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 Liz Hughes

Liz Hughes Head of ACCA Ireland

Be Inspired Series

Paul Gillen

Head Of Employment Law (Ireland)
Pinsent Masons LLP

I am also Branch Secretary NI And Chartered Fellow Of The Chartered Institute Of Personnel Development

What does your job entail?

As an employment lawyer for an international law firm, I enjoy working with a wide range of clients on a range of matters, from dealing with employment grievances and providing case management solutions, to tribunal and other court cases and giving complex advice on mergers and acquisitions and TUPE. 

So, a mixed bag all in all.  Essentially, each query is about listening to the client to identify their specific legal and commercial problems and ensuring that I can guide them through legal risks to achieve a commercial solution. 

For the CIPD Northern Ireland Branch I am responsible for the governance of the Branch, ensuring we operate the branch for the benefit of our Northern Ireland members and providing local services. 

We operate a comprehensive service including specific and targeted development sessions, policy advice & guidance and continuous professional development support. 

We also actively represent the interests of our local members in government consultations.

Is it 9-5?

No - and I don't think that I could cope with a ‘9-5’ role!  Dealing with international clients means being available across timezones. 

Employment law is all about deadlines, getting responses to tribunal, working through orders from tribunals and working to commercial transaction deadlines.

How did you get into this line of work?

I did a degree in psychology at Queen’s University Belfast and afterwards went into Human Resources. I was in HR Management for about 12 years before becoming a solicitor.

I was interested in the policy and contractual areas in HR and I had managed quite a number of tribunal claims, so it was a natural progression to complete a conversion course in law before taking the professional legal course in England. 

I then had a two year training contract to complete. 

After 12 years in HR Management it was difficult to become the ‘trainee’, but worth it in the end.

Outline your career to date

I have had a non-traditional route into employment law.  Law was not even on my radar when completing my university course choices. 

In fact, my main ambition was to be a geography teacher and I actually studied two years of geography along with psychology at Queen’s. 

I was completely taken with the application of psychology and enjoyed the occupational psychology aspect.

I started as a management trainee in the NPO Group of companies and part of this was a rotation in HR. 

I stayed there after my training finished and moved to the Lagan Group, an international group of construction, materials and civil engineering companies. 

I loved this job.  It was a diverse role and I had a great bunch of characters to work with. 

It opened my eyes to international HR management and law. It was during my time at the Lagan Group that I commenced my legal studies, my academic and professional legal studies being completed part-time.

Part time studying is tough. It meant five days’ full time working and weekends at lectures or on assignment. 

I started training as a solicitor with a two-year training contract with Bevan Brittan in Bristol and covered a number of areas in law. But my heart was always to practise employment law and work with companies and HR teams on employment matters.

I now work in Pinsent Masons LLP and head the employment team in Ireland.

Tell us about your qualifications/training
I have a BSc (Hons) in Pscyhology from QUB, an MA in HR Management from University of Ulster, my Legal Practice Course was through BPP in London and an LLM in Employment Law from Leicester University. 

It's been a number of years since my LLM so, considering I am a perpetual student there could be more down the line! 

Working in employment law (and especially covering GB, NI and ROI) there is a lot of self-directed learning, such as constant updating in case law and new legislation, so I may give formal studies a rest.

What qualities are required for your job - personal and professional?

It may come as a surprise to many, but as a solicitor you have to be a people person. 

Interpersonal and communication skills are crucial as there is constant interaction with a wide variety of clients. 

This is the best part of the job and I believe my background in HR has given me an excellent grounding for this. 

You obviously have to have great attention to detail, ‘know your stuff’ and keep current. Finally, you have to be able to translate some difficult legal concepts and rules into commercial solutions - no client wants a rundown on pure law; the greater skill is applying the law commercially. 

On a personal level, you need to have confidence in yourself and be tenacious enough to stand up and fight your corner.

What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?

The biggest challenge is the biggest reward. Working cross border and in an international firm means you do not know what work may come through the door. 

In such an environment you get to work with international clients, see the application of laws in different jurisdictions and get to know some of the cultural aspects. 

The other challenge which goes hand in hand as a reward is the constant flux in employment laws. 

You can be advising a client on a matter and the week after a judgement or decision in a case will change the nature of the advice you have given –recent examples being in regard to collective redundancy cases and holiday rights. 

These challenges mean the job is never dull.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Outside work I am involved with the CBI and sit on the Employment and Skills Committee. I am also the Branch Secretary for the CIPD NI Branch and provide  Employment Law training for DMS. 

By way of relaxation I like to travel and get away, even for a few days. 

By way of mid-life crisis I have recently taken up camping! I am also a late convert to rugby and I also hear that it is good for brain power to learn an instrument, so I am slowly (very very slowly) teaching myself to play the piano.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

I have to keep a box of ties in my desk in work and some spare shirts – I am colour blind and have to rely on my team mates to help me out with mixing and matching!!  I certainly know when the team are playing games when I get strange looks walking around town. 

So spare a thought if you see a poorly coordinated lawyer walking around Belfast!

Who has inspired you most in your life?
My father is a great inspiration to me. 

When considering my education he taught me that "an education is not heavy and can easily be carried through life". -do.

The CIPD AWARDS 2014 take place on May 15. For more information visit

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