Women in Law

International Women’s Day 2019: How the Legal Community will be Celebrating #BalanceforBetter

With less than a week to go until International Women’s Day 2019, we take a look at some of the ways the legal community around the world will be marking the occasion.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter. Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive, and the message being driven home this year is that balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.

Here in the UK the legal community will be marking an historic year for women in law in the country celebrating 100 years since women were first admitted to the bar. And all around the world law faculties, regional organisations and law societies will be celebrating with film screenings, business breakfasts, panel discussions and many more events featuring women in law that reflect on women’s position in society throughout history to today.

How will you celebrate women’s achievements on Friday March 8th, while calling for a more gender-balanced world? Whatever is happening in your local legal community, we hope you have an uplifting, inspiring and energising experience, knowing that you w we all continue to work towards better balance for a better world.


First 100 Years #womeninlaw Photography EventThe First 100 Years will have a photographer capturing portraits of #womeninlaw – all legal roles, all seniority levels, all firms, chambers, judges, magistrates or legal execs. Come and be photographed on March 8th, 2019 at any time between 10am and 5pm – takes about 5 minutes per portrait to capture a moment in time and you get a digital copy of your photograph that you can re-use professionally.

  • The Law Society of England and Wales, 113 Chancery Ln, London WC2A 1PL
  • The Law Society of Scotland, Atria One, 144 Morrison St, Edinburgh EH3 8EX
  • The Law Society of Northern Ireland, 96 Victoria St, Belfast BT1 3GN
  • Cardiff. Location to be confirmed.
  • Other regional events will be announced on The First 100 Years’ Twitter feed.

March4Women – March 3rd, London

This year’s March4Women in London will be marking 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. While it will be a celebration of that momentous change, there will be recognition that, 100 years later, industrial levels of inflexibility are still present in so many workplaces, hindering women’s progression in law. First 100 Years are supporting the march, with Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, making an appearance as a speaker along with a number of celebrity guests at Central Hall Westminster.

The Law Society International Women’s Day Seminar – March 8th, London 

Led by Law Society president Christina Blacklaws, the Law Society’s flagship IWD event will feature panel discussing the outcomes of the research so far conducted as part of the Women in Leadership in Law project. The event will also feature the launch of the Law Society’s report on gender balance in the legal profession, following a series of roundtables held in the UK and internationally with senior women and men working in law.

International Women’s Day Lecture 2019 – March 8th Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Bar of Northern Ireland is hosting a free lecture by Lady Arden of the UK Supreme Court and Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan of the Supreme Court of Ireland. Lady Arden was the third woman to be appointed to the UK Supreme Court bench, and served on the court of appeal since 2000. Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan was nominated for appointment in 2017 having previously practiced in the areas of constitutional law, European law, administrative law and commercial law.

A Balanced View from DLA Piper – March 6th, Edinburgh, Scotland

A breakfast event hosted by DLA Piper will discuss the hugely complex role of unconscious bias in creating imbalances in the workplace. The panel will feature speakers from across the business spectrum and will ‘discuss unconscious bias, both in terms of biases they have witnessed and exploration of their own potential biases that may have gone unnoticed’.


Women on Supreme Courts – March 5th, Galway, Republic of Ireland 

The National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway will be hosting this public event to coincide with the visit of the Supreme Court to NUI Galway. The panel discussion will focus on the contribution of women to judiciary in the superior courts, and speakers will include Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, former Supreme Court of Ireland Judge, Mrs Justice Matilda Twomey, Chief Justice of Seychelles and School of Law graduate, Mr Justice John MacMenamin, and Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, current judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland.

Women in Europe – March 4th, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Hosted by the Irish Society for European Law will be discussing the role of influential women in Ireland and Europe will be speakers Patricia O’Brien, the Irish Ambassador to France and Ms Justice Ann Power-Forde, a judge of the Kosovo Specialist Chamber and Senior Counsel of the Law Library. The event will be chaired by The Hon. Ms. Justice Marie Baker, of the Court of Appeal.

Women in Fraud – March 13th, Geneva, Switzerland

This event will be celebrating the achievements of female litigators, investigators, members of the Bar and asset recovery practitioners involved in landmark fraud cases. It will be also provide insights and practical solutions for addressing the question of ‘how to promote leadership and diversity in the legal field of complex, international fraud cases, asset recovery and white collar crime.’ Speakers on the day will be Elizabeth Baker Head of the Proceeds of Crime and International Assistance Division Serious Fraud Office UK, Claudia Götz Staehelin Attorney at Law and Partner Kellerhals Carrard, and Amy Conway-Hatcher Partner Baker Botts USA.

#8marsaubarreau – March 8th, Paris, France

This event will celebrate achievements of activist women changing their community, including  Fanny Benedetti,Executive Director of the French Committee for UN Women, Fatimata Mbaye, solicitor from Mauritius, Olga Johnson, General Secretary Energies for Africa, Leïla Aïchi, Parliament member, Maria Pernas, Group Legal Department and Senior Vice President at ATOS.


Raise Women Up –  March 4th, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

DWF Middle East LLP is hosting a short play called #RaiseWomenUp in appreciation and celebration of International Women’s Day. The aim of the event is to ‘raise awareness of topics such as women’s empowerment, women in business, working mothers, gender pay gap and unconscious bias whilst facilitating conversation and connecting professionals in the region’.


TrustLaw Cafe Pro Bono – March 6th, New York, NY

The Thomson Reuters Foundation initiative TrustLaw, in partnership with the Women’s Initiative Committee at Kramer Levin, will host a Café Pro Bono with women’s and girls’ rights organisations based in New York and assess their legal needs through TrustLaw’s Legal Health Check. The workshop will help lawyers to learn more about social issues affecting women and how pro bono assistance can help organisations achieve their social mission and advance women’s initiatives.

Women’s Equality Around the World: Laws and Culture – March 6th, Washington DC 

Asking the question ‘How do we (finally) achieve equality for women?’, the Women’s National Democratic Club will host prominent filmmaker and activist Kamala Lopez, who will show her new short film Legalize Equality and lead a panel discussion of gender equality in the US in the context of the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The panel will include feminist artist and EME Co-Executive Director Natalie White, Equal Means Equal (EME) VP John Belluomini, EME Legal Counsel and National Women’s Rights expert, Wendy Murphy, who will discuss the relationship between inequality and violence against women, and Dr. Kent Davis-Packard, Founder of the SAIS Women Lead Practicum.

Check out the official International Women’s Day website for more information on events around the world.

The Legal Update Trending

The Attic’s 15 Best Legal Podcasts for Lawyers to Listen to in 2019

Are podcasts a part of your daily life yet? Research suggests that there are over 630,000 podcasts in existence today in more than 100 languages. In South Korea, 58% of people are podcast listeners, while the UK languishes behind at 18%.

In the legal sphere, there is also a growing number of engaging and diverse podcast series covering topics ranging from criminal cases-  such as popular modern podcast pioneer Serial – to industry current affairs and wellbeing.

Podcasts are a great way to learn, relax and broaden the mind. If you’re looking to increase your podcast listening this year, start with our list (in no particular order) of the best podcasts for lawyers we’re listening to in 2019.

#1 Resilient Lawyer

The resilient lawyer in question is Jeeno Cho, partner at JC Law Group PC and co-author of The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation. Cho’s podcast share tools and strategies for finding more balance, joy, and satisfaction in your professional and personal life. She talks to lawyers, entrepreneurs, mentors and teachers about their approaches to mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing while navigating the demands of their professions.

#2 Legal Current

A staple for many podcast-loving lawyers, Legal Current by Thomson Reuters makes the list again as it continues to run a series of commentary on the business and practice of law. Based in the USA, it has a global outlook and explores many issues that affect legal practitioners in other countries.

#3 Legal Toolkit

Legal Talk Network’s Legal Toolkit is a comprehensive resource for people in law practice management. With a new episode every month, Jared Correia invites forward-thinking lawyers to discuss the services, ideas, and programs that have improved their practices. In January’s episode, Sarah Schaaf talks about how lawyers can optimise their payment processes with technology and automation.

#4 Sworn

From the makers of Up and Vanished comes a new series pledging to pull back the curtain on the criminal justice system. Host Philip Holloway is a defense attorney and former prosecutor with a background in law enforcement. He delves into the legal aspects of major cases as well as discussing the emotional consequences of their outcomes.

#5 Beyond Brexit

If you haven’t read/heard enough about the latest Brexit updates and opinions, check out PwC’s Beyond Brexit discussing all aspects of how life post March 29th 2019 will impact life and business in the UK. GDPR, trade negotiations, the economy and immigration are all discussed in depth with experts to provide some clarity in the face of increasing uncertainty.

#6 Happy Lawyer Happy Life

Of course we endorse the message Clarissa Rayward brings, and the infectious energy she brings to each episode will hopefully help you manage different life stresses, deal with grief, or give you the advice you need to launch a legal start-up, Happy Lawyer Happy Life makes for great listening and the popular Facebook page is very lively.

#7 The Gen Y Lawyer

This forward-thinking blog continues to explore the new age of law, with the first episode of 2019 focusing on Twitter and how Jaime Santos and Kendyl Hanks (appellate advocate and appellate litigation associate respectively) created their movement to highlight women in law and call out sexism in the industry.

#8 Modern Law Library

A great podcast by ABA Journal for lawyers who are avid readers as well as listeners. Lee Rawles interviews authors of recently published books to hear their unique insight on the next additions to your to-read list. Recent featured authors include Stewart Levine author of The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness,  and Nancy Maveety author of Glass and Gavel: The U.S. Supreme Court and Alcohol.

#9 West Cork

An Irish true crime series made by a British couple, if you didn’t get a chance to listen to one of the most talked about podcasts of 2018, now’s the time. Even gaining praise from documentary high king Louis Theroux himself, West Cork puts the victim of the crime at its heart, with the makers ensuring heavy involvement from Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s family and their solicitor. Without the sensationalism that sometimes features in podcasts of this genre, the 13 part series explores the complexities around the unsolved murder and the accused’s High Court action against the State for wrongful arrest.

#10 The Happy Lawyer Project

Moving back to happier subject matter, Okeoma Moronu Schreiner continues her mission to help young lawyers find the formula for a happy life of accomplish and contentment in law. Through her podcast we hear the stories of legal professionals who have worked for change in their industry and community, and who have managed to find a way to create balance in their own lives. It’s an inspirational and uplifting series that will motivate you to refocus on your own personal priorities.

#11  UK Law Weekly 

Hosted by former university professor Marcus Cleaver, UK Law Weekly is a great resource for studying and practicing lawyers alike. The series focuses on the week’s legal decisions and news, therefore giving listeners analysis not just of topical talking points but specific cases that have recently gone through Supreme and other UK courts.

#12  Thinking Like a Lawyer

Hosted by Above the Law’s Ellie Mystal and Joe Patrice, this podcast takes on a range of topics that are talking points amongst the wider population, and in their own words ‘shine it through the prism of a legal framework.’ This results in lively and fascinating conversations around issues as broad as free speech, drones and droids, weddings and parenting. Definitely one for broadening the mind!

#13 LeGal LGBT

LeGal was one of the USA’s first associations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) legal community, and this podcast consists of lively discussion with LGBTQ lawyers, policy experts and activists on the latest legal news affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the US around the world.

#14 The Docket

Canadian Criminal Defence Counsel Michael Spratt discusses the intersection of the law, the courts, and government. He has spoken to guests such as former Canadian Supreme Court Justice and UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and topics include political scandals, best fictional lawyers, and women and the law.

#15 Talking Law

The youngest podcast on our list, Women in the Law UK launched their new series on 7th January 2019. It is hosted by Women in The Law UK’s founder, the award-winning barrister Sally Penni, and produced by the BBC Radio5Live presenter Sam Walker. The first episode interviews Jodie Hill, managing director of Thrive Law.

Bonus: First 100 Years

To add to your ‘one to watch’ list, First 100 Years has recently launched a series of 10 podcasts following the course of the 100 years of women in law. In collaboration with Goldman Sachs and Linklaters, it charts the history of women in the legal professions. Progressing decade-by-decade, the podcasts will be 45-minute discussions between legal pioneers, historians, academics and legal practitioners based on key themes, including gender stereotypes, work/life balance and diversity.

Do you have an essential listen to add to our list of podcasts for lawyers? Let us know @ObeliskSupport

Trending Women in Law

She’s Back: Interview with Lisa Unwin on Empowering Women to Return from a Career Break

Returning to work after a career break is tough. If you’re struggling to find a way back, don’t give up hope. Though it may seem like there are many obstacles in your path, there are practical steps you can take to regain your confidence and find work that works for you. That’s the message that Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan want to give women with their new book, She’s Back. Lisa  set up her consultancy of the same name as she was tired of hearing similar stories from women struggling to return to work, and decided to channel her energy to provide tactics and strategies to help them. Simultaneously straight talking and empathetic, we guarantee you will walk away from reading our interview with Lisa feeling fired up and ready to take back control of your career…

Tell us about your own experience of returning to work, and how that led you to where you are now and writing the book?

“I had what I thought was a successful career. I had started out with Arthur Andersen in 1988. As the firm collapsed in 2001 after the Enron scandal, I moved across to Deloitte who backed the firm in the UK. I was director of brand and communication there, until the wheels came off. Our nanny handed in her notice just as our children were starting school. I quite suddenly found myself struggling to work out how I was going to manage bringing up my children and managing a demanding career, and decided to take a career break. There I was a few years later wondering what happened. I had 20 years of experience behind me, and no future plan. I looked around at the school gates and saw so many people in this situation: accounts lawyers, management consultants, all trying to get back to work. That led to setting up a consultancy – there wasn’t a business model or anything to begin with but I started out by getting sponsored by organisations to do some research to prove that this was a real issue, and began looking at ways we could help them. To put a spotlight on the issue I was doing lots of writing and getting people involved in the community, and with my business partner Deb decided to write a book, which came out this year and has been well received.”

What are the most common things you hear from women who have taken a career break?

“That they are leaving because of a lack of ability to balance young children and career. Couples are making decisions about whose career will take back seat in the months and years to come, but there is no long term plan for how to get back, so when the children get older and the time comes for the person to return to work – and it is still primarily the woman – they have no idea how to get back. I can’t claim to be an expert on gender roles generally, I can only talk about what we see in the circles we work with, but professional women tend to pair with professional men, and statistically marry older men, so in general when children come along it is the woman expected to take the hit and very few see it any other way.

The other most common thing I hear when women approach me is : ‘Can you help me, I am a mum with two children, looking for flexible work?’ Being a mum doesn’t differentiate you; and you are already defining yourself as a problem by leading with what you need to work around. It’s only after you hear this that you find out they have 20 years legal experience in the City! We need to change the approach.”

So, is there an issue with the way women perceive themselves when taking a career break?

“Yes, and I say that with complete understanding of how hard it is and the difficulties that we face – we are emotional after becoming parents, and so many people live far away from family support networks nowadays, it is very hard. I say women don’t help themselves because I did and said the same things myself! I started by thinking ‘ok I need something that will work around the school run’, so I was looking on flexible working websites. But only 11% of quality professional jobs are being advertised as flexible positions – employers often will be open to flexibility in discussions but they won’t lead an advert with it, so nor should you. Tell people you were 20 years working with big four firms and you’re looking for new opportunities to apply legal skills to – that is the difference. You are 5 times more likely to find work through introductions in your network than through recruiters, but they need to have something to tell that person other than ‘she needs to work flexibly!’

We often don’t acknowledge how vulnerable and lacking confidence we can become once we have children. We can start to remember differently how our work lives went and think we only got there by luck. You starting losing touch with that driven, confident side of you, because as a mum you don’t get told you’re doing a good job – you can do everything right but you will never know because you don’t have a performance review as a parent!”

Are there other things at play when it comes to a loss of confidence in your career?

“Ageism is a big thing, and again we have to fight against external and internalised attitudes. Employers and individuals need to stop seeing post-40 years as being past peak or entering final stages of our career – we still have 20 years of work ahead of us! I have done so much more in my 40s and 50s  professionally and personally than I ever did – or indeed ever could have – in my 20s and 30s, so don’t buy into the narrative that it is too late.”

What practical steps do you talk about in the book to help people prepare for and come back from a career break?

“First, everything is so much easier if you have kept in touch with your industry and colleagues  – if you haven’t it is much easier now to seek them out and reach out again – gone are the days of the gatekeeper PA and trying to book an appointment to meet senior people. Being on LinkedIn is essential as that is where all jobs and connections are. People are really willing to offer advice and take time to meet you if you reach out to them, especially those that know what you are good at. You need to have those conversations to bring the other side of you back out.

Take part as much as you can while you are out of the workplace – networking events, online webinars, parent meetings, whatever will put you in touch with the right people – it’s all in your hands to open the door and get out there.

Don’t feel it is insurmountable, remember that there are other ways to work and find paid employment – taking on freelance projects or by joining organisations like Obelisk – every little bit helps to add to your CV, keep your skills up to date, and keep in touch with peers. All this will make it easier to step up when you are ready.

And don’t put your head in the sand when it comes to finances, plan for your financial future!”

A big concern! How do you encourage women to think long term about their career and financial position?

“Again, it’s up to us. We can’t just leave it to legislation and employers – only 2% men took up shared parental leave last year, we still have a culture where men fear their career will be harmed if they do, and that will take a long time to change.

Women need to view work like a game of chess, and play the long game. We often look at cost of childcare for the first year or so and decide it is not worth it, but we should be thinking about what happens in 8 to ten years’ time. If you decide to step back completely, after 5 years childcare costs go down but your market value has gone down even more. Short term sacrifices are worthwhile if you want to continue your career so take the initial financial hit if you can, take a part time role, pass up a project or promotion if it helps you keep your foot in the door.”

One thing that we commonly see women returning to work find difficult is how to present themselves on their CV. What advice would you give?

“It’s important to see your CV or LinkedIn profile as a marketing tool. Employers spend on average just 8 SECONDS scanning a CV for suitability so your opening paragraph must be compelling – again don’t lead with what you want, lead with what you have to offer. Another thing people don’t often realise is that recruiters use software to scan for keywords in CVs first, so make sure you are hitting all the points from the job description.

When it comes to addresses your career break, don’t jump through hoops trying to justify it with irrelevant information about being part of the PTA and so on, as it comes across defensive. Appear confident about it! Just write ‘Planned Career Break’ and the length of time. Keep the most relevant information at the top with an experience or skills summary – don’t bury the good stuff on page 2, even if it did all happen 20 years ago. Finally if you have had lots of similar part time or short contract roles list them together and summarise details in one paragraph rather than listing bullets for each to keep things more concise.”

How should lawyers seek to update their skills to become more employable in technologically fast changing market?

“As a lawyer, you will know plenty of other lawyers, so talk to them to find out what you don’t know and what gaps you need to fill. It’s so much easier now than it used to be to keep up with technology and learn independently. There are many free resources on the internet, so search for YouTube tutorials and online courses. Most technology being used today is intuitive and designed to be user friendly, so it is often a case of simply using and learning as you go – just take the time to do it. Get to grips with social media management tools such as Hootsuite to make it easier to post regularly to market yourself.”

Lisa also agrees that being part of platforms like Obelisk Support is beneficial as they provide help keeping skills up to date, such as our recent LexisPSL introductory webinar, and regular events focusing on current developments in the industry.

Final thoughts

The bottom line as Lisa states is, no one will do it for you. There is support out and information there if you reach out and look for it. Your career and success before you took a break came about because of you and the work you put in – you are still the key to your own success.

Lisa and Deb don’t just tell you all the things you need to hear in She’s Back – the book also contains useful exercises that you can carry out to help you on your way. Lisa recommends that you find a friend to do them with you, so you can challenge one another and stay motivated. She’s Back is shortlisted for CMI’s Management Book of the Year 2019 and can be purchased on Amazon. You can find out more about their work on

Making Work, Work

Pledge to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone in 2019

Can you believe we are already a whole week into 2019? How are those New Year resolutions shaping up? Are you, like many lawyers in our network trying to adopt healthier habits, or have you pledged to declutter and organise your workspace? Perhaps you have something bigger in mind, such as a change of career path?

It may be too soon to judge whether a resolution is on track to succeed, but if you are already finding things aren’t quite working out as you’d have hoped, it may be time to scrap the list and focus on one single goal: to step outside of your comfort zone more.

Comfort: the enemy of progress

Resolutions have merit as general guidelines to what kind of year you want to have, but as a checking off list they can sometimes have a negative effect on our long term motivation. If we don’t achieve all that we have listed in the speed and manner that we had hoped, we leave ourselves feeling as if we have failed, and can overshadow the real, tangible progress we have made all year.

There are others reasons so many of our New Year Resolutions are doomed to fail. One is the tendency to see January 1st as a giant reset button. The start of a new year is of course a logical time to commit to starting a new project or hobby, or begin work on a long thought about goal. However, our lives don’t begin with a clean slate once the clock hits midnight. We are the same people as we were last year, and the year before. We still have the commitments and responsibilities and problems of life that we had a few hours ago in 2018. Life as we know it goes on, and the feeling of ‘business as usual’ can be at odds with both the big and small things we have pledged to changed or take up from January 1st.

But by far the biggest barrier to changing habits and achieving long-held goals is staying within our comfort zones. There is nothing wrong with having a comfort zone – we all need a state where we feel secure and grounded with familiarity – but we all need to find the will and ability to step outside of it on a regular basis to keep moving forward and growing as individuals.

Keep the resolutions by all means, but add these tips for stepping out of your comfort zone to the top of your list…

#1 Stop being ‘busy’

Yes, finding time to do what we want to do is an issue for all lawyers, but often we can get so used to being ‘busy’, we lose sense of what are necessary tasks and what we do to feel and appear productive. Making time for your personal goals will help you continue to be truly motivated and productive person. Take a look at these time management tips from to help you free up time and headspace for achieving new goals.

#2 Get to know your fear state

There is a science behind stepping out of your comfort zone which suggests you need to find the right level of anxiety that will spur you on – too little and you won’t make the move, too much and you’ll freeze on the spot. Knowing how you reflexively respond to unfamiliar and difficult circumstances will help you identify just how far you should be pushing yourself.

#3 Change up the daily routine

The best way to get out of your comfort zone is to make small changes to your overall routine. Start the day with a walk instead of emails, take the scenic route to the office, try to visit a different lunch venue each day of the week, walk into an exhibition on a whim. Make differentiation the norm in your life.

#4 Recall previous accomplishments

Take note of how you felt about yourself at the time, what steps you had to take to get there, the luck or good timing that was involved. This will help you to visualise how to create a similar situation again.

#5 Sit back and observe

While self reflection is vital in this process, you may also need to step out of your bubble. Slow down and take time to see how other people make decisions and try new things – there may be something to learn from watching others navigate their own fears and obstacles.


What’s the worst that could happen?

Stepping outside of your comfort zone doesn’t have to mean taking a huge bungee jump off the edge of it (though it absolutely can mean that if you want it to!). The first seemingly insignificant small step is as important as the one that really makes you say ‘wow, I can’t believe I just did that.’ Doing the thing that scares you e.g. public speaking (a big one for many lawyers) might involve gradually conquering the fear through practice and building resilience. Whatever it is that you have actively avoided doing in your life, or have never given yourself the chance to try, start with small steps to take to achieve it – such as going along to a local Toastmaster’s event or doing a speech at a social gathering.

The Obelisk team has a range of different health, travel and personal development resolutions we want to accomplish this year. All will involve a small or bigger step out of our comfort zones and routines. Last year, one small-yet-big thing I did that was outside of my comfort zone was ask people in my network for help with work. It paid off – I realised the worst that someone could say was no, and in fact it was a truly pleasant surprise to see how someone took the time to recommend me to their peers. I have pledged this year to support more people in what they do in any small way I can, all part continuing to try to stretch my comfort zone by reaching out to people and communicating more.

Make the New Year not about new beginnings, but continuing on a positive footing, whatever that may entail. With a promise to yourself to do at least one thing this year that takes you outside of your comfort zone, the rest will follow.

Making Work, Work

Why Lawyers Should Make a Gratitude List – And How to Do It

As the U.S. prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, taking the day to stop and give thanks for the good things and people in their lives, we started thinking about how to be more thankful on a regular basis. All too often, gratitude falls by the wayside, as we inevitably focus more on the things we don’t yet have and the obstacles and challenges that inevitably come our way in life and work.

There is a lot to be said for making gratitude a regular part of our mental exercise. So much so, that the practice of writing a gratitude list or journal is becoming increasingly popular.

A gratitude list can be a very useful tool for professionals – it can help boost resilience in the face of adversity, reminding us that these things too shall pass and are part and parcel of the path to growth and happiness. It can also be a productive way of working out solutions to ongoing problems and dissatisfaction in our lives.

The most appealing thing about a gratitude list is that unlike some self-care trends, it focuses your attention outside of yourself. By thinking of the actions of others that you are grateful for, you become more aware of how your own actions can impact on others, and think about how to return the favour to those who have offered support, a kind word, a laugh or a happy distraction at stressful times.

Being able to feel and express gratitude are also good leadership skills. According to former lawyer and church pastor Carey Nieuhof, gratitude fuels a better attitude to work, making us want to maximise the opportunities we feel so fortunate to have been made available to us, instead of wasting time begrudging what we feel we are owed. Gratitude also makes us more naturally encouraging and attractive to be around, and helps us to see even more opportunities with an ‘abundance mentality’.

Where to Start

The first step to starting your gratitude list is let go of any guilt you might feel about not always acknowledging the good things in life the way you might have wanted. Everyday gratitude isn’t something that always comes naturally to many people, you are not unusual in this, and that is the reason why you are starting the list.

Next, buy a notepad, and choose it carefully – you want it to feel special and important. If you prefer digital alternatives, you can set up a personal Trello board, which enables you to make notes and add attachments to notes you have made that remind you to take action to thank a person or send a gift. Plus, if you use Trello for other projects it might be beneficial to have it in the same place to encourage you to update it.

Journey is another app useful for journaling and personal notes-to-self. With a focus on simplicity and seamlessness, it can be used across multiple devices so you can jot down your thoughts on whatever device is closest to hand and add relevant images, and automatically adds info on the weather and location at time of the input. You can also easily search back through posts using tags or calendar filters and share selected entries with other people, should you wish.

To embed the habit of noting the things you are grateful for, there are various suggestions on ways to encourage the behaviour. Some people create a ritual, setting aside a certain amount of time and always doing it in the same place and under the same conditions e.g. in bed with a warm drink. It’s not always practical in a busy working day to do this, and with little headspace it is often better to jot something down in an app immediately after it happened, giving you the opportunity to return to it later to add more details on reflection.

The SmartTribes Institute has a Gratitude Practice, which may be useful to help focus the mind:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Focus on one thing in your life you are grateful for at this moment
  3. Offer a silent thank you to that person/for that thing
  4. Relax into that feeling of gratitude
  5. Take a deep breath
  6. Go forward feeling more gratitude

What to Include in Your Gratitude List

If you are unsure how to structure your list, a quick Google will find plenty of templates available. Typically, entries are kept short with bullet points outlining what happened, who was involved and why you were thankful for it.

Another way to manage your list is to divide it into categories. You don’t have to fill in each category every time. Some example headings could include:

The Personal – Features and instances from your home and family life, social circle, and individual activities you are grateful you get to do.

The Professional –  Everything and anything to do with work – opportunities, colleagues, work location, even the good office chair…

The Bigger Picture – things that don’t fall into a particular category or aren’t linked to a particular instance or event, but impact your life all the same e.g. being grateful for peace, for stable climate, for rights and freedoms.

Keep it Going

Try to make an entry every day – weekly at the minimum. The more regularly you do it the habit forming it will be. Though your gratitude list will be a mainly personal endeavour, it may be beneficial to share some details of what you are doing with others, as they will be interested to hear how it is working for you and offer their feedback, which will reinforce your commitment to the task.

Happy listing!

With the Christmas holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to start jotting down the things you have been thankful for. We’d love to hear what would be on your gratitude list for 2018 – let us know @ObeliskSupport.


The Legal Update

Creativity, Collaboration and Procedure: Architect Tony Dyson on Bringing Millicent Fawcett to Parliament Square

What does it take to bring a public statue to life? As the centenary year of women’s suffrage draws to an end, we reflect on the years of campaigning, planning and cooperation that made Millicent Fawcett the UK’s first ever female statue in London’s Parliament Square.

With such a high profile public project, there were many stakeholders and organisations involved in making the statue a reality. Obelisk Support is proud to have a connection with the project, with our CEO Dana Denis Smith playing an instrumental part as the co-founder of the campaign. Other key players included leading campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Theresa May who both supported the campaign, Westminster Council, and Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing, who created the statue.

At the intersection of the creative and practical planning was architect Tony Dyson, consultant at Donald Insall Associates, Chartered Architects and Historic Building Consultants. No stranger to the challenges involved in such a project, he was selected due to his specialist experience with public monuments, including the architectural settings for the statues of the non-violent political activists Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, along the west side of Parliament Square.

First, we want to know: what led Tony to his work on public memorials?

I suppose being brought up in a Worcestershire village and attending Worcester Cathedral King’s School were key in helping me develop an early understanding of the contribution the historic environment made to the overall character of a place and how that could promote a sense of belonging. Throughout my school days in the 1960s, however, much of historic Worcester was being destroyed to make way for new traffic circulation schemes and our headmaster David Annett encouraged a small group of us to attend local Civic Society protest meetings and add our voices to the objections being raised.

An interest in design led to my studying architecture at Canterbury but it was the opportunity to design in the context of historic buildings and environments that lead to my joining Donald Insall Associates. In 1992 my first memorial project involved the transformation of a former traffic island and motorcycle park at the junction of London’s Ebury Street with Pimlico Road, by refocusing the area as the architectural setting for Philip Jackson’s new bronze statue of The Young Mozart, who back in the 18th century, had written his first symphony in a house nearby. Now called Orange Square, the whole area has been regenerated, a local restaurant has extended its tables and chairs over the surrounding pavements and the statue is at the centre of a popular farmers’ market on Saturdays.

Photo by Garry Knight

The Process of Bringing Millicent Fawcett to Life

What considerations around location and design need to be taken when planning a public monument?

First and foremost, Westminster’s Guidance for the Erection of New Monuments Supplementary Planning Document states that ‘any proposal for a statue or monument must have a clear and well defined historical or conceptual relationship with its proposed location. As befits a world class city, Westminster requires only the best quality examples of new sculptural work for its streets and spaces. The City Council would normally expect commissions to be undertaken by established artists of international renown and to have arisen through a robust and transparent selection process.’

All the above requirements were taken into consideration in the process that resulted in the appointment of Turner prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing to create the bronze statue of Millicent Fawcett. It was Gillian Wearing OBE RA who depicted the non-violent Suffragist leader at the age at which she became President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, holding a banner that reads ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’ and with the images of 55 women and four men (who were part of the fight for women’s right to vote) around the statue plinth.

With regard to the choice of location for the memorial, non-violent Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett was a perfect candidate for placing in line with the memorial statues of non-violent political activists Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, already existing along the west side of Parliament Square Gardens.

Previously, we had added the preferred scale for the bronze statue (similar to that of the existing Mandela and Gandhi bronze statues) to the limited competition brief. In designing the architectural setting for the new bronze statue of Millicent Fawcett, we followed a similar approach to that we had used for the Gandhi architectural setting (at a lower, more accessible level) but swept the Portland stone blocks either side of the statue back, so Gillian could have the plinth she wanted, as well as suggesting that the plinth should be of pink granite, a material already used elsewhere on Parliament Square.

Having worked on so many high-profile memorial projects, Tony says it was a real privilege to be part of the Millicent Fawcett project team. With so many different interest groups involved and needing to be consulted on the project, how did the process get off the ground?

Nigel Schofield from art manufactures MDM Props and I were brought in for our specific areas of expertise to collaborate with a mainly female driven project, led by the Culture Team at the Greater London Authority. It was of enormous benefit to our planning negotiations that, from the outset, the required processes were adhered to so meticulously. Also, professionally, it was particularly rewarding collaborating with artist Gillian Wearing over the design of the architectural setting.

What about the regulatory aspect, how do you keep relevant authorities informed when planning a public memorial?

Parliament Square Gardens is a Grade II Registered Garden within the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area, adjacent to the World Heritage Site and within the Whitehall and St James’s Monuments Saturation Zone where applications for new statues and monuments will not be permitted unless there is an exceptionally good reason.

Once the ‘exceptionally good reason’ had been established and the project was shown to comply with the other recommendations set out in Westminster’s Guidance for the Erection of New Monuments Supplementary Planning Document, we moved to the pre-application stage. We talked informally with Westminster’s planning officers, so they could get an idea of the direction we were going in and comment on any difficulties they foresaw.

As the project progressed and the design that was likely to form the basis of the planning application emerged, preliminary meetings were held with those who were due to be consulted under the planning application (stakeholders from the buildings surrounding Parliament Square, local amenity groups, the Garden History Society, Historic England etc) and the draft proposals were then shared with them, so we would be aware of any particular issues they might have with the scheme and be able to take the opportunity to address those issues in the final planning application.

Did you come up against much resistance to the proposals?

Not really. There were hundreds of letters and emails of support and only three real objections – all of which were connected with the fact that only female artists and sculptors had been considered.

The History & Future of Public Memorials

Why do you think it is so important to have public memorials in our public spaces? What can they teach us about our society today?

I’ve already mentioned how a statue or monument can give identity to an area, but memorials can also help us see ourselves in the context of our own history, as well as relative to those we choose to memorialise, as times change. It’s interesting that the majority of press coverage of Millicent Fawcett agreed we need more memorials, not less, particularly as we have to make up for lost time in marking women’s contribution in history.

Attitudes to history and identity are defined through art as much as anything else and art and sculptural and architectural form can enhance our sense of place in history and create a sense of identity.

There is talk about pulling statues erected in the past down and replacing them with artworks or memorials that more accurately reflect society’s values today. This is not a new concept as in the 1960s there was a desire to replace Victorian statues with more up-to-date artworks.  I am relieved that nowadays there is more of a tendency to restore and maintain these references to our collective past, leaving only our attitude to them to have the opportunity to change, as we become more informed.

So you would be in disagreement with the calls for removal or replacement of more controversial historical figures?

Yes, I would be concerned for example, in the calls to tear down a statue of a colonialist like Cecil Rhodes in the vicinity of a university college he founded. You can’t erase history but you could of course take the opportunity to use the memorial setting to educate people as to just how non-PC Cecil Rhodes was. A couple of years ago, whilst in Virginia USA, I visited Thomas Jefferson’s Federal style mansion, Monticello. Jefferson had been the main drafter and writer of the American Declaration of Independence and in Washington DC I had seen the enormous Jefferson memorial. However, at Monticello I was impressed as to how the heritage tour of the property now focuses as much on Jefferson as slave owner, the slaves’ lives and the history of slavery in America, including the original British colonial plantations.

And what of the future of memorials, do you see technology playing a more important role?

Westminster, who are already using QR codes on their bridges and structures for monitoring purposes, are considering extending the scheme to include their memorials, for educational purposes and coordinating with websites with historical information and links to memorial walks etc.

Elsewhere, there are the ‘speaking statues’ in Dublin, which immediately set off a chain of information as you pass them. In some cases ‘virtual’ memorials may prove more effective in helping people interact with their history and be a viable alternative to memorials in the built environment. The hard landscaping of our cities changes and develops continually, so going forward there should be plenty of opportunities to enhance the identity of such spaces with memorials in interesting new forms.

With these fascinating insights showing how a campaign for representation, the artistic and creative design process, and planning regulation and procedure come together as one, it’s safe to say we will never look at a statue the same way again.

Tony Dyson (Dipl. Arch RIBA) specialises in the design of urban hard landscapes and the architectural settings of memorial sculptures in Conservation Areas. He advises and provides services in connection with:  finding appropriate sites, feasibility studies, design and project management, planning negotiations, programming, cost control and contract administration.

Making Work, Work

An Isolation Problem: New Mothers, Remote & Office Workers United in Loneliness

In an increasingly connected world, why are we hearing that people feel increasingly more alone? Whether in the office, at home with the baby, or working remotely, more people are experiencing feelings of loneliness. As the majority of our lawyers at Obelisk work flexibly, many remotely, we look at some of the data and causes, and how we can tackle this creeping sense of isolation.

Working Life and Loneliness

Our modern working culture has changed the way we socialise – spending the majority of our time in the office, often commuting far from our local area, means our social life often revolves around colleagues and peers who have a similar working day to socialise around. We move to where the work and schools are, rather than stay within the communities our families once grew up through generations in, so we are less likely to form a bond with our neighbours.

So, once our lives change and we suddenly find ourselves outside of the work circle, through maternity leave, a career break or a change to remote flexible working, we can start to feel isolated.

New parents are understandably one of the most susceptible groups to feelings of loneliness – 80% of mothers surveyed by Mush admitted as much.  Much like retirees, the sudden displacement from work routine and social life can leave them feeling they are removed from their usual support circle.

It’s not just those who choose to stop working for an extended period. Both office and remote workers are experiencing similar level of loneliness. Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work found 21% of remote workers see loneliness as their biggest struggle.

Office workers also struggle. Though they might meet and speak with dozens of people a day through their profession, time pressures and work culture may mean they aren’t able to form a personal bond with many people they work with. A long-hours culture – working through break times, skipping the after work socialising due to having to catch a train to make it home for the kid’s bedtime – reduces the opportunities to connect with colleagues and associates.

A Growing Concern

This all shows that loneliness is not confined to certain groups; both workplace and general loneliness are a growing condition of our existence.

Life is increasingly busy both at work and at home – a recent report found that the amount of unpaid household tasks we are doing in the UK has increased by 80% since 2005. We get so bogged down with things we must do, we lose appreciation of the simple pleasure of having nothing in our schedule, and using that time to reconnect with others.

Loneliness is having a profoundly negative effect on our wellbeing and how we work. A Gallup study, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, found 30% of respondents with a ‘best friend’ at work were 7 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Loneliness can affect our ability to self-regulate, and impact on physical aspects of our wellbeing including blood pressure, the immune system and cognitive ability.

The Paradox of Social Technology

Social media and communication apps that are meant to bring people closer are perhaps encouraging complacency. We have all the ways and means in the world to send a quick message and see people’s public updates, but this means we don’t think to stop and check in properly on how someone’s life is going behind the scenes. We see others sharing photos of group holidays and work events, and it seems like we are even more alone with our lonely feelings.

Of course, we should know deep down what we see isn’t the whole truth.  In a world of keeping up appearances, no one wants to admit they are feeling lonely, for fear of coming across vulnerable – we are fine; we are living the dream of doing what we want when we want! Thanks to pluralistic ignorance, no one wants to admit they are struggling because they believe they are the only ones feeling that way, and so the cycle continues.

How to Combat Feelings of Loneliness

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others

As hard as it may be, try to resist comparing yourself to the outside view of other people. Choose to follow more warts-and-all social media accounts that aren’t afraid to show vulnerability and the other side of the picture. This will help when sharing feelings of your own to others, as it serves to prove that there are many people out there in the same boat.

  1. Do some good in your community

Positive action, even if you’re starting out alone, will soon attract other likeminded people. Find a local community club, cause or online group for something you are passionate about. Not only will you be contributing something worthwhile, it will boost your own confidence and help you get outside of your own head for a while.

  1. Take time to say ‘hello’

Not every conversation has to be deep and personal to give you a little boost for the day. Slow down and take the time to talk to people you may see regularly but never interact with for more than a couple of seconds. Be it in a park, at the shop, or on public transport, the longer you sit or stay somewhere, you’ll be surprised at how many friendly conversations can take place – yes, even in London!

Advice for New Parents

Join local online communities – It’s hard to get out and about with a new baby, and there’s very little time or energy to put into much else, so you may need to find other ways to combat loneliness. Local online support groups and parenting forums can go a long way to help.

Be neighbourly – If you live near other houses, try to get to know some neighbours. Stay at home mothers, retirees, self-employed people who may be home in the daytime can be a huge help and provide a range of different insights and experiences.

Advice for Remote Workers

Make more phone calls – It’s all too easy to send a message when time poor, and especially so when you’re finding it hard to pick up the phone due to feeling vulnerable. Taking that first deep breath and talking to people on a regular basis really does work wonders. A message about one thing starts and ends on that subject alone, whereas with a conversation, you never know where it might lead, making the interaction altogether more stimulating and valuable.

Schedule the time – If you are not good at keeping in touch, put contacting and meeting people into your diary as you would with work deadlines and conference calls.

Choose clients carefully as a freelancer – If you can, try to choose to work with teams who value communication and human connection, and understand the challenges of remote working and the need to be connected to the organisation on a deeper level.

Advice for Office Workers

Ask others how they are feeling – The chances are that you are not the only one feeling this way, so look out for other people too. Ask them how they are doing, how they are getting on with their current caseload or particular clients. We all need an opportunity to vent at work from time to time and (as long as it’s kept professional!) can help us bond with colleagues.

Address the office culture – Feelings of isolation are likely to be due to something wrong with the organisational culture. There may be a lack of investment in social events and team cohesion, so focus on addressing the problem by suggesting events and activities that encourage better collaboration and interaction with colleagues.

At Obelisk Support we all have had experience of feeling isolated in our working lives. With a flexible core team and network of remote consultants we work tirelessly to keep in touch, organise events and create a culture that helps individuals feel continually supported and cared for. If you have any thoughts on tackling loneliness as a consultant or lawyer on a career break, we want to hear from you.

Women in Law

Legal Upheaval: In Conversation with ‘Legal Rebel’ Michele DeStefano

How do we deal with upheaval as individuals? We have to adapt, be open to the changes ahead and listen to advice. In the legal profession, it is no different – as the world in which we practice law changes rapidly, lawyers need to be ready to rethink how they work.

That is the premise of a new book by Michele DeStefano, law professor and founder of LawWithoutWalls and MoveLaw. Legal Upheaval: A Guide To Creativity, Collaboration and Innovation in Law introduces readers to 7 essential experiences that lawyers must master to achieve innovation, transform their collaboration with clients, and create solutions at the intersection of law, technology and business.

With some urgency, the author encourages lawyers to think and behave differently in order to drive the innovation that so many in the industry are calling for. We were lucky enough to chat to Michele, and she is just as infectiously passionate in person as she tells us about the process of writing the book and the need for lawyers to be more ‘open’…

You are recognised as a ‘legal rebel’ by the American Bar Association – what does that mean to you?

To me a legal rebel means someone who isn’t just talking about what needs to be fixed in legal practice, both in training and practice, but is actively taking risks to do things that are different. Ironically, since the law is slower to change than other industries it’s not that hard to be considered a rebel!

There certainly is a lot of talk about innovation at the moment – in the book you define it as ‘lasting incremental change that adds value’, how much of that are we seeing right now?

There are various ways to define innovation, and it can be a hackneyed word. But there is some consensus in law that innovation is still about small steps – small change is difficult but is easier than asking for ‘big bang’ innovation, especially in a world of people that like the status quo.

However, lawyers and Heads of Innovation I think still inaccurately focus on the technology side of innovating, and it’s starting to frustrate in house teams and clients. Not every innovative solution has to be a technology. Will tech be involved in improvement? Yes probably, but we need to first change the view of the way legal services are provided. The focus needs to shift from what lawyers do, to how we do it; how we are utilising and leverage tech in order to improve our service and provide better legal products. If we look at design thinking, there was a similar trajectory that law is now learning from: there is lots of literature on the design thinker perspective on improving service, and we’re starting to see people from a design thinking method background being hired to work with lawyers to help them work through pain points and affect change in their service.

You put great emphasis on encouraging lawyers to be more collaborative and well-rounded in order to drive the changes needed in the industry…

Yes, that is something we typically struggle with. It’s a chicken-egg scenario: is the law attracting a certain type of person – those who are more introverted, more risk averse, more sceptical, but are great at complex problem solving – or is it that through the way training and practice churns and burns us that we create them?

That’s not to say being risk averse and sceptical are bad things, because in so many ways it’s our job to be those things to protect clients. We need those qualities, but it’s important to not be that all the time in the way we approach everything we do. Be a human! Use that fantastic lawyer mind but let’s work together and build on each other’s ideas to create a better service for those we work with.

Tell us about how you try to encourage openness with Law Without Walls?

With Law Without Walls, we have created a learning programme that is multidisciplinary in every way – people of all ages experience levels and type of discipline: academics, public servants, law firms and law schools from across the world come together into teams to co-create a Project of Worth – a practical solution to a real business problem designed to bring value. It’s extremely rewarding to watch the teams, especially the lawyers, change and grow in the way they ask questions, think about problems, approach meetings etc.  Especially when you hear that their teams back home notice the difference too, so much so they are asking them ‘who are you and what have you done with Craig?!’ That impact is exactly what we aim to achieve.

How was the process of writing Legal Upheaval? What did you learn from it and was there anything that surprised you in the conversations you had?

It wasn’t so hard to write but it was hard to edit! It took two years of interviews and I had enough for three books but had to edit it all down to one.  Interviewing is really a tough field – it requires listening beyond listening, there is no ‘I’ or ‘me’! We should be doing more interviewing training in law school.

Obviously I knew going in that the topic of innovation was being pushed, GC and in-house counsels are constantly saying ‘innovate or die’ but they don’t exactly know what it is or what they are asking for. Can you really measure it if you only know it when you see it? There’s an analogy to be made there with the diversity movement – calls for diversity initially were very vague, so firms would say ‘oh we have a female working with us’ – no mention of what level they were at, but okay!

It was only over time that the questions became more focused: what % of minorities are in our organisation, what % on my senior team are diverse etc. Now, clients are asking for your flexi-time policies, because without that you cannot support diversity – diversity doesn’t truly exist without creating an inclusive culture and environment.

It’s the same with innovation – who is going to lead it? What are you hoping to achieve? If you don’t want the same thing to happen as diversity, where you are racing to  meet client demand instead of forward thinking and define innovation for yourself, now is the time to be asking serious questions. Part of being a great innovator  is self awareness.

Another thing I was surprised by was the amount of in-house counsel complaints on simple matters – particularly over advising. There is a disconnect there, and I don’t know why or what is happening. Perhaps it’s because we are taught to see the trees not the forest, so many lawyers are missing the bigger picture of how their documents are used in day to day business practices. In-house counsel can read the law, they don’t want to receive reams of information that they have to filter and rewrite. We need to spend more time sitting back listening and asking ‘why’ in what we are doing. Of course, that makes people uncomfortable, especially the more senior we get, as we think we know the answers and we are taught to find answers for ourselves.

From your experience as a professor of law, is there a change in approach to teaching? Are students coming in with different expectations now? 

It is a bit like moving the Titanic. I don’t know if students are all that different – for hundreds of years they have come in with bright eyes and big hearted missions, that won’t change, but the next generation may have different expectations of the culture of law. Unfortunately law schools are much slower to move and the tenure systems that are in place very much encourage status quo and professors keep on teaching the same things they have taught for years. So, though there are some great things being done in law schools across the world in terms of bespoke programmes being created, it’s not reaching every student that it should. But it’s not just up to the schools, it’s going to take the whole village to move and change way we train and retrain lawyers.

What do you hope people will take from the book overall?

My hope is that people will leave with hope. Lots of articles about law as an industry are negative, but we should realise that some of the traditional habits that have made us successful so far are also characteristics that we can utilise to get over hurdles. The mission of the book is to get every lawyer to try a problem solving group project with the mindset of an innovator and try to adopt some of those skill sets and characteristics.

My three rules of engagement are Open Heart, Open Mind and Open Door – it does sound corny, but they are essential. Yes, effective people are good at editing out the nonsense and saying no to things, but innovators are different. They let go of preconceptions and allow themselves to be more open to accept seemingly silly ideas. That’s something that those in the legal industry can adopt and build on, and take that brilliant lawyer brain to fine tune and turn them into the really good ideas. We can approach creative problem solving collaboratively through just a small shift in thinking.

Michele’s efforts to encourage collaboration struck a real chord with us here at Obelisk. While this change in mindset is a challenge for all lawyers given their traditional education, DeStefano concludes it is overall good news for women lawyers, because on balance they are better at the necessary skills: having an Open Mind, Open Heart and Open Door. It certainly gave us hope that we are on a real cusp of change in the legal industry, and that small actions being taken today are laying the groundwork for a more open and inclusive future.

Legal Upheaval is available on Kindle and in Hardcover Edition from 1st October


Making Work, Work Trending

Professional Ghosting in Law – Why It Happens and How to Tackle It

We have noticed a lot being written recently about professional ghosting. Though not necessarily a new phenomenon, the practice of ghosting – going suddenly silent after previously being communicative and interested in forging a partnership  – in the age of remote communication, appears to be becoming an increasing problem.

There’s no sugar coating it- in the vast majority of circumstances (the only exception being where the relationship is toxic and bullying in nature and the ‘ghoster’ has no other choice but to cut all communication) ghosting is extremely inconsiderate and comes as a complete shock – however, it is important to understand the circumstances that may have led to the ghosting in order to handle it in a satisfactory manner and prevent a similar situation happening again.

Where Ghosts Lurk

Prospective employers once were the prime ghosting culprits in the recruitment process – after exchanging emails and partaking in interviews for a job, with the promise of follow up and feedback left unfulfilled. Now it is an employer’s market, the tables have turned and some candidates are reportedly dropping employers without warning when something else comes their way.

The legal industry is not immune from professional ghosting; law firms will recognise the ghosting client, but lawyers themselves are also guilty of the practice. One commenter on a LinkedIn post on the topic says:

‘A prospective consultant was talking about ‘ghosting’ during our interview the other day. She mentioned that she had been approached about a few roles at very short notice because the lawyer assigned to the role had simply not turned up on day one!’ And in an even more extreme example earlier in 2018, a Nebraska lawyer was suspended for first being a no show in court, and then failing to appear at an OSC as to why they failed to show initially!

It is shocking for most of us to think that a professional might risk their reputation and future employment by behaving in this manner, but it may be more common than we suppose – as those on the receiving end of (and those who commit) professional ghosting are often embarrassed and reluctant to talk about it.

Why Professional Ghosting Happens

We can narrow down some of the possible underlying reasons why people ‘ghost’ in a professional context:

1. People like to talk, but don’t consider action

Communication on a possible working relationship often dries up when the other party realises the other person is serious about implementing what you have discussed. Networking events are ripe for people who want to talk ideas and potentials, but ultimately they may not have the resources or the conviction to follow through on every conversation. Their intentions at the time may feel genuine, but the embarrassment of not being able to meet your expectations may prevent them returning your calls. It’s all too easy to be overly earnest, but learn to filter through the bravado, and create genuine, human first connections with people who really want to give their time and receive your input.

2.  Fear of conflict

Some people are so focused on pleasant interactions, they avoid the inevitable negative interactions altogether. This can happen at all levels – no one enjoys the difficult conversations, but they need to be had to avoid leaving someone out in the cold. Unanswered questions can lead to a long lasting knock on a person’s confidence in their ability and demeanor, so it is always preferable to get things out in the open and allow the individual the opportunity to heal and improve.

3. Bad organisational structures

A lack of response may be down to communications getting ‘lost’ along the organisational chain of command, so it is always worth following up with more than one contact in relation to your enquiry before giving up the ghost. However, you should ask yourself if you really want to continue to invest your valuable time in an organisation that does not invest in their interpersonal relationships.

4. An inability to say ‘No’

Similar to those who fear conflict, people who feel they must say yes to every opportunity may find themselves so overwhelmed by commitments, that they simply bury their head hoping a lack of answer will be enough to tell the other person they are no longer available. Recognising the limits of our time and making smarter choices, instead of trying to do as much as possible is better for both wellbeing and career – overcommitting and failing to follow up can damage a reputation irreversibly.

When Ghosting Isn’t Real

Sometimes what is initially construed as ghosting is simply a difference in expectation of the level of communication, and this can often occur between lawyer and client. It’s very important to manage expectations and be clear about your role, your workload and other clients and pay structure (e.g. reminding them that each phone call/email is costing them), otherwise frustration can occur on both sides which may lead to communication breaking down altogether.

How To Recover From A Ghosting Encounter

Ghosting is not just confounding and hurtful, it can reflect very poorly on your future job chances. “Ghosting is the result of poor character – I don’t think that people who are well behaved ghost,” says Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support. “I feel that there are a lot of excuses but ultimately, it comes down to not doing to others what you wouldn’t want others to do to you.”

The only way forward is to send a final ‘closure’ note and draw a line under the experience. It’s an act unlikely to elicit the response you seek, but it at least allows you to regain some control of the situation. You can choose to politely accept that they are no longer interested in communicating with you and wish them well for the future, or – if you feel that there may be still some hope of response – let them know you are open to their feedback on why they no longer felt able to continue the communication, whenever they feel ready to give it.

Ultimately, the underlying common denominator in ghosting is communication – be it a mutual lack of connection, or inability or neglect by one party, avoiding communication breakdown in working relationships will keep the ghosts at bay.



The Legal Update Women in Law

Law’s Missing #MeToo Moment? Law360 Satisfaction Survey 2018 Identifies Harassment and Discrimination of Women Lawyers

The Law360 Satisfaction Survey always makes intriguing reading – providing, in U.S. lawyer’s own words, a far reaching analysis of level of happiness in the industry, the best firms to work for, and of course key insights into diversity and gender representation. This year, in light of the #MeToo movement that began in Hollywood, the subject of sexual harassment is also a talking point.

Among the things we learned were that even with the prospect of high earnings, law graduates are bogged down and stressed by student debts as other graduates, with nearly a third grappling with six-figure debts, leading to many putting off major life events such as starting a family.

We also saw some evidence of progress being made in terms of more women lawyers in firms led by women from the Glass Ceiling Report, though that progress was deemed to be lagging in larger firms, and fairly static overall in the five years that the survey has been conducted, as explained by editor-in-chief Anne Urda. However, there was a particular finding in the Satisfaction Survey that put this picture into an uncomfortable context: Women lawyers were still reporting, in startling numbers, incidences of direct gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Shockingly, a third of female respondents report having experienced sexual harassment, and more than half said they had faced discrimination. Meaning we’re not just dealing with a lack of action or effective measures to encourage women in law – women are still actively being shut out, shut down and even harassed and assaulted because of their gender.

Lawyers are Saying #MeToo – Are They Being Heard?

The Attic recently published some of the derogatory things that are said to women in law. With credit to those on the receiving end, those women recounted their experiences with clarity and, in some instances, wry humour. That doesn’t make it ok for any of them – and it’s impossible not to get angry on their behalf when faced with such stories and statistics that should have no place in any society, let alone in the year 2018.

Lawyers are widely perceived as being pragmatic and stoic in nature. Though passionate about the rule of law and justice for the people they deal with, they achieve these aims in a reserved and reasoned manner. They understand more than most the importance of process and the harm that a bad one can do for both accused and accuser. They exchange mostly in polite scrutiny of their industry, because they approach issues with a level head, but also perhaps out of fear that any sense of anger or outrage could hurt their reputation. And we all know the negative responses that follow when a woman publicly expresses a feeling about something… We are perhaps unlikely then to see some the type of attention drawing activism that has been part of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up campaign in Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a concerted effort to use the momentum of the now international conversation to draw attention to the issue in the legal industry.

But many feel the industry needs to go further – beyond investigating individual instances of misconduct – and actually requires a culture overhaul, according to speakers on a panel at the American Bar Association‘s annual meeting Thursday in Chicago. How can those in the industry make this cultural shift happen? Will it need a pivotal #MeToo moment to create real change?

Power and Privilege

In a feature for Vice, a group of lawyers discussed the conduct of former United States Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, and an interesting point was raised about the power structure of court life tenure federal judges and law student carrying the aforementioned burden of debt – losing out financially simply isn’t an option for many young lawyers, so they are more likely to put up with wrongdoing against them. These hierarchical arrangements in courts must be discussed as well as how people starting out in law can be safeguarded from abuses of power.

Before conversations were happening in public, many women put the responsibility on their own shoulders to prove themselves and perform better to convince people that they were not just sexual objects. Once conversations came out in the open more, the men on the panel recounted conversation with other men who began to question whether they could say wrong thing, and there was a backlash of fear of the movement. There was also the suggestion that some may choose to not hire women at all because of the ‘risk’, or exclude them from career development opportunities such as events and business dinner.

As the group lamented, if the response to #MeToo and reports of sexual inappropriateness in the industry is to limit women’s opportunities further, it hasn’t even begun to cause the culture shift that is needed. That excluding women altogether from job opportunities or events is even mooted as a solution is deeply concerning. All too often the burden is passed to victims to either tolerate the behaviour or accept a space is not for them because of the behaviour, rather than challenging the behaviour itself. This needs to be tackled as broader concern.

The Precipice of Change

However, the positive is that people now feel they can speak more freely about what has happened to them, and there is no going back from that.

Participants at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting event this month agreed, with co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund Tina Tchen saying: “we are at an inflection point where we can shift what is going on in our workplaces.”

It is important to not view the issue of sexual harassment in isolation, the ABA president and chair of the panel Hilarie Bass  said: “What we are really talking about is building workplace cultures that are very diverse and very inclusive in every sense of the word. And that we are equipping managers and workers at law firms how to treat each other better in order to change the way workplaces operate.” And there have been moves in many organisation to make ‘say something do something’ a part of workplace policies and training, making everyone responsible for inclusivity and wellbeing. Secrecy and innuendo allowed Harvey Weinstein to get away with what he did for a long time, so a culture of openness needs to nurtured. We can’t simply rely on victims to tell their stories; those who are unaffected have to be vigilant and willing to challenge wrongdoing openly.

Panellist Nicole VanderDoes expands on the discussion in the Legal Network On The Road podcast. Her advice to people entering the profession or who have experienced troubling behaviour is to check what procedures and reporting mechanisms have been set up in their organisation for dealing with uncomfortable behaviour and misconduct. She also reminds us that those who might prefer to take the route of excluding women further to avoid the issue are also legally liable for this kind of discrimination too.

In others words, all in the industry must keep the conversation going, and leaders must continue to listen and to implement tangible measures against harassment and discrimination, to ensure we don’t see statistics like these again in 2019.