Unlike many students beginning law school, Elizabeth Hill (’01) did not start law school with the intent of becoming a lawyer. After undergraduate work and a few years in the hospitality industry, Hill began law school entirely with the intent of getting a leg up in the corporate world. While at Gonzaga, however, Hill discovered the positive impact she could have on the world, a lesson that eventually led her to an unusual career with no official power, but a huge impact on the organizations she works with.
Tell us about yourself and your work
I currently reside in Phoenix, Arizona with my husband Travis (also a 2001 Gonzaga Law Grad) and our three young children. Since graduating law school my career has been a journey. Upon graduation Travis and I moved to Phoenix where I accepted a position as Tax Counsel for the Arizona Department of Revenue providing guidance on corporate income tax matters, drafting tax rules, and handling transaction privilege tax administrative appeals. A couple of years later I joined the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AGO) litigating tax cases before the tax court and Arizona Court of Appeals. During my time at the AGO, I volunteered on the Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team, which eventually lead me to my current role as an Ombudsman.
In 2007, I became Arizona’s first Assistant Ombudsman for Public Access, working in the Arizona Ombudsman – Citizen’s Aide Office. I was charged with mediating open meeting law and public record law complaints as well as educating public bodies throughout Arizona on the applicable laws. Although I had never heard of an Ombudsman prior to 2007, I quickly learned this was a role I loved!
Four years later, what is now Apollo Education Group, Inc. contacted me regarding an opening in their Office of Ombuds Services. Several interviews later, I found myself making the transition from a Classical Ombudsman to an Organizational Ombudsman. It was a leap of faith and as it turns out, one of the best decisions of my life. That is where I am today.
When you tell someone you are an Organization Ombudsman you often receive a puzzled look in response. So for those of you scratching your heads, let me explain. Organizational Ombudsmen are independent, informal, and confidential third party neutrals employed by an organization to facilitate informal conflict resolution for employees, students, faculty, or external clients of the organization. At Apollo, we specifically serve employees and faculty. Ombuds have no official power, are not an office of record, and do not provide legal advice. Ombuds listen, clarify, propose options, coach, escalate concerns, and facilitate conversations.
What do you most enjoy about your profession?
I love that every day is different. When my phone rings I never know what kind of conversation I will have. It keeps me on my toes and I learn something new about human dynamics every day. I get to help people see the impact they’re having on others and to help those in conflict create a path out.
What is the most challenging aspect of your profession?
One of the most challenging aspects for Organization Ombuds is getting people to see their blind spots and do more personal self-assessment, particularly how their presence and communication style impacts others. We all have blind spots, but when someone refuses to consider theirs and becomes defensive rather than open to the possibilities that they may be impacting someone negatively, their conversations can be far more challenging. Leaders are often more focused on results and are not as cognizant of the culture they’re creating with their communication and leadership style, and ultimately how their level of EQ (Emotional Intelligence) will impact results far more than their IQ.
Why did you choose to attend law school?
Like many law students, I graduated undergrad and charged ahead into my chosen profession – hotel restaurant management. After several years of working in the hospitality industry, I came to the conclusion that it was not something I intended to do long term. I was considering going back to school to obtain my MBA, when my grandfather suggested I consider law school. He believed it presented more opportunities and flexibility. I looked into it and within a year or so was enrolled at Gonzaga University School of Law.
How has your Gonzaga education influenced your career?
Upon enrolling in law school, I honestly had no intention of practicing law. I just thought a law degree would help me succeed in corporate America. However, after my first year I found myself interested in public service. I worked at the law school’s legal clinic and interned at the Washington Attorney General’s Office in Spokane. I came to realize the positive impact attorneys can have on people’s lives.
What else are you passionate about?
I am passionate about living a well-balanced, healthy, active lifestyle. My career offers me the flexibility I need to devote time to my family, participate in my three children’s education and activities, as well as pursue and maintain my own friendships and personal interests.