If you’ve been offered a compromise agreement you should obtain independent legal advice to make sure you’re being offered a fair and legally compliant agreement. If you think you have a substantive claim against your employer you should make sure that you receive employment law advice from a suitably expert source (such as, for example, an unfair dismissal solicitor if you think you have an unfair dismissal claim or a solicitor that deals with breach of contract claims if you think your contract has been breached). This post will deal with what you should look for in choosing the best independent compromise agreement solicitor. Choosing an independent person to provide you with your compromise agreement advice is extremely important – if they’re not sufficiently independent then you may not be getting the best advice. It will therefore look at the following issues:
- Make sure they’re sufficiently qualified independent legal advisers
- Check if your employer uses them regularly
- Make sure they’re willing to negotiate aggressively according to your instructions
- Check how many compromise agreements the solicitor has personally dealt with in the past
- Consult with colleagues to see if they’ve had a good experience with the solicitor in the past
Make sure they’re sufficiently qualified independent legal advisers
First and foremost, this is extremely important. Under s.203 Employment Rights Act 1996 your compromise agreement will not be valid unless you receive legal advice from a qualified independent legal adviser. This can include (in most circumstances):
- A solicitor or barrister
- A Trade Union official; or
- A legal advice centre adviser
If the person dealing with your compromise agreement isn’t one of the above then you may have problems with your compromise agreement. It’s therefore worth taking the time and the effort to do a little bit of research and make sure the compromise agreement solicitor (if you choose a solicitor, that is) is sufficiently expert and independent to advise you.
Check if your employer uses them regularly
Your independent legal adviser won’t be sufficiently independent if your employer (or an associated employer) employs then or utilises their services. This is because their business relationship with their employer could (although it won’t necessarily) compromise the quality of the advice you receive – they may not, for example, be willing to risk harming the business relationship they have with your employer by giving you frank and straightforward advice, particularly if you have a strong potential claim against your employer. Although, as above, this isn’t necessarily always the case it’s probably best to be careful and to ensure that the person advising you on your compromise agreement doesn’t have a business relationship with your employer.
Make sure they’re willing to negotiate aggressively according to your instructions
If you are leaving your employer on bad terms (or even if you’re not) then you may want to change certain of the terms in the compromise agreement, for example the amount of money you’re receiving (or any other benefit) or the nature of the reference. It’s therefore important that the independent legal adviser has sufficient time and experience to negotiate these points on your behalf. After all, you’re relying on their expert employment law advice to put you in the best position relating to your compromise agreement. So, before you instruct them make sure that they’re willing and experienced enough to act in your best interests (see this post for details on what the best compromise agreement solicitors should be willing to do for you).
Check how many compromise agreements the solicitor has personally dealt with in the past
This can be, and often is, an important issue. The more compromise agreements a solicitor has dealt with, the more experienced they’re likely to be. The more experienced they are, the better they will be able to provide you with the appropriate compromise agreement advice. A good rule of thumb is to see how many they deal with a week – if they don’t deal with a compromise agreement on average once every week then they’re unlikely to have the necessary experience to analyse your compromise agreement, ask the best questions, and negotiate on your behalf.
Consult with colleagues to see if they’ve had a good experience with the solicitor in the past
Although this isn’t essential (and indeed none of your colleagues may have had to instruct a solicitor before) it’s worth asking – they can give you valuable tips on what to look for in a compromise agreement solicitor and whether they’ve had a good or a bad experience with a particular solicitor. The internet is a good place to do your research as well – odds are if you’re reading this post then you’re sufficiently clued up to do your research well! However, this tip is most appropriate in situations where your employer is making a lot of redundancies and therefore using a lot of compromise agreements. If you find out your employer is funnelling all the work to a particular solicitor then you should be extremely wary of this – this could suggest that the compromise agreement solicitor isn’t sufficiently independent to provide you with employment law advice.