Making Work, Work

We are delighted to have Audrey Tang,  Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of “The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness as a guest blogger on The Attic. 

While it can take time for laws to change, negotiations in everyday legal practice can move swiftly and sometimes unpredictably.  For lawyers, it is not just about what is reasonably foreseeable but responding in a volatile environment under pressure.  The practice of mindfulness can help build resilience to unpredictability supporting any management and navigation through it as well as broaden thinking in order to innovate for success.

Do this: Think of your professional abilities on a scale.  Outline them in no particular order.

Those who are experienced or natural in their professional role may have a longer scale than those who are just starting or learning.  But whether you are already practised, or just starting out – you have the capacity to develop more.

The difference between taking a mindful approach to leadership to any other skills textbook is not in making the scale longer, but by adding depth. 

How will I benefit from mindfulness?

By incorporating mindful practice enhancing your self-awareness, you will refine the leadership skills you already have, as well as develop further your emotional agility to adapt as needed – either using what you’ve got, or through innovation.  Most importantly, mindful practice will also support and assist your longevity in role and promote your growth. (Tang, 2018)

Mindfulness underpins the successful practice of professional skills, and enhances the emotional agility to interchange between them for best effect.  As the needs of those around you change so too must your disposition and approach.  This is true whether your desire is to remain at the forefront of your organisational field, the “right person for the job” or simply “the winning side”.  

While you may have many skills at your disposal, under stress can you pick which is right?  …and for how long can you sustain that effectively?  Every day comes with pressure. Significant decisions have to be made – which have far reaching – and sometimes life changing – consequences; the threat of competition is always lurking; alliances may need to be formed which may or may not serve you long term; Further, if you are also an emotional agile leader, you will often have a team who – with open lines of communication – will seek your advice as they need to; and of course, you will also have a fulfilling life outside the workplace which needs maintenance and attention.

This is emotionally draining, and while popular articles cite the Hygge of the Danes, or the slower pace of other countries, the “pause button” is much harder to find within the driven executive culture of the UK and US.  

What mindfulness offers is the ability to take control of your behavioural and emotional state.  This in turn enables a better performance of all your other skills essential to your role.  The world will not wait for you – unless you make it.

15 Mindfulness Tips

While most professional training involves how one can develop more skills, increasing the breadth of ability, mindfulness works on giving depth to everything you already do. As such, here are 15 mindfulness tips for success in the driven legal world.

For clearer awareness and focus (especially on a documents you have worked on for some time):

#1 Energising palette/mind cleanse 

Similar to the wine connoisseur who takes a water biscuit between tastings, refresh your energy before picking up where you left off, rather than heading directly from one task to another. Try some star jumps, or splashing water on your face, maybe even deep breathing (point 2). This allows you to enter the next task with more energy and engagement than if you were still focused on the last.

#2 Deep breathing

Mentally scrolling through possible outcomes to explore can bring feelings of stress.  Simply breathe in through the nose for 4 counts, hold for 2 and breathe out through the mouth for 6. This calms you physically enabling your mind to ‘breathe’ again as well. 

#3 Paired Muscle Relaxation

Tensing and relaxing pairs of muscles helps you recognise when certain emotions are at the fore.  (I have a tendency to grind my teeth, so recognising how my jaw feels when it is tense and relaxed, often cues me into recognising my stress better. )  Once you are able to recognise that you are experiencing stress you can take steps to manage it in order to progress your work with a more conducive mindset.

For creativity:

#4 Look through the eyes of…

This is a common technique used in coaching and therapy to enable greater understanding of how a situation may be perceived by someone else.  But why not also use it to enhance creativity too?  By thinking of a task through the eyes of the client, a service user, perhaps even your family or a specific friend if so relevant…you may tap into a point of view you had not considered that enhances what you are trying to do.

#5 Observe with all your senses

All too often we observe only with our eyes.  By thinking about how you feel, what you smell, or what something sounds like, you may again access another level of awareness which can contribute to your design or ideas.  Try to observe with all your senses and gather yet more information which can be utilised.  Is there a preferred time of day when brainstorming is more productive? What language do those you might be trying to influence use eg the difference between “I hear you” and “I see what you’re saying” can give an insight to the type of stimuli they respond well to. Alternatively, a metaphor of smell or taste could be more effective than one of sight.

For Team Cohesion:

#6 Plan

You are extremely busy yourself, yet you want to help.  Why not pre-prepare a template for the questions you are commonly asked?  This enables the person asking to utilise your guidance while still doing the task themselves, and saves you some time too. Similarly, if you know you are a “Yes” person, have some planned statements so you do not spread yourself too thinly – even a simple “I’ll give you an answer at 5pm” can give you time to think about whether you really can help.

#7 Try something new 

Do you have the same conversation (or discussion) over and over again?  As soon as you recognise you are in a loop, stop, take a moment to breathe (which relaxes your body and mind enabling greater clarity of thought) and try to proceed in a completely different way.

#8 Identify your real agenda

As an extension from point 7.  Ask yourself – What is actually going on here?  What do I really want from this interaction? (You don’t need to admit it to anyone, but recognising it can help you take the most effective action – even if it involves changing tack).

For performance:

#9 Ask don’t assume 

People generally don’t hide important information deliberately, sometimes the task is so habitual to them they forget to mention it.  Have an agenda of questions which you may need answers to when learning something new.

#10 It’s not always enough to think you know it

If making a presentation, it’s not enough to know you have a dynamic script when read in your head.  Presenting is a performance skill. Sometimes rehearsing something OUT LOUD helps you recognise the gaps in your knowledge, argument or phrasing.

For you:

#11 Have photos of loved ones accessible

So often you will say “They are on my phone”.  Research has shown that looking at a photo of a loved one/happy memory can release a small hit of endorphins.  Yet, when they are on a phone you need to take the phone out, unlock it, look for it and sometimes worry about being caught!  If you can, keep the memory accessible.

#12 Personalise your “Mask”

You may wear a professional ‘cloak’ or ‘step into role’…  Even if it is not possible to personalise your outfit overtly, it is possible to wear something that reminds you of you on the inside!  It is as essential to ground yourself after a successful performance as it is to play the part professionally during.

#13 Recognise the good things – and offer thanks

You may be focused on a new achievement or target, but don’t forget to spend a moment to recognise how far you’ve come and what you have right now.  Spend a moment each day to think about the things you are grateful for – and sometimes, it might even be nice to voice them if they were offered by others.

#14 Feeling down – Play out your recent personal showreel

It is possible to make yourself feel better by thinking about past achievements.  However, as you play out your personal showreel also try to think about recent incidences (however small) of the things you are proud of.  Life moves forward, and making new memories is as important as cherishing old ones.

#15 Better yourself rather than beat others

Although much of your work may centre around winning, manage any personal competitive streak (which can negatively impact on your self-perception) by recognising when you are in the mindset of comparison and turn the focus to doing something to achieve a goal you want for yourself instead. For example, if a colleague wins a praise and you feel a sense of disappointment that you have no recognition (even if you weren’t aiming for it), identify what it is that would make you feel personal pride, and focus on that – maybe it’s spending a little more quality time with your children, or signing up for that long desired course.

Many of these exercises can be developed to raise awareness and focus further, through meditation and combining their practice with other techniques – many of which I discuss in my book “The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness.”

While these ideas may seem obvious to some, these tips are often harder to implement than you may think – especially on a consistent basis.  Further, being mindful is as much about making what we are vaguely aware of explicit – and getting it to work for us.

Obelisk CMS partnership
Obelisk In Action

Obelisk is proud to announce a formal partnership with top law firm CMS UK, as part of a wider CMS programme to offer flexible legal solutions to their clients and lawyers. One of the fastest-growing companies in Europe, Obelisk has become the go-to resource for legal teams that require flexible legal support, and partnering with CMS introduces a new development in Obelisk’s global plan. By becoming a strategic partner of CMS, Obelisk opens up new opportunities to Obelisk consultants who want to work flexibly, helping them deliver high-quality legal services to one of the largest law firms in the world.

Lawyers come to Obelisk’s talent pool to have more control over the type of work they undertake, greater flexibility to manage their time and workload, and importantly more exposure to a variety of work and practice areas. Being part of the CMS service offering can give them access to challenging assignments and fulfilling roles in a new environment.

Indeed, to tackle innovation in the legal sphere, CMS launched CMS by Design, a dedicated group within CMS that leads the development of legal service delivery and technology. What is different about CMS by Design is that it is not all about tech – it brings together people, knowledge and technology to deliver great solutions for clients efficiently and in a way that enables people to grow, learn, and be fulfilled.

Obelisk and CMS share the same values and commitment to quality, flexibility and inclusion. CMS will augment their teams with Obelisk’s people for mutual learning and development and for their clients’ benefit. To demonstrate how the relationship works in practice, CMS recently had an Obelisk consultant, Hannah, work on a project on a flexible basis, and another has just started to support the procurement team of the firm.

Hannah says: “I enjoyed working with CMS. They were very friendly and welcoming when I met them at their London office at the start of the project I was involved with. They clearly embrace modern flexible working practices as I was able to do all my work for them remotely. They also mentioned that a lot of their fee earners work from home at least one day per week.

I found the team ethos genuinely collaborative and very human, which meant we could all work together to achieve the best result. They brought in both legal and IT consultants for the project, so seem very open to using external resource when needed.”

Dana Denis-Smith, CEO and Founder of Obelisk Support, says: “We are looking forward to working with a like-minded leading business. Through this partnership with CMS, Obelisk can continue to drive positive change in the legal profession, share thinking and best practice, and support our consultants as they embrace new ways of operating that will allow them to flourish. I am excited that this collaboration allows our organisations to continue to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, flexibility and excellence.”

CMS’ Head of Innovation and Legal Operations, John Craske, who leads the CMS by Design Mix offering, comments: “This is an exciting opportunity for our businesses to work together to support clients and leverage our respective capabilities and strengths. Obelisk operates a unique flexible working model, allowing us to tap into their diverse talent pool as and when we need to. Having this additional resource will significantly strengthen our ability to service our clients and deliver innovative solutions on a large variety of client needs and transactions, no matter the complexity or size.”

The firms are also working together to develop a coordinated approach to women returners, building on CMS’ participation as a founding firm in the Reignite Academy and on other potential projects to support CMS’ work allocation and resource management approach.

Making Work, Work

Is it necessary to use complex language in a legal contract? As lawyers know all too well, legal documents are often wordy and complex, and legal precision gets in the way of clarity. Understandably, this legal jargon, commonly referred to as legalese, hampers the way business is done because non-lawyers find it difficult to get around the complex language. If you want to go forward with a business idea quickly, the legal ‘transcription’ should follow smoothly yet it doesn’t. Hence the need to simplify legal drafting. How do you do that? Certainly, legaltech has done a lot in terms of simplifying how contracts are drafted but that does not cover documents that need to be personalised or that are less frequent (or not yet legaltech-able). Easier than building a legal AI solution, lawyers could do something revolutionary: write in plain English.

The Historical Case for Plain English Contracts

It is important to explore the historical context of this topic and where this shift from complex to straightforward legal contracts began.

For centuries, drafters of law have loaded and compounded legal contracts with archaic and overbearing language. The movement towards promoting the use of plain legal language has been spearheaded in 2004 by David Melinkoff’s Language of the Law in which he strongly criticised complex legal language used by lawyers. By moving away from the common practice of saturating contracts with legalese, the goal is for legal proceedings and contracts to be completed at a significantly quicker rate. Agreeing with this notion is scholar Robert Eagleson who states, simple language “lets the message come through with the greatest of ease.”

In the US, this has long been a topic of discussion. In 1972, President Nixon ordered that ‘laymans’ terms be used in the federal register. President Carter also issued an executive order stipulating that government regulations should be as simple and clear as possible.’ 

As Shawn Burton of Harvard Business School puts it, “a contract should not take countless hours to negotiate. Business leaders should not have to call an attorney to interpret an agreement that they are expected to administer. We should live in a world where contracts are written in accessible language—where potential business partners can sit down over a short lunch without their lawyers and read, truly understand, and feel comfortable signing a contract. A world where disputes caused by ambiguity disappear.”

Where does that leave us in practice in the business world?

How GE Aviation opted for Plain English Contracts

A lot of companies, motivated by a desire to conduct business matters more efficiently, now promote their services on the premise of producing simple and straightforward legal contracts. 

Take GE Aviation.  When they combined their three businesses into a single Digital Solutions unit in 2014, their sales representatives were eager to drive sales, however their lengthy contracts threw off many potential customers. Customers often needed to review and sign contracts more than 100-pages long before they could start doing business.

Shawn Burton, Digital Solutions General Counsel decided to use plain language contracts and to ensure that the resulting documents were understandable, applied a litmus test. Could high school students decipher what the contract was referring to by looking at the contract alone? When they couldn’t, Burton and his team worked intensely on abbreviating unnecessarily long winded terms.

It took Burton and his team more than a month to write an initial draft from scratch without referencing the existing contracts or any other GE contract. The new contract covered the necessary legal concerns of all the digital services, thus reducing the number of contracts from seven to one. Even better, the draft was only five pages long.

How do other industries fare?

Legal UX in the Banking and Insurance Industry

The private banking industry, in particular, is guilty of using legalese to death in marketing messages to customers, sending them dense messages closely resembling product brochures. This certainly doesn’t help their business when other market players offer a simpler solution – often viewed as more transparent.

In 2018, Commonwealth Bank, the leader in Australian mobile banking, cemented its top ranking for the second year in a row in a study by Forrester Research, which evaluated the mobile apps of Australia’s big four banks. The report found that CommBank led the pack by blending “…extensive functionality with a stellar user experience.” As an example, they use visual cues beyond the standard lock iconography by displaying information about the last login on the home screen, a strategy that engages younger customers to use the app and interact with their bank more frequently.

In the insurance industry, the legalese problem is also acute as insurers are sometimes seen as trying to wriggle out of paying claims by citing language buried in the fine print of policies. Two insurers, Lemonade and Beazley, have begun issuing personalized digital policies designed for humans and lawyers alike.  Available in HTML format, these policies are easier to navigate than flipping through pages of small script. Lemonade’s policy 2.0 also includes open source policy wording, enabling consumers to suggest coverage extensions and other changes.

The business results speak for themselves.  In the months following the launch of Beazley’s digital policy, the company saw sales increase strongly, and was also able to sell digital policies in a number of states where they hadn’t before.

Plain English legal documents make complete business sense but there’s always room for improvement.

Comic Contracts

If plain English isn’t enough in the way of simplifying contracts, how about Comic Contracts? These are contracts represented by characters and the agreement is in fact captured in pictures. The inspiration for company founder, Robert de Rooy, was illiterate people or people who may not thoroughly understand the language that the contract was written in. Making these sorts of contracts transparent and accessible for most people benefit all parties and can prevent misunderstandings.

What’s next – emoji contracts?

Helping you Kill your Legalese Darlings

To conclude, long and drawn out contracts may soon be a thing of the past. Individuals and businesses are finding alternative ways of condensing the terms of their contracts by making them more straightforward and easier to get through.

To find inspiration, head over to Twitter where Ken Adams and Bryan A. Garner share their pet peeves.

Happy drafting and remember that as always, less is more.

 

Making Work, Work

If you stopped working today, what business legacy would you leave? Unless you do something about it, it could be a bullet-point list of skills on your LinkedIn profile, a string of work emails or how many billable hours you’ve worked. Is this really how you want to be remembered in your professional life? It’s worth taking a hard look at what you do and how you do it, to shape your business legacy into something that reflects who you are – here are a few tips.

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

In her TEDx talk, How To be Remembered, Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith talked about her visual archive, the photographs she’s collected from birth until age 16 in rural Transylvania. In one striking shot, she shows the audience a DIY collage of her photographic collection for her youth – just 11 photographs covering 16 years of her life, and not one more. “Until I took a deliberate action to document my life,” she says, “I made a lot of assumptions about how much I had.”

What documents would you keep to shape your business legacy? Is there a paper you’re particularly proud of, a professional award, a ground-breaking court case or a contribution to a larger body of work? Some lawyers are remembered because they broke barriers. Others because they revived originalism and textualism in the law. Others thanks to their pro bono involvement. At Obelisk Support, we are very proud that we helped hundreds of brilliant female lawyers return to the law after career gaps, when nobody else would give them a chance because career gaps are a deal-breaker for many legal recruiters.

There are so many ways lawyers (and other professionals) can make a difference in the world, even if it’s at microscopic level. Whatever it is you want to be remembered for, make sure that you keep track of the achievements you are proud of.

How Your Work Behaviour Reflects on You

Maya Angelou famously said that, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It’s true of the professional world too. When I started my career as a young tax lawyer at Clifford Chance, I remember distinctly how one partner always supported me and mentored me, helping me grow from an inexperienced trainee to a corporate tax project manager. We’ve stayed in contact through this day and I still appreciate him as a great human being. On the other hand, another partner was very short-tempered and I remember his temper outbursts more than what we worked on together. One made me feel valued while the other one made me feel useless. Obviously, personal relationships can have a huge impact at work and a negative attitude can badly affect your colleagues.

At Obelisk Support, we recently hosted a workshop on emotional intelligence that resonated with many of our legal consultants. Using the principles of emotional intelligence, there are ways for people to learn to deal with anger in constructive ways. If that doesn’t work, try these tips to keep your anger in check. Yes, being a lawyer is stressful but a stressful job is a poor excuse for a bad attitude. We all have to deal with shit in our lives. Don’t be remembered for the wrong reasons.

CEOs, What’s Your Human Legacy?

If you’re in a leadership position, your human legacy will matter more than any multi-digit fancy spreadsheet. As a CEO or high-ranking executive, the obvious legacy you leave behind is how you grew or transformed a business. However what you leave behind in terms of people matters more and more. Using a Game of Thrones analogy, do you want to be remembered as a Cersei Lannister, Stannis Baratheon or a Jon Snow?

Being a good leader is hard work, but being an ethical good leader creating social value both for employees and other stakeholders is even harder work. In a 2014 global CEO survey, PwC asked 1,344 leaders what they wanted to be remembered for. Roughly 30% of CEOs wanted to  to be remembered for the kind of personal attributes they exhibited, compared to 9% in 2007. According to the survey, “the financial crisis might be the catalyst for the double-digit growth in the number of CEOs who wanted to be remembered for their sound personal qualities. CEOs have been reminded that regaining public trust in the role of business starts with ethical leadership and conduct.”

Indeed, a bad legacy can backfire. On Glassdoor, an employee who worked five years full-time at a large consulting firm writes: “Legacy of ex-CEO remains, driven more so by bottom line profit than other Big 4 (from my experience). This can come at the sacrifice of keeping talented employees.”

Though we live in a society that’s obsessed with measuring data and trends, people also need inspiration and creativity to progress towards higher goals and better well-being. They need to dream and they need to hope. Without dream and hope, life wouldn’t be worth living.

In Gregory Dess and Joseph Picken’s Changing Roles: Leadership In The 21st Century, the five key roles of leadership are listed as:

  1. Using strategic vision to motivate and inspire
  2. Empowering employees at all levels
  3. Accumulating and sharing internal knowledge
  4. Gathering and integrating external information
  5. Challenging the status quo and enabling creativity

So, shall it be Daenerys Targaryen, then? 

As individuals we can’t all do something huge and world changing, but the impact we have on our own little corner of the earth can help carve a path for more positive change, long after we are gone. It’s never too soon to think about what business legacy you will leave behind.

Making Work, Work

A recent report showed that 81% of people would look for flexible working before joining a new company. But businesses in the western world are still slow to respond to the demands for flexible and remote work infrastructures.

Last week, we were looking at the details of a report on The Competitive Advantage of Flexible and Family Friendly Working, compiled by My Family Care. The report looked at the way that people across a variety of industries work and how they want to work. It provided some very interesting insights about both employees and employers. According to the results, a whopping 81% of employees would look for flexible working options before joining a company. In addition, over half of respondents (53%) would prefer flexible work over a 5% salary increase. Naturally the trend is slightly stronger amongst parents and carers, but overall the majority of Millennials and those over the age of 34 would like to work flexible to some degree (51% and 71% respectively).

And while 32% actively promote flexible work practices in their business, 68% admit they don’t, while 61% of companies involved in the study say they allow flexible working to take place ‘under the radar’. There is still the impression that a high number of business leaders recognise the need to embrace remote and flexible work patterns. Perhaps, because industry cultures are slow to respond to the growing trend, they are reluctant to take the leap and invest in a proper course of action. Indeed, this would be backed up by another recent study by Epicor that found companies in the developed world are slow to invest in technologies such as sharing platforms, and cloud storage that support remote and flexible working patterns. Emerging markets are proving to be a step ahead, with 75% of businesses in emerging markets agree that flexible working practices and technologies are significant in helping retain key people (compared to 62% of respondents from developed countries).

With our focus this month on the time and productivity gains to be made from the 1 Million Hours available to legal businesses from our pool of talent, statistics like those above still come as a surprise. Our global, mobile society is hardly a new or emerging trend, so we would expect to see more businesses actively investing and promoting agile and remote working practices. Those who are doing so would appear to still be pioneers of progression.

Get in touch to be part of the changing legal landscape and see what you can gain from working differently.

Media

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.