Laura Chalkley, Head of Team & Solicitor
Boasting 15 years of experience in the industry, Laura is undoubtedly one of our most savvy legal experts. Called to the Bar in 2005, she has undertaken numerous qualifications and positions over the years, including spells in corporate law and employment law. Laura eventually joined Ellis Whittam in 2008, where she served as an Employment Law Adviser for several years before earning a well-deserved promotion.
Now, she stands as the Head of our Partnerships Team, overseeing the company’s relationships with 15 major partner clients, and proudly manages a team of six Employment Law Advisers. As a truly seasoned and multifaceted professional, Laura’s specialisms span far and wide, with a particular affinity for the pharmacy, retail, charity, healthcare, and hair and beauty sectors.
LLB Law Degree (Hons)
Bar Vocational Course
An interview with Laura
How did you get into employment law?
When I was working as a paralegal and completing my solicitor qualifications at a major law firm, part of my required training was to work in a litigious area of law. This resulted in me spending time in the Employment Law Team at the firm I was working in, and that’s when I first realised my passion for it. I particularly enjoyed the client interaction and also the satisfaction of arriving at pragmatic solutions to reduce risk. I requested if I could qualify and join the Employment Law Team, which, fortunately, the firm was happy to agree to. The rest is history! All in all, I’ve accumulated more than 15 years’ experience, having first been ‘called to the Bar’ in 2005. My experience includes stints at various law firms, before joining Ellis Whittam as an Employment Law Adviser in 2012. I now lead our Partnerships Team, working with our partnership clients and their members, and with that I’ve developed a particular interest in areas such as pharmacy, retail, charity and healthcare.
What does your role at Ellis Whittam entail?
Primarily, I manage a small team of Employment Law Advisers and support the members of our partnership clients. Together, we look after 15 membership organisations, with approximately 34,000 members between them. My typical day consists of supporting the team in delivering a professional and prompt service to our members, as well as working closely with our partner clients alongside our partnership managers on the commercial side of things. I also have a list of my own core service clients who I advise on HR and Employment Law issues. As the daughter of a businessman, my approach has always been a commercially-minded one! I always show empathy for my clients’ needs, and being a problem-solver at heart, I work with them to find an effective approach that they feel comfortable with.
Which aspect of the role do you enjoy the most, and which do you find most challenging?
The most rewarding aspect of the role day-to-day is supporting our partner members through their business challenges and providing them with practical, pragmatic advice so that they are clear on the next step that they need to take. Because of how difficult this can be at times, I am so proud of the team for providing such an excellent service to the members, which is reflected in the feedback we receive. We effectively represent our partner clients, so it’s important that members are looked after and see the value in our support. That said, this year has been packed full of unexpected challenges; we’ve recently seen a very high increase in calls to the Advice Line as a result of the pandemic, and it’s been an ongoing challenge to ensure that members are supported as quickly as possible whilst continuing to provide the high quality of service we’re known for. The team has worked incredibly hard to achieve this.
Can you share any achievements or success stories?
In a broad sense, I pride myself on taking a pragmatic approach in reaching commercially-minded solutions for my clients. The fact that my team and I are able to consistently deliver this is a huge achievement in my eyes. Aside from that, when I was still in my junior years as a lawyer, I volunteered as an adviser to the Birmingham Business School Entrepreneurship and Innovation Scheme for young businesses. I found this to be inspirational work and I feel that I greatly benefited from the knowledge and research conducted with regard to the future of both young and established businesses in the Midlands.
What advice would you give to employers?
The most common mistake I see employers make is allowing issues to fester without taking any action. As soon as an issue arises, I would strongly recommend taking advice as to how best to manage the situation so that the groundwork can be laid and things can be made easier in the long term. On a similar note, don’t be afraid to call your legal adviser to talk things through! Even at the very hint of an issue. It can save you a lot of time, hassle and cost in the long run. We won’t always say “no, you can’t do that”! It’s important to remember that employees are more aware of their rights and entitlements than ever before, and can get advice and support very easily. The absence of Employment Tribunal fees means that there is nothing to deter an employee from submitting a claim. I believe that how a matter is handled can have a big impact on whether an employee is disgruntled enough to go down this route, so let us help you.
How would you best describe Ellis Whittam’s support, and what makes it unique?
That’s an easy one: value for money! The quality and experience of our advisers, I believe, is second to none. It is one of the main reasons why I moved here from private practice. With regard to our partners, we strictly do not provide a one-size-fits-all, copy-and-paste service; we recognise that each industry experiences its own unique challenges, which is why we work closely with our clients to provide sector-focused advisory support which will best serve their members and their individual needs.
Who you’ll be working with
Executive Director, Privacy International
WorkNest supports our 280 staff members with Employment Law and Health & Safety and has provided quality management training too.”
Head of Service Delivery, Catalyst Choice
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.”
Group HR Director, Culina Group
We moved our legal support to WorkNest (formerly Law at Work) having previously used a time and line law firm. It was important, though, that an all-inclusive fee structure did not come at the expense of quality. Thankfully we’ve been delighted with the service we’ve received from WorkNest.”
What we recognised in WorkNest 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.”
Director of Human Resources and Health & Safety,
Bluestone National Park Resort
Chief Executive, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT)
As the company started to get larger, we knew we had to protect our employees and our contractors both onsite and in the offices. WorkNest is exactly what we needed to move the company forward.”
Operations Director, Beaverfit
Pineapple have worked with the team at WorkNest (formerly Law at Work) since 2003, and we have built a trusted partnership together. We particularly like WorkNest’s concise and practical advice concerning employment law/HR issues and also appreciate their totally supportive approach in all areas of health and safety.”
Pineapple Dance Studios
I’ve taken WorkNest 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.”
People Director, The Works