The Legal Update

Be they lawyers by day, legal superheroes by night or pro bono lawyers who are passionate about making the world a better place – each and every one of the lawyers below deserve recognition for outstanding legal efforts in their community and beyond. Most of them were nominated by colleagues, others by clients or by work partners. After our inaugural list of lawyers who are changing the world in 2018, the 2019 list is heavy on lawyers who deal with urgent crises threatening our society and our planet – climate change tops the list of urgent battles to be fought, but social mobility and diversity aren’t very far behind.

We could not include all the nominations but thank all of you who contacted us to recognise exceptional lawyers; we are in awe of the impressive nominations we received. Without further ado, here is the 2019 list of lawyers who are changing the world for the better.

Piya Muqit

Legal aid lawyer, Hong Kong

Lawyers who are changing the world

The executive director of the Justice Centre, a local non-profit organisation providing legal support to asylum-seekers in Hong Kong, Piya Muqit is the daughter of economic migrants who fled Bangladesh during the 1971 civil war to start a new life in Scotland. After serving as the head of policy and advocacy at UNICEF UK as well as senior legal adviser at Freedom From Torture, Piya Muqit raises awareness on issues concerning refugees in Hong Kong and presses for fairer legislation and policies. Her ambition is to expand the organisation into a regional NGO leader in human rights.

Victoria Anderson

Commercial lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Victoria Anderson is a solicitor in London who is passionate about education and diversity in the legal profession. After volunteering as a group leader for a student project at City Law School about social mobility and helping their local community, the project became a charity called Big Voice and she became CEO of Big Voice London. This social mobility charity seeks to engage young people from non-traditional backgrounds in law and legal policy. Big Voice London runs projects for young people each year, including: a Mooting Competition and introduction to the legal system in association with the UK Supreme Court, a summer school discussing growing topics of law, the country’s only Model Law Commission, plus seminars, workshops and lectures.

Rebecca Perlman

Pro bono lawyer, London (UK)

Blending business focus and corporate social responsibility, Rebecca Perlman’s job is to fight poverty and inequality – literally. While most law firms offer pro bono work to their lawyers as a side hustle, Rebecca Perlman harnessed her firm’s corporate connections and global reach to transform its pro bono work into a profit centre by supporting government and NGO initiatives in developing countries. She is also the director of the African Commercial Law Foundation, a trustee of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, a member of Oxfam’s Lawyers Against Poverty Steering Committee, co-founder of the UK Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network, and a member of the European Banks Alliance Against Human Trafficking Expert Working Group.

Angela Hayes

White collar criminal lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

For a decade, Angela Hayes has provided invaluable pro bono support to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). This international NGO fights environmental crimes by conducting detailed investigations into activities such as illegal logging and wildlife trafficking, and by publishing its findings as reports. Angela Hayes, partner at a global law firm, plays a vital role reviewing these materials for potential defamation action. On the few occasions when EIA reports are challenged, Angela has given rapid and effective advice on how to respond, thereby ensuring the situation is resolved without developing into formal legal challenges (such as EIA being sued for libel). EIA’s investigations and reports make a demonstrable impact in curtailing environmental crime, for example triggering the recent arrest of major ivory tusk traffickers by the Chinese authorities.

Chris Daw

Fraud, regulatory and criminal barrister, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Social mobility is not often associated with barristers in the United Kingdom. After starring in a film on access to the profession for The One Show, Chris Daw became a role model for aspiring barristers from non-traditional backgrounds. By speaking up on social mobility, becoming a mentor and setting a mentoring campaign, he has made a real difference for lawyers from ‘ordinary’ backgrounds who thought they would never succeed in the legal profession.

Lauree Coci

Dispute lawyer, Perth (Australia)

Lawyers who are changing the world

In addition to being pro bono coordinator in the Perth office of her firm, Lauree Coci was recognised for her professional excellence and contribution to the legal profession and wider community at the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards in 2018. She was an early advocate for anti-slavery legislation in Australia, assisting Walk Free Foundation with submissions to the parliamentary inquiry and making recommendations to the Attorney-General’s Department to shape the Modern Slavery Act that came into effect in January 2019.

Sonya Bedford

Energy lawyer, Exeter (UK)

A partner and head of energy at her law firm, Sonya Bedford is passionate about renewable energies. Believing that renewable energy can take the UK to energy independence, she has been recognised for her renewable energy efforts in the southwest of England as a Community Energy Champion at the Community Energy Awards, Energy Champion at the Energy Institute Awards and Environmental Champion at the Devon Environmental Business Initiative Awards. From climbing wind turbines to supporting her village in going Carbon Zero, to hosting Facebook Live sessions and decorating her local green area in Exeter with mini windmills, her aim is to continuously raise awareness of climate change. She established the UK’s first grid consortium and grid sharing agreements for communities, and in 2018 was awarded an MBE for services to community energy.

Jennifer Chika Okafor

Lawyer, UK/Nigeria

Lawyers who are changing the world

Jennifer Chika Okafor is a solicitor who regularly offers her services free of charge to people within the African community. She has taken on many institutions and individuals and won on a paid or pro bono basis. Jenny is a Women’s rights advocate and activist. She is the founder of the Nigerian Women in Diaspora Leadership Forum (NWDLF), a group which helps women realise and utilise their leadership potential. Jenny is currently concentrating on women and girls rights issues with the aim of assisting them in finding their places in society early in life without fear and minimum difficulties. Under her leadership, the NWDLF has spearheaded the fight against child marriages in Nigeria.

Carroll Muffett

President and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, Washington D.C. (USA)

Lawyers who are changing the world

A recognised expert on the international law of wildlife and timber trade, Carroll Muffett is an outspoken advocate for the environment and has authored numerous articles and textbook chapters on national and international environmental policy and on the trade and environment debate. CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit organisation that uses the power of law to protect the environment, he is a leading voice in holding corporations accountable for climate change.

Sophie Marjanac

Company and financial/climate damage lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Passionate about the power of the law to protect people and the environment, Sophie Marjanac is project lead, Climate Accountability, for ClientEarth and was previously a senior lawyer in Australia where she specialised in environmental and planning law. She has also worked in the remote Torres Strait region, where she undertook litigation, negotiation and advocacy on behalf of Indigenous Australian landowners. At ClientEarth, she works on novel climate litigation strategies around the world with a particular focus on the risks of climate change to private actors and the intersection of environmental and corporate law.

Roda Verheyen

Environmental lawyer, Hamburg (Germany)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Specialising in environmental and international law, Roda Verheyen is a champion of climate justice in Germany. In 2002, she co-founded the Climate Justice Programme to support climate-related litigation worldwide. In 2017, she represented a Peruvian farmer and mountain guide Saul Luciano Lliuya in an appeal to the high regional court of Hamm against energy giant RWE (they won). In order to hold authorities accountable for climate change, she seeks compensation or stronger climate action through the courts and currently represents ten families in a lawsuit against EU institutions, dubbed the People’s Climate Case. She will argue in the European General Court that the EU must adopt a more ambitious 2030 climate target to defend their human rights – drawing on the UN assessment of the science.

Congratulations to the 2019 cohort – they are absolutely amazing and inspiring!

Women in Law

As October and Black History Month comes to an end, Debbie Tembo reflects on her career journey and the importance of identity and diversity in her work.

Life in Cape Town

I grew up in the beautiful Mother City of Cape Town in South Africa. I went to the University of Cape Town to study a BA in Cultural and Literary Studies with a major in Film and Media Studies. I became really interested in marketing and brands, which lead me to study a postgraduate diploma in marketing management for another year.

From a young age I have always been the child that would push boundaries, whether it be convincing my parents that I absolutely needed to go on a Gap Year straight after school (which had never been done in our family) or being the first black prefect at high school or being voted “most likely to succeed” in my postgrad class at university. Our family was the very first black family to move into a fairly well to do white suburb in Cape Town, circa 1993 (very shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela). My dad was the head of an international seafaring NGO, which meant that I was surrounded by people of such different and international backgrounds to me, and this has fuelled my subconscious distancing of homogenous groups from an early age. My parents, like most black folk are religious people, but what they imparted to me more than religion was a deep sense of spirituality and authenticity, and I carry that in my professional life. I would definitely forego business if it meant that I needed to act against my better judgement and compromise my integrity. Authenticity is such an important value to me and when you’re a black female professional, I think it matters more.

British American Tobacco – From Cape Town to London

I was recruited into British American Tobacco’s global graduate recruitment training programme where, after an 18 month program, I was successfully offered my first managerial role. Despite a heavily male-dominated industry and work environment, I did well in my roles and it was clear that I was on a fast track path within my career. I had great support from sponsors and mentors within the business and I benefited from a strong coaching culture in the business. Interestingly, my sponsors, mentors and coaches were all men who believed in shifting the balance of female representation in business and they gave their best in support to myself and the many more talented women in the business.

Debbie at a British American Tobacco innovation conference

I also studied for an Honours degree during this time in Communication Science. As a result, in 2006 I moved with my husband to London on secondment to work at the global HQ in a new area of marketing within the business that was focused on innovation and how to do things differently, more efficiently and essentially push the boundaries in marketing. Here, I was the youngest member in the global marketing team and again, I got a massive amount of support – you don’t succeed in such an environment without being good at what you do and having bosses that have your back at every turn. After a year of piloting an innovation process globally, it was time for the next challenge, the one that ultimately lead me to bow out of corporate.

Taking a Corporate Break

My next role involved me being based in London, but travelling across the Middle East and Africa region every 2 weeks in a team that was just not ready to embrace different ways of working and challenging the status quo. The travel became too much and ultimately, I became someone in this role that was so far away from my core and who I am as a person that I was deeply unhappy.

After exploring alternatives to this role and personally deciding that I wanted to stay in London, I decided to leave BAT and take some time out for me. I don’t think anyone could really wrap their heads around why I would leave a promising career because of some sort of identity crisis, but it felt like the right decision. In that time I had my first child and 2 years later, my second and I was privileged to spend 6.5 years of their young lives mothering them.

During those years, I dipped in and out of work for a marketing events company, a strategic brand innovation agency, as well as partnered on a few start up businesses inputting into their marketing strategies so I was active in work in a non-conventional way, which is more common these days.

Finding a Work-Life Balance

I wanted to return to work, but I knew that I wanted to come back on my own terms and I knew that this was going to be difficult until I saw an ad for an Obelisk Support Marketing Manager. I was immediately drawn to the ethos of the business and thought, I can do this. In short, I didn’t get the marketing job, but Dana felt that I could contribute to the business in a different area and here I am 1.5 years later and I think we’re doing well.

I work with a team of not only smart, but nice people and that makes such a difference to work. There is no hierarchy in our structure, everyone can contribute, try new ways of working and get on with their work in the best way that suits them, provided we are all focused on the same goals and have the will to succeed. I really enjoy that no two clients are the same, even if they’re in the same industry! Diversity is a big current in my life and has been throughout my career and I enjoy working with the different clients that we do and tailoring solutions to suit their individual needs within their respective ecosystems.

Working in the legal industry is and challenging and there is always something to learn everyday. I love that Obelisk exists to change the way of working in the industry and I’m privileged to be a part of shaping the future of legal in this way – it certainly makes for some surprising conversations, but I can honestly say that more clients are coming round to this way of working and embracing the change, which is fantastic and hugely rewarding and matters not only now, but for future generations of lawyers.

Reflecting on Work during Black History Month

Looking back on my career, I have always had roles that were focused on growing a business, a brand, a category, a service in a different way that challenges the status quo and forces a different perspective and I love that about work.

For me, Black History Month is a celebration of black excellence, of which there are many examples all around us of men and women who are doing amazing things in the world to change the status quo for the generations coming behind them. Our Obelisk CEO and Founder Dana Denis-Smith always says, “that you cannot understand the present without understanding your past” and I wholeheartedly agree. Black History Month is also an opportunity to pause in the busyness of life and take a moment to reflect on the many, what I like to call, warriors who stood up for us, who self-sacrificed for us to be where we are today.

I would simply not be here right now in this moment, if it wasn’t for the many South African freedom fighters who fought for the end of segregation, including my dad who left high school to boycott an inferior education and later went on to finish his high school as an adult and to complete a theology degree in a democratic society. Those hero men and women changed my life and made today’s opportunities in the workplace possible for me. Yes, we have a long way to go to equality, but there are enough opportunities for me to seize and make a success in business and I don’t see the fact that I am black and a woman as an excuse or a barrier to that success – it’s the fire inside that fuels my willpower to succeed!

Advice to Her Younger Self

This is the same advice that I give my daughters – if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. That’s your intuition, God, the universe guiding you, trust it always. Also, don’t justify yourself to anyone to make them feel better about the decisions that you make. Wait for them to ask you and then decide if it’s worth explaining. I think women spend way too much time trying to justify themselves and their decisions when they really shouldn’t have to!

Women in Law

It’s one we’ve all heard – that women don’t get as far as men and are paid less because they don’t share the same ambitions as their male counterparts. But the ‘gag’ (gender ambition gap) is a myth.

A recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) of 200,000 employees, featuring 141,000 women from 189 countries, found women just as ambitious as men at the outset and companies were at fault for stopping this, not family status or motherhood. The study is the latest in a line of research and discussion that dispels the myth of the gender ambition gap, showing that it is not choices that is keeping women back in law, but existing structures and biases within practices and departments.

That’s not news to us, but the idea that women choose to put their career on the backburner still widely persists. Discussions about why there are less women in CEO positions in the UK than there are CEOs who are men called John (yes really), or why women make up the bulk of part time workers are met with the argument that this is what women want; that they are choosing to lose footing in their career trajectories, rather than being giving little or no option by the structures they have before them.

Unravelling the Gender Ambition Gap

As we look in more detail at some of the key findings in the BCG study, we see that what men and women want isn’t very different. Employers really do have a responsibility to remove the ‘gag’ and provide more flexible working options to enable everyone to pursue their ambitions.

#1 Men don’t start off more ambitious – but they are often ahead from the get-go

The disparity in progression and the gender pay gap isn’t something that only kicks in the later stages of a career – there is a notable difference in starting pay between men and women in lower and entry level positions too. Ambition levels upon leaving education however were found to be largely equal – so that dispels the idea that women aren’t pushing as much or don’t share the same hunger for their career and its rewards.

#2 Women are asking for higher pay – and are getting it

That leads us to the second point. We are still told that women are not willing to and just aren’t as good at asking for and getting what they want in life, and it becomes a universally accepted truth. But it is not true all over, even though they might not be doing so well as men in certain sectors. We need to remember this is down to wider attitudes rather than inability to negotiate what they want. The more we buy into this myth the more it will remain true, so let’s stop telling women they aren’t predisposed to negotiation and start helping them to get out and do it.

#3 It’s not about having children

We also see in the study that ambitions do not vary by family status, but by company and industry. The more positively diverse and flexible a company is, the more ambition exists amongst employees – a no-brainer, really. Ambition is something to be nurtured and maintained within the workplace – people are only as ambitious as the opportunities they see as being available to them. Choosing to have children should therefore not be an inevitable barrier to career progression.

#4 Men want a work-life balance as they get older too

Ambition levels appear to drop off in both men and women as they get older. Indeed, many men who have reached a certain level are satisfied and content in that position, while women in same position are often less so according to study. Ambition seems to only drops off more in women if the company culture is holding them back. In many families care responsibilities are becoming more equally taken, and can only continue to do so in a society that allows both to share responsibility of child and later years care. But more than that, more individuals are seeking a better life, rather than race to top at all costs. As we have previously discussed, the way we define ambition is a major cultural factor – we need to further the idea of ambition as wanting a good life and a successful career in a culture that doesn’t expect constant super-human endurance.

 

Women in Law

There were many witty signs at the global Women’s March on 21 January 2016 – many taking aim at recent political developments, in particular the US election of President Donald Trump – but one stood out for me through its sheer simplicity: “Yes to Equality!” It was refreshingly clear, and who could argue with it when the globe’s population is pretty much split down the middle along gender lines? Surely we all welcome equality and an open society in which we can all thrive – women and men together?

I find much of the language of equality sits at the very opposite end from the clarity of that #womensmarch placard. In the last decade in particular, it has become too nuanced and inefficient at amplifying the very essence of our call for change – in the case of gender equality, a desire to embed it in our workplace and reduce the sexism levels in our society. I have now followed the debate for much of the last 7 years and, through the prism of being a mother to a daughter, I think we need to unify and simplify the message around ‘equality’ if we are to see lasting change.

In the workplace in particular, the language of equality has been replaced with that of ‘diversity and inclusion’. Has this shift helped? Equality requires action to ensure individuals or groups of individuals are not treated differently or less favourably, on the basis of their specific protected characteristic – including areas of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age – and that avoids discrimination. Diversity and Inclusion, by contrast, introduced an element of choice around how a particular employer views individual differences so as to maximise their potential. This shift from action to choice is perhaps why, as a returning mum told me recently, we really need to shift the debate around gender equality and women in the workplace. There is a sense of being trapped in a straightjacket, which has managed to entangle us to the point of inaction.

We have witnessed the creation of a whole ‘diversity and inclusion’ professional class that has replaced much of the ‘equality’ speak that led to legislative changes in the past. We’ve now had equality legislation for decades, but still choose to pay women and men unequally. We choose to give women that have children a career ‘shelf life’ on the assumption that their ambition shouldn’t count once they choose to put their family first. We have an absence of women in leadership which we accept far too easily. Indeed, we still have a First Lady as opposed to a First Woman President in the US. Is this abundance of diversity initiatives working in effecting change or, to coin a phrase, is it #diversitywash? I think it is important that we ask why we are complicating the language of equality? We can no longer keep women riding on the inequality carrousel. Believing is doing, not words!