My grandparents always told me that I should ‘get a profession’. Law was the one they spoke about most so I have wanted to have a legal career for as long as I can remember. As a young boy, I wanted to be either a baker, a lawyer or Batman. Sadly, I didn’t make the cut as Batman and I decided I’d probably eat everything that I baked, so a legal career was the final choice. I used to have a bit of a flair for the dramatic and, when I was four, I would wrap my granny’s shawl around my shoulders and parade around her living room delivering judgments. I dread to think what about.
I took employment law as a module on my LPC and enjoyed it. I then fell into a job out of law school which had a heavy employment law element. After qualifying, I only wanted to carry on with employment law because of the variety that it brings on a daily basis. It is an extremely fast-paced and ever-changing area, and although we predominantly work for companies, we also work for individuals and get to see both sides of the argument. The variety helps to keep it interesting, as well as the ability to work across a number of different sectors.
Being an employment lawyer meant that my wife and I were more aware of shared parental leave than some families are, but beyond that it didn’t really play a role. My wife was always going to take around 10 months off work to be with our son, so we decided that it would be a fantastic opportunity for us to spend that time together in the summer. We rounded off our shared parental leave celebrating my wife’s PhD graduation as a family, which was perfect.
I am full of admiration for parents that look after children full-time. It is an amazing experience, but extremely hard work. In all honesty, it had little impact on my day job. I’m lucky enough to work with fantastic colleagues who made my return to work completely seamless. The hardest part was remembering the password to my laptop.
When I was four I’d wrap my granny’s shawl around my shoulders and parade around her living room delivering judgments
Within my immediate friendship circle, take-up of shared parental leave is actually quite high, but this isn’t indicative of the country as a whole. There are probably a couple of reasons for this. The first is knowledge. Raising awareness of shared parental leave will help, but it is a long process. The second depends on the income of each parent and the benefits offered by each parent’s employer. Many companies do not offer enhanced shared parental leave, so the practicality of being without two full-time salaries, even for a short period of time, is difficult to manage.
I met my fellow Crossland director, Beverley Sunderland, on the opposite side of a case. We got on well and found that we shared a similar style and philosophy (all while doing the best for our respective clients, of course). The case got to a full hearing at the Manch ester tribunal and despite Beverley spilling water over my papers in the first five minutes (the judge commented ‘how very Ally McBeal of you, Ms Sunderland!’), I managed to win the case. I don’t like to brag about it too much, of course, and Beverley will often tell people that I charmed the two wing members of the panel, who outvoted the tribunal judge. We stayed in touch and Beverley always said to contact her if I ever was moving to the south of England. I did, almost nine years ago, and the rest is history.
A common challenge in any case will be evidence. When acting on the part of respondents, particularly those with a higher turnover of staff, it can be difficult getting witnesses for tribunal hearings when employees have left. This is even more difficult if the employee has left acrimoniously. Also, because there can be a long period of time between an employee being dismissed and a final hearing, many companies will actually delete email accounts and evidence relating to the employee. This can have a significant impact on helping to establish fair reasons for dismissal, or defending other types of claim.
The most-needed change is additional resources for our employment tribunal system. It is stretched and the tribunals and their staff are overworked. It all means that cases are taking longer to hear than ever and claims can take 12-18 months to get to a hearing, if not longer. The recent round of employment judge appointments will go some way towards helping this and ensuring fewer cases get called off at the last minute due to a lack of judicial resource.
Barry Ross is a director of Crossland Employment Solicitors, Abingdon