Obelisk In Action Trending

Transforming Well-Being for Lawyers: Mental Health in the Legal Profession

Be honest … how comfortable do you feel about telling your colleagues about any personal challenges you may be experiencing?  And how much compassion do you show when colleagues are struggling with the same issues? Practical tools and strategies to help lawyers tackle these difficult questions were the focus of a fascinating seminar on mental health in the legal profession.

This was a very human event. As a young woman told her story – about her journey back from depression suffered while practising as a lawyer – the audience sat in silence. But the nods of recognition that could be seen around the room said it all.

This was not a dramatic scene from a movie, but a CPD event called ‘Transforming the Wellbeing of the Profession’ – a joint event from the Law Society and High-Flyers Coaching based in Chancery Lane.

Welcoming the audience, Joe Egan, Deputy VP of the Law Society, emphasized that events like this are vital so that the legal profession can explore how it can de-stigmatise stress, anxiety and mental health issues.

The speakers, all lawyers, gave their personal perspective in this complex area.

Paul Gilbert, chief executive of LBC Wise Counsel, talked about his survey and report on the well being of in-house lawyers. He described mental health as the greatest challenge facing in-house legal teams today.

Lauren Giblin, founder of Bespoke Coaching, was the young woman who spoke so movingly about her journey back from depression. Lauren told the audience she spent eight years as a banking lawyer, and how the perfectionist tendencies that contributed to her successful career as a lawyer also ultimately also contributed to her illness. What stood out most perhaps was an astounding statistic; Lauren said 50% of the women she met whilst being treated in hospital were lawyers.

The secret to her recovery was learning self- awareness and the power of choice. Lauren told the audience she believes these techniques can help anyone address the often-negative internal commentary that causes pressures to build up and overwhelm you. Being conscious of the pressure that lawyers can be under and the impact this pressure can have on your wellbeing allows us to separate out our feelings of being trapped inside the work, and then look more objectively at our lives as a whole.

Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive at LawCare, spoke passionately about why well-being matters in the legal community. Elizabeth, who started her career as a lawyer at Leigh Day & Co, emphasized the need for lawyers to find a way of talking about their concerns. This level of honesty and vulnerability is not common or easy in the legal profession, but this is where Lawcare can help. Elizabeth said many lawyers are worried about appearing weak if they admit to personal problems. To give people the courage and the confidence to open up and speak about their feelings or their illness, Elizabeth said the legal sector must challenge the stigma around mental health. That’s why events like this – hosted by the Law Society – are vitally important so the issues are aired and lawyers and law firms begin to engage and change. Closing her talk, Elizabeth said in the workplace there is a role and a need for everyone to be supportive of colleagues and to take the issue of health and well-being seriously.

The final speaker was Chetna Bhatt, founder of High-Flyers Coaching. Chetna is currently on sabbatical from her in-house post, helping professionals work in a more balanced, productive and successful way.

She shared her personal story and how she had overcome personal difficulties. Like Lauren, she urged people to take back self-control – in a way that liberates you rather than bottles up problems for later.

She highlighted how important it is to be true and authentic to yourself, and to take responsibility for the changes that need to be made. She took the audience through a range of group exercises, designed to promote self-reflection and to create small changes in our lives that were both achievable and easy to build upon.

The very powerful message from this event was clear; people should not stay silent about the work pressures they are under. People should be encouraged and allowed to talk about stress at work, or to reach out and offer to help colleagues around them. There is help and support at all levels – for both individuals and firms. Starting a conversation about ourselves – like Lauren’s story – or offering help to others on the team are human steps we can all take.


Trending Women in Law

The First 100 Years 2017 Conference: Women Leaders in Law

As part of the aims of the First 100 Years project, Spark 21 held the third annual conference providing a cross-sector platform to debate ‘Women Leaders in Law: a 21st Century Conversation’.

The First Hundred Years in 2017

Dana Denis-Smith, the founder of First 100 Years and CEO of Obelisk Support, welcomed the event’s largest audience so far and thanked the hosts, Simmons & Simmons LLP.

First 100 Years is soon to be expanded into France and Australia – in particular as Australia is celebrating its centenary for women a year ahead of England and Wales, in 2018. Dana set the tone by saying we are moving beyond hackneyed phrases on diversity by opening up a wider discussion and debate on promoting women leaders in the legal profession.

Christina Blacklaws, President Elect of The Law Society, praised the project in creating a unique archive of the history of women pioneers in law and resources offering a wide range of positive role model of women in law. She highlighted the work still to be done to achieve parity and equality, as the pay differential and partnership statistics for women are still woeful. Blacklaws then announced the launch of a far-reaching Law Society programme (working with the Bar and Lexis Nexis). This will comprise of research and round-table discussions facilitated by women, so that empirical data can be gathered to form the foundations of concrete proposals to redress the imbalances and effect change, culminating in a global summit in the centenary year 2019.

She urged everyone to participate in the discussions and continue the documenting of the stories of women in the legal profession. This call to action theme – the need for personal action and contribution to the wider debate – is one that was echoed throughout the day by enthusiastic questions, comments both in the hall and on Twitter #First100Years.

Panel: History of Women in Law

The historical context of women’s’ leadership was the topic of the next panel chaired by journalist Catherine Baksi. She described the journey of diversity from a time 100 years ago women were not considered ‘persons’ and therefore couldn’t become lawyers, the passing of The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, and posed the question of how this is represented at the leadership level today. Keith Krasny, leadership coach, observed that women don’t lack leadership skills; and their skills might be right for the new type of legal firms created by disruption. Professor Lisa Webley, University of Westminster. Bruce Macmillan, in-house lawyer and director of The Center for Legal Leadership, gave practical advice: recruit on technical skills and behaviours. If people are preventing diversity initiative, make them accountable for their decisions, added Sam Smethers CEO of the Fawcett Society.

Keynote: #HeForShe by Lord Neuberger

Our #HeforShe keynote speaker Lord Neuberger followed on with his crisp distillation of principles of the importance of championing diversity in law, focusing on women in particular. 50 % of the population are women, therefore it’s a basic equality point; the failure to promote diversity in all its forms is a blatant waste of talent. “If you truly believe that women are less good at law than men, trying telling that to Brenda Hale!” he said. A more diverse profession (and from his stand point, judiciary) is needed more than ever in the current times to uphold the rule of law; this will foster greater trust by the public as a whole.

In essence, we need an inclusive and representative judiciary. Lord Neuberger spoke of male only application forms were still in use at Lincolns Inn in 1987. You had to manually cross out ‘he’ and ‘him’ and substitute ‘she’ and ‘her’, which epitomised the exclusion culture. Taking questions from the floor, he was direct and honest in his reflections that that in the past there was tolerance of behaviour prejudicial to women in law, and even included his own conduct. He agreed that everything we must work towards for women applies equally or more for BAME lawyers. At the end of the session, the hashtag #HeforShe was trending.

Panel: #HeForShe

The next session continued with the #HeForShe theme, further exploring how can men help women in the profession and reach the higher echelons. Catherine Baksi, led the discussion with Andrew Langdon QC, Chairman of The Bar Council talked about the positive effect of flexible working hours and mandatory mentoring pairing. Chris White, Founder, Aspiring Solicitors said it’s important for leaders to have accountability and responsibility and change to happen now needs more proactive action to call-out abuses.

Suzanne Szczetnikowitcz, Inspirational Women in Law Finalist and solicitor spoke about the importance of networks and mentoring and highlighting the need to identify rising talent and her role in creating Women in Law in London. James Hanlon, GC, is proud of the great female leadership statistics at IKEA and is a big believer in statutory reporting and that transparency can bring change. Andrew Magowan General Counsel at ASOS talked about how General Counsel can definitely use their buying power to promote diversity amongst their panels and look with rigour at what actually happens, by whom, and not to take diversity claims at pitches at face value.

Harriet Johnson, Inspirational Women in Law Finalist 2017 and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers spoke of how women should overcome their reticence to promote their self and how she and others promoted others through the organisation Women in Criminal Law as a way of overcoming this. One audience member raised the topic of how women who displayed ambition could often be perceived in a negative light. Harriet said she took inspiration from her poster in her chambers which says: ‘Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man’. “We need cultural and institutional change and for men to be a part of that,” she summarised.

In Conversation: Katie Gollop QC and Nemone Lethbridge

Katie Gollop QC, from Serjeants Inn Chambers gave an extraordinary account of the barriers and hurdles of her very colourful personal and professional life as a female barrister. This interview was recorded for the BBC radio 4 Law in Action programme, scheduled to be broadcast on November.

She was one of two women reading Law at Somerville College at Oxford  in 1952 and described how her tutor treated them with contempt as they ‘would only go on to commit the crime of matrimony’. She described in extraordinary detail the exclusion of women at the Bar at her chambers, where a lock was put on the lavatory door and all the men were given a key except her – she had to go to a café on Fleet Street.

She persisted and told her truly extraordinary life story, her clients the Kray twins, and of wearing pink kid gloves to the Old Bailey. On being asked her best practice tip she advised “always put yourself in the client’s shoes. Try to imagine what it’s like to be them.” To her, legal work is about fighting injustice and she still works at the law centre she founded in Stoke Newington.

Panel: #SheForShe

We were then joined by Dame Jenni Murray who led the #SheForShe Women Leaders in Law panel. There was some discussion and disagreement about whether women made different leaders to men – but there was consensus about the importance of authenticity. We listened to Nilema Bhakta-Jones, General Counsel for Ascential plc on the importance of leaders allowing themselves to be the best version of themselves and not to shy away from traits of nurture, empathy and service.

Millicent Grant, President of CILEx, spoke passionately about her struggle to be given the opportunities to prove herself, how she found it in the public sector and her inspirational colleagues who told her to ‘do it fearfully’ – she also stated her belief that women do have different leadership styles – and that a breadth of styles is to be encouraged. Shanika Amarasekara, General Counsel described her varied career experiences leading to her current role at the British Business Bank and the importance of sensitivity in leadership. Oonagh Harpur, Leadership coach and former Linklaters’ partner stated “We will have arrived when men and women can lead in their own authentic way as we need different styles at different times.” Vidisha Joshi, Managing Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen spoke about her experiences at her firm where there is a heartening 70% female partnership.

Panel: Dame Jenni Murray and Her Honor Judge Joanna Korner CMG, QC, Crown Court Judge and former Prosecutor at The International Criminal Tribunal

Dame Jenni Murray then interviewed Her Honour Judge Joanna Korner CMG QC, Crown Court Judge and former Prosecutor at The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia about her experiences prosecuting three genocide trials relating to the Bosnian conflict. She spoke of her early experience at the Bar and her former pupil mistress playing a key role in her success.

How Do We Create Positive Change For Women Leaders in Law?

The next #SheForShe panel focused on insights from women in the wider public sphere. We listened to classical Hannah Kendall who told us there were no women composers taught on the school curriculum until 2017. She emphasised the importance of visibility, and the need to challenge unconscious bias and who we imagine can do certain jobs. Alina Addison, leadership coach and former Rothschild banker talked about her life experience and how her son’s autism was a catalyst for change, propelling her into the sphere of coaching.  Reena SenGupta, founder of FT Innovative Lawyers discussed her career leap was down to her deep interest for the project, her interest in others and how having helped people in the past will establish future connections – so give of yourself. Renee Elliott, founder of Planet Organic, explored her success through selling skills and not yourself; being passionate about what you’re doing and preparing for the hard questions.

Panel: Justine Thornton QC and the Right Honourable Lord Hodge, Justice of the Supreme Court

The following session was billed as The Reunion. An intriguing teaser – pleasingly arising from the first conference where Justine Thornton QC posed the then panellist, the Right Honourable Lord Hodge, Justice of the Supreme Court a question about the number of female judicial appointees. She was then inspired to apply to the judiciary and told her cohort 39% new deputy high court judges are female. They echoed the imperative stated by Lord Neuberger that judicial diversity is so important to the rule of law. Justine Thornton QC says don’t get despondent about knock backs – ff you don’t get pupillage/training contract, work around and come back.

Keynote: Lady Justice Thirlwall DBE, Deputy Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales

“You don’t have a choice about being a woman! Do not allow yourself to be diminished!”

The closing keynote speaker, The Right Honourable Lady Justice Thirlwall DBE, Deputy Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, gave a moving, tour de force, final speech. She touched on the importance of having resilience – never be held back by the thought others will say you only got the case, appointment, silk because you’re a woman. She described her a visit to her old school the 6th form pupils, who told her about the First 100 Years project and re-enacted the (possibly apocryphal) race down Chancery Lane in 1920s of the women to become awarded the accolade of being the first female solicitor. She concluded with the stirring words: “Someone gave me a baton and I’ve passed it on!”

Darren Jones MP for Bristol West and former BT lawyer

We carried on the conversation chatting together at the drinks reception afterwards, where The Right Honourable Darren Jones MP for Bristol West and former BT lawyer talked about the imperative of  fighting against discrimination ‘For equality to exist and grow, men must stand up to and call out inequality’. He concluded that of course he has frustrations with the current debate about sexual harassment in parliament, but that ‘cultural changes come from all of us and that shoulder to shoulder, we will achieve change.’

With thanks to all speakers and attendees, and host Simmons and Simmons LLP.

Obelisk In Action

Friday Live Workshop Modern Slavery – what lawyers need to know

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) introduced victim support, a basis for prosecuting traffickers and the provision of transparency in supply chains. Given the widespread implication of the legislation for contracts and procurement, it’s vital for lawyers to understand what compliance with MSA means for businesses.

Sharon Benning-Prince and Dr. Mike Emberson delivered an insightful and moving workshop on the MSA, highlighting the extent of the problem and blight on peoples’ lives. They also outlined the regulatory regime, the compliance requirements for businesses and discussed some of the limitations.

Modern day slavery – the facts

Despite the abolition of slavery nearly 200 years ago, its modern incarnation is a more difficult matter to eradicate. Modern slavery is much less visible and more pervasive as it is threaded and embedded throughout the economies of many states.

It is estimated that some 45.8 million people are currently subject to some form of slavery in the world. It is the fastest growing criminal industry, and the second most profitable criminal industry to drugs. Equally as shocking as these statistics is the fact that three-quarters of UK companies believe there’s a likelihood of modern slavery in their own supply chains.

The common areas within business where this can arise are:

  • Production sites, Distribution centres and Co-packing operations
  • Contractors – catering, cleaning, security
  • Supply chains

The sectors that are particularly at risk are:

  • Agriculture and food processing
  • Garment and textile industry
  • Construction
  • Hi-tech and IT

The MSA regulatory regime

The MSA 2015 applies to businesses (public and private companies and partnerships), with a global turnover of over £36million, which carry on a business or part of a business in the UK. The obligation commenced for all relevant businesses that had a financial year ending on or after 31 March 2016 and the modern slavery statement must be made as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the relevant financial year.

Such businesses are required to publish a disclosure statement each financial year that contains the following:

  • Explains the steps taken by a business during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not happening either within the business or in its supply chain; or
  • Explain that the business has taken no such steps.
  • The statement should be published on the business’ website with a prominent link on the homepage.
  • The statement should be approved by the board of directors and signed by a director, or approved by the members and signed by a member in the case of a limited liability partnership.

There is no prescribed form for the disclosure statement in the MSA and statements vary enormously in the detail they provide. There is guidance from the Home Office, which includes the following information:

  • Organisational structure, its business and its supply chains
  • Policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking
  • Due diligence processes in relations to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains
  • The parts of its business and supply chain where there is a risk of slavery and human Trafficking taking place and steps it has taken to assess and manage the risk
  • Effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measures against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate
  • The training capacity about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.
  • The statement must be approved at board level, signed by a director.

It must be noted that even if businesses do not fall within the £36million threshold themselves, they may be asked by customers or third parties to comply with their code of practice and MSA declaratory statements. In this way, the obligations under the MSA will cascade down to smaller businesses that will need to adhere to the transparency provisions.

Thus the regulatory regime is aiming to ‘bite twice, and the need for due diligence, policies and anti-slavery provisions are requirements for all those in the network of supply chain networks.


Curiously, the MSA does not provide for a central repository or monitoring of the disclosure statements and it falls to The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre to maintain a register with the statements from around 1,800 companies to date. It produced a report on the first FTSE 100 companies to report here concluding that  there was a lack of detailed information on the structure of supply chains, information about specific risks or instances of modern slavery in the supply chain.

Criticisms of the regime are that there are no financial penalties in producing ‘tick box’ statements and, more fundamentally, the Government’s approach to enforcement. There is no penalty for non-compliance: the aim is that the threat of reputational damage for non-compliance, or for weak and/or misleading statements will be the driver of the aims of the MSA. Notwithstanding that the Act contains no financial penalties for non-compliance there was a discussion around civil proceedings where costs and compensation could be awarded to litigants. Indeed, this has already happened once and was a combined seven figure sum, and the courts have the power to freeze bank accounts/seize assets of a company in this regard although this has not yet been invoked.  The effectiveness of the legislation will depend on the scrutiny by others such as shareholders, NGOs and investors.

 It is too soon to evaluate how effective the MSA is in meeting its aims. The wide-ranging impact and scope for businesses seems to be at odds with the absence of a formal monitoring process of compliance and enforcement.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre currently maintains a public record of companies’ statements under the UK Modern Slavery Act and this is a valuable resource of examples. It is important for lawyers to understand where the businesses they advise stand on this matter and have procedures in place to collect the data to produce the disclosure statement.


Sharon Benning- Prince is an Obelisk consultant and specialist in this area and Trustee of the Medaille Trust, the UK anti-trafficking charity.

 Dr. Mike Emberson has been involved in ant-trafficking work since 2003 and has worked for the Salvation Army, Migrant Help and Genesis Consultancy. He is the CEO of the Medaille Trust

Obelisk In Action

Friday Live Workshop: The in house perspective from Telefónica UK Limited

At our February Friday Live workshop, ‘Helping me, helping you – how to partner with the in house team’ Sophie Atkinson, Head of Digital UK – Legal Team, Telefónica UK Limited gave us an excellent insight into how an in house team works in terms of its relationship to its client, the business, and what they are looking for when they get external legal support. This is so important for any external legal advisers to understand – particularly for consultants. So what are the key messages and how can consultants hit the ground running?

The central message, whilst obvious, is worth re-stating: businesses value an experienced pair of helping hands who can get the job done and add value to them. They need clear, commercially-focused legal advice tailored to their particular business circumstances.

What in house teams love:

  • Commercial advice – they need opinion and solutions – certainly flag risks, but put it in the context of their business (likelihood of it happening, value involved etc.).
  • They need executive summary points that can be sent to the board not a detailed letter of advice, or worse a cut/paste of legislation.
  • Understanding the context of where the advice fits – so be curious. Ask where the advice sits within the business.
  • Getting the balance of ‘precision and polish’ correct for the work involved.

What drives them mad?

  • Being overly legalistic.
  • Copy-and-pasting statutes.
  • No summary, no application to facts.
  • Late advice for contracts – speed is vital.
  • Talking over clients’ heads and not engaging – need to instill trust and confidence in the client across the business- wide range of legal experience (or not).
  • Not taking a view – don’t sit on the fence. Take a position and give recommendations.

What knowledge and skills do you need to advise in the Telecoms sector?

  • Great personal skills are vital for client relationships, intellectual curiosity and an approachable manner.
  • The ability to translate complex legal concepts into plain language and vice versa – such as translating the impact of contract for the business.
  • Understanding of the wider business imperatives such as budgets, targets and how a year is structured within a business.
  • A thorough understanding the regulated sector environment.
  • Financial services, other payment services, impact of block chain developments.
  • Contract law and all the other aspects such as competition law, data protection.
  • They need geeks! People who know how apps, APIs etc. work.

Impact of the evolving legal services market:

  • Definitive move away from just instructing traditional law firms.
  • In house teams are leading the way in working out who they need to do what work when.
  • Fixed fees and clarity of scope of work are the order of the day.
Obelisk In Action Trending

The Ethics of Lawyers – What Makes Them Lose Their Moral Compass?

How do lawyers behave when the commercial drives of a business push the boundaries of ethical conduct? This is the core question that was discussed in an insightful talk given on the ethics of lawyers by Professor Richard Moorhead to clients and consultants in The Attic last week.

Discussion around ethics has gained considerable momentum, and it is the focus of recent research following the Tomlinson Report in the wake of the banking crisis and research commissioned by the SRA. I initially came across it in 2016 at the UCL’s Centre for Ethics and Law talk about whether institutional clients threaten lawyer independence, the write up of which you can read here.

Professor Moorhead ‘s research, ‘Legal Risk: Definition, Management and Ethics’ and ‘Mapping the Moral Compass’ explores the growing evidence that the role of the general counsel is increasingly under pressure, and that the professional ethical boundaries are not as well drawn as may be necessary for the increasingly sophisticated world of in-house work.

How lawyers think about their role and how this plays out in their management of situations is necessarily more complicated than an abstract analysis of professional regulation. Professor Moorhead explained that lawyers are not the ‘moral compasses’ of a commercial situation and that professional integrity will often dictate how they will need to conduct themselves. The purpose of the research is not to put lawyers under the microscope, rather an awareness of the challenges facing those working in the in house environment: having to do more with less, the requirement to be more commercially-minded set against increased stress and greater risk. For example, the recent Rolls Royce case is only one of a number of situations where in house lawyers’ conduct has been implicated.

Culture, seniority and bias

Questions were posed about how lawyers frame their role and how it is framed for them. Our audience agreed there are likely be different answers depending on the seniority of the lawyers, whether a GC is on the board and the culture of the organisation. This last point is key. Moorhead’s research suggests that problems are structural in nature (rather than individual ‘bad apples’) and that the culture of an organisation often leads to bad decision making. In particular, there are two observed biases: Team loyalty – where decisions differ depending on who you are acting for (e.g. claimant or defendant) and subjectivity – claiming you are objective in fact leads to a more subjective approach.

If you find those biases surprising, the following findings are food for thought: thinking yourself to be a professional makes one more likely to cheat, according to research by Maryam Kouchaki. Professor Moorhead described the concept of psychology informing ethics taking place, that there is an element of dis-inhibition and moral licencing, for example in the way a question is framed: if something was described as ‘advancing the ideals and aspirations’ rather than being conducted with ‘strict adherence to standards and obligations’ the participants were more likely to cheat.

Personality traits and responses

So what happens when a breach of sanctions is found? Turning to ‘Legal Risk: Definition, Management and Ethics’, Professor Moorhead described the three responses: Defensive – (how to defend), Activist (what happened) and Pro-activist (what needs to happen). Using the Schwartz values survey personality test, the traits of in house lawyers were found to be similar to those who are in private practice. This creates a schematic overview looking at traits such as universalism, benevolence, conformity and tradition. Unsurprisingly, higher benevolence and conformity traits lend themselves to a greater ‘pro-social justice’ outlook than traits of power, achievement, hedonism, and stimulation which are defined as ‘self-enhancing.’ Having undergone personality testing, lawyers were then given a problem centred on advising a company about transactions which may fall foul of a licensing process. Those who advised the client how to handle transactions so that a regulator is less likely to scrutinise them had a higher dominance of achievement and power traits.

Looking at his findings from ‘Mapping the Moral Compass’, this research essentially looked at the ‘ethical inclination’ in in-house lawyers in two ways: their moral attentiveness (the extent to which people deal with problems as moral problems) and moral disengagement (the extent to which people are inclined to morally disengage, to behave unethically without feeling distress). Out of 400 respondents, the results showed:

  • 10-15% experienced elevated ethical pressure. 30-40% sometimes experienced ethical pressure
  • Ethical pressure was highest in public sector organisations
  • 36% agreed that loopholes in the law should be identified that benefit the business
  • 9% indicated saying “no” to the organisation was to be avoided, even when there is no legally acceptable alternative to suggest
  • 65% achieving what their organisation wants has to be their main priority
  • 7% never discussed professional ethics issues with colleagues internally or externally, formally or informally.

In the research, four ethical identities were identified:

  • Capitulators – reasonably morally attentive but are under ethical pressure and are less morally engaged
  • Coasters – do not perceive themselves as under ethical pressure and have moderate-low levels of moral attentiveness but not lower moral disengagement
  • Comfortably Numb – do not perceive high levels of ethical pressure and have low levels of moral attentiveness and higher moral disengagement, the most concerning of the four groups
  • Champions – are under the highest levels of ethical pressure but retain the highest levels of moral attentiveness and the lowest levels of moral disengagement.

In the context of the current regulatory framework, the SRA Handbook places ‘independence and legality’ first and this stands in contrast to the greater emphasis that in-house lawyers place on acting in client’s interest. Unsurprisingly, the Champions reported worst relations with business elements of the employer.

In terms of looking to how the legal sector can benefit from such findings, our audience shared their experience that ethics is not usually discussed at recruitment, let alone taught at law schools and there is little training or advice for in house lawyers. Interestingly. the US has a stronger tradition of teaching ethics at law school.

So what to do? Professor Moorhead recommends American author, Ben W. Heineman Jr, ‘The Inside Counsel Revolution: Resolving the Partner- Guardian Tension’. He also suggests that legal teams (in private practice and in house) discuss case studies to share views about ethical problems. From these discussions, an airing of potential problems and risks is a good foundation to build the supportive organisational infrastructure describe above. Furthermore, discussing what professionalism means to one’s day-to-day conduct helps to internalise ethical behaviour. In short, discussing what it means to be a professional with others rather than merely regarding yourself as a professional can help keep the ethics of lawyers from being lost in the complexities of commercial endeavour.

Professor Richard Moorhead is the Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at UCL Faculty of Laws and Director of Centre for Ethics and Law. He writes a regular blog commenting on the legal profession, Lawyer Watch.

Obelisk In Action Trending

Wednesday Live: Ten Things That Make a Difference in Running Your Career

We were really lucky to have Terry Miller OBE talk about concrete and practical things that have made a difference in her varied and successful career, and the question was posed to our Wednesday Live audience about what has made a difference in their journey through work. Terry told us that overall, her success was borne out of realising what mattered most at the different stages in her life, not to mention making time to nurture outside interests will maintain drive and avoid burnout. She also provided some more detailed advice about keeping your career on track and forging one’s own path to success…

1. Don’t slam doors on your way out

Over the course of your professional life you are likely to have several jobs, particularly working as a freelance consultant, and will meet and work alongside many people. These people are your network, for good and bad. Ideally, your lasting impression is one that ensures they will recommend you and bear you in mind for future opportunities.

2. Maximise every encounter with physical and mental preparation

It’s vital that every time you meet or speak with someone you consider the impression you give – you may not get a second chance to remedy a less than ideal encounter.

  • Mental preparation – Anticipate what to expect. Reduce points to diagrams, read documents several times if necessary. Be concise and stick to what you know: if you don’t know something, say this early and don’t waffle.
  • Physical preparation – Choose outfits for important times as your ‘battle dress’ – comfortable, well-fitting clothes that you look good and feel confident in. Pay attention to your posture and avoid crossing your legs when seated as this folds the body in on itself. Practice a ‘superwoman’ power-pose and breathing exercises beforehand. Speak in a measured, non-rushed tone and be commanding – avoid upward inflection when making statements and you are less likely to be challenged.

3. Leadership is about managing people

No matter how brilliant you are no one ever does anything by themselves. The most important skill to learn is to surround yourself with excellent people.

  • Give constructive criticism – do so immediately, couch it in terms that this is something that can be fixed, deliver with emotion.
  • The art of really listening – Terry cited the virtue of MBWA (management by walking around). Boundaries are required for concentration and short but regular updates to ensure goals are met.
  • Be supportive under pressure – Terry said that at LOCOG they had a small soft chimp toy that was passed to those who were experiencing a bad day or difficult time as an act of team support and sympathy.

4. Position yourself for promotion

Act as if you are already there, this channels your focus and helps determine how people regard you. Terry described in the final two years before being made a partner at Goldman Sachs, how she decided to act as if she had already been appointed – not to mislead but to inform her conduct in meetings and running projects  as a partner would, with conviction and authority.

5. Take charge of your career

Think every six months about how your career is developing. People thrive if they take responsibility for their career, and drift if they expect others to do so.

6. Priorities – low-hanging fruit or tackling the hard stuff?

Terry’s personal approach is to tackle the hard topic by setting an initial hour limit to make it seem manageable.

7. The value of the early no and the sympathetic no

You need to be decisive about what you can do or not do. The longer you delay or leave your response open-ended, the more difficult it is to get out of, so an early no is vital.

The ‘sympathetic no’ is better received. Even if the answer is ‘I’m sorry I have to say no, I’ve looked at it from all angles,’ it has the benefit of being decisive and inclusive. It can be couple with a constructive end, e.g. ‘we can revisit this at another time or start from different position’.

8. The value of the second alternative

Put the option that works best  for you as a second choice when presenting options to others: ‘What would you prefer? We can either pick this up in two weeks or we can deal with it now?’ In Terry’s experience, this invariably works!

9. Be realistic about having it all

Terry discussed her own career trajectory and balancing her own life priorities as a parent as maintaining a slower longer position on the career ladder, but on her terms. Her outlook is that it is possible to have it all job, parenting or outside passions, but not all at the same time.

10. Take advantage of the unexpected and the challenge of the unknown

In 2005, Terry’s plan was to step out of partnership and focus on horse riding. However, she was invited to become the general counsel of LOCOG, the opportunity of a lifetime. This required her to accept a complete change of personal plans and go into many new areas.

Final thoughts – Mistakes and mentors

There were two particularly interesting questions from the audience: the first regarding mistakes – Terry said it was her experience that being honest and dealing with them directly is the best policy; this fosters trust and an ability to focus on solutions rather than a more unhelpful process of others finding out later.

The second related to Terry’s experience of mentoring. Ideally, this would be done by your manager, someone who wants you to perform at the best of your ability. However, she also said there was an important role of a ‘truth teller’ someone who could give more objective advice and this may be someone higher up the organisation.

Terry Miller OBE is an independent non-executive director of the British Olympic Association, a  director and trustee of the Invictus Games Foundation and a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs international bank, having previously worked as international general counsel. She was also general counsel for the London Organising of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) from 2006- 2013.

Making Work, Work

Measuring performance as a legal consultant

If you work on a freelance basis, you may not receive formal appraisals.  However, your personal performance will be central to the chances of being offered new opportunities. Working as a legal consultant s requires you to be aware of the pressures on legal departments to deliver accurate legal and commercially focused advice to their businesses. There may be a perception that freelancers may not take performance issues as seriously as full-time staff because of their temporary nature.  Yet in our experience, successful consultants (as well as personal pride in doing a job well) know that high performance is critical to their success in working in a freelance capacity. This requires an ability to ‘read’ the culture and standards necessary of the permanent team and matching them. However, without a traditional employment structure to set performance reviews and parameters, how does a consultant measure and monitor their performance?

Assess the business needs and priorities

It is vital to find a way to assess the needs and priorities of a client’s business and ensure they are being met. At Obelisk, the client relationship team seek to understand their needs and suggest tailored legal solutions involving specialised consultants. Obelisk has built up a unique picture and understanding of the clients’ needs and pressure points and are aware that a legal team has to deliver to its business to a very high standard. This emphasis is important to understand as a consultant and your credibility and future work opportunities very much depends on meeting the client’s specific needs.

What skills are GC’s looking for?

Needs do vary across organisations and sectors, but there are some broad expectations that can help you measure your performance on the job. We spoke to general counsel across a variety of sectors: banking and financial services, multinational consumer goods and footwear and clothing, to investigate what they see as the key skills and focus for an in house lawyer.

  • Legal competency is a given, but lawyers must be able to show how they keep up to date
  • Evidence of core skills – drafting, negotiation, advocacy and communication
  • Commercial nous, an in-depth understanding of sector specific issues for the business (e.g. resourcing, supply chain, distribution and delivery of services, employment, IP etc.)
  • The ability to forge relationships with sector trade bodies and regulators, if the role requires this
  • Ability to co-ordinate across the different business functions and communicate effectively
  • Capacity to advise the business with solutions, but within their risk appetite – what one GC called ‘Simplify, Navigate and Solve’.
  • Competency with technology platforms – be aware of the commonly used tools in business and particularly those that can help you work effectively Awareness of the cultural ethos and communication styles and be able to report effectively with the context of the business in mind
  • Consider the long-game even when coming in on a very short-term project – clients have had experiences that have left a mess to be cleaned up when the job is done, so it’s vital to understand bigger picture of job you are doing
  • To summarise: good in house lawyers are a part of the business in all senses.

How to build this into your career as a consultant

Here is some guidance on continuous reviewing of performance as a legal consultant:

Aside from analysing your performance from a client perspective, it’s important to assess your own goals and objectives in line with the client’s: is the project moving you forwards?  What can you learn whilst working to improve your skills and experience? Is there any capacity for training informal or formal whilst in the role? Such as handbooks and templates which may give sector specific insights. At Obelisk, you will get free access to PLC when in role and reduced cost access to external training courses, as well as free monthly workshops and links in the weekly update letter. Under the new SRA Continuing Competency requirements, you have to keep up to date and keep a plan and record of how you are maintaining professional competent.


It is our experience that the key to successful freelance work is building trust swiftly and this is achieved by clear and open communication. Address minor frustrations before they escalate. Your client may not be showing any signs of frustration but are you experiencing some of your own? Is there a way of solving the issue, could you be communicating more effectively? Reflect on the ease in which you are able to complete tasks, if you don’t have everything you need to do the job well, it is up to you to speak up. Understanding targets and priorities are particularly important when working in a freelance capacity. We can help and advise you if you are unclear.

As a consultant, you need to have empathy and understanding of every client and their business on a level that you would have as a permanent member of staff, so continually reviewing these key points against your own work is vital. We seek feedback from clients during each role and will discuss this with you as well as an end of role assessment. We view this as key in terms of meeting our client’s needs and ensuring that our consultants are given every chance to succeed.

Family & Work Obelisk In Action

On finding confidence in a portfolio career: Lucinda Acland

Obelisk community manager Lucinda Acland shares her #MyMillionHours story of carving a path to work through her ever-evolving family life

When I first heard the term ‘portfolio career’, I was delighted to have a rather dignified description applied to my somewhat idiosyncratic working life. My experience is certainly not unique and since I have joined Obelisk Support, I have come across hundreds of others who have also had to cut-and-paste themselves into a variety of different working styles.

On a personal level I can identify strongly with the #MyMillionHours campaign as the question of having the time to devote to family whilst working has been at the heart of my life. I have worked in the legal sector on and off for the last 25 years. In the 1990s, I spent several years practising in commercial litigation, both as a solicitor and as a professional support lawyer in the use of technology and litigation for an international law firm. As a solicitor, I returned from maternity leave to my full-time job, as I was the breadwinner. I was still a junior assistant and the ethos was to work long hours to meet billing targets, and attend client and firm events. It was then that the day-to-day reality of the tension between competing interests of our two careers and parenting responsibilities hit home. My husband and I alternated between going in early and staying late and working weekends, and we shared a nanny with another couple.

When our third child came along a few years later, I decided to leave work and return to full-time stay at home parenting. It gave me the freedom to focus on our own family life, which needed stability during some very difficult times. I continually looked for ways of returning to work, but in a way that would cover all the bases of the moving targets of family life. I certainly experienced the ‘loss’ of myself without a separate individual endeavour. I also felt that I had somehow failed professionally and lost economic independence. I knew many other women who had opted out of various careers to focus on their families and who had huge amounts of skills and experience that were going to waste.

I needed to get back into the job market but it felt too difficult to re-engage with my previous career. In 2007 I started work as a writer and presenter, and then Legal Editor for The College of Law (now University of Law) for their online CPD course. It was full time in the office but I was able to work 8am to 4pm, which worked well for school hours. This was a good way of using my legal knowledge, research and writing skills. I also enjoyed interviewing people and the filming process.

When my eldest child was doing her GCSEs, I decided to look for a more flexible home-based solution. This came from the launch of a new legal services provider Riverview Law in 2012, where I oversaw the social media campaigns and managed their online presence. This was quite a change as I had to learn the principles and application of social media from scratch.  Nevertheless, I knew about the legal marketplace and the structural changes it was undergoing and was able to promote the company in an individual way and harness the interest in the new law environment. I could do a lot of it remotely, I liked the buzz of being involved in a new start up and felt my efforts made a difference. The hours suited me very well as I could choose when and where I worked, but I knew I was on the look out to do more than just social media.

In 2015 I joined Obelisk Support in the new post of Community Manager. I work 30 hours a week, with flexibility to work from home. The business is growing and expanding fast. The role involves being the day-to-day point of contact for our pool of consultants, developing a learning and development programme of events and involvement in our tech-enabled operational platforms and tools. I am also involved in the First 100 Years charitable project set up by CEO Dana Denis-Smith, which is the creation of a digital museum to celebrate the journey of women in law.

It is important to me that I can work within a team where the atmosphere is collaborative and supportive. It is by far the most impressive organisation at which I have worked in terms of having an authentic ethos driving the commercial activities. Working at Obelisk aligns with my values of encouraging people to have confidence in themselves, and recognise the value of their experience. I believe it helps promote a growth mind set, so that we develop curiosity alongside wisdom, fostering new ideas and innovation when applied to the workplace.

I speak regularly with lawyers who are keen to use their professional knowledge and abilities but, because of family and childcare responsibilities need a flexible working pattern. One of the hurdles that we aim to help them overcome is self-esteem and confidence. Often lawyers have come from a high achieving background and they can feel cut adrift when they step outside the career path. It’s important to stress that this is not just a women’s issue – we have many men consultants who are working in a different way too. Previous constraining attitudes are giving way to support and recognition of modern life’s demands on family and careers.

Obelisk In Action

Wednesday Live: Humans as Resources

Everything is simple in war but the simplest thing is very difficult’.  This is a phrase which has been rolling around my mind since the fascinating talk on leadership by Major General Andrew Kennett CB CBE, who agreed to come to the Attic in February 2016 to our client breakfast club Wednesday Live.

We were delighted that so many of our clients came to the talk and they proved an interested and lively audience, even for such an early hour.

Andrew chose the title ‘Humans as Resources’ as he believes that central to good leadership in an organisation or situation is how you treat people and respond to change. Andrew is an exceptional speaker. His account of armed combat in Iraq held our audience spellbound. The reality of what military deployment in an armed conflict outside conventional warfare was sobering and captivating. He drew on historical conflicts and a few of his own experiences in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Andrew described his background and work in the Army, MOD and overseas security environments throughout the world. His commercial experience was gained in the electronics sector, security consulting and running skydiving centre.  His charitable experience is with the Skinners’ Livery Company, a membership organisation with City Guild origins of 700 years, which has education and grant making charities at its core.

Andrew outlined his view of good leadership as having three components:

  • A sound strategy comprising good plans and clear communications.
  • Alert to the lessons of success and failure: learning from past lessons and understanding the present context.
  • Strength of character.

We discussed as a group that there were clear parallels that could be drawn between the Amy and the legal profession in terms of a traditional, hierarchical structure and that lessons could be learnt both ways. A military life is one based on institutional structures and culture. Non-military organisations and their operations are more unstructured and chaotic and need a more subtle and nuanced management style, but still a very clear strategy.

Turning to the first component. There are many types of strategy and Andrew considers that people frequently confuse strategy for policy. The best strategy changes the context of the problem – focus on the desired outcome, rather than perhaps the problems immediately presenting themselves. Effective prioritisation is required as there are rarely sufficient resources. Simple plans are effective as they are readily understood and you can galvanise the situation by using unexpectedly imaginative ideas.  Clear communication is vital. There must be clarity for all staff about the aims and objectives of the organisation. A clear plan about how this is to be achieved and adequate resourcing and training to make the framework operational is the ideal, but this rarely happens in real life. However, much can be achieved by clear processes and a small team which establishes a network to serve the aims of the organisation.

Interestingly, history tells us that ‘strategy’ has its origins in military terminology [ conflict]. Having a strategy even with good plans and clear communications is only the start for a leader: there is the challenge of managing friction. Returning to the opening quote by Carl von Clausewitz ‘everything is simple in war, but the simplest thing is very difficult. These difficulties have a habit of accumulating and producing friction which no man can imagine who has not seen war.’ Andrew says a leader must develop the skill in understanding whether these frictions will prevent meeting the organisational objectives. A good example is Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, which was secured using two deductions. He reconfigured his feet into two columns attacking the French line using a perpendicular approach. This was a new and unexpected tactic. It worked as the French gunners were less skillful and the sea had a significant swell. He also knew that his ships’ captains and their crews were sufficiently experienced and trained to cope with a new approach. One of the main lessons here was of his knowledge of the sailors’ capacity to tolerate unpredictable situations and he knew this because of their training. This is a facet that needs to be borne in mind for any leader today: how well trained are your teams? Can they pull together as a team in uncertain times and retain in mind the objectives of the organisation? Andrew suggests identifying areas for focus and creating a network of people involved with the skills for good governance. Even if you have good people, you need to specifically hone suitable skills – how is this to be addressed?

Turning to the second component. Most people and therefore organisations, find it very difficult to learn from the past. The cliché, ‘lessons will be learnt’ in the aftermath of a crisis or disaster is an oft-repeated phrase for the very fact that we frequently fail to spot that we repeat the same faulty behaviour. Learning organisations in his view, are very rare. There is cyclical nature to problems and leaders need to recognise this dynamic. Frequently, the same business challenges arise, but often people are not interested in examining the past to consider what we have already learned. To learn lessons – we need to change the culture and behaviour of people and this is very difficult. Andrew cited his experience at the MOD, where it is less effective when it comes to non-military decisions – he raises the life experiences of the reservists as being under-utilised as they can bring interesting insights and perspectives. There was further discussion about the parallels with the legal sector: the reforms of ABS were meant to bring non-legal experience into the management of law firms. Another example cited was the influx of US law firms to the UK has led to a change in remuneration and mergers that arguably, takes the focus away from clients. When people are thrown into new situations – they react by instinct and generate activity – not necessarily creating the best outcomes. There is a place for gaining perspective and allowing time to pass to truly understand what is needed.

The third characteristic of leadership, strength of character, was borne out of intuition, decisiveness, honesty and the ability to continually learn. Leaders must be alert to the lessons of success and failure – keep them in mind and implement systems and processes to apply them. Andrew’s examples of good leaders included Napoleon, Churchill, Thatcher, Mandela, Ang San Su Kyi, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Ghengis Khan! He said emphasised that high moral standards and values help, but also leading by example and this must be tempered with humanity. Through experience, his belief was that making mistakes was inevitable, but how you react is key, not only for managing the situation but also as an example to those around you. This can be a powerful lesson for testing organisational values and credibility. The team observe the behaviour and will emulate. It promotes authentic and provides real time examples of putting an organisation’s values into practice.

He posed the question whether leadership was innate, intuitive or learnt. The selection of people as leaders has to be questioned, what creates a star performer in one context and leads to promotion, does not necessarily translate into good leadership and management skills. Dana Denis-Smith raised the parallel in law where there is little built into staff training that prepares them for leadership roles that align them to the organization goals. The billable hour as a tool to identify ‘star’ lawyers for promotion, does not equate to building management and leadership skills. There followed a discussion about appraisals, specifically, the utility of ‘360 degree’ appraisals – where you have to get feedback from a number of people and this demands good management and constructive criticism. Comments from the audience included that in a small organization you have to look at culture and whether it’s safe to speak out.

And finally, at the heart of determining good leaders of an organisation, what in an organisation can change?

The event on 24th February was live tweeted with the hashtag #WednesdayLive from @TheAttic

Obelisk In Action Trending

Lawyers’ independence En Garde

A question was put to the legal sector this week that echoed around the whole of the City – do institutional clients threaten lawyer independence?

This eyebrow-raising question is at the heart of a piece of research commissioned by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in the wake of the Tomlinson Report, which raised serious concerns about how major financial institutions can influence their law firms.

The answer – presented to an audience of lawyers, academics and regulators at UCL’s Centre for Ethics and Law on Wednesday evening – came from the very man who was brought in by the SRA to carry out the study, Dr Steven Vaughan.

Dr Vaughan (pictured above) is an academic from the Law School at the University of Birmingham. After spending the best part of ten years as a City lawyer advising multinational companies, governments, the UN and the World Bank, he now carries out research into the legal sector and corporate finance.

In this study for the SRA there is no doubting Dr Vaughan’s findings and certainly no evidence of him sitting on the fence. Do institutional clients threaten lawyer independence? In a word, yes.

Professor Richard Moorhead from UCL invited Dr. Vaughan to set out his findings to the audience in detail, which was followed by a discussion with Enid Rowlands, Chair of the SRA, and Alasdair Douglas, Chairman of the City of London Law Society.

Dr Vaughan said the relationship between large commercial law firms and their large clients, with the impact these relationships can have on professional independence and therefore ethics, standards and risk, is critical in delivering effective regulation across the legal profession.

He said his findings essentially point to a shift in the dynamic of lawyer-client relationships inside large firms, whereby the client can hold significant power over the lawyers they instruct.

There are a series of complex factors behind this, which have all developed at a “staggering” pace in recent years;

  • increasing competition for legal services
  • the growth of General Counsel
  • the relative size of clients to the law firms they work with
  • and the ongoing impact of the financial crisis.

In particular, Dr Vaughan highlighted the private regulation of professional lawyers via contract. This relates to law firm panels and outside counsel guidelines seeking to impose their own terms of engagement on law firms, and the practice of what Dr Vaughan calls ‘shadow clients’, where third parties – namely borrowers – pay the fees of, and have a powerful voice in the appointment of, their lender’s lawyers.

  • Dr Vaughan’s insights and observations – which are based on interviews with lawyers working in this space – outline the tension between the existing state framework on one hand and the commercial imperative of being close to clients on the other
  • The lawyers he talked to lamented the loss of their professional advisor status, which has now changed to being one of a service provider in the light of de-regulation of the legal services market
  • Dr Vaughan described how some see the Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLP) as the ‘holders’ of professional values for the whole firm – potentially eroding the essential concept of individual professionalism.

And the research suggests a somewhat “insidious” increase in the kind of risks some firms are prepared to take, especially wrapping liability of third party advisers working on an uncapped liability basis and signing indemnities.

The SRA commissioned Dr Vaughan’s research to get a better understanding of these kind of client relationships as it works to evolve the existing regulatory framework.

Summing up, Dr Vaughan said the current principle of ‘independence’ and associated guidance as set out in the SRA handbook does not match the realities of what is happening practice. These principles could be better framed, whilst the area of ‘shadow clients’ should be addressed head on.

Next up was SRA chair, Enid Rowland, who said lawyer-client relationships are indeed a complex area, and the SRA understands that commercial pressures do not operate in a ‘bubble’. She commended Dr Vaughan’s report as a great read and singled out the role of lawyer secondees as being of particular interest.

Ms Rowland told the audience that the SRA’s aim is to have as free a market as possible for legal services, and her organisation’s emphasis was on professional standards rather than more regulations. The standards, she said, just need a sharper, clearer definition.

The SRA chair suggested a great way to raise standards in the profession is to share and champion good practice, and there is a role for the SRA in this. She cited three key things to focus on;

  • the need for lawyers to ‘push back’ against client pressure to avoid compromising their professional independence
  • review the work and the impact of the office of COLPs
  • more research.

Alasdair Douglas, Chairman of the City of London Law Society, then took to the floor, with a somewhat different view on lawyer-client relationships and the perceived threat of lawyer independence.

Drawing on his 35 years in the legal sector, Mr Douglas emphasised that lawyers, regardless of commercial pressures, knew their personal and professional independence was key to both their reputation and the firm’s reputation.

He looked instead to Government policy, such as the proposed 1% tax, and legislative reforms in legal aid, judicial review and the suggestion of ‘lawyer free’ judicial hearings as far greater challenges to lawyer independence.

The debate made for very interesting listening, and led to a number of thought provoking questions and observations from the audience, all under Chatham House rules.

Dr. Vaughan said further research will look at the in-house picture. On the point of who is responsible for ethical training and professional independence standards, Prof. Moorhead confirmed there is currently no comprehensive training for lawyers, and this is essentially the practitioner’s role rather than academics.

I was struck by this situation in the context of planned relaxations to the CPD rules and my experience of there being an absence of any formal ethical training programme in law firms.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It was certainly something we discussed informally over a glass or two of UCL’s hospitality.

It was great to see a number of Obelisk Support’s consultants at this event. As a business driven by change and innovation, Obelisk and its community of consultants, is always keen to listen to and understand the latest thinking. I commend these UCL events to all our readers. The next one takes place on 1st March, examining the impact and role of COLP’s in the post ABS-world.

See for details.