Eversheds Sutherland wins Employment Law Firm of the Year verdict

Members of the Evershed Sutherland team receive their Employment Law Firm of the Year award from the One Show's Alex Jones and Rob Moss, editor of Personnel Today.
Members of the Eversheds Sutherland team receive their Employment Law Firm of the Year award from the One Show's Alex Jones and Rob Moss, editor of Personnel Today.

Eversheds Sutherland impressed the Personnel Today Awards 2018 judges with its innovative thinking and outstanding client. The proactive advice provided for clients was also highly impressive for the other shortlisted firms too, making the winning pick a particularly difficult choice.

WINNER

Eversheds Sutherland

Eversheds Sutherland’s UK team is the largest employment law team in the country. One of its clients is Brakes, a leading food wholesaler, with whom it has forged a system combining innovative use of technology, a client-oriented process and high-quality legal advice.

In 2017, Brakes was seeking a sole legal service provider to streamline its HR operation. Following challenges it faced with outsourcing, Brakes had brought its employee relations (ER) model in-house. But this model led to the HR team being overwhelmed by a large volume of ER issues while still leaning on multiple external legal service providers, leading to escalating legal costs. These issues were compounded by the fact that Brakes was part-way through a business transformation programme.

Eversheds Sutherland was engaged to provide commercial and pragmatic advice, build, deliver and roll-out an ER/employment law helpline service directly to 1,000-plus front-line people managers and to develop the skills and capabilities of Brakes’ people manager team. Working alongside IT specialists the company designed an innovative extranet solution that would allow this team to deliver legal and HR advice to people managers, as well as support for more senior members for complex projects and tribunals. Technical elements essential to the service included tiered security access, a one-stop-shop and real-time access.

The firm handled 5,000-plus calls in the first 12 months of operating a newly developed managers’ helpline. Comparatively, under their previous model only 10-15 calls per week were recorded from a population of 1,000+ managers. This is a clear reflection of the usability, efficiency and practicality of the model. One major benefit is that Brakes’ HR professionals have now been released from the day-to-day HR issues to focus on more strategic work that benefits the business.


RUNNERS-UP

Capital Law

Founded in 2007 to provide a quick-thinking alternative to what its founders saw as the conventional legal model, Capital Law aims to offer an experienced, personable approach with clients’ objectives as its main priority.

The firm offers a variety of flexible working opportunities (including remote working), various progression routes, and a range of wellbeing benefits, including yoga classes, a chiropractor, an in-house chef and a cash health plan which includes access to a 24-hour counselling service and a variety of holistic treatments.

Judges

Darren Newman, InCompany Training,
Bar Huberman, Xpert HR
Daniel Barnett, Outer Temple Chambers

Capital’s diversity, inclusion and communities group reviews its progress and explores new initiatives every quarter. Two-thirds of staff are female, with women at all levels of the firm, including its managing partner and three of five team leaders. The head of employment is female, as are six out of 12 employment lawyers. An equal pay audit is in place, and a partnership with Chwarae Teg, a charity built to promote the development of women. Monthly “lean in” sessions developed by women, are held for women to get together, share experiences and build confidence.

In a bid to attract more applicants from ethnic minorities, Capital has partnered with one of Cardiff’s most ethnically diverse schools, giving students opportunity to complete work experience in a law firm. It also ensures its workforce is inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community, supports Stonewall and sponsors the Iris Prize.


ESP Law

Founded in 2015, ESP Law offers a subscription pricing model that provides HR professionals with operational employment law advice that is personal, fast, commercial and cost effective. The recent abolition of tribunal fees represented a challenge to ESP’s HR customers, many of whom have seen their workload and capacity tested, and the firm looked to provide an innovative solution to meet their needs.

The main challenges facing ESP’s HR customers included the fact that few HR professionals had experienced the practical realities of employment tribunals – there was little understanding of the risks involved in exposing line managers to tribunal situations and how actions are perceived once in a tribunal environment. Also, action was needed to stem the flow of cases from stakeholders and to upskill stakeholders who often had an “old school” mentality when dealing with the application of employment law in the workplace.

ESP has demonstrated that dealing with cases in line with employment law best practice allows HR teams to proactively address issues before tribunal. To complement its existing service, and tackle the issues raised by the increase in tribunal claims, ESP launched an educational initiative designed to upskill and mentor its HR clients.

This included the hosting of a live mock employment tribunal – based on a real-life case, featuring barristers, a tribunal judge and ESP’s own lawyers acting as witnesses in the case. This was recorded and provided as an educational tool to customers to share with the whole team. Other initiatives include real-time case management software, live employment law webinars and e-learning.


HRC Law

One of the key challenges for HRC in its fifth year was to maintain the ethics that the firm values. Being a smaller law firm, it aims to be supportive, technically accurate, commercial, genuine and have a sense of humour. It also sets out to be a leader and specialist in what it does.

HRC puts the client at the centre of its activities by bringing together the tailored approach of a boutique firm alongside the expertise and resources expected from a much larger firm. It ensures its team is equipped with the latest training and sector expertise and that recruitment is centred on the real skills that are often overlooked but are crucial in supporting clients through people-centred issues. HRC wants to be an extra limb to its clients’ businesses and, to do this, getting the people right – and retaining those people – is vital.

The firm is designed to be flexible enough to take shape of whatever the client needs by not adhering to the archaic formulas that many firms adopt – be that in their advice style, drafting, “commercial approach” and communication methods. The business claims to offer a fairer system of billing, with a fixed-fee monthly product that eliminates a lot of the tension over fees that can exist between client and lawyer. HRC has found that this increases client engagement and strengthens relationships, as well as reducing the impact of legal problems on its clients’ businesses. The company has grown fast, with a 27% increase in turnover in the past year and a 53% increase in profit. Headcount has increased from three in 2013 to 25.


Mitchell Law

A specialist employment law firm established two years ago, Mitchell Law has attracted household names (such as Laithwaites Wines) to major international manufacturers (Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd) and has established itself as one of the largest regional providers of employment law services to the FE college sector.

Three cases demonstrate the firm’s approach to its clients. In the first example, one client, an FE college, was facing complaints from term-time only (TTO) employees about the calculation of their holiday entitlement. One worker escalated this to a complaint to the employment tribunal. Thanks to the firm’s use of an in-house barrister, it was able to have the same person working with the client on all aspects of the case and the client ultimately won the case in tribunal despite there being many legal complications. Mitchell moved quickly, advising on contractual changes highlighted by the litigation process.

The second challenge was to come up with a more innovative way of connecting with HR professionals in its client base and network. It wanted to communicate the legal know-how in an accessible way. So the firm launched its own YouTube channel, developing the idea of The Mitchell Law Tea Break, a chatty update where each episode focuses on a different topic of relevance to HR professionals.

Mitchell was also approached by a leading regional accountancy practice in relation to the HR service it provides to small business clients. The practice was finding some of the casework required specialist legal input and also that work levels were difficult to manage. Since starting to work with them Mitchell has helped them to identify common areas in which their clients needed support and mentored their advisers to be better equipped to deal with these. The end-clients have benefited from specialist employment law advice which may previously have been inaccessible due to their size.

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