Burges Salmon’s client-focued response to the pandemic secured it the Employment Law Firm of the Year award in 2021. We take a closer look at its entry and those of our other finalists.
From the outset of pandemic, Burges Salmon worked to ensure its clients had immediate access to its expert legal advice. It sought to support clients in making difficult and often financially significant decisions for the benefit of their businesses based on untested areas of law and kept clients and the wider HR community up-to-date on new laws and developments.
The firm’s 27-strong employment team offered each client an assigned team of lawyers with directories of contact details for each lawyer. This meant whenever a client got in touch, they would be speaking with a lawyer who already knew them and their business.
The furlough scheme left major employment law issues unanswered and with business-critical decisions on their shoulders, clients sought urgent solutions.
In response, Burges Salmon broadened its use of alternative digital channels – such as video, webinars and blogs – devising an enhanced and innovative offering so its mailing list of more than 3,000 HR clients and contacts have the latest information in digestible and user-friendly formats. These included an innovative handbook for the HR community, in-depth guidance notes, live webinars, roundtables and a video series on hybrid and flexible working. Reviews from clients included: “the Burges Salmon team were always responsive and available whenever urgent advice was needed”.
Judges were impressed with testimonials given by Burges Salmon’s clients, which highlighted how appreciative they were of the firm’s help in navigating the issues that Covid-19 created.
Within hours of the onset of lockdown in March 2020, Irwin Mitchell’s law team had successfully mobilised its team for homeworking, moving 3,000 staff to a remote model in four days. Throughout the pandemic it continued to provide technically excellent yet commercially relevant advice, generating new clients, partnerships and raising the profile of the team.
It created a programme of more than 140 webinars on the key pandemic legal changes for employers and adopted a digital approach to training, reaching more than 15,000 delegates. The firm hosted its first ever national HR conference, attended (virtually) by more than 650 delegates.
Via Passle blogs, the firm consolidated government briefings, guidance documents, best practice, and commentary to
produce jargon-free, practical, bitesized articles, which it communicated immediately to clients and contacts.
Irwin Mitchell migrated its client portal to a new platform and refreshed template letters,
policies and handbooks, ensuring that its clients had up-to-date materials (to reflect the changes in employment law brought on by the pandemic and lockdown) at no cost to them. Its strategy helped the firm to grow its client base and gain new work from existing clients. It has grown fee income by over 66% in the last three years, from c£6m to £10m.
The team at Winckworth Sherwood is passionate about ethics and leadership. At its annual workforce conference in 2020 it discussed how how leaders should set “the tone from the top”. To push this further, it conducted research in January 2021 into ethical leadership during the course of the pandemic, looking at how employers have responded to the pandemic, the impact on employees and what this could mean for the future of work.
This involved conducting a YouGov survey of 1,000+ employees and 500+ HR decision makers, and holding in-depth
interviews with HR decision-makers. The findings proved invaluable to Winckworth Sherwood’s clients, providing an insight into market trends, some ideas as to what they could do to better support their workforce and what long-term
changes they could make to attract and retain staff. It ran two oversubscribed roundtables in March about how to
handle new working practices as lockdown was eased.
The research helped arm the firm with the knowledge to guide clients on complex issues, such as giving full consideration to the business case for implementing workplace changes. It showed the benefits of ensuring full transparency with employees, despite the challenges of working remotely. The research also shone light on the need for proper consultation processes where redundancies were unavoidable. The firm has provided assistance to several clients who have embarked on collective redundancy exercises because of the pandemic.
Winckworth Sherwood’s advice in navigating these complex issues has resulted in only a handful of tribunal claims (despite thousands of employees being impacted), demonstrating that even large-scale redundancy exercises, if handled ethically in line with the employer’s legal obligations, can be accepted by employees and cause minimal fallout for the business.
The firm has also worked with a number of other businesses across the sectors to support them in effectively using the furlough scheme in order to minimise pay cuts and redundancies as well as claims from employees.