Hilary read History at Cambridge and subsequently took her PhD in International Politics at the University of York. After lecturing in Politics at York, she retrained and practised as a solicitor in a legal aid firm and also worked as a researcher on the MacDonald Inquiry into Racism and Racial Violence in Manchester Schools (I. MacDonald Murder in the Playground Beacon Books 1990). She returned to lecturing in the 1990, taking up a position at Leeds Metropolitan University to carry out research into Women Lawyers. She has continued to specialise in research into the legal profession, and set up and directed the Leeds Metropolitan University Centre for Diversity in the Professions. In 2010 she was appointed Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Leicester. In April 2013 she joined Birmingham Law School as CEPLER Director of Research.
Hilary has given over a hundred presentations and has frequently been invited and funded to speak, including as the keynote presenter, at international conferences and workshops. She has been visiting professor at The Centre for Independent Social Research, St Petersburg, 2013; UCLA Law School, Los Angeles, 2011; Osgoode Hall Law School, University of York, Toronto, 2006; Griffiths University Law School, Australia, 2002, and will act as Distinguished Visiting Mentor at ANU, Canberra July 2014.