If you’ve been offered a compromise agreement by your employer then you will have to obtain independent legal advice for your compromise agreement to be valid. This will therefore mean that you’ll be on the lookout for a specialist employment lawyer who can offer you compromise agreement advice. However, before you instruct a solicitor to provide you with that advice it’s prudent to ask them a number of questions to determine whether they’re suitably specialist to be worth instructing and whether (as importantly) they’re affordable. It’s therefore recommended (although not essential) that you ask them the following questions:
- Is the solicitor a specialist employment lawyer?
- Does the solicitor regularly give advice on compromise agreements?
- Does the employment solicitor regard themselves as sufficiently expert to give me advice?
- Will the solicitor personally be handling giving me advice on my compromise agreement?
- What documents will the employment solicitor need to advise me?
- How much will the solicitor charge to advise me on the compromise agreement?
- How long will it take for the solicitor to properly advise me on my compromise agreement?
- Will the employment solicitor charge for any extra work done?
- Does the solicitor’s firm have in place adequate insurance?
1. Is the solicitor a specialist employment lawyer?
This question will give you an insight into the solicitor’s speciality. This is an important question as generally only employment lawyers will be sufficiently expert enough to advise you on all the particular statutory and common law claims that you may have against your employer. This is, after all, the nature of a compromise agreement – you’re compromising your right to take legal action against your employer in return for a sum of money (or other benefits). If the lawyer that you’re talking to isn’t a specialist employment lawyer then ask to talk to someone in the firm who is or, alternatively, go to another firm of solicitors.
2. Does the solicitor regularly give advice on compromise agreements?
This is an extremely important question and is linked to the question above. If you’re instructing a solicitor then you’ll want them to be an expert in their field – they should know from experience what to look for in agreements, where the pitfalls might be, and what terms are reasonable to (not) be included in a compromise agreement. A compromise agreement is important to your career – you don’t want to get advice from someone who isn’t sufficiently qualified.
3. Does the employment solicitor regard themselves as sufficiently expert to give me advice?
This is a question you should ask the solicitor straight off – don’t be ashamed about it. Just ask them how many compromise agreements they deal with on average in any one week and that will give you a fairly good idea as to whether they can be considered sufficiently expert to give you advice. Ask them questions “off the bat” about your agreement as well, for example on how tax is dealt with or whether the restrictive covenants in your compromise agreement (if there are such) are reasonable. If they can’t give you a straight answer to these questions then you can be relatively sure that they haven’t had enough experience of dealing with compromise agreements. However, if they ask you to provide them with your documentation (contract, compromise agreement etc.) then that’s a reasonable request – they will need to see these documents to be able to advise you properly.
4. Will the solicitor personally be handling giving me advice on my compromise agreement?
Again, it’s important that you ask the solicitor this question. The situation you don’t want to be put in is where you speaking to the employment lawyer initially but the actual work in your compromise agreement is undertaken by a less qualified and less experienced legal executive or trainee solicitor. Make sure that you get assurances from the solicitor that they will be handling the analysis and work on your compromise agreement personally. That way you know you’ll be receiving the best quality advice.
5. What documents will the employment solicitor need to advise me?
The employment solicitor should generally ask you to provide the following documents to advise you adequately on your compromise agreement (among other things):
- Your contract of employment
- Any documents varying your compromise agreement
- Any restrictive covenant documents
- Correspondence relevant to why your employment is being terminated
- The compromise agreement itself
6. How much will the solicitor charge to advise me on the compromise agreement?
Employers normally offer a contribution towards an employee receiving independent legal advice. This contribution generally ranges from between £250 and £350. Ask the solicitor if they’ll charge you on top of that fee for advice. You should be particularly careful about this – if your compromise agreement is a particularly complex one or the circumstances of the termination of your employment particularly contentious then you can incur significant charges above and beyond that your employer is willing to pay. A lot of firms now cap the fees that they charge at the amount the employer is willing to offer to make things simply and cost-effective for the client.
7. How long will it take for the solicitor to properly advise me on my compromise agreement?
Look to see when the deadline for the signing of the compromise agreement is. If it’s in close proximity (i.e. less than a week away) then it’s important that the solicitor that you instruct can deal with it immediately. Ask whether the employment solicitor has sufficient time available in their schedule to deal with your compromise agreement quickly otherwise it can be a few weeks before the work’s carried out (if the solicitor is particularly busy).
8. Does the solicitor’s firm have in place adequate insurance?
Although this may not seem particularly important at first glance the solicitor giving you the advice has a legal obligation to have in place sufficient insurance to cover a claim should this be necessary. This is only a precautionary measure on the part of the solicitor (the vast majority of compromise agreements do not result in claims against the solicitor) but a necessary one.
Direct 2 Lawyers offer free employment law advice for employees and free employment law advice to employers. They use specialist solicitors who offer employment law advice and Employment Tribunal representation.