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top tips for attending hearings as a trainee

23 July 2013

I am currently in my second seat in the employment team at the firm’s Birmingham office. One of my main tasks has been to attend all of the team’s tribunal hearings alongside counsel. Having never attended an employment tribunal before, and having only attended court once in my last seat, I felt that it would be useful to put together my top ten tips for future and current trainees:

1)      Ensure you are familiar with the claim before attending court. Sometimes you may have been heavily involved in a case and therefore have a good understanding. However, sometimes you may have had no involvement. As a minimum ensure you have read the claim form (ET1) and defence (ET3) so that you have some idea of what the claim is about and the issues.

2)      Try to ensure you are familiar with the bundle so that you can assist counsel and the witnesses in finding things.

3)      Ensure you pack appropriately. You will need pens, a notepad, highlighters and post-it notes.

4)      Take careful note throughout in order to assist counsel and protect the client’s interests. Whilst it may not be possible to take a verbatim note, it is especially important to take a accurate note of what the Claimant (and any witnesses of the Claimant) say in cross-examination since counsel will not have chance to note down their responses. Counsel have regularly asked for my notes for use in formulating their submissions – so ensure they are legible!

5)      Make sure you know who, where, and when you are meeting ahead of a hearing. Sometimes a key client contact will attend the tribunal along with the witnesses. Ensure you know their names and role, and bear in mind that these contacts are key in terms of ensuring we maintain the client’s work. Make sure you set the best impression. 

6)      Be ready to do lots of running around. Very often it will be your job to photocopy various documents that are added to the bundle throughout the course of the hearing. When the hearing is in the same location as your office, this isn’t so much of a problem. However, when you are in a different city, aim for the library!

7)      Make sure you are familiar with the court/tribunal process so that you can answer any queries from the witnesses. If in doubt counsel are very helpful. Sometimes witnesses can be very nervous and by talking them through the procedure, you can help to calm their nerves.

8)      Report back to the file handler at the end of each day with an update of the day’s events and current timetable. If anything important happens that they should be aware of contact them as soon as possible.

9)      Make sure you check ahead as to whether you can charge for your time. Most of the time, your time will be chargeable so it is important to ensure you note down the time spent at the hearing each day and also any time spent outside of the hearing with witnesses. Record this as soon as possible.

10)   Obtain a copy of counsel’s skeleton argument and/or written submissions. These are invaluable in terms of your learning and understanding of the area of law concerned. You will be surprised how much you pick up from attending hearings.