Obelisk In Action

The LexisNexis Legal Awards 2018 were announced on Thursday 15 March 2018 and we are proud to report that Obelisk Support CEO and First 100 Years founder, Dana Denis-Smith, is Legal Personality of the Year 2018.

These prestigious awards – which are in their fifth year – shine a spotlight on the achievements of both individuals and teams across the legal sector, including private practice, in-house counsel, the Bar as well as suppliers. They celebrate the vital contribution the people and organisations that work in and around the law make not only to the future of the legal profession but to the wider community and the advancement of the Law itself.

The Legal Personality of the Year award honours an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in the legal sphere in the past year. Dana was picked through an online vote of the New Law Journal readership from a shortlist compiled by the judging panel, shortlist including Sean Jones QC, Gina Miller, Ryan Mowa and Clive Stafford Smith.

Equality Starts at Home

This means a lot to me” says Dana Denis-Smith, “- because it recognises the years of work I and my team have poured into both Obelisk Support and First 100 Years (2014-2019): Women in Law; because it recognised that at the heart of our work is a very important cause  – the fight for equality. I have so many people to thank for helping me get this far – my team, the clients and consultants that have helped build Obelisk into a sustainable multi-million business; the trustees, professional champions and volunteers at Spark21 and the First 100 Years; my tribe of female founders; and my ever patient husband, John Denis-Smith and my daughter, who have kept me sane and motivated and remind me every day that Equality Starts in the Home.” 

Winners of the LexisNexis Legal Awards 2018

LexisNexis 2018 Awards

Other winners of the 2018 LexisNexis Legal awards are

Congratulations to all the winners for their achievements.

News

On 23 October 2017, Obelisk and a dozen of London startups joined Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, on a trade delegation #LondonIsOpen to meet with French startups in Paris and map out commercial cooperation between both cities. As reported in Forbes, Obelisk embodies the spirit of London-based SMEs with ambitions to expand into new markets on the continent despite the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union in 2019. We caught up with Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support, the only lawyer part of the British delegation.

#1 What was the objective of the #LondonIsOpen event in Paris?

It was a follow-up to an earlier trip by Sadiq Khan in March 2017 when they launched a collaboration programme focused on establishing a network of global cities to help entrepreneurs develop their businesses across different markets. Obelisk was part of this previous trip too.

 #2 Who was present in London and in Paris?

The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, took 12 businesses with him to meet facilitators, as well as corporates, interested in working with U.K. businesses. We met with global French companies such as L’Oréal and BNP Paribas, as well as the French representatives of multinationals, such as Johnson & Johnson.

 #3 What did you learn during the event?

The trip confirmed that London has some really exciting tech businesses that are very scalable, but that when scaling internationally, there is always a need for localisation. This was something that the COO of Trainline, Mark Brooker, highlighted in his presentation.

There are some really great partners businesses can rely on – take the Eurostar, for example, whose CEO Nicolas Petrovic joined us on the trip. They connect the E.U. and Britain and they are committed to collaboration across the channel.

#4 How can Obelisk inspire other professionals considering doing business with France?

France has an increasingly dynamic startup scene, as well as some really large, global multinationals. The new government also seems to be undertaking structural reforms which should make operating in France easier and cheaper for British companies British SMEs should continue to be bold and seek new business opportunities beyond our borders. France seems like a logical first step, being both a geographical neighbour and established commercial partner. Plus, the rise of Paris as a technology hub is very exciting news for businesses with a tech angle like ours.

 #5 Why is Paris an important business partner for the legal industry?

France is a major economy and has some very large global companies that are facing increased volumes of work. Cost control and a need for flexibility in delivery is important to them, so there is a good opportunity for a business like ours, supporting legal services as the work flow increases.

#6 Tell us about an anecdote that illustrates the event

I loved the fact that a good chunk of the mission happened on the train to Paris. As we had nowhere to go, it took away from the pressure of meeting new people and made connecting with the delegation easier.
As we were all so engrossed in speed mentoring and meeting the Mayor, lunch was served in a brown paper bag – but it included a most delicious chocolate cake – a winner!

 #7 What are your next steps at Obelisk?

Booking a trip to Paris soon is for sure a next step to follow up on meetings and lessons learnt. The year 2018 should see Obelisk France set up and running.

Jazz FM Jazz Shapers
Media

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.

Working Mums 2017 Award
Media

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.

The Legal Update

At Obelisk Support, we regularly get requests from clients to assist them in Brexit-related matters, whether it’s in the banking industry or regarding general commercial law. As Brexit is still very much a shifting concept, its legal implications are not as clear-cut as businesses would like them to be. That’s why we were very excited when we learned that Helen Tse, lawyer at Clarke Willmott, was working on a book about doing business after Brexit, featuring a range of experts in the most common legal fields affecting professionals in the U.K. Finally, a book that tells you how Brexit could affect your business.

We are very proud that Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, and her husband, John Denis-Smith, both contributed a chapter in this book, each in their area of expertise. To get the inside scoop, we caught up with Helen Tse on the legal implications of doing business after Brexit.

#1 How did you come to spearhead this project?

In June 2016, before the referendum, nobody envisaged that Brexit would happen and when it did, a slight panic occurred as to what would happen. As a lot of my clients were calling to know what was going to happen for them with Brexit regarding their property or their business, I pitched the idea of this book to Bloomsbury and they were interested.

I started writing at Christmas time in 2016, because there wasn’t much that we could write until we knew a bit more. To get a steer as to what the government would envisage Brexit to be, I contacted the Brexit department (Department for Exiting the European Union) led by David Davis. This book is based on their guidelines.

#2 Who is the book for?

It is for fellow lawyers, anybody in the professional services sphere who has to advise on Brexit issues, as well as companies, SMEs, high net worth individuals, and anybody with an interest in business. It even features a section by Nigel Barratt that talks about the landscape for investor from abroad. We see Brexit as an opportunity to invest in the UK, as it’s 20% cheaper. The sterling has devalued, therefore buying a property in the UK is a great opportunity.

#3 How did you structure this book and why?

Initially, it was going to be purely an academic piece on leading lawyers from different specialist areas on how they think the law will change. But then, I thought that it would be good to have a business section and created a section on thought-leadership. How might business owners envisage that Brexit would impact their business? So the book is two-part, academic on one hand and pragmatic businesslike on the other.

Doing business after Brexit is such a broad topic that you’ll never be able to cover the whole range of topics, but from a business perspective you can address employment, corporate, commercial, property, corporate finance, and all things that you need to make the business flow. What this book won’t say is how individuals who have a property in Spain will be affected. This is a book strictly about business.

#4 Each one of the book’s chapters is written by a different legal expert. What was the biggest challenge about coordinating these contributors?

The book features about 30 contributors. There are a lot of thought leaders in the frame. My main challenge was to get everybody to deliver on time and then edit contributions to get a constant flow about everything. That took all my weekends, as the book is 400 pages long. Given everybody’s busy schedules, there were slight delays so that impacted my schedule too but we got the job done.

#5 Did anything surprise you in the book?

Looking at Brexit is little bit like the ostrich approach. Nobody knows what to do, so you assume that it’s not going to happen. For instance, if repatriation happened, what would happen to the business? If you’re a UK business getting goods abroad, what would happen? On a business level, a lot of businesses still don’t know what to do or what’s going to happen. This book is very timely and will be a great mind map for many companies and professionals.

The book looks at worst-case scenarios. That was surprising to me, but it was necessary to guide business owners. 

#6 Do you deal with similar issues at work?

I specialise in M&A and right before the referendum, we had a few transactions that had come to terms. The price had been agreed. Payment terms had been agreed. It was basically good to go, except that Brexit happened.

After the referendum, did the buyers still want to go ahead with the transactions? Some buyers went ahead but others decided to wait and see, they did not wish to proceed with the acquisition. There was nothing wrong with the company, but the parties were just nervous about what would happen and the economic uncertainty.

I’ll give you a Lloyds bank statistic that appears in the book. On the day of the referendum, they stopped 100% of all mortgage applications. That’s how much uncertainty can impact a business and that’s why it was important to write this book.

#7 How did you guide your authors and where did you draw a line?

From a book standpoint, we had very clear guidelines with the publisher at Bloomsbury regarding drafting style, the number of words or how each contributor should focus on their particular area of law. Legally, though, we instructed that all authors deal with a hard Brexit situation. It makes it much more feasible for a contributor to give their piece.

#8 Did writing the book change your view on Brexit?

Personally, I was not for Brexit but we are where we are. We do the best of the situation that is being given. I remain very pragmatic and as a lawyer, want to make sure that my clients are protected. It really remains to be seen whether Brexit was a good decision or not but as lawyers, we need to be flexible and adapt.

Let’s take the example of a manufacturer who buys his supplies as raw materials coming from Germany. With the post-Brexit currency changes, the supplies might not be affordable anymore. Under a normal contract, you can only terminate for force majeure or frustration. Instead, we’re inserting Brexit clauses into contracts. The book gives you clauses to think about. They haven’t been drafted by anybody yet and we are definitely  leading the way in that respect.  However until Brexit has happened, we cannot have a clear view of what these templates could be.

#9 What online resources would you recommend to lawyers and general counsels to keep up to date with Brexit legal issues?

First, I would say download the kindle version of this book to have it handy. As far as UK resources, I really like Brexit & Law as well as PLC and LexisNexis.

#10 What next?

I get my weekend back! Of course, we’re going to do a presentation of the book on September 20 in Manchester. All the details are here.

About Helen Tse

Helen Tse is the first port of call for SME companies, high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs regarding corporate and commercial law matters. Helen herself is an entrepreneur, a published author and the recipient of the coveted MBE from Her Majesty The Queen in 2014.

A graduate in Law from Cambridge University with a professional career has included Clifford Chance, London & Hong Kong, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Walkers in the Cayman Islands, Helen Tse is highly sought after and an authority in the world of business. Her combination of legal and business acumen stands her heads and shoulders above her peers.

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.