Manage your case like a lawyer: what great project management looks like for Employment Tribunals

If you’re representing yourself in the Employment Tribunal, you might feel discouraged because you don’t have a lawyer - especially if your employer does.

In this article, we’ll help you level the playing field. We’ll explain that even if you don’t have a lawyer, that’s ok - the key to success at Employment Tribunal is mainly about great project management. 

In fact, lawyers spend a lot of their time project managing. We’ll tell you 5 things lawyers do and why you should manage your case like a lawyer. 

5 things employment lawyers do (and you should do too)

Work back from dates in your calendar 

If you browsed the calendar of any Employment Tribunal solicitor, you’d find lots of calendar entries saying things like “ET1 due today”, “disclosure due today”, and so on. 

Often, they’ll set themselves reminders to ping a few days or a couple of weeks before the deadlines, to give themselves time to prepare. 

To take one example, if witness statements are due by a certain date, they’ll need to work back from that to arrange meetings with the witnesses to get a first draft of their witness statements done, prepare for the meetings and build in some time after the meetings to get the statements finalised. This is a process that can take several weeks. 

It’s super important to treat your calendar with utmost respect. Use it to save any deadlines that the court has given you. Set up reminders that work for you - perhaps by putting a separate calendar entry in a couple of weeks before the deadline. Block out time to get the work done and build in time to make tweaks and finalise any important documents. You can save upcoming tasks in the Valla platform, using our ‘Task list’ feature.

Keep track of communications

Good lawyers keep track of every important communication they have. They’ll always have a pen and paper in front of them to take notes of telephone calls and meetings, often typing these up and saving them into their files in date order.

They are also meticulous about saving any emails or letters that they get relating to the case into their case management system on their computer. 

A key reason for being so meticulous about recording communications is that Tribunal cases can take a few months from start to finish (and often, more than a year). During that time, there is a lot to keep track of. 

If you want to keep yourself right, make sure that you make taking notes a habit when you’re running your Tribunal case. It’s never too late - even if you’ve already started talking to ACAS or submitted your ET1. On the Valla platform, we have a free ‘Progress Tracker’ that you can use to take notes and save documents.

Work through case strategy and cost-benefit analysis 

Being a good lawyer isn’t really about being able to recite lots of legal wording, case law and legislation.

Sure, technical skill has its place. But arguably, what’s more important is being able to think ahead, be flexible and reactive, and think strategically. 

Let’s say that a lawyer is representing someone who is deciding whether to settle their case early, or keep going with the Tribunal process. They’ll need to advise them about the likely outcome of their case, perhaps even putting a percentage figure on how likely they are to win. They’ll also need to give them an estimate of their own fees, and also how much compensation they could get if they’re successful. This is a really strategic exercise, especially if the client is trying to settle a case at the same time as going through an Employment Tribunal. 

It’s so important to think about what you want out of going to the Tribunal. Is it compensation? Do you want your job back? Do you want your employer brought to justice? On the Valla platform we call this your ‘Goal’ - sign up for your free account here.  

Stay on top of documents 

Lawyers spend a huge amount of their time managing and organising documents.

For example, in employment cases the Judge often orders both sides to tell each other the documents that they have relating to the case. This is called “disclosure”. The precise wording of the order will vary, but a lot of the time, the order is to send over a List of Documents which includes everything that is relevant to the case.

The lawyer has to get these documents from their client, read through them, and organise them into date order, creating an index with a brief description of each document. This forms the basis of a List of Documents, which can then be sent to the other side.  

And that is just one example. There’s a whole host of documents that you’ll need to stay on top of to run your case successfully. This includes:

  • documents that you have to produce for the Tribunal (like your ET1)
  • evidence documents (like the ones in your List of Documents)
  • the documents to keep track of your case that we mentioned above (under ‘Keep track of communications’).

Make sure that you treat the task of managing documents in your case seriously. You can use the ‘Documents’ section of the Valla platform to easily forward your documents by email into the platform, categorise and organise them. 

Chase others to push the case forward

Lawyers can’t work effectively in a silo. Their progress in a case depends a lot on other people. This means they spend a lot of time chasing - whether that is the “other side”, ACAS, the Tribunal, their own client and witnesses, or even members of their own team.

To take an example, let’s say a lawyer needs to request some specific documents that are relevant to a case and that they think the other side has in their possession. First, they’d usually try asking the other side for those documents. If that didn’t work, they could make an application to the Tribunal for the documents. This is called an application for specific disclosure. If that application is successful, the Tribunal will order the other side to search for the documents, and send them to the lawyer if they have them.

So you can see the lawyer is liaising with various different people to get what they want. They’re also likely to have to do some chasing in between times, for example phoning the Tribunal to check on the progress of the application. 

You need to apply this thinking to your case if you want to succeed. Take ownership of tasks that come up, and chase others when you need them to take action. You can use the ‘Task list’ in the Valla platform to keep a list of outstanding tasks. If you find that collaboration helps to move things forward, you can also use the ‘Share Case’ feature to ask a friend or colleague for help.

But what about the legal stuff?

You might be thinking - okay I can do all of that, but isn’t there still legal work to do? How will I do that part?

Try not to worry. It’s very common to represent yourself at Tribunal, and the Judge hearing your case will know that. If you go to any hearings, like a Preliminary Hearing or even your Final Hearing, they will take into account that you don’t have a lawyer and will try to help you as much as possible. 

If you don’t understand something, you’ll probably find that even the Respondent’s (usually your employer’s) lawyer will help guide you through the process a little - it’s not in their interests to make life difficult for you. If you’re trying to settle, ACAS can’t give you legal advice but they can certainly help guide you. 

Having said all of this, try to do your research early on - there are a lot of great resources out there on employment law, and it’s really important to understand the specific claims you are making. To give an example, if it’s a disability discrimination case, what type of discrimination is it? Make sure that you make this crystal clear when you write your ET1, and refer to the relevant laws where you can. There’s a lot of good information online that should help you with this. You can use the ‘Legal research’ pages within the Valla platform to help you collate your research and identify any areas where you might need more help from a legal advisor.

Use Valla to progress your Employment Tribunal case

Try to see your Tribunal case as a project and yourself as the project manager. That is how to give yourself the best chance of success at the Final Hearing, and will also help ease the stress of deadlines.

Valla is a one-stop shop for taking control of your own Employment Tribunal case. It helps you easily manage all aspects of your case, as well as being able to share your case with friends, family, or trusted advisors.

It’s free, all of your information is kept secure, and our friendly team is on hand to help should you need it. Sign up for your account here. 

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