Irwin Mitchell collect their 2019 award for Employment Law Firm of the Year.

The tightly contested Employment Law Firm of the Year Award recognises innovation, performance and client service in employment law teams’ work for their HR clients. The judges will also consider proactive advice provided for clients as well as their ability to handle live disputes.

Irwin Mitchell

Irwin Mitchell’s employment group has more than 70 lawyers in the City and across the UK’s major commercial centres.

This year, the team has led the way in supporting clients during the Covid-19 pandemic and acted quickly to ensure that its clients had instant support in unprecedented times.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on most of the firm’s clients. Many have had to consider and implement furloughing, home working, health and safety aspects, and consider redundancy strategies. HR departments have never been busier, nor have employers needed to get to grips with brand new concepts so quickly.

All this is on top of a background of new regulation, new employment contracts, changes in directors’ rights, IR35, claims of harassment and discrimination (epitomised by movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter), and new immigration laws, with Brexit on the horizon.

IM’s employment team has risen to the challenge, while its members themselves are working from home.

The firm has been advising on the furlough scheme since it began, and has been interpreting often inconsistent or lack of government guidance so that clients have been able to make informed decisions for the future of their organisations.

Since lockdown, the team has held over 60 webinars and distributed over 40 updates covering furloughing, returning to work, dealing with vulnerable groups etc.

Irwin Mitchell’s strategy has helped the firm grow its client base and gain new work from existing clients. It has grown fee income by more than 50% in the past three years, from about £6m to £9m.

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Its litigation team receives over 1,000 employment tribunal cases annually, and the firm acts for leading insurance companies in the provision of employment tribunal support to both commercial entities and individuals.

As one of the first major law firms to become an Alternative Business Structure pursuant to the Legal Services Act, Irwin Mitchell has the freedom to develop new and innovative ways of delivering services to clients.

The Employment Group is at the vanguard of these developments.

Starford Legal HR

Starford is a legal HR consultancy business that offers first-class legal services alongside operational strategy, project management and people-related consultancy, always supported with legal expertise. It is a boutique practice but has the experience and expertise of a City law firm, and its professional excellence attracts many national corporate clients.

Starford arose from the need for employment law to address how people management really works, across organisations large and small. Legal services have always been delivered via a very traditional partnership model but Starford challenges this by having a horizontal structure integrating the legal and HR services.

Starford provides clients agility, not only in its business structure, but in its swift thinking and ability to move quickly. Its lawyers and consultants become embedded with clients’ in-house teams from the start enabling allowing Starford to walk clients through their legal procedures every step of the way.

Clients receive expert employment law advice from Starford at a lower cost than that charged by traditional law firms, as well as guidance on broader HR issues and the people management skills required to drive their business forward.

Many solicitors leave the profession because of traditional firms being incompatible with family life, so Starford was founded as “an uncommon practice” with an agile approach to working with clients. This flexible culture means that legal and HR consultants choose their own working hours while still being available when clients need them most. By rejecting traditional office hours the firm can support clients whenever they need it, especially those with global teams in different time-zones.

The 2020 pandemic has forced many traditional law firms to trust their people to work from home, but Starford has always worked this way.

The gender pay gap has arisen in the legal profession in part due to women being denied their flexible-working requests around childcare or the lack of returner programmes encouraging them back into the workplace after a career break. Starford’s business model allows its legal and HR consultants to design their own working hours and balance the career they want with the demands of family life, and it encourages clients to adopt the same approach when faced with gender pay gap issues.

Starford now has 158 clients, an increase of 17% from 2019, including the Lawn Tennis Association, the RSPCA, Arora Hotels, CAE (UK) Plc, National Portrait Gallery, River Cottage, Tasty plc, Pho Cafe, and Giggling Squid.

Trowers and Hamlins

Trowers and Hamlins is an ambitious and growing team, with a true focus on pragmatic advice, collaboration and innovation. Its HR clients include household name companies, such as Costco, Moonpig and PaddyPower; sector specialists such as Greenpeace, Wilson James and Global; housing specialists such as Peabody, L&Q and charities such as Action on Hearing Loss, Dimensions UK and National Autistic Society.

It started a conversation in 2019 with clients about the rapidly changing workplace. Its clients said they wanted to invest their time focusing on strategic people solutions, to ensure their workplaces were future-proof. However, they were concerned about managing the day-to-day practicalities and risks associated with new ways of working. Trowers and Hamlins wanted to align its legal support to address these issues and provide the right balance of practical advice and progressive thinking.

Trowers and Hamlins decided to develop the theme ‘Future of Work’ to drive all interactions with clients and committed itself to the challenge of delivering pragmatic solutions, focused expertise, value for money and collaboration and innovation.

This was launched in 2019. Trowers and Hamlins’ clients responded immediately and the theme has been used to explore new ways of working and innovative legal support across business transformation, agility and flexibility – which has entailed upskilling clients on topics such as agile working, family friendly support, working from home and collaborative solutions – and maximising diversity and inclusion. On the latter, the firm has been supporting clients to maximise their inclusivity by widening their talent pipelines, advising on the introduction of the Rooney rule and using other positive action tools.

The fact that Trowers and Hamlins had been talking to clients about the Future of Work long before the Covid-19 pandemic hit meant that they were ahead of the game when changes to the workplace arrived overnight. It also meant it was ready to launch several new initiatives to help clients navigate complex new ground in areas such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

It is now using its insight into the Future of Work to develop new ways to support clients while they are working remotely.

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