Published: 00:00, 11 October 2016
Nick Hobden looked on unhappily as he watched an employment tribunal judge drop the hammer on another dispute between a company and its former director.
The partner of law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore felt there had to be a better way of solving these disagreements between bosses and ex-staff, which typically cost companies £15,000 to £17,000 when they get to court.
Last month, about a year after that thought, the solution arrived as his firm launched an initiative with three of its rivals in the county, Brachers, Furley Page and Thackray Williams.
The process, dubbed Collaborative Employment Law, happens in a single day, away from the courtroom. Both sides are brought together in a private room to explain their differences, then work together with lawyers present to find a solution.
Overall the process takes about a fortnight and leads to “significant savings” compared to court costs.
“We know how adversarial employment tribunal claims can get,” said Mr Hobden, who is head of employment at Thomson, Snell & Passmore, which has offices in Dartford and Tunbridge Wells.
“There is not often an opportunity for both sides to step back and talk off-the-record to look at ways of trying to resolve things.
“Once you’re in an employment tribunal there is a lot of disclosure of documents and a judge has to make a decision, with very little time to deliberate on the cases.
“Our Collaborative Employment Law scheme will put the control for resolving conflict or issues back into the hands of our clients.
"It aims to shorten the legal process, make it more amicable, less disruptive and less expensive...” - Nick Hobden, Thomson Snell & Passmore
"It aims to shorten the legal process, make it more amicable, less disruptive and less expensive.”
The initiative was inspired by the way family lawyers often work and is believed to be the first time the system has been applied to employment law.
“We saw that approach and thought, in many ways, employment law is a bit like a divorce,” said Mr Hobden.
“It involves someone who has worked in a business for a long time who is saying goodbye, which is hard on both parties.”
Brachers, Furley Page and Thackray Williams were all quick to sign up to the new approach.
“I can see it being useful for high-level disputes,” said Catherine Daw, a partner at Maidstone-based Brachers who leads its employment team.
“It is not necessarily suitable for all employers but when you have a difficult dispute with senior individuals, this is a useful option.
"We are cutting out a lot of stages in the litigation process. It is an entirely voluntary process but includes both parties trying to find a solution rather than fighting.”
With the project less than a month old, no cases have been resolved yet but the firms have high hopes.
Mrs Daw added: “Sometimes the issues in employment law are quite complicated and by working together with some legal support you might be able to get a more successful outcome than through litigation.”
Mr Hobden said: “In this world where the legal business is very competitive, for four firms to work together is incredibly refreshing.”
More by this authorChris Price