Making Work, Work

Our Favourite Books (and More) for 2020

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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Law for Good in COVID19 Times

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

In the community with the song-writing law professor

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

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

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

Behind the scenes with the frontline supply lawyer

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

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

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

Tech in the fight for consumer rights with the robot lawyer

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

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

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

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

Providing probono legal advice with volunteering law students

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

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

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

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

Photo credits:

  • Howard Koslowicz – University of Calgary
  • Golnar Assari – Golnar Assari
  • Joshua Browder – Twitter @jbrowder1
  • Manchester Justice Hub – Manchester University – School of Social Sciences
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Top Law Blogs to Follow in 2020

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

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

UK and Europe Legal Blogs

Barrister Blogger

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

Legal Cheek Journal

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

The Secret Barrister 

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

LexisNexis Future of Law blog

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

Crafty Counsel

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

Wellbeing Republic

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

Joshua Rozenberg, The Critic

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

UK and Ireland Subject Specific Blogs

Pink Tape

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

Civil Litigation Brief 

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


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

Ireland IP and Technology Law blog

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

EU Law Blog 

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

Techno Llama 

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

The UKCLA Blog

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

Harry Clark Law

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

USA and Canada Legal Blogs

Scotus Blog 

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

The Girl’s Guide to Law School

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


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

Above the Law

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


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

The Law for Lawyers Today

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


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

Asia and Australasia Legal Blogs

Bucket Orange

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

China Law Blog 

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

Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy

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

LGBT Law Blog 

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

Singapore Law Blog 

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

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

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

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

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

Providers offering bespoke legal tech education

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

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

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

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

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

What skills are required by lawyers of the future?

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

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

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

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

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

Using tech skills to the client’s advantage

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

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

But do lawyers need to learn to code?

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

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

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Lawyers Who Are Changing the World For the Better 2020

Be they lawyers by day, legal superheroes by night or pro bono lawyers who are passionate about making the world a better place – each and every one of the lawyers below deserve recognition for outstanding legal efforts in their community and beyond. As a responsible business, we at Obelisk Support look up to lawyers who are changing the world for the better. After our list of lawyers who changed the world in 2019 and 2018, the 2020 list honours the rule of law and lawyers who contribute to our society in the current COVID-19 crisis. Our list also features lawyers who protect our planet as sadly, the climate crisis is still as critical as ever, even if we are all taking positive steps to live more sustainable lives. Without further ado, here is the 2020 list of lawyers who are changing the world for the better.

Xu Zhiyong

Civil rights activist, China


A former law lecturer, Xu Zhiyong is a human rights lawyer who has long been an inspiration for human rights advocates around the world and was recognised as one of the top global thinkers by Foreign Policy news. Using his legal experience, Xu firmly and carefully pushed his calls for political change and social justice in existing laws, which led him to co-found in 2003 the NGO Open Constitution Initiative. This organisation consisted of lawyers and academics in the People’s Republic of China who advocated for the rule of law and greater constitutional protections. Xu was subsequently arrested in 2009 on charges of tax evasion and detained shortly before being released on bail. In 2012, he co-founded the New Citizens’ Movement, a collection of lawyers and activists demanding civil rights protections and rule of law. On January 26, 2014, Xu was sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”. In February 2020, he was one of the few lawyers criticising President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and was arrested in southern China. He hasn’t been seen since 15 February 2020.

Funke Adeoye

Social justice advocate, Lawyer, Nigeria

Funke Adeoye

Funke Adeoye is a Nigerian lawyer, social innovator and international development enthusiast. She founded Hope Behind Bars Africa in 2018, an organisation that leverages technology to increase access to justice for indigent inmates across Nigerian prison facilities, as well as help correctional facilities in Nigeria achieve inmate rehabilitation and reintegration.

Hope Behind Bars was conceived after Adeoye wrote her thesis on prison reforms and restorative justice in Nigeria. She began volunteering with prison-focused organisations, which gave her the opportunity to see the true state of Nigeria’s prisons. She was horrified by what she saw, several poor prisoners who had been awaiting trial for years had no access to justice in sight. She spent a part of her time as a legal associate handling a couple of probono cases and in 2018, she eventually got Hope Behind Bars Africa off the ground.

An experienced lawyer, Funke is a 2019 fellow of Cornell University’s Center for Death Penalty Makwanyane Institute. She has personally handled over 30 pro bono cases from the lowest courts up to Court of Appeal, most of which she secured an acquittal for inmates who had been wrongly accused. Passionate about human rights and inclusion, Funke believes no box nor boundaries are required for thinking.

Mariel Hawley Dávila

Public health advocate, Attorney, Mexico


Latina lawyers represent a formidable force and yet, are often underrepresented in the media. Mariel Hawley Dávila, a Mexican lawyer turned motivational speaker and ultra marathon swimmer uses her sports achievements to fundraise for community causes. After reading law at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Hawley worked at Basham Ringe y Correo Abogados, Banco Santander and Grupo Marti. While practising as a lawyer, she completed some of the most challenging open water swims on the planet and was recognised as Woman of the Year 2019 by the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA). WOWSA founder Steven Munatones explains a small sliver of her background and accomplishments, “Her selflessness and widespread charitable works are constants in her life. She is always on the go: she swims, she works, she writes, and she is a working mother who had to struggle on after the death of her husband in 2015.” Through her marathon swims and channel crossings, she has been raising money for the Quiero Sonreír project to fund surgeries for Mexican children with cleft lips and palate, paying for oncological treatments for children with cancer, working with women in jail, and promoting health via Mexicanos Activos for many years.

Anne Bodley

Young law students advocate, Senior Finance Lawyer, UK


After studying at the New York University of Law, Anne Bodley worked at Magic Circle firms, before moving to Tanzania in 2003 to work for the United Nations.  It was while in Tanzania that she nurtured a vocation to help others less fortunate, often helping locals with basic tasks – either buying mobile phones for those in need or taking people on trips to hospital. In 2010, she founded Lex:lead, a charity that runs an annual essay competition to help would-be lawyers in the world’s least developed countries, funds their studies, and creates internship and scholarship opportunities…truly important work to help men and women studying law to succeed. To date, Lex:lead has handed out 68 cash prizes (nearly US$40,000) to underprivileged students across eligible countries in Africa, Asia and Americas, as reassessed regularly by the United Nations. since July 2012, Lex:lead has been an intellectual partner to the World Bank-supported Global Forum on Law, Justice and Development. From 2015 onwards, the project started placing students in internships (also funded by sponsor law firms) and in 2018, the charity launched a mentoring program to further support students and countries of operation. To add to this impressive list, Bodley works full time at HSBC as senior legal counsel in the global banking and markets division focusing on e-channels (payments and cash management area).

Eric Gitari

Gay rights activist, Lawyer, Kenya

Source: Harvard Law Today

Kenyan lawyer Eric Gitari co-founded the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) in 2012 to fight for legal reforms and create a civic space for LGBT individuals in Kenya. To him, changing the laws are a way to slowly change society. After growing up in rural Meru, in eastern Kenya, he studied law, against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to be a doctor. After law school he joined a prestigious law firm, but was unhappy and quit. The following years saw him travelling, teaching at a juvenile prison, writing stories, living as a nomad and hitchhiking across east Africa. Upon his return to Kenya, he volunteered with an organisation dealing with gender-based violence before getting a job at the Kenya Human Rights Commission in charge of setting up their LGBT programme. He noticed homophobia worsening on the continent, with Nigeria and Uganda pushing stricter legislation, the 2011 murder of a prominent anti-gay rights activist in Uganda, and rumours of an anti-homosexuality bill in Kenya. That’s when he co-founded the NGLHRC. In a major victory for Kenya’s LGBT community, the organisation won a case in 2018 to ban forced anal testing, which had long been used on men suspected of homosexuality. They are now looking at striking down two sections of the penal code making consensual sex between adults illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in jail. In 2019, he was one of several gay rights activists leading a petition to decriminalise homosexuality in Kenya (which the High Court rejected). Gitari is currently working on his PhD at Harvard University in the United States, and is researching the criminalisation of homosexuality on the continent.

Susan Ojeda

Probono champion, Family Lawyer, USA


In January 2020, the Florida Bar honoured Susan Lilian Ojeda, founder of Legal Ministry HELP, Inc., a nonprofit organisation providing free legal services to those in need in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties (Florida). Before receiving her J.D. from Stetson University College of Law in 2001, Ojeda earned the William F. Blews Pro Bono Service Award, given to students who provide free services beyond what is required for graduation. In 2003, she founded what would eventually become Legal Ministry HELP, Inc. Ojeda helps to obtain domestic violence injunctions and assists with dissolutions of marriage and child custody cases for victims of abuse; assists the elderly; assists widows and widowers; drafts legal documents for immigrants; paternity cases and child support cases; and drafts wills and other legal documents for indigent persons.

Jeff Smith

Disabilities Advocate, Environmental Lawyer, Australia


With a Masters of Law from Sydney University, Jeff Smith worked in the environmental and social justice sector for about 20 years. Most notably, he was the CEO of the Environmental Defenders Office of NSW, a community legal centre that specialises in public interest environmental law. He also serves on the Boards of the Haymarket Foundation and EDO Ltd as well as the Advisory Committee for the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law. Prior to that, he has been on the following Boards and management committees – CLC NSW, the Total Environment Centre, the Environmental Planning and Law Association, and the Climate Institute. Smith has written extensively on environmental law and policy, criminal justice and the rule of law. He has taught in a wide variety of fields including industrial regulation, environmental law, litigation and criminal law and process, postgraduate and undergraduate courses at Macquarie and Sydney University. In August 2019, he became the new CEO of People with Disability Australia, a national disability rights, advocacy and representative organisation giving the disability community a voice of its own. He now focuses on shaping Australia’s response to improving the lives and opportunities for people with disability over the next decade and beyond.

Qin Yongpei

Activist, Human rights lawyer, China


In a legal career spanning more than a decade, Qin Yongpei has defended other human rights lawyers facing reprisals from the Chinese authorities, provided legal assistance to vulnerable groups, and taken up cases involving unlawful administrative detention, industrial pollution, forced demolition of housing, and wrongful convictions. He is the founder and director of the Guangxi Baijuming Law Firm, where several human rights lawyers in Guangxi also worked. In July 2015, he was briefly taken and questioned by police in what has become known as the “709 Crackdown” targeting human rights lawyers and other defenders across China. In May 2018, the authorities revoked Qin Yongpei’s lawyer’s license and ordered him to shut down his law firm. He then founded a legal consultancy services company to continue his legal work. Around the same time, he also co-founded the “China Post-Lawyers Club” to provide solidarity and mutual assistance to human rights lawyers who have been disbarred. He is currently detained and charged as “subversive”. Since the coronavirus broke out in Chinese prisons, his wife has no idea whether he is still alive or in good health.

Jodi Goodwin

Asylum seekers advocate, Immigration Lawyer, USA


When illegal immigrants made world news in 2019 because of the rough treatment enforced by the Trump administration, many American lawyers got together to provide legal help to asylum seeking families. Jodi Goodwin is one of the lawyers on the front line at the border, part of a group of legal first responders who risk their own financial, physical and psychological well-being to serve refugees teetering on the edge of survival. In Matamoros and six other Mexican cities stretching along the border from California to Texas, 60,000 migrants have been displaced since the start of the Remain in Mexico policy in early 2019. In Brownsville, where roughly 15 lawyers cross the border on a regular basis to represent refugees, only a few are immigration specialists qualified to represent clients in court. Jodi Goodwin is one of them and for her efforts, the self-described “guerilla lawyer” received the 2019 American Immigration Lawyer Association’s Pro Bono Award. Now, her work is made more challenging by the border closure due to the coronavirus crisis. In The Monitor, she says, “I and the few other warrior lawyers here on the border depend on going to Mexico to be able to represent our clients. Not being able to travel to Mexico makes things monumentally more difficult,” adding that technology like FaceTime and messaging services, “absolutely is not able to replace in person meetings, especially dealing with people who are victims of trauma and trafficking.” A graduate of the University of Texas and St. Mary’s University, she is involved in several organisations designed to teach and train young lawyers and holds several positions with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, including Past Chair of the Texas Chapter of AILA, national and local liaison committees with Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Sukhjit Ahluwalia

Homeless advocate, Solicitor, UK

Source: David Brunetti for Seva Street

As of December 2019, an estimated 320,000 people are homeless in the UK, according to the latest research by Shelter, and the COVID-19 crisis has made things worse, creating housing nightmares for many vulnerable people. While many take part in charity fundraisers to tackle the issue, others like Sukhjit Ahluwalia take the matter into their own hands. A true example of a lawyer giving back to his local community, Sukhjit Ahluwalia helps the homeless in Stratford and Ilford (where he grew up) via a charity he founded. A solicitor since 1998, Ahluwalia worked several years in the City before founding his own law firm, Avery Emerson. Priding himself on delivering a personal and human approach towards Avery Emersons’ clients, he also applied the same approach to the wider community. In 2007, Ahluwalia became probono lawyer for the Sri Sathya Sai charitable trust, an India-based organisation serving society in the fields of health, spirituality and education and in 2018, he founded the charity SEVA Street. Seva Street prepares and distributes food to the homeless, serving hot home-cooked meals each week to people living on the street at Stratford Center in east London. In the Newham Recorder, he said, “What we really want to do is help people get off the streets, but we realise that’s quite a big task in itself, so there’s steps to get there. Going onto the streets and giving out food makes a small difference, but it also helps us understand what the needs are.”

Making Work, Work Trending

Legal Tech: Meet Gavin Sheridan, Founder and CEO of Vizlegal

At The Attic, we are always interested to talk to people doing interesting things in the legal industry, so we were delighted to have the chance to catch up with Gavin Sheridan, former investigative journalist, now CEO of Vizlegal. Having previously worked in a social media startups, he became interested in law and felt that there were opportunities to use technology to improve things for people working in the law. The result was Vizlegal, a legal search and tracking platform.

Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to legal tech?

I’m Gavin Sheridan, the co-founder and CEO of Vizlegal. My background is in investigative journalism – freedom of information (FOI) and open source intelligence, in particular. I previously worked as Director of Innovation at a social media startup called Storyful that specialised in open source investigations, and which was later acquired by News Corp.

I became interested in law via litigation involving my FOI and Aarhus requests for information to Irish public bodies. I felt that there were opportunities to improve the state of the art when it comes to legal information, litigation, and mobile accessibility and open data.

How would you define the scope of Vizlegal?

Our scope is global but we’ve started with Ireland, the EU and the UK. We think there’s an enormous amount of data out there to acquire and organise.

The intention of Vizlegal is to “empower lawyers by indexing and graphing the relationships of all the world’s legal information.”

So why do lawyers need Vizlegal? What benefit does that bring to a firm or the everyday working life of a lawyer?

Lawyers use us every day for various reasons – but mainly it boils down to two main things: searching for things, and keeping up to date with things.

This can include knowing

  • what stage your case is at,
  • when the other side has filed something, or
  • when a new judgment is issued that contains a certain phrase you are interested in.

For others, it’s being able to quickly look up a court rule or practice direction on your phone. And for others, it’s digging through tribunal or court decisions to find a key one.

What is it about the intersection between law and technology that is interesting to you?

I come from a technical background, so I tend to take an interest in the application of technology to any field. Law is interesting because it has been relatively unaffected thus far by digital transformation.

Do you think it helps to come from a non-legal background?

It certainly gives you a different perspective. As a non-practitioner, I tend to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes, which may give some advantage in identifying inefficient processes that could maybe be improved.

In every industry, including journalism, there are many things done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, and law is no different. We think that there are many, many opportunities to make the lives of our customers (practitioners!), both less stressful and more productive.

Access to data is central to access to justice – does that resonate with you?

Yes it does. I’m an FOI advocate, litigator and trainer and have spent a decade in the access to information domain. I believe that without adequate access to legal data or information, access to justice is hindered for everyone.

How is Vizlegal changing the legal space in Ireland and legal outcomes?

We are less focused on legal outcomes than we are on improving the lives of our customers. If we can reduce anxiety, increase productivity, make peoples’ lives easier and happier, then we think that we are achieving our goals. We think that these things lead to second-order benefits in the system overall and that’s a good thing.

How will technology affect the legal landscape?

We are in an information-heavy industry and that information needs to be organised and structured. We think that technology will mean that more lawyers can do more things with less time and more productively. The machines can focus on the mundane tasks, while the humans apply their skills in the areas where human brains are best.

What key skills do you think lawyers need today (particularly in terms of tech)?

Understanding product development and customer empathy is an interesting area – it is a skill that many other industries are focussed on. Also, understanding that data is not scary and that spreadsheets are great! (Journalists are going through the same thing!)

What key skills, particularly tech, should tomorrow’s lawyers be developing?

Continued focus on customer happiness and success is important – and learning new ways to achieve the same goal, but better is also great. I think that the keyword is adaptable.

What’s next for Vizlegal?

We continue to add to our coverage and we continue to add tools to make the life of a practitioner easier: including better court date management, better alerts, better and faster ways to search and improvements in managing lots of these things on mobile devices.

Always the goal is: how can we reduce the number of steps, clicks or taps to achieve the job that is needed to be done by our customers. We will expand into the UK market this year and then, to the rest of the world.

Any last words to add?

We enjoy buying coffee for lawyers so we can listen to their problems – be it using court forms, rules, badly built government websites or anything else. Our door is always open.

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.

Making Work, Work Trending

Best legal podcasts to listen to in 2020

It’s time for our most popular piece of the year! After the success of our 2018 and 2019 lists (plus a beach summer list), here comes 2020. Do you have a must-listen-to favourite podcast? Research published in 2019 shows that the number of people listening to a podcast each week has grown by 58% over the past two years to around 7.1 million people in the UK. Ofcom research also found that half of listeners have joined the podcast wave in the last two years.

In the legal world the diverse and interesting options continue to multiply as well as some big hitters who remain on our list year in, year out, such is the depth and breadth of their content and guests.

In no particular order, here’s what we are listening to in 2020. Let us know what else we should add to our list.

#1 BBC Law in Action

One of the longest-running legal podcasts, this podcast is hosted by legal commentator and journalist Joshua Rozenberg and a staple for many a Radio 4-listening lawyer and is back on our list for 2020. Law in Action delves into a variety of topical legal issues and developments including questions such as whether Love Island contestants leave their legal rights at the door of the villa, the UK’s constitution, and do male and female judges judge differently. The episodes run weekly with interviews and studio discussions, focusing on UK legal developments.

#2 LawNext

Presented by Robert (Bob) Ambrogli, lawyer and legaltech writer at LawSites, LawNext offers weekly podcasts on the many aspects of the future of law. Each week, Bob interviews the innovators and entrepreneurs who are driving what’s next in the legal industry, from legal technology startups to new law firm business models to enhancing access to justice. Recent podasts included Stanford’s Margaret Hagan on designing for justice and LawClerk Cofounder Greg Garman on changing-up the model for small firms.

#3 Law Pod UK

Now running for more than 100 episodes, Law Pod UK is another stalwart of the UK legal podcast scene, discussing developments across all aspects of civil and public law in the UK. Presented by Rosalind English and Emma-Louise Fenelon, creators of the UK Human Rights Blog, it is produced by the barristers at One Crown Office Row.

#4 Talking Politics

The beauty of podcasts is they not only broaden the mind but keep us in the conversation. Particularly in this current fast-paced unpredictable and volatile political climate, we can all do with a handy way of keeping up-to-date. Step forward the Talking Politics podcast, recorded in David Runciman’s office in the Cambridge politics department. David is Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge and each week unpicks the latest stories with a regular panel of experts and invited guests. Talking Politics is a weekly podcast, uploaded every Thursday morning.

#5 EU Confidential

From Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London comes Politico’s EU Confidential, Europe’s premier political podcast. This is an all-round good listen for current affairs junkies as well as a go-to for lawyers who work across European countries and in areas of EU law that require a broader understanding of the political structures, cultures and practices and their legal implications. The podcast also features interviews from experts and leading figures giving the inside view.

#6 The Hardwicke Podcast

Launched in 2019, the barristers at leading commercial set Hardwicke Chambers have developed a podcast series concentrating on providing an informal view of important legal issues and unpicking legal topics arising from Hardwicke’s key practice areas in discussion with leading barristers from the chambers. This is quality legal commentary – Brie Stevens-Hoare QC and Steven Woolf set the tone in the first episode.

#7 LexisNexis Environmental Law Podcast

This monthly series aimed at environmental lawyers and practitioners is hosted by LexisNexis and each month invites guests including barristers and other experts to discuss and provide commentary on topical issues. January’s episode is hosted by Christopher Badger and Mark Davies of 6 Pump Court and they discuss case updates and predictions for key areas in environmental law during 2020.

#8 Mens Rea

Mens Rea is an independent true-crime podcast discussing crime in Ireland and the UK. Mens Rea is researched, written and produced by the podcast’s host, known only as Sinead, who every two weeks delves into the most notorious crimes, examines the people involved, the investigation of the police and the court cases that followed.

#9 Legal Toolkit

Legal Talk Network’s Legal Toolkit is a comprehensive resource for people in law practice management. With a new episode every month, Jared Correia invites forward-thinking lawyers to discuss the services, ideas, and programs that have improved their practices. January’s episode is about acquiring top-notch talent for your team including the best strategies for defining your firm’s staffing needs.

#10 LeGal LGBT

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

#11 Employment Law Matters

Daniel Barnett is an employment law barrister who back in 1999 set up his Employment Law (UK) email bulletin, sending 2-3 emails a week on all matters relating to employment law. Quickly becoming the go-to employment resource and key website for employment lawyers, 20 years later he has set up the weekly Employment Law Matters podcast aimed at HR professionals and lawyers who want to help their businesses and clients with tricky, practical, employment law issues.

#12 Lawyer 2 Lawyer

Lawyer 2 Lawyer is a US award-winning podcast covering relevant, contemporary news from a legal perspective. Presented by American lawyers and bloggers Bob Ambrogi (who gets double mention this year, see LawNext above) and J. Craig Williams, the two invite industry professionals (usually with opposing viewpoints) to examine current events and recent rulings in discussions that raise contemplative questions for those involved in the legal industry. Launched in 2005, Lawyer 2 Lawyer is one of the longest-running podcasts on the Internet.

#13 Legal Current

Another US podcast which is a staple for many podcast-loving lawyers, Legal Current by Thomson Reuters makes the list again as it continues to run a series of commentary on the business and practice of law. With a global outlook, it explores many issues that affect legal practitioners in other countries, as well as setting issues in context for listeners in the UK.

#14 UK Law Weekly

We’ve included UK Law Weekly again as we think it makes for excellent listening and a great resource for studying and practicing lawyers alike. Hosted by former university professor Marcus Cleaver, the weekly episodes are short, concise and easy to digest, focusing on the week’s legal decisions and news. Listeners gain analysis of topical talking points as well as specific cases that have recently gone through the Supreme and other UK courts.

#15 Building NewLaw

Canadian Counter Tax Lawyers Peter Aprile and Natalie Worsfold joined forces to build (literally, they were the technical architects) a better law firm to serve their tax clients. They fully admit to being unique characters and wanted to search out the like-minded odd, creative, hardworking, and obsessive people building interesting things and pushing to do better and interview them for their podcast, which now spans four series.

#16 Thinking Like a Lawyer

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

#17 Hey Legal

This new podcast wants to make its listeners a better Scottish lawyer. From learning how to eat for a busy day in Court, to hearing from Scotland’s brightest legal minds, Hey Legal aims to release new episodes every week, inviting new guests to share their expertise to build a better Scottish legal sector.

#18 Legal Ops

The Legal Ops Podcast is an Australian podcast with a global appeal.  Every episode covers a new aspect in relation to legal operations, legal business and legal technology, hosted by Alex Rosenrauch and Elliot Leibu. Recent topics include change management, transformation, operationalisation and technology implementation, overlaid with the human elements of change management and organisational psychology. If you’re interested in the changing nature of legal services delivery, and you want to be a part of it, this is the podcast for you.

#19 The New Lawyer

From New Zealand comes The New Lawyer podcast, aimed at new and prospective lawyers as well as to think in new ways about the practice and culture of law. Hosted by Katie Cowan, The New Lawyer Podcast is an occasional interview podcast series produced by Symphony Law for junior lawyers, law students, and anyone wanting to think differently about the culture of legal practice. Topics include finding your fit, going solo and networking.

#20 Practicing While Black

This US podcast aims to increase representation one story at a time, leading with the statistic that in the US, black attorneys make up only 5% of attorneys. Practicing While Black aims to increase this figure, using the podcast to broadcast experiences of black attorneys and serving as a platform to inspire and share strategies to accelerate career and business success. Each month considers a new topic, often with a guest, that all lawyers will find interesting and inspirational, including creating a better law firm and all manner of topics around being a better lawyer.

Bonus: First 100 Years

Of course, we can’t make a list of legal podcasts without mentioning our own. First 100 Years recorded the last of a series of 10 podcasts following the course of the 100 years of women in law in November 2019. In collaboration with Goldman Sachs and Linklaters, the series charts each decade of the last 100 years and the history of women in the legal professions, 45-minute discussions between legal pioneers, historians, academics and legal practitioners based on key themes, including gender stereotypes, work/life balance and diversity.

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

Making Work, Work Trending

The Practice behind High Performance

Guest post by Catherine Stothart, Leadership Coach and Team Facilitator, who is the author of How to Get On with Anyone: Gain the Confidence and Charisma to Communicate with any Personality Type.

It’s important for corporate lawyers to build a reputation for excellence and for high performance. But it can be hard to get a grasp of what performance means and how to improve it.

Lawyers are known for their intellectual ability – analytical skills, logical thinking, the ability to synthesise complex information, their attention to detail and so on. Add to this their willingness to work long hours when needed, and they have a strong foundation for high performance.

But while we may have excellent knowledge and skills as individuals, we can’t usually achieve high performance in isolation – we need to work with others who have different needs and priorities to fulfil, and these may conflict with ours. This is where emotional intelligence comes in. Since Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence – why it can matter more than IQ, it’s been widely accepted that to work productively with other people, emotional intelligence (EQ) is required as well as general intelligence. Emotional intelligence is being aware of your own emotions and able to manage them, and being aware of the emotions of others and able to manage the relationship with them.

This piece covers some of the practical things we can do to improve performance by working in more emotionally intelligent ways, looking at two aspects:

  • How we manage ourselves and our own activities to achieve our goals and tasks
  • How we work with others and manage our relationships with our colleagues, clients and other teams – the “soft” skills of high performance


Many of the people I coach struggle with numerous competing demands on their time, and they try to fit everything in, working at home and at the weekends. But work will always expand to fit the time you give to it, and ultimately, there are no more hours in the day, so rather than working longer, high performers learn to work smarter.

Top tips:

  • Set yourself clear goals and tasks with plans and timescales and agree them with your partner or general counsel.
  • Don’t over-commit and remember that unplanned things will always crop up, so allow time for these.
    If feasible, block out some time in your calendar each day or week and use it for more strategic activities, or to catch up between meetings.
  • If you are invited to a meeting, ensure you know why you are involved – if you don’t need to be there, politely decline.
  • Have a “growth mindset” – be open to learning and developing your knowledge and skills and plan in some time for this.
  • Ask for feedback from others on how they perceive your behaviour, and what they would like to see you doing more of or less of when you interact with them. (Remember that it is their perception and you don’t have to agree with it, but it is useful information for you on how you come across to others).
  • Take time to build relationships with your colleagues and clients (more of that later).
  • Be aware of when you are feeling the pressure and take steps to build your resilience (take some time out, go for a walk, take a lunch break, re-prioritise, talk to others for social support, eat healthily and get enough sleep and exercise).

Managing Relationships

When we communicate with other people, we usually have a positive intention, but sometimes they way we come across can have a negative impact on them and then we don’t have the influence we want.
Being aware of how you come across and being able to adapt your behaviour to build rapport and collaboration rather than conflict and competition, are critical skills for high performance.

Top tips for emotionally intelligent behaviour:

  • Take time to build rapport, even with people you know well.
  • When in discussion ask open questions beginning with “what” and “how” rather than “why”, which can feel challenging and make people react defensively.
  • Listen to the answers and show you are listening, by asking follow-up questions, repeating back some of what they have said, and checking your understanding.
  • Advocate your own position using examples and sharing your reasoning. Don’t feel threatened by challenge but use it as an opportunity to explain your position.
  • Look for areas of agreement rather than disagreement and build on common ground.
  • When you disagree, use “and” not “but” to bridge to your point of view (“and I think….not “but I think”) – this can help defuse potential conflict.
  • Build trust by revealing your own ideas, feelings and concerns – people sometimes stay silent rather than risk speaking up, but this can lead to worse outcomes
  • Be alert to how people are reacting and responding to you – if someone’s reaction surprises you, then they may not have interpreted your communication in the way you intended.

When we interact with others, lots of things go on below the surface, often outside our conscious awareness. This is particularly true of our emotional responses and these can lead us to say and do things we later regret. The good news is that we can learn how to notice the signs and how to manage our reactions.

  • If you are starting to feel frustrated or irritated, take steps to manage your mood, otherwise your feelings will come out in your behaviour and will have a negative impact on the people you are interacting with. Get up, walk around, change your speed and tone of voice, say something positive.
  • Be mindful of what is happening in your body – your physical responses are an indicator of an emotional reaction and if you can pick these up, you can manage how you behave. Eg tension in the shoulders, faster heart rate, shorter shallower breaths, are all signs that your body is preparing for fight or flight. Take a deep breath, count to 10, move away while you gather your thoughts.
  • Look out for cues that others are experiencing negative emotions – their tone of voice and body language indicate how they feel. If they appear bored, nervous or angry, they probably are, and you will need to change your approach to engage them.
  • Avoid reacting in a way that escalates to conflict and take the heat and pace out of the situation by using a calm tone of voice and measured body language.
  • Make allowances for the negative impact of their behaviour on you and seek to understand their positive intention. The colleague who comes across as impatient and demanding might intend to get quick, achievable results. Your peer who appears slow and inflexible might want to ensure that there is a carefully thought through plan.
  • Act in a way that helps other people maintain their self-esteem, otherwise they will become defensive and less open to collaboration. Don’t criticise them or make them feel they are wrong, don’t interrupt or talk over them. Instead, ask their opinion, encourage them, show interest and concern for their concerns.
  • Communicate positive emotions – enthusiasm, energy, curiosity – and these will be picked up by your colleagues.

Being able to manage ourselves and our relationships are essential for high performance. If you can match the impact of your behaviour to your intention, and respond constructively to other people’s intentions, you are more likely to achieve the influence and the high performance you want.

Making Work, Work

Our Favourite Books For 2019

Like in 2017 and 2018, the whole team at Obelisk Support is contributing to a 2019 book review to inspire your future reads. Each one of us was asked to nominate one (or more) book(s) they had really enjoyed reading in 2019 and to explain why they recommend it. We hope that you will find reading inspiration in this list and that through our book recommendations, you will get to know us a little bit better. In our own words, here are our favourite books for 2019.

Team choice

As a team supporting our partner charity Spark21 and The First 100 Years project, we are thrilled to support FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law. Marking the centenary of the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, FIRST tells the story of women in law in their first 100 years of practice. From early campaigners through to the first women solicitors, barristers, magistrates and judges, the book tells the often untold stories of the pioneers, reformers and influencers who paved the way, revealing the barriers they faced, their challenges and triumphs. It offers a unique insight into how women have made their way in a profession still dominated by men and looks ahead to the prospects for women in law in the next 100 years.


The book I’ve read this year which has stayed with me most is Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It is raw in both a literal sense, involving a young woman hiking 4,000 km through the unforgiving but breathtaking scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail, and figuratively, as she reflects on the loss of her mother and the subsequent tailspin her life took. It reminds us that some scars, physical and emotional, may never fade, or even stop hurting, but they nevertheless make us who we are.


I recently read Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran which explores the weird and wacky ways in which the brain makes sense of the world, particularly surrounding phantom limbs and how the brain can manufacture its own form of reality to deal with trauma. I am always drawn to non-fiction books about psychology and the brain, I also really enjoyed reading Henry Marsh’s books this year — Do No Harm and Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery.


I’ve been reading quite a lot of Agatha Christie lately – for no other reason than it is great plots with great writing. I’ve been through pretty much been the whole collection one by one. The ABC murders and Death on the Nile are some of my favourites.


More Than Enough | Claiming space for who you are (No matter what they say) is the book that definitely did it for me this year! It’s a book about black girl magic and what happens when we claim our space in our personal and professional lives. There are so many experiences that Elaine has that black women can identify with and it was great to read a book where you are constantly nodding your head in agreement or laughing out loud because you had the same experience. In a world where you don’t often see yourself reflected back at you, especially in the workspace, this book was uplifting and affirmation to keep going and to surround yourself with allies (who don’t need to look like you!).

Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini was also a game changer for me. It shows how race is a human construct and how there is no science behind it but it’s really more scientists trying to twist the science to promote racism, thinking we’re all stupid enough to believe their lies. The book dissects the historical and political roots of race, why scientists can’t seem to look beyond it, and the disturbing ways in which scientific racism still exists today.


I really liked This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay. It is an easy read and very funny in parts, although I understand some have found his writing to be rather tasteless and disrespectful. It is uncomfortable reading at times, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed the humorous insights into his daily life; why he loved it his job and what lead him to ultimately leave the profession.


My pick is How To Have A Good Day: The Essential Toolkit for a Productive Day at Work and Beyond by Caroline Webb. This has been out for a couple of years but every time I read it (and I do keep coming back to it), I pick up a new tip to build into my working day. Caroline Webb makes the science behind effective work behaviours easy to digest and focuses on the practical; sharing relatable anecdotes and case studies that help you put her sound advice into practice.


I read mostly nature non-fiction and really enjoyed Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth by Dan Richards. Traveling around the world from a cabin in Iceland to a research station in the Utah desert designed to prepare astronauts for life on Mars, Richards searches for remote traces of human habitation on the edge of wilderness. For each of the places, the author interweaves why he picked this particular spot, how he eventually got there and human history that make these places special. The book is a wonderful armchair travel book for outdoor lovers.

In a different style, I also enjoyed Man vs Ocean by Adam Walker. Beyond the inspiration – Adam Walker is the first British man to have swam the famously tough Oceans Seven challenge – it helped me get in the spirit of training for my long-distance swim across the length of Windermere this year.


Since I couldn’t pick only one, here are the three books I enjoyed most in 2019:

  • Love Your Lunch by Bec Dickinson: This book has made me look forward to my lunch each time, when I do have time to prep in advance that is. I love that the recipes are simple and clearly outlines which are vegetarian, vegan, gluten free etc for those of us with dietary requirements.
  • Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon: If you’ve hit a creativity wall in your career or life, give this book a try. I’ve found it inspiring, funny and beautifully designed with such a simple concept. My favourite quotes from the book “Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things” and “Be nice (the world is a small town.)
  • Natural Remedies (Try It!) By Laurel Vukovic: I really got into natural and organic beauty this year. Natural Remedies (Try It) is a great starting point for beginners wanting to lead a more holistic lifestyle with 1001 remedies on natural beauty, health, home care and pet care. The recipes are short and to the point with usually less than 10 ingredients needed.


My book choice 2019 – Scott Mariani – Star of Africa/Devil’s Kingdom two part series. The Ben Hope character provides for good escapism and fast-paced novels, perfect for unwinding! Not everybody’s taste I’m sure, but I have read about 16 now so good for me. If you enjoy the Jack Reacher novels from Lee Child, you’ll love these!

Note: If you can’t source these books from your local bookstore, you can order them via that supports independent bookshops with every single sale they make.