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What it takes to be an employment lawyer

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ULaw campus dean Amanda Hedayati reflects on her legal career ahead of tonight’s ‘Secrets to Success’ event in Manchester

Amanda Hedayati

From an early age, Amanda Hedayati, dean of The University of Law’s (ULaw) Manchester campus, was attracted to a legal career as a positive way to challenge injustice. “I wanted to get out there and help people,” she recalls.

Hedayati, who studied law at Sheffield Hallam University before completing the Legal Practice Course at the University of Sheffield, initially sought to specialise in clinical negligence. But it was during Hedayati’s training contract at Whittles (now a part of Thompsons Solicitors) that she found her calling: employment law.

“I really liked the human element to it”, she explains. “Work is a vital part of peoples’ lives and when things go wrong in the workplace, it can have a devastating impact — for employees and employers alike.”

Soon after qualifying, Hedayati moved to Russell Jones & Walker (now part of Slater & Gordon) in Manchester, where she specialised in equal opportunities in the workplace, including cases involving sex and racial discrimination, bullying and harassment. Hedayati found the work “never static, but always interesting”.

She recalls the “brilliant opportunity” for a new lawyer of representing hundreds of employees at the same time in multi-applicant claims for equal pay. “Discussion around the pay gap in the early 2000s was no different to today’s narrative. It was still based on the same fundamental idea that any organisation should look at the job in hand. Individuals bring their own element of expertise — gender should not come into it,” says Hedayati.

As Hedayati began to “morph and develop” in her legal career, she was soon drawn to the other side of the fence: acting for employers. “When you’re representing employees, it’s always after the incident. So, you have to look at what happened, gather evidence and witnesses to support the claim, then either reach a solution with the employer or take the matter further,” she explains. Whereas, working for employers offered Hedayati the opportunity to act proactively by making sure internal processes were fair. “Most employers want to do things right, so they’re seeking guidance and training to ensure they avoid incidents happening in the first place,” she adds.

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With her new-found focus on the more strategic side of employment law, Hedayati joined Hammonds (since acquired by Squire Patton Boggs) to advise a mix of small start-ups to large multinationals from a diverse range of sectors, including retail, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications. From handling large scale redundancies to defending claims of discrimination, Hedayati would regularly find herself representing clients at employment tribunals.

Her experience advocating on workplace disputes came in handy as she subsequently joined Make UK, an organisation that works closely with manufacturing, engineering and technology businesses, which, at the time, included Heinz, Airbus and Rolls Royce.

After nearly a decade in legal practice, Hedayati then made the career jump into legal education. For Hedayati the leap was a logical move. Over the span of her time in practice, she reveals to have particularly enjoyed the creative aspects of devising, designing and delivering employment training to employer clients. She now heads up ULaw’s campus in Manchester, a “thriving city, with a real entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit”.

So, what does it take to be an employment lawyer? Regardless of whether you’re acting for employees or employers, you must be able to empathise with the situation they’re facing — in addition to providing sound and commercial legal advice. “It’s often an emotional process, so if clients know they’ve got lawyers who truly understand their problem and moreover the implications for them whether as an individual or business, they’re more likely to want to work with them. It’s about relationship building,” Hedayati explains.

It’s also a practice area constantly subject to legislative and regulatory change. For example, the full impact of Brexit on UK employment law, which is largely tied to EU employment rules, is yet to be seen. Meanwhile, flexible working and increasing use of automation has the potential to redesign the workplace altogether. As the way of working evolves, employment lawyers must adapt. “You’ve got to have a really positive attitude to change — you have to be able to adapt and want to continuously learn,” she stresses.

Amanda’s colleague, Catherine Morgan, careers centre manager at ULaw Manchester, will be speaking alongside lawyers from Freshfields, Fletchers and Pinsent Masons at tonight’s ‘Secrets to Success’ event in Manchester. You can apply to attend the event, which is free, here.

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