Strategic Research Sponsor of the American Bar Association's Section of International LawThe Queen's Award for Enterpise 2012
Michael Burd
Office:
5 Chancery Lane
Clifford's Inn
EC4A 1BL
City:
London
Country:
England
Tel:
+44 20 7074 8176
Fax:
+44 20 7864 1722

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders: Labour & Employment

Michael is the chair, and a partner, of Lewis Silkin LLP. He jointly heads the firm’s employment immigration and reward department. In addition, Michael is on the board of Ius Laboris, the global HR law alliance of which Lewis Silkin is a UK member. Michael is a highly experienced employment and partnership practitioner, often dealing with high level disputes. Much of his work involves international and cross-border issues. Born and raised in the US, Michael came to the UK to study for a year, and has remained ever since.

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.

Having completed two degrees in history (Columbia University, 1980) and international relations (Cambridge University, 1982), I made the decision to settle in the UK and pursue a career in law.  I joined Lewis Silkin as a trainee (1984) and, after qualification, started off as a commercial litigator.  Over time, I gravitated to employment (I loved it, others didn’t). 
At the time (and still now) we had a lot of clients in the advertising/marketing and media sectors; ie ‘people businesses’ for which HR and board issues were at the heart of their business and success.  We built our practice initially on the back of those types of clients, though nowadays the client base is far more eclectic.

From me being the only employment lawyer at the firm about 26 years ago or so, we now have some 120 in the team.  It’s been a great journey, and obviously we could not have achieved what we have without great support from our partners.

More recently I have become the chair of the Partnership.

In my practice, I advise on many aspects of employment and partnership law, with a particular focus on the resolution of high-level disputes (including through mediation and arbitration), senior level departures, boardroom issues, business transfers and restructuring.  I have developed a particular niche in advising other law firms (including a number of the largest in the world) in relation to their own employment and partnership issues.

Much of my work has an international element to it, and I often work closely with colleagues in other jurisdictions to navigate cross-border matters. I sit on the Executive Committee of Ius Laboris and am an active participant in the activities of the alliance.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO FOCUS YOUR PRACTICE ON LABOUR AND EMPLOYMENT MATTERS?

Employment law has always combined two things that are very attractive to me. First, it is a very vibrant and rapidly changing area of law. It is intellectually challenging to keep up with and its evolution is endlessly topical and interesting. But above all, employment is about people – and people are weird and wonderful. As a result, in the workplace they create all kinds of novel situations. To be successful as an employment lawyer, one has to be not just an excellent lawyer but also a counsellor, a psychologist and a mediator. I really like that.

 

WHICH INDUSTRY SECTORS ARE THE BUSIEST IN THE MARKET AT THE MOMENT?

I would not single out any particular sector just now. Businesses in the so-called “gig” economy are facing issues around employment status; high-tech businesses are facing issues around attracting top talent and, in some cases, dealing with exceptionally rapid growth; and the retail and hospitality industries are grappling with huge competition and thin margins.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING PRACTITIONERS IN THE SECTOR IN THE UK?

At the bottom end of employment work there has been increasing commoditisation, with non-lawyer players entering the fray (such as Peninsula and Croner). Even at the higher end, there is significant competition and, therefore, price pressure. We attempt to stand out from the crowd in a number of ways.

First, our size enables us to create centres of excellence within the team – although we never set out to grow for growth’s sake, it has a benefit in that we have been able to develop specialist sub-teams in areas such as workplace data privacy and gender pay reporting products. 

Second is our international reach: through our membership of Ius Laboris we work closely with many of the best employment practices in the world, and our many clients with international operations are able to benefit from this. 

The third distinguishing factor is diversification. We have grown a suite of HR-related “complementary” services, such as HR consultancy, wide-ranging training, audits and workplace dispute mediation.

HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR PRACTICE DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS?

The challenges are many, and that makes it interesting! The thing that is having the biggest impact on work and the workplace is technology, even ignoring robots and automation. For example, the way in which those in the gig economy work simply does not fit neatly into existing employment laws and regulation, and so the law and courts and tribunals are struggling to keep up. And even outside the gig economy, the growth of agile and flexible working practices is changing the way employers organise their workforces. Not infrequently, these developments give rise to legal challenges that are bound to affect our practice in the coming years.

Biography:

Who's Who Legal Labour, Employment & Benefits: Labour & Employment

Michael Burd is chair and joint head of employment at law firm Lewis Silkin LLP. He crossed the Atlantic to complete his undergraduate studies in 1978 and never returned home.

Michael advises on all aspects of employment and partnership law, with particular interest in high-level disputes, boardroom issues, international issues, business transfers, restructuring and dispute resolution generally. His clients come from a range of industry sectors including finance, professional services and marketing services, to name a few.

His practice is highly international, dealing with both UK clients’ employment law needs globally and with UK issues for clients in numerous other jurisdictions. Michael also sits on the executive committee of Ius Laboris, the global alliance of human resources law firms of which Lewis Silkin is the UK member.

As joint head of London’s largest team of employment specialist lawyers, Michael is well used to catering for the legal HR needs of large corporate clients, managing big personnel-related projects and running large legal teams cost-effectively and to tight deadlines.

WWL says: Michael Burd has a superb practice with an international reach and is described by one peer as “one of the best practitioners of employment law I have seen”.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Labour, Employment & Benefits which can be purchased from our Shop.

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