If you’ve been offered a settlement agreement by your employer then you will need to obtain specialist legal advice from an independent legal adviser (for example, a solicitor) – if you’re not told to do this or you don’t seek advice then any settlement agreement that you sign will not be binding or valid. You’re therefore faced with a problem: how do I know which solicitor to instruct to advise me?
In this article Chris Hadrill, the partner in the employment team at Redmans, examines what you may wish to consider when seeking to instruct a solicitor to advise you on your settlement agreement
- Decide what your objectives from the negotiations are
- Speak to your friends – can they recommend any solicitors to advise on the settlement agreement?
- Make sure you instruct a specialist employment solicitor
- Speak to the solicitor to check whether you’re happy with them
- Check the reviews for the solicitor online
- Check what fees the solicitor will charge for advising on the settlement agreement
- Ask what experience the firm of solicitors has with negotiating settlement agreements
- Check how quickly the solicitors will be able to complete the advice on the settlement agreement for you
1. Decide what your objectives from the negotiations are
Before you speak to a solicitor, make sure that you have an idea as to what you’re seeking to achieve from the settlement agreement negotiations: are you solely seeking to increase the financial terms of the agreement or do you have other objectives (such as, for example, improving your reference or strengthening the confidentiality terms in the agreement).
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2. Speak to your friends – can they recommend any solicitors to advise on the settlement agreement?
Speak to your friends who have either gone through a settlement agreement process in the past or have instructed a specialist employment solicitor for another reason – if they have any experience with employment lawyers then they’ll probably be able to recommend a lawyer to assist you, and you’ll have the benefit of knowing that a friend of yours trusts (or doesn’t trust) a particular solicitor. This experience can be invaluable in selecting a solicitor.
3. Make sure you instruct a specialist employment solicitor
You wouldn’t ask an electrician to do your plumbing, and you don’t want a probate lawyer advising you on your settlement agreement – a specialist employment solicitor will have the knowledge and experience to be able to instantly identify the strengths and weaknesses of your particular situation, and to create a suitable negotiation strategy.
4. Speak to the solicitor to check whether you’re happy with them
Take the solicitor for a test ride – see if you can speak to the solicitor you’re thinking about instructing on the telephone; most solicitors will be happy to have a 10 to 20 minute chat on the telephone with you to explore your matter, ask questions about your particular situation, and answer any questions that you have. You should be able to get a good feel during this telephone call as to whether you’d be happy to instruct the solicitor to work on your matter.
5. Check the reviews for the solicitor online
A new and quite important factor – online reviews will give you an idea as to whether other people who have instructed the firm were happy (or not) with the services they received, and can be useful in conjunction with obtaining personal recommendations from friends (see above).
6. Check what fees the solicitor will charge for advising on the settlement agreement
Your employer will normally cover a particular financial contribution in respect of the fees for the advice on your settlement agreement (this fee contribution is normally in the range of £250 plus VAT to £750 plus VAT, but can be more depending on the circumstances). Speak to the solicitor you’re thinking of instructing and see whether they think the fee contribution offered by your employer will cover the fees for the advice in your matter – it is often the case that the solicitor will be able to limit their fees to the contribution your employer is willing to offer, which should give you peace of mind.
7. Ask what experience the firm of solicitors has with negotiating settlement agreements
This is a critical issue – you want to instruct a team of specialists to help you with your matter to get the best possible result for you. Scout out who works for the firm, what work the firm does, what experience each solicitor has, and make a conclusion as to whether the firm you’re seeking to instruct has the necessary experience and expertise to assist with your matter.
8. Check how quickly the solicitors will be able to complete the advice on the settlement agreement for you
The employer will sometimes set strict deadlines for the completion of the settlement agreement, so make sure that the solicitors you’re thinking of instructing can do the work in the time period specified.