Colleague Spotlight

Kim Clarke, Senior Employment Law Adviser

Kim's background

Having begun her journey at Oxford University with a Postgraduate Degree in Law, Kim now boasts more than a decade of experience in the legal industry. Her specialist areas include litigation, jurisdictional issues and Legal Expenses Insurance, and she proudly holds a membership with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

Starting out as one of Ellis Whittam’s Senior Employment Law Advisers back in 2017, Kim now manages a team of eight solicitors as Head of our Litigation Team, with the ultimate aim of increasing clients’ prospects of success and making the claims process as stress-free as possible.

Kim's qualifications

MA (Oxon) in Jurisprudence (English Law with German Law)

Postgraduate Diploma in Law (Bar Vocational Course)

An interview with Kim

Tell us more about you background

Academically, the journey started with my Jurisprudence MA at Oxford University, and a further Postgraduate Diploma in Law later on. From there, I spent nine years with Peninsula Group working as an Advocate. Primarily, the role involved travelling across the UK and conducting advocacy at hearings and judicial mediations on behalf of clients in Tribunal settings. I then joined Ellis Whittam in 2017 and took over as Head of Litigation the following year. In total, I’ve been in the field for roughly 13 years now.

That said, I think my specialist areas originally stemmed from my father. He was active in the Prison Officers Association, the trade union for prison officers, and was the chair of the Birmingham branch during the prison service strikes and privatisation of the prison. I would say this ultimately sparked my interest in health and safety and employment law.

What does your role at Ellis Whittam entail?

That’s a tough one, because there’s no such thing as a typical day for me! It could be drafting employee Tribunals, negotiating settlements, preparing witness statements, reviewing documents and creating bundles, instructing counsel, liaising with insurers or taking instructions from clients on any of my live cases.

I also review and allocate all new claims that come into the team. I deal with complaints, review any issues raised by insurers, and work with finance and commercial teams regarding legal entity identifiers and payments.

Ultimately, my approach is solutions-focused and strategic. I make a habit of asking myself: ‘where do we want to be, how best can we get there, and what gives us the best chance of getting there?’

Another big part of my role is managing a team of eight solicitors, so much of my day-to-day entails making sure they are supported.

Which aspect of the role do you enjoy the most, and which do you find most challenging?

What constitutes a ‘win’ for each client is different – it could be a Tribunal victory, getting a claimant to withdraw or settling on particular terms. Whatever it is, I’ve always found it particularly rewarding to tell a client that it’s over and sense their relief.

However, the most satisfying part of my job is having a Judge agree with whatever argument I’ve raised and put forward (I like being right!).

That said, the main challenge is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes. Time management and making sure all deadlines are met can be difficult, and can require long hours. Even in those times, though, we always pull together, put our clients first, and do whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s one of the things I love most about working at Ellis Whittam.

What do you think has changed in recent years in terms of employee relations and the role of the employer?

I think the abolition of Employment Tribunal fees in 2017 was a big turning point. This means that an employee now faces no financial barrier in terms of bringing a claim, which, coupled with the rise of the ‘Google lawyer’, means that many claims are submitted that have little to no prospects at the outset. This is because the claimant has misunderstood what they’ve read online or misapplied the law to the facts (or the facts to the law).

I think that claimants have also become more entrenched in their positions as well, however unreasonable they may be. It’s the, ‘I’m out of a job, it can’t be my fault, someone else is to blame and I deserve compensation’ mindset.

On the employer side of things, the most common mistake I see is not taking contracts and handbooks seriously. If you have a thorough framework for the employee-employer relationship, put it in writing and make sure they’re aware of it and that they agree to it. This can make disciplinary action much more straightforward. It’s important not to make allowances or deviate from your stated policies either, because that just creates confusion and can lead to suggestions of inconsistency and maybe even discrimination.

Another common pitfall is not acting on Employment Tribunal paperwork straightaway. We only get a narrow window within which to submit a response, and extensions can be difficult to obtain. This means we have less time to consider our position and creates further stress that is unnecessary.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no end to the types of things that can go wrong in the employment relationship. My advice to employers would be to keep good records – you never know when you’ll need evidence of something!

What have you done recently that has made you proud?

Ellis Whittam had a case that started back in 2013. I took it over in 2018, and despite the claimant being particularly difficult to deal with, I brought it to a final hearing. We successfully defended all claims and had £1,000 awarded in our favour because they had been unreasonable in their conduct of the proceedings.

I also recently negotiated a settlement where the claimant agreed to pay the respondent £2,000 (usually it’s the respondent who pays!).

As well as those ‘big win’ moments, we continually capture both good and bad feedback at Ellis Whittam via our Customer Thermometer, and one of the things that I and the rest of the team find most rewarding is seeing positive feedback come through. It’s always great to hear that our support has made a difference.

How would you describe Ellis Whittam’s support, and what makes it unique?

I think the standout feature is that we operate on a fixed-fee policy. This means your costs are controlled, so there are no catches and no nasty surprises!

We also ensure that we build a healthy rapport with our clients from the outset. This allows a relationship of mutual trust to be established, which always makes proceedings run more smoothly.

Finally, you can expect high-quality (The Legal 500 accredited) and commercial legal advice, provided by specialists you can trust to get it right.

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