Making Work, Work

At Obelisk Support, we receive CVs of returning lawyers regularly, most of them accompanied by notes explaining why they took a career break. Whether it’s to have a family, to join family postings overseas or for health reasons, these lawyers come back to the law with a fresh perspective on their professional career and a desire to succeed. Our recruiting team reads all of them and after reviewing them, arranges individual interviews to learn about applicants who want to become legal consultants with us. Based on our recruiting team’s experience, the CV tips below are guidelines to help returning lawyers show future employers that they are the right person for the job.

#1 Proofread your CV for typos and jargon

This may sound obvious, but basic mistakes can prevent you getting to interview stage. Fine tuning a CV starts with checking it for spelling mistakes, including typos in company names.

  • Avoid shortcuts: acronyms or shortened names are not always obvious to everybody and might even cast a negative light on your CV if the reader needs to research their meaning. Use full names for companies, diplomas and professional accreditations.
  • Get to the point: when looking for lawyers to fill a particular position, our recruiting team likes to spot their expertise and skills clearly on a CV. Reading through paragraphs of waffly, flowery language or corporate jargon is time-consuming and confusing. Make sure your CV is honest and factual.

#2 Explain your career break

Life happens and career breaks are quite common. They are nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what you have been doing, explain the reasons for your career break and most importantly, what you have learnt during your time away from the law.

  • What have you learnt? During your career break, you’re bound to have picked up useful transferable skills without even realising it. Brought up a family? You’ll have great budgeting and timekeeping skills, as well as be able to handle responsibility. Gone travelling? You’ll have learnt about other cultures and maybe even picked up a new language. Taken over your family business? You’ll have learnt a lot about running a company and how legal fits into the grand scheme of things.

  • Explain any gaps. The following are good examples.
    • A career break for childcare and for a posting to Singapore with my husband.
    • Management role in my family’s entrepreneurial manufacturing company.
    • Brought up my two children, lived in America for my husband’s job.
    • Set up a business in Ecuador, teaching legal English.
    • Traveled in South East Asia volunteering for nature conservation programmes.

#3 Sell yourself

It’s not easy to sell yourself with confidence when you’ve been out of the workforce for an extended period. However, you need to learn to sell yourself so you can win that role and get back to the law.

  • Be a peacock! But be an honest peacock. Make sure that you can back any claim you make on paper with facts. Even if you don’t meet all the criteria of the job advert, you should feel confident that you can learn new skills on the job and still apply. Go ahead and be daring. Nobody can blame you for not knowing everything. With your solid training, you are able to look up answers to any questions once you get started. Let’s say it one more time: don’t under-value yourself.
  • Tailor your CV. When applying for any role, the employer will be looking for a specific set of skills. If you can tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for, you are increasing your chances to succeed. It helps to be creative too. If an experience is relevant to the future job, prospective employers want to hear about it. An award you’ve won for volunteering or an online certificate you’ve just completed can say a lot on your ability to fit with the company’s culture.

#4 First impressions matter

Quite literally, the first look at your CV will decide whether or not the reader carries on. On average, recruiters spend six seconds reviewing individual CVs. If the company you are applying for uses machine-reading tools for CVs, review time will be even shorter. Hence the importance of placing the right words in the right places.

  • Top is best. The top of your CV, like the top of your LinkedIn profile, is prime real estate to sell yourself. More specifically, it is where employers will look first (sometimes the only place they’ll look) so make sure the keywords and phrases from their job advert jump out at them from the top of the page.
  • Learn about keywords. In a nutshell, keywords are magic keys that can unlock any recruitment or matching process. Keywords let the employer know that you are qualified for the job. If you are not sure what keywords should be on your CV, look at the job description. If a company is looking for a finance lawyer with capital markets experience, these very words need to feature high on your CV. A simple LinkedIn search for the position you are applying for can yield all the necessary keywords you need on your resume. Obviously and as pointed out earlier, make sure you can back any claims you make on paper. If you apply for a commercial role at a FinTech company, expect to explain your expertise on financial regulations and e-commerce during the interview.

#5  Keep it short

Some CVs we receive at Obelisk Support can be as long as six or more pages long, including many paragraphs with bullet-point lists of skills, achievements and more. Information overload comes to mind. Keeping your CV short leaves room for in-person explanations during the interview and makes the interviewer’s job easier.

  • Two pages. The golden rule is you should keep your CV down to two pages, three pages tops. You don’t need to list all your professional career on a CV, as tempting as it is. Don’t waste precious space on jobs that are completely irrelevant to the post you’re applying for.
  • Include figures. While it may be tricky to quantify some of your earlier experiences, including figures in your CV definitely helps prospective employers appreciate your achievements. Here are a few examples:
    • Overseeing contract management for 100 companies.
    • Advising on and negotiating legal agreements, including sole legal responsibility for EUR 500 million for UK venture capitalist fund.
    • Leading a legal team of five in-house lawyers and external consultants with an annual budget of £800,000.
    • Advised client on its leveraged acquisition of a family entertainment provider (£450 million, 2012).

Now you are ready to apply and restart your legal career with new goals in mind. You may experience self-doubt at some point and job-hunting might not be all plain sailing, but remember the wise words of Lady Hale: “The main thing is that you simply cannot let it stop you doing what you actually know you really can do, or at least, think you can do. Or, assume you can do it until someone does find you out – why not?”

Indeed, why not? Good luck and believe in yourself!

 

 

Songs for Lawyers
Making Work, Work

A good playlist can turn chores into a dance party, power you through your work-out and make that 3-hour document review just about bearable. Here at the Attic, we know that in the legal profession long hours are more often the rule than the exception, so we set out to create a playlist with songs to fit just about every lawyer-ly moment to power you through to the weekend. 

Here’s a rundown of our top ‘lawyerly’ songs – make sure you give our spotify playlist a listen and add your favourite songs to your own playlists! 

For when you’re dealing with a demanding client 

“Will your lawyer talk to god?” by Kitty Wells

This relaxed old country music track brings attention to the dilemma lawyers often face, particularly in the corporate world. In Wells’ words “Man made laws to set you free on Earth, but is God satisfied? Will your lawyer talk to God for you?”

Pop this song on just before you need to advise your client for the 3rd time today.

For when you’re on your way to an important meeting 

“Greenback Boogie” by Ima Robot

This iconic track from Ima Robot notoriously known from the theme song of hit American tv show ‘Suits’. Plug this in on your way to your next big meeting to feel on top of your game. 

For the negligence lawyer

“Talk to my Lawyer” by Chuck Brodsky

No lawyer is a stranger to the complexities of negligence law, the constant concern of compensation culture and the most unlikely of cases which have developed. “Talk to my Lawyer” is a humorous satirical hit that is sure to put a smile on a negligence lawyer’s face – no matter the absurdity of the claims.  

Don’t despair, if you’ve got a witness according to Brodsky you’re set – “I’ve got a witness, to put a hand on the Bible, Jury jury hallelujah, somebody’s liable”.

For when your client is worrying about the impact of American politics on their business 

 “I’m Just a Bill” by Schoolhouse Rock

This song from the series Schoolhouse Rock is the perfect track when you’re writing up emails for that client that keeps fretting about any publication about Mr. Trump.

For when your client is refusing to settle

“Sue Me, Sue You Blues” by George Harrison

This classic by George Harrison will be sure to get you through that lengthy case file review with that client that has caught the “sue me sue you blues”.

For when you’ve scored that 3rd date

“Lawyers in Love” by Jackson Browne 

Contrary to popular opinion, lawyers do have lives outside of work – sometimes… For those exceptional times when you can leave the office in time for dinner, play this track to set the right mood.

For when your case didn’t go as planned

“I fought the law” by The Clash

This all time hit is the perfect song to pick yourself up out of that post-case slump. 

For when that client that’s always in trouble calls you at 5:25pm on Friday

“Lawyers, Guns and Money” by Warren Zevon

Some clients never seem to give you a break – pop this tune on to power you through those all hands on deck Friday night emergencies.  

For the Trainee still at Law School

“Law School” by Chocolate Ghost House

This light-hearted parody of Maroon 5s Payphone is the perfect song for trainees whose hours are never-ending and still need to pass those exams at the end of their 40-hour weeks. 

For when you’ve got that Friday commute home buzz

“Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley

Last not but least is this iconic hit by no other than the King of rock’n roll. This classic song is the perfect tune to get you ready for the weekend and let go of any pent up stress built up over the week!

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!

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.