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Natasha Smith joined the team at CooperBurnett a year ago as a Senior Associate specialising in employment law.

Natasha Smith joined the team at CooperBurnett a year ago as a Senior Associate specialising in employment law. Having come from a landscape which saw her advising clients on queries relating to contractual terms, unfair dismissals, redundancies, discrimination matters, TUPE and the like, 2020 saw the role of an employment lawyer taken over by Covid and its implications.

“Everything shifted,” she explains. “I was working within HR consultancy at that time and we were immediately deluged by questions about furlough, which was a completely new concept to us all. It was a very busy and intense time and quite overwhelming for everyone that we were speaking to. Then, after the initial craziness, it went very quiet whilst the country was effectively placed on ice and staff and businesses alike were not making the usual decisions they might ordinarily have made. It was such a contrast and completely new territory.”

At the beginning of 2020, Natasha had already been considering a move back into private practice from HR consultancy but, with Covid, those plans were delayed for a little while. From the early summer, she started the ball rolling again and, in August, joined CooperBurnett.

“I was attracted by the fact that it was a new role at the firm and it was something I could grow into it,” she says. “Having worked in Tunbridge Wells previously and lived in the area for nine years, I was already aware of the excellent reputation CooperBurnett has locally.”

While she’s been working from home for much of the time in her first year, Natasha’s discovered that CooperBurnett is a very friendly place to work.

“I have been made to feel very welcome by colleagues I’ve met when I’ve been in the office, as well as those who I’ve been introduced to online,” she says. “One of the reasons I was interested in joining CooperBurnett is all the good things the firm does for charity, which I liked and I wanted to get involved with.”

It wasn’t until she embarked on her A levels that Natasha was drawn towards law.

“I chose law as an A level, alongside human biology and sociology,” says Natasha. “I didn’t really know what to expect but I found it fascinating. I remember the teacher telling us from the outset that if we thought law was going to be glamorous, like television shows often portrayed it as, then we’d picked the wrong subject. But I absolutely loved it and like the fact that it is people based.”

She continues: “One of my favourite parts of being a lawyer is negotiating on behalf of my clients to obtain the best deal for them. I have found that, despite discrimination laws being in place for several years, employers regularly fall foul of the legislation and this had led me to feel very passionate about ensuring those particular rights are protected.”

Natasha studied law at university, before training and qualifying into the employment team at a large Surrey firm in 2009.

“While training, I moved around different departments but employment law particularly drew me in,” says Natasha. “It’s an area which affects everyone at some point in their lives and is a big part of people’s lives which I enjoy helping them with”.

Natasha says that work has come into her department a variety of ways, including from CooperBurnett’s own corporate and commercial team, through the firm’s website and from existing contacts of her own.

“It’s refreshing to be getting some work now which isn’t solely focused on Covid, although it is still an important theme,” she says. “As people are slowly returning to the workplace, we are getting enquiries from businesses asking how to deal with team members not wanting to return to work or are unhappy about being regularly tested or getting vaccinated. On the flip side, there are also individuals who want to know if their employer can ‘force’ them back into the office and what they should do if they have any concerns about their health and safety.”

She adds that her work is also involved with updating contracts to take into account new arrangements, such as flexible working.

“Before Covid-19 I’d say that around 70% of employers would say that flexible working wasn’t possible in their business but now many more are realising that it can work as standard, rather than as an exception,” says Natasha. “It’s still a very new situation and it’s leading to a lot of discussions. I think the impact of Covid-19 on employment law will be around for a long time to come.”

Natasha and her family recently welcomed a puppy into their home. In between running around after her two young children and dog walking, she enjoys time at the gym and joining in with pilates classes. Natasha also loves visiting her family’s caravan on the Isle of Wight as much as she can.

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August 5, 2021
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