Women in Law

Dana Denis-Smith writes for HR Magazine

Managing talent is demanding enough when it is in-house, but a growing army of home-working professionals presents a whole other challenge. More and more professionals who are – or who want to be – parents of young children are choosing to work from home, so they can spend more time with the family and have a better work-life balance.

But they soon find that together the children, the job and their personal/partner’s lives take up three halves of their time and the work-life balance becomes more of a work-life balancing act.

Of course, there is plenty of outsourced and part-time work to be had, but it mostly has to be done on the employer’s/client’s terms and at times while the mum or house dad needs a flexible workload that they can fit into their already hectic lives. And the outsourcing and recruitment agencies’ responsibilities usually end once the two parties have been introduced.

As a result, there is a lost army out there of professionals with exceptional qualifications and experience who have dropped out and are looking for a fresh way of working altogether. I encountered this issue a couple of years ago when I was running my own business and wanted to start a family.

I soon realised there were thousands like me in the legal profession alone and that both parties – the law firm with a large-scale, urgent need for high-quality outsourced legal work and the small army of legally qualified professionals whose vast talents were going to waste – could get what they wanted if someone with the right management competence and some advanced IT skills were to take on, manage and allocate the work.

As a study for HR professionals in the management of talent it is rewarding to see how a comparatively small shift in thinking and organising can make a big change. We now have the best part of 100 home-workers, almost all of whom say it has transformed their lives in dozens of different ways ranging from the practical – such as being able to fit the number of hours they work around the dance lessons and the school run – to psychological benefits, notably the restoration of professional pride.

I am passionate to create an opportunity for these extremely talented and highly-skilled people to re-engage professionally and become economically active again. What I am most passionate about, however, is that women should be able to return to work when they are ready, and at a similar seniority level to that which they left when they became full-time parents.

This is never the case with women who have not been identified as outstanding by their organisation before they left – which is a waste of talent, as most similarly placed men, for example, would not be required to be outstanding to hold similar roles.

In the professions, a gap in your CV is like an albatross round your neck. You will always be at a disadvantage against a candidate who has stayed put for five years while you were away. But outsource working for a firm such as Obelisk makes for a seamless CV as well as boosting self esteem, motivation and the bank balance.

Another differentiator is the added value that automatically accompanies the service: Our people don’t just produce legal documents and pore over contracts; they have years of real life experience and are constantly looking for ways to help the client do the job better and cut costs. For example, we were recently hired to review a load of contracts for a client but we gave them some negotiating tips as well, which they found extremely valuable.

On another occasion, the task was just to translate a South American contract from Spanish into English, but we also helped the client find a reasonably priced local legal counsel that they could contact directly. All in all, this model for managing not just a pool but an uncharted ocean of talent is up and running – and growing beyond expectations. And we know it can work for other professions, a fact that presents a whole set of fresh challenges for the management of talent.

Dana Denis-Smith (pictured) is co-founder and CEO of Obelisk Legal Support. Previously she was a solicitor at magic circle firm Linklaters, and in 2010 was named as one of 35 inspirational women in business under 35 by Management Today.

By dana denis-smith

Dana Denis-Smith is an entrepreneur, former Linklaters solicitor and international journalist who lives in London, UK. In 2010, she founded Obelisk Legal Support Solutions (Obelisk Support--, a London-based alternative legal services company built around flexible, highly-skilled professionals. Aware that the legal profession is far behind its times in terms of gender diversity, she initiated the First 100 Years project ( to celebrate the journey of women in the legal profession in the United Kingdom over the past 100 years and this project will celebrate the centenary of women in law in 2019.

In 2018, Obelisk's founder Dana Denis-Smith was voted Legal Personality of the Year at the LexisNexis Awards 2018 and Obelisk Support joined the top tier of two prestigious lists, the FT1000 Europe’s Fastest Growing Companies and Inc. 5000 List of Europe's Fastest-Growing Companies. In 2017, Dana also won the WEConnect International Best Mentor and Role Model Award and delivered a TEDx talk on how to be remembered (based on her observations of the legal profession). In 2016, she was voted one of Britain’s five most inspiring mothers for juggling up a new business creation with family life, as she chooses to work flexibly in order to spend quality time with her young daughter.