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Family & Work

Getting Kids Ready For Back-to-School: The Work/Life Balance Guide

It happens every year – just as parents and children start to settle in to the summer holidays, the Back to School adverts start popping up, and the new autumn term is suddenly upon us. Perhaps you are one of those looking forward to returning to a regular routine. On the other hand, maybe your heart is sinking at the thought of shopping for supplies, packed lunches, homework and bedtime battles, or perhaps you are trying not to think about it at all yet…

Whatever the case, we hope you have enjoyed and are continuing to make the most of the summer break. As many families in the UK and Ireland are counting down the days and readjusting to the school routine, we share our tips on making the transition as painless as possible for busy working lawyers.

#1 Gradually Bring Back the Sleep Routine

One of the joys of summer is long bright evenings, allowing extra hours of outside playtime for our children. Many of us are happy to push the usual bedtime back an hour or so, if only to avoid the inevitable protestations of not being able to sleep while the sun is still shining! The downside, however, comes when trying to reintroduce a good sleep routine for when a day of concentration at school is required. Sleep deprivation is a serious matter for children – according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, children aged 6-12 need between 9 to 12 hours of sleep every night, and around a third of children in this age group get just eight hours or fewer. A lack of sleep can have a significant impact on children’s abstract thinking/creative ability, and have even been linked to long term effects on physical and mental health, including obesity, diabetes and depression.

So, getting into a good sleep routine is important, and should be done sooner rather than later. Commit to gradually bringing forward the bedtime night by night. If you have time off work towards the end of the holidays, try to set activities to start earlier on in the day, giving you all a reason to get up and go to bed at a good hour. Here are some more tips on instilling and sticking to a good sleep routine for children from neurologist Shelley Weiss and other parents of school-age children.

#2 Don’t Put off the Back-to-School Shopping

When it comes to back to school shopping, we are spending more every year. On average, parents spend £134 per child on school uniform, according to research by Mintel, and that cost can rise to nearly £500 when adding sports equipment, computer equipment, lunches, and this does not even include school trips and other activities. Last minute shopping trips usually end up being more expensive, so it pays to organise smaller trips, one for each category of things you need through the holidays, instead of leaving it all towards the end. Better planning means you don’t end up buying things you don’t really need. Staggering the shopping is also a better experience for everyone, and can be planned around other activities during the day, particularly when done online. All in all, a calmer shop is a more efficient and cost effective one. Shake off the dread and look forward to picking up some shiny new supplies, knowing you won’t be wondering where all the cash for your summer travels went. You can also make plans to be more economical and environmentally friendly for this year and beyond – here are some tips for zero-waste back to school shopping.

#3 Set Goals for the Year with Your Children

This is a particularly good piece of advice for those with children who don’t always look forward to school. Facing into the school year can seem long and daunting after many weeks of freedom, so give them a focus. Setting goals doesn’t have to mean rigid academic targets – in fact it is often better that it doesn’t. Talk to your children about what they want to get out of the school year – it may be something  like playing more sport, or speaking more in class, or finishing a particular reading book, or simply identifying  the activity or subject that makes them happiest. Talk to them about the things they are looking forward to most, and the least. This will prepare you for any potential areas that require more encouragement or additional help long term. It also helps them establish a better understanding of themselves and their strengths, their likes and dislikes. Here is some further advice from familylives.org.uk on helping children navigate the learning and social environments of school.

#4 Talk to Teachers – and Other Parents Too

If as a working parent you are starting to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of a new school year, be it as a first time school parent, a newly-returned to work school parent, a parent with children facing exams, or any other unknown, it may help to set up a brief meeting with the teacher early on in the year to put your mind at ease. Teachers are equally pressed for time, but they want the best for children as their pupils and may appreciate the opportunity to address any concerns or questions early on. Additionally or alternatively, talk to parents who may share your worries, or seek out those that have skin in the game and can offer advice and insight to what lies ahead. Join your local school group on social media, or look up school-related forums on parenting websites to get a range of perspectives and ask questions you may not feel comfortable asking directly.

Finally, the first day back at school is always a nervous and exciting time for children. Where possible, make use of flexible working/holiday/time in lieu to dedicate time and attention to them on the day before and first day back. And don’t forget to plan some well-earned time to yourself!

 

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Making Work, Work

Stress-Free Summer Holiday – Making The Most of Your Valuable Time Away

As schools in the UK get ready to break up, thoughts turn to summer holidays and some well earned R&R. Or at least, they should be turning to those things. As Bloomberg law reported in 2018, lawyers are notoriously bad at taking holidays. Despite the comparatively generous allowances provided by many big law firms, less than a third of lawyers use up all of their holiday allocation, according to a study by career research company Vault. Just 31% of associates working at American law firms took all of their holiday allowance, a picture that is similar to lawyers in many other countries too. And of course, among those that do take all their holiday entitlement are those who took the work with them, both physically and psychologically, with all too many employers only happy to encourage them.

It is vital for lawyers to properly step away from work on a regular basis. A summer holiday means a chance to spend days outdoors, cut out screen time and get stuck into that book that has been on your to-read list for far too long. It is a time to focus on loved ones, and reconnect with everything that makes you ‘you’, outside of work. Taking the opportunity to spend a few days, a week or more completely out of office should be a priority, helping you to reset and return to work refreshed and motivated.

Whether you have already booked an extended stay abroad, or are thinking about some long weekends exploring what your own country has to offer, we want you to make the most of it! Here is some advice on how to enjoy stress-free summer travel in 2019.

#1 Create An Itinerary

It may seem counterintuitive – a summer holiday is meant to be a time for spontaneity and to switch off from planning and scheduling, but a properly thought out itinerary is a must. If you are heading to an unfamiliar area without an itinerary, you will end up spending too much time trying to figure out transport, location whereabouts, other details such as payment options/booking fees, before realising you haven’t brought vital items such as suitable shoes/swim gear etc with you… Knowing in advance what you want to do and what you will need to do to get there will help you to avoid typical stress points of travelling.

An itinerary also helps you to get a better sense of the needs and preferences of your travel partner, or members of the family/group you are travelling with. Working out what you want to do together ensures you have everyone’s interests covered, and brings everyone together in the excitement of what’s ahead.

For the tech lovers amongst you, there are apps that can help you create a list of activities, travel routes and packing lists. For Gmail users, Google Trips is an ideal one-stop shop to organise your travel documents and information, as well as providing customised maps showing all the landmarks, restaurants, bars and points of interest near where you are staying. Check out this list for 5 other popular trip-planning apps.

#2 …But Don’t Try to Plan the ‘Perfect’ Holiday!

It’s only natural that we make summer holiday plans with a picture painted by many idealistic travel agency adverts in our minds. However, with all the planning and organising in the world, things will always happen outside of expectations and there are effective ways to manage your mental health in the dog days of summer.

Holidays are not about trying to recreate an ideal; they are highly personal, and are inevitably affected by natural occurrences out of our own control – illness, changes in weather, even changes in mood can alter the image you had in mind. So while an itinerary is important, don’t get caught up with trying to tick off every essential you’ve read in Lonely Planet. Be realistic, go with the flow, and be prepared for things to not quite go to plan, and you won’t be needlessly disappointed.

#3 Write a Holiday Journal or Read Books

Spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day of your holiday writing down the agenda for the day, what you did, what you learned, what you felt etc. This will help you remember the smaller moments and capture the complete experience of the holiday beyond the photos. It will also help you appreciate the time after you return, and reading over each day will provide the inspiration you need to plan your next trip.

If writing’s not your thing, read books you don’t have time to read the rest of the time. From Oprah’s Best Beach Reads to the FT’s selection of summer books, there’s a whole world of wonderful books to escape your work life if not in person, at least in spirit.

#4 Disconnect Your Work Devices

Have we made this point (more than once) before!? It’s advice that bears repeating: to avoid slipping into being ‘on’, make sure all notifications and synced inboxes/document drives are disconnected from mobile devices before you set off. Dads Net has a helpful list of tips to take a digital detox.

If you feel it might make you more anxious to be completely switched off from work, bring a separate work device/laptop that you can lock up and leave in your apartment or hotel room, to be accessed only when you have some down time and are in the right mental place to check in and, most importantly, check out again.

#5 Set Boundaries With Your Out-of-Office 

When setting your out-of-office answer phone and email auto-reply, don’t be ambiguous: Make it clear you are on holiday and will not be checking communications. Yes you are a lawyer, so the likelihood is this won’t be strictly true, but it is better not to give the impression that you are on call in your absence. Try not to use phrases such as ‘if urgent I will…’ ‘or I will have limited access…’. This is a good guide to draft an effective out of office message.

If applicable, provide the details of the colleague who will be covering, and give the date of your return. As long as you have giving your clients prior warning of your absence and have ensured that pressing matters and impending deadlines have been dealt with/will be dealt with before you head off, there should be no need to be reachable at any time during your holiday.

Wishing you a safe, relaxing and fun summer holiday!

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Making Work, Work Trending

Improve Your Legal Writing Skills With This Legal Punctuation Guide

On The Attic, we recently looked at curbing legalese and why more and more lawyers and businesses are making their legal contracts less wordy. Indeed, simple language is just one part of making complicated and detailed information easier to digest and punctuation and structure play a vital role in how our brains process what we are reading. Equally, a badly punctuated legal document is harder to read and can even lead to expensive consequences, as shown here in our guide to punctuation in legal documents.

Let’s Eat Grandma: Comma Consideration

Small but commonplace in prose (particularly in legal docs), the comma is crucial to good writing. We learn early on in our literacy education that the comma is like a short pause for breath in speech, but in writing it plays a much more complicated role. A comma doesn’t just break up longer sentences (and it doesn’t provide a get out clause for using lots of lengthy sentences either, by the way!). Commas are placed in sentences to separate clauses: A part of a sentence forming a clause is identified by its inclusion of a subject and a verb. In legal writing it also refers to a separate article, stipulation, or proviso. In all cases, improper comma placement can create ambiguity of meaning, and even change the meaning of a sentence altogether.

 ‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves’ vs. ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’

‘Let’s Eat Grandma’ vs. ‘Let’s Eat, Grandma’

The addition of the comma can in both instances change the meaning dramatically. But often the difference isn’t so obvious, particularly when listing out terms, circumstances, individuals or other such subjects. The last in the list is where the correct use of the comma can often go astray, and many people are unclear on whether and when they should employ the Oxford comma.

In general writing, the Oxford comma is deemed optional, to be placed before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list of words. In legal documents however, it can prove essential, so it’s advisable to revise its usage.

A famous example of another costly comma placement frequently cited in legal circles is that of the Million Dollar Comma. A Canadian cable television provider and a telephone company found themselves in dispute over the terms of terminating a contract. Citing rules of punctuation, Canada’s telecommunications regulator ruled that Bell Aliant, the telephone company was allowed to end its five-year agreement with Rogers, the TV provider, at any time with notice, due to the presence of a particular comma.

This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.

The placement of the second comma was ruled to mean that the part of the sentence referring to the requirement of one year’s notice for cancellation applied to the five-year term and its renewal.

For further explanation of commas and clauses, this blog by Purdue Online Writing Lab comes with plenty of examples.

Punctuation in Translation

The Bell Aliant story leads us to the next thing to look out for in punctuating legal documents. The Million Dollar Comma faux pas came about due to the contract’s interpretation in French-Canadian comma usage. So when you are tasked with translating, or writing new documents using previously translated documents as reference, you need to be aware of such discrepancies. Even if you are multilingual, it may be advisable to double check the intention with the original writers or other native speakers where available.

Quotation Quandaries

Speech or quotation marks are another point of contention in writing, particularly regarding the rules regarding their placement next to other punctuation marks. As a general rule and to ensure absolute clarity in legal documents, a direct quote should come complete with its original punctuation and be placed inside the quotation marks; anything outside of the quotation marks belongs to the sentence the quote is placed in.

For example:

Subject A said during the interview “I had not received word of [Subject B’s] intended resignation until after the date in question.”, however, Subject B disputes this, saying Subject A was informed two days before the aforementioned date in question.

For readability however, the sentence would be better broken into two shorter ones, with the quote introduced via a colon:

Subject A said during the interview: “I had not received word of [Subject B’s] intended resignation until after the date in question.” However, Subject B disputes this, saying Subject A was informed two days before the aforementioned date in question.

Semicolon Use

The semicolon strikes fear into the hearts of even highly competent writers. Eternally cloaked in mystery, just when you think you have some grasp of how to employ one, doubt takes over and you run away again. Why step into the unknown when the colon (the semi’s more upfront cousin), or that familiar friendly comma will do? If you don’t learn to be confident using a semicolon, you are missing out on a whole new world of sentence structuring.

Generally, a semicolon is used in writing to connect two independent clauses. Unlike a colon, which serves to introduce a clause, both clauses either side of the semicolon are treated as equal – if the two are swapped over the sentence typically will still make sense.

Semicolons are particularly useful when using a transition such as however, therefore, or indeed, as in: Commissions for direct sales may also be payable to the Company; however, all such commissions can be made payable to the licensed salesperson(s) responsible for making a given sale.

In legal documents, you will also see the semicolon used frequently as a ‘super-comma’ – in this instance, the semicolon breaks up a list of items that already contain a comma e.g. Name, Job Title; Name, Job Title.

Hype Up the Hyphen

Another form of punctuation lawyers tend to shy away from is the em dash hyphens. Hyphens appear liberally in other forms, to join compound words and phrases, but an em dash (usually longer than a normal hyphen) can be inserted to create a break in thought or provide a light bridge introduction to a new clause. The rules on use are vague enough to provide freedom to use instinctively when you feel a paragraph could use some other forms of breaks, but take care not to just use a hyphen where a semicolon or comma would be more appropriate!

As Columbia Law School rightly points out, the sentence “On the Supreme Court, the federal government’s highest judicial body, one justice virtually never asks questions in oral argument: Clarence Thomas,” would be harder to understand if it were written, “On the Supreme Court—the federal government’s highest judicial body—one justice virtually never
asks a question—Clarence Thomas.”

Final Checks

It’s important to continually read over your writing as you work your way through a legal document. Doing this as you go along will help you to home in on potential errors and ambiguity created by punctuation. Reading over lengthy pages makes your brain go into scan-read mode, and you are more likely to read sentences as your brain thinks they should be, rather than as they are written. It also helps to read through after taking a few hours (at least) away from looking at the document, if you have the time to spare.

There are of course tools that can help you check spelling, grammar and punctuation, though it is important to remember they are not foolproof. Inbuilt spellcheckers in Word, Google Docs etc can do the trick if you already have a certain level of confidence in writing, but if you are less sure you can try other software.

Whitesmoke is one example used by companies and academic institutions. It checks documents in real-time, like Word and Google’s spellchecks, and also generates reports to rate your writing based on sentence structure, words, expressions, voice, length, and redundancy.

LanguageTool is also highly recommended when checking documents in other languages, with the ability to check more than 20 languages. The range of languages does not appear to impact on the level of accuracy, as it picks up on grammatical errors that other programs often overlook.

Ultimately though, the best proofreader is another human being, as they will be the ones using the documents after all! If possible, bring in the services of a professional proofreader or a non-legal writer who can pick up on how the document may be interpreted by others outside of the legal sphere.

Happy writing!

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Family & Work

AI Assistants and Busy Lifestyles: Are We Outsourcing The Wrong Things to Technology?

Would you let AI read your child a bedtime story? With time as a precious commodity, technology is helping us organise and automate many day-to-day tasks. But are we replacing and outsourcing too many of our ‘human’ activities?

These are questions that were recently sparked by BookTrust, the UK reading charity, who conducted a survey in the run up to this week’s Pyjamarama bedtime story fundraising event. It found around 26% of parents use AI home assistants to read bedtime stories to their children. There were understandably shocked reactions to this statistic, with many fearing we are risking our emotional health and ability to connect with one another in favour of the convenience of technological devices. It appears we may be missing the point – using tech to do the very things we should be using tech to give us more time to do ourselves. The simple pleasure of reading a story to our children; a time for conversation and creativity, should be treated as sacred.

Unfounded fears?

Then again, there have been moral panics at all stages of technological development; the fear of displacement is very much a human trait. Some argue that Alexa & co are no different to letting the likes of CBBC Bedtime Stories do the job; storytime was also on the radio before TV came into the picture.

The fact remains that our children will grow up with technology in a way we never did. We run the risk of creating a disconnect between generations if we do not adopt and keep up to some level. So, we might view this time as early stages of the learning process. It’s possible that the high percentage of those using Alexa and friends as bedtime story readers is less of a pattern and more down to initial novelty – parents and children trying it out for fun and to satisfy curiosity and get to know the limits of the technology. And as with our use of social media, we have to make mistakes in order to realise what constitutes good and bad usage for ourselves, and with time we are likely to grow with AI and apply it in more sensible ways.

We have also always had to make decisions about assistance and outsourcing in our lives – from childcare to household maintenance – mostly to other humans. That’s arguably the key difference in what we are working with now: the involvement of human beings is being reduced and we have less control and understanding of the motives and ‘thought’ process and action of algorithm driven AI.

With other humans we choose who fits well within our own outlook and aims in life. When it comes to supporting our children’s development in particular, having a good trust relationship is key – even if that relationship is with a particular TV channel or show. With AI, we do not yet, and probably may not ever be able to fully trust AI decisions due to the very nature of their design, particularly as they are made by large corporations who ultimately need to sell and promote things to fund their output. As one journalist and parent writing for the New York Times put it: ‘Alexa, after all, is not “Alexa.” She’s a corporate algorithm in a black box‘. Even avid users do not fully trust home assistants, and a still significant proportion of others refuse to have devices listening to their lives at all.

AI and division of labour

Just like in law and business, we need to remember that AI is our tool; not something we are beholden to, and we should divide labour between it and ourselves accordingly. By using AI to outsource the repetitive mundane time consuming tasks that distract and take time away from bigger picture, we are left with more headspace for emotional and creative thought processes that are vital for progression and satisfaction in our roles.

We can see that when applied well, AI can provide positive enhancements to all important emotional connections. For example, in senior care AI and robots are helping to reduce time staff and family spend on monitoring health and prompting to take medication etc and allow them to engage on a more individual emotional level, help them to be more independent with voice activated actions etc. There is also evidence that an increase in the use of voice activated AI leads to a decrease in smartphone use, so at least we are lifting our eyes from the screen a little more. Source: Two thirds of people who use digital voice assistants like the Amazon Echo or Google Home use their smartphones less often, according to an Accenture survey.

We also need to continue to educate ourselves on its flaws and limitations. For example, as the technology currently stands, there are question around inclusivity and gender roles – many voice assistants are female-voiced, and have been found to be unable to recognise certain accents, facial features and speech impediments.

Regulation will increasingly play a role to address these issues in both the domestic and business context: The UK’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) recently announced it would investigate, amongst other things, algorithmic bias in decision-making. Transparency and legal compliance will help build trust. But it is up to us as users to ensure that we regulate our usage to best fit our lives and use the time we are given wisely – for storytime and more.

 

 

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The Legal Update Trending

Interview with John Craske, Head of Innovation and Legal Operations at CMS

This week, The Attic speaks to John Craske, Head of Innovation and Legal Operations at CMS, about his thoughts on innovation of legal services, helping people adapt to change, and how work allocation programmes are helping to solve many operational issues, included those faced by people returning to the law.

Tell us what led you to the law and how you ended up in a legal ops role?

I come from a scientific background academically, somewhat unusual as many in the law tend to study humanities subjects like History and English, I’ve always been interested in how things work . But I was always interested in and intrigued by law as academic subject, and took the decision to leave the Midlands and attend law school in the beautiful city of Edinburgh – so I’m an Englishman but a Scottish lawyer! I succeeded in getting a good traineeship with Dundas & Wilson – who eventually merged with CMS in 2014– and once I qualified I became a commercial property lawyer. It has always bothered me since school watching people do repetitive things again and again, so in my work dealing with leases of units shopping centres, office blocks etc. I became very focused on technology and ways to work harder and smarter with clients.

Dundas & Wilson then became part of the Arthur Andersen legal network. It began as a very exciting time and I got be involved in some technology projects with clients that were very ahead of their time, however these came to a shuddering halt once the Enron scandal hit. We came out of the AA legal network in a hurry and at that point, I got involved in IT and ended up leading the governance of supply and management of outsourcing and insourcing. From there, I learned loads about technology, services provision and managing budgets. Around the same time, I did a project management qualification and became more interested in process mapping and process improvement. So I’ve always been interested in how things work and building solutions, which are the things that come at the junction of the business of law and the practice of law, which is where legal operations falls.

What are the unique features of your role as Head of Innovation and Legal Ops within CMS?

What we do is not different massively to other companies, but our work encompasses what many would understand as project management. This began at the start of recession. We were waking up to the commercial reality that most of our clients were banks, who were telling us they needed same or more for less cost – if we wanted to maintain profitability we had to start working differently. I wrote a business case for the introduction of a Legal Services Unit (LSU) – and began looking at ways to measure and reward more profitable behaviour, and provide better education around legal project management.

The LSU has grown to between 60-70 paralegals and we have also built a legal project management team. Legal ops is like having an internal consultant team continually looking at ways to improve and work smarter through education programmes, project process and structure review.  More recently, we started focusing on work allocation and resource management – how you resource a job and availability of skills required for projects? That was the beginning of the role I have today.

As an industry, law has a reputation for being resistant to change. Is this something you come across? How should we be encouraging more openness to change?

It’s often said change is the new constant, but it’s always been something humans as a collective are not good at. Especially when it comes to ways of working that suit us and makes us money, change is difficult.  Anyone who say it is not is living in make believe. As generations change, we often assume that change will be easier, as a generation of digital natives comes through surely we will become better at using technology. But actually, I’ve found that’s not true either – there are plenty of young people who are just as clueless at spotting opportunities for using technology as older clients and vice versa. Indeed, many older partners are better at spotting opportunities. It’s down to individual personality and their growth mindset.

There are things that encourage change: One is the creation of necessity – if we suddenly find we can’t compete with a competitor’s service, we either adapt or stop altogether. Another similar driver is if someone sees a particular prize to be won that requires motivation to change. Otherwise, we simply need to put in the hard graft of building better resilience from the very beginning. That means teaching people before they even become lawyers about creative thinking, a growth mindset and adapting in business.

It’s not just about technology – the answer isn’t just about teaching lawyers to code or whatever, but how to be better at problem solving, experimenting, and being willing to try and fail – the latter of which is particularly difficult due to our psychological make up! Sometimes, you can engineer a burning platform to create a necessity for change – but you have to shape people to adapt to change, you can’t expect them to just do it.

What are the foundations for building successful legal teams and fostering innovation?

I think that there is often a missing piece when we talk about innovation.  And again I want to be clear when we say innovation, it doesn’t just mean technology or the big grand gestures that I call innovation by press release – announcing some exciting new adoption, innovation is not always something esoteric. Often it is the everyday small adaptations at the coalface of the business. It’s a question of the how, what and who. In law, we have traditionally focused on the ‘what’ – the service – but we have to look at the how and who much more – we’re striving to find that balance between profitability, brilliant client service, and happy people. This makes for a sustainable and exciting business future.

So, successful teams have to start with the human beings – humans need to connect and respect each other. Communication is a word used a lot but effective communication doesn’t happen by accident, it requires deliberate action. For example, we have teams in Edinburgh, Sheffield and London, so working with remote teams is a given. It can often be cited as a barrier, and yes it can be tricky if you aren’t able to easily build a connection that fosters trust and builds rapport. We can’t build trust with a system, or automation – technology can support us it but it is created by that extra effort by us. One has to be strict and formal about the time put in to building relationships. While I am in Edinburgh today, I will deliberately set aside time to phone or IM, not with work-related comms but with the kind of conversation as you would have when you are getting a cup of coffee together in the office.

Successful teams also must be diverse – and I mean that not just as a box to tick with someone of a different gender/sexuality/race in every team, but quite simply that different people from different backgrounds bring different mindsets and experience to drive innovation more naturally. There is so much research showing diverse teams are better teams, and we don’t have metrics around diversity, it’s just part of the requirements for our teams to be diverse from a business and human perspective.

How does legal ops help with external client processes?

A hot topic at the moment is the expectations gap. A question we often get asked is ‘What have you got to innovate us?’ The question is framed as something that we are going to ‘do to’ them. That’s not how it works. You can’t do innovation to someone. We can work with them to understand the problems and challenges and get to a place of collaboration and work out how the tools we have can help with those areas.

Sometimes the hope is that we will just tell them all the tools we have got, which we are happy to but it’s not just about what you have it’s what you do with them. And it’s understandable, it can be tricky for clients who feel they don’t want to share their issues or don’t have the time and resources to engage with us on to that degree. But it does create a gap between what law firms are doing and what clients want. Where there is closer collaboration, that’s where we can make a real difference.

What role is legal technology playing in innovating services? What trends do you predict over the next 5 years in the development and adoption of legal tech?

Overall, the understanding of what different tools can do is low, and hype is high. People believe that AI, automation etc. are going to do something to their organisation that isn’t possible. And when we look at the sales cycle, we can see why. Tech demonstrations are set up like a magic trick – with a dark stage, wordy introductions and build ups then the big reveal, the rabbit out of the hat. We forget that the reality is different. We all know magic isn’t real and we should be thinking ‘ok, but how does that work?’  But we buy the hype. In house teams are so time-poor that they are looking for the quick fix to make things magically quicker.  Instead, we should be learning to use a tool to support changes in process overall to make things better.

As far as my predictions go:

  1. There is so much legal tech out there doing same thing, there will have to be some consolidation or emergence of front runners. We don’t need as many contract and automation tools as there are in market now. We also don’t need so many AI tools, providers will have to find their own niches or get absorbed by other platforms.
  2. There will be more integration of different functional building blocks – there are huge numbers of tools out there but if they don’t work together it’s pointless.
  3. Less of a prediction and more of a hope. There will be less talk and hype and thus more adoption of useful legal tech in the real world as more people get to understand how to use it.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be looking ahead and experimenting but we can’t jump from that to widespread use everywhere. It goes back to working out the usefulness and where it will work best for each client and team.

A big question for us is how innovation can help more lawyers, particularly women, advance their careers and return to work. What would you see as the best approach to tackling the issue?

It is a big question to answer, but one particular aspect that I have seen has a real impact for women returning to work is work allocation projects. Work allocation is something that accountants, for example, are very good at. This helps them understand what people are doing and when, as well as the aspirations of their people and their capacity, so they can schedule jobs more easily. Law firms, on the other hand, traditionally haven’t been good at this. They tend to look backwards in terms of matters and time spent, but this means they don’t always know what people are doing today and what they will be doing over next month, because of the billable hour. We’ve done work allocation programmes across two practice groups. And when you first say to partners what you are doing they think great, we will get better use out of our people.

But that’s not the be all and end all. If you’re a lawyer, you want to increase your opportunities and have it fit better with your personal life. Visibility and access to more interesting work and more influence on personal development are the most important things. So first of all, work allocation programmes help to balance out the work to ensure everyone is getting the opportunities they want and workloads are more fairly distributed. But it also has an effect on people returning to work, be it from maternity leave, career break or secondment.

The problem returners often face is that they could be quiet, maybe for months. That is not down to any bad intentions, simply that the team has reorganised in their absence and there is no ready waiting stream of work. It is, however, very demoralising for someone highly-skilled and at the top of their game before they left, and their motivation is quenched. With a work allocation project, the time spent getting someone up to speed is days rather than months.

Proper mechanisms for work distribution can also help with fitting work around life for everyone, e.g. for working parents –  understanding people’s schedules and using technology to allow them to work remotely and flexibly. As a result, the cultural barriers to flexible work have almost gone away in our organisation now. It’s not perfect – there are still some types of work where there is less flexibility, e.g. at the height of the deal negotiation cycle but I think market will move once clients become more accepting of the culture shift, and not having that deal mentality of high energy late nights until it’s done. It’s a challenge that remains across industry but it’s up to law firms to put the pressure on and change that way of thinking.

There are still culturally lots of ways people miss out on opportunities in work to be visible and forge those connections we talked about earlier, even for example teams going for drinks after work – that’s difficult for people with childcare, or those who don’t drink due to religion or lifestyle choice. No one should miss out as long as they are doing the high standard of work needed; we just need to work harder to find ways to make everyone fit together like a jigsaw.

 

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Making Work, Work

The Purposeful Lawyer: Discovering (or Rediscovering) Your Raison D’Être in Law

Do lawyers need a purpose to drive them in their career? There is, in our view, more driving lawyers to battle against the burnout, the long hours, the sexism, to stay and thrive within the law. The career choice is about more than money, and goes further than prestige. For many lawyers there is strong purpose and real impact to be made through the work they do.

But how many are fulfilling their purpose? What is the reason, for example, that such high percentages of Gen X and Millennials are feeling dissatisfied in the law, according to this Nimble Services LLC 2018 Lawyer Happiness Survey? It found more than 66% of Generation X lawyers plan to leave their current organisation, and only 40% are satisfied with the culture of their organisation.

Many respondents cited remuneration, workplace culture and resistance to change as reasons behind their lack of engagement, but does it go deeper? In a groundbreaking 2015 in-depth study of lawyer’s happiness, it was determined that a sense of autonomy and self-determined job motivation are vital components in career satisfaction and wellbeing – they want to be in control of their development and set value-aligned goals. Lawyers, just like so many other professionals, want to make a difference in their chosen area, and have something to prove – even if some haven’t quite figured out what that is yet.

Chances are as a legal student you went in with a particular idea of your career goals and purpose, but that, along with the perception of the reality of the work, changed along the way. Changing outlooks and goals is not unusual or indeed a bad thing, but if you are feeling a sense of loss of purpose or drive it might be time to reconnect with your sense of self and why you went into law in the first place. Here are some ways you can do that and become a lawyer with purpose once more.

Define What You Want Your Legacy To Be

It’s time to get specific about how you want to be remembered. Leaving a legacy is something we have covered in detail previously on The Attic, so take some time to read if you missed it. It’s never too soon, or indeed too late to consider what mark you want to leave behind on the world. The biggest part of your legacy is the impact you have on others, so when it comes to considering what that is, think about the impression that memorable people have left with you. What feeling do you think you leave behind after you have left a room? Ask a trusted confidante their honest opinion of their initial and current opinion of you. And without being maudlin ask yourself, how would you like your eulogy to read? How is it exactly that you want to be remembered in your life and work? This will help you to drill down to what achievements matter most.

Examine Why You Excel At What You Excel At

Professionally, knowing what skills we have and what we can contribute in our job role is part and parcel of our development. But how often do we really ask ourselves why we are good at these things and have honed those particular skills? Go right back to the root: what is it about your personality and character that has led you here? What are the values and principles you hold that have influenced your skills and where could that, combined with the experience you have gathered so far, take you in future? For example, We can look for inspiration amongst our lawyers who are changing the world for the better, such as Victoria Anderson whose early passion for education and diversity led to a student volunteering project at law school, which became a fully fledged charity.

Remember Purpose Is Not Happiness

Well, not exactly. Purpose is essential to overall happiness, but we should remind ourselves that feeling happy is not a constant state of being, it is a moment. We can’t be happy all the time, and worse – we lose sight of what we are trying to achieve with too much focus on trying to be happy constantly. Happiness shouldn’t be the goal when it comes to finding your purpose – view it as a wonderful by product and a reward for the more mundane and difficult times.

Ask What You Can Change

In an industry that can be resistant to change, this can seem an insurmountable task. But having purpose means you see something that needs your unique input – it doesn’t have to be world-changing (see below) but the intention must be to have an impact on the little corner of the world you are working in currently. Is it something in work culture, local community, that you and/or your organisation can play a bigger role in? Or is it something more personal? To work out what to focus on, decide what is within your reach, what it could be in the future, and what is probably unrealistic.

Purpose Doesn’t Have to Be Big, Or One Single Thing

Purpose isn’t always about following one road, there are multiple purposes to be served in work and life, and those purposes will change as life goes on. So there is nothing stopping you identifying lots of different, small drivers that you want to work towards.

It doesn’t always have to be something big, either. When we talk of purpose, it can often appear to mean something lofty and idealistic. But purpose can be large or small.  Real purpose is grounded in what is within our grasp and what we believe can become reality with our input.

Even when it comes to the bigger picture, being purpose driven requires small daily actions. And yes, you’ll be pleased to know there is an app to help you take those small, daily steps – the On Purpose app is a simple tool for crafting a powerful and personally meaningful purpose statement and then keeping track of how aligned your daily life is in relation to that purpose. The app is based on the graphic novel by Professor and Director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Vic Strecher.

Purpose Should Be Shared

Finally, finding and following a purpose shouldn’t be a solitary activity. Shared purpose is in fact vital for motivation and engagement in work – so engage colleagues, verbalise what what want to achieve and how you see that fitting within the organisation. If your purpose falls outside of the organisation you currently work for, seek out relevant like-minded groups. Thankfully, there are many local and national membership organisations and community groups of all kinds within the law, which can be a valuable source of inspiration and help you regain your sense of self and give you renewed purpose in work.

 

 

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The Legal Update Trending

The Legal Industry Carbon Footprint – How Lawyers Can Work More Sustainably

With Earth Day 2019 behind us, we are reminded that climate action is not an occasional task; it requires an on-going interrogation of our actions and a commitment to both short and long term changes. We take a look at the legal industry carbon footprint as reported by the Legal Sustainability Alliance (LSA) in 2018, and assess the business case and focus points for sustainable strategies.

Efforts to address the legal industry’s carbon footprint and play a part in the response to the global environmental crisis appear to be increasing. On beginning her term Law Society President for 2018-19, Christina Blacklaws declared her focus on sustainability as underpinning the main themes of innovation and technology, equality and diversity for her term in office.

LSA Carbon Report

Meanwhile, in the LSA’s 2018 annual Carbon Report, there has been a large increase in firms joining and declaring carbon footprint. Between 2017 and 2018, the alliance welcomed 31 new member firms, an increase of nearly 30%. Of the law firms that have been reporting regularly since 2008, figures show a 56% reduction in their combined carbon footprint and a 39% reduction in the average per capita emissions.

Carbon footprints are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). CO2e is calculated by multiplying the emissions of each of the six greenhouse gases by its 100 year global warming potential (GWP). As an example, the average person in the UK emits around 12.1 tCO2e per annum.

The total carbon footprint of all law firms reporting to the LSA was 191,836 tCO2e — with an average figure of 3.24 tCO2e per employee — an 11% reduction since 2017 and 21% reduction on the 2016 figure.

Over the past three years, paper use by reporting firms has reduced by 9% from a total of 4676 tonnes in 2016 to 4249 tonnes in 2017, suggesting that there is still work to be done to get firms to increase their use of digital documentation.

Another area for improvement was carbon emissions associated with water used, significantly increasing from 690 tCO2e in 2017 to 1712 tCO2e in 2018, but this was largely due to 12 more firms reported their usage (like for like shows almost identical usage in 2017 and 2018). Carbon associated with waste produced by reporting firms had also increased by 23%, again due to more firms reporting to the LSA.

Becoming Carbon Neutral

Most recently, Thomson Reuters declared their Earth Day commitment to becoming carbon neutral. In a recent press release, the organisation announced goals to become carbon neutral in 2019 and to convert to 100% renewable energy usage globally by 2020.

Thomson Reuters has undertaken a carbon offset strategy which is geographically informed by its global footprint. As a result, the carbon offsets will have positive impacts worldwide in major markets that the company operates, including Brazil, Canada, India, and the U.S.

“Not only is it the right thing to do from an environmental perspective, but it’s what employees and customers are asking us to do,” said Stephane Bello, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Thomson Reuters. “As a global organisation, we have a shared responsibility to do business in ways that respect, protect, and benefit our customers, employees, communities, and environment.”

Seeing a company like Thomson Reuters lead the charge and be ambitious in its timelines and targets, shows us that there is no excuse for companies – no matter their size – to ignore their responsibilities to the environment in which they make their profits.

The Business Case for Sustainability

As the environmental crisis and its global effects become more urgently apparent, we are becoming more conscious of our day to day waste and energy usage as individuals and as collective organisations. However, it has always made business sense to prioritise sustainability and resource efficiency. Corporate social and environmental responsibility is not a new concept, with public scrutiny of practices relating to waste management, pollution and labour conditions making or breaking the reputations of corporations.

According to a 2015 report on sustainability and business performance from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, 88% of research shows that solid Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) practices result in better operational performance. Companies are also reported to perform better on stock markets by 80% of studies.

The LSA sets out its own business case for cutting the legal industry carbon footprint. It states that having a carbon footprint and management plan is a good way to highlight hotspots where resources are being consumed and cost saving can be achieved. This also provides an opportunity to engage with new generations of lawyers – who prioritise ethical and environmental concerns when choosing companies to associate with – helping to bring forward new ideas for organisational innovation and transformative leadership that goes beyond meeting minimum carbon targets.

Creating Sustainable Strategies

Whether as an individual, small or large firm, it’s important to develop a dedicated strategy for reducing carbon footprints. Think about your working patterns – travel, energy consumption, resource usage – what areas need most attention?

For example, moving towards paperless working can save on paper, couriers and storage. Already paperless? Great! See where you can you cut down on energy consumption – employing energy saving measures, such as reducing unnecessary devices and utilising switch-off and downtime settings, can more than offset increasing energy costs in your offices.

Crucially, flexible working also plays a significant role in energy efficiency – better implementation of flexible and remote working policies have been shown to help to reduce office energy consumption, and lowers individual carbon footprint related to work travel. When working flexibly, as an individual it’s up to you to keep your work as green as possible at home. Take a look at these tips from a previous Attic article on working sustainably from home, and remember small changes make a big difference.

It’s also important to look beyond your organisation. Look at switching to renewable energy suppliers and other sustainability-focused suppliers of resources. Research other recycling, public transport and cycle schemes in the local community that you can take part in – the more events and sustainability focus communities you connect with, the more knowhow you will gain for better strategic implementation.

The bottom line is: it takes collaborative action, and sharing of information and ideas at all levels to change the way we do business and reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment.

 

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The Legal Update Trending

The Top Legal Blogs For Lawyers to Follow in 2019

The legal blogsphere is thriving, with ever-more law bloggers stepping up to discuss taboo topics and change the way we think about law and the legal industry.

Legal blogs are a valuable outlet and asset for lawyers and companies alike; acting as a marketing tool for your expertise, and allowing some creative headspace to examine issues of personal intrigue outside of your own work. Whether you are thinking of starting your own legal blog and need some inspiration, or simply want to follow for extra insights and opinion, here are some of our picks of today’s most highly-rated and recommended English-language legal blogs.

UK and Europe Legal Blogs

Regulation for Globalization 

Regulation for Globalization by Kluwer Law International blog is discusses the significant changes taking place regarding international business, especially trade law, EU law, and labour law. Contributors are leading legal experts from diverse backgrounds who report on the latest developments with ‘fresh, high-quality, and timely examination of the new rules facing international business’.

Legal Cheek Journal

One of our favourite legal media companies, Legal Cheek’s online journal covers current affairs in law with typically lively and irreverent style, proving that law doesn’t have to be stuffy or mince its words on even the more controversial topics making headlines.

Legal Hackette

Written by Catherine Baksi, barrister turned freelance legal affairs journalist, this blog features lunch interviews as well as legal news and book reviews. Catherine knows how to create an atmosphere and her in-depth interviews are great insights into the life of prominent lawyers.

Juro 

Juro is an AI-enabled smart contract workflow platform with a Human First approach, helping legal teams at fast growing businesses make contracts work better within their organisation. Naturally, their blog focuses on legal tech and innovation but also discusses the importance of hiring and cultivating the right team for business success.

Barrister Blogger

This award winning legal blog by Matthew Scott is direct and simple in approach. Scott is not afraid to share his decisive opinions on legal issues dominating the news sphere, and has a way of setting the scene of well-read (and some not-so-well read) legal stories that keep you engaged from post to post.

Crafty Counsel

For the YouTube generation, Crafty Counsel publishes bite-size legal videos (10 minutes and shorter) featuring legal professionals discussing legal topics in verbal “bullet point” format. Some recent videos tackle varied topics such as “The art of building a relationship: In-house counsel & law firms”, “How can you champion women in the workplace?” or “Building a great Legal Team – the Software.”

The UKCLA Blog

The United Kingdom Constitutional Law Association publish this highly credible resource of expert comment and analysis on matters of constitutional law in the UK and further afield, with articles cited in academic writing, official publications and in the news media.

Techno Llama 

Cyberlaw is one of the fastest moving areas of law, and there’s plenty of interesting analysis and thought pieces over at TechnoLlama by Andres Guadamuz, with emphasis on open licensing, digital rights, software protection and virtual worlds. Articles are often whimsical, with a serious underlying message.

USA and Canada Legal Blogs

The Girl’s Guide to Law School

Founded by Alison Monahan, a former member of the Columbia Law Review, the Girl’s Guide to Law School aims to help young women get what they want from law school. Alison shares her own experiences and that of guest posters to create a conversation about the unique stresses faced in law school and how to overcome them.

Clio Blog

Clio are a Canadian legal practice management software company, whose tech-focused blog also tackles the wider themes around better management of law firms, including looking after lawyers mental health and wellbeing, communication with clients, legal tech trends and much more.

Lawyerist

What began as a one man legal blog turned into a full-blown media company, home to the largest online community of solo and small-firm lawyers in the world. Articles, survival guides and podcasts share ideas, innovations and best practices, with a particular focus on technology.

CLOC Blog

At the cutting edge of legal operations, the blog by Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) provides how-to articles aiming to help legal ops professional optimise legal service delivery models. Posts are monthly but contain plenty of content to consider and incorporate into your strategy.

Gen Y Lawyer 

This series of podcasts interviews by Nicole Abboud introduces a new generation of professionals who are doing something a little differently in the profession. Abboud talks to millennials both inside and outside of the legal profession who are going after what they want on their own terms.

The Law for Lawyers Today

Published by Thompson Hine LLP, TLLT is a resource for lawyers, departments and firms focusing on legal ethics and professional responsibility, including the ‘law of lawyering’, risk management and legal malpractice, running a legal business and other related topics.

Asia and Australasia Legal Blogs

China Law Blog 

This is a no-frills blog discussing the practical aspects of Chinese law and how it impacts business for anyone who is currently or about to begin conducting business in China. The blog is run by international law firm Harris Bricken, and its contributing writers help to challenge Western misconceptions of Chinese law with accessible and engaging articles grounded in real experience.

LGBT Law Blog 

Stephen Page is a leading divorce and surrogacy lawyer committed to championing the rights of and interests of LGBTI people in Australia. His posts tackle discrimination parenting, property settlement, same sex domestic violence, and same sex law issues. This will be one to follow as Australia goes to postal vote on same sex marriage laws.

Zoë Lawton’s #MeToo Blog

Zoë Lawton is a legal researcher specialising in family law, criminal law and legal tech. Her #MeToo blog ran for one month in February 2018, posting the experience of women (and a significant proportion of men) in law who had been subject to sexual harassment and assault, bullying and discrimination within the profession. A full copy of the blog was presented to the New Zealand Law Society and all NZ law schools, and the archive of posts now acts as a resource for those who want information on how to report their experience to the Human Rights Commission, the NZ Law Society, their employer, or their university.

Law and Other Things

Law and Other Things publishes informative court and case updates, news articles, interviews, book reviews, petitions and announcements relating to India’s laws and legal system, courts, and constitution.

Singapore Law Blog 

Singapore Law Blog covers the latest Singapore court decisions and legal news, as well as routinely showcasing practically relevant law journal articles and covers Continuing Legal Education events. It invites guest contributions and even providing access to a database of articles on Singapore law from both domestic and international sources, ensuring a number of voices and a variety of expert opinion is at your fingertips.

Finally, we couldn’t go without including Obelisk’s own thinking space! The Attic offers a weekly mixture of thought pieces on working culture in the legal industry, profiles of consultant and event speakers, and guidance on career development for lawyers and legal consultants looking to work differently.

What legal blogs do you follow? How do they help you in your work? Send us your recommendations at [email protected] and we’ll add them to our list…

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The Legal Update Trending

Irish Legal Pioneers and History Makers – Past and Present Day

With St Patrick’s Day just around the corner on March 17th the world is gearing up for the #GlobalGreening, in recognition of the contribution to international society Irish people have made at home and abroad. As part of the celebrations, The Attic takes a look at historical Irish legal figures and pioneering modern day legal heroes, who have achieved notable firsts and made major impacts in the legal sphere and beyond.

 

Frances Kyle and Averil Deverell

Frances Kyle and Averil Deverell became the first women to be admitted to the Irish Bar in November 1, 1921 – almost a year before any woman was called to the English bar (Ivy Williams, 10 May 1922). Frances Kyle studied her BA and LLB at Trinity College Dublin. She went on to win the John Brooke Scholarship, a prize for top law students and the Irish Times reported it as representative of “a women’s invasion of the law… quite consistent with the adventurous spirit of the age.” Kyle was also elected a member of the circuit of Northern Ireland in 1922, becoming the first female member of a circuit.

Averil was awarded a law degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1915, and drove an ambulance in France during WW1. As the first woman to actually practice at the Bar in Ireland, Deverall worked tirelessly to promote the view that women were equally competent to carry out the same work as men. She was also the first woman to appear in the Supreme Court of Ireland and the Court of Criminal Appeal in Ireland and in 1928 became the first Irish woman barrister to appear before the Privy Council in London.

Today, the male to female ratio being admitted to the bar in Ireland is approximately 60% to 40%, though women have accounted for more than 50% of entrants over the past five years. In 2015, there were more female solicitors than male solicitors in Ireland.

James B Donovan

The work of Irish-American James B Donovan (his Irish grandparents emigrated to the US from West Cork), has only recently gained widespread attention, thanks to Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the lawyer in the 2015 film Bridge of Spies. Donovan’s first high profile case came after WW2 during which he served a U.S. Naval Reserve officer and general counsel to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA. This led to his key role in the Nuremberg Trials as assistant to Justice Robert H. Jackson, where he worked with film directors at the OSS to produce documentaries on Nazi activities which would serve as video evidence for the trials. Bridge of Spies however focuses on his work during the Cold War, when in 1957 he was the only lawyer who agreed to represent an individual, Rudolph Abel, accused of spying for the Soviet Union. Though convicted, Donovan ensured he was spared the death penalty and later led negotiations with Soviet mediators to free captured American pilot Francis Gary Powers in a prisoner exchange deal.

Eileen Kennedy

Kennedy was the first female judge to be appointed in Ireland when she was appointed to the District Court in 1964. After her appointment, she also created another precedent as the first female to sit in a court with her head uncovered. Judge Mary Kotsonouris, who was a solicitor’s apprentice at the time, is quoted as remembering the ‘frisson of excitement at such daring.’ Her court was reportedly crowded for days with people attending just to witness this daring. She chaired a committee to carry out a survey and report on reformatory and industrial schools. The 1970 report was considered groundbreaking in many areas for its verdict on the system and recommendations for closures of many reformatory schools, and came to be known as the Kennedy Report. She became a member of the Commission on the Status of Women that same year, which recommended the introduction of legislation for equal pay, and the removal of the marriage bar to employment.

Sheelagh Murnaghan

Called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1948, Sheelagh Murnaghan was the first practising female barrister in Northern Ireland, and was one of just eleven women to serve in the Northern Ireland Parliament during its 51-year existence, as a member of the Ulster Liberal Party. In June 1964, she put forward the first Human Rights Bill ever presented in a British or Irish parliament, though it was rejected several times.  She experienced direct intimidation and threat to life during the Troubles. In 1983, Murnaghan chaired a Tribunal which heard the very first case of sexual harassment brought before a court in the UK or Ireland, which was widely credited to have paved the way for sexual harassment to be made a criminal offence in the UK and influenced employment law in the Republic of Ireland.

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson was inaugurated as Ireland’s first female president in 1990, after a long distinguished career as a barrister. She was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law in Trinity College Dublin when she was 25 years old, and founded the Irish Centre for European Law in 1988. She served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002, resigning two years from the end of her presidency term to take up the post. A lifelong campaigner, as Ireland’s President she stepped outside of the traditionally ceremonial, conservative state figure mould. She has been a vocal critic of domestic and international policies relating to immigration, climate change and capital punishment. Robinson continues her work in international human rights with many organisations including the Institute for Human Rights and Business and The Mary Robinson Foundation.

Professor Mary Rogan

An internationally recognised authority on prison policy, prison law and prisoners’ rights, barrister and Trinity College Professor Dr Mary Rogan was awarded a European Research Council Starting Grant worth 1.5 million euro in 2015 for her project ‘Prisons: the rule of law, accountability and rights’. The project was credited for combining for the first time the disciplines of public law and the sociology of punishment to examine inspection, oversight and accountability in prison systems in the United States and Europe. She has also pioneered community-based learning methods in legal education, having introduced the first community-based learning module partnering with nongovernmental organisations on penal policy.

Matthew Emeka Ezeani

A Nigerian-born lawyer, Matthew Emeka Ezeani founded the first ethnic minority-led legal practice in Ireland, Ceemex, in 2002. Ezeani is a qualified solicitor of the Irish Courts as well as of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, and has dedicated his career to representing the rights of ethnic and marginalised minorities. Ceemex was involved in a number of major immigration cases in Ireland, including playing a part in the legal battle that led to the Irish Born Child (IBC) 2005 Scheme, which saw full residency rights granted to approximately 17,000 foreign-born parents of Irish citizen children.

Ireland’s Women’s Hockey Team

In the summer of 2018, Ireland made it to the Women’s Hockey World Cup Final for the first time ever. But what are a sports team doing on this list of legal history makers? It might interest you to know that five members of the team are in fact practising lawyers – Lizzie Colvin, Deirdre Duke, Nikki Evans, Anna O’Flanagan and Gillian Pinder.  Colvin is an employment law specialist at DWF in Belfast, Duke graduated in Law and Social Justice from UCD Sutherland School of Law and is a trainee solicitor with A&L Goodbody. O’Flanagan is a former McCann FitzGerald trainee and graduated in Law with Economics from UCD, while Evans and Pinder are both graduates in Business and Law from UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business. Both Colvin and O’Flanagan have been quoted praising their colleagues and firms for supporting their sporting success.

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Women in Law

World Book Day 2019: Interview With Author and Lawyer Nicola R. White

Ahead of World Book Day 2019, we spoke to Nicola R. White – a Canadian romance novelist, young adult fiction and comic book writer. From John Grisham to Meg Gardiner, many lawyers turn their analytical minds to novels later on in life. Quite a few lawyers at Obelisk Support are published authors too. Yet it is rare to come across one who has successfully pursued their creative aspirations as they start out on their legal career. But that is exactly what Nicola R. White has done, leading to her being awarded the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Romance.

Nicola tells us about how her experience as a lawyer has helped her as an author (and vice versa), the surprising amount of lawyers who write romance fiction, and how she managed to balance both writing and legal work.

Where did it all begin – did you start out with an interest in law, in writing, or both?

I was always interested in both. With law, it started because my parents wanted me to be a lawyer, but I had taken law subjects at high school and really enjoyed them, so I decided to go to law school and pursue law as a career. I attended law school at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) and also studied creative writing. The creative writing and law continued alongside one another but never really overlapped until I finished law school and started practising. I was writing my first book before I finished law school and it was published not long after. I practiced from 2012-2018, and operated my own small firm (sole practitioner) from 2015-2018. I stopped practicing in 2018 to focus more on my writing career, although I still teach paralegal students at a business college in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

How did you get started as a published author?

I self-published my first book (Fury’s Kiss) in 2015 I had sent the manuscript out to editors, who were receptive but said they felt it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. So I decided to go down the self-publishing route, and shortly after I won best emerging writer prize for debut writers. That came with a quite substantial cash prize and advertising and marketing support, making it easier to continue to publish. Since then all my books have been self-published. I created the pen name at the beginning as I wasn’t sure how colleagues would react. Happily, everyone has been supportive and people know me by both my pen name and my real name.

How does your experience and mindset as a lawyer assist in your research for your books?  And how has writing impacted on your work as a lawyer?

The creative writing started as a as way to give my brain a break. Doing legal work all day while interesting can be very dry, whereas coming home and writing a novel is something I could be entirely free with. Over time, I started to include legal sub plots in some of the novels – I don’t ever write legal thrillers but I like to bring in some legal elements in there. Being a lawyer I think definitely helps the research process – I always liked reading and research and training in law school meant learning how to do this more effectively and I know where to go to find sources. It’s also helpful to have a network of other lawyers to ask in other areas and jurisdictions.

In terms of the business of publishing your books, does your experience as a lawyer give you any advantages?

Oh, for sure. I would say law is my most significant skill when it comes to the business aspect of publishing. I understand contracts. I am comfortable with taxation in different jurisdictions. Even things like writing a will as an author and setting up a good estate plan. Many authors I would know would not have the same knowledge or confidence in these areas, but when something goes wrong you realise the value of that knowledge.

How do you manage your time while pursuing a dual career?

At a certain point I had to accept I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do – I am currently on hiatus from full time practice to concentrate more on writing, though I still teach part time. When working full time you have to carefully manage your priorities, and you have to really know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses to get things done. The stuff you aren’t so good at needs to be outsourced, e.g. my editors are tasked with keeping me on track with deadlines as I know I won’t stick to my own!

How supportive do you feel the legal industry is for those who want to pursue other interests?

When I started publishing, I used a pen name as I was worried how it would be received, but I found that people were more supportive than expected, and so felt more comfortable sharing what I was working on as time went on. I was actually very surprised how many other lawyers I spoke to starting out who were working on book projects and different kinds of writing. In the romance genre in particular, there is an unusually high number of authors who are lawyers and former lawyers, it’s actually quite disproportionate compared to other genres, which is interesting! There seems to be a lot of creativity in the profession and we all just need a friendly ear to share our creative side and feel confident with it.

How do you approach the roles of men and women in romance writing, are there certain stereotypes and tropes that you try to avoid or counter?

I’m very interested in social justice and feminism and I try to be aware of philosophies in my writing – I may not always get it right, but I try to make sure all my heroines are well rounded, that they have friends and family and their whole world doesn’t revolve around hero. And I try to make sure the heroes also have room to be three dimensional people with feelings, who are more than the typical expectations of the alpha male. Each story has to have a happy ending – that doesn’t mean just getting married and living happily ever after but that they work out whatever issues they had in their lives as individuals and continue on a good path.

 

Tell us a little about the inspiration behind Wild Rose, your recent graphic novel?

I first came across the Irish folk tale of Eliza Day in a version written for children, and it stuck with me as this morbid and beautiful folk tale. Then years later I heard the song Wild Rose by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, which is based on the same tale, and that rekindled my interest. I was going to write a novel but soon realised there was more to explore visually. Plus I was looking for a comic book project at the time, so it kind of fell into place.

How different is the process to writing books?

Writing them is easier, getting them made is harder. Obviously you have more people working on the project with illustrations and formatting etc. It becomes much more about coordination and moving pieces.

What are you working on currently?

In the past year I have been working on the next instalments of Wild Rose, and film writing. My next release will be a text-based game, something similar to a “choose your own adventure” but with algorithms. I am also working on a short film about a mermaid and young Syrian woman who fall in love.

And finally, what authors do you admire and what have you read most recently that stood out?

In Romance: Nora Roberts is always a classic! Other authors I have been reading lately include Courtney Milan, Lisa Kleypas, and Beverly Jenkins. I like M. L. Buchman when I’m in the mood for a military romance (and he is a male author, which is rare in the genre). Cynthia Sax writes a good series of indie sci fi romance about cyborgs. In paranormal romance/urban fantasy, I like Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series.

Comics: Bingo Love, a queer romance starring women of colour. Beasts of Burden Animals investigate paranormal events in their neighbourhood, with beautiful watercolour illustrations. And My Boyfriend is a Bear is weird but sweet! After a string of terrible boyfriends, a woman finds love with an actual bear.

YA: I haven’t been able to put down Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series! The audiobook for this title is excellent, too.