clients are given the highest possible quotes.
Watch this space for the outcome of this matter and if you’d like to discuss employment law support for your business, please do get in touch.