Legislators still keeping employment lawyers on their toes
Once again, the legislators were especially busy in the field of employment law: alongside the statutory minimum wage (Minimum Wage Act), the changes to parental leave and “retirement at 63” brought much need for advice, for instance on the partial retirement arrangements and limits in employment contracts and wage agreements. In addition to this, the Federal Labor Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht) made some landmark decisions regarding vacations and limited-term contracts. This means that everybody is talking about a further move towards greater flexibility in pay systems, working hours and employment contracts.
At the same time, this is bringing employment-related compliance experts into the arena, e.g. to review the deployment of external staff and the supply of temporary workers in corporates. The Minimum Wage Act also lent momentum here, as there are major uncertainties in terms of the liability of contracting bodies. Even the European Commission is getting involved: it is troubled by the fact that the act is applied without exception (incl. on transit transport) and by the documentation and registration obligations. The Commission instituted infringement proceedings against Germany – so the last word has yet to be spoken on the issue.
Management: liability issues increasingly significant
Liability aspects are also playing a growing role with regard to management staff and decision-making bodies. These are being held more accountable, and are frequently calling on lawyers at both the beginning and end of employment contracts. It is not only the experts in criminal law and insurance who are profiting from this highly lucrative work (e.g. in matters involving D&O insurance), but employment lawyers too.
Also of major financial relevance – not only in terms of lawyer fees but above all in transactions and company balance sheets – are company pensions. Considering the ongoing low interest rates and an aging society, employers urgently need to act.
Established firms achieve generation change
Alongside the small number of established experts, more firms are moving into the company pensions market, among them DLA Piper. But essentially little has changed in terms of the balance of power among firms. A number of established senior partners retired or scaled down their hours, including Dr. Alexius Leuchten (Beiten Burkhardt), Prof. Dr. Heinz Willemsen (Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer) and Prof. Dr. Jobst-Hubertus Bauer (Gleiss Lutz), but these three firms are positive examples of how it is well worth investing time in management and practice structuring to guarantee a successful generation change.
Employment boutiques on the rise
Staff movements within the large firms were rare. Where they did occur, they involved partners moving to boutiques, such as Nicole Engesser Means’ move from Clifford Chance to Schweibert Leßmann & Partner. Those suffering most in this unbroken trend were Bird & Bird and Taylor Wessing. This shows that not only are boutiques established as alternatives among clients, they are also growing in appeal as employers – partly because many of them are credibly developing their international networks.
It is thus a growing challenge for German full-service firms like Noerr, Luther and Seitz to carve out a position in the market. Up to now, they mainly excelled in projects where a Germany-wide presence or interdisciplinary teams were an advantage. But here too, boutiques like Altenburg and Vangard are on the attack: not only do these have offices in several locations, they also frequently work in close cooperation with purely corporate firms.
The firms featured in this chapter specialize in employment advice to companies as employers. An overview of firms specializing in advice to employees can be found in the table “Firms recommended for advice to works councils, trade unions and employees”.
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