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Family & Work Women in Law

Snapshot: Lisa England, Finance Lawyer and Obelisk Consultant

How have you found working as a lawyer and parent?

Juggling motherhood and a career is a constant challenge, feeling that I should work as if I have no children, yet be available for my children as if I have no work. Obelisk have helped to offer more flexible opportunities in this regard, and it is wonderful to see first-hand how the legal market is evolving to utilise the female talent pool.

How did you come to work as an Obelisk Consultant?

I trained at Linklaters and spent a number of years working in-house for a couple of investment banks. I missed the buzz of transactional work within London’s global corporates, albeit that I was able to witness my daughter’s first steps and words at home. Obelisk contacted me with an opportunity at Bank of America.

How did the work fit with your life and career experience?

The team were really supportive and one member spent a couple of days getting me up to speed in an area of law for which I had no direct experience. However, as it was still within the finance sector and utilised most of my skill set acquired to date, I was able to pick it up quickly and add value without feeling out of my depth. The contract was a short term placement, enabling me to be home for my daughter’s school holidays, and I only worked four days per week.

 

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Family & Work Women in Law

Snapshot: Stacy Rahl, Obelisk Consultant

“Like so many I desperately wanted to keep working, as that is a fundamental part of my identity”

Tell us a little about yourself…

I am a dual-qualified solicitor and US lawyer with over 15 years of experience practising commercial and corporate law.  I was formerly a partner at a large international law firm in London and acted as general counsel of a start-up financial services firm.  I have worked with Obelisk for about 2 and a half years, with some time off in between to finally take the plunge, go the QLTS route and re-qualify as an English solicitor after 18 years in the UK!

Why did you decide to move into freelance work?

The demands of family, especially with a very “full on” working spouse, made full time work virtually impossible without a two-shift nanny system, and also like so many I desperately wanted to keep working, as that is a fundamental part of my identity.  High quality freelance work seemed the option that best suited.

What kind of work do you do?

Working as an Obelisk consultant has given me the best of both worlds. I have had one job with a very large multinational engineering company, and the other is assisting a small private practice with general corporate and compliance work.  The latter job is ongoing on a “stand by” basis.

What did these roles entail?

My first assignment took place after a large UK/US merger and involved the review and amendment of the company’s Code of Business Conduct and all of the company’s compliance policies for which the in-house legal team had responsibility.  The second assignment is on-going on a stand-by basis and has included advice on the Bribery Act, including drafting a policy, and the review and revision of commercial agreements.

What was the supervision and communication style of the clients with you?

It’s very easy.  Both clients were comfortable with remote work and had experience themselves with it, so most communication was or is by phone and email, with the occasional meeting.

Are you working remotely or at the clients offices, full-time or part-time?

Mostly remotely and part-time. It was my choice to work part-time, as I find 20-30 hours a week is the most I can do without feeling like other areas of my life are falling apart!

Have you been able develop skills or extend your experience into other areas?

Very much so.  I had some compliance experience before but I have greatly expanded the scope of my knowledge in that area in particular, as before I thought of myself primarily as a corporate/commercial lawyer.

Where would you like to be in 12 months’ time?

Pretty much what I’m doing now!  My children are in secondary school, but I still enjoy being able to make some of their sports and other activities with reasonable regularity.

How has the legal services market changed over the course of your professional career?

I have been practicing since 1992 (with two career breaks), and we didn’t have email when I started and documents had to be sent by a deadline based on the FedEx schedule!  As a result, remote working really was not done.  Part-time work was a concept, certainly, but it was widely believed unworkable for the type of work I did. Now it’s a reality.

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Family & Work

The Agony Aunt: How to switch off during the holiday season

I have been finding it difficult to switch off from work on days off in recent times, particularly due to a demanding client I currently work with. It’s taking its toll on my health and I really want to have some proper downtime with my family this Christmas. How can I make sure work won’t creep in during my break?

All of us who feel passionately about our work can find it difficult to switch off during days off. We constantly think about solutions or new ideas, and that often inevitably leads to: “I’ll just note that down”, or “I’ll send that email now so I don’t forget” and before we know it we’ve lost a couple of hours doing research and notes and checking inboxes.

It is incredibly important to make sure you take a proper break from work, particularly if you work remotely where the lines between work and the home can become all too easily blurred. There are very real consequences of burnout and an increase in sick days taken, as well as an increase in malaise and dissatisfaction with work that you never feel you have distance from. It is up to you to use your extended holiday wisely and come back refreshed and ready to get stuck in again.

It can be even more difficult to take that one eye off the email for an extended time when you are facing pressure from a particularly difficult client or colleague. As long as you have everything completed before the official holiday periods that you said you would, you are under no obligation to fulfil additional demands when you have confirmed holiday dates. If you feel you are being coerced or pressured to work over the festive season, it is time to push back. Your time is managed by you, you should be trusted to have completed what needs to be done and continue to do so after the break you are so entitled to. Be firm and politely reemphasise that your days off are as agreed and that you will not be available between those dates. Explain what you have completed and what will be picked up on your return, to reassure the client you are in full control of your workload and schedule.

Switching off – figuratively and literally

A big part of the switching off problem is our constantly connected culture. This Christmas, make it a priority to be strict with social media and technology. Switch off work laptops and computers and turn off email alerts on mobile devices. On social media, consider un-following any industry related pages temporarily to stop reminders of work and associated feelings of stress and guilt creeping up as a result. Read books and magazines rather than articles online to avoid getting distracted and sucked into a rabbit hole of information.

It’s one thing to switch off from the screen, it’s another to switch off mentally and be fully present with family, relations and friends. One thing particularly hard is to not think about what is coming on the other side; watching the days count down to the return to the routine. Keep perspective and remember you are not the only one taking a break – the vast majority, or if not all of those you work alongside are too, so not much is happening without you! Spend the eve of the holiday writing a to do list for your first day back, so you know you have everything clear in your mind what you need to do from the moment that next working day comes around – then put it away and don’t look at it again until the eve of the return!

If you are a natural planner and miss the routine, it may also help to make a series of plans for fun things to do. Even if the list consists of simple things like watching a particular movie on television together, mapping out what relaxing and fun activities you have in store will stop boredom creeping in and endangering your focus on family and friends.

With all that said, sometimes spending time with relatives comes with challenges of its own, whether it is dealing with underlying conflicts or even just simple logistics of getting to see everyone. It is important to allow your own time for relaxation. Remember not to put too much pressure on yourself to ‘please’ and feel you are responsible for everyone’s happiness. Don’t let visits become your sole responsibility either: if you’re finding it difficult to visit everyone, request they come to you or arrange a suitable half way point where you can all be waited on and escape the pressure of hosting for an afternoon. This is your holiday too and stress and obligation should not take over the joyful festivity of the season. Sit back, enjoy, let all the family do their part and share in the responsibilities – if you have children who are old enough give them tasks such as wrapping or laying tables, young people love to feel helpful and part of the preparations so you’re giving them more enjoyment too, while taking the pressure off your own shoulders.

The Agony Aunt wishes you and all our readers a happy and healthy Christmas.

 

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Family & Work Women in Law

Snapshot: Adriana Collins, Obelisk Consultant

“I have come closer than ever to my ideal life-work balance and that’s thanks to Obelisk”

What did you do before joining Obelisk?

I was working for small businesses on an ad-hoc remote basis, mostly in connection with commercial law, especially in the IT industry and to a lesser extent company law matters. When I got in touch with Obelisk about a year ago, I was looking for a change: I wanted to work more hours, with larger businesses and if possible, venture away from my comfort zone. This is exactly what Obelisk was able to offer me.

How has joining changed your working life?

Joining Obelisk changed my work life completely in a very positive way. For me, one of the hardest things about being a freelancer was ensuring a constant flow of new business, not to mention the issues with chasing payment! These are time-consuming and, more often than not, frustrating processes. Obelisk took care of all that and more.

Tell us about the work you do with clients:

I was fortunate enough to start my first engagement only a few weeks after joining and I have worked for the same client in two different roles since then. Both experiences have been extremely positive and I am grateful for all that have learned in the past few months. When you’re a ‘lone wolf’, the other lawyers you meet tend to be on the other side of the negotiating table so it’s been great to be part of an in-house team again and be able to share ideas and discuss issues without the adversarial angle.

How much flexibility do you have?

In my current role, the initial agreement was for a 3-month full-time placement on the client’s offices in London, which was just about how long I thought I could cope commuting on a daily basis and juggling childcare at the same time. When the opportunity for an extension came up, I was able to negotiate a couple of days working from home, which enabled me to continue to do a job which I love and still be able to spend more time with my kids during the week – not to mention the ability to claw back some of those hours spent on the move. The client was extremely understanding of my need to be at home more often. My manager actually said: “Working flexibly, isn’t that what Obelisk is all about?” I couldn’t agree more. Over the past year, I have come closer than ever to my ideal life-work balance and that’s thanks to Obelisk.

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Family & Work Women in Law

Snapshot: Rebecca Hayes, Obelisk Consultant

“I wanted to develop something of my own and have a new adventure”

What is your background?

I worked at Linklaters in their Employment department – I was office based and worked full time and then worked four days a week after I had my children.  In 2009, I decided to take a break from the legal profession and retrain and work as an interior designer.  This was easier to manage around my young children.  I worked for myself on a freelance basis; I wanted to develop something of my own and have a new adventure.

Why was Obelisk attractive to you and your situation?

I thought that it would be a great way for me to continue with my interior design business as well as utilising the many years of legal experience that I had acquired.  The flexible approach offered also fits with my family commitments. I found Obelisk to be the most innovative of the companies I approached.  I could relate to their vision and they are very supportive.

How do you work with clients and how is your week structured?

I have one on-going contract in which I work in the Employee Relations department for a global business travel company.  I support the Director of Employee Relations EMEA, predominantly on UK employment law matters, and work two days a week in the office at Canary Wharf with one day from home. I am very much part of the team. It was my choice to work part time as working part time enables me to continue with my interior design practice.

How do you feel your career has developed since working for Obelisk? What has it enabled you to do differently from working conventionally full-time?

I have gained invaluable skills in working for the business – understanding client issues and adopting practical solutions to issues which arise. Working this way has enabled me to carry on using and developing my legal professional skills and combine this with my other passion for interior design.

How has the legal services market changed over the course of your professional career?

Part-time working is more accepted now in the legal sector.  Legal services providers, such as Obelisk, represent a new more responsive approach to offering and providing legal services in a highly competitive and cost-driven market whilst enabling lawyers to carry on using their training and experience in a different way.

What do you feel is the most valuable advantage you can offer clients as an Obelisk consultant?  

Engagement – I’m doing this because I want to. Also my depth of and varied experience – both city law firm experience and the experience of running my own business.

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Family & Work Women in Law

Snapshot: Jane Jones, Obelisk Consultant

“It’s important to see the other lawyers face to face on a regular basis to help build relationships.”

What did your work life look like before Obelisk?

I trained and qualified at a City law firm, specialising in corporate recovery. At 3 years qualified I moved in-house to work in the legal team of the London branch of a European bank. When I had my first child, I moved to working 4 days a week in the office and when I had my second child I moved to a three day week, 2 days in the office and 1 at home. On moving out of London, I took a job in the banking practice of a regional law firm and subsequently set up my own practice with another solicitor, specialising in corporate and commercial work. After a short break, I signed up as an Obelisk consultant.

What led you here?

I read a letter from Dana in the letters page of the Evening Standard describing the Obelisk model and thought that this might be the solution I had been searching for! As we live outside London and my husband commutes into the City on a daily basis, I needed to find a job which would allow me to continue to manage family life and not be outside the home for long hours every day.

Describe your work with Obelisk:

Since becoming an Obelisk consultant, I have always worked for the same client. I support the legal team at the London branch of a European bank as a Standby Lawyer. The legal team send me work when they are overstretched due to conflicting deadlines or holiday absences. The majority of my work is for the Infrastructure Finance Team but I also step in wherever the legal team need extra support in advising lending services across the bank, including the network offices which the London legal team support. I work remotely but I am available on a full time basis on standby.  I make monthly visits to the office to attend the lending lawyers’ team meeting as I feel it is important to see the other lawyers face to face on a regular basis to help build relationships. This also enables me to see members of the front office teams that I work with.

How does this way of working suit you and the client?

My initial short term contract with the client was on a remote basis. This has continued as it suits the client (they don’t need me in the office every day) and this also suits my need to manage family life.  I take my initial instructions from a member of the legal team, usually by email. I will then communicate with the relevant front office team by phone and by email, always copying in the member of the legal team from whom I took the original instruction.

How do you feel your career has developed since joining – have you been able to develop skills or extend your experience into other areas? 

Joining Obelisk has enabled me to restart my career as a finance lawyer. As I can’t commute to London, that is not an option which would have been easily available to me without the opportunities that Obelisk has offered me. I have been able to develop my experience in specialist finance areas such as Infrastructure and Transportation Finance.

What has it enabled you to do differently?

Working with Obelisk has allowed me to combine a rewarding and fulfilling career as a finance lawyer with family life. I can fit in the school run and generally be around for my children in a way that would not have been possible if I was working long hours in the City. I still work hard and for long hours as and when required but I do have a bit of flexibility, depending on the urgency of the instruction, in that I can start very early in the morning or work late into the evening to fit the work in around family life.

How has the legal services market changed over the course of your professional career?

I think the technology changes and the corresponding expectation of availability and immediate response have been the biggest change.

What do you feel is the most valuable advantage you can offer clients as an Obelisk consultant?

Responsiveness and flexibility: I make myself available at all times during the working week (including during the evening) so that I can respond very quickly to an instruction with an indication of when I will be able to complete that instruction, depending on my current workload.

 

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Family & Work

Snapshot: Simon Frater, Obelisk Consultant

Working with Obelisk has allowed me to consolidate and also broaden my range.”

What were you doing before becoming an Obelisk consultant?

I was working as a general in-house lawyer in the marine engineering, engineering and defence sectors. To diversify, I applied to businesses broadly similar to Obelisk but found them to be restrictive or they would not take it further. Obelisk was not as restrictive and they were keen to value my experience.

Tell us about the jobs you have had as a consultant.

I have had five jobs, which have ranged from writing articles on legal issues, to covering for a head of legal during a vacation. On the way, I have supported a major, high-profile procurement for a household name,a ship refit for a cruise line and most recently supporting the head of legal in a tech start-up. I have worked both full and part time, at client offices and remotely.

How do you work and communicate with clients?

Many of the people I work with are younger than me and some can be quite nervous or wary of perceived differences in approach from a senior lawyer, so I emphasise that I am open and have the team and client’s interests at the centre of my focus. To do this, I am keen to establish their confidence by always allowing my supervisor access to my work, to the extent that technology allows. This tends to lead to a more hands-off supervision. However, if a client wishes to be closely involved, then that’s their prerogative and I work with that.

What has working with Obelisk enabled you to do differently from working conventionally full-time?

Recently I have managed to use some of my free time to become a jewellery-maker and silversmith. In some respects it is building on some basic skills I learnt many years ago, but much now is new ground. At a basic level Obelisk finds me more work, but also runs workshops on relevant ‘soft’ issues, ones that are traditionally neglected in the legal world. We are not all automata and professional life is complex and can present difficulties; it’s useful to discuss this with other consultants.

Have you been able develop skills or extend your experience into other areas?

Working with Obelisk has allowed me to consolidate and also broaden my range.  I have continued to work with household names and in growing sectors. I’ve expanded my skill set professionally e.g. becoming experienced in software licensing and IP issues which are critical to many businesses today.

How has the legal services market changed over the course of your professional career?

When I started, the solicitor with the best experience was seen as one who would retire from the firm with whom he (and it would generally be he) had started.  Over the last 25 years this has improved. The realities of the economic cycle have breached the legal sector’s rather rigid structures and moving around is more the norm and an acceptable career path. With that there has come a better understanding of what freelance lawyers can offer in terms of being experienced advisers.

What do you feel is the most valuable advantage you can offer clients?

My selling point is my breadth of experience. That means I have come across circumstances similar to the client’s at some time in my career, and most are glad to have this support and discuss the various options that are possible with some experience as to likely outcomes.

 

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Family & Work

The Agony Aunt: How to deal with a bullying colleague

I have been experiencing problems with a colleague that I feel amount to bullying, but I am not sure how to speak up or take action. I fear it will be dismissed as a bit of conflict when I am certain it is much more than that.

It can be difficult as adults to define bullying behaviour. In life, and in the workplace in particular, we have been brought up to be resilient and to rise above bad behaviour towards us. However, often what gets lost is the no-tolerance to bullying message of our childhoods. We explain the behaviour away to ourselves; using the excuses of pressure or a personality clash.  It is acceptable to talk about helping children and young people, but when it comes to opening up about bullying in the workplace it can be more complicated. Often the behaviours can be so slight and they may deny your perception of conversations or incidents taking place to make you question your own reality, also known as gaslighting. While it is difficult to advise the best course of action without knowing the exact details of your situation, the following pointers may help:

  1. You are not alone.

If you suspect you are the only one being targeted by this person, the feelings of helplessness and shame can be amplified, and you may worry you won’t be believed. First of all, be reassured that often the behaviour isn’t going completely unnoticed by others, and what may be happening privately to you could also be happening or have happened to someone else without your knowledge. Even if you suspect that is not the case, speaking up will give you some peace of mind that someone is at least aware of your concerns, and it should prompt them to examine the other’s behaviour more closely.

  1. Speak up.

Bullying has an extremely distressing impact on emotional health and work performance, so it is important to talk to someone, whether it is someone within the organisation, in your external support network, or a counselling professional. Talking will give you more confidence in your feelings, and help you to process the events and remember with more clarity why you feel you are being targeted. There is a spectrum of bullying behaviour, from simple rudeness to violence and threats. All are part of the same picture so it is important to acknowledge the more mild incidents as well. While you shouldn’t doubt your feelings, try to be honest and identify where you may have overreacted or unknowingly contributed to the behaviour.

  1. Identify the behaviour.

The definition of bullying according to Acas is any behaviour that could be characterised as harassment offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. The behaviour may also be illegal under the Equalities Act 2010 if you are experiencing harassment though any unwanted behaviours regarding protected characteristics – such as age, gender, sex, sexuality, marital status, pregnancy, maternity/paternity, race, religion and faith or disability and additional needs.

If you are preparing to take formal action, it is important to identify every incident and align with these definitions. Document everything and keep a diary of interactions. As you examine what is happening, it may be helpful to try to understand what is causing the behaviour – not to excuse or pass the blame, but to try to determine the best course of action to stop it altogether. Consider whether the individual feels threatened or insecure in their position for any reason.

  1. Protect yourself.

It is important to protect yourself as much as possible while this is ongoing. Try to avoid unnecessary interactions. In the face of their slights against you, stand up for yourself and immediately correct the behaviour.  For some, the next step may be to try to address the problem directly with the perpetrator. If face to face interaction is too likely to escalate, consider an attempt to diffuse the situation via email – it may also help to have their response on written record should future formal action be required. Enlist the help of others who you have confided in in order to approach in a measured and productive way.

If the situation is so toxic that these actions are not a possibility, consider leaving the organisation, if possible. While it may feel like letting them win, self-preservation is most important and there is no point putting yourself through needless distress and trauma. Identify exactly why you are leaving in your written notice, so that the company can be aware and prevent future problems.

 

At Obelisk, we have zero tolerance of bullying. If consultants are experiencing problems they can come to us and we can help them manage the situation.

Anti-bullying Week 2016 is being held between the 14th and 18th November with the theme ‘power for good’ and is organised by Anti-Bullying Alliance. Follow the events on social media using #antibullyingweek and #powerforgood.

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Family & Work Women in Law

Snapshot: Lola Moses, Obelisk Consultant 11 Years PQE

“Freelance work has really taken off in the legal sector”

When did you become a freelance consultant?

I had dabbled in freelance work before joining Obelisk in 2014. The path has become more consistent since then – the fact that I want to work part-time and remotely has not restricted the work offered to me. On the contrary, one of the interesting aspects of freelance work is the experience I have gained through exposure to other sectors. I’ve had 11 jobs with 8 clients. Since working with Obelisk clients in different sectors I have greatly broadened my knowledge.

How have you seen the legal sector change during your career?

It’s a very interesting time to work in the legal services market, as in other sectors, freelance work has really taken off and is changing the traditional career paths in the legal profession. When I was newly qualified there was the concept of locum solicitors, but this was somewhat limited to cover maternity or other fixed term absences. However, more businesses, legal departments and law firms industries are now turning to freelance lawyers, as they can provide quick and flexible solutions tailored to various needs such as staff or skills gaps, or an upswing in business demand, and to help with discreet projects.

How do you work with Obelisk clients?

The Obelisk team know my preferences for working part-time and remotely and our relationship works very well as I find that the variety of work at Obelisk is wide-ranging. Each assignment is interesting and across diverse sectors from renewable energy to financial service, tech or education. A few of the assignments have been repeat work requests, which is really nice as I learn more and more about the particular business and their needs.

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Family & Work Women in Law

Snapshot: Kate Lambie, Obelisk Consultant

“It is fantastic to be able to provide a useful service despite lifestyle changes, and to be valued for what you can contribute.”

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am an ex-city asset finance lawyer, happily living on the Sussex coast, wife to my childhood sweetheart and mum to Podge the house rabbit, an uber-intelligent autistic 8 year old son and my ballerina/vet/future prime minister 5 year old daughter.

Why did you decide to go freelance and work for Obelisk?

I have been with Obelisk for about two and a half years. I moved into freelance work because combining family life and my city work pattern was becoming impossible.  After a short career break I felt that dipping a toe into freelance work through Obelisk might just work, and two and half years later it still is!

What has working in this way enabled you to do differently?

I work completely differently to conventional work patterns, working at any time during a 24-hour period and fully remotely.  This means I can do the school run, help with homework, have a life and still commit to the number of hours of work a day my clients require.

What roles have you had during this time?

Through Obelisk I have been placed in 7 different roles, three of which are still on-going. I have worked for IT, media and telecoms companies and also for a large online retailer. My roles have included everything from large due diligence projects, holiday cover, ad hoc support and projects spanning several months.  My work is incredibly varied, and my role for my clients varies from being their sole legal resource to being part of large team of in-house lawyers, to everything in between.

How do you work with clients?

I work fully remotely (with the occasional trip into London for a client meeting), and I prefer to work part-time for several clients at a time. In terms of how we communicate, on one of my placements we had a weekly “team meeting” which everyone dialled into, to update the team on their current matters and seek help/advice as needed.  That system worked very well for me, as being remote it is important to link into the wider team you are supporting.  Another of my clients Skypes me for regular chats and to give instructions, which again enables me to participate in a similar way as I would in an office environment

Have you been able develop skills or extend your experience into other areas?

My skills and experience are unrecognisable from those of the specialist city lawyer I used to be.  I have learnt to research things I need the answer to, draft without precedents and understand business need quickly.  My city-experience was 11 years of asset finance, but now I am also confident to review and advise on IT/media/telecoms and retail matters, which is an opportunity I would never have had in city private practice.  As a result, I am a much more well-rounded lawyer.

How has the legal services market changed over the course of your professional career?

It is unrecognisable since I did my first city vacation placement in 1998.  There was one career path then: you either moved up to the next PQE level, or you left.  Equally for clients, they had very little choice in terms of the legal services available to them, having to pay for lawyers’ office overheads and services which were not necessarily tailored for their needs, or hire full time permanent in-house lawyers.  Now there are so many paths available to lawyers, and clients have so many more flexible options for how to resource their legal needs.  So many of us find that our ambitions and lives change during the course of our careers, it is fantastic to be able to provide a useful service despite lifestyle changes, and to be valued for what you can contribute, using your life experience as well as legal experience.