Recent Changes in the Law

The legal sector has evolved rapidly in recent years. Gizem Akilli writes that there have been particularly significant developments in areas of employment law, GDPR and the legal tech landscape.

1. Employment Law

Employment law has experienced significant upheaval in 2020. The Coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) has in no small part encompassed much of recent debates surrounding employer/employee relationships and positive steps taken in safeguarding the economy in light of the global crisis. Under the CJRS, employers have claimed 80% of furloughed employees monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month alongside associated Employer National Insurance and pension contributions on that wage.

Although this has stabilised the impact on unemployment and potential tribunal claims, it is coming to an end. Since September 2020, the grant has been reduced by 70% and will drop further in October to 60%, with employers expected to pay the balance. As the furlough scheme winds down, so too does the optimism for job retention during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Conciliation service ACAS has clarified that its redundancy advice line has almost tripled throughout June-July in light of the announced changes. The main concern is in respect of the rate of redundancies as companies struggle to stay afloat.

“The economic impact of coronavirus, alongside fears around the furlough scheme tapering off, has left many employers and their staff concerned about their future livelihoods.”

Susan Clews, ACAS Chief executive

The Coronavirus job retention scheme was initially intended to run till the 1st of June 2020, however, on the 5th of November the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a further extension to the CJRS (also known as the furlough scheme), until the 31st of March 2021.

The government will review the policy in January to decide whether economic circumstances are improving enough to ask employers to contribute more.

2. GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the latest data protection law developed by the EU; it came into force on the 25th of May 2018. In the UK, GDPR led to the creation of the Data Protection Act 2018, which superseded the previous 1998 Data Protection Act.

Under the General Data Protection Regulations (‘GDPR’), international transfers of personal data outside the EEA are restricted unless adequate safeguards are put in place. Through these principles, everyone responsible for using personal data has to follow strict rules called ‘data protection principles’. They must ensure that the information is used fairly, lawfully and transparently.

Due to the UK’s departure from the European Union, a new unique set of data protection law was implemented through the Data Protection Act 2018, following the EU – GDPR. The Data Protection Act 2018 is similar to GDPR in that it controls how your personal information is being processed. The Withdrawal Agreement, from the EU-GDPR to only UK-GDPR, will be in effect until the end of the transition period, likely on the 31st of December, 2020.

3. Legal Tech

The legal industry has always shown resistance to change and technological advancements. However, law firms can no longer ignore the advantages of integrating technology into their operations. According to Bonsor, ‘Tech will be very helpful in creating opportunities for lawyers to focus on interpreting law, doing their legal role rather than an administrative side of things that currently occupies a lot of time.’

Law firms have faced notable issues over the years. These include adapting to the rapid changes instigated by AI-powered systems, getting to grips with block chain/crypto currency and moving into remote practices. In the wake of the pandemic, the government’s advice to working remotely was problematic for numerous legal professionals who were ill-equipped to operate in new ways. Fortunately for the legal sector, various existing technical solutions were capable of assisting. From video conferencing providers such as Zoom to powerful bundling software like Casedo and Adobe, versatile lawyers leveraged these solutions expeditiously.

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