Photography Competition Awards Ceremony
Obelisk In Action

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

Winner

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

Highly commended

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

Commended

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.

Farfetch homepage
Obelisk In Action

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.”

 

 

 

Making Work, Work

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.

© iamjuanitaingram

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.

© The Legal Eagle Mummy

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.

Kathy Kass is a New York Attorney who spends weekends and holidays travelling and taking part in marathons, documenting her travels online

The anonymous Caffelawyer is a lawyer working for a magic circle firm in London, splitting his time between London and Milan.

© Caffelawyer

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

© Vacayvans

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.

Making Work, Work

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!

 

Punctuation in Legal Writing
Making Work, Work

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.

For further explanation of commas and clauses, this blog by Purdue Online Writing Lab comes with plenty of examples.

Punctuation in Translation

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.

Quotation Quandaries

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.

For example:

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.

Semicolon Use

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.”

Final Checks

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.

Happy writing!

Making Work, Work

Change management is always tricky as it’s one thing to make a change, but quite another to convince people to change – especially lawyers in the traditionally change-averse legal profession. We reached out to Jennifer Emery, author of Leading for Organisational Change: Building Purpose, Motivation and Belonging, to discuss how legal teams, lawyers and general counsels can become better at change management and harness the power of change to innovate and be the best they can be.

#1 Tell us about yourself and your work at Arup

I am currently in a new role at Arup as their Global Leader for People and Culture. This is a new departure for me after almost 20 years in law, originally as a lawyer and then on the strategy and business side of law firms and most recently, leading the merger and integration team at CMS, Nabarro and Olswang. Off the back of that merger, I made a scary mid-career leap into the designing, engineering and architecture sector. In lots of respects, it’s very similar to law, and in lots of other respects, it’s very different.

My brief at Arup is to take what is already a purpose-led, values-driven top quality firm and help it take the next step in its evolution. Arup is now 75 years old, it started small, it’s built on networks and relationships and we now have 16,000 people across 80 offices worldwide. I’m aiming at delivering a vision of the way forward by the end of this calendar year but as always, and it’s true for law firms too, the real challenge will be in the execution of the transformation and that will take three to five years.

#2 How can legal team leaders empower lawyers who traditionally value autonomy?

In my book on organisational change, I refer to the concept of empowerment and how people like to have a say in how things are done. Given that lawyers value autonomy, have opinions and are articulate about these opinions, doing anything other than seeking to empower them is much harder and is destined to fail. In the context of change, it doesn’t work well to see people as passive recipients, victims almost, of a process of change. They will respond much better if they understand the rationale behind something and if they feel involved so that they feel that they are making a meaningful contribution.

For lawyers, it’s very important to make the intellectual case for what you are doing. Lawyers are very uncomfortable with ambiguity, as are we all, but lawyers more than most. In any change project, give as much certainty as you can and be as clear as you can about what we do know. When you’ve done that, that’s where the autonomous traits of lawyers kick in. Being clear about parameters, and then giving lawyers the maximum possible chance to get involved and shape the outcome is what gets them on board.

Practical examples:

  • At macro-scale, one of the success factors behind the relatively smooth delivery of the CMS merger smoothly was that everyone was crystal clear about the rationale and commercial purpose of what we were doing. It was different for all three parties but all three groups of people knew what we were doing and why.
  • At a more detailed level underneath that, you may be making changes to how billing processes work, for example, or trying to align different groups of people onto a single grade structure. Make it clear that various options were considered and that this is why your proposed approach is the best option for now, and here is what we might do in the future. Be transparent. The mistake that we make sometimes is that we are in such a hurry that we present people with a fait accompli rather than being willing to share the insights. That’s disempowering and irritating for people.

This sort of openness and transparency is particularly important with lawyers because they can tend to assume that you haven’t done the thinking until proven otherwise. We are trained as lawyers to find an argument, to catch the loophole and the reason why something might not work. If you are willing to show that lawyers on your team that you have applied thought and rigour, and that while the option you’re presenting might not be the perfect one, on balance it’s the best, then you’ve got a winning argument. Lawyers will go with that, rather than being presented with a statement that they think has had no thought applied to it.

#3 Is the fact that lawyers are notoriously risk-adverse impacting the change process?

Everybody has to some extent adverse reactions when we are faced with change because it’s how our brains are wired. If something is unknown, we perceive it as a threat – we have the same neurological response as if we were being chased by a tiger! For lawyers, that tendency is hard-wired in and substantiated by their training. When we are acting for clients, we are effectively minimising risk for them. But being risk-adverse is good. It brings rigour and requires people who are making the case for change to be robust.

#4 How do you deal with friction and conflict when changing a legal team?

There’s a degree of unrest and uncertainty that comes simply by virtue of changing. In some contexts, that can manifest itself for some people as being defensive and you can end up with a bit of conflict that way. It helps to understand what is going on for individuals and for that, there’s a neurological model developed by David Rock called the SCARF model that I often refer back to:

  • S stands for status. Something’s happening and the person feels that they are not on secure ground anymore. It can be anything like a change of technology that makes the person feel that they are losing some standing in the eyes of others.
  • C stands for confidence or certainty.
  • A stands for autonomy. “I used to do things my way and now you’re telling me to do things another way. I don’t like that.”
  • R stands for relationship. In the case of a merger, you may be threatening the close working relationship of people who have been together for years or you may be asking them to work for new people.
  • F stands for fairness. Are you dealing equitably with everybody?

On dealing with conflict on a one to one basis, understanding where people are coming from, what may be happening for them on a human level, will help you address those concerns better.

More generally, in the case of conflict, leaders need to show that they can listen and allow people to explain what they are cross about. Leaders need to be a human being in the room and empathise with their team members. Understanding where the pain points are is a great start. There’s a good chance you will be able to make little changes, little course adjustments, that can make a lot of difference. Just as lawyers do for a living, seek to reach compromise.

Last but not least, let’s not forget the power of storytelling in change management for legal teams. It’s a mechanism that’s really helpful with lawyers. Stories work differently in our brains to fact. You are 22 times more likely to remember a story than fact. A lot of what I was doing during the merger was telling stories, finding people’s stories. That methodology of change, showing lawyers the story of a peer that they respect and that really works – it’s a different sort of sense-making and can help to take the heat out of a situation.

#5 How can general counsels help their team build skills for innovation and agility?

There’s no single factor that delivers agility. I think about a gymnast – to be truly agile, you need a really strong spine, and then you need to discard all the extraneous stuff that weighs you down. For a legal team, your purpose is that spine, along with the core systems and processes you absolutely need to keep yourself on track. Ask yourself these questions.

  • What is it that you are changing and why?
  • What are we doing here?
  • What is the purpose of the legal team in the organisation?
  • What must we do time and time again that adds value?
  • What are the robust processes that we need to keep everything on track?

Beyond that, the case is for shedding as much as you can so that you can remain sleek and agile.

Beyond that, once you’re agile and future-fit, fostering active innovation, has a lot has to do with curiosity, bravery, and ability to connect with other people. Read about tech and invest in your own learning. My favourite current read for inspiration is wired.com.

Practical example:

We always think that innovation is something huge but simple changes, thinking from the client’s perspective, thinking about the user design might make what you are currently doing even better.

At CMS, somebody came up with the idea to embed tiny animated YouTube videos in the auto signatures in Scotland because the methodology for executing legal documents is different in Scotland from what it is in England. Now the messages read, “Please find attached the documents that need to be executed. Please click here for a link to a short video explaining how to do it.” Adding video tutorials was one person’s idea over their lunch.

#6 How do you build cohesion across teams while encouraging diversity?

To solve complex problems, you need a huge diversity of opinions, backgrounds, perspectives and skills to come up with the best solution, but that only works if you’ve created a culture where everybody feels at home and everybody feels that they can participate to their best. You need a sense of inclusion.

In part, that comes with uniting people around a common purpose. We may all be different but we are all working towards a common goal and this creates a sense of belonging. However, there’s also a big interpersonal challenge there. You do need to invest time in knowing your team members well personally, there’s no shortcut, that’s how trust is built. The people in your team also need to have the same experience with each other.

Especially in remote teams, I’m increasingly really fond of doing something more structured such as using a strength inventory psychometric online tool to show the whole team who has what strengths. It will show how we might all work together and what everybody is good at. It gives a chance to people to work across silos together. It helps people appreciate each other and harvest the benefits of diversity.

#7 How will tech impact the future of work for the legal profession?

We spend a lot of time talking about the particular tools and about which bits of the lawyer’s job these tools are going to do for us. The market is still settling around what it wants but the reality is that lots of these tools will help lawyers do what has always been the most boring bits of their job. That’s a good thing.

The much more interesting and exciting part of the discussion is around what does that free lawyers up to do that AI cannot do?

  • Making fine judgments.
  • Balancing competing priorities.
  • Calls which require discretion.
  • Building relationships with clients.
  • Understanding what a good outcome is for clients.

How do we interface between being a lawyer and the machine and crucially, what do we do with the goldmine of data that we have? Lawyers don’t talk enough about the upsides of having access to data. How do you interrogate data to help support better decision making? That’s exciting – you can use that data to give better advice to your clients and come up with better solutions.

On a closing note, it is fairly clear that successful change is about a lot more than numbers even if numbers are part of the motivation. It is also refreshing to note that Jennifer Emery’s human-centric approach to organisational change applies beyond legal teams. Her sound advice provides inspiration for all meaningful changes, including life changes at large. You can find her book on Amazon and in all good bookstores.

You can follow Jennifer Emery on Twitter at @jenpens and on LinkedIn.

Obelisk CMS partnership
Obelisk In Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change
The Legal Update

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist, has a fair point when she says that adults should start behaving like adults and do something about climate change. In the legal sector, and more broadly in the services sphere, it’s not immediately obvious what we can do in our professional capacity to fight climate change. Unless you’re the GC of Greenpeace working to protect the planet, what are your options? This is why at Obelisk Support, we decided to help lawyers who fight climate change on a daily basis by harnessing the artistic talents of the law.

We are looking for the next Legal Photographer of the Year who can capture the effects of climate change in photographs. Is that you, or somebody you know?

Global Law Photography Competition

Launched on May 1, 2019, the Global Law Photography Competition is open to anybody working in the sector as well as law students and its theme is climate change. Meant to be inclusive, this competition invites all artistic talent in the legal sphere to join forces and put their brains together. That means that non-fee earners including secretaries, IT or operations staff and non-lawyers at law firms can enter the competition just as fee-earning lawyers to win two VIP tickets to Hamilton the Musical in London.

How Do You Capture Climate Change in Photographs?

At SXSW 2019, 2010 Alexia Grant Recipient Louie Palu presented “Arctic Passage”, a series of photographs frozen in large ice blocks. The melting ice blocks gradually revealed photographs shot around the Arctic, illustrating the effects of climate change on Arctic communities.

For the purposes of the Global Law Photography Competition, nobody needs to go to the Arctic or Antarctic to capture the effects of climate change. Sadly, climate change is already all around us. Here are some examples that we can all relate to:

  • Have you noticed your favourite flowers blooming earlier than usual?
  • Did last summer’s drought affect your travels or surrounding landscapes?
  • Have winter floods or storms affected you or people you know?
  • Have you noticed more extreme and changing weather patterns around you?
  • Have you witnessed forest/moor fires in areas where it’s unusual?
  • Are you thinking twice about driving short distances versus cycling or walking?
  • Have you found traveling on public transport uncomfortable because of summer heat waves?
  • Have you spotted invasive non-native plants or insects on your regular walks?
  • Are there less water-dwelling species in rivers, lakes and streams around you?
  • Tick season is now much longer than it was 20 years ago – how do you protect yourself and your house animals?
  • Have you noticed that seasonality of local fruit and vegetables has changed at your farmers market?
  • Do you see new ‘warm climate’ crops such as wine grapes where there used to be none?
  • Have you seen increasing signs of coastal erosion?
  • Have some traditional bird, insect, or mammal species populations around you gone down?
  • Do you eat less meat and dairy to mitigate the carbon footprint of your meals?

These are only a few examples of how climate change affects all of us, whether or not we are realising it.

How will the Global Law Photography Competition help?

The strategy is two-fold.

Fundraising for ClientEarth

For each photograph entered in the competition, ClientEarth will receive a donation from participants.

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect the planet and the people who live on it. They are lawyers and environmental experts who are fighting against climate change and to protect nature and the environment. With the planet in peril, they (and we) believe the law is one of the most effective tools that we have in the battle to save civilisation.

Raising Awareness about Climate Change

By capturing the tangible effects of climate change in photographs, competitors will challenge the status quo and help raise awareness about climate change, thus inspiring others to take steps towards reducing their carbon emissions.

After the competition, the photographs will be used as educational material and provided free of charge (pending artists’ permissions) to school and organisations who educate people on global warming and climate change.

There could be no better result of your artistic skills than to know that they can inspire others to act.

How to Submit your Photographs

Click here and submit your entry before June 1, 2019.

Good luck!

 

 

Making Work, Work

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

The Historical Case for Plain English Contracts

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

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

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

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

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

How GE Aviation opted for Plain English Contracts

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

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

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

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

How do other industries fare?

Legal UX in the Banking and Insurance Industry

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

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

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

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

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

Comic Contracts

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

What’s next – emoji contracts?

Helping you Kill your Legalese Darlings

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

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

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

 

Making Work, Work

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!