School leaver apprenticeships

Trainee Blog: Attending Employment Tribunal Hearings as a Trainee

As I approach my fourth seat, I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have been presented with throughout my training contract, both virtually and in person.

A stand-out opportunity from my time in the Employment seat has been attending a Final Hearing in person in the Employment Tribunal. I have learned so much from assisting my team with the lead up to the Hearing, from instructing counsel, preparing for the day and actually being there to witness the Hearing.

What is an Employment Tribunal Hearing?

Employment Tribunals are responsible for hearing and deciding disputes between employers and employees. An Employment Judge will sit in and may be accompanied by two panel members, one from a HR background and another from a Trade Union background. The Judge will receive a bundle of documents, containing the key pleadings and any other relevant documents, correspondence and policies ahead of the day.

An Employment Tribunal Hearing is the main forum for parties to present their cases against one another during an employment dispute. Witnesses will give evidence on the issues and will be cross-examined by Counsel and the Judge will make a reasoned decision and give judgment based on the evidence presented.

The lead up

I was fortunate enough to be involved in an incredibly moving unfair dismissal and racial harassment claim for the entirety of my 6-month Employment seat. This meant I was able to have a great insight into the process, and my tasks included:

  1. preparing key court documents including bundles;
  2. witness statements, which are the formal documents containing the person’s evidence on the issues;
  3. instructing counsel to represent the client at the Hearing; and
  4. assisting my team with supporting our client throughout.

As a trainee, you gain key skills from both shadowing your team of qualified lawyers and getting stuck in yourself, so I took a lot from this experience.

Preparing for the day

The Final Hearing may be listed for several days or even weeks, so there are a lot of logistics to deal with in preparation.

I attended conferences with our client and counsel, took instructions from the client on settlements and dealt with other matters, such as checking the Employment Tribunal rules for answers on discrete points or locating additional documents mentioned by witnesses. It was great to see the interplay between both sides of the legal team in practice.

I also assisted my team in preparing last-minute Employment Tribunal applications, correspondence with the other party to the claim and by liaising with our witnesses who were due to attend the Tribunal and give evidence.

Finally, and very importantly, part of the trainee’s role is to check the bundle of documents once, twice, then check them again. You don’t want a key document to be missing from the Judge’s bundle!

Attending the Hearing

On the day, I arrived early to support our team and counsel, who spent some time liaising with the Judge and opponent on various matters. I was also on hand to take instructions from our client and provide support to the client and witnesses, as well as to help deal with any unforeseen circumstances that arise on the day.

I also was tasked with taking a note of proceedings. This is a typical task for a trainee, and the note will need to include in detail the course of proceedings, as well as any points raised by the client or witnesses. The notes may be shared within the legal team, with counsel and with the client, so your typing skills will need to be both fast and accurate.

During the Hearing (and during the periods of respite in the break rooms) I was able to soak up counsel’s legal arguments and the Judge’s analysis of the claims, as well as watch the cross examination in awe!

Finally, I was privy to twelfth-hour courthouse settlement negotiations, including assisting with drafting the COT3 agreement under serious time pressure during a break from the Hearing. A COT3 is a legally binding agreement reached through Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). It records the terms on which the parties are settling any actual or potential Employment Tribunal claims, so it is a very important document.

All in all, a training contract will hopefully offer you a lot of amazing opportunities like I have been presented with and, like me, you will feel the satisfaction of obtaining a good result for your client in the knowledge that you’ve worked hard as a team to achieve it.