Family & Work Obelisk In Action

On being reactivated into the workplace: Debbie Tembo

This month, as part of #MyMillionHours, The Attic is sharing personal stories of talent being reactivated into the workplace.

I never imagined that I’d be given the opportunity to re-enter the workforce, to join one of the fastest-growing technology scale ups in London after an almost 7-year career break. But here I am – motivated, determined and more alive than I felt when I left to have children. Time out of work provides perspective and children even more so. I always knew that I wanted to return to my career and that the terms on which I would return would be dramatically different and in many ways challenging to employers on the receiving end. I wanted to find a role where I could manage my work and life responsibilities without feeling like I was succeeding in one and failing in the other.

To be honest, when I did decide to actively pursue such a role, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were indeed businesses who were offering flexible working opportunities, and who were open to accepting returners and not discrediting their experience due to a break in their careers. In fact in most instances this was a complete non-issue. So I stopped making it an issue for myself and instead, focused on my experience, skills and expertise, coupled with gratitude for having spent time with my children, and having the under-valued skills that being a parent gives you, thus making me a valuable asset to any business.

Obelisk has given me the opportunity to live that truth and I have a deep sense of pride in my personal/professional story that has boosted my confidence and self-esteem. I have a stronger sense of clarity and purpose about my life; that I am a multi-faceted woman working smarter to live a life that I am already proud of.

I could only do this because I knew that returning to work needed to be different this time around on a values-basis – I knew for sure that I wanted to use my skills and be engaged in purposeful work. When the opportunity came to join Obelisk and work in a business that is focused on women in the workplace, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands – and it didn’t matter that I had zero legal experience! In fact, this was another non-issue that was refreshing and open-minded – a business that values my experience and what I have to offer even though I don’t know the industry – after all, what you don’t know, you can learn. Purpose really kicked in for me though with the talent pool that Obelisk is trying to reactivate back in to the legal industry. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I identify with these women and men who want to work differently and give 100% to achieving both their professional and personal ambitions. They, and we, shouldn’t have to make a choice between one or the other; they should and can work side-by-side.

Obelisk is currently running a campaign that is focused on bringing awareness to the available talent that legal businesses can tap into to help manage their workflow and make legal work work for them. All I want to say about the #MyMillionHours campaign is this: choosing to not explore different ways of working is choosing to stay in a comfort zone where there is no room for growth and innovation, which should get you thinking about what your business will look like in time to come – and if you’ll even have a business to look at? Not reactivating talent is choosing to participate in a wasteful economy, and that quite frankly is making the decision to not be and do better as a business, and as a human being.

Women in Law

Four ways that motherhood can be good for your career

Janine Esbrand, Obelisk Consultant and founder of LightBOX Coaching takes a constructive look at motherhood and careers.


“I know so many mums who changed once they became mums and it’s so liberating; now I know that I only really started living once I became a mum, as I felt I could do anything!”

Many ambitious female lawyers reaching the end of the long road to qualification and having settled into her legal career as a junior lawyer, may then face the question of motherhood. This throws up a lot of questions: ‘When is the best time to take a career break?’, ‘Do I need to establish myself more first? ‘How will I fit in having a baby when I work such long hours?’ and ‘How could working part-time work with such a demanding job?’

So many questions, with seemingly difficult answers. The common view is that taking a career break to have a child or children will have a detrimental effect on your career.

Becoming a working mother is not easy, but embracing motherhood and taking a career break doesn’t have to be accompanied with clouds of doom and worry. It may be just what you need to find your way to a fulfilling work life.

Here are 4 ways that becoming a mother can be beneficial to your career:

  1. You will assess your values – Having leapt onto the career treadmill, it is so easy to stay on track; University, Law School, Training Contract, Newly Qualified Solicitor, Associate, Senior Associate and then Partner. For many of us we travel along this path without stopping to assess whether achieving partnership really is the end goal for us. When you have a child you are forced to assess your values and what is important. If you are going to leave your precious little human in childcare to go to work, you will be more inclined to consider whether the work that you do aligns with your values. It is prime time to also assess your circumstances and have frank conversations with your partner about your respective career aspirations, demands and sharing child care responsibilities.
  2. You learn to manage your time more effectively – Once you are back at work, you essentially lead a double life. You need to engage your brain to produce high quality work and to meet the inevitable time restrictions that childcare provision imposes. Sharing these responsibilities with your partner and involving wider family members (if possible) will be part of the juggling that is now part of your life. Many women (and fathers) report that these added time pressures on your day, if managed well can lead to increased clarity, focus and time efficiency. The number of random chats you have at the coffee machine or those extended periods you may have spent surfing the internet is replaced with laser focused intention to get your work done fast.
  3. You get the opportunity to broaden your horizons – Whilst the obvious focus of the early weeks is you and your baby, maternity leave also presents an opportunity to explore new things. You can meet a new people through pre and post-natal classes, who have different working experiences. Depending on the length of your maternity leave and workplace situation, you may be able to utilise keep in touch days or find online materials (podcasts, blogs, etc.) that can help keep your brain ticking over whilst spending time with your babbling baby and can later be used when you return to work.
  4. Confidence – There is something about knowing that you have birthed and nurtured another human being that gives you a sense of achievement, which in turn boosts your confidence. By the time your child reaches 1 year old, you will have achieved so many milestones and reached a level of competence that you never thought you would reach. This will help you to realise that you are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. This confidence can translate to your career goals if you let it.

If you believe that motherhood is going to be good for your career, it can be. Yes, there will be challenges, compromise and sacrifice. But, if you decide what is important to you and then ensure that all of your decisions align with those values you will be able to carve out a career and work life that works for you.

Janine Esbrand is a corporate / commercial lawyer and the founder of LightBOX Coaching, which helps female lawyers to build a career that they are passionate about whilst raising a family.

Obelisk In Action Trending

Wednesday Live: Are you an artist or a scientist?

For our last Wednesday Live of the academic year, we invited writer Sian Norris – founder of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival and published author – to speak to the Obelisk team and our guests at a special evening version of the event. We all had a great time in The Attic, and first and foremost we’d like to thank everyone for coming along and providing such intelligent discussion.

Sian spoke to us about the inherent value of creative work, following a post on her personal blog, Sian and Crooked Rib titled “Creative work might not make big bucks, but we must value it.” Sian poses the question “What happens when we decide that arts and humanities within universities are no longer valuable?” the answer, of course, is that working class and disadvantaged people – especially school-age children – suffer first.

Many humanities subjects – including Law – can pose a difficult challenge to disadvantaged people hoping to study them. A lack of resources and education prevent many people from realising their careers in these subjects. To combat this, councils and institutions have historically provided financial help and cultural incentives to lend a helping hand to those struggling to enter the humanities. However, with cuts to Arts and Humanities funding at an all time high, fewer children are given the opportunity to study subjects they are otherwise priced out of. In a country currently celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare, 200 years of the Brontes, and yet another successful Bond instalment, we have to ask ourselves: without the right support, who will be the Shakespears, the Brontes, the Bonds, of tomorrow?

“We’re living in dark times. To me, we need the spirit of creativity and discovery more than ever. Artists, writers, makers and readers can help us unravel the ugly period we’re living through – can help us to construct meaning, reflect on what’s happening, create a new story, a new narrative. The arts and humanities can change the way we think about things; creative work can change the world.”

Since 2009, local authorities arts funding has been cut by more than £56 million, and draconian cuts to library funding has meant that over 10% of libraries are currently under threat of closure. Sian explained to us that this was actually in direct opposition to the law, which states The Duty of a local council to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” is a legal obligation under the 19964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.” This act also prohibits charging for book loans.

It is interesting that no-one at The Attic knew that access to libraries and museums is actually enshrined in English law – and this topic dominated much of the conversation following Sian’s presentation. We discussed that libraries are one of the few places mothers can enjoy a day out with their children for free, and what a vital resource they are for unemployed or isolated people.

We also touched on the fact that with the rise of the internet, people are less dependent on funding from large institutions to get their work in front of large audiences. More people than ever are now able to crowdfund, self publish and self create over a multiplicity of platforms at a very low cost. And luckily for our arts funding and for our libraries – we are able to make our collective voices heard.

So if you value creative work – make sure your voice is heard!

News Obelisk In Action

Women in Legal Tech

In October, Legal Geek will be holding the world’s first conference on LawTech; aimed at connecting LawTech startups and technology with investors.

In the run-up to the conference, the Legal Geek MeetUp group kickstarted their Women in Law Tech series, which was started to “showcase, promote, and inspire women in the new emerging Law Tech space.” We went along to find out what it was all about.

After everyone was warmed up with Legal Geek’s new take on speed-dating (where each attendee attempted to meet as many of the others as possible within 7 minutes), they were treated to a 15-minute talk by CrowdJustice‘s Business Development Manager Rushika Paulas. CrowdJustice is a social enterprise tech law service, aimed at leveraging their amazing technology to make justice more accessible for everyone. The talk was particularly powerful given recent cuts to legal aid in the UK. The Obelisk delegates at the MeetUp were inspired by CrowdJustice’s aims and the potential for global scalability – making justice accessible for more people the world over.

Following another inspiring talk, this time on ‘innovation’, by Clare Dundon of Hogan Lovells, the evening wrapped up with Toby Unwin from Premonition. Premonition is the only company that analyses attorneys by win-rate.

“Premonition recently did a study into the courtroom win rates of males vs female lawyers. The women wiped the floor with the men…”

Toby also mentioned that women woking in litigation – particularly in the US – have a double glass ceiling to break, in terms of getting into the stream of study itself, and then in progressing through the ranks. Furthermore, Premonition’s data showed that women outperformed men every time on number of cases won (win-rate) but were rarely represented at partner level.

All in all, the Women in LawTech series got off to a great start with an interesting and enjoyable evening, and a diverse group of professionals including software engineers, entrepreneurs and lawyers wanting to engage with the tech in their respective firms.

Making Work, Work

Streamline Your Flexible and Remote Working: How We Use CoSchedule

At Obelisk, we practice what we preach. Each member of staff in the office has the option to work part-time and remotely, to create a work-life balance that works for them. We have a variety of technical tools to streamline different tasks, making our work more sustainable and efficient. One of those tools is the drag-and-drop content calendar CoSchedule.

CoSchedule is a content creation and scheduling tool, with the huge bonus of social media integration, meaning you can write, schedule, and publicise via social media all in the same place. CoSchedule can be accessed via WordPress plugin, and then integrated with your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest accounts for seamless social media promotion.

As Marketing Associate here at Obelisk, it’s entirely possible for my day to be eaten up by writing and analysing social media messages, rather than engaging with the conversations our audience is having in real-time. As such, I’ve found the CoSchedule WordPress plugin to be an extremely valuable tool when it comes to scheduling all my WordPress content and related social promotion in one fell swoop, allowing me to get on with my actual job while maintaining a part-time working pattern.

CoSchedule has inbuilt analytics systems in place, allowing its users to see the engagement their content is receiving in real-time. There are also helpful tools such as the recently implemented headline analyser, which uses its plentiful data to analyse how irresistibly clickable your content will be based on it’s headline (and gently guide you in the right direction when it’s not.)

Our Wednesday Live article got a B+ for its headline!
Our Wednesday Live article got a B+ for its headline!

CoSchedule also works as a transparent record of Obelisk’s content output, allowing other members of the team to log in and see which direction our content creation efforts are going in, as well as sending weekly email reminders to let us know how we’re performing in terms of output and engagement compared to previous weeks.

When our engagement numbers start to flag, it’s good to know CoSchedule’s training videos, free resources, blog, and excellent customer service team are always there. At Obelisk, we’ve found their online headline analyser and free 180+ power words really helpful in communicating our message and ethos to our audience of flexibly-working consultants.

As Obelisk’s team grows, so does the number of online tools we use to manage our time and measure our success. Luckily, we’re yet to find a tool that can’t be integrated with CoSchedule, as it has everything from Evernote to Google Docs covered.

For those of you also working part-time hours or working remotely, CoSchedule is a great tool to manage your personal promotion, whether you’d like to position yourself as a thought leader in your field, or simply expand your professional network. It saves a huge amount of time, and yields far better results due to its intuitive scheduling and analytics.


Dana Denis-Smith: Being a Top 50 Employer for Women

For the second year running Obelisk Support has been named in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women, which champions the UK’s most inspiring companies leading on gender equality in the workplace.

Obelisk was established in 2010 to provide world-class legal outsourcing to in-house teams within major corporates and law firms. Having spotted the legal profession was developing a “lost generation” of highly-trained female lawyers as a result of unfair policies and opinions around mothers returning to work, Dana created a new concept in professional outsourcing, driven by technology.

See what Dana has to say on this recognition from The Times:

Obelisk founder Dana Denis-Smith on being a Top 50 Employer for Women.
Obelisk Support on Vimeo.

Media News

An Interview with Dana in Legal IT Insider

Legal IT Insider, the leading media, information and communications channel for legal technology interviewed Obelisk CEO Dana Denis-Smith on the company’s history of impressive growth and the technology advances that made innovation in the legal employment market possible.

As part of Legal IT Insider’s “An Interview With…” series, Dana spoke to editor Caroline Hill to explain some of the most interesting recent changes in the Legal sector, and where she thinks it’s heading.

Read the full article here.

Obelisk In Action Women in Law

Wednesday Live: The Importance of Free Speech

Claire Fox from The Institute of Ideas gives a worrying account of the decline of free speech in recent years, and what it could mean for the future.

In the last few years, there has been a sustained and multi-pronged attack against free speech in the UK. However, this attack isn’t coming from where you might expect; it’s coming from a movement of “radical free thinkers clamping down on the right to think” currently spreading through institutions that were once seen as strongholds of free speech.

Claire Fox came to The Attic for our last Wednesday Live event in May, to discuss the importance of defending free speech, making sure to emphasise that that includes speech you disagree with or find offensive. Claire has written extensively on censorship, and the intention to silence from those who utter the words “I find that offensive”, which incidentally is the title of Claire’s new book.

Claire feels this is creating a stifling atmosphere of conformity which is affecting many areas of our lives in schools, academia and the workplace.

Some of the most recent, and most documented, silencing, censoring and no-platforming tactics have come from our Universities. Speakers such as Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell have been the victims of sustained attacks and even officially “no-platformed” by the NUS in some cases (in Julie Bindel’s case, the NUS labelled her as “vile, this was the basis of her falling foul of their no-platform policy”.)

The reasoning behind this no-platforming trend? That certain speakers would create an “unsafe space” in the University simply by speaking on a particular topic. Or indeed, for having spoken on an “unsafe” topic previously, as in the case of comedienne Kate Smurthwaite, who was banned from a platform at Goldsmith’s university in 2015 for being “Islamophobic”, even though the topic she had originally been invited to speak on had nothing to do with Islam at all. (Funnily enough, she was originally booked to perform a comedy routine on the topic of Free Speech.)

Claire rightly pointed out that higher education is not meant to be comfortable. Universities have been the setting for important debates and ideas for as long as they have been standing – and the only way to separate the truly hateful, challenging or oppressive ideas from the ones that will shape and reform our country for the better, is to debate those ideas in a public forum to see what sticks.

In 2014, Ellamay Russell from Spiked magazine summed up this attitude on British campuses as such:

It is exactly this kind of pre-emptive censorship that is maintaining a babyish climate at British universities. Students’ union policies are so concerned with attaining the moral high ground that they won’t even entertain the presence of those they disagree with – regardless of the subject… A debate without opposing and strong opinions is not a debate; it’s a bore. Students should seek out enthusiastic and opinionated speakers. This, after all, is how opinions are formed and tested – through argument.

It’s important to know that the idea of “freedom from speech” isn’t simply limited to our educational institutions. As students begin to enter the workforce, there is a real danger of these ideas affecting Britain’s business world. For a business to change and grow, every employee must have a voice and the freedom to speak, volunteer ideas and even criticise, without fear of retribution.

Sustained campaigns of hatred against those who have spoken out against “safe space policies” have often included attempts to contact the targets employers with a view to having them lose their jobs. This has left us with a curious dilemma where the business world is now a defender of free speech against some of our most historically liberal institutions. Employers and businesses must stand up for freedom of speech and association to ensure that not only are their employees rights defended, but that we as people, and the economic value we represent can continue to evolve through open debate.

The causes of movement provoked a lively discussion amongst the attendees. Claire Fox emphasised the role that identity politics has played in assigning people to fixed groups with spokespeople, creating a “new sectarianism”.

At The Attic, we campaign for a fairer workplace, one that prioritises Humans First. We will not create the change we seek in attitudes to work without ruffling some feathers along the way. We’d like to thank Claire Fox for an interesting and stimulating discussion, and our guests who passionately and wholeheartedly took part.

Claire Fox is a broadcaster, author, lecturer and director of the Institute of Ideas. Her book I Find That Offensive is published by Bite Back Publishing.


Anagram Attic 30/05/2016

Take part in this week’s Anagram Attic by solving the clue to make the longest word.

Our anagram this week is the name of an upcoming public vote which has split the UK Government and public opinion in recent weeks.
Test your research and language skills to uncover today’s answer.

[countdown id=’30’]

Your email address is used to uniquely identify you so your score can be ranked on our scoreboard against all our other participants. It won’t be made public or seen by anyone except the Attic Online team.

Missed the previous game?

You can still play it here

Media News

Obelisk awarded gold for ‘creative excellence’ at Legal Innovation Awards 2016

Obelisk Support – 27/05/2016

Obelisk is celebrating today after being crowned Marketing Innovator 2016 at this year’s Legal Innovation Awards. The award specifically acknowledged Obelisk’s marketing efforts with its community news and advice platform The Attic.

The awards are open to law firms, in-house teams and alternative providers of legal support such as Obelisk, and are designed to “celebrate creative excellence in the legal sector”.

Today’s win builds on Obelisk’s success at last year’s Legal Innovation Awards, when Dana-Denis Smith, the founder and CEO of Obelisk Support, was crowned the first ever ‘Outstanding Legal Innovator’ by Legal Week Magazine.

Speaking after the awards today Dana Denis-Smith said: “I am really thrilled that Obelisk has won here again at the Legal Innovation Awards. Winning is great, but to keep on winning and to keep on impressing such a senior panel of judges and legal experts is very special. This award shows Obelisk is doing the right thing – building a legal business based on creative excellence – and it shows we are building on our solid foundations year on year.”

“Creating change in any walk of life takes time and effort. Creating change in the legal sector, and setting out to make work ‘work’ for women and mothers, was always going to be a tough challenge. But as our business grows and more and more women return to work on their terms, every day at Obelisk is worthwhile. We’re a business with a social purpose. We’re a business with a successful model. And we’re a business that keeps on winning awards, which feels great. I’d like to thank all the judges for recognising what we are doing at Obelisk and for their on-going support.”

This year Obelisk had to impress an independent judging panel made up of many senior figures from across the legal sector, such as Dame Janet Gaymer, former Senior Partner at Simmons and Simmons; Peter Kurer, former GC and Chairman of UBS; and Sue Hall former COI at Linklaters.

Obelisk was shortlisted in four key categories; Marketing Innovation, Diversity Innovation, Human Resources Innovation and Supplier Innovation.

This latest award comes just weeks after Obelisk was named by The Times newspaper as one of the Top 50 Employers for Women in the UK. And this week Dana Denis-Smith was selected to travel to Silicon Valley to meet the people behind the world’s greatest tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Uber and LinkedIn.

Obelisk has been identified as one of the fastest growing tech companies in the UK – and the only one from the legal sector. The trip to Silicon Valley – which was organised by the Mayor of London’s International Business Programme and the British Consulate in San Francisco – gave Denis-Smith the opportunity to expand Obelisk into the US market through new technology and investment.

London-based Obelisk provides professional outsourcing to in-house legal teams and major law firms. The founding principle behind the business is to re-engage highly skilled lawyers who leave the profession to raise families. Through Obelisk, lawyer parents choose the hours they want to work, giving them the flexibility they need to combine careers with family life. By bringing her innovation to the legal sector, Denis-Smith has created a triple-win formula for Obelisk’s clients, lawyers and their families.

Obelisk was established in 2010 with a team of just four lawyers. Today the company has 800 lawyers on its books and a multi-million pound turnover. Clients include BT, Goldman Sachs and Thomson Reuters.
Denis-Smith said: “As an innovator dedicated to creating positive social change in the legal sector I always seek to find new and exciting ways to make work ‘work’ for our clients, our lawyers and their families. Having this social purpose behind our business is what inspires me, and with more success at this year’s Legal Innovation Awards, it’s clearly inspiring for the legal sector too.”

For more details, photography or to interview Dana Denis-Smith please call Scott Jones, Head of PR at Obelisk Support on 07875 943404.