Women in Law

“For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today.” Serena William’s on court interview after finishing runner up in the Wimbledon final on 14 July 2018 resonated with me. I have spent the past 8 years championing women back to work – when they believed they were ‘just a mum’, I believed they could be whatever they wanted to be.

Irrespective of their profession, I cannot think of a better role model for mothers to return to work than Serena – she acknowledged in the press conference that a couple of months before she didn’t know “how I was, how I would be, how I would do, how I would be able to come back; it was such a long way to see light at the end of the road.”  Do these questions sound familiar to new mums? Of course they do. But hearing the self-doubt that does not spare even a most accomplished athlete like Serena Williams is both familiar and refreshingly honest.

In a survey we carried out for Obelisk Support, all those we interviewed said they stopped work because when they became mothers they couldn’t juggle work and family and often they found employers not being open to flexibility.

Last week, Obelisk Support turned 8. I founded the business to change the way work was outsourced in the legal sector to be more inclusive and for sure, not to alienate a fantastic talent pool – mums. Our mission from the outset, was to empower lawyers to get back to work from home and thus to make sure that talent remained active in law.  About 80% of our 1,000+ consultants are women looking to balance personal responsibility and work, and many would not have thought working flexibly would be an opportunity available to them in their chosen profession. Since 2010, we have seen the stock of working mothers rise and rise and it is great that last week we had the most visible returner mum to date take to the global stage in Serena Williams, just 10 months after having her baby girl.

With a little help from Serena, here’s what I learnt in 8 years of championing lawyer mums back to work:

#1 Take the Opportunity

One of our first client jobs involved a mum of 3 coming all the way from Bristol to work for a couple of days in London. She needed to cut her teeth on a routine corporate due diligence transaction to able to measure her level as a lawyer; she had been out of work for 7 years and was keen to earn some of her money to spend on Christmas presents, as it was just around the corner. Taking the opportunity was the best decision she made – not only did she secure further assignments with Obelisk, while working from home, but with time she ‘graduated’ into a permanent role in a local firm.

#2 Take it One at a Time

Especially when returning on a freelance basis, taking it one job at a time is a great approach not just to understanding how clients work, but also how you want to work. There are new ways of working that allow you to test the water before committing to a full return. Sometimes the flexibility is offered after a settling in period, once the client gets comfortable with the lawyer skills set and communication style. Getting back to doing even an ad hoc piece of work can help pave the path for a higher volume of work.

#3 Stay In the Game

There is no doubt that having a longer career gap makes clients ask more questions, and a lawyer can find it harder and harder to explain away the gap. Some businesses carry out ‘gap analysis’ of CVs that go as far as needing to prove the number of children by providing their birth certificates! If this doesn’t persuade you to stay in the game, however little, I don’t know what will. However, that’s not to say that we haven’t had returners such as Jane that show a long gap doesn’t make your return impossible.

#4 Work On Your Game to Get Better

Some clients refer to returning mums as “rusty.” Newspaper headlines welcomed Serena back in similar fashion earlier this year when she first competed after having her girl. But it didn’t take long before the ‘rust’ was shaken off and she made another Grand Slam Final.

If you have the will to work, then you can improve the skills and keep getting better. Excellent advice for those that think the law changes so quickly you can’t keep up and therefore it’s better to stay out. You’d be amazed how quickly the knowledge returns with a little positive focus on improving all the time.

#5  Continue On Your Own Path

Many mums don’t have their sights set on a career ambition when they first return. Whilst board positions or leadership roles could come, the pressure of achieving too quickly can also be a reason to drop work altogether. So take your time, as long as you stay on the ‘path’.

#6 Don’t Make Any Excuses

Once you decide to return, and businesses make decisions that rely on your presence and contribution, it is only fair that you take work on a ‘no excuse’ basis. Being professional is critical to success and your attitude at work can create the best or worst impression for a client. Once you commit, be reliable and understand that you are dependable at work and at home.

#7 Your Priority is Your Baby

I know of no parent that doesn’t agree with Serena in this respect. By being open, she has yet again given permission to working mothers to talk about their kids. We are no longer living in a time when kids need to be hidden out of sight but similarly, she said that she is disciplined in separating work from her time with the child. She has set a clear timetable to make time to train in the morning after which she spends the bulk of her time with her daughter.

#8 Be More Ready

Before starting a role, it is important to prepare –read about the client and the type of law, ask questions and be ready. Understand what you wish to achieve and how you need to fit in to do the best you can during an assignment.

Ultimately, The Choice is Yours

You can be whatever you want to be if you want to go back to work – and there’s no pressure to do that as having a child is a completely full time job. But to those that do want to go back to work, “you can do it, you can really do it.”

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Returning Lawyer

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at a City law firm from 1996 to 1998 and worked in their corporate department until 2000 in international securities offerings, M&A transactions and general corporate and commercial work. In 2000, she worked as assistant editor on Global Counsel magazine and in 2001, took a career break for family reasons and raised four children.

Twelve years later in 2013, she heard about Obelisk Support through a friend and with her children in school, she was ready to return to a professional career. She onboarded as an Obelisk consultant and in February 2015, interviewed to work for White & Case in their advisory practice within a busy private equity team. They wanted someone with corporate experience, someone who would be happy to muck in and help out. This was perfect for E who was selected out of four lawyers and joined the team shortly after.

E’s story is a very inspiring one for anyone who thinks that they’ve been out of the legal world for too long. When you are determined and hard-working, you can do it.

Corporate Lawyer

Bilingual French/English, this UK-qualified lawyer started her career as a paralegal and then joined Puxon Murray LLP in 2009 where she trained and qualified as a corporate solicitor.  It was a small firm (two partners) with a mainly SME- client base but she gained great experience in corporate, litigation and some IP, trademark work. She had done some translation work as well, and had experience in telecoms (company sale/ agreements/ regulation/data protection).

She left in 2014 as she really wanted to progress her career and became a freelance lawyer.

In 2014, she found out about Obelisk on LinkedIn and signed up as an Obelisk legal consultant.

In April 2015, White & Case asked for “a lawyer on 3-month contract, a lawyer to support some senior lawyers in their team with general corporate work, private equity and private company experience.” She interviewed with two other lawyers and was selected, starting right away. The 3-month contract ended up lasting over a year at which point, White & Case was so enthusiastic with her work that they offered her a permanent position.

For D, a freelancing career was a springboard to permanent employment in the legal industry.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified banking lawyer started at CMS Cameron McKenna in 1991 and rapidly climbed the corporate ladder. After six years, she was recruited by ING as an in-house lawyer advising on corporate and institutional finance. Primarily responsible for advising all levels of staff in corporate banking (including senior management), she was vice-president of the legal department.

Six years later, in 2003, she took a three-year career break and, in 2006, worked for a British law firm until 2009.   

In early 2013, four years into her career break, she read an article in The Wall Street Journal about Obelisk and was very interested in the model and the commitment it made to reactivating female talent. Almost 20 years PQE, she was ready to get back in the legal world.

In December 2014, through Obelisk, she became legal consultant for her former company, ING. Her alumni experience gave her a unique insight into ING’s culture, making her both a perfect culture fit as well as the lawyer with the right experience. All her work is done remotely, from home. Her work was so appreciated that, in March 2017, ING asked her to take on some additional work on another project in corporate finance.

Obelisk also recognised her as one of its star consultants at our annual awards in 2016.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at a Silver Circle law firm and specialised as a corporate lawyer post qualification, before acquiring solid expertise in prime finance at two different investment banks. However after several years in-house, she found herself at a crossroads.

Balancing work and parenthood was difficult, even on a flexible schedule, and she had to consider her career progression.

A few months later, she stopped working at the bank. After a three-year career break, interested in flexible consulting, she contacted Obelisk Support and became an Obelisk legal consultant. Shortly after, the right role came up for her.

Linklaters  was looking for legal support within the Financial Regulation Group. It was a perfect match with this lawyer’s expertise. Given her seniority and depth of expertise, feedback from partners at the law firm was very positive. They found her very thorough and careful, very good at taking points away and working through them, and good at finding appropriate knowhow in the group.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, Work

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at Walker Martineau in 1980 and went on to work 20 years at Sinclair Roche & Temperley, first as a solicitor and finally as a managing partner. In 2002, he became partner of two subsequent law firms until in 2005, his career changed course and he worked seven years at Ince & Co. In May 2014, he was made redundant.

He was 30+ years PQE.  Not an easy proposition in a market hungry for younger lawyers.

Three months later in August 2014, he contacted Obelisk Support and became an Obelisk legal consultant. His first job at Obelisk, with a large banking group, came in 2015 and, as it was successful, he started getting more confident working as a freelance lawyer. In 2017, a global law firm interviewed him for a senior experienced project finance lawyer position. He couldn’t do it right then, because of other commitments, but if they would wait a few months, he could.

Impressed by his expertise, the global law firm offered him a flexible hours job that he started in January 2018. Based on his experience in similar projects, he was able to scope the job and kept his team updated as and when he was progressing on the complex documents. A freelance career gave him the control he needed at a stage of his life when the legal industry is not the most supportive.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, Work

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Gareth is a UK-qualified lawyer who trained at a Silver Circle law firm in 1992 and worked for several law firms, specialising in finance, asset finance, derivatives and syndicated loans until 1997. With 7 years law firm experience, he was headhunted to join the in-house team of a global bank, becoming a transactional lawyer dealing with the suite of legal documents, as well as a regulatory element.

From 1999 to 2005, he worked for Barclays first in London, then in Hong Kong, but in 2008, felt it was time to come back to the UK. He had a young family by then and was offered the chance to come into the family business, a school furniture manufacturer, with his father.  He remained with the company until 2014, then worked in wealth management until 2017 but he missed being a lawyer.

He contacted Obelisk in March 2017 and was onboarded shortly after as an Obelisk consultant. In June 2017, Barclays contacted Obelisk – they were looking for a banking and finance lawyer for the Debt Advisory team, someone who had experience with LMA style facility agreements or debt structuring or lending/security taking. Out of 14 legal consultants, Gareth was selected and in July 2017, started his first freelance legal role as a returner at Barclays, a role that boosted his confidence in a rapidly-changing market.

He went on to win an Obelisk award in 2017.

Thanks to Barclays, Gareth made a successful comeback on the legal scene.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Tobacco Company

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at CMS Cameron McKenna from 2003 to 2005 and went on to work in their Mergers & Acquisitions department until 2007. Thanks to her experience, she joined the corporate legal department at Channel 4 where she supported on commercial and corporate work. In 2009, she went on to work for a UK Government Department, supporting aircraft financing transactions, commercial contracts and requests related to the Freedom of Information Act.

Then, she went on maternity leave.

In 2015, after a six-year career break, she was ready to get into the workforce and contacted Obelisk. We thought that she was both a great lawyer and a great person.

In 2016, a global tobacco company gave her the break she needed to regain her legal footing. They had “an unprecedented amount of M&A activity and were looking for a full time legal secondee to do M&A work.” They interviewed her twice and, impressed, offered her a role at the client’s offices. This was a fresh start for this legal consultant who’s been actively working for Obelisk clients ever since and won an Obelisk award in 2017.

Obelisk turns 8