Who is Ellie Hibberd and what drew her to employment law?

In this series of interviews, we meet some of the Stephens Scown team. We discuss their areas of expertise, the challenges facing their industries and who they are outside of the workplace. Here we introduce Ellie Hibberd, head of our Employment and HRExpress team.

First, we ask Ellie Hibberd to share with us a little bit about her role as head of Employment and HRExpress.

“As you’d probably expect, it’s very fast paced! Few things move slowly in the world of employment law and it’s rare that there’s a quiet moment.

My role of head of employment covers a range of responsibilities including running our daily and weekly team catch up calls, meeting with support team directors and driving through projects. My client work is made up primarily of the HRExpress side, which is employer work and hugely varied. It tests my knowledge and understanding of some really nitty gritty bits of employment law on a daily basis and it’s rare that one query will be the same as the next.

I also like to keep my hand in on the employee side too, as we’ve always found that to have experience of both sides is really beneficial to our clients.”

Why did Ellie Hibberd specialise in employment law?

“Before I started my training contract, I was convinced I was going to be a private client / trusts lawyer. I loved the academic study of equity and trusts but when it came to doing it at my desk, I found it didn’t have the pace I needed.

With employment, however, the people side of it really came to the fore when I did my seats in it as a trainee. Even when working with businesses, you’re dealing with their most valuable asset – it really matters to them that it goes well and you do a good job. I love that as employment lawyers we become so involved in the inner workings of an organisation, such that we can really make a difference.”

We asked Ellie – what do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities for employers?

“I think the pandemic has fundamentally changed the employment landscape and I’m not sure it’s going to go back to how it was. We’re very much in an employees’ market and I think employers are going to need to be very alive to how they make themselves an ‘employer of choice’.

Employees are much more demanding now than they were. There’s going to be a real challenge for employers in balancing answering those demands whilst also making sure that the business and operational needs don’t lose out, and that the organisation remains financially viable, particularly given all the extra costs we know are coming down the line.

Organisations who can strike that balance and get out ahead of the crowd have a huge opportunity to mark themselves out and be held up as offering a great working culture and career opportunities for their staff.”

What makes HRExpress different from other HR services?

“When I first joined Stephens Scown, I had no awareness that law firms offered a service like HRExpress. The success of our service lies in us having a team who are dedicated to its members, rather than seeing it as an add-on or top-up to other more substantial work.

For too long, law firms have been held up as some kind of ivory tower housing very expensive people in suits. We know that’s not worked for a lot of organisations out there. We also know that the very rigid, packaged employer helpline services that are available often aren’t right either. HRExpress strikes that middle ground of offering genuinely pragmatic advice from a team of experts qualified in HR and employment, within the protection of a law firm, so that there is no risk of our advice needing to be disclosed to anyone.

It’s also at a really reasonable cost level. Many of our clients truly see us as an extension of their team and for me, there could be no greater accolade for what we do.”

What does Ellie love most about her role?

“I want to make employers’ lives easier.

I know that navigating a way through HR and employment issues can feel like a real minefield for many people and I love being able to offer guidance and counsel to someone, so that they can feel better equipped and more confident at handling whatever issue comes their way.

I love having the strength of relationship with a client that I can work collaboratively with them through a particular issue and then still be there on the other side to plan for the future. I also enjoy that HR and employment law is always changing, so we always have a new dimension to get to grips with.”

How does Ellie Hibberd spend time outside of work?

“My two daughters, aged 7 and 9, keep me busy. I am starting to emerge into that stage of life where they occupy themselves but not yet at that stage where they want to me to ferry them all over the county! We have five chickens, two cats and two guinea pigs just to add to the fun too.

I’m also a keen runner and like to get out regularly. One of the huge benefits of the pandemic for me has been being able to go for a run before work – it’s a great way to start the day. I love watching sport, particularly any kind of tournament (think Olympics and World Cups of all kinds), cricket and rugby union, though I have yet to be persuaded to switch my allegiance from Sale Sharks to Exeter Chiefs.

I never have enough time to spend in my garden and I love having the space to grow my own vegetables. Cooking, eating and drinking well are a real shared hobby for me and my husband and something we love being in the South West for, although baking mostly remains my area – there’s no way I’m letting him near the girls’ birthday cakes!”

If Ellie Hibberd wasn’t an Employment lawyer, what would she be?

“Well into my teenage years I wanted to be a fighter pilot for the RAF. I got as far as picking up the information at a careers fair but never got anywhere near a cockpit and once my eyesight deteriorated, it was probably a good idea to abandon it as a career plan!

My alternative life plan now would be running a sandwich shop. I put it down to being a child of the 1980s and having grown up with such dull sandwich options.”

We asked Ellie – what’s it like to work for Stephens Scown?

“Stephens Scown is the third law firm I’ve worked at and when I joined, my mum was delighted – she said it seemed like a really “nice” place to work. She was absolutely right.

We’re not just here to be another commercial law firm. We want to be something different, whether that’s the investment and time we’ve given to employee engagement, the culture and warmth of the firm or our commitment to life beyond the law (for example, our ‘Scownership’ employee ownership programme, our green credentials and our push for B Corp accreditation – read more here).

It’s a firm which embraces opportunity, in how we work with our clients and for our people and the growth and development we strive for. I work with really great people who have a huge amount to offer. I love it and wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”