For the third year running, Bevan Brittan has been named among the UK’s best law firms by The Times.
In the newly published The Times 200 Best Law Firm 2021 report, the firm has been commended in four practice areas, up from three last year, with Landlord & Tenant joining Employment, Pensions & Immigration; Administrative & Public Law and Clinical Negligence as standout practices.
In our final Times Best Law Firm Spotlight interview, we focus on Employment, Pensions & Immigration with Partner Jodie Sinclair.
What has made this such a successful year for your practice?
A range of factors have made this such a successful year. The opportunity to work with and support our clients across a range of really interesting sectors, on a variety of workforce and employment issues, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been driven our success. Communication, adjusting to how we work – moving to virtual and remote working for the majority of the year – and supporting each other are some of the key factors which underpin that success.
While we’ve continued to strengthen and grow our NHS employment practice during the past 12 months, it’s been exciting to further develop and strengthen our profile and client base across other sectors such as independent health and social care, housing, higher education, commercial services and central and local government and in insurance and finance. I’m pleased to say we’re continuing to grow as a team, which is fantastic.
What types of projects/advice have you been providing over the last 12 months?
Both the projects and types of work we have supported clients with over the last 12 months remains varied and interesting. From the ad hoc day-to-day workforce queries and during Covid-19, many of which was urgent and subject to new and changing guidance, to larger more complex matters and of course, working with clients to help shape some of the strategic workforce agenda. This included, for example, identifying and implementing changes in response to the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter Movements as well as the ongoing work regarding a ‘Just and Compassionate’ culture in the NHS.
During this time, we’ve continued to support many of our clients around new models of care or structures and joint ventures, for example in health and social care, local government and the voluntary sector
Whilst Employment Tribunal litigation was put on hold until June 2020 as a result of the pandemic, this has now lifted and we have supported many clients on a range of litigation, both in the Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeals Tribunal and High Court.
Many of our markets are seeing much greater focus on how those employers create a just and compassionate culture while handling performance issues. During the last eight months a lot of our support and advice to clients has focused upon workforce issues arising from the pandemic. For example, we have seen health inequalities relating to BAME staff as well as age and gender, so we’ve been working with clients to help them understand more fully some of those emerging issues around the equalities agenda. So it’s been incredibly varied and no day feels the same in terms of the support we’ve been providing to clients.
What do you think are the opportunities and challenges faced by this market over the next 12 months?
Employment tribunals put their hearings on hold until June because of the pandemic – that’s since been lifted, but we’re seeing a backlog of tribunal claims. So we’re involved in a lot of litigation for clients and unless they can find a way to resolve the issues or mediate or achieve a settlement, parties are going to be waiting longer to get to an employment tribunal, which is not good for anybody.
I think for many clients, particularly in the independent and SME market, because of Covid they are severely impacted financially. So I think we will sadly be seeing more redundancies, even though the furlough scheme was recently extended to March 2021, and I think we are yet to see the full impact of the pandemic on the workforce more broadly.
We are talking to clients a lot more about supporting wellbeing and resilience but we are also hearing accounts of staff burnout, especially from those working in the health and social care sectors, which is a huge part of our client base. Whilst the first Covid wave saw ‘business as usual’ employee relations and workforce issues put on hold, employers are likely to have to be seen to be managing both during the second wave.
I also expect that we will start to see employers across all sectors being expected to understand more fully their staffing demographic and ensuring that their organisational cultures support diversity and inclusion. Staff may be more proactive in raising concerns.
Finally, with IR35 reforms put on hold due to Covid, private sector organisations will need to ensure that they are ready for the implementation date as we don’t currently know how active HMRC may be in terms of enforcing compliance.
What do you hope to achieve as a team over the next 12 months?
We’re a national team spread across four offices and, although we’ve largely worked remotely for the last 10 years, like many teams the pandemic meant that we had to re-think and refine how we interacted and operated. Both to support our clients to ensure we were continuing to provide a responsive and quality employment law service and also supporting each other as a team. The past 12 months, and the last eight in particular, have not been without their challenges, but the team has been brilliant. I hope that we can continue to support each other, individually and collectively, that we can continue to take forward our diversification and growth strategy, and that we can continue to work with the clients we do. Working on really interesting, often strategically important and/or legally or organisationally complex and sensitive work. We’re in the fortunate position that many of our clients simply don’t come to us for support when things go wrong but engage us at a much earlier stage as part of that strategic discussion to embed a prevention is better than cure mind-set – to ensure that they are in the best possible position if and when things do go wrong.
We are now planning our next three year strategy, which I’m very excited about. I’m confident that as a team we’re in a good place to work collectively and cohesively and for that common purpose – supporting clients as best as we can.