Jo O'Brien, Legal Operations Director
Over the past 13 years, Jo O’Brien has climbed her way up the Ellis Whittam ladder with self-assurance and persistence. Having first joined our ranks in 2007 as an Employment Law Adviser, her passion and ability later propelled her into a Head of Legal Services role, and today she proudly stands as Ellis Whittam’s Legal Operations Director.
With more than three decades of experience, in-depth industry knowledge and specialist ability in management and operations, Jo effortlessly ensures that Ellis Whittam’s legal department continues to function like a well-oiled machine. In doing so, she prides herself on delivering a strong commercial focus and a high standard of client care, alongside providing learning and development opportunities to her teams.
An interview with Jo
What was your background before joining Ellis Whittam?
All in all, I’ve now been working in the fields of HR and employment law for more than 30 years. I’ve enjoyed a wide range of experience in this time, but most notably I worked for the NHS, where I was responsible for preparing the contracts for doctors, dentists, pharmacists and opticians. This is what sparked my interest in contract law, which led me down my current path. I was also part of the team that investigated misconduct among high-earning dentists and doctors, which played a major part in developing my passion for HR and employment law.
Having honed my craft in various roles, I then joined Ellis Whittam in 2007, starting out as an Employment Law Adviser, then moving into the Head of Legal Services role, and eventually being promoted to my current position.
What does your role at Ellis Whittam entail?
In a nutshell, I’m responsible for the operational delivery of Ellis Whittam’s legal services. More specifically, this entails assisting our Director of Legal Services in the formulation and implementation of the business plan for legal services, working with other members of the legal management team to ensure the efficient, effective and harmonious functioning of the department, and effectively planning and monitoring a team of expert advisers to ensure client service remains at the centre of all of its activities.
I’m also responsible for day-to-day work management, which includes client allocation, fair work distribution, reporting and analysis for more efficient and effective work management, and ensuring the development and effective functioning of the legal client management system. As well as having operational responsibility for the legal team, I lead our team responsible for delivering contracts and handbooks to our clients and our legal admin team.
Over the years, I have gained experience working with most sectors, with a focus on supporting retail, care, logistics, manufacturing and professional services clients. I believe that my clients see me as an extension to their team. I’ve worked with most of my existing clients since I joined EW, and because of the relationships we have formed and my knowledge of their business, I wanted to retain those clients even though my role has now evolved into operations.
Which aspect of the role do you enjoy the most, and which do you find most challenging?
My client relationships are undoubtedly the highlight of the role. Reviewing and passing on the fantastic feedback we receive from our clients is always a great feeling, and this has been particularly rewarding during COVID-19, which brought with it a vast increase in the demand for our service and support.
With responsibility for managing client complaints, this is the most challenging part of my role. We pride ourselves on delivering exceptional client care, so any client dissatisfaction is a great concern. Thankfully we receive very few. I consider any feedback – good, bad or indifferent – to be extremely valuable and an opportunity to improve, and therefore see it as my responsibility to deal with any issues raised it in an appropriate and pragmatic manner.
Can you share any achievements or success stories?
COVID-19 has presented countless new challenges and obstacles for our teams to deal with and advise on, and the brilliant support the team has delivered to our clients during this period has felt like a huge achievement for the business: keeping abreast of the ever-changing situation, producing a wealth of information and guidance for employers on our Coronavirus Advice Hub, and managing an record amount of requests for support. Despite these very trying times for us all, we’ve received some fantastic feedback from our clients and I’m immensely proud of the team.
What advice would you give to employers?
Diarise a reminder at 23 months (when an employee is almost at the 24 month period of their employment), after which things take much longer to address.
The most common frustration I see employers encounter is leaving simple issues to fester and not addressing until it becomes too late. For instance, employers often fail to tackle long-standing under-performance issues until after the 25th month of employment. At this stage, things become much more complicated from a legal perspective. Far too often, issues may be ignored until the impact on the business needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, this results in starting a process at the beginning and going through different levels of warning, as they haven’t been dealt with previously. This can be very frustrating for the client as well as the adviser.
How would you best describe Ellis Whittam’s support, and what makes it unique?
It’s all about peace of mind. Clients get to build a relationship with their adviser and the adviser gets to know the client and their business (including any of their difficult employees). They then receive support that stems from a wide array of employment law knowledge and experience. All of this comes for a fixed fee, with the option of Legal Expenses Insurance to protect them should they be presented with an Employment Tribunal claim.
I’ve had the benefit of working in a management position at another fixed-fee provider, but in my opinion EW offers a very different style of support and advice – based on a private practice model, high levels of qualification and experience, and the emphasis we place on the relationships between our advisers and their clients.
Meet some of our team
“I’ve taken Ellis Whittam into every organisation that I’ve worked with. I’ve introduced them to many teams and many colleagues and referred them with absolute pleasure because I genuinely trust in the service that we get.”
Debbie Jamieson, People Director
“We get a great deal of comfort and satisfaction knowing that we have support as and when we need it, in a decisive and responsive way.”
Richard Berry, Group HR Director
Bluestone National Park Resort
“What we recognised in Ellis Whittam is the background that they have. They are able to supply knowledge and experience in a number of disciplines, which enables us to develop our business in a way that’s safe, to do it on time and with a quality to it.”
Debbie Rainbow, Director of Human Resources and Health & Safety
“As the company started to get larger, we knew we had to protect our employees and our contractors both onsite and in the offices. Ellis Whittam is exactly what we needed to move the company forward.”
Joanne Beaver, Operations Director
“We have found Ellis Whittam to be responsive and aligned with our business in terms of our processes and expectations. Their pragmatic approach has proven to be a great fit – nobody wants to be fighting their adviser on basic employment decisions.”
Jonathan Green, COO
“Ellis Whittam supports our 280 staff members with Employment Law and Health & Safety and has provided quality management training too.”
Lisa Best, Head of Service Delivery
What do you need help with?
Alternatively, give us a call 0345 226 8393
Explore Employment Law and Health & Safety News and Resources
BLOG While most COVID restrictions have been lifted, coronavirus remains a workplace hazard that needs to be managed. So what’s expected of employers now? This
BLOG Written by Toyah Marshall on 13 September 2021 The controversial Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 are set
BLOG It’s an unfortunate fact that workplace health and safety doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, often taking a back seat to other business-critical
BLOG Written by Danielle Scott on 27 August 2021 While many may have expected the return to work to be relatively frictionless, the lingering of
BLOG Label photo created by ededchechine – www.freepik.com We recently learned that a total of 142 workers were killed at work in Great Britain in 2020/21.
BLOG Work photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com When it comes to workplace health and safety, the ultimate aim is to proactively prevent accidents before
BLOG One third of employers expect staff to return to the office every day 28% say planning a return to the workplace is their number
BLOG With the sudden and drastic changes that have occurred across the working world over the past 18 months, workplace conflict has risen dramatically as
BLOG Despite being in its penultimate month, the fallout from the government’s furlough scheme is already playing out in Employment Tribunals. As well as cases