To be fair (to me) I was only once (to my knowledge) called a rottweiler and it was years ago. But I admit that when I started as an employment lawyer I was definitely in the ‘adversarial’ camp, ‘fighting’ – in the tribunal – for ‘justice’ for my clients. Of course, I still want justice but know that rarely is litigation the way to achieve it.
In 2013, after 20 years of litigating (mainly discrimination claims for employees), I decided I could no longer bear to see any more employees suffering stress, health problems, prolonged uncertainty, loneliness, financial issues and even relationship breakdown – all caused by the litigation process. One client said to me ‘You said it would be really stressful but I had no idea it would be this bad’.
Of course, litigation is necessary in some cases not least to ensure minimum standards in the workplace and for multiple equal pay claims, test cases, etc. Some employees want their day in court but most do not. It is a hideous process and many say that even winning was a pyrrhic victory.
So, after much mulling and discussion, I decided that the answer was YESS (Your Employment Settlement Service) – a charity which provides affordable advice on how to resolve workplace disputes without ever litigating. It is all about ‘Getting to Yes’ – a brilliant book by Roger Fisher and William Ury about negotiating positively.
With help from the wonderful Emma Webster, Paul Statham – and so many others – we launched YESS in March 2014 – the same time as Early Conciliation. It was a slow start as employment tribunal fees had just arrived, leading to a drop in employment work, but we were determined to make it work.
We are unique in the legal world. Our focus is on avoiding litigation wherever possible. Our commitment is to constructive dialogue between the parties, generally avoiding legal threats. We coach employees to negotiate themselves or negotiate on their behalf and we advise our employer clients how to avoid claims. We offer affordable fees based on income. The key is that we never getting involved in the litigation so litigation games are outside our remit – though litigation is always there as the last resort .
Many employment lawyers refuse to accept that we get as good a deal for our employee clients without legal threats. Five years of YESS experience and over 20 years of litigation, gives us the confidence to say they are wrong – at least in most cases. What’s more, we often do better and so many employees say they want to move on with dignity and without the bitterness and anger that litigation engenders.
And now for me it is time to move on. I am delighted that Karen and Emma are sharing the CEO role at YESS and Saher has now joined as a solicitor. YESS is on a roll, gathering momentum year by year, with more people agreeing with our strapline ‘Life’s too short to litigate’.
I am now a consultant with YESS and a CEDR and Workplace Mediator, also doing investigations. I hope to expand the YESS affordable mediation and investigation service. I will continue advocating for early resolution of workplace conflicts and to persuade lawyers that resolution is so much better than legal threats and litigation. Please join the campaign by contacting me on Linkedin, Twitter or old-fashioned email.
And I have to admit to all my friends (and colleagues) you are right: my plan to slow down is not quite working out as I thought. One day maybe, but not quite yet ….
Camilla Palmer QC (Hon) firstname.lastname@example.org