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Dana Denis-Smith on Jazz FM with Elliot Moss

On 7 October 2017, Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith joined radio presenter Elliot Moss on Jazz FM for the Jazz Shapers programme. They talked about creating Obelisk Support, believing in a better world, recording the history of women in law with The First 100 Years and, of course, they talked about jazz. This is a summary of the programme, that will be shortly available to listen on iTunes and on the in-flight radio of British Airways.

About Obelisk Support

Q: Is it just common sense when you’re mapping out how someone wants to receive a service, or is there something intrinsic to being a lawyer delivering a service to a client?

A: Talking about the client journey, I [positioned] myself as a consumer and tried to understand how I behave and what I expect from a service provider. It has to be easy, very much like a John Lewis “you know what you get, it doesn’t unravel in the wash”, and this is what our business is aiming to do. We want our clients to experience that it’s simple and easy to work with us.

We have about 1,100 registered lawyers, which is symptomatic of the fact that the legal profession has an over-supply of lawyers. The question is, can we get good lawyers to work with? Because we only do business law. To guarantee the quality of our lawyers, my team makes sure that they have a minimum of 2 years experience in a top law firm or a very large multinational, as this is our client base. We have other objective recruiting requirements to which we add a culture fit element. It’s a mixed process that can take up to two weeks to complete. About 40% of people make it through.

Q: When did it pop for the business?

A: In March 2012, we had 120 lawyers and I realised that we needed a larger scale. We got to 500 lawyers during the year, then 800, now 1,100 and we get new suppliers all the time.

About The First Hundred Years

Q: What was the purpose of the project you created in 2014?

A: The purpose of The First Hundred Years was to chart the journey of women in law. I had no idea of when women came into the profession [women were first admitted to the bar in the UK in 1919] and yet, all the time I was seeing stories on how women were not advancing or that there were not enough women in leadership positions. In order to understand the present and in order to help shape the future, the project was created.

Q: What are you celebrating at the end of October?

A: The [Women in Law Award Ceremony] is part of the search for the next generation of women lawyers. Rather than deciding who we think is inspirational, we decided to create awards so people could nominate people who inspire them and it’s open to anybody of any age, as long as they’ve worked 10 years in the legal profession. It opens up a new range of names for the project, beyond the pioneers, to know who will be the women of the future.

About Disruption, Change & Happiness

Q: The law is quite a conservative profession. You don’t associate the law with pioneers or breakthroughs or entrepreneurs. Have you enjoyed being a bit of a disruptor?

A: I would say I enjoy being an inventor. Disruption was part of my motivation. For me, I’m interested in change and in progress and in changing people’s lives. That’s what excites me, more than being labelled a disruptor.

Q: Why are you so interested in change and progress? Most people would carry on their daily lives.

A: My father was an inventor and I learned from him that you can tweak things and you don’t have to rip everything apart for it to work better. You can really make a difference with a few smaller changes. Change can be huge and explosive but, especially in the legal profession, it can be more gradual but with impact.

Q: What makes you the most happy?

A: I’m very happy with the team because they come to work because they believe in what we stand for. They don’t come to work because they want to earn a wage. It’s nice to see, if you like, my motivation become infectious. Now they have infected me in return, which is a really nice place to be. I’m always really happy when I see that we’ve succeeded for people who get left behind. In particular, we see elderly men being pushed out of the workplace too soon, men and women. Helping people change life directions and helping them achieve what they want makes me happy.

About Dana Denis-Smith

Q: Tell us about yourself. You grew up in rural Romania. When did you come to the UK?

A: I came over 20 years ago. I ended up going to the London School of Economics and ending up getting married and settling here, all the usual story.

Q: Do you see things differently from someone who was born and brought up here [in the UK]?

A: I do but it’s not necessarily because I was born abroad. It’s more the country and the system that are relevant, that kind of controlled economy. I can’t claim any early early entrepreneurial journey, there was no marketplace in Romania, it was communist. This idea of intervention in the market, which is a very socialist and communist way of running an economy, is a really interesting one. I realise that I apply it in the business because unless you make a match happen, you will always end up with a client wanting a full-time employee on-site in their office. The only way we can create a successful recipe for the business is because I intervene in that marketplace and I make the marriage happen between clients and lawyers.

Q: Now, do you feel very Romanian in your head, British, or is that not relevant?

A: I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world, which is maybe not a very good thing these days. If you like, I feel like a Londoner.

About Jazz

Q: Just before I let you go, what is your choice track?

A: My choice is Hugh Masekela.He’s a South African musician and the track I picked is Stimela. It’s such a universal song, really, I love it. It came out at a time when I came out of communism and I love the way he manages to mix world music with the best jazz. He’s elaborate in his style but I also like the politics of it. Politics is what motivates change. He succeeds in making a political song that remains universal to this day. The story of economic migrants is no bigger than today. It’s very personal for me too. It’s about looking for betterment.

You can listen to the interview on Jazz FM here.

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Dana Denis-Smith Finalist for Working Mums Top Employer Award 2017

We are proud to announce that Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of award-winning alternative legal services company Obelisk Support, is shortlisted for the Working Mums Top Employer Award 2017, in the Working Mums Champion Award category.

The Working Mums Champion Award is for stand-out individuals whose efforts have made a big difference to working mums in the workplace.

Potential recipients of this Award would include:

– individuals or organisations who have come up with innovative ideas to help women overcome potential barriers to career progression

– senior or middle managers who have set up a parent support forum, put forward innovative proposals for areas such as maternity leave and return to work or introduced mentoring schemes for women.

– individuals who have championed the recruitment and retention of working mums through specific initiatives or in public forums.

Other shortlisted champions are:

We congratulate all participants for their achievements and wish them all the best.

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Dana Denis-Smith one of Legal Week Intelligence’s Top 20 Legal IT Innovators 2016

The Legal Week Intelligence Top 20 Legal IT Innovators 2016 report profiles industry experts, thought leaders and innovators who are the driving forces in shaping how the future of the legal industry will look.

“I was looking for a new solution to legal outsourcing, which seemed to be all the rage at the time,” explains Denis-Smith. “What I could see was a huge number of talented women leaving law firms. Leadership and technical ability don’t have anything to do with one another but in law firms they merge as one and the same.” She argues that the long hours culture can be problematic for people with young families: “In that environment, you’re measured not for your strengths but for your weaknesses: how many hours you’ve been in the office rather than what you have achieved – a willingness to compromise everything for work.” Obelisk was conceived with the idea that “outsourcing doesn’t need to go abroad, it can be going into people’s homes – a return to the cottage industry”.

Read the full profile here.

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Dana Denis-Smith visits NYC with Sadiq Khan to tell the world #LondonIsOpen

Obelisk was one of 30 London-based fast-growing technology scale ups to accompany the Mayor on his trade mission to NYC and Chicago this month. The Attic caught up with Dana to find out how it went…

What kind of businesses and individuals did you meet?

The Mayor of London is a great champion of small businesses, especially given our role as the largest job creators. So it was in this vein that he selected 30 fast growing businesses to join him on his US trip. The businesses had to focus on the B2B market as the nature of the trip was to introduce us to large corporate buyers and to showcase the strong businesses that are London-based.

The other businesses were absolutely fascinating – very innovative services and amazing variety of sectors. Most of them are technology-enabled ground-breaking businesses that are reshaping the industries they serve. The energy of the founders and leaders that joined was truly contagious – a lot of lessons can be learned from being in a peer-to-peer environment that is supportive and ambitious.

How did you enjoy opening the New York Stock Exchange?

This was a unique moment and without a doubt the highlight. It was wonderful that only the women leaders on the trip were invited to join the Mayor to ring the closing bell. Sadiq Khan is not only a supporter of SMEs but also a great believer of the economic value of women in the workplace, so that was truly a special moment.

What do you think of the work the Mayor and the London and Partners team is doing to show London is open for business?

The #LondonIsOpen campaign was a brilliant and positive response to the Brexit vote. It has kept the world’s eyes firmly on London as a business destination; they have done a lot of work to highlight the strength of the private sector, they showcased the fast growing businesses and the general open business environment that London offers as an enabler of building a business.

How important is it for growing London-based companies such as Obelisk to present themselves to the US market in the wake of Brexit?

All fast growing businesses are looking for markets in which they can grow, for business partners that value their services and that can underpin that growth. So being able to be in the US with the Mayor was fantastic from an access and credibility point of view. We now know we have a lot of help at hand to push for growth in the US, across that whole market.

Did you get much down time to explore as a tourist?

I started every day with a long walk – around the financial district or walking along the Highline which is a suspended garden walk along some decommissioned train tracks. Nothing beats jet lag like a walk and a hearty breakfast.

What was the most important take away for you from the experience? What do you hope to see in future once we leave the EU?

If you have a strong business, although a ready-to-access market can help, in the end you can take your services anywhere. Success has no borders.

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Silicon Valley is where ideas are ‘made’

“Great idea, shame about the execution” might sound like a platitude to most. In business, poor execution is without fail the death stroke that eventually leads to its demise. “Operational rigour”, as Sheryl Sandberg told us, is needed to support a business.

What struck me in last week’s immersion into Silicon Valley, part of the Mayor of London’s #femalefounders visit there with SVC2UK, was that no idea was “too big” to be turned into reality here. In fact, the place seems to make it its business to amplify ideas to the point that they envelop the world. Where else, as one of our hosts, venture capitalist and ex-lawyer David Hornik of August Capital, put it, can you find this density of businesses that have achieved global acceptance and domination – Apple, Linkedin, Google, Facebook, Uber – all within a few blocks’ of each other? They are all household names, a status they achieved in a short period of time (from Apple’s 40 years to Uber’s – frightfully – 5!).

What is the magic “Silicon Valley” ingredient that turns ideas into such fantastic companies? The answer seems to be simple – the concentration of expertise in Silicon Valley has no equal on the planet. The place eats, sleeps and breaths entrepreneurship. Everyone we met – from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, to Eventbrite’s Julia Harz or Google’s Obi Felten – confirmed a local culture that is infectious in building businesses at scale. Why? Because they believe that a business fails not only by missing targets, but by not setting goals that are ambitious enough. And the money and skills are there to give these ideas wings.

An idea by itself has no value in business – this is why it is impossible to lay rights to an idea and legally protect it. Silicon Valley in it’s entirety is a workshop full of the varied skills you need to build those ideas into products and services the world wants to buy. It is the fearlessness of the place that’s impressive – it always looks to build at scale from the outset. Everyone – entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, technologists – are not afraid to place their bets on new ideas that might just take over the world. With each new idea that succeeds, the bar is raised and all those involved in that success story rally behind the new one and help make it desirable for the market.

The conclusion of my whirlwind visit is clear: if you think big, take your ideas to be ‘made’ in the workshop that is Silicon Valley.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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Dana Denis-Smith: Being a Top 50 Employer for Women

For the second year running Obelisk Support has been named in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women, which champions the UK’s most inspiring companies leading on gender equality in the workplace.

Obelisk was established in 2010 to provide world-class legal outsourcing to in-house teams within major corporates and law firms. Having spotted the legal profession was developing a “lost generation” of highly-trained female lawyers as a result of unfair policies and opinions around mothers returning to work, Dana created a new concept in professional outsourcing, driven by technology.

See what Dana has to say on this recognition from The Times:

Obelisk founder Dana Denis-Smith on being a Top 50 Employer for Women.
Obelisk Support on Vimeo.

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An Interview with Dana in Legal IT Insider

Legal IT Insider, the leading media, information and communications channel for legal technology interviewed Obelisk CEO Dana Denis-Smith on the company’s history of impressive growth and the technology advances that made innovation in the legal employment market possible.

As part of Legal IT Insider’s “An Interview With…” series, Dana spoke to editor Caroline Hill to explain some of the most interesting recent changes in the Legal sector, and where she thinks it’s heading.

Read the full article here.

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Obelisk awarded gold for ‘creative excellence’ at Legal Innovation Awards 2016

Obelisk Support – 27/05/2016

Obelisk is celebrating today after being crowned Marketing Innovator 2016 at this year’s Legal Innovation Awards. The award specifically acknowledged Obelisk’s marketing efforts with its community news and advice platform The Attic.

The awards are open to law firms, in-house teams and alternative providers of legal support such as Obelisk, and are designed to “celebrate creative excellence in the legal sector”.

Today’s win builds on Obelisk’s success at last year’s Legal Innovation Awards, when Dana-Denis Smith, the founder and CEO of Obelisk Support, was crowned the first ever ‘Outstanding Legal Innovator’ by Legal Week Magazine.

Speaking after the awards today Dana Denis-Smith said: “I am really thrilled that Obelisk has won here again at the Legal Innovation Awards. Winning is great, but to keep on winning and to keep on impressing such a senior panel of judges and legal experts is very special. This award shows Obelisk is doing the right thing – building a legal business based on creative excellence – and it shows we are building on our solid foundations year on year.”

“Creating change in any walk of life takes time and effort. Creating change in the legal sector, and setting out to make work ‘work’ for women and mothers, was always going to be a tough challenge. But as our business grows and more and more women return to work on their terms, every day at Obelisk is worthwhile. We’re a business with a social purpose. We’re a business with a successful model. And we’re a business that keeps on winning awards, which feels great. I’d like to thank all the judges for recognising what we are doing at Obelisk and for their on-going support.”

This year Obelisk had to impress an independent judging panel made up of many senior figures from across the legal sector, such as Dame Janet Gaymer, former Senior Partner at Simmons and Simmons; Peter Kurer, former GC and Chairman of UBS; and Sue Hall former COI at Linklaters.

Obelisk was shortlisted in four key categories; Marketing Innovation, Diversity Innovation, Human Resources Innovation and Supplier Innovation.

This latest award comes just weeks after Obelisk was named by The Times newspaper as one of the Top 50 Employers for Women in the UK. And this week Dana Denis-Smith was selected to travel to Silicon Valley to meet the people behind the world’s greatest tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Uber and LinkedIn.

Obelisk has been identified as one of the fastest growing tech companies in the UK – and the only one from the legal sector. The trip to Silicon Valley – which was organised by the Mayor of London’s International Business Programme and the British Consulate in San Francisco – gave Denis-Smith the opportunity to expand Obelisk into the US market through new technology and investment.

London-based Obelisk provides professional outsourcing to in-house legal teams and major law firms. The founding principle behind the business is to re-engage highly skilled lawyers who leave the profession to raise families. Through Obelisk, lawyer parents choose the hours they want to work, giving them the flexibility they need to combine careers with family life. By bringing her innovation to the legal sector, Denis-Smith has created a triple-win formula for Obelisk’s clients, lawyers and their families.

Obelisk was established in 2010 with a team of just four lawyers. Today the company has 800 lawyers on its books and a multi-million pound turnover. Clients include BT, Goldman Sachs and Thomson Reuters.
Denis-Smith said: “As an innovator dedicated to creating positive social change in the legal sector I always seek to find new and exciting ways to make work ‘work’ for our clients, our lawyers and their families. Having this social purpose behind our business is what inspires me, and with more success at this year’s Legal Innovation Awards, it’s clearly inspiring for the legal sector too.”

For more details, photography or to interview Dana Denis-Smith please call Scott Jones, Head of PR at Obelisk Support on 07875 943404.

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Obelisk named in Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2016

For the second year running Obelisk Support has been named in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women, which champions the UK’s most inspiring companies leading on gender equality in the workplace.

The on-going recognition from The Times newspaper brings Obelisk’s values to life; a business that is all about people and Human First.

In a special supplement published today, celebrating the Top 50 Employers for Women 2016, The Times said: “In 2015 Obelisk helped women to mix flexible work with family commitments, and it turned the First 100 Years project into an industry-leading digital platform.”

Obelisk was established in 2010 to provide world-class legal outsourcing to in-house teams within major corporates and law firms. Having spotted the legal profession was developing a “lost generation” of highly-trained female lawyers as a result of unfair policies and opinions around mothers returning to work, Dana created a new concept in professional outsourcing, driven by technology.

Through Obelisk, highly skilled ex-City lawyers who left the profession to raise families can work for major clients, in the UK and around the world, with the flexibility they need to make work work for them.

Today Obelisk has 800 lawyers on its books of which 90% are mothers, and the business has a core team of ten based in its office in Farringdon, of which 80% are female.

Dana Denis-Smith said: “To be named in The Times Top 50 last year was a great honour and it was a great milestone in Obelisk’s journey. But to be named two years running is much more important. It shows we are building very permanent foundations for Obelisk – a business that is all about people.”

“This on-going recognition from The Times proves what we are doing is both right and relevant for businesses and people. We are creating positive change in the workplace and in society, and we are constantly growing our own business too – up 200% year on year. So by putting diversity, inclusion, flexibility and equality at the heart of our business, Obelisk is continually achieving great things.”

In addition to The Times Top 50, Obelisk has been shortlisted in four categories in this year’s Legal Week Innovation Awards, for driving innovation in Marketing, Human Resources, Diversity and Supplier Services.

Kathryn Nawrockyi, Gender Equality Director at Business in the Community, which produces the Top 50 list each year in partnership with The Times, said: “Huge congratulations to Obelisk on being named in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2016. They should be extremely proud of their success.  They have demonstrated a commitment to fundamentally changing workplace processes and cultures to make them inclusive to all, benefitting women and men at every level in their organisation, and I hope they inspire other employers to do the same.”

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Dana reveals secrets of success in Harper’s Bazaar

Dana Denis-Smith, founder and CEO of Obelisk Support, is featuring in the prestigious ‘Work It Out’ series in Harper’s Bazaar.

Every week, Jo Glynn-Smith – the Commercial Editor at Harper’s Bazaar – interviews successful working women to find out how they made it to the top, and to get tips on maintaining a successful work-life balance.

Jo Glynn-Smith’s interview with Dana was published on January 27.

Dana talks about how she has grown Obelisk Support since 2010 into what is now the UK’s largest pool of legal talent. With clients including Goldman Sachs, Vodafone and BT, growth up by 200% and a series of awards last year ranging from The Times Top 50 Employers for Women to Dana being named Innovator of 2015 by Legal Week, Obelisk is set to lead the legal outsourcing sector in 2016 and beyond.

The interview reveals how Dana has successful combined a world-class service for clients with modern and human values around family and people.

Dana tells Harper’s Bazaar:

“I’m founder and CEO at Obelisk Support, the UK’s only legal business with a heart. We deliver legal work by using ex-City lawyers who left the profession and needed to work flexibly around their family commitments to very large corporates and law firms. Our aim is to make work ‘work’ for our clients, our lawyers and their families.”

The Work It Out interview showcases the entrepreneurial spirit behind Obelisk and its mission to “change the way the world works, one lawyer at a time.”

Dana says:

“I love driving change. If I think change can deliver a better outcome, I waste no time and certainly leave no stone unturned to make it happen. This makes my job very exciting, different every day and incredibly rewarding.”

Dana shares this advice with entrepreneurs and aspiring business leaders: “Learn as many things as possible, because it will give you a versatile skill set which in turn will offer you the widest possible choices. Choice is empowering and liberating.”

And she gives an insight into life outside of the office, because – as Dana and Obelisk know very well – there is more to life than 9 to 5.

Dana tells Harpers where she buys her clothes, where she loves to eat ‘out and about’ in London and what she couldn’t live without. The answer is not obvious.

Harper’s Bazaar is one of the world’s leading women’s fashion magazines. First published in 1867, it is synonymous with style but increasingly, thanks to its publisher Hearst, the magazine is taking a more active role in the issues relating to working women; at home and in the office. Hearst – which also publishes major titles such as Cosmopolitan, Red, Good House Keeping and Elle – has launched a new project called Empowering Women which celebrates the lives, aspirations and achievements of British women.

Hearst UK CEO Anna Jones says:

“I feel passionately about helping improve equality for women. I believe in the power of our brands to help women achieve their goals and break down the barriers that may prevent them from doing so.”

Looking ahead to the publication of her interview in Harper’s Bazaar Dana Denis Smith said:

“I’m thrilled and flattered that my story is featuring in Harper’s Bazaar. It’s fun to sit down and think about your favourite clothes designer, and your favourite restaurant, and the treats and treasures we all enjoy. But as a business leader, an entrepreneur and someone dedicated to driving positive change for women, it’s vitally important that people see positive role models in the media, so they too can be inspired to be innovate, to create more change and be a success. It’s fantastic that Harper’s Bazaar, with all its style and reach, is embracing the issues facing working women, and I with the great things Hearst are doing through their magazines and the Empowering Women project, I hope my interview in Work It Out is the start of a long and fruitful relationship for us both. Together, we can work it out.”