On Monday 23rd December 2019, we celebrate the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become professionals in the UK. The First 100 Years project is the national campaign celebrating this centenary, focusing primarily on the progression of women in the legal profession since 1919. First 100 Years has been celebrating this centenary throughout this year in many ways, one of its latest being the newly released FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law, which is the first book of its kind telling the story of women in law throughout the last 100 years in an accessible and informative way.
About First 100 Years
Set up in 2015 by Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith, the First 100 Years project has been building an archive to tell the previously untold stories of the pioneering women who made history in the legal profession. From the first female solicitor, Madge Easton Anderson, in 1920, to Elizabeth Lane, who was the first woman appointed a County Court judge and then the first woman appointed to the High Court, right up to the present day with the first female President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, and future firsts, like future president of the Law Society I. Stephanie Boyce, who will become the first President from a BAME background in 2021.
First 100 Years is a multimedia project, telling the history of women in law in many ways to ensure as many people as possible can learn about the stories in a way that suits them; from the filmed biographical interviews, a podcast series, a unique music commission to an artwork commission for the Supreme Court, and now a book, there is something for everyone to learn about the inspiring female pioneers that shaped the profession today. The purpose of the project is not just to understand the history of women in law, but to use this to provide the context for promoting further gender equality in the profession, by assessing progress so far and how far we still have to go.
FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law seeks to capture the lives of female pioneers in law, past and present, to ensure we do not lose the stories of these incredible women. It does so following the format of the First 100 Years timeline, podcast series and exhibition, decade-by-decade, delving into the broader themes of each decade, including the wider historical context that impacted women’s place in the profession. It also goes further into the many stories of the individual women including biographical information and both archival and modern day pictures of the pioneers, making it a highly informative and entertaining read.
Lucinda Acland, a long-term volunteer on the project and the host of the First 100 Years Podcast series, and Katie Broomfield, an academic in the field and a champion of the project, have brought together archival material, material produced by the project through the video and podcast interviews and their own research to create this book. FIRST is the product of over five years’ worth of efforts in building the archive, which was not an easy task.
The project’s founder, Dana Denis-Smith, often refers to the fact that what she thought would be a history project, turned into an “archaeological dig” to unearth the stories because women’s achievements often go unacknowledged and their stories rarely told, so finding out many of the stories took a lot of work. The writing of the book itself, however, was done in a very short amount of time. It was originally not intended to be released until 2020 but due to an incredible amount of interest, the task was brought forward and the authors got it done in a matter of months in time for the centenary celebrations, and we are so pleased they did as it has been a huge success!
There was a hotly contested debate around the title, from the authors, publishers, editors, proof readers and the First 100 Years team. Being the first of its kind, it was important to ensure the title hit the correct tone. It had to transcend the purely feminist literature section of a library and be a credible history book in its own right, irrespective of the fact it featured women. In the end, it was actually The Attic editor Laure Latham who came up with the simple yet effective title: FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law. It captured the essence of the project, with the name of the project in the title, but also the simple word “FIRST” alluded to the women featured as “firsts” in various ways, and is also signifying that there are many achievements for women in law to come – this is just the beginning.
Why is FIRST so important?
Ultimately, women need to understand their history to be able to place themselves within it. It has become apparent to the First 100 Years team over the past few years that, understandably, people could not accurately estimate how long women have been in the profession, or have known the many anecdotes that have since been shared, such as not being allowed to wear trousers in the courtroom, having no female lavatory facilities or women frequently being asked to make the tea in meetings. It is only by understanding the background can we both recognise how far we have come and make sure we fight to ensure history does not repeat itself. As Baroness Kennedy says in her testimonial of the book, “this is a vital and stunning piece of our history…the absence of women in the system of law was a gross impediment to justice” and we must ensure women’s place in the profession is cemented.
The Next 100 Years
As The Secret Barrister says in their testimonial of the book, “[FIRST] offers not only a unique celebration of the progress achieved by women in the law, but a vital reminder of how much work there still is to do”. Despite the progress of the last 100 years, there are still barriers to be broken and progress to be made, and there are plenty of plans in the works for The Next Hundred Years! You can get involved by following us on social media @First100Years and @Next100Years_, checking out all the many resources we have on our website www.first100years.org.uk and contacting us at [email protected].
To celebrate Black History Month, The Attic interviews Landé Belo, senior counsel and employment lawyer. In this profile, she discusses her professional legal career and how she became a theatre director to drive positive change in the arts community.
My career started firmly in employment law…
I am a City-trained employment lawyer, starting my career in 1997 and after seven years of private practice, went in-house — first with BP, then working with other global brands. In 2006, I set up one of the first virtual law practices; at the time, people were skeptical about the viability of such a model in the legal profession, but it did and today, there are various practices offering outsourced legal services. I subsequently joined an IT/IP practice in London, working remotely from France and from then on, became a consultant, also signing up with providers like Obelisk.
As a consultant, I supported various organisations on cross border projects, managed multi-disciplinary teams and have managed to construct a niche career as a specialist advisor offering tailored legal advice within a global framework and designing and implementing sustainable employee and labour relations solutions. The truth is, most people think of employment lawyers as lawyers to clean up the mess or lawyers to call when things go wrong. But there is a lot more in our bag of tricks as employment lawyers, which is why driving a company’s business strategy is very important. Fundamentally, implementing good people processes makes people’s lives easier but as human beings, we don’t naturally like change. We need time to mourn old processes in order to adapt to new ones. We need that transition and this is an area where lots of companies become unstuck because they think that people will adapt to new processes without support. It’s not true. However efficient and transformative an initiative is, it is important that the change management aspect is handled with care. This is where I come in: I have built up and managed teams which typically comprise labour lawyers and employee relations specialists and positioned ourselves as in-sourced service providers, and serve as invaluable business partners. .
For instance, my last role involved building and developing a global centre of excellence, creating high value roles and establishing a global team of 20 labour lawyers and employee relations specialists, managing 60 markets and an employee population of over 14,000. Our goal was to drive employee engagement and design sustainable employee labour relations. Over the last two years, we shared best practice, reduced the duplication of efforts, developed analytical capabilities of the team and ultimately reduced external legal spend.
At some point, my career somehow found its way into the arts…
Outside the law, I have found other ways to channel my energy. Indeed when you take a lot on as a lawyer, it is a real challenge to balance work and personal life, but if you are determined, you can also take other things on and do them to high standards. In my case, it’s theatre.
I started off getting involved with amateur theatre groups both in France and the UK over 10 years ago. After a few years, I landed with a theatre company that felt like home. I’m now part of Tower Theatre: this is a theatre company that is run by volunteers,. Like our other competitors in this blurred space of unpaid and non-professional theatre, we don’t like being labeled as an amateur theatre company, as the assumption (rather unfairly) is that your work will be sub-standard. Although we are not paid for the work, our productions are done to a very high and professional standard and indeed we have many professionals involved, whether backstage or onstage, donating their valuable time and expertise. The important thing is, we are all doing it for the sheer love of theatre and if you think about the true meaning of the word “amateur” it means someone who is devoted or passionate about something; therefore, it does not have to mean poor quality theatre.
After a few years of being an itinerant company, Tower Theatre finally moved into our own home again and opened our own theatre in Stoke Newington in 2018. In my three years with Tower Theatre, I’ve been privileged to play some wonderful parts on stage. However, I have found that there has not been much in the way of diversity in theatre. The real turning point for me was my first play with Tower Theatre, when I played a part that was specifically written for a black woman (Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris). There is something very rewarding and validating about playing a character that shares your identifying characteristics. Apart from anything else, the discussion can be on whether your performance was credible or not as opposed to whether the director was justified in experimenting with colour blind casting. I do applaud directors that are open to so-called colour blind and gender blind casting (without that, I would not have been cast in many plays and yes, what’s wrong with having a female Hamlet and so on); however, I do not think this is a solution to bringing more diversity to theatre. There is so much wonderful material out there that depicts the lives of black people, so why not just promote those plays? Instead of re-writing an Ackybourn play (which traditionally depicts white, middle class people) by replacing it with a black character – and don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Ackybourn, why not just simply put on a play which already has black people in it?
Well, this was the very argument I took to the Tower Theatre Artistic Director who wholeheartedly agreed with me and encouraged me to direct a play that had black characters in it. Up to that point, directing was not really something that I would have considered, but I realised that I couldn’t just sit and wait for someone to do this for me, if I wanted to drive change, I would have to get up and take action myself. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of directing. I found that my legal and management skills really came handy: the key is putting together a strong team and delegating to them. You have to trust in your ability as a leader that you have surrounded yourself with capable and talented people who know what they’re doing and you let them get on with it. I have never been a micro manager and the same went with directing a play. As a director, I had to be one of the early disruptors – the goal, simply to drive change.
I put on a play in June 2019 with an all-black cast called “Fix Up” written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the Artistic Director of the Young Vic. It was the first play with an all-black cast in Tower Theatre’s over 80 year history and I’m proud to say, it was one of our best-selling plays of 2018-1019 and was critically acclaimed. The success of Fix Up showed that not only is the material out there, the talent is out there and so are the audiences – these were all reasons given in the past for not pursuing such plays. What made Fix Up so relatable is that it explored universal themes that would resonate with anyone of any ethnicity and just happened to choose as its subject matter a handful of disparate individuals of Caribbean origin, based in London.
Following on from the success of Fix Up, I was appointed as an Assistant Artistic Director at Tower Theatre. The Artistic Team is responsible for putting together our lineup of plays for the coming seasons. We are currently working on our Autumn 2020 season. We put on about 18 plays a year at Tower Theatre, across three seasons. My ambition is to ensure that we have at least one play per season which features black characters; therefore three plays a year. I am excited to say that I’ll be back to directing in June 2020 and the play I’ll be doing has an all-female, predominantly black cast. I am sitting on hundreds of plays by black playwrights in desperate need of directors, so any aspiring directors or actors out there should please get in touch with me.
The one key thing I value most in life and work is agility
As lawyers, it’s so easy to see yourself in very reductive terms. The truth is, you can be so many different things and you have the ability to pursue multiple interests. I am a lawyer but I’m also an actress. I’m a theatre director and I attempt to play golf. There’s a lot more you can do beyond your remit and nowadays, companies are a lot more porous in terms of job descriptions. It’s a great opportunity for you to step in and see how you can add value to that company by picking up the work that falls between the cracks and using that to develop your career.
I was brought up believing that there is no barrier to what I want to do in life
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, I grew up in the UK, went to boarding school in the country and grew up in North London. I was brought up believing that it’s just up to me to decide what I want to be and this has held true. I haven’t seen anything in my adult life to make me change that view. With the right mindset, you can achieve whatever you want. Of course there will be obstacles and some face more obstacles than others but that gives you the opportunity to do something exceptional.
I have to say, Black History Month is something that only came onto my radar in recent years
It wasn’t part of my consciousness growing up, because of my education and upbringing. The values of Black History Month were already embedded into my upbringing and as an adult, I realised that it may not have been the case for everyone. Throughout my life, I had access to black culture, black history and black role models.
My utopia is that one day, Black History Month will be so mainstream that it won’t need to be a month of celebrations. It will happen naturally all year-round. We might be way off from that but that’s what I would like to see. To me, the danger of Black History Month is that people will say, we’ll just get a month but for the other 11 months of the year, we don’t need to talk about black history. At school, when I learnt about the two world wars, we didn’t really hear about the black soldiers. My grand-father was doing radio transmissions in the RAF during WW2. The UK in particular enlisted many soldiers from its colonies in Africa and Asia to fight in both wars, yet their stories are never really brought into the foreground. There is not a single black face in photographs of the liberation of France celebrations on the Champs Elysées in Paris and yet we know it’s not true. Black History Month is relevant in that it makes sure that everyone of all ethnicities has access to that history. It should not even be called black history – it’s all our shared and collective history.
My role models are…
I’ve been very fortunate and my parents have been integral to my having role models around me – my mother and aunts, in particular. Role models are important, particularly if you share characteristics with them, whether gender, ethnicity, gender orientation, because it validates the fact that it’s fine to be thinking big and you have right before you exponents who have dared to think big and were successful.
In my legal career, one book which has had a profound impact on me, which I discovered in my final year of my law degree, was “Eve Was Framed” by Helena Kennedy. This book gave me a whole new perspective on how women fit in the workplace and in society at large. This book was my bible in college. It is interesting that the issues it addressed back in the 1990s are still so relevant today.
The whole Diversity & Inclusion piece is not just a PC tick box — it also makes good business sense
Any company that focuses on targeting a specific demographic exclusively prevents itself from finding new audiences and that’s not good for business. It’s good that more and more companies are focusing on diversity and inclusion and I’ve seen initiatives to raise awareness such as mandated unconscious bias training for people managers and senior leadership; these are all steps in the right direction. However until we have C-Suite and leadership embracing such initiatives, we won’t see real change. A CEO saying “I’m going to endorse an initiative to encourage the government to include more black history into the national curriculum” or “I’m attending Gay Pride marches this month and will be spearheading initiatives at the company in support” this is the type of call to action that is required. I haven’t seen enough of that yet. Some companies are doing some great things, they are pioneers with aggressive targets of 50/50 gender balance but unless you hold people to account, we’ll keep having the same discussions. It’s important to be an activist but the change needs to come from the top.
I am passionate about two areas – health and education
In Nigeria, I support charities that work with orphanages (such as the Red Cross), but is not enough. My ambition is to continue my father’s legacy – he used to sponsor children from deprived backgrounds and educate them all the way to university and then create employment for them through informal youth training initiatives. Health is my other passion and I lost my father to cancer. In fact, at some point, most of us are touched by cancer (whether through someone we know), which is is why I support Cancer Research UK and MacMillan.
At the moment, I’d like to explore community outreach work to encourage more young people to embrace the arts and in particular, theatre. Our Stoke Newington theatre provides us with a great opportunity to create strong links with the local community and seek out local talent. Around the time of Fix Up, we hosted an ‘Evening With The Playwright’, Kwame Kwei Armah at Tower Theatre. He said that he grew up just round the corner from our new theatre and actually used to live a few streets away. He was really impressed with our theatre and saw it as a great resource for young people. He talked about his own childhood and the inspiration for the bookshop depicted in Fix Up. He said that had he not turned to the arts (and theatre in particular), he could have ended up running with gangs.
Theatre clearly can’t solve all our societal problems, but it’s certainly a start to give young people who feel alienated an opportunity to feel they are part of something.
As a lawyer, delivering a professional service, it’s important to be responsive – to clients, to colleagues. But when each distraction can take up 15-23 minutes (depending on which study you look at) to recover, dealing with each individual query on an ad hoc basis can be costly.
Here are five strategies to help.
#1 Question Time vs Quiet Time
There’s a likely chance that while part of your work involves being responsive to other people’s needs, another part of it requires you to have your brain to yourself. When we’re always available to everyone we’re never fully available to anyone – and we can end up doing everything badly.
Carving out some quiet time might involve some tactical hiding: working offline, working from home, or hiding in a meeting room from time to time; deploying a ‘do not disturb’ signal in an open office; creating ‘meeting free’ zones in the day or week; or just letting your colleagues know when you need to get your head down and focus. It’s amazing how much work you can get done in even relatively small windows of uninterrupted time. It’s also amazing how many questions get resolved when you’re not there ready to respond instantly.
On the other hand, making yourself fully available at certain times for questions can be a good way of meeting the needs of others in a focused and dedicated way. Have a dedicated ‘question time’ or ‘clinic time’ or use team huddles or 1-1s to tackle questions, and encourage your team to batch up their questions, rather than rely on just-in-time responsiveness. Of course if it’s a genuine emergency, you can be fully responsive, but these tend to be far rarer than we think.
#2 Turn off notifications
Most of the technology you install on your computer or your phone has notifications turned on by default, tempting us into a habit of instant response and instant gratification.
Think about it, what do you genuinely need to be instantly notified about? What can wait until you’re ready to deal with it? Try turning off notifications by default, then only turning them back on when you actually want that level of notification.
If you’re nervous about this, then experiment with it on a trial basis – a couple of weeks, days or even hours. It’s human to feel a certain level of FOMO initially, but more often than not, we find the world carries on just fine without us – and in the meantime we can make so much more progress on all fronts when we can give each task, problem or person our full attention.
#3 Managing your own distractions
Sometimes our biggest distractions come from inside our own heads, when our brains come alive with ideas, thoughts, and reminders that have nothing to do with the task at hand.
Having a good “Second Brain” system can help to take the mental load off your own brain by keeping track of everything you need to get done in work and in life, and reducing the number of times your brain reminds you of something else you need to do when you’re in the middle of trying to focus.
Keeping a tangent log can also help if you’re prone to “shiny object syndrome” – coming up with brilliant ideas just when you’re trying to focus on something else. Use a notebook, post-it notes, or record a voice memo to capture that thought whenever you’re tempted to go off on a tangent. That way your brain can trust that it’s safe and captured, and you can come back to it and decide what really needs to be done about it.
#3 Set clear expectations
We often think that serving means letting someone else take the lead, and responding or reacting as appropriate. Whether that’s providing good client service, serving our team or our boss. We ask them what they want and we endeavour to give it to them. But that places a huge amount of responsibility on the person we’re serving – to know what’s possible, what’s appropriate, and what’s going to achieve the best results all round.
Sometimes we serve best when we take the lead. When we define what we have to offer and how we work best. When we do the hard work of working out the best way of meeting our clients’ needs. When we set clear expectations up front, and guide them through the experience, for example:
Let’s check in on Friday and see if you have any questions (rather than call me if you have any questions)
Feel free to email me at any point. I’ll always aim to get back to you within XX days/hours. If you need me to see anything sooner than that, please do give me a call or send me a text.
My working days are: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, so if you need anything from me by the end of the week, let me know ideally on Tuesday so I can carve out some time for you.
I’m going to be out of the office next week. Is there anything you need from me this week before I go?
#4 Aim for progress, not perfection
The biggest obstacle I hear when suggesting these strategies is “but I’m not sure that would work round here”. Culture is indeed powerful, but it’s also just a collection of individual habits. Being willing to challenge the status quo and to test assumptions is the first step to innovating in the way that you work.
If you’re finding your fragmented attention frustrating, the chances are your colleagues are experiencing the same challenges too. Start the conversation by suggesting the changes as an experiment, then aim for progress, rather than perfection. You may not eliminate all distractions, but even if you reduce them by 1 per day, that’s over an hour saved over the course of a week. And there may still be fire-fighting involved, but if you’re not fire-fighting all the time, you’ll be better equipped and prepared to deal with the genuine emergencies when they arrive.
#5 Recharge your capacity
As a lawyer you bill for your time, but what you really get paid for is your expertise, your judgement, your capacity to think well. Sometimes we see productivity as simply trying to squeeze in as much as possible – be more efficient with admin, take on more clients, squeeze more meetings into the day, bill more hours.
However, just because you can physically fit it into the diary doesn’t mean you have the mental capacity. In fact, our ability to make good judgement decisions is like a muscle that gets tired. Be aware of decision fatigue and make sure you take regular, quality breaks to restore your capacity. Don’t pursue efficiency at the cost of a deficiency in the quality of your work and more importantly your quality of life – at work and outside of work.
At Obelisk Support, we receive CVs of returning lawyers regularly, most of them accompanied by notes explaining why they took a career break. Whether it’s to have a family, to join family postings overseas or for health reasons, these lawyers come back to the law with a fresh perspective on their professional career and a desire to succeed. Our recruiting team reads all of them and after reviewing them, arranges individual interviews to learn about applicants who want to become legal consultants with us. Based on our recruiting team’s experience, the CV tips below are guidelines to help returning lawyers show future employers that they are the right person for the job.
#1 Proofread your CV for typos and jargon
This may sound obvious, but basic mistakes can prevent you getting to interview stage. Fine tuning a CV starts with checking it for spelling mistakes, including typos in company names.
Avoid shortcuts: acronyms or shortened names are not always obvious to everybody and might even cast a negative light on your CV if the reader needs to research their meaning. Use full names for companies, diplomas and professional accreditations.
Get to the point: when looking for lawyers to fill a particular position, our recruiting team likes to spot their expertise and skills clearly on a CV. Reading through paragraphs of waffly, flowery language or corporate jargon is time-consuming and confusing. Make sure your CV is honest and factual.
#2 Explain your career break
Life happens and career breaks are quite common. They are nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what you have been doing, explain the reasons for your career break and most importantly, what you have learnt during your time away from the law.
What have you learnt? During your career break, you’re bound to have picked up useful transferable skills without even realising it. Brought up a family? You’ll have great budgeting and timekeeping skills, as well as be able to handle responsibility. Gone travelling? You’ll have learnt about other cultures and maybe even picked up a new language. Taken over your family business? You’ll have learnt a lot about running a company and how legal fits into the grand scheme of things.
Explain any gaps. The following are good examples.
A career break for childcare and for a posting to Singapore with my husband.
Management role in my family’s entrepreneurial manufacturing company.
Brought up my two children, lived in America for my husband’s job.
Set up a business in Ecuador, teaching legal English.
Traveled in South East Asia volunteering for nature conservation programmes.
#3 Sell yourself
It’s not easy to sell yourself with confidence when you’ve been out of the workforce for an extended period. However, you need to learn to sell yourself so you can win that role and get back to the law.
Be a peacock! But be an honest peacock. Make sure that you can back any claim you make on paper with facts. Even if you don’t meet all the criteria of the job advert, you should feel confident that you can learn new skills on the job and still apply. Go ahead and be daring. Nobody can blame you for not knowing everything. With your solid training, you are able to look up answers to any questions once you get started. Let’s say it one more time: don’t under-value yourself.
Tailor your CV. When applying for any role, the employer will be looking for a specific set of skills. If you can tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for, you are increasing your chances to succeed. It helps to be creative too. If an experience is relevant to the future job, prospective employers want to hear about it. An award you’ve won for volunteering or an online certificate you’ve just completed can say a lot on your ability to fit with the company’s culture.
#4 First impressions matter
Quite literally, the first look at your CV will decide whether or not the reader carries on. On average, recruiters spend six seconds reviewing individual CVs. If the company you are applying for uses machine-reading tools for CVs, review time will be even shorter. Hence the importance of placing the right words in the right places.
Top is best. The top of your CV, like the top of your LinkedIn profile, is prime real estate to sell yourself. More specifically, it is where employers will look first (sometimes the only place they’ll look) so make sure the keywords and phrases from their job advert jump out at them from the top of the page.
Learn about keywords. In a nutshell, keywords are magic keys that can unlock any recruitment or matching process. Keywords let the employer know that you are qualified for the job. If you are not sure what keywords should be on your CV, look at the job description. If a company is looking for a finance lawyer with capital markets experience, these very words need to feature high on your CV. A simple LinkedIn search for the position you are applying for can yield all the necessary keywords you need on your resume. Obviously and as pointed out earlier, make sure you can back any claims you make on paper. If you apply for a commercial role at a FinTech company, expect to explain your expertise on financial regulations and e-commerce during the interview.
#5 Keep it short
Some CVs we receive at Obelisk Support can be as long as six or more pages long, including many paragraphs with bullet-point lists of skills, achievements and more. Information overload comes to mind. Keeping your CV short leaves room for in-person explanations during the interview and makes the interviewer’s job easier.
Two pages. The golden rule is you should keep your CV down to two pages, three pages tops. You don’t need to list all your professional career on a CV, as tempting as it is. Don’t waste precious space on jobs that are completely irrelevant to the post you’re applying for.
Include figures. While it may be tricky to quantify some of your earlier experiences, including figures in your CV definitely helps prospective employers appreciate your achievements. Here are a few examples:
Overseeing contract management for 100 companies.
Advising on and negotiating legal agreements, including sole legal responsibility for EUR 500 million for UK venture capitalist fund.
Leading a legal team of five in-house lawyers and external consultants with an annual budget of £800,000.
Advised client on its leveraged acquisition of a family entertainment provider (£450 million, 2012).
Now you are ready to apply and restart your legal career with new goals in mind. You may experience self-doubt at some point and job-hunting might not be all plain sailing, but remember the wise words of Lady Hale: “The main thing is that you simply cannot let it stop you doing what you actually know you really can do, or at least, think you can do. Or, assume you can do it until someone does find you out – why not?”
Indeed, why not? Good luck and believe in yourself!
A good playlist can turn chores into a dance party, power you through your work-out and make that 3-hour document review just about bearable. Here at the Attic, we know that in the legal profession long hours are more often the rule than the exception, so we set out to create a playlist with songs to fit just about every lawyer-ly moment to power you through to the weekend.
Here’s a rundown of our top ‘lawyerly’ songs – make sure you give our spotify playlist a listen and add your favourite songs to your own playlists!
This relaxed old country music track brings attention to the dilemma lawyers often face, particularly in the corporate world. In Wells’ words “Man made laws to set you free on Earth, but is God satisfied? Will your lawyer talk to God for you?”
Pop this song on just before you need to advise your client for the 3rd time today.
For when you’re on your way to an important meeting
No lawyer is a stranger to the complexities of negligence law, the constant concern of compensation culture and the most unlikely of cases which have developed. “Talk to my Lawyer” is a humorous satirical hit that is sure to put a smile on a negligence lawyer’s face – no matter the absurdity of the claims.
Don’t despair, if you’ve got a witness according to Brodsky you’re set – “I’ve got a witness, to put a hand on the Bible, Jury jury hallelujah, somebody’s liable”.
For when your client is worrying about the impact of American politics on their business
Some clients never seem to give you a break – pop this tune on to power you through those all hands on deck Friday night emergencies.
For the Trainee still at Law School
“Law School” by Chocolate Ghost House
This light-hearted parody of Maroon 5s Payphone is the perfect song for trainees whose hours are never-ending and still need to pass those exams at the end of their 40-hour weeks.
For when you’ve got that Friday commute home buzz
“Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
Last not but least is this iconic hit by no other than the King of rock’n roll. This classic song is the perfect tune to get you ready for the weekend and let go of any pent up stress built up over the week!
Last night (10th July) saw us announce the winners of the 1st Global Law Photography competition, themed around climate change.
The judging panel, led by Marcus Jamieson-Pond, photographer and former CSR Manager, was impressed not only by the quality of all the photographs submitted but also by the accompanying stories explaining their significance. As well as being inspired by the thinking and creativity of the competition entrants, our audience at Lexis House was privileged to hear from Peter Barnett, climate litigation lawyer at ClientEarth. As an NGO working at the cutting edge of climate change, ClientEarth are using the law to fight the climate crisis and show the true power of lawyers to drive change in this area. Obelisk Support were delighted to raise funds for ClientEarth, as well as raising awareness of their work in this area.
Our thanks go to LexisNexis, home of the LexisPSL Environment service, who were supporters of this initiative and hosted the presentation evening.
Here are the three top photographs and our winners’ stories:
Winner – Magdalena Bakowska
This photo represents the spectacular Namib desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world, to draw attention to the problem of global warming and water shortages, so common in this region. Arid regions of southern Africa, although beautiful, are particularly exposed to further drying. The region is said to be one of the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change and having less natural capacity to adapt to such impact, although, ironically, African nations are considered to have contributed the least to the problem of global warming.
Namibia’s climate is, in general, dry and hot, with already irregular rainfall patterns. As a result of climate change, the country, which is highly dependent on climate sensitive natural resources, is predicted to become even hotter, leading to aridification.
Highly-Commended – Camilla Bindra-Jones
All week concerns were expressed by SpringWatch for the fledglings under watch. Strong winds unusual for England in June came as predicted & scattered the precious cargo. I felt the parents sorrow & placed their children in a row. I know not why I took a photo & felt a need to bury them but maybe it was to stay the busyness of the world. Death makes us wish to turn back time; our recently awakened awareness of climate change calls us to a state of mindfulness. We must stand together and do as much as we can to try to stay the damage of us in time past.The swallows have nested in the open garages since 1993. The numbers arriving this year were reduced by around 70 per cent. It was this fact, along with the unusually strong winds that made the loss of the fledglings additionally upsetting.
Commended – Lauren Bruce
This photo was taken at the Solheimasandur plane wreck in Southern Iceland. Airplanes have a huge environmental impact, both the pollution when flying and in the environmental destruction of a crash. Strangely this crash site had been repurposed as a tourist attraction, juxtaposed against the natural beauty of its surroundings.
Learn how the legal team at Farfetch are working with Obelisk Support to deliver an award-winning service to their business
“Working with Obelisk Support helps us to deliver a cost-effective and high-quality legal service for our business.” Holly Sage, Head of Legal (Corporate/Commercial), Farfetch
Farfetch is the leading global technology platform for the luxury fashion industry. It connects curators, creators and consumers around the world and offers an unrivalled range of products from over 1,000 luxury brands and retailers. Farfetch provides 22 localised websites in 15 different languages, multilingual customer support and superior delivery options, including same-day delivery in 19 major global cities.
With 18 lawyers and two paralegals worldwide, the legal team at Farfetch provide a comprehensive service within their business, covering a range of matters including general commercial, corporate, IP, brand protection, litigation, regulatory, compliance and data protection matters. The team were recently named In-house TMT Team of the Year by The Lawyer.
Outsourcing Legal at Farfetch
Farfetch first came to Obelisk Support in 2018, looking for extra resources as they approached their IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Head of Legal (Corporate/Commercial), Holly Sage, remembers, “We had two of our team out on planned leave and were conscious of the need to manage our regular commercial and contract review work alongside the extra work required of the internal team for the IPO. In particular, we wanted to protect the requirements of business teams who contract to provide services to third-parties – we didn’t want to risk any disruption to their operations. Obelisk Support were recommended to us as someone who could provide help, fast.”
Initially staffed by just one Obelisk Support consultant covering general commercial matters, the remote team has now expanded to include consultants with financial services, corporate, banking and more diverse commercial expertise. Says Holly, “There are two main benefits for us. The first is that Obelisk Support’s consultants are experienced and hugely knowledgeable. We’ve always been impressed by their technical skills and the quality of the work that comes back. The second is that if we didn’t have this resource then we would have to either send work to law firms, which would cost a lot more, or the work would have to wait for us in the central team to have time, which could cause delays for the business. Working with Obelisk Support helps us to deliver a cost-effective and high-quality legal service for our business.”
For anyone else considering a similar service, Holly recommends thinking big from day one. “If I did this again, I would set up and brief a large pool of consultants from the start. That way as work comes in, you know you are covered without having to take extra time to get people up to speed. Obelisk Support are a useful source of knowledgeable lawyers who can act as an extension to your legal team.”
Around 2013, a new kind of flexible worker emerged on the photo-sharing social media platform, Instagram. Taking the concept of flexible (and indeed worker, although that is another article) to an entirely new level, accounts such as @wheresmyofficenow waved goodbye to the more static based notion of flexible working. They became part of a movement sweeping across the mindset of the millennial generation: the flexible worker with no fixed home base, often living out of a van.
Questioning everything from the concept of work right down to the notion that we should remain in one place to do it, these nomadic individuals began documenting life and work from the road and posting photos to Instagram, in answer to the question where’s my office now.
Fast forward to 2019 and this way of life is a growing movement – a sub-culture of people on the move, many of which are embracing minimalism and attempting to reassess what is truly important for a happy and balanced life. All of which is documented for envy and inspiration through the hashtag #vanlife, which currently includes more than five million photos on Instagram.
Where millennial influencers lead, others are sure to follow.
Technology and flexible working
Back in the legal world, flexible working as a concept is growing. “As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce” we noted back in December 2018.
For too long, the concept of lawyers working from the beach, forest or up a mountain has been a reaction to technology in the worst way – overworked city lawyers never switching off, accessing email and responding to client requests from their holidays as efficiently as from their desks, perpetuating a ‘always on’ approach.
The legal market is generally waking up to the idea that flexible working can and should mean “finding hours that suit your life and how you best work” (Anna Whitehouse, Flexible working campaign) which in time will no doubt mean that we will see lawyers and those working in legal markets working from remote locations.
As Louisa Van Eeden-Smit commented in her piece for The Attic last year, “flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder”. In theory, the van life way of life should be able to include lawyers, facilitated largely of course by the advance of technology.
“Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world… add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.”
Are lawyers working flexibly on a remote global scale?
Search Instagram for #travellinglawyer and you’ll find over a thousand photos mainly from exotic-looking locations, with the occasional British city / county court thrown in for good measure. This is an improvement on the landscape of five years ago, but it seems that at present the majority of travelling lawyers are fitting in their wanderlust lifestyle around their legal career rather than it forming an integral part.
For some, frequent travel from a fixed base is the basis of their current story. They use their Instagram profiles to highlight the places that they visit outside of client boardrooms and the causes that they represent.
Juanita Ingram, a US attorney, author and actress based in the US and London (who founded the Greater London branch of Dress For Success, a charitable organisation that “helps disadvantaged women become economically independent by providing them with free professional clothing and styling and interview coaching, as well as on-going support after they’ve re-joined the workplace”) uses her Instagram and other social media channels to showcase her international travels where she speaks on various topics regarding female empowerment and self-worth.
The Legal Eagle Mummy is a lawyer and disability rights advocate whose daughter’s heart condition means she has had to travel abroad for treatment. Anonymous on Instagram, she has been able to work remotely whilst also using her photographs to raise awareness.
For others, every spare moment away from the office is spent travelling. They do not yet appear to be working in the same way that those embracing #vanlife are but they are helping build the vision that being a dedicated and brilliant lawyer does not mean remaining in the office 365 days a year.
The anonymous Caffelawyeris a lawyer working for a magic circle firm in London, splitting his time between London and Milan.
When is a travelling lawyer not a lawyer?
On the flip side, the #travellinglawyer hashtag also reveals those for whom the call of remote travel has proved lucrative enough to take a break from law altogether. Prominent #vanlife contributor Lisa Jacobs was a lawyer, as was Felipe Villegas Múnera.
Both Lisa and Filipe now spend their lives travelling and posting scenes of their travels and methods of transport, providing inspiration of where others could work, monetising their travels in a different way entirely.
Interestingly, many of these ex-lawyers are still happy to share that they were lawyers, which may well encourage others to consider whether they can both travel and work in the legal market.
More soberingly though, for some van life is more of a necessity than a chosen way of life. Liam Seward is not a lawyer, but others in his position could be. Some are teachers, others charity workers. They live remotely because they have to, because they can’t afford to work and rent and living in a van affords them the ability to continue working.
Where is the future of flexible working?
It is becoming accepted across the board that not everyone seeks to be a partner in the traditional model and a better balance in life is sought right across the profession, from trainees right the way up to experienced partners. Magic circle firms are bringing in flexible working policies allowing all staff to request to work from home. Big law firms are setting up offshoots to address specific types of legal issues staffed entirely by lawyers who choose where and when to work. And of course, there are employers like at Obelisk who make the most of legal talent with a uniquely flexible and remote workforce.
The more that this occurs and people talk about it, or photograph it and share it on social media, the more others will start to listen and follow suit. The mere presence of any lawyers on Instagram showcasing life outside of work and the office is positive, even if as yet the realisation of the dream of truly remote flexible working as a lawyer on the road is perhaps more few and far between.
In another five years, we look forward to the #vanlife concept having evolved more fully. We hope that it will include lawyers and others who have up until now been restrained by increasingly outdated models of working.
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!
On The Attic, we recently looked at curbing legalese and why more and more lawyers and businesses are making their legal contracts less wordy. Indeed, simple language is just one part of making complicated and detailed information easier to digest and punctuation and structure play a vital role in how our brains process what we are reading. Equally, a badly punctuated legal document is harder to read and can even lead to expensive consequences, as shown here in our guide to punctuation in legal documents.
Let’s Eat Grandma: Comma Consideration
Small but commonplace in prose (particularly in legal docs), the comma is crucial to good writing. We learn early on in our literacy education that the comma is like a short pause for breath in speech, but in writing it plays a much more complicated role. A comma doesn’t just break up longer sentences (and it doesn’t provide a get out clause for using lots of lengthy sentences either, by the way!). Commas are placed in sentences to separate clauses: A part of a sentence forming a clause is identified by its inclusion of a subject and a verb. In legal writing it also refers to a separate article, stipulation, or proviso. In all cases, improper comma placement can create ambiguity of meaning, and even change the meaning of a sentence altogether.
‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves’ vs. ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’
‘Let’s Eat Grandma’ vs. ‘Let’s Eat, Grandma’
The addition of the comma can in both instances change the meaning dramatically. But often the difference isn’t so obvious, particularly when listing out terms, circumstances, individuals or other such subjects. The last in the list is where the correct use of the comma can often go astray, and many people are unclear on whether and when they should employ the Oxford comma.
In general writing, the Oxford comma is deemed optional, to be placed before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list of words. In legal documents however, it can prove essential, so it’s advisable to revise its usage.
A famous example of another costly comma placement frequently cited in legal circles is that of the Million Dollar Comma. A Canadian cable television provider and a telephone company found themselves in dispute over the terms of terminating a contract. Citing rules of punctuation, Canada’s telecommunications regulator ruled that Bell Aliant, the telephone company was allowed to end its five-year agreement with Rogers, the TV provider, at any time with notice, due to the presence of a particular comma.
This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.
The placement of the second comma was ruled to mean that the part of the sentence referring to the requirement of one year’s notice for cancellation applied to the five-year term and its renewal.
The Bell Aliant story leads us to the next thing to look out for in punctuating legal documents. The Million Dollar Comma faux pas came about due to the contract’s interpretation in French-Canadian comma usage. So when you are tasked with translating, or writing new documents using previously translated documents as reference, you need to be aware of such discrepancies. Even if you are multilingual, it may be advisable to double check the intention with the original writers or other native speakers where available.
Speech or quotation marks are another point of contention in writing, particularly regarding the rules regarding their placement next to other punctuation marks. As a general rule and to ensure absolute clarity in legal documents, a direct quote should come complete with its original punctuation and be placed inside the quotation marks; anything outside of the quotation marks belongs to the sentence the quote is placed in.
Subject A said during the interview “I had not received word of [Subject B’s] intended resignation until after the date in question.”, however, Subject B disputes this, saying Subject A was informed two days before the aforementioned date in question.
For readability however, the sentence would be better broken into two shorter ones, with the quote introduced via a colon:
Subject A said during the interview: “I had not received word of [Subject B’s] intended resignation until after the date in question.” However, Subject B disputes this, saying Subject A was informed two days before the aforementioned date in question.
The semicolon strikes fear into the hearts of even highly competent writers. Eternally cloaked in mystery, just when you think you have some grasp of how to employ one, doubt takes over and you run away again. Why step into the unknown when the colon (the semi’s more upfront cousin), or that familiar friendly comma will do? If you don’t learn to be confident using a semicolon, you are missing out on a whole new world of sentence structuring.
Generally, a semicolon is used in writing to connect two independent clauses. Unlike a colon, which serves to introduce a clause, both clauses either side of the semicolon are treated as equal – if the two are swapped over the sentence typically will still make sense.
Semicolons are particularly useful when using a transition such as however, therefore, or indeed, as in: Commissions for direct sales may also be payable to the Company; however, all such commissions can be made payable to the licensed salesperson(s) responsible for making a given sale.
In legal documents, you will also see the semicolon used frequently as a ‘super-comma’ – in this instance, the semicolon breaks up a list of items that already contain a comma e.g. Name, Job Title; Name, Job Title.
Hype Up the Hyphen
Another form of punctuation lawyers tend to shy away from is the em dash hyphens. Hyphens appear liberally in other forms, to join compound words and phrases, but an em dash (usually longer than a normal hyphen) can be inserted to create a break in thought or provide a light bridge introduction to a new clause. The rules on use are vague enough to provide freedom to use instinctively when you feel a paragraph could use some other forms of breaks, but take care not to just use a hyphen where a semicolon or comma would be more appropriate!
As Columbia Law School rightly points out, the sentence “On the Supreme Court, the federal government’s highest judicial body, one justice virtually never asks questions in oral argument: Clarence Thomas,” would be harder to understand if it were written, “On the Supreme Court—the federal government’s highest judicial body—one justice virtually never
asks a question—Clarence Thomas.”
It’s important to continually read over your writing as you work your way through a legal document. Doing this as you go along will help you to home in on potential errors and ambiguity created by punctuation. Reading over lengthy pages makes your brain go into scan-read mode, and you are more likely to read sentences as your brain thinks they should be, rather than as they are written. It also helps to read through after taking a few hours (at least) away from looking at the document, if you have the time to spare.
There are of course tools that can help you check spelling, grammar and punctuation, though it is important to remember they are not foolproof. Inbuilt spellcheckers in Word, Google Docs etc can do the trick if you already have a certain level of confidence in writing, but if you are less sure you can try other software.
Whitesmoke is one example used by companies and academic institutions. It checks documents in real-time, like Word and Google’s spellchecks, and also generates reports to rate your writing based on sentence structure, words, expressions, voice, length, and redundancy.
LanguageTool is also highly recommended when checking documents in other languages, with the ability to check more than 20 languages. The range of languages does not appear to impact on the level of accuracy, as it picks up on grammatical errors that other programs often overlook.
Ultimately though, the best proofreader is another human being, as they will be the ones using the documents after all! If possible, bring in the services of a professional proofreader or a non-legal writer who can pick up on how the document may be interpreted by others outside of the legal sphere.