Employment Law Solicitors and Legal Aid – Can You Get Free Representation?

If you are in an employment dispute you may be looking for legal advice. There are a number of organisations that you can go to in order to get this advice. Our guide looks at employment solicitors and legal aid, and free resources to get legal help.

a solicitor consulting with a client

Finding a Solicitor

A solicitor may not be your first point of call. But if the dispute goes to employment tribunal or court it would be unwise to go without preparing for the case. It’s advisable to have qualified legal representation with you.

Solicitors are not cheap, so it may be worthwhile finding one who will offer an initial consultation for free or for a fixed fee.

This will let you to find out what the legal position is. You should also get an idea of likely cost, so that you don’t end up with open ended fees.

Solicitors can tell you this over the phone. They will also tell you if they have a partner who specialises in employment law, which is highly recommended.

There are legal aid schemes throughout the United Kingdom where the government will cover your costs.

But the scheme run in England and Wales by the Legal Services Commission does not help in employment disputes. The exception to this is for a a criminal negligence claim.

This is unlikely, although it could be the case in a dispute over a Health And Safety related matter. In Scotland the service is administered by the Scottish Legal Aid Board but again, workplace disputes are not covered.

In Northern Ireland, you can get legal aid for advice about a claim to an Industrial Tribunal and preparation for it. But the scheme doesn’t cover a representative to appear at the tribunal.

You can get further information from the Department of Employment and Learning.

In all the countries of the United Kingdom, the legal aid schemes are means-tested. That means you will only qualify for the aid if you are on a low income.

This creates a problem for many people who aren’t considered to be on a low enough income to qualify for legal aid but are not wealthy enough to afford legal fees.

If you’re in a Trade Union, and they support your claim, they are likely to provide free legal advice.

This has one downside, however, in that many employment disputes, particularly unfair dismissal, become bartering affairs. The company often offers increasing amounts of compensation to settle out of court as the court date draws near.

At some point the amount of compensation will become one that the union lawyer may regard as the best offer. If you do not take their advice to accept the offer and go to court anyway, the union may withdraw the funding.

This is understandable from the union’s point of view. They don’t want to be spending time and member’s money on unnecessary court cases. This isn’t a problem if compensation is the main aim.

It is a problem when the complainant wants to take the case to court in order to prove a point or set a legal precedent. They may prevented from this because the arrangement means that it has become about compensation instead.

If you aren’t a member of a trade union then the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) will be able to help.

They are a charity with local offices throughout the United Kingdom who will offer free advice about your situation that is impartial and independent.

They will not be able to appear in court with you, but they may be able to direct you to a solicitor who does what is called pro bono work. This is when they commit to doing a proportion of work for free as a social service. They can also help you find a solicitor who specialises in employment disputes.

ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, can also help and advise. Their advice is free, although legal representation will not be.

In England and Wales, a service known as Community Legal Services has been set up as an umbrella organisation to provide information about all these different methods of obtaining legal advice, whether free or paid for. They are a good first place to go if you are in need of advice.

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