Making Work, Work

On Tuesday June 25, 2019, the Academy Awards of the legal industry, aka The Lawyers Awards, took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. Obelisk Support was shortlisted in the Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion category and we were particularly impressed by the winning entries in the in-house category. Via Obelisk’s legal blog, The Attic, we contacted some of the winners of the In-House category to learn about their secret recipe for legal success – and congratulate them along the way.

General Counsel of the Year: Tess Bridgman, Cory Riverside Energy Group

Tess Bridgman, general counsel and company secretary of recycling and waste disposal firm Cory Riverside Energy Group, won the much-coveted title of General Counsel of the Year 2019 thanks to the impressive evidence of technical, leadership and strategic excellence at the heart of a complex and business-critical project she led. Indeed, Bridgman has been right at the heart of the action at her company’s most significant steps forward in recent years. In 2018 the company was acquired by a consortium of infrastructure investors and in 2019, it went through a major debt refinancing.

Aged just 34, Bridgman helped steer one of the most impressive turnarounds in the market, transforming Cory from an over-leveraged, distressed conglomerate into a focused and profitable infrastructure business aimed at serving Greater London. In parallel, Bridgman changed Cory’s in-house team from a siloed structure to a department that is now considered not just an enabler, but also a creative leader of change.

Tess Bridgman shared the following with us. “Winning the General Counsel of the Year award means a lot to me, topping off an incredible three years at Cory Riverside Energy. When I joined, the company was undergoing huge change and was undertaking multiple complex transactions simultaneously. With no prior GC experience, I was really thrown in the deep end and am so proud to have come out the other side with this award. This is not something I could have done, however, without the incredible wisdom, support and challenge that I received from my colleagues and advisers.”

“To be a great GC in today’s world you need to be more than “just the lawyer”. It is beginning to sound trite, as I know GCs and in-house counsel have been saying this for some time now, but the role is about being a truly trusted adviser to the board, the CEO, the senior management team and, effectively, the whole business. It is about taking a leadership role in influencing the strategy and direction of the company and / or major transactions, and taking the skills learned as a lawyer and applying them to situations that may not, on the face of it, be “legal” (for example, the ability to synthesise complex issues to enable clear commercial decisions to be taken; or the ability to project manage). Success requires an enquiring mind, and having the confidence to ask questions or speak up and make a stand on issues that matter – whether these relate to matters of commerce, governance, sustainability, diversity or any other important issue facing your organisation. It requires energy, to manage multiple issues and projects at one time, and determination and empathy, to lead and influence others and navigate multiple and varied stakeholders.”

Fittingly, Bridgman is also a strong voice for female leadership – no doubt inspired by her ancestor, New Zealand suffragette Kate Sheppard who led the women’s campaign for women’s votes in 1893.

In-House Commerce and Industry Team of the Year: Post Office

For state-owned company the Post Office, the biggest challenge has been to become a commercially sustainable business and financially independent of government funding. It goes without saying that its legal team has been busy, winning In-House Commerce and Industry Team of the Year thanks to their hard work in modernising the Post Office as a business. In the last year it has overhauled its panel, created an academy to upskill its lawyers and created new procedures to streamline the contract approval and legal risk management processes.

A Post Office spokesman shared the following with us: “We’re delighted and proud that the Post Office’s legal team has won this award following a year of supporting the business during its continuing transformation.”

“The team’s achievements include supporting major Post Office strategic initiatives such as its acquisition of  Payzone Bill Payments and the negotiation of a new agreement with major high street banks for the services provided on their behalf through Post Office branches.”

“At the same time, the team has implemented changes to increase efficiency and value in managing the broad range of business matters it is required to support.”

In-House TMT Team of the Year: Farfetch

Fresh from winning Luxury Deal of the Year and Luxury Business In-House Legal Team of the Year at the Luxury Law Summit in London in April 2019, the Farfetch legal team wins TMT Team of the Year thanks to how they supported a period of fantastic growth for the company, culminating in the NYSE listing in September 2018. The legal team was also commended for their ‘keeping sane’ approach to procuring external counsel assistance.

The legal function at luxury fashion tech platform Farfetch was set up just five years ago, and has been at the centre of the company’s strategy and operations for all that time, advising the business through super-charged growth. 2018 was truly a year to remember; it achieved a US$5.8bn listing, a group re-organisation including a new holding company in the Cayman Islands, the acquisition of a digital and technology business in China, a global partnership deal with Harvey Nichols and an innovation partnership with Chanel, and the acquisition of a US-based premier streetwear online marketplace. At the same time, it was involved in the launch of an office in India and a tech hub in Portugal. The breadth of regulatory changes, corporate transactions and commercial issues was enormous, but the team, led by general counsel James Maynard, took it all in their stride.

In-House FTSE Commerce & Industry Team of the Year: Tarmac

Reflecting a building materials industry changing with the underlying construction industry, Tarmac has been through major restructuring and managed to forge a culture of innovation, having recently developed a new rubberised asphalt using recycled waste tires. Corporate innovation and changes came with high-stakes legal challenges. Tarmac wins FTSE Commerce & Industry Team of the Year thanks to their strong application of legal skills, leadership, management and innovation in demanding situations and under lots of pressure.

Katie Smart, general counsel for Tarmac, shared the following with us: “We’re absolutely delighted to have won this award which is a fantastic reflection of the hard work and dedication of very single member of the legal and compliance team.

“We’re all proud to work for Tarmac and this recognition from The Lawyer Awards helps shine a spotlight on the range of exciting career opportunities available within our company, as well as the wider construction industry which is such a great place to work for many professions.”

In-House Banking & Financial Services Team of the Year: Zopa

Pioneer P2P lending fintech Zopa matches people looking for a competitive loan rate with investors looking for a higher rate of return, and has lent more than £3.7bn to low-risk UK borrowers since 2004. Zopa’s bank is scheduled to launch in 2019 with plans to offer FSCS protected deposit accounts, credit cards, and a money management app. This company growth into new territory has been supported along by the legal team and this week, Zopa’s legal team won In-House Banking & Financial Services Team of the Year thanks to their creative legal advice and collaboration to facilitate the business as well as for the team’s focus on returners and diversity.

The Zopa legal team pushed into new regulatory territory over 2018, spearheading the launch of a new challenger bank to sit alongside its existing business, creating the world’s first hybrid peer-to-peer and digital bank.

General counsel Olivia Broderick saw Zopa through its acquisition of a banking license, the new bank creating unusual challenges alongside the existing peer-to-peer lending entity. The new bank needed people and assets to prove to the regulator that it was a resilient business and for this, the legal team led a TUPE transfer and a series of asset transfers from the P2P business to the bank.

Congratulations to all the winning teams for their achievements!

 

Obelisk In Action

The year 2019 starts on a high note for Obelisk Support CEO and founder of The First 100 Years project, Dana Denis-Smith, after 2018 saw her voted LexisNexis Legal Personality of the Year. On 6 February 2019, she received an Outstanding Achievement in Legal Services prize from the Legal 500. The Legal 500 UK Awards recognise and reward the best in-house and private practice teams and individuals, with over 50,000 interviews conducted to ascertain the winners.

Taking place the same evening as the 20th anniversary reception of LegalWeek by Hyde Park (which we at Obelisk Support also attended), the Legal500 UK Awards in the heart of the City of London was a great gathering of ‘winners’ and got together the key players in the sector – across the profession from in-house to law firms and barristers chambers – for a night of celebration.

Gender Equality in the Legal Profession

At the Legal500 UK Awards 2019 last night, the Legal500 made a public commitment to the promotion of diversity in their rankings and encouraged firms in the room to put forward more women and people from minority backgrounds for consideration.

Legal500 UK Editor, Georgina Stanley, said that if firms do not put forward women and people from minority backgrounds then they “risk being an echo chamber for the status quo”. In an industry where gender balance remains a big issue, all of us legal professionals also serve as role models for future generations of women.

They showed their support for the centenary of women in the legal profession this year by awarding all the Outstanding Achievement Awards to women: Penelope Warne (CMS), Julia Salasky (CrowdJustice), Nilufer von Bismarck (Slaughter and May), Sharon White (Stephenson Harwood), Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia LVO (Payne Hicks Beach), Sandra Wallace (DLA Piper), and Dana Denis-Smith of Obelisk Support and the First 100 Years project.

Interestingly, all the awards for women were given by men. Surely, an area to improve on in the future.

Outstanding Achievement in Legal Services: Dana Denis-Smith

Every member of the audience received a booklet upon arrival listing 2019 winners, booklet which included a feature on the women being recognised for their outstanding achievements in legal services. This is what the feature on Dana Denis-Smith read:

“As the founder and CEO of Obelisk Support and as the founder of the First 100 Years project, Dana Denis-Smith has put her desire to help women succeed in law at the core of her professional life. The former lawyer and journalist founded Obelisk Support in 2010 to help City lawyers – especially mothers –to work flexibly around their family and other commitments, while simultaneously providing businesses with flexible access to lawyers. The company now serves clients including Barclays, BT and Goldman Sachs. In 2014, she founded the First 100 Years project to chart the history of women in law and celebrate their achievements. 2019 marks 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was enacted, allowing women to enter the professions.”  

Reflecting on her award, Dana Denis-Smith says, “I was extremely pleased that the Legal500 put the spotlight on women in law and was very honoured to be in the company of some incredible women leaders of the last 25 years.”

Legal500 Award Ceremony

Legal 500 Award Ceremony 2019

This year’s Legal 500 award took place in the magnificent 14th-century Great Hall of Guildhall in London, a medieval jewel of architecture with stained glass windows. The turnout was fantastic, a lot of smiles and tinkering glasses. The Legal 500 team took the stage expressing how we should promote diversity within our legal teams, especially individuals from BAME backgrounds.

Partner Charity: Save the Children

Legal 500 awards

It was a delight to have the Legal500’s partner charity, Save the Children at the awards. The silent auction included a Darth Vader portrait as well as a £400 red wine set (lawyers know their wines), and whoever contributed to the charity could see how their contributions helped the children thanks to a virtual reality stand showcasing real-time contributions. It was truly a heart warming and eye-opening experience.

2019 Winners

We were thrilled to see familiar names in the cohort of 2019 winners, including many clients such as Linklaters in Corporate/Commercial, Goldman Sachs in Banking, BT in CSR & Employment, Barclays in Legal Ops, Ocado and ASOS in Retail and O2 Telefonica in Telecoms.
We were also very proud to see names associated with Obelisk Support’s partner charity, The First 100 Years, including Sandie Okoro of the World Bank.

Congratulations to them!

For a full list of winners, click here.

Dana Denis-Smith
Women in Law

On Tuesday 7 November 2018, Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Worcester in England, recognising her achievements as an entrepreneur and philanthropist championing the rights of women in law. Here is how Professor Sarah Greer, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Worcester, introduced Dana Denis-Smith to an audience of over 2,000 students, student guests and university faculty. 

Deputy Pro Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Graduands, and Graduands Guests, I am delighted to introduce you to Dana Denis-Smith.

I have had the privilege of following Dana’s work as an entrepreneur, influencer and champion for women leaders for the past seven years. She is, quite simply, a woman with the energy, ambition and ability to change the world.

Dana qualified initially as a lawyer with the leading Law firm Linklaters. In 2010, she set up her own company, Obelisk Legal Support Services, an alternative legal services company. The idea was born of a recognition that the inflexible working patterns of the legal world – with its long working hours and high pressured culture – offered little to attract and retain highly trained professional women lawyers, particularly after having children.

Dana’s concept was a company built around flexible, highly skilled legal professionals, most of them women, offering them an opportunity to work around their family commitments, using technology to facilitate their chosen working pattern, enabling many to work remotely from home. In a very traditional male environment, many were sceptical of the unique concept of what was described as a “Mum’s army”.

Typically, Dana responded by aiming high, and within a very short space of time, the company has become extremely successful. It offers women a truly alternative way of combining the career that they love and for which they have trained for many years, with caring responsibilities and work life balance. It has been named as one of the top 50 employers for women, and has recently been named by the Financial Times as one of Europe’s fastest growing companies.

Dana herself has been honoured with many accolades. She has been named as one of the 35 most inspirational Women in Business under the age of 35; been awarded the title of Outstanding Legal Innovator of the year; given the WEConnect International Best Mentor and Role Model Award and voted as one of Britain’s five most inspiring mothers for juggling a new business creation with family life. Earlier this year, she won the very prestigious LexisNexis award for Legal Personality of the Year 2018.

However, we are not just honouring Dana for her many business achievements, nor for just for the outstanding work she has done in changing women’s working lives.

In 2014, Dana founded a remarkable 5 year project called the First Hundred Years Project. To explain the purpose of the project, I need to take you back to just over a hundred years ago, and introduce you to another extraordinary woman called Gwyneth Bebb.

Miss Bebb was until recently completely missing from history. She was one of the first women to study Law at Oxford – for much of her degree, she was the only woman in a class of 400 men. She was a brilliant student, achieving a first class mark in her examinations – but she was not awarded a degree, because in those days, Oxford would not recognise women’s achievements and award them a degree. Nonetheless, she wanted to be a lawyer. A hundred years ago, women could not enter the legal profession – it was one of the very last professions in England not to admit women. Miss Bebb became a test case: she challenged the Law Society over its decision not to allow her to become a lawyer.

Miss Bebb did not win her case. The judge said, that according to the meaning of the relevant Act of Parliament, she could not become a solicitor, because as she was a woman, she was “not a person”. Despite her loss, the case attracted a lot of support. A great campaign gathered pace, with ordinary women uniting, challenging and pushing aside obstacles, refusing to accept their exclusion. Eventually in 1919, women were finally allowed to enter the legal profession after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.

Miss Bebb’s is one of those untold stories of women’s history that prompted Dana to set up the First 100 Years Project. The mission of the project is to ensure a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession by raising awareness about their history and inspiring future generations of female lawyers.

It has created a digital museum which records the oral histories of the great first women – women such as our honorary Worcester graduate, Baroness Hale, as first woman President of the Supreme Court. But equally importantly, it records the stories of ordinary women such as Miss Bebb – ordinary, extraordinary women, whose stories would otherwise be lost to history.

Dana Denis-Smith

As the project has gathered momentum it has attracted support from the judiciary, Bar Council and Law Society. Our Law students at the University of Worcester have been working since 2015 on a Women’s Legal History project, researching and contributing stories to the digital museum on the remarkable women and the men who helped them achieve equality of opportunity. Over the past three years they have visited archives Oxford Colleges and the Inns of Court, written articles and a book chapter, and presented their research at academic conferences. Next year they will graduate on the hundredth anniversary of women being allowed to enter the legal profession.

The project has enthused and inspired them, and we have all been moved by the stories of these very ordinary women, who did such extraordinary things to enable our students to have the opportunities that they have today. That is down to Dana’s brilliant idea, and her commitment to creating positive role models for future generations of women lawyers. She is without doubt one of those shining and inspirational role models herself.

Today we honour Dana for her own considerable achievements as a woman, lawyer and entrepreneur. But in honouring Dana, we also honour the memory of every one of those ordinary – extraordinary – women – women who changed the course of history in their own quietly remarkable way. In recognising Dana’s courage and determination to make meaningful change in the working lives of women lawyers, we recognise the quiet courage and determination of those ordinary women who won the battle, to ensure that every woman in the cathedral today has the freedom that we now enjoy and expect – economic freedom, the freedom to choose our own career without discrimination, the freedom to do what we were born to do.

Deputy Pro Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Graduands, and Graduands Guests, I present to you Dana Denis- Smith, for the award of an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Dana Denis-Smith

Obelisk In Action

When the Financial Times names diversity leaders, it’s an industry recognition that’s worth a million dollars because corporate speak and advertising don’t buy that. In other words, it matters and it also goes a long way in rewarding companies that make a positive difference in society — often behind the scenes.

On 24 September 2018, Obelisk Support joined the inaugural FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader and we are proud to announce that we were the only legal company part of the list.

How does the FT choose diversity leaders?

To make it into this first edition of the FT Future 100 UK, businesses had to excel in one of four categories:

  • Environmental,
  • Social and governance (ESG) policies,
  • Promoting diversity,
  • Disrupting their industry.

Obelisk Support, along with 18 other companies, was recognised as a diversity leader after a two-step process – first, data and written submissions screened by a judging panel including corporate and research experts, then a judging meeting led by FT journalists.

Obelisk Support had already been recognised in the FT 1000 as one of Europe’s fastest-growing companies in April 2018. Being selected to the FT Future 100 UK a few months later shows that honesty, fairness, respect, diversity and gender balance has been crucial to Obelisk’s success as a business. Diversity and inclusion are party of our ethos at Obelisk and this is all the more relevant when we are one of the few women-led tech-enabled alternative legal services providers. Check our website if you want to know more about who we are.

Who are the other diversity leaders?

A shout out to other companies who made the list as diversity leaders is in order, as they all deserve to be acknowledged for the way they are improving their industry or society.

AnalogFolk

AnalogFolk are a global digital creative agency whose stated mission is to ‘use digital to make the analog world better’. The company funds an accelerator programme for senior women in the agency, and participates in a cross-industry mentoring scheme connecting junior people from BAME or lower socio-economic backgrounds with people high up the ladder.

Castlefield Partners

Responsible, ethical and thoughtful investing is the tagline for this financial services company. The company is dedicated to ensuring an inclusive work environment, pledging to maintain a 50/50 gender split for key managers within the firm over the next 3 years, and in October 2017 became one of the 162 signatories of the Women in Finance Charter to encourage greater numbers of women at senior levels of the finance industry.

Catapult Enterprises (Propercorn)

Propercorn was founded by friends Cassandra and Ryan, who grew their popcorn business from his London flat. They are a certified B Corporation, a business recognised by non-profit B-Labs for meeting high standards of overall social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

Clifton Packaging Group

A family run business, Clifton Packaging’s Managing Director Shahid Sheikh OBE  is a big advocate of promoting equality and opportunity both in the company and outside of it, and was named in the top 100 BAME Board Talent Index 2017.

Coppola Foods

This innovative Italian food company has not only won a number of food industry awards, but is also successful due to their focus on fairness and responsibility to customers, partners and communities alike.

Ebury

Ebury currency and business finance specialists seek to remove all boundaries in business, and were listed as an all-rounder for their impact on society and the industry. The company runs a number of internal and external programmes to ‘ensure that honesty, fairness, respect, diversity and gender balance remain at the very core of Ebury’s business’.

Global Support Services (GSS)

GSS specialist security solutions is recognised as an Investor in People, and they actively cultivate an inclusive and impactful work environment, believing that every person should be entitled to opportunity, independence, self-worth, a living wage and reward for going the extra mile

Harley Therapy

Harley Therapy’s platform provides access to therapists of a diverse range of therapeutic practices, with a mission to eradicate emotional suffering in global society.

In Touch Networks

Recruitment business In Touch Networks has a philanthropic arm, In Touch Futures, aims to change the lives of underprivileged and disabled children and relieve poverty by creating and sustaining education and employment opportunities in the UK, South America and South Africa

iStorage

iStorage is a leading global provider of encrypted hardware data storage devices, and is praised by employees for its inclusive work culture and generous employee benefits such as healthcare coverage.

Mansion House Consulting

Mansion House Consulting is an IT and technology consultancy catering to to clients in the financial services sector. They support children’s charity Sparks, sponsoring fundraising industry events on subjects such as Diversity in Leadership.

McGinley Human Resources

A business that’s all about people, McGinley was also named as a Sunday Times’ ‘Best Company to Work For’. The company values place a focus on being genuine, and treating people equally and respectful and considerate of people’s time and individual perspectives.

Nectere

Office dealer services provider Nectere was also recognised as one of LSE’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain in 2017, and places high importance on flexibility and diversity in order to successfully provide their services.

Olivia von Halle

Fashion designer von Halle started her career as a trend forecaster for major design labels before launching her own loungewear brand in 2011. The company guarantees responsible, sustainable production, prohibition of discrimination and fair compensation and working hours as part of its CSR code of conduct.

Portafina

As well as their people-centric focus and work with local and national charities Portafina financial advisers may lay claim to the best employee story ever published on a company website, where one of their marketing team spent 3 hours resuscitating a fish which went on to live for another 3 years.

Shopper Media Group

Commenting on their FT listing, Sally Vincent HR manager at the retail out-of-home media group said: “It could be said that our diverse workforce comes more naturally to us than it may do for others, but that is because our approach has always been to bring in the best and most talented people to our agencies, regardless of gender or socioeconomic background. As our business continues to grow and change, our mindset to attracting and nurturing talent certainly will not”.

Smarkets

Smarkets is one of the worlds largest betting exchanges, providing the best odds and low-cost fees for over 200000 clients. They champion integrity with honest, user-centered trading on sports, politics and current affairs.

Spektrix

Spektrix is a ticketing, marketing and fundraising software accessed through the internet with the aim of helping arts organisations succeed.

Obelisk In Action

At Obelisk Support, we are proud to have been shortlisted as finalists for the LegalWeek Legal Innovation Awards 2018 in the Supplier Innovation – Resource Management category. This follows the work we have done by investing in technology and creating our own mobile and web app to manage legal resources, cutting down turnover on client requests from over 48 hours to a few hours. This is one of several proprietary software built internally for Obelisk Support, to better serve business needs and reflect the business’ platform accurately.

2018 Awards

This year, this is the third nomination Obelisk and Obelisk leaders have garnered. In February 2018, Obelisk Support was named as one of the top 25% fastest growing companies in Europe – at no 1,171 out of 5,000 companies ranked in the 2018 edition of Inc. 5000 Europe.

In March 2018, Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, was voted by members of the legal profession, LexisNexis Legal Personality of the Year.

In April 2018, Obelisk Legal Support Solutions Limited being chosen as one of the FT1000: Fastest Growing Companies in Europe.

Previous LegalWeek Innovation Awards

Since its creation in 2010, Obelisk Support and Obelisk Support leaders have been recognised for their pioneering legal services by the LegalWeek Innovation Awards.

In 2016, Obelisk Support won Legal Week’s Innovation Awards Marketing Innovation for its project The Attic.

In 2015, Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, won LegalWeek’s Outstanding Legal Innovator.

LegalWeek Innovation Awards 2018

The awards ceremony will take on 25 May 20118 in London.

Good luck to all finalists and may the best win.