After the high-profile support of Prince William and Harry, last month’s Mental Health Awareness week reinforced the need to prioritise mental wellbeing in modern society and in particular in the workplace. ACAS suggest that 1 in 4 of us suffer from mental health issues and the Mental Health Foundation report that two thirds of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, with stress regarded as a key factor in this statistic.
How does this relate to your business?
ACAS report that mental health related issues account for an eye watering £30 billion of annual losses for UK employers in the context of lost productivity, recruitment and sickness absence. It therefore follows that tackling mental health should serve to improve employee performance, retention and attendance.
Mental health can also be linked to conduct. A Court of Appeal case reported last month considered a claim brought by a teacher suffering from cystic fibrosis who was dismissed without notice for showing an 18 rated horror film to a class of 15-year olds without the school’s approval or the parents’ consent. The teacher successfully argued that his dismissal amounted to discrimination arising from his disability as he suffered from stress (which was linked to his disability of cystic fibrosis) because of an increased workload. It has been reported that he was awarded almost £650,000 in compensation.
It is also the case that many mental health conditions will fall within the legal definition of a disability. In those circumstances, the employer is then legally obligated to take certain steps to remove the disadvantage that the disabled employee encounters, which might be by way of reasonable adjustments to their workload or hours of work, for instance.
The fact of the matter is that this issue can no longer be ignored – it is not going away.
What steps can you take?
Consider introducing a Mental Health Policy and communicating to your staff a commitment to supporting those with mental health conditions. All too often employees feel unable to disclose their illness due to the stigma associated with mental illness;
Provide training to managers, to help them identify the signs that suggest somebody is suffering from mental illness and how they can support them;
Carry out a risk assessment within the workplace to identify areas where individuals may be more susceptible to stress and anxiety and consider what measures can be introduced to alleviate that. That might be simple steps like encouraging people to leave the office on time or ensuring that staff are not overloaded with work;
Utilise the external resources available which provide helpful information and guidance on tackling mental health in the workplace. The Mental Health Foundation or Mind are good sources.
Richard Branson is famously quoted as saying that “a company’s employees are its greatest asset and your people are your product”. It therefore follows that insofar as mental health is concerned, taking steps to address this issue will not only improve the wellbeing of your staff, but also the overall health of the organisation.
HMCTS have initiated a pilot scheme to introduce a more cost-effective way of dealing with unopposed lease renewals, by transferring them over from the Central London County Court to the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) Property Chamber. On a positive note, this should reduce unnecessary delays and force parties into focusing on the job at hand but there is some concern that it may not give parties enough time to negotiate effectively, leading to more appeals.
Any tenant who leases and occupies premises for business purposes has an automatic right to security of tenure at the end of the lease (under Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954). However, in order to renew the lease both parties must agree the terms.
The common disputes between parties relate to the rent payable under the new lease, the length of the term and whether or not a break option should be included. If landlord and tenant cannot reach an agreement, proceedings can be commenced in court for a judge to decide the new terms.
Unopposed lease renewal claims issued in the Central London County Court are now, on a trial basis, being transferred to the FTT (Property Chamber) to agree terms after the acknowledgment of service has been filed.
The main aim is simple – to reduce unnecessary time and costs accrued from the current system. The measures to accelerate greatly the process have widely been welcomed, offering a much smoother service with the Tribunal producing standard directions which are specifically designed to progress the case to trial within just 20 weeks, forcing parties into a more proactive and organised approach.
A speedier process
At the start of the process, the parties will have the option to stay proceedings for 3 months if both parties agree and on condition that they use this time to go through alternative dispute resolution, such as PACT. If they decide not to take this option at the beginning, only under exceptional circumstances can they refer the matter to PACT further down the line.
Once the lease is drafted, the scheme only offers the tenant one chance to comment and make amendments which makes for faster progress, but does raise the concern of the tenant’s best interests not being fully protected.
Under the new directions there is no provision for disclosure, witness statements or the preparation of Scott schedules, significantly reducing the chance of parties dragging their heels. However, parties disputing more legal issues than anticipated may not have the chance to explain their position if this evidence is not allowed to be brought forward. Even if bespoke directions are granted, the parties may not realise this is necessary until negotiations are significantly more advanced.
Engagement of experts:
Under the directions, experts are brought in very early on in the case to exchange evidence while the draft lease is being negotiated. If the case reaches trial, the matter will be heard by a tribunal judge along with the assistance of a tribunal valuer to assess valuation evidence. This is a major benefit as it ensures determination of the dispute by a judge and valuer with an in depth knowledge of the industry.
The general view of the scheme is a positive one, reducing unnecessary delays and forcing parties into focusing on the job at hand. However, due to the fast-paced nature of the pilot, there are undoubtedly going to be issues that arise, one being that it may not give parties enough time to negotiate effectively. The tight timetable means drafts cannot continuously go back and forth, so disputes may not be fully clarified and a quick determination by the tribunal may lead to evidence being overlooked resulting in dissatisfaction and a higher chance of appeals.
On a practical point, if the move is here to stay, parties will have to be willing to adapt their practices. It will require an open mind-set and the ability to accept a different working approach. In the short term, it is now important to check which properties fall under renewal within the Central London area during this pilot period (which is set to last a year) and ensure you are properly prepared to deal with the new expedited process. In the long term, if proved successful after a year, the scheme will be evaluated and could possibly extend to other county courts meaning this could be a permanent set up.
In a decision last week (16 May 2018), the Supreme Court held that a variation clause (also known as a no oral modification (NOM) clause) is legally effective, restoring the order of the County Court which had been overruled by the Court of Appeal.
Variation or NOM clauses are commonplace in contracts for various reasons and restrict variations of an agreement to those agreed in writing. There are no formal requirements for the validity of a contract at common law, and, by association, no formal requirements for varying a contract. This flexibility can give rise to uncertainty so, principally, NOM clauses add certainty to the mechanism by which contractual variations can be agreed. As well as adding certainty, NOM clauses also operate, in theory, to avert misunderstandings and disputes as to what was orally agreed, as well as the prospect of informal variations undermining written agreements.
In the case in question, Rock v MWB, MWB, as operator of offices in London, granted Rock a contractual licence to occupy office space for a term of 12 months. The licence contained a NOM clause stating: “All variations to this Licence must be agreed, set out in writing and signed on behalf of both parties before they take effect.” Rock had accumulated arrears of a few months’ worth of licence fees and proposed a revised payment schedule, deferring certain payments.
A dispute arose as to whether MWB had accepted Rock’s proposal orally, thereby effectively varying the payment terms under the licence. MWB considered the schedule simply as a proposal and locked Rock out of the premises for failure to pay the arrears. They then terminated the licence and sued for the arrears. Rock counterclaimed for damages for wrongful exclusion from the premises.
In the county court, the judge found that Rock and MWB had agreed orally to adopt the revised schedule, but as it was not in writing, it did not satisfy the variation requirements of the NOM clause. The judge ruled that MWB could claim the arrears.
Rock appealed to the Court of Appeal successfully. It was held that the oral variation had also amounted to an agreement to dispense with the NOM clause, meaning that MWB was bound by the oral variation.
MWB appealed to the Supreme Court where the appeal was unanimously allowed; the NOM clause precluded the agreed oral variation.
NOM clauses therefore operate to provide certainty to contracting parties. Where oral variations are arguably unclear and the interpretation of what was agreed by the individuals involved can be misunderstood, NOM clauses ensure that, by recording any variation, the parties can know exactly what the variation was intended to be. They stop the hinging of an intended variation, in the event of any future dispute, on the recollection of individuals, where mistakes can certainly be made.
Whilst the judgment could be perceived as limiting the freedom of contract, a NOM clause does not invalidate oral variations, it simply forbids them in accordance with the parties’ own intentions at the outset of their contractual relationship.
The judgment also spells good news for the courts insofar as avoiding unnecessarily escalating litigation costs by parties alleging oral variations, where a NOM clause exists, as a defence. Likewise grounds for summary judgments will rise in such circumstances, bringing down the length and costs of litigation.
Rock Advertising Ltd v MWB Business Exchange Centres Ltd  UKSC 24 (Rock and MWB respectively) – appeal from  EWCA Civ 553
Starting any business from scratch is a daunting task. It’s no different when it comes to starting a recruitment business. But it’s a darn sight easier if you’ve got a ready-made database of clients and candidates.
It’s an all-too familiar scenario in the recruitment sector: a member of staff leaving to set up on his own or to join a competitor, and pinching the database before he goes. With modern means of communication, it’s surprisingly common to find that the outgoing employee leaves a trail of unlawful behaviour behind him, usually in the form of emails sent to his personal email address attaching his employer’s database and other confidential information.
More often than not, he’s deleted the email from his sent items and then further deleted it from the “Deleted Items” folder in what he thought was a clever act of subterfuge. But of course most businesses operate server-based systems that incorporate protective backup measures such that this incriminating material can easily and quickly be retrieved.
What can the former employer do to protect its position? Well, if – as is commonly the case – the employee has made use of the confidential information to assist with getting his new venture off the ground, or otherwise disclosed it to his new employer so as to enable the new employer to be better-positioned to compete against the former employer, the primary remedy is what is called a “springboard injunction”.
Many will be familiar with an injunction in the context of restrictive covenants, where a former employee is, for example, contacting key clients in breach of a clause in the contract that prevents him from doing so for a period of time after having left his former employer. Those injunctions are only generally available where there are enforceable restrictive covenants in place, whereas a springboard injunction is available even in the absence of restrictive covenants.
“…the essence of this branch of the law, whatever the origin of it may be, is that a person who has obtained information in confidence is not allowed to use it as a springboard for activities detrimental to the person who made the confidential communication…”
In order to get a springboard injunction, you need to be able to show the following:
Unlawful activity by the outgoing employee and anyone else involved in his conduct (ie: his new company or employer). That unlawful activity does not always have to be taking and using confidential material; it can also be an ordinary breach of contract, such as trying to solicit clients away, or operating a competing business during the currency of the employee’s main employment.
That the employee has gained an unfair competitive advantage over his former employer – for example by having in his possession the employer’s valuable database, which it would otherwise take him a long time to build up – and that that competitive advantage is not merely very short-term.
The advantage is continuing at the date you seek the injunction, and will continue unless the injunction is obtained.
The court will grant a springboard injunction to cancel out and nullify the head start the employee and his new employer have gained through illegitimate means. The injunction therefore places them under a special disability, often requiring them to cease trading altogether, and can remain in place for many months. The length of time the injunction is imposed for is usually consistent with the length of time that it would have taken the former employee and his new employer to achieve lawfully what they achieved unlawfully. So if it would have taken at least 12 months to compile a stolen database, it’s likely that is how long an injunction would be put in place for to remove the unfair advantage gained by reason of having taken it from the former employer and used it.
Springboard injunctions are an invaluable weapon for a recruitment business to deploy in the right circumstances. An outgoing employee armed with details of your clients and candidates, and highly sensitive data such as pricing information and commission margins, will have a huge competitive advantage that he would not otherwise have without that data. Worse still, if he has disclosed that material to his new employer, the risk is even greater. Thankfully the law recognises the injustice of this and affords the victim a powerful remedy.
Funeral planning is a subject most of us veer away from. However some spend a great deal of time planning.
News this week has hi-lighted the Co-op’s plans to offer a cut price funeral. I arranged such a funeral for a client – a cremation without any form of service or celebrant. It was almost pitiful – the lady concerned had had a full and vibrant life and, albeit, her wish was to have no service, the end result left those attending with a sense of an unremarked upon passing.
Be careful to ensure those you leave behind are not left with a sense of emptiness – the service is for those closest to you to say their goodbyes, and more importantly celebrate your life.
There are a multitude of funeral options. Not only can you pay for your funeral in advance but you can, if you choose, plan it in meticulous detail! Your Will is a very useful place to summarize your wishes. Whilst, not legally binding, we are yet to come across a case where the executors have not carried out the deceased’s wishes.
Burial in a churchyard or cemetery is not the only option. Natural burial in fields or woodland areas, burial at sea, and even burial on private land (a family farm, or even the deceased’s own garden) are allowed. Cremations have to take place in a licensed crematorium. Further to representations by the Sikh and Hindu religious communities, funeral pyres are permitted albeit in an enclosed building
There are insurance policies funeral directors offer to provide a lump sum to pay for the funeral costs. As well as lump sum advance cash payments, instalments options are sometimes available……and let’s not forget we will be more canny negotiators in respect of the funeral costs for our own funeral, than we would ever be when planning a loved ones!
There are legal requirements for dealing with the “disposal of a body”. The law governing what has to be done when someone dies is based on the wish to be respectful of the dead and to ensure public health is protected. So certain parts of the process have detailed and strict rules, for example, there is a minimum depth for graves. However the law surrounding actual disposal of the body is fairly limited. You may be surprised that there are no set time limits for disposing of the dead.
There is, also, no legal requirement to use a funeral director, and English law does not insist on embalming unless, for example, a corpse is being repatriated or moved between countries.
Although a body must be “decently covered”, the use of a coffin is not the only option – a shroud, cardboard box or wicker basket will suffice. However some crematoria will have their own requirements and you do need a coffin to be buried at sea, but not to scatter ashes at sea – but a word of caution – know how to manage a boat, if you choose this option and do not imbibe too much spirit before you embark on your voyage! A client whose dear, drinking buddies carried out his wishes to have his ashes scattered at sea and ended up having to be rescued by the local lifeboat! They dined out on that particular story for many years after!
Beyond the fairly, minimal legal requirements there is complete freedom to do what you would like both for a service and for the post funeral gathering.
Although burial and cremation are the most common ways of disposing of bodies, two new methods are emerging with the aim to be more environment friendly. Resomation, which is available in parts of the US and Australia, is a liquefaction process which uses alkaline hydrolysis to dissolve the body’s organic matter inside a steel container. The result is a sterile liquid, and bones which can be crushed and the result is similar to cremated ashes.
Promession is still being developed. In this process, liquid nitrogen is used to super-cool the body before the brittle remains are shattered, using ultrasonic vibration. Any water content is evaporated to produce a dry powder which turns to compost when buried in a small bio-degradable container.
And not to forget cryogenics…. but that subject needs a blog all of it’s own!
Whatever method of disposal is for you, try and ensure your funeral service/gathering is your very own unique snapshot of your life, a series of moments whether by words, music or even the clothes your funeral attendees wear, that reflect the best of you – the parts of our lives and personalities we would all like to be remembered for – and do not think this is the zenith of self-obsession – far from it. As a daughter who has had to plan both of her parents funerals and wrestled with making sure everything was just right, I can assure you had my parents left details of what they wanted to happen, I would have been extremely grateful.
On 27 March 2018, the European Union accepted the amendments to the European Commission’s revised draft of the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the UK so far. The agreement is expected to form the basis of a treaty that will govern both the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and the transition period following that withdrawal.
The next key staging post in the Brexit process will be the European Council meeting in June 2018 but the real one will be in autumn 2018. A deal will effectively have to be agreed by this point if it is to be approved by Parliament, the European Parliament and by EU 27-member states.
The UK and the EU recently accepted that the changes relating to the current EU citizen rights of the draft withdrawal agreement are agreed.
However, there are still some uncertainties about certain citizens.
The withdrawal agreement deals with the transition arrangements. These arrangements will form part of UK legislation if the full text of the agreement is agreed and if it is ratified in accordance with the treaties and the UK’s constitutional arrangements before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 (although the UK and the European Council, acting by unanimity, could agree to extend this date). At the time of writing this is set to occur between October 2018 and March 2019. Therefore, it will be some time before we have full legal certainty as to the transition arrangements. Assuming that the transitional agreement does come into force, UK rights derived from EU law will continue. These include TUPE, GDPR, rights attached to the working time directive, maternity and parental rights, equal pay rights, anti-discrimination rights, human rights, right to information and consultation on business reorganisations, redundancies and outsourcing exercises, Health and Safety, right to claim before the ECJ, the right to be given a written statement of pay and work conditions within 28 days of starting work.. etc.
During the transition period (from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020), it is practically a given that the UK will accept most of the new EU laws. There may be exceptions such as certain aspects of Schengen. There are also question marks regarding the UK’s willingness to accept new tax rules from the EU.
Third country agreements. There are still some uncertainties regarding the fact that the UK would, according to the EU, still be bound by the EU’s obligations under its external/third party agreements but would not participate in any institutional arrangements under them. The EU has agreed that the UK could start negotiating its own deals but not sign or implement them.
The competency of the ECJ Court. The competency of the ECJ Court or the setting up of a Joint Committee of the parties to supervise and enforce the withdrawal agreement is still under discussion
Long Term residence rights and the financial settlement. The draft texts do not specifically address the long term residence rights of EU27 citizens moving to the UK during the transition period (or those of UK citizens moving to the EU in that period). The EU negotiating directives envisage that they would acquire the same rights as citizens who had enjoyed freedom of movement prior to 29 March 2019. The UK is also considering a registration scheme for EU citizens moving to the UK during the transition period. The draft texts also do not specifically address financial settlement. This will be dealt with in other parts of the withdrawal agreement
What happens at the end of the transitional period? Like the EU text, the UK text is silent about what happens at the end of the transition period. It does not propose any mechanism to agree an extension of the period (which might otherwise be difficult as it is unclear that the EU could agree an extension using Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union – thus an extension, or amendment, might require a full treaty process). The agreement in its current form, would move the ‘cliff edge’ of a ‘hard Brexit’ until 31 December 2020. Neither party has made proposals addressing issues such as contract continuity or how to transition EU27 or UK market participants or financial market infrastructure from their status within the single market to their new status when the transition period ends and the UK becomes a third-party country.
Long-term agreements. There are currently no written proposals to deal with the implementation steps relating to any eventual long-term agreement concluded during the period except in so far as the text envisages that the UK would drop out of the transition provisions relating to Freedom, Justice and Security measures if and when an EU-UK agreement on those subjects enters into force. The European Union’s area of Freedom, Security and Justice was created to ensure the free movement of persons and to offer a high level of protection to citizens. It covers policy areas that range from the management of the European Union’s external borders to judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters and police cooperation. It also includes asylum and immigration policies and the fight against crime (terrorism, organised crime, cybercrime, sexual exploitation of children, trafficking in human beings, illegal drugs, etc…).
What if there is no deal – can a company now rely on there being a transition period?
Both the EU and the UK maintain that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. As such, the transition elements in the draft withdrawal agreement represent a political agreement which depends on signature and ratification by both parties. There are a number of open political issues that might still prevent its conclusion, such as the Irish and Gibraltar issues, the financial services and the fishery and agricultural policies which are yet to be addressed. This could have implications on the timing of companies operating cross border to implement contingency plans as it will depend on their own circumstances and risk appetite and that of the UK and EU regulators generally.
Cliff-edge and Britain’s own legal framework to effect a transitional period
If the discussions on the withdrawal agreement fail to deliver a transition period, then the UK is putting in place the legal framework to introduce this unilaterally, although some aspects of this are dependent on cooperation by EU27 firms’ home state regulators.
By contrast, there are no public plans to put in place any legislative machinery at EU27 or EU27 member state level. The EU may be able to take some actions at reasonably short notice following a no-deal exit to mitigate some of the adverse effects on the EU, for example by activating some of the existing third country regimes in EU legislation, but their scope is limited. Therefore, more practically, it is likely that the transitional period will be extended.
Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) has now become a highly complex area and requires careful consideration to ensure the rates and exclusions applied are correct. At first glance, it may appear that relief is available but on closer inspection of the scenario this may not be the case. For example, where a property is over £500,000 and the property is not a first purchase for the buyers collectively, they will not be eligible for first time buyer relief.
There have been some highly colourful interpretations of ‘the mixed-use’ category where rates are significantly reduced. For example, an artist’s studio in a garden, an office in a mews house and selling apples for pressing commercially have all been suggested as being commercial use under the SDLT legislation. The revenue is investigating such designation more frequently to claw back SDLT.
It is also important to consider the floor plan, where more than one property is contained within the demise, in case ‘averaging relief’ can be claimed. However, the revenue does have a clawback provision where the number of dwellings is reduced within 3 years.
An area causing much debate is the additional 3% charge for companies (charged on every purchase where an exemption to 15% rate is applied) and individuals who own residential property worldwide. In this case, the exemption applies where a main residence is being replaced. However, the guidance requires that it is the intention of the buyer at the time of purchase to live primarily in that residence and the replacement of such and not a matter of allowing the purchaser to choose which property is to be the main residence. Married couples are treated as a single person when applying the test so where a property is owned by one spouse this will be relevant for both when replacing the main residence and calculating whether the higher rates are available. The ownership of inherited property is ignored where an interest does not exceed 50%. However, if one spouse who does not own any property purchases in their individual name they are affected where the other spouse owns a property portfolio or even one other property and the purchasing spouse will pay the higher surcharged rate.
The higher rate of 15% is charged when non-natural persons purchase the property i.e. a company or a partnership. However, the rate can be reduced to the surcharged additional 3% where the company is a property developer or rents properties as a business (with no connected person in occupation). In any event this rate only kicks in over £500,000 so although the 15% rate may not be charged, the additional property 3% rate will be. The revenue’s calculator does not make provision for an SDLT calculation for non-natural persons, so on initial calculation, this can be misleading.
Higher rates of SDLT may be also payable where there is a linked transaction, for example, where either two properties are being purchased or a building contract for works has been entered into separately.
A further area requiring consideration is where clients are divorcing and the couple transfers the property to one of the co-owners. SDLT is usually payable on the equity or mortgage being taken by the purchasing party. However, an exemption applies where there is a court order or deed of separation in place or where the separation is likely to be permanent.
A number of tenancy agreements in central London will exceed the £125,000 threshold meaning that SDLT is due on the signing of a tenancy agreement by the buyer. The amount is cumulative and therefore any renewals will also be caught.
The revenue also plan to reduce the filing period from 30 days to 14 days, although this is still to be confirmed. It is imperative that specialist advice is obtained on the SDLT liability levels, as it has become a complex area.
25 May 2018 – take note of the date as this becoming affectionally known as “GDPR” day. It is the day when the old Data Protection Act 1998 is superseded by the GDPR. The aim; to effectively standardise rules across the EU and create greater transparency, responsibilities and liability in relation to how data (held on individuals) is collected, used, shared, stored, transferred or deleted. While not officially confirmed, it is expected that the UK will continue to commit to observing GDPR post Brexit to maintain the harmonisation with the EU rules and general data market.
But what does this mean? GDPR, very briefly, places the burden of ensuring compliance on your entire organisation, especially functions like recruiting which rely heavily on collecting candidates’ personal data – their name, email addresses, possible medical requirements, telephone numbers or addresses. All information that would allow you to easily identify the individual.
The following are a few of the key areas of impact and how GDPR should be considered:
GDPR requires additional transparency in informing individuals about when (and why) their data is collected, processed and transferred. Traditionally, recruitment sector businesses have relied on an individual’s consent to justify the processing of their data. However, under the GDPR, there are stricter requirements for consent – it must be clearly distinguishable from other matters, in an informed way and easily accessible form and must be capable of being easily withdrawn. Separate consent must be sought for separate processing activities (such as, for example, when a candidate has put his or her details forward for one vacancy and these are then used for unrelated vacancies or other purposes). We expect that most businesses will need to revisit and revise their current data collection and handling processes in order to comply with the new obligations. For example, some recruiters may need to ask existing candidates to re-register and remove any candidate who has not consented and to give candidates additional clarity about how they collect and use their personal data.
Data Subject Rights
Under the GDPR, individuals will have far greater rights as to how their data is used and accessed. These range from the “right to be forgotten” and have data erased, or where it is no longer needed or is factually incorrect (which could include cases where candidates or contract workers contest feedback about attendance or performance). A new right of “portability” of data is created – the right for individuals to demand that all of their data is transferred, in easily readable formats, to another provider. Both recruiters and employers will need to review their working policies and practices to ensure that they can comply with all of these individual rights.
Under the GDPR there is a duty to implement measures to ensure a level of security which is “appropriate to the risk“. Appropriate measures may include: pseudonymisation and encryption of personal data; the ability to restore data in a timely manner in the event of an incident; and a process for regularly testing the effectiveness of security measures. This means that you may need to change your internal processes now in order to comply with the GDPR.
The implications of the GDPR are far reaching and impact on all aspects of your business. The above is a very brief snap shot into the implications of the GDPR and if you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or for any advice or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the recruitment team.
Any woman working in the field of law will be acutely aware of the challenges that she will face if she is to be successful in her career. Commercial law, in particular, is historically dominated by men and brings with it a culture of long and unsociable hours. Women still retain primary responsibility for childcare, and this fact alone can present a hurdle to career progression and success.
Although great progress has been made to remove some of the barriers faced by women, particularly with the increasing acceptance of flexible working (helped in no small part by technological advances), it is still a fact that, despite the number of women entering the profession outnumbering men, the number of women at equity partner level is significantly lower than men.
Last week (21 March 2018) saw the launch of the International Bar Association’s Report on Women in Commercial Legal Practice, which considered the reasons why women continue to experience barriers to the most senior positions in commercial law firms. The Report is both startling and unsurprising: startling in its confirmation of the difficulties faced by women, and unsurprising in that it says nothing that most women don’t already know.
The Report concluded that:
Female representation as equity partners in law firms remains low, often less than 20 per cent.
Discrimination against, and sexual harassment of, women continues to be a significant problem.
The demands of billable hours, and the expectation that lawyers must commit themselves “unconditionally” to work, are used to call into question women’s commitment to their careers.
Diversity policies are generally ineffective, because they are designed to tackle the problem of women, not the workplace.
It is clear to anybody reading the Report – and any women working in the law – that things need to change if law firms wish to create a workforce reflecting broader expertise and diversity. At the launch of the Report, a panel of distinguished leading lawyers working both in house and in private practice recognised that increased diversity was in the interests of the law firms themselves, as well as the lawyers. We heard how clients are becoming increasingly alive to the issue of diversity and are demanding greater transparency – including publication of male to female ratios – from their law firms.
There is still a long way to go. This Report, though, should be required reading for all law firms who want to self-reflect on their own internal barriers, to make sure that the brightest and best lawyers – male or female – are attracted, retained and progressed within their firms.
Geraldine Fabre, a partner in Sherrards’ French team took to the stage at PWC’s London offices last week to announce the winner during the French Chamber of Commerce’s annual cross cultural quiz evening.
Focusing on Sherrards international outlook in the face of increasing protectionist trends around the world, Geraldine praised the Institut Français’ commitment to embracing cultural diversity and congratulated it on its well-deserved win. The Institute Francais is part of a worldwide network promoting French language and culture and encouraging cross-cultural exchange and diversity.
Geraldine commented, “Whilst we didn’t enter ourselves for the Intercultural Trophy, we had a great table at the quiz and put in a fantastic performance. With a mixture of English and French speaking guests, including Peter Burdin, former Africa Bureau Chief of the BBC and now Chair of the Trustees of Humanity & Inclusion, we were convinced we’d win – but didn’t! Competition was strong with tables from Chanel, Euronext, PWC and many others. The evening was a huge success for the French Chamber and PWC and really demonstrates that those of us working with companies in the UK, France and around the world are totally committed to continuing to build great international businesses and relationships. As a firm, Sherrards has a number of international teams, with bilingual, and often dual qualified, lawyers. Our clients come to us for their commercial, employment, property, IP, litigation and private wealth needs. With our backgrounds, we provide a great bridge between the different cultures and legal systems.”
Geraldine also thanked all the firms who put their names forward for the Trophy and particularly those who were shortlisted