Making Work, Work

Physical fitness and wellbeing usually does not rank very high in lawyer priorities. As previously mentioned in a piece on the London Fire Brigade, lawyering is mostly an intellectual endeavour which involves sitting for lengthy periods. As long as they feel fit enough to do their job (sitting for long hours), lawyers tend to view their physical health as perfectly adequate, ignoring the long-term poor health effects of a sedentary desk job. Sedentary behaviours are a known risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and early death.

How do you change your habits around to improve your physical health? How do you fit exercise in your family life, juggling kids and work? The good news is, you don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to get started…

Start Small

If you think that any type of physical activity under one hour is not worth it, think again. More and more research shows it’s quality, not quantity, that counts. In a busy schedule, any exercise is better than no exercise, whether you work from home or at the office.

  • Take walk-and-talk or arrange ‘standing meetings’ and conference calls – rather than sitting in a meeting room.
  • Walk to client meetings or court appointments.
  • At lunchtime, make a habit to go out and walk around your neighbourhood for at least 20 minutes. Set a timer on your phone or check your watch and keep walking. At Obelisk Support, Naz, Tech Support Analyst, takes a daily walk in the neighborhood to unplug and stay fit. She has inspired quite a few to follow suit, like Katie and Debbie.
  • Do five sit-ups in the morning before you get dressed.
  • Do 30 minutes of yoga while your child is taking a nap. For inspiration, YogaGlo runs subscription-based online classes and Yoga with Adrienne provides free YouTube tutorials.
  • Stretch while listening to a song or soothing radio station such as Classic FM.
  • Download short fitness routines on YouTube. Jessica Smith TV and PopSugar Fitness provide 10-minute solutions.
  • When going to work, get off the train or tube a few stops early and run or walk from there.
  • Walk the stairs, skip elevators and escalators.

Rise & Shine

Many lawyers find it easier to fit in any physical exercise before breakfast or work, as it makes them feel great for the rest of the day and boosts their metabolism. If they can refrain from checking their phones and messages before working out, they’re more likely to just get up and exercise rather than start scrolling down long to-do lists. Here are a few ideas to spice up your mornings.

Cycle to Work

If you work at an office in the city and can plan your route along cycling lanes, riding a bicycle to work is one of the best ways to workout without realising it.Plus, you need to get to work anyway – you might as well make your work commute 100% beneficial to your physical health. Not only is it budget-friendly, but it also helps improve pollution in the city and you get to enjoy open skies year-round.

Whether you are a Strava cyclist or a casual user of self-service bicycles, cycling increases your cardiovascular fitness and decreases stress levels. Check existing Cycling Superhighways to navigate London streets via safe and fast cycling lanes. Sophie, Obelisk Support‘s Operations Manager, cycles over 20K per day to get to work, using a combination of city streets and cycling superhighways.

Navy Seal Challenge

Hardcore lawyers might want to try the Navy Seal 4.30am challenge, which assumingly, help you get a jump on the day when nobody else is awake yet, giving you the opportunity to do things that you need to get done selfishly for yourself, such as working out. It might not feel good at 4.30am when you get up, but – by the time 7am rolls around, and you’ve already worked out, already got some work done, and you’ve still got some time to say goodbye to your kids before they go to school – you’ll feel totally in control of your life.

Of course, the tradeoff is going to sleep early at night and as this video shows, it’s probably the hardest part.

Morning Swim Routine

If you can’t stomach waking up at 4.30am, try going to pre-breakfast gym or swim classes. Laure, Marketing Manager at Obelisk Support, is an avid open water swimmer. She swims between 3 and 10K a week, all before work. Swimming helps her keep a bad lower back in check and open water swimming boosts her immune system year round, keeping seasonal allergies and winter colds at bay.

Her swim routine includes

  • Two weekly masters swim classes from 6.30 to 7.30am (before breakfast and school),
  • One to three open water swims between school drop-off and work, and
  • One or two weekend open water swims (before breakfast).

If you have a swimming pool near you that opens before 6.30am, try to plan on being there at opening time for 30 minutes three times a week to relax your muscles and stretch with your swimming stroke of choice.

Workout with Project Awesome

In London, Bristol and Edinburgh, Project Awesome is a community of people who offer “free, fun, badass workouts in your city,” kickstarting your day the awesome way. Yes, they’re early birds and they meet at 6.30am. Yes, they’re city folks and understand that healthy habits set you up in the right direction for the day. Also, they’re friendly and tend to join group events to motivate you going the extra mile.

Follow them on Twitter (here for London, here for Edinburgh, here for Bristol) for updates on future meet-ups and be ready for some serious silliness.

 

Night Bird Habits

If your kids think that sleeping is overrated, or your lunch hour is not an option because you’re on flexible schedules, then exercising after work and after dinner are great options too. Here are a few ideas.

  • Sign up for adult dance classes in the evening, preferably with a partner or friend to make it more fun.
  • Go on a 4 to 5K run after work with your kids as they ride their bikes (kills two stones in one go, your fitness and your kids’).
  • Go for a walk around the block with a friendly neighbour after dinner, which takes care of your social and exercise needs.
  • In London, GoodGym organises evening runs with a charitable purpose, running to help out older people with one-off practical tasks that they are no longer able to do on their own.
  • If the weather or circumstances don’t cooperate, try Leslie Sansone Walking at Home YouTube videos to … walk at home.

Fit Lawyers on Social Media

Some corporate lawyers have thousands of social media followers and it’s not necessarily for their legal skills. Check out the following for fitness inspiration:

When the work week is over, you can enjoy your weekend and take a rest. Or, if you feel like indulging, go out for a morning run, a walk outdoors and exercise some more!

 

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Returning Lawyer

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at a City law firm from 1996 to 1998 and worked in their corporate department until 2000 in international securities offerings, M&A transactions and general corporate and commercial work. In 2000, she worked as assistant editor on Global Counsel magazine and in 2001, took a career break for family reasons and raised four children.

Twelve years later in 2013, she heard about Obelisk Support through a friend and with her children in school, she was ready to return to a professional career. She onboarded as an Obelisk consultant and in February 2015, interviewed to work for White & Case in their advisory practice within a busy private equity team. They wanted someone with corporate experience, someone who would be happy to muck in and help out. This was perfect for E who was selected out of four lawyers and joined the team shortly after.

E’s story is a very inspiring one for anyone who thinks that they’ve been out of the legal world for too long. When you are determined and hard-working, you can do it.

Corporate Lawyer

Bilingual French/English, this UK-qualified lawyer started her career as a paralegal and then joined Puxon Murray LLP in 2009 where she trained and qualified as a corporate solicitor.  It was a small firm (two partners) with a mainly SME- client base but she gained great experience in corporate, litigation and some IP, trademark work. She had done some translation work as well, and had experience in telecoms (company sale/ agreements/ regulation/data protection).

She left in 2014 as she really wanted to progress her career and became a freelance lawyer.

In 2014, she found out about Obelisk on LinkedIn and signed up as an Obelisk legal consultant.

In April 2015, White & Case asked for “a lawyer on 3-month contract, a lawyer to support some senior lawyers in their team with general corporate work, private equity and private company experience.” She interviewed with two other lawyers and was selected, starting right away. The 3-month contract ended up lasting over a year at which point, White & Case was so enthusiastic with her work that they offered her a permanent position.

For D, a freelancing career was a springboard to permanent employment in the legal industry.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified banking lawyer started at CMS Cameron McKenna in 1991 and rapidly climbed the corporate ladder. After six years, she was recruited by ING as an in-house lawyer advising on corporate and institutional finance. Primarily responsible for advising all levels of staff in corporate banking (including senior management), she was vice-president of the legal department.

Six years later, in 2003, she took a three-year career break and, in 2006, worked for a British law firm until 2009.   

In early 2013, four years into her career break, she read an article in The Wall Street Journal about Obelisk and was very interested in the model and the commitment it made to reactivating female talent. Almost 20 years PQE, she was ready to get back in the legal world.

In December 2014, through Obelisk, she became legal consultant for her former company, ING. Her alumni experience gave her a unique insight into ING’s culture, making her both a perfect culture fit as well as the lawyer with the right experience. All her work is done remotely, from home. Her work was so appreciated that, in March 2017, ING asked her to take on some additional work on another project in corporate finance.

Obelisk also recognised her as one of its star consultants at our annual awards in 2016.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at a Silver Circle law firm and specialised as a corporate lawyer post qualification, before acquiring solid expertise in prime finance at two different investment banks. However after several years in-house, she found herself at a crossroads.

Balancing work and parenthood was difficult, even on a flexible schedule, and she had to consider her career progression.

A few months later, she stopped working at the bank. After a three-year career break, interested in flexible consulting, she contacted Obelisk Support and became an Obelisk legal consultant. Shortly after, the right role came up for her.

Linklaters  was looking for legal support within the Financial Regulation Group. It was a perfect match with this lawyer’s expertise. Given her seniority and depth of expertise, feedback from partners at the law firm was very positive. They found her very thorough and careful, very good at taking points away and working through them, and good at finding appropriate knowhow in the group.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, Work

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at Walker Martineau in 1980 and went on to work 20 years at Sinclair Roche & Temperley, first as a solicitor and finally as a managing partner. In 2002, he became partner of two subsequent law firms until in 2005, his career changed course and he worked seven years at Ince & Co. In May 2014, he was made redundant.

He was 30+ years PQE.  Not an easy proposition in a market hungry for younger lawyers.

Three months later in August 2014, he contacted Obelisk Support and became an Obelisk legal consultant. His first job at Obelisk, with a large banking group, came in 2015 and, as it was successful, he started getting more confident working as a freelance lawyer. In 2017, a global law firm interviewed him for a senior experienced project finance lawyer position. He couldn’t do it right then, because of other commitments, but if they would wait a few months, he could.

Impressed by his expertise, the global law firm offered him a flexible hours job that he started in January 2018. Based on his experience in similar projects, he was able to scope the job and kept his team updated as and when he was progressing on the complex documents. A freelance career gave him the control he needed at a stage of his life when the legal industry is not the most supportive.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, Work

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Gareth is a UK-qualified lawyer who trained at a Silver Circle law firm in 1992 and worked for several law firms, specialising in finance, asset finance, derivatives and syndicated loans until 1997. With 7 years law firm experience, he was headhunted to join the in-house team of a global bank, becoming a transactional lawyer dealing with the suite of legal documents, as well as a regulatory element.

From 1999 to 2005, he worked for Barclays first in London, then in Hong Kong, but in 2008, felt it was time to come back to the UK. He had a young family by then and was offered the chance to come into the family business, a school furniture manufacturer, with his father.  He remained with the company until 2014, then worked in wealth management until 2017 but he missed being a lawyer.

He contacted Obelisk in March 2017 and was onboarded shortly after as an Obelisk consultant. In June 2017, Barclays contacted Obelisk – they were looking for a banking and finance lawyer for the Debt Advisory team, someone who had experience with LMA style facility agreements or debt structuring or lending/security taking. Out of 14 legal consultants, Gareth was selected and in July 2017, started his first freelance legal role as a returner at Barclays, a role that boosted his confidence in a rapidly-changing market.

He went on to win an Obelisk award in 2017.

Thanks to Barclays, Gareth made a successful comeback on the legal scene.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Tobacco Company

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at CMS Cameron McKenna from 2003 to 2005 and went on to work in their Mergers & Acquisitions department until 2007. Thanks to her experience, she joined the corporate legal department at Channel 4 where she supported on commercial and corporate work. In 2009, she went on to work for a UK Government Department, supporting aircraft financing transactions, commercial contracts and requests related to the Freedom of Information Act.

Then, she went on maternity leave.

In 2015, after a six-year career break, she was ready to get into the workforce and contacted Obelisk. We thought that she was both a great lawyer and a great person.

In 2016, a global tobacco company gave her the break she needed to regain her legal footing. They had “an unprecedented amount of M&A activity and were looking for a full time legal secondee to do M&A work.” They interviewed her twice and, impressed, offered her a role at the client’s offices. This was a fresh start for this legal consultant who’s been actively working for Obelisk clients ever since and won an Obelisk award in 2017.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, Work

Working as a freelance lawyer means continually being on the lookout for new clients and new projects, and this means that you are likely to be frequently asked to interview for a job or gig. At Obelisk Support, we provide preparation tips for our legal consultants before they head to client interviews and decided to share the most common questions below. Some of these meetings or phone and Skype calls can be more formal than others, so it’s often more difficult to navigate expectations and put yourself and your experience across in the way you want to. With the help of some video tutorials from career experts, here are our top interview tips to help you bag your dream role.

Common Curveball Questions

No matter how many interviews we experience, there are always those dreaded questions that leave us stumped for an authentic and effective response. These are some of the most common curveballs you are likely to face, and ways to tackle them:

  • “Tell me about yourself…”

This question is so open-ended, it’s hard to know what interviewers are looking for. Of course, you should summarise your experience and achievements, but the interviewer doesn’t want to hear just a rundown of your CV, which they will have in front of them. You need to tell the story of your career – what has led you on your chosen career path and what brings you to the interview today. They want to get a sense of the kind of person you are and how you would fit into the organisation. If you come across as insincere, inauthentic and too scripted here, that will work against you. That said, you should also avoid going into too much detail about your personal life.

Career strategist Linda Raynier tells us more in her video:

  • “How did you handle a difficult situation?” (also phrased as ‘how did you meet/overcome a challenge?’ or similar)

Generally speaking, every behavioural question like this asked in an interview should be answered with an example from previous experience or specific reasoning illustrating the approach you take.

But how do you choose the right example and explain in a way that presents you at your best? Again, your storytelling skills come into play. You need to tell a tale of resilience, of listening, adapting and managing to produce a successful outcome, with you at the centre of it all.

For the best answer, use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) as demonstrated here:

  • “What is your greatest weakness?”

This question aims to decipher how much self awareness you have, and give an indication of how you handle constructive criticism.

In spite of what you may have heard, recruitment experts advise against taking a known strength and making it sound like a weakness!

The Scharff Tank advises the best way to approach this question is to make it specific to the job you are applying for. For example, you might have no industry experience as you are looking to branch out into a different area, but you can use the opportunity to remind the interviewer of the different transferable skills and knowledge you can bring to the table. Or, identify an area you would like to improve that is connected to the role (but is not a critical aspect of it).

  • “Do you have an questions for us?”

Why does an interviewer ask this? It’s not just to round off the interview. It’s a chance to cement your genuine interest in the job in the interviewer’s mind, and an opportunity for you to gain real personal insight into the company and role — beyond the job description and website. Candidates who don’t have any questions can leave the interviewer puzzled. Does the candidate have enough curiosity or self-initiative to succeed in this position? If the candidate finds herself/himself in a situation where they’re missing information, will they proactively ask for it?

You should always prepare questions for the interviewer, showing that you’ve done your homework and researched not only the position but the company culture or people on the team. Of course, you could stick to the safe answer of asking about next steps in process, but here are some suggestions from Work It Daily to help you find out if the job is really the right fit for you:

– ‘How did you come to work here?’

– ‘What do you like most about working here?’

– ‘How is performance measured within the company?’ (variation: ‘How do you measure success in this job?’)

– ‘Anything you wish I had mentioned about my skills that would make me a better fit for the role?’

– ‘How do you work with your colleagues?’

Remember to ask open-ended questions and not questions with yes/no answers.

Key Approaches in a Legal Interview

Most legal interviews are a mix of competency and technical questions, reaching into your commercial and business knowledge relevant to the company and industry.

#1 Do Your Homework

It’s important to show you are always thinking and updating your knowledge, particularly if you have been out of the industry for a career break. So. As well as researching the company, you will want to spend a good amount of time reading trade press and getting up to speed with current goings on in that particular area of work. Don’t forget to have a good read-through of your CV too and prepare for specific questions that might be asked about particular areas of experience you have listed!

Interviewers like to see that candidates have prepared diligently in advance, beyond the official website of the company. That is simply not enough.

  • Go on social media, research the company culture and members of the legal team to get a feel for who they are.
  • Use company review websites such as GlassDoor to find internal feedback by current employees.
  • Make use of any contacts connected with the company to help you prepare.

#2 Be Yourself

Being knowledgeable and professional is vital but they don’t want a robot either, so don’t be shy about putting your personality on show. Be ready to discuss your hobbies and activities outside of work to build a more complete picture of what motivates and inspires you.

#3 Be Confident

Another characteristic that legal recruiters look for is assertiveness and the ability to own your career and achievements, so make sure you claim your experience when talking. Say ‘I did this’ – don’t speak with passive voice or say ‘we’ (except when demonstrating your ability to work in a team of course!). Also, look your interviewers in the eye during conversation and don’t get distracted by mobile phones or outside people. This is your time to shine, make the best use of it.

For more, here is some useful guidance from Herbert Smith Freehills for interviewing for an international city law firm training contract:

Confidence, Presentation and Body Language

If you have the ability but find your belief and confidence can let you down, there are ways to build yourself up before an interview.

First, there’s no such thing as over preparing – going in knowing you have worked to research the company, prepare stories and answers for as many possible question as you can helps build confidence.

Nerves can lead to rambling and mind blanks, so be sure to concentrate on taking a breath before questions and try not to rush towards the main point or the end of your sentence. Bear in mind the interviewer will give you space to speak and you are not going to be interrupted or spoken over, so take your time.

Remember that they invited you to the interview. They will have seen something in you already.  They want to know more about you, and aren’t trying to catch you out. The interviewer wants you to do well as they want to find a good candidate– no one wants a bad interview!

Smart, clean clothing for presentation go without saying, but comfort is also key. Comfortable dressing makes for better posture and makes you feel more confident. Many people have a go to dress or suit for presentation or big meetings, so stick with the clothing you feel at your best in and is connected with other successful moments in your life.

Of course, it’s not just about what you wear. Your body language plays a big part in making an impression. Remember to sit up, use your hands while speaking, make eye contact, and smile and nod gently when being spoken to.

See more below:

Phone Interview Tips

The phone interview is a commonplace occurrence for freelance lawyers, particularly if the majority of your work is remote. This lends a particular challenge to the interview as you do not have the benefit of observing body language and facial expressions to easily gauge tone and reaction. For starters, read these tips on how to interview on the phone.

Beyond that, try not to let that worry you, just concentrate on the questions being asked and answer them as you would in person.

As you would in person, take your time. Don’t feel you have to fill every moment of silence – it’s better to listen right through to the end of the questions and take a couple of seconds to gather your thoughts.

Keep answers clear and to the point – the interviewer will ask you for more details if required.

Finally, make sure you take the call in a place with no distractions – close down everything on your computer except for what you need for the interview, and turn off all notifications/call waiting functions. Don’t forget to thank the interviewer for their time and follow up with an email immediately afterwards.

Good luck in your next interview. You can do it!

 

 

Making Work, Work

Studies show that lawyers are particularly susceptible to unhealthy lifestyle choices and stress, but this lawyer who runs bucks that trend. Loren Zitomersky, known as Backwards Guy on Twitter and Facebook, has an athletic record that would put to shame most extremely fit people. From 1,426-mile bicycle rides to yearly marathons and an Ironman, he never stops.

At Obelisk Support, we support a healthy lifestyle in the legal profession and are in awe of Loren’s achievements. The best part is that he’s doing all this for charity, to raise awareness about epilepsy. The Attic caught up with this lawyer, who runs before work, less than a month before his next goal – to run all 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon backwards (yes, literally backwards running) and attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon ever run backwards (3 hours, 43 minutes, 39 seconds – about an 8:30 min/mile average pace).

Hold on to your hat.

First, Tell Us What Do You Do in Your Day Job?

I’m a motion picture production attorney at Disney.  I work in the live-action motion picture production group and advise producers and Disney executives on legal matters pertaining to Disney movies.  I essentially act as the general counsel on the movies.  Most of my time is taken up negotiating and drafting talent (actors, writers, producers, directors) agreements, but my job encompasses a lot.  The most recent movie that I was the production attorney on that has been released was the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.”

How Important is Fitness to Your Life?

VERY important.  I’ve ran 7 marathons, completed an Ironman and done many triathlons.

How and When Did you Start Running Backwards?

I’ve been raising money and awareness for epilepsy for 20 years (over $300,000 raised to date), and I had told myself that if I qualified for the Boston Marathon, I would do something big for my fundraising and awareness campaign for the Boston Marathon.  I qualified at the Mounts 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura, California with a time of 3:00:14 last June.  I stumbled upon the record for the fastest marathon ever run backwards (3:43:39 – about an 8:30 min/mile average pace) and I thought I could beat that time and raise a ton of money and awareness for epilepsy at the same time.

How Do You Combine Training with Work?

Being a lawyer who runs is difficult.  I have been waking up super early in the morning and getting my backwards runs done early so that my day is clear for work, but it definitely is a juggling act.  My employer Disney has been very supportive of what I am doing.

Tell us about Epilepsy and the Boston Marathon

One in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime, which is a crazy statistic.  The reason most people don’t know that epilepsy is so common is because no one talks about it.  People are afraid to talk about it.  They’re afraid of being judged, losing their job, losing their driver’s license and/or having a stigma attached to them.  I’m trying to change that and talk as much as I can to bring epilepsy out in the open.

How Can People Support You?

People can visit BostonBackwards.com to learn more and make a donation if they feel inclined (hopefully!).  Also, I just launched a challenge called “26 Steps Backwards to End Epilepsy,” and I’m super excited about it!  More info is on my website at bostonbackwards.com/26steps.

Words of fitness advice to other lawyers?

Always have a passion outside of work.  I think that is very important.

Bio

Loren Zitomersky was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, attending UCLA for undergrad and then later Pepperdine Law School in Malibu.  He is a motion picture production attorney at the Walt Disney Studios. He has two brothers, loving parents and a very supportive wife, Rose. In his free time, he runs backwards.

Making Work, Work

At Obelisk Support, we work more and more with legal operations departments in companies and recently attended a CLOC event in London. There, we met Aine Lyons, head of Worldwide Legal Operations and Chief of Staff for VMware’s General Counsel. VMware is a global leader in cloud infrastructure & digital workspace technology. In addition to her day job, Aine is also a regular speaker and writer for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) on legal operations topics and is the founding member of, and European lead for, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC).

Aine graciously agreed to share her experience and words of wisdom on what it means to work in legal ops in 2018, as well as how businesses can benefit from a legal ops infrastructure.

What Do You Do and How Long Have You Been Doing It?

Aine Lyons: I’ve been in-house counsel at several technology companies. Until recently, I served in traditional lawyer roles: substantive legal issues and business advice. VMware hired me for my legal expertise in 2007. But, in 2010, while I was serving as the GC for EMEA our new GC asked if I was interested in a legal ops role, and I responded: “absolutely not.” I was concerned about moving into a career path that was still in the nascent stages for the industry.

VMware is headquartered in Palo Alto. The GC was based there and knew that the legal ops role was emerging in Silicon Valley. I was, and remain, in Ireland. At the time, I’d only vaguely heard of legal ops and did not know much about the scope or impact of the role.

My GC asked that I come over on a fact-finding mission. That’s when I encountered the core of what would become CLOC. In the beginning, there were only 10 to 12 of us, but it was clear to me that my GC had identified something transformative. My hard No turned into an emphatic Yes. We created a global legal ops role. I founded a team. We now design and deliver the strategy and critical infrastructure for a 167-person legal function spread across 26 different locations around the world to deliver innovative legal services that truly drive’s company success.

What is Legal Ops?

AL: Legal ops is the professionalisation of management within a legal department. It is a multi-disciplinary role responsible for optimising legal service delivery. Or, in common shorthand, we’re the ones who run legal like a business and find ways to do more with less. Essentially, we are change agents that transform legal functions by convincing them to operate differently. We disrupt the status quo and are the urgency drivers for GCs to transform their departments.

Legal ops’ core premise is that legal expertise is essential to business outcomes—there are no legal problems, only business problems with legal dimensions. GAP is a business challenge that Legal helps the business to navigate. Our mandate is to leverage that expertise through process and technology so we, as a legal function, can meet the intertwined business challenges of scale and complexity. We ensure lawyers are put to their highest and best use – that requires being a catalyst for change.

Legal ops professionals are systems engineers: We’re designing the legal department of the future. We’re finding ways to eliminate drudgery and maximise yield from available resources. Again, legal ops is multidisciplinary – it includes leveraging business intelligence, managing outside spend, allocating internal resources, and creating technology-infused, scalable solutions that can bend the legal cost curve.

How Does Legal Ops Fare in a Global Tech Company?

AL: I’ve been in role now for six years and I’m loving it. The key of successful legal ops is being able to influence other senior leaders and create buy-in. You can’t do legal ops on your own. Achieving operational excellence is a team sport.

I’m responsible for maintaining and iterating on the department’s long-term strategic vision. Two years ago, we had a big reflection on our identity. Who are we? We changed our mantra to ‘fearless legal innovators.’ We wanted everybody in the department to have the same DNA around law. We wanted to break the mould.

My sense is that the audacity of ambition is easier at a tech company. Innovation is a core competency here. Experimentation is inherently valued, but that still doesn’t make it easy. We’ve had the good fortune to win several industry awards. Awards, however, can be misleading – they are highlight reels, they obscure a messy reality.

Part of that reality is that successful tech companies, despite all the unique cultural attributes emanating from Silicon Valley, operate with rigor and discipline. We have an acute focus on the bottom line. Every quarter, we get a specific budget and are asked to become more efficient. Each following budget has to be +/- 2% from the previous budget. This forces us to think outside the box and to use new technologies.

As guidance each year, we take the CEO’s goals and see how they can be applied to the legal department. One such goal was to improve the customer experience, so in legal we took it as improving the legal contracting experience. Many business functions wanted to understand what we’d agreed to with their partners. The legal team broke down the core revenue contracts into their component parts and rebuilt them as modular templates. This led to contract automation for standard contracts and now, we have handed this aspect of the business over to other departments. As a result, the legal team works on non-standard contracts and has worked hard to develop a robust, automated contract workflow that has cut drafting times in half and reduced escalations by 74%.

Our overarching goal is to bring value to the business and contribute to the global growth. Without goals, it’s difficult to articulate what we bring to the business. Everything we do in legal is aligned to our business priorities.

What’s a Typical Day at Work?

AL: My typical day starts around 10am because I may not finish until 9pm at night. A lot of my team are in the U.S. or other jurisdictions.

First comes email triage. If you get lost in emails immediately, you can lose several hours. But some emails are urgent. I respond to those immediately and come back to others later.

Based on what was in my inbox, I update my diary—a list of things I need to get done on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis. Every quarter, our team prioritises. We really do have a plan and we know what success looks like. If we don’t achieve it, we address it.

In the morning, I also talk to our outsourcer. Managed by two lawyers based in New York, we consider these 44 people to be an extended arm of our team.

Assuming there are no fires to be put out, I move on to strategic projects. Recently, for example, we created a self-service NDA portal with electronic signature for our 22,000 employees. Next quarter, we will use AI technology to read NDAs on paper, comparing customer NDAs to our templates and playbooks. The NDA will be tagged with different colours – green for ‘not review’, yellow for ‘needs annotated’ and red for ‘needs review’. I try to spend the early part of the day making sure I am pushing the ball forward on those types of major initiatives—the kind of things that never get done if you leave them until later.

I also spend a fair amount of time on calls with other VPs reviewing goals, success metrics, and budgets.

In addition, I am responsible for talent development. Inside the legal team, we need to be more multidisciplinary. Most people on the team are not traditional lawyers and we need to train them to use more tech and tools. Do our people have a mentor, where do we see them going, do we need to upskill or expand their skills? We just launched a new training plan. In May, we’ll bring 167 people together in Palo Alto for team-building activities and a two-day leadership event.

Finally, I keep informed on the industry. CLOC and ACC are essential for that. What are other in-house legal teams doing? What are the new technology offers?

What is Your Take on the Rise of Legal Ops in the UK & CLOC?

AL: Legal ops is one of the most exciting areas in the legal market. More than half of law departments now report having a legal ops role. This year at the Las Vegas CLOC event in April, we’ll have over 2,000 people.

CLOC Board

I’m a founding member of CLOC in Europe. I’d been part of the US group and was offered to expand in Europe on behalf of CLOC. We’ve had four meetings so far. I really appreciate the willingness of these GCs, such as Katie from Lloyds who’s very active on diversity issues. Since the Europe CLOC conference in January, we’ve had lots of new contacts. For instance, The Law Society is asking about training for new lawyers/lawyers of the future.

All GCs are feeling the pressure. I mean, look at the regulations in the legal industry. GDPR is coming in May. All this complexity is combined with the pressure from CFOs to manage legal resources effectively and do things differently. As a result, a lot of GCs see the value of a legal ops role.

In the UK, they are starting to hire for the role. Thanks to CLOC, I’ve discovered colleagues who I didn’t know were already doing it. Getting our collective voice heard is great for the industry. The emergence of this role shows that the shift in legal service delivery is real. It demonstrates that the legal industry is changing. For years, IT and HR seemed to have transformed themselves while legal remained stagnant. It turned out there was all manner of innovation happening beneath the surface in law departments.

What about law firms? Some are starting to hire transformation leads. But clients remain the urgency drivers. If the client is telling a law firm that they need to change, that helps the law firm transformation lead overcome the traditional resistance to innovation, which absolutely has to happen.

Last Question, Because We All Need our Daily Source of Energy. Coffee or Tea? 

AL: I aspire to be an herbal tea drinker – roasted rice green tea is my favorite – but I often give in to a creamy latte!