“It is almost never business as usual. But whether it is periods of workforce reductions or many cases involving whistleblowing and harassment as it is now, our profession involves people. Therefore being an employment law lawyer is a matter most of all of being a reliable and competent advisor who understands the needs and is able to bring about the right solutions,” says Torkel Tveit at SANDS.
Some things are constant. At its core, an employment relationship is much the same today as it was a few decades ago: a great deal of sensitive information and delicate problems that are handled carefully for both large and small firms. Clients’ desires are also the same as before: advice that provides confidence, and preferably to avoid cases that drag on. Being precise has always been important because even the smallest procedural error – such as forgetting a deadline – can lead to replays, damages claims and lawsuits.
But employment law practice generally evolves in line with social development:
“We must respond to risks and opportunities for dissemination of information in an entirely different way. Sensitive matters can be disseminated very quickly through new tools which both the employer and the employee have for getting information out in an entirely different way from before,” says Advocate and Partner Torkel Tveit on a video link from SANDS’ office in Bergen – emphasising the point about how the flow of information has changed.
“Previously it was common to wait three days for a request by letter for a meeting. Now everything goes rapidly, with a related natural expectation that lawyers are light on their feet and quickly available. A lawyer having immediate capacity has become an even more important factor for clients.”
Follow the trends. The nearly twenty lawyers in SANDS’ employment law group are more exposed to trends than most lawyers.
“Currently there have been long periods of workforce reduction, especially in the oil industry. In periods of growth, there is usually a great deal having to do with controlling performance, with advice on employment contracts and bonus schemes,” says Tveit.
SANDS for the most part represents the employer side and has several of the largest media companies and contractors on its client list, as well as national store retail chains and manufacturers. In the public sector, we find health authorities, universities, the Norwegian School of Economics and the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (with 16,000 students).
With offices in Oslo, Tromsø, Ålesund, Tønsberg and Trondheim, SANDS plays a national role in employment law.
“The national aspect is one of our most important advantages,” states Torkel Tveit.
“More than most fields of law, employment law requires a local presence. You cannot have consultations and serious conversations on the telephone. And when you need to have a lawyer with you, geography is often a challenge.”
For example, when a company recently wanted to shut down several canteens in different parts of the country, lawyers at SANDS could act and follow up from offices in various locations.
“With offices and capable employment law lawyers in all parts of the country, we can always be present. That is important for many people,” acknowledges Tveit.
The art of developing the field. The field is evolving. SANDS does not merely follow along but is part of developing Norwegian employment law through experience and close contact with the major educational institutions. The firm administers the Business Law course at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and plays an important role in the instruction at the University of Tromsø.
“I think the strong academic connection is a testament to the group’s professional strength,” says Tveit.
Tveit himself teaches at NHH together with his colleague Ellen Gooderham. He began practising at SANDS when he and the other Bergen partners left DLA Piper.
“The employment law group is located in various parts of Norway, but it has a strong team concept. There are many of us, and we have a lookout post in each part of the country, which means that we can attack any matter broadly. It is a good platform for working on employment law,” he states.
Me too. Regarding trends. The activity in the employment law group is currently marked by the ongoing #MeToo campaign and the awakening to sexual harassment in the workplace.
“What is challenging with these cases is that they usually do not become very interesting to the public until they involve someone who is known or has considerable power. But the resulting media pressure accompanying these cases becomes greater than normally,” explains Tveit.
The newspapers do not write about many such cases at government agencies, but there are grounds to suspect that it also occurs there.
“These are matters that are also sensitive when it comes to providing advice, with many considerations to take into account. Employment law involves having a rock solid understanding of the legal aspects. But these cases show how important it is to be a reliable and strategic advisor throughout the entire process.