The plight of a trio of future trainees has provided a snapshot of the career mess facing junior lawyers as the coronavirus pushes the UK economy into recession.
The three paralegals at construction and real estate specialist Silver Shemmings Ash were due to start as trainees at the firm next year, but instead they have been unceremoniously dumped.
While they were on furlough in July, the lawyers, along with two business services staff, discovered they were simultaneously working out their one month notice period (so were effectively also on gardening leave) and using up their holiday allowance (so were effectively also on vacation).
It meant Silver Shemmings Ash was able to get rid of them by only paying 20% of their salary for one month, while the taxpayer picked up the rest of the bill and the employees lost their job, their notice period pay and their holiday allowance, a source told RollOnFriday.
There is no suggestion that Silver Shemmings Ash did anything that is prohibited. But a source said that is exactly why staff elsewhere should be on the look-out for employers seeking to serve up a triple-shit sandwich containing notice period, unused holiday and furlough all at once. "It's important because this annual leave trick could be used by other law firms", they said.
While the once-future trainees' treatment was technically permitted under the terms of their contracts, those contracts "didn't envisage a pandemic", said a source. "They basically used it because they didn't want to cough up", they added, even though, "we're not talking about huge sums of money here. This wasn't going to bankrupt them".
On the other hand, it might have. The firm is moving to a consultancy model akin to Keystone, said an insider, under which its lawyers will be essentially self-employed. And the managing partner is rumoured to be leaving.
if that's accurate (he would not say), hopefully he won't be subjected to the same exit process which staff apparently endured. Their redundancy process was run by a new employee with no training in HR matters, said a source, and whose emails were either "vague" or "looked like they'd been copy and pasted from the government website". One employee didn't even get a call from the firm, said the source, and instead was informed they had lost their job via an email.
Silver Shemmings Ash said it would provide a response, but did not, then its managing partner asked for 48 hours, and went silent.