As Practice Lead of Thompsons' Trade Union Law Group, Iain Birrell specialises in all areas of trade union law such as industrial action, recognition, rule book issues and elections.

As the Regional Employment Rights manager, he was also heavily involved in the successful conclusion of mass equal pay related sex discrimination cases in the North East, even obtaining a costs award against the other side's representative.


Previously based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Newcastle office, Iain was praised by the Legal 500 as the "the key figure" at the branch, with Chambers describing him as "the practice's leading light in the North East and sources highlight his specialism in trade union discrimination and large-scale collective claims".

He has been involved in a number of notable cases including:

Scanlon v Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council [2010] - tribunal decision about a whistleblowing and sex discrimination unfair dismissal claim, resulting in the largest sex discrimination award for several years

Davies and 344 others v ASDA [2006] - the first case in the UK using a law prohibiting the use of inducements to undermine union-related activity including collective bargaining, in which the tribunal awarded compensation totalling £850,000

Miller v Durham County Council [2003] - a sex discrimination claim in which a tribunal found a 'laddish culture' at the council which had failed to operate its equal opportunities policy. The award of £133,000 was one of the largest that year.


Iain gives talks and lectures on employment law to clients both at events organised by Thompsons and external organisations including the Institute of Employment Rights.

He is also a guest commentator for legal online information organisation Lexis Nexis, a division of the international publishing house Reed Elsevier.

Professional membership

Iain has been a member of the Law Society of England and Wales' employment law committee since 2008, which identifies areas of employment law and procedure that require reform or review and formulates recommendations for consideration by government.


Iain trained at a leading firm in East Yorkshire and after qualifying spent some time in London providing legal input to the Channel Tunnel high speed rail link project.

Prior to joining Thompsons in 2001 Iain had been a partner at a Yorkshire firm where he had specialized in commercial litigation and employment law.

Recommendations for the Thompsons employment rights team

Chambers: "Thompsons has a knack of getting on particularly well with clients and managing their expectations."

Chambers: "Thompsons fields a top-notch trade union practice".

Legal 500: "Thompsons has a strong hold on trade union instructions, delivering strategic employment law advice to UNISON, Unite, the GMB and the RMT".