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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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Trending Women in Law

6 Female Lawyers turned Authors

That lawyers have an ongoing love affair with words, nobody can argue with that. A significant part of a lawyer’s career is spent writing text, structuring arguments, analysing documents and being a stickler for punctuation. What most people are unaware of, is that many lawyers have an intense creative life back at home. At Obelisk Support, our consultants are also vegan gurus, rugby coaches, interior designers, DJs or novelists. Every year for World Book Day, we feature lawyers who are authors on The Attic. In the past, we’ve interviewed a space lawyer turned science fiction author and a sole practitioner turned romance novelist. This year’s selection of female lawyers turned authors will make you rethink your idea of lawyers.

#1 Caro Fraser

A former commercial and maritime lawyer, Caro Fraser is known for unbeatable plotting and characterisation in her novels. Whether she writes about post-WW2 family picnics or the lives and loves of a group of London barristers, she has a knack for immersing her readers in a different world.

While her Caper Court series will appeal to lawyers who wish to read about other lawyers (barristers, really), armchair time-travellers will revel in her recent Summer House series featuring the 1930s English upper class in a country house. She wrote romance novels that she described as “romantic fiction for the thinking woman”, certainly another way to use legal brains for sheer entertainment value.

#2 Meg Gardiner

Celebrated crime writer Meg Gardiner read law at Stanford Law School and after graduation, practiced law in Los Angeles before returning to Santa Barbara where she taught writing and legal research at the University of California. Similar to John Grisham, Meg Gardiner writes legal thrillers that tend to be well received and go on to be bestsellers. She gives readers what they want, aka page-turning thrillers with serial killers as a bonus (inspired by real baddies, which adds to the thrills).

Did you know that she relocated to the United Kingdom with her family in the 1990s? It was during her free time in the UK that she wrote her first novel, completing a task that she had set for herself over 10 years earlier. Asked why she likes to write thrillers, her answer was: “Thrillers throw characters in the soup. They demand that characters dig deep and fight back – or die trying. I love writing stories in which people have to do that.”

#3 Marjorie M. Liu

Not all lawyer-authors write law-inspired books that take place in real life. Marjorie M. Liu is best known for writing comic books for Marvel, epic fantasies whose characters may live in a universe wracked by a race war and inhabited by violent witch-nuns, vicious deities, and innocent civilians. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill legal book.

Of course, her career could have panned out very differently. Liu read law at the University of Wisconsin where she received her J.D. and although she loved law school and her internship at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, she was working at a law firm when the sale of her first book convinced her to switch careers. Coming from an immigrant family, she was torn about walking away from the law into an uncertain writing career, but determined to make it. She is now a New York Times bestselling and award-winning writer best known for her fiction (paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels) and comic books. Teaching comic book writing at MIT, she redefines strong female characters in fantasy worlds. If you want to see her, you might get lucky at ComicCon events around the world.

#4 Theodora Goss

Harvard Law School alumna, Theodora Goss did not enjoy being a lawyer, revising corporate contracts until 2 a.m. while deeply in educational debt. Understandably, as soon as she paid back her law school loans, she turned her focus to one true love, literature. Now a creative writing teacher, she is best known for her short stories and poetry, as well as for her Gothic fiction novels.

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daugh­ter, a mashup based on of some of literature’s most famous horror and sci-fi classics, she writes about creating female monsters from a Victorian science fiction point of view. In Red as Blood and White as Stone, she writes a compelling, somewhat dark (but not too dark) fairy tale, interwoven with pre-, during-, and post-WW2 interludes. If you enjoy blending several different genre types, historical, fantasy and magical realism, you will definitely enjoy Goss’ books.

#5 Lisa Scottoline

A former corporate lawyer, Lisa Scottoline decided to change careers for family reasons. The birth of her daughter pushed her to give up her career in the law firm and become a full-time writer, a choice that shaped her life and opened new horizons. Now a New York Times bestselling author and Edgar award-winning author of 32 novels, she captivates readers with popular fiction whose characters are warm and down-to-earth.

Having sold over nine million copies in the United States, she is recognised internationally as her work has been published in 23 countries. Besides publishing like clockwork at the rate of a book per year, Scottoline is the president of the Mystery Writers of America and writes, together with her daughter Francesca Serritella (yes, the same one – and also a bestselling author), a weekly column on the Philadelphia Enquirer titled “Chick Wit”.

#6 Melinda Snodgrass

Trekkies would not be able to boldly go where no Spock or Scottie precursors have been before without Melinda Snodgrass. A celebrated science fiction writer, Snodgrass wrote several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation while serving as the series’ story editor during its second and third seasons. She also contributed scripts for the series Odyssey 5, The Outer Limits, SeaQuest DSV, and Reasonable Doubts; she was also a consulting producer on The Profiler.

Where does law fit in all this outer space lark? After studying opera at the Conservatory of Vienna in Austria, Snodgrass went on to read law at University of New Mexico School of Law. She practised law for three years, first at Sandia National Laboratories, then at a corporate law firm, but discovered that while she loved the law she wasn’t terribly fond of lawyers. So she began writing. In addition to her successful writing career, she is the executive producer on the upcoming Wild Cards shows being developed for Hulu, a series she started writing with George R. R. Martin in 1984.

 

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Family & Work Trending Women in Law

Meet Sarah-Jane Butler: Magic Circle lawyer turned entrepreneur

Here at The Attic we are always interested to meet lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs and are delighted to have had to opportunity to talk to  Sarah-Jane Butler, now CEO of Parental Choice. Having qualified at a Magic Circle law firm and worked for over 10 years in the City, she set up her own business in 2011 to help working parents achieve a better work – life balance whilst handling the challenges of juggling a career and childcare responsibilities.

Sarah-Jane, tell us a little about your background

I studied French and German at university and then converted to law, doing my training contract at a Magic Circle law firm. I qualified into capital markets and securitisation, and spent over 10 years in the UK and overseas before settling down and getting married in the UK. I was happily on the partnership track and loved the buzz of fast-moving city life. The work I did was intense but enjoyable, more or less. In 2011, I had my second child and at that point the work- life balance became very difficult and I took some time out to assess what I wanted as a mother and as a lawyer.

What does Parental Choice do and why did you set it up?

In 2011, I was reliably informed by a partner in the firm I was working for that if I was serious about my career and trying to combine that with children, I would need a day and night nanny, and perhaps a creche for my children at the weekends.   

It was clear that the firm I was working for, whilst they were keen to have me back, were not set-up to offer any support or advice to enable me to do this and I was expected to manage by myself. The stress was hard to deal with. I realised at that point that parents needed to be supported, both mentally and practically, by their employers. To expect employees to be as productive as possible, whilst also managing a home life and the stresses that everyday life imposes without providing support was unrealistic. There is a reason why so many employees, women in particular, look for a new career direction after having children.

Parental Choice was born out of recognising this need. I wanted to help other working parents with the minefield of childcare options, and offer them ongoing support through wellbeing talks dedicated to parents and the issues they may face – child anxiety, preparing them for school, dealing with technology or sleep techniques.

The business started trading in 2011, at the same time as I retrained as an employment lawyer.  On the one hand, I wanted to help parents find the care they needed for their children, whether that was a nursery, nanny, childminder or school, and if they employed a nanny make sure they had the payroll and legal support they needed to become an employer. On the other hand, I wanted to offer these services as a benefit to employees through their employers, thus showing that employers recognised the stress often caused by trying to find the right childcare to fit working hours.

What are the services now offered by Parental Choice?

Parental Choice has grown over the past nine years. It now provides practical support services for businesses and families in relation to sourcing both reliable childcare and elements of elder care. In addition, it offers employers with wellbeing programmes for its working parents and carers with access to experts experienced in a range of areas such as mental health, education and parenting. Its vision is to be an international trusted wellbeing provider making a difference to the lives of our clients’ employees and private clients. In fact, we also have an established EMEA practice offering help to families who are relocating within EMEA find childcare or education options.

Our key values are Care, Expertise, Empathy and Diligence so whether we are dealing with employers, big or small, or individual parents, we try our best to make sure they get the right information and support for them.

How do you feel your legal background has helped you in business?

Of course, my background as a city lawyer means I have a good understanding of business and am very commercially aware.  More importantly, I feel that an appreciation of customer service has been instilled in me through my practice as a lawyer, which has led to me building my business with customers at the centre of what we do.  

What advice would you offer to anybody thinking of setting up a business?

Be prepared to do everything!  As a law firm fee earner, I had lots of people around to help. Now I have to wear a lot of hats, including IT support and HR, but I have also been known to vacuum, run a duster over my desk and do the photocopying.  I would also recommend retraining and being relevant. I was a City lawyer, so when setting up Parental Choice, I recognised that offering legal advice to parents who are employing nannies would be beneficial. With this goal in mind, I retrained in employment law.

Find a niche, get relevant and stay relevant.

What about that work – life balance, have you achieved this?

In a manner of speaking, yes. I probably work as hard as I did before but this time it is on my terms. I work around my family rather than trying to fit them around my work. 

I have a great management team, who are also all mothers, who recognise the importance of work – life balance for themselves and their teams as well. The company itself has won several awards for its flexible working strategy (for example: working hours are 9-3) and its focus on working parents, including being named in 2015 by Working Families as one of the top ten SMEs to work for. In 2019, I was named as one of “We Are The City’s Rising Star Champions” for making a difference to the workplace for female employees. These awards are important as it shows that Parental Choice practices what it preaches and benefits its own employees as it aims to help its clients help its employees.

One last word from you, Sarah-Jane

I really believe in work/life balance and achieving the best solution for you. I try and practice this within my business and encourage my team to be flexible and put their lives first. Childcare traditionally is inflexible so I would actively encourage employers to give consideration to flexible working requests and look at what else they can do to support their employees practically and emotionally; the fact that Obelisk Support exists and helps lawyers to work flexibly is such an amazing step forward. 

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Making Work, Work Trending Women in Law

Demystifying Apprenticeships in Legal

Are you up to speed with the new routes into the legal profession? It used to be that apprenticeship opportunities were for college leavers and covered only paralegal roles, but things have changed. Increasing numbers of businesses across the UK have been launching apprenticeships, particularly since the government introduced a levy in 2017 for any employer in the UK with an annual pay bill in excess of £3 million that could only be spent on training apprentices.

What are legal apprenticeships?

In the legal sector, this has led to many law firms launching Law Society- and SRA-approved ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeship schemes. This means it is now possible to join a top law firm in a potential fee-earning role without having first gone to university. Effectively, legal apprenticeships provide opportunities to gain on-the-job experience whilst studying to qualify as a legal professional.

Law apprentices gain professional legal qualifications, which can be right up to solicitor level, alongside paid employment in a law firm. For qualification as a solicitor, this means learning alongside earning on the job for six years.

Legal apprenticeships – Kennedys case study

Apprentices typically spend one day a week studying and the remaining time working in much the same way as a paralegal or trainee would. “I spend my Mondays studying at BPP University and the remaining four days of the week working in the office. During the week, I attend training events and courses, but the majority of learning is done ‘on the job’ and as you progress through your role,” explains Caitlin, a Solicitor Apprentice in Kennedys’ Cambridge office.

Kennedys were one of the first law firms in the UK to offer a legal apprenticeship and are now in their seventh year with their legal apprenticeship programme moving from strength to strength. In 2019, Kennedys won Best Degree Apprenticeship at the 2019 School Leaver Awards, making it their third award in three years. With over 60 apprentices across their offices, Kennedys actively recruits from schools and colleges, welcoming people from the age of 18.

Hannah Worsfold, the HR Manager responsible for Trainees and Apprentices at Kennedys, was clear that whilst the firm does benefit from the apprentice levy, there is another real benefit to offering an alternative route to qualification via an apprenticeship. “It allows Kennedys to reach people from a much wider range of backgrounds who more accurately represent the diversity of our client base. Kennedys has a strong focus on legal innovation and welcome ideas from all levels of the firm and a more diverse workforce brings a variety of perspectives and ideas.

“We believe our apprentices are the talent pipeline for Kennedys and offering an alternative route to qualification provides an opportunity for young people to earn whilst they learn.

“I believe this is a driver for young people who do not wish to take the university route and incur student debt but would rather enter the workplace at the earliest opportunity. This is reflected in our application numbers, as we usually receive circa 600 applications across all of our offices”.

Ross Bell, a Senior Associate at Kennedys who is also an Apprentice Supervisor, was equally positive about the benefits of employing apprentices. “Apprentices are an important part of Kennedys’ future and they offer advantages over traditional recruitment of litigation assistants and lawyers.

“Apprentices – compared to either litigation assistants or trainee solicitors – usually have no legal or working background/are starting from scratch. They therefore require an intense level of training and supervision to ensure learning in a swift directed fashion but their progress can be remarkable and I have enjoyed working with apprentices who performed exceptionally in their roles having been provided with responsibility from day 1.”

Legal apprenticeship – Cartmell Shepherd case study

This is echoed by Holly Moxon, a solicitor apprentice halfway through her second year of the apprenticeship with Cumbrian firm Cartmell Shepherd. She notes, “the law is often different in practice and theory, so being able to learn both at the same time has been very beneficial.

“The skills and tips that you pick up in the office on a daily basis are incomparable to what you can learn reading from a textbook”.

In Cartmell Shepherd’s case, an apprentice was not something they had necessarily been seeking, with the proposal driven by then 20-year-old Moxon.

Moxon originally had a place at university to study law, but soon realised that the traditional university route was not for her. Still wishing to qualify as a lawyer, she began working at Cartmell Shepherd in an administrative role before making the apprenticeship proposal to her bosses.

Peter Stafford, managing partner at the UK 200 Group legal firm, said: “We were impressed by Holly’s initiative when she brought the proposal to us.

“Solicitor apprenticeships have until now mainly been provided by larger city firms, but we could see no reason why it shouldn’t be something we offered here at Cartmell Shepherd.

“Holly has been a great addition to our team and has worked hard to complete her first year of study.

“We’re passionate about investing in high-quality training and development for all of our staff, along with recruiting local people with talent and potential.

“The apprenticeship route serves both of those criteria very well, so this is certainly something we would consider again in the future.”

Adoption of legal apprenticeships by the legal industry

The legal industry still has a long way to go in terms of widening access to the profession. The number of firms and in-house legal teams offering apprenticeships is growing but there are notable absences in the top firms, and where apprenticeships are offered, the number of positions on offer is far fewer than trainee positions.

Apprenticeships are on offer in Magic Circle firms, but not to qualify as a solicitor, with Linklaters, Freshfields and Clifford Chance offering paralegal and legal project management options. Clifford Chance and Slaughter & May both expressed their decision to maintain solely training lawyers using the traditional training contract method when the option for solicitor apprentices was first introduced in 2016.

Solicitor apprenticeships are more widely on offer in the Silver Circle and other Legal200 and Legal500 firms. Firms such as Mishcon de Reya, CMS, Eversheds Sutherland, Dentons, Irwin Mitchell, Pinsent Masons, Withers and Addleshaw Goddard, to name but a few, all offer solicitor apprenticeships.

There is no central database of all apprenticeships but a few of the key firms are listed here. As with training contract applications, it is often a matter of searching individual firms in which you have an interest and determining what opportunities are on offer.

How will the introduction of the SQE change things?

The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in 2021 will also apply to apprentices, with the apprentice providers we spoke to not envisioning this will affect the numbers applying.

Interestingly, Carol Fish, Director at Cartmell Shepherd, observed that students qualifying by the more traditional route (university, law school and a training contract) “will not have the opportunity to have the in-depth experience on the job that an apprentice will have had.”

Given apprentices will have had six years client-facing experience by the time they sit SQE2, compared to a more traditional two, could solicitor apprentices be actually better placed to successfully pass the SQE? We will watch this space with interest.

What’s next?

At present legal apprenticeships are for those who want to qualify as solicitors, as well as non-qualified paralegals. The Bar Standards Board has been consulting on opening up new pathways to qualification outside sitting the bar vocational course, and in 2019 approved a new training regime for barristers opening up four routes to qualification, which includes an apprenticeship. These new pathways come into effect in September 2020.

So far as in-house apprentice positions, that is harder to gauge as there is no central database of companies and businesses offering legal apprenticeships, outside of the government’s list of places actively recruiting. We know that councils, including Bristol City Council, employ solicitor apprenticeships as well as the in-house legal teams of FTSE 100 companies such as ITV.

With university fees continuing to be high and job prospects for graduates becoming more competitive, it is expected that competition for apprenticeship places will increase. Once the current cohorts have successfully qualified as solicitors in 2024 and onwards, no doubt more firms will take up the mantle.

What do you think about legal apprenticeships? Does your firm offer them? Are you an apprentice yourself? Let us know your thoughts @ObeliskSupport.

Categories
Women in Law

Lawyers Who Are Changing the World For the Better 2020: Call for Nominations

Who are the lawyers who do good? The lawyers who work selflessly behind the scenes for the greater good and are deserving of greater recognition and appreciation? At Obelisk Support, we are proud to shine a light on remarkable lawyers who are positively impacting the world via our legal blog, The Attic.

In 2018, we celebrated lawyers who are changing the world for the better and who are using their skills to give back to the community and to create a positive impact on the planet. In 2019, our list attracted interest from all over the world. Are you ready for 2020?

Nominations for the 2020 list are now open!

Join us in celebrating the contributions and achievements of other lawyers who share the same positive values and change society and the planet for the better.

Who deserves to be recognised?

The list of probono lawyers who are changing the world for the better recognises the achievements and contributions of members of the legal profession who promote accessibility, inclusion and equal rights of others or who are advocates for the planet and who fight climate change.

The 2020 list will feature recipients who demonstrate excellence and leadership in one or more of the following eligibility areas:

  • climate crisis
  • access to the legal profession
  • equal rights
  • environment
  • education
  • health and wellness
  • animals and wildlife
  • local community
  • poverty

How to Nominate Someone

Please take the time to nominate a friend, colleague, client, employee or employer who deserves to be celebrated for their outstanding probono efforts! Consider nominating lawyers whose accomplishments have yet to be publicly acknowledged.

Send an email to [email protected] including

  • Nominator name and email address
  • Nominee name and email address
  • Legal specialty of nominee
  • Country, city of nominee
  • Public awards/recognition of achievements
  • Why the nominee deserves to be part of the list in 100-150 words
  • A photo of the nominee (with rights to use on The Attic)
  • Links to relevant websites of nonprofits, lawyer profile, media articles

Nomination Deadline

All nominations must be submitted by 15 March 2020.

Announcement: 2020 Winners

The entries will be reviewed individually and judged on merit by a panel of lawyers, journalists and members of the legal industry. Finalists will be contacted individually by email and the final list of winners will be published on 2 April 2020 just in time for Earth Month.

Categories
Women in Law

Why green tea might be the simple answer to your wellbeing as a lawyer

In a recent Law Society survey of Junior Lawyers, 55% of women and 42% of men said they regularly felt unable to cope, with almost two-fifths experiencing a mental health problem. High workload and demanding clients were behind many of the problems, and the resulting stress led to problems with family life and relationships. This led the Law Society to launch a series of two-hour resilience and wellbeing workshops, created to help lawyers be their best at work, and away from it, focusing on personal coping mechanisms. 

The Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division has also hosted podcasts on improving the mental health of their junior lawyers. One of their recent podcasts focused on alternatives to booze culture and featured an ancient green tea expert, Rui Liu. The Attic met with Rui Liu, founder of ancient green tea expert collective Grass People Tree, who shares the ancient Eastern philosophy of “knowing yourself” and  “staying relaxed” to help individuals in organisations to find calmness, joy and space and to achieve optimum mental health and work performance. Rui shares her experience and tips on how lawyers can benefit, mentally and physically, from ancient teas.

#1 How did Grass Tree People start?

I used to work in fashion which was a very stressful industry. One day, we shot for 20 hours, and I brought along a green tea packet my parents gave me. After brewing it in a clay teapot, the smell filled the whole room and reminded me of Guizhou, my native city in China. I started telling the story of the culture of tea and before long, it became a regular thing. After six months, I considered making it a business and went back home to do some research. 

The cleanest tea comes from wild tea plants. Over this two-year trip, I visited over 200 villages, sometimes trekking for a day to get to the village. One day, I walked into a private tea house and with the tea master, I tried seven-hours brewed green tea. He shared the story of indigenous wild tea trees and I narrowed down my research to six different places where wild tea trees grow. 

Mountains of Guizhou in China

One of them is called the Tai tree. Its purple leaves, called fish hook leaves by locals, have more nutrients than most tea trees. Others, like bush tea trees, only reach as high as 15 metres high when they are over 1200 years old. We had to carry a ladder in the mountains to pick tea leaves. One the teas I offer, the Master’s Red Tea, comes from an 800 year-old tree. 

Back in London, I had more than 25 notebooks with notes and I had to think: how do I tell the story in 15 words? The website Grass Tree People shares the story of where ancient teas come from and my personal connection with the land.

#2 What does Grass People Tree do?

Grass People Tree. The word tea in Chinese “cha” (茶) is made of 3 characters: grass + people + tree. Human is the element that connects grass and trees with harmony and tea embodies the relationship between humans and nature. When you have a good tea, you can taste nature from it. 

We run predominantly B2B workshops, using tea as a language to improve people’s productivity, enhance their awareness or facilitate difficult conversations. We are quite resilient in terms of what people need for their team. One of the workshops with Nike was a team-building away day based on kindness, which was quite philosophical and spiritual in a way. If you can’t look after yourself, how can you look after other people? 

Tea experience

I also work with a Kung Fu master to run synergy workshops, using the wisdom of Kung Fu to improve communication. In the B2B realm, I run Chinese etiquette workshops with companies that have interactions with Chinese clients. You learn to break the ice at the tea table. A lot of individuals, particularly very young entrepreneurs or business people, want to absorb as much knowledge as they can when doing business with China and business negotiations can be intimidating and confusing. Our workshops empower people to use the language of tea to make connections. 

This year, I will run spring and summer retreats in China in the mountains. A qi gong master will teach people how to activate their tea, a tea master to talk about tea, a Chinese medicine master will provide insights into traditional Chinese medicine and a Buddhist chef will show how he uses local foraged food. 

#3 What are green tea’s health benefits?

Western medicine differs from Chinese philosophy and medicine when it comes to the health benefits of green tea. In western medicine, studies report that green tea has more health benefits than black tea thanks to its lack of processing, making green tea higher in protective polyphenols. The major polyphenols in green tea are flavonoids, notably catechins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that function as powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants are known to protect the body against disease and are an important part of a healthy diet. As part of a balanced diet, green tea can be a good source of antioxidants. You can find other health benefits of green tea here.

In Chinese philosophy, everything has temperatures and there are 24 seasons. Winter, in particular, is all about restoring your energy and nourishing the organs which is where green tea comes in. It can help you feel better, restore you and make you feel revived. Green tea also has a cooling nature but if you need some warming tea, red or aged white tea are a great choice. Aged green tea, being very mellow, has a more cooling effect.

We have to ask ourselves how we really feel and use tea as a reflection tool. Seasons also influence how you can experience tea. We have to recognise that we feel differently during the week, much like the weather changes in the mountains. Lawyers can use tea as an instrument to check on themselves and see how they can connect with themselves. 

Tea ceremony

#4 How can lawyers incorporate green tea in their routine?

Lawyers should ask themselves how they are feeling and then decide what tea they need. It might be that they don’t need tea at all, that they just need physical and mental space to be with themselves.

The general rule is that you should choose tea according to your needs. At 11am in the morning, if you feel drowsy and have a sugar rush, make green tea. If you are feeling cold, yellow tea might be a better pick. If you have digestive system problems, drink yellow or aged black tea and if you feel fragile and have worked long hours, have white tea. It will feel like a blanket hugging you, giving you comfort and strength. If you have a hangover, aged white tea is your best choice, particularly wild tea. 

Even if you are a coffee person, green tea is also a great alternative to coffee but when choosing your green tea, note that green tea should never be or taste bitter. Green tea does contain caffeine, although varieties and brands may differ. An equal quantity of green tea contains less caffeine than coffee (one cup of green tea contains approximately 35-80 mg compared to approximately 100-400 mg in the same size cup of coffee), but it can still act as a stimulant. As a result, some people find that drinking green tea increases their energy levels, concentration and mood.

Key Learnings

  • Discovering green tea is well worth the effort if you are looking for alternatives to coffee and/or to the booze culture and alcohol consumption in the legal profession
  • Beat the mid-morning slump with a green tea brew to revive your senses and enhance your concentration levels
  • Green tea can help lower your levels of stress, boost your mental health and energy levels
  • There’s more to green tea than tea bags. And more green teas than Lipton’s green tea too. Explore tea shops and find out about green teas that will improve your wellbeing as well as your physical health
  • Green tea can help you reconnect with nature, an essential part of the journey to positive mental health and happiness
Categories
Women in Law

FIRST: Writing Women In Law Into History

On Monday 23rd December 2019, we celebrate the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become professionals in the UK. The First 100 Years project is the national campaign celebrating this centenary, focusing primarily on the progression of women in the legal profession since 1919. First 100 Years has been celebrating this centenary throughout this year in many ways, one of its latest being the newly released FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law, which is the first book of its kind telling the story of women in law throughout the last 100 years in an accessible and informative way.

About First 100 Years

Set up in 2015 by Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith, the First 100 Years project has been building an archive to tell the previously untold stories of the pioneering women who made history in the legal profession. From the first female solicitor, Madge Easton Anderson, in 1920, to Elizabeth Lane, who was the first woman appointed a County Court judge and then the first woman appointed to the High Court, right up to the present day with the first female President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, and future firsts, like future president of the Law Society I. Stephanie Boyce, who will become the first President from a BAME background in 2021.

First 100 Years is a multimedia project, telling the history of women in law in many ways to ensure as many people as possible can learn about the stories in a way that suits them; from the filmed biographical interviews, a podcast series, a unique music commission to an artwork commission for the Supreme Court, and now a book, there is something for everyone to learn about the inspiring female pioneers that shaped the profession today. The purpose of the project is not just to understand the history of women in law, but to use this to provide the context for promoting further gender equality in the profession, by assessing progress so far and how far we still have to go.

FIRST

FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law seeks to capture the lives of female pioneers in law, past and present, to ensure we do not lose the stories of these incredible women. It does so following the format of the First 100 Years timeline, podcast series and exhibition, decade-by-decade, delving into the broader themes of each decade, including the wider historical context that impacted women’s place in the profession. It also goes further into the many stories of the individual women including biographical information and both archival and modern day pictures of the pioneers, making it a highly informative and entertaining read.

Lucinda Acland, a long-term volunteer on the project and the host of the First 100 Years Podcast series, and Katie Broomfield, an academic in the field and a champion of the project, have brought together archival material, material produced by the project through the video and podcast interviews and their own research to create this book. FIRST is the product of over five years’ worth of efforts in building the archive, which was not an easy task.

The project’s founder, Dana Denis-Smith, often refers to the fact that what she thought would be a history project, turned into an “archaeological dig” to unearth the stories because women’s achievements often go unacknowledged and their stories rarely told, so finding out many of the stories took a lot of work. The writing of the book itself, however, was done in a very short amount of time. It was originally not intended to be released until 2020 but due to an incredible amount of interest, the task was brought forward and the authors got it done in a matter of months in time for the centenary celebrations, and we are so pleased they did as it has been a huge success!

There was a hotly contested debate around the title, from the authors, publishers, editors, proof readers and the First 100 Years team. Being the first of its kind, it was important to ensure the title hit the correct tone. It had to transcend the purely feminist literature section of a library and be a credible history book in its own right, irrespective of the fact it featured women. In the end, it was actually The Attic editor Laure Latham who came up with the simple yet effective title: FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law. It captured the essence of the project, with the name of the project in the title, but also the simple word “FIRST” alluded to the women featured as “firsts” in various ways, and is also signifying that there are many achievements for women in law to come – this is just the beginning.

Why is FIRST so important?

Ultimately, women need to understand their history to be able to place themselves within it. It has become apparent to the First 100 Years team over the past few years that, understandably, people could not accurately estimate how long women have been in the profession, or have known the many anecdotes that have since been shared, such as not being allowed to wear trousers in the courtroom, having no female lavatory facilities or women frequently being asked to make the tea in meetings. It is only by understanding the background can we both recognise how far we have come and make sure we fight to ensure history does not repeat itself. As Baroness Kennedy says in her testimonial of the book, “this is a vital and stunning piece of our history…the absence of women in the system of law was a gross impediment to justice” and we must ensure women’s place in the profession is cemented.

The Next 100 Years

As The Secret Barrister says in their testimonial of the book, “[FIRST] offers not only a unique celebration of the progress achieved by women in the law, but a vital reminder of how much work there still is to do”. Despite the progress of the last 100 years, there are still barriers to be broken and progress to be made, and there are plenty of plans in the works for The Next Hundred Years! You can get involved by following us on social media @First100Years and @Next100Years_, checking out all the many resources we have on our website www.first100years.org.uk and contacting us at [email protected].

Make sure to get your copy of the book by going to www.first100years.org.uk/our-new-book/

Here’s to the Next 100 Years!

Categories
Trending Women in Law

Women lawyers on British TV: From This Life to Defending the Guilty

We looked at how American female lawyers have been portrayed in US TV shows, reinforcing the success of female lawyers as a working norm, influencing lawyers of both genders. 

So how are women in law portrayed by British TV writers? We look at key female legal characters from the 1990s onwards, which are still few and far between. Only this month, lawyers have suggested that more fictional women on TV at the bar are needed to inspire women to become barristers. Chambers and Partners found that improvement towards parity is slow, with only 23.6% of 7,409 barristers ranked in the UK being female, compared with 17.3% in 2010.

Anna and Milly (This Life)

This Life became a cult 90s TV show, following the antics of a group of young lawyers who live together as housemates in South London. The two series followed the groups’ various professional and personal ups and downs. 

Amy Jenkins, who did go to law school, captured the zeitgeist of the ‘Cool Britannia’ era with her script and created themes that went on to define some of the best TV writing of the 90s including Cold Feet. Broadcast in 1996 and 1997, This Life featured an ensemble cast living the 90s hedonistic lifestyle of successful professional lives combined with chaotic private ones, all to the backdrop of a Britpop soundtrack and the politics of New Labour.

Anna and Milly, a barrister and solicitor respectively, were both ambitious young women, determined in different ways, finding their way in the working world. But what viewers loved about This Life was that it wasn’t set in the courtroom. Anna and Milly weren’t out to save the world or even their clients. These were brilliant, middle class, university-educated women who behaved like the people watching, not heroes. They were relatable, made mistakes along the way, but were ultimately working as professionals – not secretaries. No-one wanted to be Miles, the good-looking public schoolboy character, but Anna inspired many women to want to head for a career at the bar.

Martha Costello (Silk)

Silk came along more than a decade later, in a new political landscape, with the first episode broadcast in 2011. Written by Peter Moffat, previously a barrister, Silk was a more obvious, serious legal drama even with a deliberate overlap between the professional and the personal.

Contrasting with the partying of This Life, Silk concentrated on the Machiavellian politics of life at the criminal bar around a fictional set of chambers, including hard-fought decisions, ethical dilemmas, sex, drinking and the general pressure of too much work for too little pay. 

Martha Costello is in many ways the cliched single, female, ambitious lawyer, focusing on becoming a QC and doing her best by her clients. At 37, Martha is a world away from the early 20s Anna and the ladette culture of the 90s – although no less steely – but this is the legal world post-2008 financial crisis with a new coalition government chipping away at legal aid. 

The series explored her rivalry with fellow members of her criminal set, her nuanced relationship with her clerk and her personal battle for seeking justice for her clients and causes she believed in. Martha was a more grown-up, realistic inspiration for women at the bar – not as glamorous perhaps as her US TV counterparts, although, in fairness, the white shirts, wigs and gowns of the Criminal bar aren’t really set up for glamour. 

Hannah Stern (The Split)

For more slick and shiny legal inspiration, along came The Split in 2018. Not set in the criminal bar but rather the equally dramatic family court, viewers were spoilt for choice for female legal inspiration with a whole family of lawyers. 

Ruth Defoe, the matriarch of family firm Defoes refused to step aside to let Hannah, the responsible older daughter take over, so Hannah left and joined a rival firm as a partner. Hannah’s younger sister Nina, meanwhile, continued to work at the family firm while the youngest sister Rose is about to get married. Unlike both This Life and Silk, this time we get to see women combining a legal career and motherhood.

Written by Abi Morgan, The Split is again full of professional and personal drama, but this time, everyone is related. When does a personal family spat become a professional issue? 

Hannah, in her early forties, is battling responsibilities in a way that will be deeply familiar to many: ageing mother, absent (then re-emerged) father, husband who also has a career, children who need more attention than she has time to give, a colleague with whom she once had a thing, and who makes it clear he’d quite like another thing. Oh, and work. Work at which she is clearly very good – Hannah shows us that you can be an ordinary woman with ordinary issues and do well at work too, even if it isn’t always easy.

Caroline (Defending the Guilty)

Back full circle to the tried and tested ensemble of barrister’s pupils in Kieron Quirke’s Defending the Guilty. Lawyers in real life are split as to whether Defending the Guilty is exceptionally funny or deeply unrealistic. Based on Alex McBride’s book of the same name, in theory, this series questions how it is possible to defend someone who is guilty, but in reality, focuses more on the comedy and despair of eking out a career at the criminal bar, a cog in the wheel of the creaking justice system, and the challenges of making your mark in a highly-competitive industry.

Caroline, the 40-something pupil master of one of the new pupils competing for pupillage, is an unlikeable but no-doubt familiar character who spends the series toughening up her pupil, Will. Will is wide-eyed in his apparently naive pursuit of justice but being a barrister, as Caroline reminds him time and time again is not about justice, it is about winning. 

Where Hannah in The Split was already a partner in a law firm and battling balancing responsibilities, Caroline’s harshness hides insecurity and a desire to succeed as a QC. Asked to speak at an event to other women in the law, she finds it hard to recall why she even liked being a barrister, let alone what positivity she could bring to those younger than her. And, once again, we are presented with a portrayal of a woman whose career leaves no room for family life.  

With both The Split and Defending the Guilty recommissioned for a second series, it is encouraging to see more women lawyers on our screens and we look forward to seeing more women in higher positions – perhaps even a character inspired by Lady Hale will make an appearance.

All images © BBC

Categories
Trending Women in Law

Black History Month: Interview with Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President & General Counsel, World Bank Group

Touching on topics as important as diversity, equality and justice, Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the World Bank Group has been talking to The Attic for Black History Month. Ms Okoro shares her journey to one of the dream jobs of the legal profession, the role models that have inspired her along the way and why diversity matters.

My role at the World Bank is unlike anything I’ve done before.

It’s like chalk and cheese. My whole career, I was a lawyer in asset management in the City of London, dealing in heavily-regulated financial services and working in fast-paced financial markets. One day, I was contacted by a headhunter and, as with all jobs at this level at the World Bank, the story started with a competitive search. I was reluctant initially and ruled myself out but during the summer, thought otherwise and called back the headhunter. They were still looking for a GC and I got the job, which was a real lesson. Too often, we talk ourselves out of big opportunities when we don’t need to.

My role today at the World Bank, an international financial institution whose goal is to eradicate world poverty through development, covers a lot of complex legal issues around international law, internal policy and the agreements we enter into with our member countries.

I have a fantastic team of 172 staff who come from 65 different countries…

… and probably with that over 40 different languages are spoken in my team. My team consists of some of the best lawyers I have ever worked with. They are all highly trained, with many PHDs floating around. Out of 172, I have 117 women and my senior management team is nearly 50/50 on gender parity. One of the things we have to do is cover the languages and cultures of the countries we work in. At the World Bank, we strive to represent our 189 Member countries and by employing people from all over the world, our teams score very highly in terms of diversity.

When the World Bank was created in 1945, the make-up wasn’t quite as diverse as it most certainly is now. We prioritise diversity at all levels across the World Bank and I am very proud of the diversity and inclusion of my own team. That mixture of diversity and cultural differences is really brought to the table in problem-solving and that’s why we come out with the fantastic ideas and innovation that we do.

The private sector could really learn from this structure.

If you want to get the best out of your team, if you want to do the best for the countries you are working with, then you need to think consciously about how you create a diverse workforce and the type of inclusive environment that will help people from different backgrounds flourish. Whether it’s private sector, public sector or international financial institutions, you have to represent your clients and stakeholders in order to remain relevant.

In my role, I focus on promoting the rule of law, access to justice and gender equality for all.

My favourite Sustainable Development Goals are SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). My mission is to make a reality of these two SDGs working in partnership with my fabulous colleagues in our Gender and Governance Global Practices here at the World Bank. Being a lawyer in development means looking at the big picture, and working not just to deliver our day job but to work with our colleagues across the institution to help our Member countries deliver on justice reform and gender equality. For example, we work very closely with colleagues in the Governance team who do a lot in relation to access to justice and the rule of law.

As far as values, I believe in diversity and inclusion — both in life and in work.

In work, I value integrity and doing the right thing even when no one is looking. Integrity has to be in a lawyer’s DNA. It doesn’t make you popular but it does mean you can sleep at night. In life, I value family and friendships, alongside loyalty. I don’t mean that in a “be loyal or die” way but in an “even when the chips are down” type of loyalty. I bring both work and life together in that integrity is a key part of the diversity and inclusion piece. In work, diversity and inclusion gets you better work outcomes and more ideas. In life, you just have more fun because if you have friends from all over the world, it’s 189 different types of food, 189 types of music, and 189 ways of looking at a problem.

Let me tell you about our team retreat at the end of the financial year. I hosted a small party for my team and everyone was dancing to music from all over the world. No one sat down because an African, Latin American or Bhangra beat they didn’t recognise was playing. Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is everyone having music they can dance to.

I grew up in a time in the UK when there were lots of female role models on the television and in the media.

You might like them, you might loathe them, but they were there. I grew up with an aspiration to be a woman of substance because I saw other women of substance all over the world on my TV screen. Ironically, there were many more women in politics or on the news than there are now. When I was born, women were treated as second-class citizens but this changed as I grew up. I  was told to grab open opportunities and to contribute all you can to society. I really believed in that and I did not consider myself as a second-class citizen. Not pursuing a career was not the environment I grew up in.

When I was a teenager and young adult, apartheid existed in South Africa, which is something the younger generations today find hard to believe ever existed because it was just so unjust. I remember a lot of my student days were spent marching against apartheid and I very much thought, “That could have been me, if I lived in South Africa.” I would not have been able to vote. I would have not been able to move freely or live where I wanted because of the colour of my skin. I would have needed to be subservient to other people because of the colour of their skin. I felt a world that accepted apartheid was a world that needed to change. The world still needs that change and we need to keep pushing as there is still a lot of inequality. My passion for access to justice came from my anti-apartheid days. I believe the presence of justice and the respect for the rule of law benefit ALL in society, and make society stronger.

Black History Month gives people a sense of identity and history that was snatched away due to slavery and oppression.

If you were to say, “Name 20 famous black historical figures”, people may struggle. But if you were to say, “Name 20 famous Caucasian historical figures”, that would be very easy to do. You’d ask, in what sector, in what century? That’s because black history has not been fully written, it has not been fully recorded, it has not been fully taught.

I work in Washington D.C. but as a Londoner, I always make time to return to London at some point in October because Black History Month is important to me. Too much of black history is missing or has been forgotten. Black History Month is about claiming back historical territory and recognising that everybody is part of history. Its events and talks cannot be underestimated as they will inspire the next generation to think that they can be part of something bigger. Last but not least, Black History Month is a reminder to everybody of the contribution black people have made throughout history. Black History Month is for Everyone, it is about celebrating the contribution of those who have been, or are, hidden figures. For me, this is a celebration of the uncelebrated.

One of my big role models is Nelson Mandela, because he really stood up for what he believed in.

When he was released from prison and became president of South Africa that was really wonderful to see. I’ll never forget that day when he walked out of prison. First off, he looked very different because we only had one image of him, the image was of a young Nelson Mandela before he went to prison. When I saw on TV an older Nelson Mandela walk out of prison, he looked like a leader. He looked like a hero. He looked magnificent. He walked out of prison instead of getting in a car, and that image of him walking is one of my endearing images of the 20th century. His struggle inspired the song “Free Nelson Mandela” by The Specials and I play that song when things get difficult to remind myself that anything and everything is possible, even though sometimes you have to go through hardships. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

My mother was another of my role models. She showed me the way to being a working mum, of not using excuses about your gender or ethnicity to say you can’t do something. She never took “No” for an answer and really pushed me to do things. She showed me what it’s like to be always safe but also, what it’s like to take risks. She also gave me the classic line, “Never rely on a man for money.” She was a feminist without even knowing it.

Oprah is another role model and she has an amazing story. I think about everything that she’s done, that she’s talked about, that she brought out in the open and that was not talked about before. I first saw her in the movie “The Color Purple” and nobody knew how amazing or famous she was going to be. She is also an incredible role model for all young women who want to be successful in business. She has built a business empire from humble beginnings, and she did this by being her authentic self.

I have other role models who are maybe not as obvious. Coco Chanel is one of my heroines. She had good and bad times in her life. But she literally freed women from the corset. She created a fashion and industry that was very different at the time. Not only did she have her own business, but she was very successful and she did it on her own terms.

The last role model I would mention is Spike Lee, the film director. It’s difficult to imagine now how few black directors there were when he started with “She’s Gotta Have It”. I went to see the groundbreaking “Black Panther” recently and I thought that this was the direct result of Spike Lee’s revolutionary work. We all stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us.

As you see, diversity and inclusion plays a big role in my life.

In the legal sector, I have always been very supportive of D&I work done by my colleagues and it’s fair to say that these things are not always easy. You may win awards but you still have to work very hard in organisations to get your voice heard. I’ve been happy to support the work of Daniel Winterfeldt with Interlaw and, of course, the work that Dana Denis-Smith is doing on The First 100 Years project, celebrating the history of women in law is equally important.

I am also a big supporter of JUSTICE, a human rights organisation in the UK run by Andrea Coomber. They are a fantastic organisation.

Last but not least, I’m a great friend of the arts. I am proud to be a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I really believe that achievement in the arts is one of the things that will survive us all. Drama and the visual arts tell us so much about the world we live in. I really admire scriptwriters and film directors who push the boundaries and make us see things differently. Some movies have the power to change the way we think about society and ourselves. A few years ago, I had the honour of seeing Paapa Essiedu play Hamlet in a RSC production. It changed my whole concept of how such roles should be cast. It brought a whole new meaning to the role of Hamlet because Paapa brought a whole new perspective. I realised “in a lightbulb moment” the power of the arts to transcend boundaries and generations. We live in a vibrant and wonderful world, but it is still an unfair one for many. The arts can help us open our minds and to see that which we don’t even know we need to see. It is so important that we live and work with an open mind. I am glad to be alive at this moment in time, I get to use my skills and passion to try and make the world a better place for all, and no one can put me in a box and tell me to keep still and keep quiet. A 100 years ago my life would have been very different. I may not even have been offered an education. 200 years ago I would have been someone’s chattel to be bought and sold at will. Sadly today there are still many women who cannot access education and are not free. So although I enjoy my freedoms and advantages, I do not take them for granted and I fight for those who are not as lucky as I am.