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Making Work, Work

Our Favourite Books (and More) for 2020

As we did in 2019,  2018 and 2017, the team at Obelisk Support have contributed to a 2020 book review to inspire your future reading. This year, lockdown prompted some of us to venture into podcasts, so we’ve included those too. We hope that, as well as giving you some inspiration, this list will help you get to know some of us a little bit better. In our own words, here are our favourite books and podcasts for 2020.

Brooke

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State, by Nadia Murad is a harrowing and ultimately inspiring story of survival. Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kocho, a small village of farmers in northern Iraq. She lived a quiet, happy life with her brothers and sisters. On August 15th, 2014, when Nadia was just twenty-one years old, Islamic State militants massacred the people of her village, beginning the events that led to her capture and enslavement. The Last Girl is not just the story of one woman, but a testimony of the entire Yazidi community and everything they have suffered.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy is a beautiful book filled with timeless, uplifting messages about friendship, kindness, self-esteem and cake. The story is very simple but profound and the entire book is a genuinely heartfelt experience.

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah is an eye-opening insight into what it was like to grow up during the Apartheid era. Trevor Noah was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was a crime. He describes his life in poverty, the way he is perceived by society and his struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. Despite the seriousness of the subject, Trevor Noah’s humour shines throughout the entire book.

Dana

A Woman by Sibilla Aleramo (translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre) is a novel written at the start of the 201th century and out of print since 1982. It was a revelation. It has so much energy in the writing and it is full of tension as it tracks the journey of a young Aleramo through to  motherhood and the challenges that arose within her. Aleramo left her son when he was aged six to write this book “so that my words will reach him”. It was more than 30 years before she would see him again.

People Like Us by Hashi Mohamed. Barrister Hashi Mohamed’s book is about social mobility in the legal profession. He explores the topic also from his own experience, as a child refugee. The book tries to understand how, and why, Britain’s poverty levels are on the rise and why so many leading our institutions and in decision-making roles are privately educated rather than drawn from the majority population (only 7% of people are privately educated yet they dominate the professions, the judiciary, the military and so on). He helps to shed light on why we find ourselves in this shocking situation in a society like Britain, which claims to value fair play and opportunity for all.

A world without work by Daniel Susskind. How and why people work is one of my favourite topics and certainly I have looked into the topic more deeply than any other over the past decade, as I built Obelisk. Susskind looks at the impact of technology and especially AI on the work available for people to do. As more and more jobs are automated, and fewer jobs are available, what role can the governments and institutions play in ensuring work is distributed and the challenges of underemployment start to emerge?

Expert by Roger Kneebone. I first met Roger when he came to give a talk to our clients on much of what this book covers – the time that it takes to become an expert in anything. Roger is a surgeon by training – few jobs have life & death inbuilt into the job description so we can only learn from him on what it takes to be an expert. He looks at many professions and skills and how to reach the level of performance and mastery that is required in them and also what skills to value in the future.

Daniela

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The size of this book allows the author to touch on several subjects and sides of a person’s life; from love to philosophy, to compassion and most predominately self-acceptance. I struggled to put down this partially fictional-autobiography as I found myself immersed in the colourful characters and in the magical India of several years ago.

The New Odyssey – The story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis by Patrick Kingsley. This easy to read book is a powerful exploration of the desperate migrants and refugees looking for a better future. As well as focusing on an individual’s journey from Syria to Sweden, I liked that the author also covers the wider crisis in an in-depth account of the desert routes and the perils migrants face on their journey to escape from corruption and religious extremism. A truly eye-opening book!

Jane

How to Wow. This is a relatively new podcast recently launched by Virgin Radio Breakfast Show host Chris Evans. Each episode features a celebrity / high achieving individual who, as Evans puts it “are living proof that if you dream big, put in the hours and keep on showing up, amazing things will happen.” I started to listen to podcasts during the first lockdown, when I would often be walking the same route with our dog most days and needed something to keep me company as well as motivated. His guests so far include Rod Stewart, Caitlin Moran and Bryony Gordon and each episode is about 1.5 hours long.

Postcards from Midlife. Lorraine Candy and Trish Halpin host a very funny and informative podcast series that will sit nicely if you find yourself in that situation of balancing work, elderly parents, your own midlife health changes, as well as the challenges of having teenage children at home. The hosts share their own mid-life journeys, from reinvention, to menopause and living with angst-ridden teens. They also consult various experts on these topics and interview many well known celebrities along the way too.

Laura

My book of the year is Five: the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold (Black Swan, 2020). With meticulous research and touching care for her subjects, the author takes us back to Victorian Britain and describes the lives of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Centring the women’s experiences, even down to the contents of their pockets on the day that they died, it is an incredible and engrossing piece of historical and social documentary that addresses the imbalances and inaccuracies in the Ripper mythology. What I found most impactful is how relevant their stories still feel today. Variously, domestic abuse, grief, inadequate education, addiction and systemic financial want led these women into unsafe and unhealthy choices, while society judged them for their supposed moral failings and left them to fend for themselves. 

A women’s entire function was to support men,” writes Rubenhold, “And if the roles of their male family members were to support the roles and needs of men wealthier than them, then the women at the bottom were driven like piles deeper and harder into the ground in order to bear the weight of everyone else’s demands.” With particular resonance in light of the disproportionate impact of the C-19 pandemic on women, especially economically insecure women, this book shows how much the sexist and classist attitudes of the past still exist today.

Laure

The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder (1990) is one of those rare long-form series of essays of how human culture and nature intersect. Gleaning pearls of wisdom from across the globe and across the centuries, whether they be fifth-century poet Zhiang-yan or modern day Alaska native languages experts, the essays delve deep into the meaning of wilderness. From Zen Buddhism to industrial logging, Snyder’s rich prose looks at our natural world with erudite eyes. At a time when we are rediscovering a profound need for nature, this book published 30 years ago seems to predict many of the environmental issues of our modern world is suffering from today. It also provides much hope, in how our elders have been on better terms with nature.

War of the Roses by Conn Iggulden is a gripping retelling of the War of the Roses in four volumes. In these books, the Welsh historical fiction author brings to life 15th century England, war, discord and scheming included. Weaving several storylines in parallel to follow the intrigue in different places, Iggulden lends pace and depth to a time period obscure to many. Having started his career as a professor of English, Iggulden knows the power of rich descriptions, tactical storytelling and human tragedy. The books read very well, so well in fact that I slowed down at the end of the fourth book to prevent it from ending but it ended anyway.

Will

My favourite books in 2020 have been the Bosch series by Michael Connelly. I have also watched the TV adaptation on Amazon Prime. No one book stands out, but all are great page-turning crime novels, with good characters and interesting plots.

Naz

As this year has been a weird one, I decided to engage in listening to more podcasts. One of my favourites is the ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’. This has been great to have on while working remotely, replacing that ‘buzzing’ noise you hear in the office. While being witty, I enjoy the range of topics discussed.

Another thing that I’ve really enjoyed this year is self-care and self-love. I’ve indulged myself by watching the “Go to bed with me” skincare routines on Harper’s Bazaar YouTube channel. I love how this year we embraced our natural skin, the bare skin trend. It’s refreshing to see that we don’t have to paint ourselves in a beautiful picture-perfect canvas. Being comfortable with our imperfections as humans.

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Trending Women in Law

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – A Warrior for Gender Equality

“Sixty years ago, Ruth Bader Ginsburg applied to be Supreme Court Clerk. She’d studied at two of [our] finest law schools and had ringing recommendations. But because she was a woman she was rejected. Ten years later, she sent her first brief to the Supreme Court- which led it to strike down a state law based on gender discrimination for the first time. And then, for nearly three decades, as the second woman ever to sit on the highest court in the land, she was a warrior for gender equality – someone who believed that equal justice under law only had meaning if it applied to every single American…”

One would be forgiven for assuming that a woman wrote this tribute to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is in fact by Barack Obama. It is perhaps apt that as the first American President of colour, he could relate to Justice Ginsburg on several levels, including that of being a lawyer.

Tributes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy

Justice Ginsburg’s work has influenced and inspired many women and men. Her legacy cannot be underestimated. Recent tributes include Sheryl Sandberg, who said:

“She was first in her class and she couldn’t find a job. So she did what brilliant, ambitious women have always done when the doors of power slammed in their faces: she found another way. She built a world-changing career fighting for women’s legal equality one case at a time, taking apart systemic gender discrimination piece by piece.”

Hillary Clinton, another woman who broke barriers in her early career and more recently with her presidential bid, also paid tribute to Ginsburg:

“Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me. There will never be another like her.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legal Journey

Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933. She grew up in a low-income, working-class neighbourhood in Brooklyn to Jewish parents. Ginsburg’s mother, Celia, was of great intellect but her education was cut short and she worked in a garment factory. Celia was a major influence in her life. Perhaps this early childhood memory was what fuelled much of Ginsburg’s work throughout her career in furtherance of women’s rights.

Ginsburg was only the second female Supreme Court justice and a hugely significant one at that, who was a champion of gender equality.

Perhaps even more significant than her considerable achievements during her tenure as a Supreme Court Justice (which commenced in 1993 under the Clinton administration and continued for nearly three decades) was the work she did as a lawyer before ascending to the Supreme Court. She changed the course of American law for gender equality and left a sweeping legal legacy.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall: Two Role Models

When President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, he compared her legal work on behalf of women to the work of Thurgood Marshall on behalf of African Americans. Thurgood Marshall was an American lawyer and civil rights activist who also served as an Associate Justice and who argued the landmark case (before his appointment as justice) of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 347 U.S. 483 (1954). This case outlawed segregation in schools.

A comparison of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Thurgood Marshall shows that social change comes not just from elections and demonstrations (as important as these are) but also from battles fought in court. The landmark Brown case was arrived at by decades of civil rights cases argued by Thurgood Marshall as part of his involvement in the NAACP Legal Defence Fund. Marshall went on to establish the LDF as a separate entity from the NAACP.

As Marshall had done for civil rights as an NAACP attorney, Ginsburg did likewise to lead the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Women’s Rights Project to win historic court victories for gender equity from 1972-1980.
Marshall was noted for his ‘go slow’ approach to establishing more civil rights protections to African-Americans after founding the NAACP ‘ Legal Defense Fund in the 1940’s. This ‘building blocks’ approach, noted by Ginsburg of Marshall’s work, was what led to the court’s unanimous ruling in the Brown case. Ginsburg emulated this approach.

The parallels between Marshall and Ginsburg don’t only hold true for their legal careers, but also apply to their time as students.

Ginsburg who couldn’t secure a clerkship or law firm position despite having a top ranked degree, went on to co-found the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU and then ascend the Supreme court after 13 years of being a court lawyer.
Similarly, Thurgood Marshall was denied admission to his home state law school in Maryland on the basis of race. Marshall went on to serve on the federal appeals court in New York before becoming the nation’s first black solicitor general and thereafter being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Lindon Johnson in 1967.

Professor Jonathan Entin clerked for Ginsburg when she was an appeals court judge and has written about the comparison between Ginsburg and Marshall in their work against gender and racial discrimination respectively. He notes that when Ginsburg began her work in the 1960’s she faced more ‘daunting’ prospects than Marshall in terms of legal precedent. When Marshall began his work challenging racial segregation in the 1930’s, the Supreme Court had already rejected some forms of racial discrimination (for example a Supreme Court ruling in 1914 had stated that denial of first class accommodation on trains to blacks violated the Fourteenth Amendment (McCabe v. Atchison, T & S.F.Ry 235 U.S. 151, 161-62 (1914).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Work on Gender Discrimination

However, insofar as gender discrimination, the courts were still behind the times. Even in 1961 the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, unanimously upheld the constitutionality of a jury selection system in Florida that discriminated against women on the grounds that “women are at the center of home and family life.” The observation reflected dominant social values at the time.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for someone who will be remembered as a warrior for gender equality, some of Justice Ginsburg’s most notable cases involved sex discrimination against men. Her first case in 1974, although unsuccessful, showed her willingness to work on behalf of men challenging gender discrimination. In this case a Florida widower asked for a property tax exemption that state law only allowed to widows. Ginsburg argued that rigid attitudes about sex roles could harm everyone.

Ginsburg sometimes said that one of her favourite cases as a lawyer involved a man whose wife died in childbirth, leaving him alone to care for their newborn son. In Weinberger v. Weisenfeld 420 U.S. 636 (1975)
Ginsburg convinced the Supreme Court that the section of the Social Security Act that denied fathers benefits because of their sex was unconstitutional. She won the case unanimously.

Some 20 years after she won his case, Wiesenfeld subsequently testified at her confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court in 1993. Mr Weisenfeld recently commented on his long standing friendship with Ginsburg and the case she won for him saying that ‘[we] found out three justices discussed the case before they even heard it. They were discussing how disgusting it was that a male wanted to stay home and take care of a child.’

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Work on Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Ginsburg wanted to shake up preconceived notions of the stereotypical gender positions in a family unit. In retrospect, this was decades ahead of her time.

It is interesting that she has inspired not just women but men in re-evaluating what the family unit should look like. One of Ginsburg’s clerk’s, Ryan Park, wrote a piece in The Atlantic Monthly, praising his former boss for inspiring him to become a stay-at-home father after completing his clerkship. He quoted her in saying that “gender lines in the law are bad for everyone: bad for women, bad for men, and bad for children”

I find this quote particularly interesting and inspiring as it shows the considered view that Ginsburg always took: thinking more laterally than simply the case she was dealing with at the time. The forethought that a child’s view of their parents is as important in shaping their own thought processes as how their parents view one another’s role is really a very holistic one. Ginsburg didn’t just take this view as a bystander, her own marriage was very much modelled on equal parenting- something, which at the time she was first practising law, was the exception, not the rule.

Latterly as a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg was famous more for her dissenting opinions than her majority opinions. She may have served as a more moderate liberal influence in a Conservative court during her tenure as a Justice, but the changes she championed as a young lawyer for gender equality were now there, enshrined in law.

Ginsberg’s comparison to Thurgood Marshall is both timeless and timely. Both fought for the marginalised in society. Ginsberg made it her life’s work to force the law to acknowledge and respect those who had not been heard and to enshrine such recognition in law.

In Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s own words “Real Change, enduring change, happens one step at a time”.

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Trending Women in Law

Black History Month: Interview with Bernadette Kisaalu, Principal Lawyer for BT Customer Experience and Chair of BT’s Ethnic Diversity Network

Touching on topics as important as Black Lives Matter, equality and making a difference, Bernadette Kisaalu, Principal Lawyer for BT Customer Experience and Chair of BT’s Ethnic Diversity Network has been talking to The Attic for Black History Month. Bernadette shares her legal journey and aspirations, the role models that have inspired her along the way and what she is doing to help improve equality in her community.

Please tell us about your professional journey

My first professional role was with Impellam Group, a leading global talent acquisition and workforce solutions provider where I worked as a Contract Risk Manager. At that time, I had completed all my legal exams but needed to secure a training contract in order to become a qualified solicitor. As a Contract Risk Manager, I worked with lots of different stakeholders in the business and was exposed to different types of legal work. Due to my passion and determination to become a solicitor, whilst working for Impellam Group, I applied for several training contracts and used my annual leave to do vacation schemes at law firms. Having completed a few vacation schemes, this confirmed that I didn’t want to work in private practice. Instead I wanted to work in-house, being at the heart of a business, seeing a matter from the beginning to the end and helping shape it. I have Rebecca Watson (Impellam Group, General Counsel & Company Secretary) to thank for believing in me, she saw something in me, and gave me the opportunity to complete my training contract in-house at Impellam Group. This was a company first, as I was the first trainee solicitor the company had taken on!

After qualifying at Impellam Group, I stayed with the company for a further two years before moving on to Avon Cosmetics. I joined Avon Cosmetics as Legal Counsel for UK and Republic of Ireland. At a time when their business model was transitioning from a direct sales business which primarily involved door-step selling from Avon brochures to online digital sales. My role covered a broad spectrum of legal work ranging from advertising to commercial contracts and personal injury law. After a few years at Avon Cosmetics, I decided that I wanted to become a subject matter expert and moved to Vodafone in 2014 as a Consumer Lawyer, looking after their Mobile portfolio. This was a fantastic opportunity and really helped my career to grow. One career highlight was taking part in Vodafone’s International Short-Term Assignment Programme (ISTAP). This gave me the opportunity to work for Vodafone Italy to develop an understanding of how their Italian consumer business operated.

In 2016, I then moved to BT, in a Senior Lawyer role in the Consumer Law and Advertising Team. This was an exciting time for me as, soon after I joined the business BT acquired EE. So, I found myself working in one of the largest Consumer Law legal teams in the UK. Four years on, I am now the Principal Lawyer in the BT Customer Experience Legal Team. I advise BT’s Consumer business (BT, EE and Plusnet) about how they sell BT products and services to UK consumers, in compliance with UK Consumer law and Ofcom regulations. With my team of three, I advise the CEO of BT Consumer, Marc Allera and his Senior Leadership Team. The business comes to us with questions like, “We want to create this new cool product for our customers, what should we look out for?” Things I look at include, what do we need to make customers aware of when they’re buying products and services from us online, or over the phone? What information should be part of the customer order journey? What terms and conditions need to be created? This creates a fast-paced work environment which I love, as no two days are ever the same.

What is BT’s Ethnic Diversity Network?

I’ve been Chair of the Ethnic Diversity Network (EDN) at BT since November 2019. The EDN was created in 1992 and has now been operating for over 28 years. It was created to promote and develop the professional image of BT’s BAME employees, with only 9 members. Today, the EDN has over 1,400 members. With lots of different ethnicities, it’s a strategic part of the business and has backing from the BT Board to empower and amplify the voices of BT’s racially diverse colleagues. The EDN also has an integral role in creating a community, especially since COVID-19 where colleagues are working from home and want to still feel connected to each other.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, the EDN really amplified and empowered the voices of our racially diverse colleagues. Having chaired an open conversation with Philip Jansen, CEO and his Executive Leadership Team, giving Black colleagues the opportunity to express how they were feeling and let Philip know what actions they would like BT to take. This elicited a strong statement from Philip, executive engagement with Black colleagues around the world and the production of BT’s Ethnicity Rapid Action Plan. This plan includes a series of actions to improve employees’ experiences through several measures including race awareness training, a reverse mentoring programme, mandatory diverse short lists and a new talent programme for high-potential ethnic minority colleagues.

We also connected with our colleagues in America and set up an Ethnic Diversity Network Americas chapter after creatively using internal social media tools to promote Black Live Matter and encourage candid debate in teams across BT.

What do you value in life and work?

In life, my family is very important to me. My parents have been together for over 43 years and I’m one of six children. Growing up my parents always raised us to first and foremost love and respect one another and to help each other wherever possible. Like any family we naturally have our highs and lows but, throughout it all we remain extremely close.

I also value my health. It’s too easy these days to become all consumed by work, social media and our devices that we forgot to take time out to maintain our mind and body. I try to strike a balance and regularly go to the gym, where I join spin class, pilates and kettlebells. At work, BT offers a lot of benefits and I practice mindfulness twice a week. This provides me with a great form of release, a time to reset and be still.

My work values are linked to discipline. If you’re disciplined, you’ll do the right things. It’s important that businesses and the people they employ are flexible and can respond and adapt to changes in business needs for example the present global issues such as COVID-19 and BLM.

How did your upbringing and education / experience help to strengthen your sense of core identity?

My upbringing and education strengthen my sense of identity. I was born to parents who were not British citizens (my father is from Uganda, my mother is from St Kitts & Nevis). My father came to the UK in hope of a better life, and my mother was the byproduct of the Windrush generation, she was brought to the UK as a child with my great grandmother. My mother was a chef and my father a qualified accountant for the Ministry of Defence, both are now retired. They worked hard and were positive role models for me.

I witnessed some of the challenges my parents experienced. For example, I recall countless stories from my parents telling me that they had been spat on and racially abused in the street and on occasion at work. I personally don’t know how my parents coped during these times. However, they always taught my siblings and I to rise above it and turn the other cheek. When I saw that my parents prevailed in the face of adversity to become successful professionals, supporting our family unit this really inspired me. My parents said, if I worked hard, I would be able to go on and do anything that I set my mind to. This gave me a great tenacity.

As a child, I grew up in predominantly white areas. The schools, college, and university I attended were all predominantly white. I was maybe one of two pupils who were Black or from an ethnic minority background out of a few hundred. I looked different, I had Black skin, an African surname (which very few people ever cared to try and pronounce or spell correctly), and natural Afro 4C hair which my mother neatly braided every Sunday. Inside our home it was completely different, there was a strong sense of Black culture, from the records my parents played (Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross), to the books I grew up reading (Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) and the traditional cultural foods my parents prepared for us. As a result, I always had a strong sense of my identity.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

As a celebration of the amazing contributions of Black people to the world history we know today, Black History Month is very important. The month of October acts as a catalyst for meaningful change. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, it’s essential for everyone to have hard conversations and to allow some issues to come to the forefront. These issues need to continue to change and evolve.

Businesses need to look at what it means to be inclusive. It is time to educate others because students were never taught Black History in school. Not only would it be beneficial for all students to learn a more representative curriculum but, it’s important that Black students can see themselves in the lessons they are taught. Eradicating the achievements of Black people throughout the centuries, avoiding subjects such as Britain’s colonial past or teaching history from the perspective of white people only serves to drive further racial inequality in the modern day.

It is also time to be proud of everything that we’ve achieved, to acknowledge all the pioneers that’ve come before us, to celebrate what makes us unique and the progress we’ve made.

However as much as I love Black History Month, I wish there wasn’t a need for it to exist. If we shined a light on it every day, it would become mainstream. We are on a path to gaining equality. It would be great if we could get to a place like that.

Who are your role models?

My parents are my biggest inspiration and role models. Another role model is Michelle Obama. When I read her book Becoming, I was in awe. A lot of what she said resonated with me. She had a very important job as the first African American First Lady of the U.S. She taught Black young girls to dream big, that you can be anything that you want to be, particularly if you look or sound different. It’s important to have high profile people as positive role models.

Someone else who is important in Diversity & Inclusion is Rihanna. One of the world’s richest musicians, she really shines with her sense of business acumen. She launched two incredibly successful brands in cosmetics and lingerie. Rihanna was inspired to create Fenty Beauty after years of seeing a void in the industry for products that performed across all skin types and tones. I like the fact that she noticed a gap in the market via her own experience and did something about it. Her brand is now distributed in retail stores globally with a range of over 40 different shades from light to dark in what was essentially a whitewashed beauty industry.

Can you talk about the causes and non-profits you support?

Within BT, we support the Aleto Foundation to create lifetime opportunities for young people and shape the next generation of leaders. We aim at providing high achieving university graduates from BAME communities with real-life educational foundations to equip them in the corporate world.

I’m also a trustee of a charity called Sour Lemons. It was founded to address the diversity gap in leadership roles in the creative and cultural industry. Sour Lemons aims to be a disruptor. They challenge the systemic barriers that prevent diverse leadership from thriving in the first place. They do this by placing those who have been excluded from the conversation, at the heart of reshaping it via the ‘Making Lemonade’ Programme, “turning one sour lemon into lemonade at a time”.

The Attic wishes to thank Bernadette Kisaalu for sharing her experiences and for the inspiring work she does to support diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

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Family & Work

Nature Walks for Your Wellbeing

This year’s pandemic has affected all of terms in mental health, whether we have suffered isolation during lockdown or anxiety in the face of uncertain futures. At Obelisk Support, we take mental wellbeing seriously and have been supporting our legal consultants and staff throughout the pandemic with wellbeing resources and inspiration. Today’s ideas for nature walks and activities, from quiet city streets to awe-inspiring ancient paths, will bring you a breath of fresh air and help you improve your mental wellbeing.

Footways London

Did you know that it takes 12 minutes to walk from Liverpool Street Station to Brick Lane? 18 minutes to walk from Victoria Station to Big Ben? Since the start of the pandemic, Londoners have been looking at ways to travel and commute around the city safely. Heavy-traffic streets are not the most relaxing places and choosing pleasant routes require a fair bit of local knowledge. This is why an initiative like Footways hits the right spot for urban walkers as it features a network of quiet and interesting streets for walking in central London. The best part? It connects major places (British Museum, Covent Garden, Southbank Centre) via accessible streets. This map could come in very handy when you have visitors in town or for your own urban adventures.

Lost Paths: Don’t Lose Your Way

In February 2020 when lockdown was looming on the horizon, The Ramblers, the walking charity, launched a nationwide initiative to search and map an estimated 10,000 miles of historic paths, which people have used for centuries, that were missing from modern maps and were at risk of being lost forever. Why did it matter? If not claimed by 2026, the Government cut-off date, it would no longer be possible to add them to the maps and the public’s right to access them would not be protected in the future. Lucky for us, Don’t Lose Your Way was a success and within six weeks, thousands of people joined the search and mapped 100% of the UK. You can join the movement to help preserve these paths in the future or if you have a favourite path to share, send your stories to The Ramblers.

Forest Bathing

Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) was developed in the 1980s in Japan. Although people had been taking walks in the country’s forests for centuries, new studies showed that such activity could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was found to boost the immune system. Forest bathing has become a wonderful way to boost your mental health for free – all you need is a forest. Wondering where to find good forest bathing spots near you?

Outdoor Gyms

Are you considering incorporating a workout into your walking routine? Outdoor gyms are open fitness facilities that you can use without booking – just turn up and use them at your leisure. To find an outdoor gym near you (and plan a nice walk to get to it), check out The Great Outdoor Gym Activate app or Fresh Air Fitness’ online site locator.

Scavenger Hunts & Beyond for Children

Wellbeing is not defined quite the same when you are 6 years old as when you are, say, quite a bit older. The Woodland Trust is a treasure trove of ideas to take the children outside and have them enjoy a wild romp, from nature scavenger hunts to making a fairy door (which could very well be used as temporary prop on a walk) or building a den.

Look for Ancient Trees

You do not need to live in Fangorm Forest on Middle-Earth to channel your inner Ent. The oldest and most important trees of the UK have a venerable online following on the website of The Woodland Trust which maps our ancient tree heritage. You can search the map for ancient trees near you. Alternatively if you know of an ancient tree that is not on the map, you are invited to contact The Woodland Trust and add your tree to the map.

Another way to walk to an ancient tree is to find Britain’s Tree of the Year. Each year, The Woodland Trust crowns Britain’s Tree of the Year after publishing a shortlist. This was the 2019 shortlist – are any of these trees near you?

Walk & Swim

Combining two outdoor activities known to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing, you can also go on a walks to find a wild swimming spot. The Kenwood Ladies Pond Association published a handy book called Wild Swimming Walks which includes 28 car-free days out across southern and eastern England to walk, swim and have cake. Elsewhere in the country, you may want to contact your local wild swimming groups (many are active on Facebook) or check the wild swimming map on the website of the Outdoor Swimming Society. What’s not to love?

Enjoy your time outside as the days grow shorter and colder and remember the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. You will never regret a day outside and as lockdown has shown all too well, staying inside is not good for anybody’s mental health.

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Family & Work

Summer reading for lawyers | From short stories to indie magazines

Summertime and the living is easy, as the song goes. After long working days and a stressful COVID19 crisis, lawyers are looking forward to unwinding and enjoying some well-deserved rest before school starts again. How best to relax than to grab a chair and a book? Or it could also be a magazine and short stories.

After our popular series on podcasts for lawyers, songs for lawyers and blogs for lawyers, here comes our round-up of short stories and indie magazines for lawyers.

Short Stories

Packing a punch in less than 10,000 words and short enough to be read in one sitting, short stories make for a great summer reading experience. It’s fine if you don’t have hours to focus on the plot between breakfast and lunch and you can quickly get away in spirit to faraway lands and places. How do you find short stories?

A good place to start is your local bookstore. Short stories are often by the till, squeezed between snacks and fluffy notepads, the literary equivalent of sour candy by the cashier in supermarkets.

Classics

Solid values in short-stories include classic best-sellers.

Having written nearly 400 short stories, Stephen King is certainly a king of the genre, with that thriller / horror twist that make you jump and look around before turning the page. His most famous short stories include Children of the Corn, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Body (which became the movie Stand By Me) and The Mist.

Equally known for his novels and short stories, Haruki Murakami is a master of surrealistic and melancholic fiction. His recent collection of short stories Men Without Women features seven stories following the lives of whisky and jazz loving men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Expect bleak worlds, moods and atmospheres challenging readers to think deeper about topics that concern us all.

Crime queen Agatha Christie was also a prolific short story writer whose stories first appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. Readers are spoiled for choice with short stories collections around Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, or other classics such as The Harlequin Tea Set.

Another short story queen inspired Alfred Hitchcock with her craft. Daphne Du Maurier knew how to craft real people evolving in suspenseful, often supernatural plots. Her most famous short story is certainly The Birds but other pieces like The Doll, Kiss Me Again, Stranger or Monte Verita will satisfy any craving for imaginative, if unsettling, short fiction.

Other notorious short story writers include Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, Louise Erdrich and Virginia Woolf.

Modern Short Stories

Every year, the BBC and Cambridge University sponsor the BBC national short story award (NSSA) whose five shortlisted stories are recorded, produced and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 as well as published as the BBC NSSA anthology. The winning story is usually published in its entirety in The Guardian and makes for excellent prose to read on the go. Recent winning stories include The Invisible by Joe Lloyd (2019),  The Sweet Sop by Ingrid Persaud (2018) and The Edge of the Shoal by Cynan Jones (2017).

Reflecting on reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition, the AKO Caine Prize is an annual literary award for the best original short story by an African writer, whether in Africa or elsewhere, but published in the English language. In 2020, Nigerian-British author Irenosen Okojie won for her short story about a Grace Jones impersonator with a dark secret.

Magazines

At a time when the UK creative arts sector is hit so hard, readers can support publishers by buying independent magazines that reflect the wide variety of opinions and views that make our society so rich. Who knows, you might even discover your new favourite magazine.

The titles listed below can usually be bought from their websites. Shops that stock independent magazines include:

  • Magma Books, London (their Manchester branch is temporarily closed)
  • Stack offers subscriptions with a different magazine each month
  • Waterstones bookshops
  • Newsagents

Here is our short selection of great magazines for curious minds, looking out to the world even if locked down somewhere.

This London-based magazine has covered British contemporary art since 1976 and is Britain’s longest-running contemporary art magazine. From interviews to exhibition reviews, Art Monthly helps art lovers keep their finger on the pulse. They can also listen to Art Monthly Talk Show, the magazine’s monthly podcast on Resonance FM.

Prospect Magazine

A general-interest British magazine, Prospect brings to its readers ideas and trends behind the headlines and a contrarian view of topics. While other magazines deliver on general interest topics, Prospect is one of the few publications to feature mostly long essays, interspersed with quick reads, recurring columns and other type of reporting. Think of it as The New Yorker, London version. Adding to our list of short stories above, Prospect has also published the winning short story of the Royal Society of Literature’s V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize since 2009.

The Dawntreader

Small indie publishers are facing difficulties and you can help them out by buying a book or ordering a magazine. How more intriguing does it get than a small Devon-based literary magazine publishing poetry, prose and articles on myth, nature, spirituality and the environment? The Dawntreader gives readers the “opportunity to let the imagination run free”. Surely, an invitation to travel in spirit is very welcome after recent stressful months.

Cocoa Girl Magazine

Only a few months old, Cocoa Girl Magazine was born during lockdown when a mother searched for magazines that represented her six-year-old daughter Faith. Lack of diversity led them to embark on designing and printing the first ever UK magazine for young black girls aged seven to 14. True to its young demographic, Cocoa Girl only uses Instagram to communicate on social media with readers.

The Scots Magazine

If you’ve been dreaming of a Scottish Highlands fix but still can’t get there, The Scots Magazine can probably help with that. Allegedly the oldest magazine in the world (first published in 1739), The Scots magazine is the world’s best-selling Scottish-interest publication, containing articles on culture, history, nature and more., and is targeted at Scots at home and abroad. If you’re on Netflix, you’ll understand why the magazine needs to have an Outlander dedicated page with all things Diana Gabaldon, Jamie and Clare.

Country Walking

From the same publisher as Trail, Country Walking covers a ‘softer’ range of walking than its mountain-heavy sister mag, with the emphasis more on cream teas than crampons. Coastal strolls and lowland rambles sit alongside hilly and mountainous walking at the more forgiving end of the spectrum. Regular themed walks are especially fun, as well as the December issue that makes you feel like it’s winter wonderland all across the UK (gorgeous snowy pictures too). Last but not least: every month, Country Walking publishes 27 walks all across the country, printed on handy cut-out-and-keep cards.

Enjoy your reading!

Categories
The Legal Update

The new social contract of law

Six months into 2020, the legal profession has taken emergency measures to face a global crisis, has gone through an unexpected digital transformation and is just now assessing the situation to plan for the future. The road we take can either be a unique opportunity to reshuffle the cards and rethink the way we work or to set aside the past few months and get back to the old ways. 

Inspired by the RSA’s A Blueprint for Good Work report, LegalGeek’s The Uncertain Decade and Ari Kaplan’s virtual lunches, we look at future trends and models that will impact the delivery of legal services for years to come. One or more of these forces may be instrumental in shaping sustainable solutions for our current major legal industry issues.

#1 Value-based legal services

Since its earliest days, legal services have had a strong focus on continuous improvement to deliver the highest possible value to the client but that value was often hard to quantify or qualify. Unlike other professions, law has never really adopted peer review systems and the use of metric-linked incentives for legal services providers, except in some areas of B2C legal practice. The billable hour and profit per partner have long been the golden standards of success but that is changing.

In large legal teams, general counsel have passed the procurement baton to chief operating officers responsible for data-driven quality improvement initiatives across all levels of business – including legal. Every aspect of legal services delivery is increasingly subject to quality and cost assessments. Economic rewards (getting invited to a panel) and penalties (falling off a panel) are also becoming more tied to those assessments. Alternative legal services, with remote or flexible legal services models, or legal tech solutions have shifted from being bystanders to trusted partners in a global industry.

Economic consequences have kicked up a notch as the fee-for-service model gives way to value-based services. While success was more often measured by the number of hours billed or clients served, it will shift to a measure in terms of the economic growth and legal goals of clients.

There will continue to be a drive to find more innovative and effective value-based analytics, automation and reporting. To make a sustainable shift to value-based legal services, legal services providers will need to develop deep and substantive understandings of the foundations of client data, legal issues and services delivered. For new entrants to the market, that will mean breaking down the formidable barrier of decades-long law firm-client relationships to access the data.

#2 Tech-driven personalisation

While the delivery of legal services once followed a boutique protocol for every client, law is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and in some areas, is heading toward unique, personalised service delivery based on highly individual situations and conditions. 

Companies increasingly require cheaper, faster, more efficient legal services customised for them. Process mapping, machine learning and AI are among the advances that make this possible. Deloitte confirmed this trend, predicting in 2016 that 39% of all legal tasks would be automated by 2030, which is good news as most of these tasks were either repetitive or mind numbing, with humans bringing little value to the process.

As fitness trackers monitor our health, it is not so far-fetched to imagine internal business health trackers measuring the smooth running of contracts, low litigation rates and irregular spikes in the need for legal services. Combined with predictive risk analysis and regulatory tools, data science could help identify future legal needs and the best models of legal service delivery for complex transactions. 

At this point in the legal forest, two paths diverge: do we compete with emerging systems or do we build them? Hopefully, the second path will prevail. That means that new lawyers will need to understand data analytics as well as soft skills such as EQ, collaboration & cultural awareness. Rather than looking at the end of lawyers, new trends would reimagine the legal industry for the digital age with a more customer-centric approach.

#3 Society-driven legal services 

After decades of money-driven growth, the coronavirus crisis shook the very foundations of our consumer society and purpose crept in as a pillar of future growth. This type of model envisages a future of responsible stewardship where all legal professionals, business or practice, should be focused on the best outcome for their private clients as well as for society. 

There is a place in the legal landscape for lawyers who service vastly-underrepresented areas and more opportunities for career paths that will help people. Whether the end goal is access to justice, diversity & inclusion or the climate crisis, there is a tremendous opportunity for future lawyers to create the apps, or to help the creator of the app by giving them use cases, to address a societal need. 

In this empathy-driven model, the legal profession has an opportunity to better serve society and come back to its ethical roots. It will also open up its door to a new generation of non-legally-trained legal professionals. Some of the smartest new legal services are designed by people who are not lawyers. They are in the business of helping people and the difference in emphasis is huge as the rise of these services is completely consumer-driven. 

There are opportunities in adversity. Something as simple as putting more services online, allowing clients to generate forms, a mix of self-help and lawyer review will all improve access to justice and society. Future approaches will need new tools that connect people to potential resource assistance options, provide a means for follow-up and use analytics to determine success.

#4 Customer experience

Lawyers as a profession had a very insular culture outside of a more diverse ecosystem. Now, lawyers are one part of a team, with the client as the final decision-maker in setting and achieving their own goals. This power shift will break down business silos, with a legal industry open to new models and newer ways to doing things. 

As general counsel and legal leaders play a larger role in their own legal services decisions, providers will be increasingly focused on improving the customer experience at all levels. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a satisfied client is also an engaged one and studies have linked client engagement to better outcomes and lower costs.

Lawyers will also be able to align and collaborate with the industry as law merges with data analytics, engineering, or computer science. Where traditional lawyers have been about input and bespoke labor, legal professionals are about output, scaling and legal efficiency. They will be led by a more customer-centric approach, with a heightened effort to solicit and use client feedback and responses. This means not just “asking to ask,” but asking with the intent of making real change. 

Conclusion

These major trends in the delivery and operation of legal services will have big impacts on the clients and legal teams of the future. One thing we can be sure to expect is a continuous evolution toward connecting across the legal system, with clients at the centre.

 

Categories
Making Work, Work

Law for Good in COVID19 Times

The COVID crisis brought on a lot of questionable behaviours in people, but it also brought a lot of extraordinary deeds from people who helped total strangers through rough times. At Obelisk, as the pandemic spread, we started noticing examples of how much good can come from the legal profession. After we published our annual Lawyers who do good list in April 2020, we realised that we should publish a COVID19 edition of “Lawyers who do good” to reflect on how the legal profession got involved positively in times of crisis. Including a rebel legaltech entrepreneur, a music-writing law professor, a frontline supplier lawyer and summer vacation students on a mission, this sampler invites you to discover Law for Good in COVID19 times.

In the community with the song-writing law professor

A University of Calgary legal academic, associate professor Howard Kislowicz, found a creative way to alleviate food insecurity during the pandemic. As his family made efforts to grocery shop less often, the larger stocks of food in his house led him to consider how difficult this time must be for those with limited resources. As a Constitutional Law professor in Canada and music-lover/maker, he took to Twitter and offered to create songs in exchange for donations to local food banks. His main goals were to raise money for food banks, bring a bit of joy to people’s lives, and find a project to keep him feeling positive.

A long-time musician, Howard has been playing with longtime bandmate Shai Korman in the band What Does It Eat and in 2018, the law professor embarked on a long-haul project called “The Most Reasonable Album“, setting to music Canada’s 1982 Constitution Act. His COVID fundraising campaign included a song for a colleague at another law school in Canada about her dog, Scraps, a song for a colleague, a human rights lawyer, who wanted to celebrate her daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend, and a number of songs for people’s children, including some people he’d never met – one of them made a great photo-video using the song as a backing track. His most recent project was a welcome song for the incoming class at the law school where he works – their director of admissions realised that these students would be starting out in a very strange and difficult time and wanted to recognise that.

So far his campaign has raised at least $1,000 in donations to food banks. For a musical taster, you can listen to his song on embracing failure on Spotify and if you want to contribute to his efforts, he confirmed on Twitter that “the offer of a personalized song in exchange for a food bank donation still stands!”

Behind the scenes with the frontline supply lawyer

In April 2020, Golnar Assari, an Obelisk consultant specialised in commercial law, focused her activity on COVID19 work and the supply of face masks/PPEs. At a time when the UK media reported shortages in protective equipment for medical staff and the public, Golnar worked behind the scenes to change that. It all started in 2019 when she began advising a B2B manufacturer of non-woven media used in face masks, providing support in contracts’ review and in implementing the new Medical Device Regulation 2017/745. At the COVID19 outbreak, they asked her for an extended support to face the surge in contracts they were dealing with.

Interestingly, her role quickly moved from contract review to something very different and unexpected. With manufacturing lines already performing at full capacity, the pressure from customers, and even governments, to deliver non-woven products was very high. To cope with demand, her client developed new products and alternative media, eventually installing several new manufacturing lines for finished face masks. As face masks — whether medical devices, PPEs, or general-use masks — are highly regulated, the go-to-market process involved some internal regulatory education. When the client’s sales and marketing teams might have sold a media in a category it did not belong to, she explained the complexities of following quality requirements and obtaining regulatory approvals. This was not always easy as the urgent, somehow chaotic, need for face masks led to customers putting pressure down their supply chain, sometimes with unacceptable requests. In a new industry where players still lacked maturity and knowledge, this was tricky. Golnar’s expertise enabled her to  support the marketing, product development, and quality departments, in understanding the regulatory landscape in the world of medical devices, PPEs and general-use face masks. This included creating appropriate disclaimers, advising on applicable standards and ensuring packaging and labelling rules compliance, as well as clarifying what could or not be done with a certain material based on its properties, or obtaining required CE marking derogations when needed.

For Golnar, this experience was rewarding as well as challenging, as all stakeholders wished to support the crisis as best they could. This experience also opened her eyes on the media and the public’s confusion on the shortage faced in the UK a few months ago and she quickly started advising her family and friends on what EN norms they should be looking for on their face masks. Overall, the most rewarding part was to know that she was contributing, with a trusted high quality supplier, in providing face masks to hospitals across Europe, including to the NHS. She says, “There could not have been a better use of my time during lockdown!”

Tech in the fight for consumer rights with the robot lawyer

Joshua Browder, founder and CEO of DoNotPay, helps people fight big corporations using chatbot technology and AI screening to provide free legal services such as contesting parking tickets, cancelling subscriptions/memberships after the free trial or suing landlords in court. This LegalTech Robin Hood found renewed purpose when the COVID crisis hit, as DoNotPay saw huge spikes in certain legal services categories such as airline refunds or gym membership cancellations, or saw demand for new legal services such as claiming unemployment.

The idea for DoNotPay came to Joshua when he was a software engineering student in San Francisco, accumulating parking tickets. As he couldn’t pay them, he created an app to start contesting them and when his app proved extremely popular with other people, he realised that some areas of consumer rights were largely underserved. He went on to expand the range of services offered by his app to disrupt the legal landscape. His automated tools shifted the balance of power for consumers, offering them to explain in everyday language what the problem was and creating automated legal documents to solve it.

As the COVID19 crisis resulted in increased consumer rights breaches, DoNotPay was quick to counteract with the introduction of new legal services. When local governments issued emergency regulations to address COVID19 issues, few people knew the fine details and a lot of people were taken advantage of. Abuses included tenants being evicted from their homes when they couldn’t pay rent because they lost their job, landlords accessing IRS databases to claim rent from jobless tenants when they received their stimulus package, or airlines treating refund requests by handing out travel credits when nobody wanted travel credits from airlines that could go bankrupt the following year. Also a consequence of COVID19, people were spammed for exploitative miracle cures or random marketing scams, which pushed DoNotPay to create new processes to claim compensation by creating legal document to fight for their rights. In 85% of COVID19 cases, DoNotPay disputes were successful.

What can lawyers learn from Joshua Browder’s experience? Technically, Joshua is convinced that lawyers don’t need to be expert coders to automate any document that they’ve done more than once but the biggest learning comes from his approach. When providing legal services, lawyers should focus on being customer-centric. Law is meant to serve people, a message that has sometimes gotten lost.

Providing probono legal advice with volunteering law students

A group of 40 law students from The University of Manchester are set to volunteer their services during their holidays to help people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. From Monday, 15 June, the students will be providing written and video advice online in five areas of law particularly impacted by the virus – carers, family, employment, consumer and housing. The University’s Justice Hub and Legal Advice Centre has long provided vacation schemes but this year’s has been moved online because of the pandemic.

“The scheme is giving 40 School of Social Science students the opportunity to have a virtual vacation scheme placement with the aim of producing short information videos to help the public in key areas that have been impacted by Covid-19,” said Claire McGourlay, Professor of Legal Education. “Solicitors, barristers and a video editing company Video Cake are also all giving up their time for free to help the students to produce the videos.”

For more information, you can follow Manchester University’s Justice Hub here:

Do you want to share other COVID19 stories in the legal world? Email us here.

Photo credits:

  • Howard Koslowicz – University of Calgary
  • Golnar Assari – Golnar Assari
  • Joshua Browder – Twitter @jbrowder1
  • Manchester Justice Hub – Manchester University – School of Social Sciences
Categories
Making Work, Work Trending

Top Law Blogs to Follow in 2020

The legal blogosphere is thriving, with ever-more lawyers, writers, bloggers and journalists stepping up to debate the issues of the day, share knowledge and experience and change the way we think about law and the legal industry.

Legal blogs are a valuable outlet and asset for lawyers and companies alike; acting as a marketing tool for your expertise, and allowing some creative headspace to examine issues of personal intrigue outside of your own work. Whether you are thinking of starting your own legal blog and need some inspiration, or simply want to follow for extra insights and opinion, here are some of our picks of today’s most highly-rated and recommended English-language legal blogs, updated for 2020.

UK and Europe Legal Blogs

Barrister Blogger

This award winning legal blog by Matthew Scott is direct and simple in approach. Scott is not afraid to share his decisive opinions on legal issues dominating the news sphere, and has a way of setting the scene of well-read (and some not-so-well read) legal stories that keep you engaged from post to post – including a recent amusing Q&A on the government’s guidance on lockdown and how it varies from place to place.

Legal Cheek Journal

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

The Secret Barrister 

The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law and their popular blog give an insightful fly-on-the-wall view of the criminal justice system, and of life at the Criminal Bar in general. Blogposts gave rise to various columns as well as the Sunday Times bestseller “Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken”, published in March 2018, with their second book, “Fake Law” published in April 2020. As they say themselves, “the blog attempts to present a candid and accessible account of the reality of the criminal law in action, and to occasionally provide a rebuttal to popular misconceptions endorsed by politicians and the media”.

LexisNexis Future of Law blog

Aimed mostly at practising lawyers and general counsel, the Future of Law blog is written by LexisNexis’ team of lawyers and guest contributors for anyone in the legal profession who wants to understand the latest industry developments, key market trends, recent technology changes and how to succeed in the business of law. Topics range from women in law through to law firm survival.

Crafty Counsel

For the YouTube generation, Crafty Counsel publishes bite-size legal videos (10 minutes and shorter) featuring legal professionals discussing legal topics in verbal “bullet point” format. Some recent videos tackle Covid-19 specific topics such as “How to run the best virtual meetings” and “Developing your team whilst working remotely” as well as delivering access learning & development content in a way that is easily accessible and affordable.

Wellbeing Republic

Lawyer Nick Bloy founded Wellbeing Republic in 2016 to create bold and inspirational wellbeing initiatives to unlock people’s potential to be happier, healthier, better engaged, more productive, more resilient and, ultimately, more successful. Aimed mainly at lawyers and those working in the legal trade, Bloy’s blogs tackle various well-being subjects and provide a useful advice to guide wellbeing.

Joshua Rozenberg, The Critic

Not so much a blog as a column in a new magazine, The Critic, which covers politics, ideas, art, literature and much more, renowned legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg looks at various topical legal issues. The point of The Critic is to argue controversial points, and urge readers to disagree – indeed including it here may be controversial, but it can be helpful to know you’re reading outside your own echo chamber, and you can at least be confident that Rozenberg is not serving up fake news.

UK and Ireland Subject Specific Blogs

Pink Tape

Lucy Reed is a family barrister – she set up Pink Tape after realising that few clients understand the work she does and what goes on inside the Family Courts (with others she later set up The Transparency Project to try and begin to tackle this). Blog posts seek to enhance the quality of public information and debate about legal matters and range from musings on her work, through despair of the system, to updates on her life in general. In 2014, she published The Family Court without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person.

Civil Litigation Brief 

Civil Litigation Brief is one of the key blogs on, you’ve guessed it, civil litigation. Written by Gordon Exall, a barrister practising at Kings Chambers Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham and Hardwicke in London, what he hasn’t covered by way of updates and commentary in civil litigation since 2013 probably isn’t worth knowing.

IPKat

The team at IPKat are passionate about IP. Since June 2003 the IPKat has covered copyright, patent, trade mark, designs, info-tech, privacy and confidentiality issues from a mainly UK and European perspective, and consistently wins awards, the latest of which is “Most Popular Intellectual Property Law Blawg”.

Ireland IP and Technology Law blog

A&L Goodbody’s Ireland IP and Technology Law blog gives you all the information you need to know about Intellectual property & technology law in Ireland.

EU Law Blog 

The team at EU Law Blog deliver concise commentary on legal developments within the EU, highlighting and commenting on current developments in EU case law and legislation in English.

Techno Llama 

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

The UKCLA Blog

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

Harry Clark Law

For a City trainee perspective on the world of law, Harry Clark Law is a relatively young blog that’s developed into a full package legal resource. Online, Harry Clark shares his own views as well as those of guests via written blog posts, podcasts and  videos.

USA and Canada Legal Blogs

Scotus Blog 

No matter whether you’re a lawyer, law student, or just have an interest in the U.S. Supreme Court and its cases, this blog is an oldie but a good one – it’s first blog post was published way back in October 2002. Run and written by lawyers, Scotus blog is well reputed for covering the cases and decisions better than any other US new organisation, as well as illuminating and drawing attention to the nomination and confirmation process for new justices.

The Girl’s Guide to Law School

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

Slaw

Slaw is a Canadian online legal magazine, started in 2005 and written by and for the Canadian law community by lawyers, librarians, technologists, marketers, students, educators and everyone in between. Slaw covers perspectives from academia, law firms, non-profits, regulatory bodies and beyond, and the practice and teaching of law as well as industry changes and the future of the Canadian legal industry. Slaw is considered essential daily reading by many in Canadian legal circles.

Above the Law

Above the Law takes a behind-the-scenes look at the world of law, providing news and insights about the profession’s most colourful personalities and powerful institutions, as well as original commentary on breaking legal developments. Above the Law is published by Breaking Media.

Lawyerist

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

The Law for Lawyers Today

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

LawSites

Written by legaltech guru Robert Ambrogi, LawSites takes an in-depth look at the legal industry and how it evolves, adopting new technologies and practices. Via written blogs, TV interviews and podcasts, LawSites is a reliably no-nonsense resource for anybody who wants to know what’s happening in legaltech behind the scenes – minus the puff pieces.

Asia and Australasia Legal Blogs

Bucket Orange

BucketOrange Magazine is powered by some of Australia’s brightest upcoming legal minds, passionate about alternative legal publishing. They say that they are the first boutique online legal publication created exclusively for young Australians – written by lawyers for everyone. Blogposts look at all aspects of law, from practice to application, including keeping readers informed and empowered about their everyday rights.

China Law Blog 

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

Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy

Gautam Bhatia graduated from law school in 2011, starting his blog in 2013 to analyse important constitutional cases, past and present, and to “engage with the set of diverse political and philosophical values that underlies the text of the Constitution, and has informed its interpretation over the years”.

LGBT Law Blog 

Stephen Page is a leading divorce and surrogacy lawyer committed to championing the rights of and interests of LGBTI people in Australia. His posts tackle discrimination parenting, property settlement, same sex domestic violence, and same sex law issues. 

Singapore Law Blog 

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

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

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

Categories
The Legal Update Trending

5 ways COVID-19 could unlock the future of law

Last week, we joined two different online events that tackled the impact of COVID-19 and the future of the legal profession from different angles. The first event, focused on law firms, featured Mark Cohen and Richard Susskind in a LegalGeek webinar, while the second was organised by Ari Kaplan with Bob Ambrogi as guest speaker in a relaxed lunch & learn format. What did we learn?

#1 Tech is every legal team’s best friend

It’s a fact: the legal workforce has become a remote workforce in the span of a week. All over the world, legal teams have had no choice but to adapt to lockdown restrictions forcing them out of office buildings. As Robert Ambrogi recently wrote, the speed at which lawyers were able to get up and running outside of their office was staggering with 90% of lawyers making the transition in a week or less and 46% in a day or less. For in-house legal teams already using Microsoft tools, Microsoft Teams has become the go-to meeting spot while others have jumped onto the Zoom or Google Meet bandwagon.

However, tech adoption hasn’t been equal everywhere with in-house legal teams leading the tech revolution and law firms lagging behind, despite claims to the contrary. As a general counsel said, “we’ve worked with legal clients for 25 years, and the gap in understanding remote working communication technology was already widening in the past 5 to 10 years. [The Covid crisis] has just sped up the mindset shift from those who were already starting to embrace technology. The shift has now moved from accepting that the tech is required to understanding how best to integrate it over the longer term with support.”

Whatever the tech solution, the number one take away from the crisis is that latent technologies already existed to collaborate in new ways and have enabled us to understand that traditional models are no longer necessary. Lawyers can work remotely in an integrated fashion. The nature of legal practice has changed to the extent that it could possibly be malpractice to not be technically capable, as tech access, data security, data movement, etc are all part of modern legal services.

#2 Medicine and law may have a lot more in common than previously thought

Ultimately, law is the business of knowledge, much like medicine is the business of health. Like lawyers, doctors were hit full force by the COVID-19 tsunami and remote medicine became the new normal but that is not where similarities stop. In an analogy with the medical sector, Ari Kaplan argues that the legal system needs to move on to a triage system where when you have a problem, you don’t start with a specialist. In medicine, you start with a GP and then move onwards. We might be headed to a legal ecosystem of tools that will help companies sort out more of their own issues, have access to more standardised processes and involve fewer lawyers doing the work.

For Mark Cohen too, the current legal business model is outdated and legal buyers have access to more information than ever before. In the future, law will be a marketplace where it won’t be about pedigree or brand or Oxbridge or Magic Circle but about competency, metrics of customer satisfaction and skills. Taken a step further, this model means that legal buyers will eventually not need legal practitioners to be licensed. Not all future practitioners will be certified lawyers and that is a good thing. If GCs are buying legal knowledge, do they need a qualified solicitor when a legal engineer can do the job as efficiently?

Inevitably, this will reshape the landscape of legal education and training. Up until 20 years ago, legal expertise was the only thing that lawyers needed to succeed. Today, lawyers need augmented skills such as project management, understanding of supply chains, basics of data management and analytics. Lawyers have to be able to read a balance sheet. In addition, they need to master the basics of technology and understand how tech is used in the legal marketplace.

The lawyers of tomorrow will be tech-enhanced multi-disciplinary advisers, which gives a big leg up to millennials and Gen Z who choose virtual environments wherever possible and who as digital natives, are already comfortable with tech
. As Mark Cohen once said, law is not about lawyers anymore but about legal professionals.

#3 Pricing, pricing, pricing

For law firms, the billable hour is the biggest part of the business model that needs to change. Robert Ambrogi went as far as saying that it’s the greatest obstacle to innovation in law firms as it’s founded on the premise of inefficiency.

  • Most participants agreed that restructuring fees would be an opportunity for tech-savvy lawyers who would be able to create digital offers and reach their clients more efficiently.
  • For the time-being, law firms should be putting out COVID-19 pricing or flat rates during hard times.
  • Past the COVID-19 crisis, lawyers would start charging based on the result delivered. If clients are charged for value delivered, it doesn’t matter where the work is done or how long it takes.
  • Others suggested rendering legal services by subscription as a way to offer “more for less” legal services.
  • For multi-month contracts, legal suppliers could offer a flat, monthly retainer that makes it easier to plan and budget for clients, while realigning the focus of suppliers on deliverables.

#4 Law is a buyer’s market

According to Mark Cohen, “consumers are now driving the legal bus and that will accelerate post-covid.” For a few years, GCs have already been experiencing the future of legal with the “doing more with less” challenge, adhering to budgets and considering where they buy their legal services. Until now, long relationships forged between traditional legal providers and companies have somewhat shaped legal buying but with stricter budget controls, clients will realise that they can get the same value from a range of different providers” ie Big 4, companies like Obelisk Support, managed service providers etc.

The COVID crisis is effectively empowering big corporations to set demands and we recently saw an example of that when BT announced to their legal panel that they would look at things like expertise, experience, culture, approach to innovation, and diversity and inclusion to select their legal suppliers. In incentivising the panel firms to adhere to the principles of a charter signed by the client, BT is forcing cultural changes within their supply chain.

#5 Metrics vs Values

Based on Mark Cohen’s observations on US law firm culture, metrics like profit-per-partner (PPP), profit origination are the measures of success and drivers of law firm culture. Law’s scorecard in how it treats its own profession is currently very low – including higher rates of suicide, divorce, drug abuse, and alcoholism than many other professions. Every metric of despair points to the fact that lawyers are doing well financially as a group but yet they’re not very happy.

Yet in the UK, pointed Richard Susskind, there is a growing concern about profit versus purpose. This COVID-19 period is a fundamental challenge to values. Law firms that responded in the first two weeks saying they cared about people and two weeks later, fired them, will have a problem. They’ll be seen as purely profit-making companies.

The virus has given us an opportunity to look at how legal services can be delivered differently and that is the greatest impact of the virus on the legal world. The crisis offers an opportunity to step back and contemplate what’s important to us, noting that it’s hard to change values as you move along. 
Sooner than later, vendor profiles won’t just include security profiles and corporate history. Clients will start asking about in-depth work from home measures, commitment to gender and diversity equality, as evidenced in the report Built to last? A blueprint for developing future-proof in-house teams.

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Making Work, Work Trending

Legal Tech Certifications: Do lawyers need to learn to code?

The skills that today’s generation of legal leaders have learned have evolved and tomorrow’s legal leaders will need to rely on new skills adapted to our times for success. These skills will stray somewhat from a straight-forward traditional legal knowledge education and to create this 21st century legal education, providers are working with practitioners and legal firms.

Providers offering bespoke legal tech education

Ten years ago, legal tech skills were the realm of legal nerds with a niche knowledge of coding and technology. Today, legal tech has become a widespread buzz word, legal tech events attract thousands of legal leaders of all ages and legal educators have jumped onto the legal tech bandwagon. Current legal practice course providers such as BPP offer a Legal Technology Innovation and Design module that teaches “an area at the forefront of new skills sought by recruiters [which] focus[es] on building the innovation skills that future solicitors will be expected to demonstrate, including understand[ing] legal technology (e.g. AI, Blockchain, Big Data, and Automation) develop[ing] project management skills and techniques, learn[ing] skills to design technology that responds to problems and engag[ing] in design thinking and process mapping vital in the legal workplace.”

There has also been a rise in more innovative law departments offering more fit for purpose bespoke legal and technology courses. As Alex Smith, Global RAVN Product Lead at iManage and co-author of the book Do Lawyers Need to Learn to Code? A Practitioner Perspective on the ‘Polytechnic’ Future of Legal Education says, “the growth of these initiatives designed to prepare students for the increasingly technological nature of practice reinforces the increased importance placed on cultivating a system of ‘work-ready’ graduates”.

One such course is the Innovation, Technology and the Law LLM at the University of Edinburgh, attended by Ekaterina Harrison, postgraduate student and highly experienced banking & finance lawyer. She chose the course because of her long-standing interest in digital technologies and how people use them. Digital assets, tokenisation, behavioural analysis and other innovations are opening up new opportunities and changing finance products.

“Lawyers like me,” Harrison says, “need thorough knowledge and understanding of the digital space”.

She studies alongside working and was drawn to the flexible approach of the course, which is both part-time and online, allowing her to continue with her main practice areas of banking and finance.

What skills are required by lawyers of the future?

Smith in part agrees with Harrison, writing that in his years of working in legal innovation, his observations are twofold.

“The first is the need to enable the application of learning and skill-building as early as possible to enhance workplace performance; the second is the need to have a core base of legal knowledge”, concluding that “future commercial lawyers need to experience a tertiary education much more akin to an apprenticeship” and that “lawyers of the future will interact with the technology, not write it”.

In other exchanges, he was more forthright and suggested that while tomorrow’s lawyers could benefit from skills such as understanding data, how data is building up, how to measure using data and how to investigate in data (eg eDiscovery or contract discovery) as well as better visualisation of end product skills, learning to code would not yield as clear-cut benefits. Instead, he favoured the idea that lawyers, in general, could stand to work more closely alongside other professionals. More specifically, while lawyers should definitely equip themselves with enough knowledge to be able to work alongside tech developers, product managers, UX, and data scientists, he didn’t believe that lawyers needed that level of professional skills themselves.

That is certainly something highlighted by Harrison as a benefit she has seen in her work, directly attributable to the course. “I think lawyers could learn a lot from how software developers work”, she says. “I mean, the adoption of agile practices. Not all principles of agile working are applicable to legal work but a lot could be borrowed and tailored.” She also mentions a specific example of where new technical skills were coming in useful.

“For example, I can do simple coding in Python. When I worked on a big document migration project, my basic programming skills helped me to analyse thousands of lines of information in Excel. If I had not known how to interpret the data, I would not even have attempted it. But I knew and it was a great benefit for the project. I would identify programming and project management as technical skills that can potentially turn a good lawyer into a great one”.

Using tech skills to the client’s advantage

Another lawyer we spoke to made it clear that she believed “understanding data is key for business – if you can access and use your own data, you can develop a competitive advantage over your competitors”. Clare Weaver, a legal consultant and previously in-house counsel, now specialises in using legal tech to her client’s advantage. After two Oxford University Online courses from the Said Business School in Bitcoin Strategy and AI, she was able to re-skill to a more tech-orientated skillset. This allows her to be able to advise clients in both the FinTech and tech sectors, in particular that knowledge of how AI works and what applications can be used.

Weaver too speaks of how helpful it is for lawyers to be able to understand how natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning works. She reiterates Smith’s point that she doesn’t think lawyers need to learn to code but “should understand how developers create and build products, whilst guiding the user experience side of things which is most important of a product is to be useful”. “For me”, she says, “that’s the most interesting point – how to adapt products for use by different users and why adoption differs in different communities”.

But do lawyers need to learn to code?

No, seems to be the general thought. As Smith summarises, tomorrow’s lawyers “should be developing curiosity, humility, growth mindset and willingness to work in truly cross-functional teams” or, as he concludes in his book, “developing their interpersonal skills, comprehending the emerging user-centric business world, engaging with their curiosity and creative problem-solving skills, listening carefully to their clients’ needs and openly engaging with the changing world within which their clients operate and the leadership dynamic that governs that operation”.

In other words, a legal tech qualification isn’t ever going to make you a tech professional (and physically being able to code isn’t necessary) but getting a good grounding and understanding of the tech space generally may well help you be a better future lawyer in a world that is now definitely digital.