Summer reading for lawyers - Magazines
Family & Work

Summertime and the living is easy, as the song goes. After long working days and a stressful COVID19 crisis, lawyers are looking forward to unwinding and enjoying some well-deserved rest before school starts again. How best to relax than to grab a chair and a book? Or it could also be a magazine and short stories.

After our popular series on podcasts for lawyers, songs for lawyers and blogs for lawyers, here comes our round-up of short stories and indie magazines for lawyers.

Short Stories

Packing a punch in less than 10,000 words and short enough to be read in one sitting, short stories make for a great summer reading experience. It’s fine if you don’t have hours to focus on the plot between breakfast and lunch and you can quickly get away in spirit to faraway lands and places. How do you find short stories?

A good place to start is your local bookstore. Short stories are often by the till, squeezed between snacks and fluffy notepads, the literary equivalent of sour candy by the cashier in supermarkets.

Classics

Solid values in short-stories include classic best-sellers.

Having written nearly 400 short stories, Stephen King is certainly a king of the genre, with that thriller / horror twist that make you jump and look around before turning the page. His most famous short stories include Children of the Corn, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Body (which became the movie Stand By Me) and The Mist.

Equally known for his novels and short stories, Haruki Murakami is a master of surrealistic and melancholic fiction. His recent collection of short stories Men Without Women features seven stories following the lives of whisky and jazz loving men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Expect bleak worlds, moods and atmospheres challenging readers to think deeper about topics that concern us all.

Crime queen Agatha Christie was also a prolific short story writer whose stories first appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. Readers are spoiled for choice with short stories collections around Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, or other classics such as The Harlequin Tea Set.

Another short story queen inspired Alfred Hitchcock with her craft. Daphne Du Maurier knew how to craft real people evolving in suspenseful, often supernatural plots. Her most famous short story is certainly The Birds but other pieces like The Doll, Kiss Me Again, Stranger or Monte Verita will satisfy any craving for imaginative, if unsettling, short fiction.

Other notorious short story writers include Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, Louise Erdrich and Virginia Woolf.

Modern Short Stories

Every year, the BBC and Cambridge University sponsor the BBC national short story award (NSSA) whose five shortlisted stories are recorded, produced and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 as well as published as the BBC NSSA anthology. The winning story is usually published in its entirety in The Guardian and makes for excellent prose to read on the go. Recent winning stories include The Invisible by Joe Lloyd (2019),  The Sweet Sop by Ingrid Persaud (2018) and The Edge of the Shoal by Cynan Jones (2017).

Reflecting on reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition, the AKO Caine Prize is an annual literary award for the best original short story by an African writer, whether in Africa or elsewhere, but published in the English language. In 2020, Nigerian-British author Irenosen Okojie won for her short story about a Grace Jones impersonator with a dark secret.

Magazines

At a time when the UK creative arts sector is hit so hard, readers can support publishers by buying independent magazines that reflect the wide variety of opinions and views that make our society so rich. Who knows, you might even discover your new favourite magazine.

The titles listed below can usually be bought from their websites. Shops that stock independent magazines include:

  • Magma Books, London (their Manchester branch is temporarily closed)
  • Stack offers subscriptions with a different magazine each month
  • Waterstones bookshops
  • Newsagents

Here is our short selection of great magazines for curious minds, looking out to the world even if locked down somewhere.

This London-based magazine has covered British contemporary art since 1976 and is Britain’s longest-running contemporary art magazine. From interviews to exhibition reviews, Art Monthly helps art lovers keep their finger on the pulse. They can also listen to Art Monthly Talk Show, the magazine’s monthly podcast on Resonance FM.

Prospect Magazine

A general-interest British magazine, Prospect brings to its readers ideas and trends behind the headlines and a contrarian view of topics. While other magazines deliver on general interest topics, Prospect is one of the few publications to feature mostly long essays, interspersed with quick reads, recurring columns and other type of reporting. Think of it as The New Yorker, London version. Adding to our list of short stories above, Prospect has also published the winning short story of the Royal Society of Literature’s V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize since 2009.

The Dawntreader

Small indie publishers are facing difficulties and you can help them out by buying a book or ordering a magazine. How more intriguing does it get than a small Devon-based literary magazine publishing poetry, prose and articles on myth, nature, spirituality and the environment? The Dawntreader gives readers the “opportunity to let the imagination run free”. Surely, an invitation to travel in spirit is very welcome after recent stressful months.

Cocoa Girl Magazine

Only a few months old, Cocoa Girl Magazine was born during lockdown when a mother searched for magazines that represented her six-year-old daughter Faith. Lack of diversity led them to embark on designing and printing the first ever UK magazine for young black girls aged seven to 14. True to its young demographic, Cocoa Girl only uses Instagram to communicate on social media with readers.

The Scots Magazine

If you’ve been dreaming of a Scottish Highlands fix but still can’t get there, The Scots Magazine can probably help with that. Allegedly the oldest magazine in the world (first published in 1739), The Scots magazine is the world’s best-selling Scottish-interest publication, containing articles on culture, history, nature and more., and is targeted at Scots at home and abroad. If you’re on Netflix, you’ll understand why the magazine needs to have an Outlander dedicated page with all things Diana Gabaldon, Jamie and Clare.

Country Walking

From the same publisher as Trail, Country Walking covers a ‘softer’ range of walking than its mountain-heavy sister mag, with the emphasis more on cream teas than crampons. Coastal strolls and lowland rambles sit alongside hilly and mountainous walking at the more forgiving end of the spectrum. Regular themed walks are especially fun, as well as the December issue that makes you feel like it’s winter wonderland all across the UK (gorgeous snowy pictures too). Last but not least: every month, Country Walking publishes 27 walks all across the country, printed on handy cut-out-and-keep cards.

Enjoy your reading!

Making Work, Work

The COVID crisis brought on a lot of questionable behaviours in people, but it also brought a lot of extraordinary deeds from people who helped total strangers through rough times. At Obelisk, as the pandemic spread, we started noticing examples of how much good can come from the legal profession. After we published our annual Lawyers who do good list in April 2020, we realised that we should publish a COVID19 edition of “Lawyers who do good” to reflect on how the legal profession got involved positively in times of crisis. Including a rebel legaltech entrepreneur, a music-writing law professor, a frontline supplier lawyer and summer vacation students on a mission, this sampler invites you to discover Law for Good in COVID19 times.

In the community with the song-writing law professor

A University of Calgary legal academic, associate professor Howard Kislowicz, found a creative way to alleviate food insecurity during the pandemic. As his family made efforts to grocery shop less often, the larger stocks of food in his house led him to consider how difficult this time must be for those with limited resources. As a Constitutional Law professor in Canada and music-lover/maker, he took to Twitter and offered to create songs in exchange for donations to local food banks. His main goals were to raise money for food banks, bring a bit of joy to people’s lives, and find a project to keep him feeling positive.

A long-time musician, Howard has been playing with longtime bandmate Shai Korman in the band What Does It Eat and in 2018, the law professor embarked on a long-haul project called “The Most Reasonable Album“, setting to music Canada’s 1982 Constitution Act. His COVID fundraising campaign included a song for a colleague at another law school in Canada about her dog, Scraps, a song for a colleague, a human rights lawyer, who wanted to celebrate her daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend, and a number of songs for people’s children, including some people he’d never met – one of them made a great photo-video using the song as a backing track. His most recent project was a welcome song for the incoming class at the law school where he works – their director of admissions realised that these students would be starting out in a very strange and difficult time and wanted to recognise that.

So far his campaign has raised at least $1,000 in donations to food banks. For a musical taster, you can listen to his song on embracing failure on Spotify and if you want to contribute to his efforts, he confirmed on Twitter that “the offer of a personalized song in exchange for a food bank donation still stands!”

Behind the scenes with the frontline supply lawyer

In April 2020, Golnar Assari, an Obelisk consultant specialised in commercial law, focused her activity on COVID19 work and the supply of face masks/PPEs. At a time when the UK media reported shortages in protective equipment for medical staff and the public, Golnar worked behind the scenes to change that. It all started in 2019 when she began advising a B2B manufacturer of non-woven media used in face masks, providing support in contracts’ review and in implementing the new Medical Device Regulation 2017/745. At the COVID19 outbreak, they asked her for an extended support to face the surge in contracts they were dealing with.

Interestingly, her role quickly moved from contract review to something very different and unexpected. With manufacturing lines already performing at full capacity, the pressure from customers, and even governments, to deliver non-woven products was very high. To cope with demand, her client developed new products and alternative media, eventually installing several new manufacturing lines for finished face masks. As face masks — whether medical devices, PPEs, or general-use masks — are highly regulated, the go-to-market process involved some internal regulatory education. When the client’s sales and marketing teams might have sold a media in a category it did not belong to, she explained the complexities of following quality requirements and obtaining regulatory approvals. This was not always easy as the urgent, somehow chaotic, need for face masks led to customers putting pressure down their supply chain, sometimes with unacceptable requests. In a new industry where players still lacked maturity and knowledge, this was tricky. Golnar’s expertise enabled her to  support the marketing, product development, and quality departments, in understanding the regulatory landscape in the world of medical devices, PPEs and general-use face masks. This included creating appropriate disclaimers, advising on applicable standards and ensuring packaging and labelling rules compliance, as well as clarifying what could or not be done with a certain material based on its properties, or obtaining required CE marking derogations when needed.

For Golnar, this experience was rewarding as well as challenging, as all stakeholders wished to support the crisis as best they could. This experience also opened her eyes on the media and the public’s confusion on the shortage faced in the UK a few months ago and she quickly started advising her family and friends on what EN norms they should be looking for on their face masks. Overall, the most rewarding part was to know that she was contributing, with a trusted high quality supplier, in providing face masks to hospitals across Europe, including to the NHS. She says, “There could not have been a better use of my time during lockdown!”

Tech in the fight for consumer rights with the robot lawyer

Joshua Browder, founder and CEO of DoNotPay, helps people fight big corporations using chatbot technology and AI screening to provide free legal services such as contesting parking tickets, cancelling subscriptions/memberships after the free trial or suing landlords in court. This LegalTech Robin Hood found renewed purpose when the COVID crisis hit, as DoNotPay saw huge spikes in certain legal services categories such as airline refunds or gym membership cancellations, or saw demand for new legal services such as claiming unemployment.

The idea for DoNotPay came to Joshua when he was a software engineering student in San Francisco, accumulating parking tickets. As he couldn’t pay them, he created an app to start contesting them and when his app proved extremely popular with other people, he realised that some areas of consumer rights were largely underserved. He went on to expand the range of services offered by his app to disrupt the legal landscape. His automated tools shifted the balance of power for consumers, offering them to explain in everyday language what the problem was and creating automated legal documents to solve it.

As the COVID19 crisis resulted in increased consumer rights breaches, DoNotPay was quick to counteract with the introduction of new legal services. When local governments issued emergency regulations to address COVID19 issues, few people knew the fine details and a lot of people were taken advantage of. Abuses included tenants being evicted from their homes when they couldn’t pay rent because they lost their job, landlords accessing IRS databases to claim rent from jobless tenants when they received their stimulus package, or airlines treating refund requests by handing out travel credits when nobody wanted travel credits from airlines that could go bankrupt the following year. Also a consequence of COVID19, people were spammed for exploitative miracle cures or random marketing scams, which pushed DoNotPay to create new processes to claim compensation by creating legal document to fight for their rights. In 85% of COVID19 cases, DoNotPay disputes were successful.

What can lawyers learn from Joshua Browder’s experience? Technically, Joshua is convinced that lawyers don’t need to be expert coders to automate any document that they’ve done more than once but the biggest learning comes from his approach. When providing legal services, lawyers should focus on being customer-centric. Law is meant to serve people, a message that has sometimes gotten lost.

Providing probono legal advice with volunteering law students

A group of 40 law students from The University of Manchester are set to volunteer their services during their holidays to help people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. From Monday, 15 June, the students will be providing written and video advice online in five areas of law particularly impacted by the virus – carers, family, employment, consumer and housing. The University’s Justice Hub and Legal Advice Centre has long provided vacation schemes but this year’s has been moved online because of the pandemic.

“The scheme is giving 40 School of Social Science students the opportunity to have a virtual vacation scheme placement with the aim of producing short information videos to help the public in key areas that have been impacted by Covid-19,” said Claire McGourlay, Professor of Legal Education. “Solicitors, barristers and a video editing company Video Cake are also all giving up their time for free to help the students to produce the videos.”

For more information, you can follow Manchester University’s Justice Hub here:

Do you want to share other COVID19 stories in the legal world? Email us here.

Photo credits:

  • Howard Koslowicz – University of Calgary
  • Golnar Assari – Golnar Assari
  • Joshua Browder – Twitter @jbrowder1
  • Manchester Justice Hub – Manchester University – School of Social Sciences
Making Work, WorkMedia

The legal blogosphere is thriving, with ever-more lawyers, writers, bloggers and journalists stepping up to debate the issues of the day, share knowledge and experience and change the way we think about law and the legal industry.

Legal blogs are a valuable outlet and asset for lawyers and companies alike; acting as a marketing tool for your expertise, and allowing some creative headspace to examine issues of personal intrigue outside of your own work. Whether you are thinking of starting your own legal blog and need some inspiration, or simply want to follow for extra insights and opinion, here are some of our picks of today’s most highly-rated and recommended English-language legal blogs, updated for 2020.

UK and Europe Legal Blogs

Barrister Blogger

This award winning legal blog by Matthew Scott is direct and simple in approach. Scott is not afraid to share his decisive opinions on legal issues dominating the news sphere, and has a way of setting the scene of well-read (and some not-so-well read) legal stories that keep you engaged from post to post – including a recent amusing Q&A on the government’s guidance on lockdown and how it varies from place to place.

Legal Cheek Journal

One of our favourite legal media companies, Legal Cheek’s online journal covers current affairs in law with typically lively and irreverent style, proving that law doesn’t have to be stuffy or mince its words on even the more controversial topics making headlines.

The Secret Barrister 

The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law and their popular blog give an insightful fly-on-the-wall view of the criminal justice system, and of life at the Criminal Bar in general. Blogposts gave rise to various columns as well as the Sunday Times bestseller “Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken”, published in March 2018, with their second book, “Fake Law” published in April 2020. As they say themselves, “the blog attempts to present a candid and accessible account of the reality of the criminal law in action, and to occasionally provide a rebuttal to popular misconceptions endorsed by politicians and the media”.

LexisNexis Future of Law blog

Aimed mostly at practising lawyers and general counsel, the Future of Law blog is written by LexisNexis’ team of lawyers and guest contributors for anyone in the legal profession who wants to understand the latest industry developments, key market trends, recent technology changes and how to succeed in the business of law. Topics range from women in law through to law firm survival.

Crafty Counsel

For the YouTube generation, Crafty Counsel publishes bite-size legal videos (10 minutes and shorter) featuring legal professionals discussing legal topics in verbal “bullet point” format. Some recent videos tackle Covid-19 specific topics such as “How to run the best virtual meetings” and “Developing your team whilst working remotely” as well as delivering access learning & development content in a way that is easily accessible and affordable.

Wellbeing Republic

Lawyer Nick Bloy founded Wellbeing Republic in 2016 to create bold and inspirational wellbeing initiatives to unlock people’s potential to be happier, healthier, better engaged, more productive, more resilient and, ultimately, more successful. Aimed mainly at lawyers and those working in the legal trade, Bloy’s blogs tackle various well-being subjects and provide a useful advice to guide wellbeing.

Joshua Rozenberg, The Critic

Not so much a blog as a column in a new magazine, The Critic, which covers politics, ideas, art, literature and much more, renowned legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg looks at various topical legal issues. The point of The Critic is to argue controversial points, and urge readers to disagree – indeed including it here may be controversial, but it can be helpful to know you’re reading outside your own echo chamber, and you can at least be confident that Rozenberg is not serving up fake news.

UK and Ireland Subject Specific Blogs

Pink Tape

Lucy Reed is a family barrister – she set up Pink Tape after realising that few clients understand the work she does and what goes on inside the Family Courts (with others she later set up The Transparency Project to try and begin to tackle this). Blog posts seek to enhance the quality of public information and debate about legal matters and range from musings on her work, through despair of the system, to updates on her life in general. In 2014, she published The Family Court without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person.

Civil Litigation Brief 

Civil Litigation Brief is one of the key blogs on, you’ve guessed it, civil litigation. Written by Gordon Exall, a barrister practising at Kings Chambers Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham and Hardwicke in London, what he hasn’t covered by way of updates and commentary in civil litigation since 2013 probably isn’t worth knowing.

IPKat

The team at IPKat are passionate about IP. Since June 2003 the IPKat has covered copyright, patent, trade mark, designs, info-tech, privacy and confidentiality issues from a mainly UK and European perspective, and consistently wins awards, the latest of which is “Most Popular Intellectual Property Law Blawg”.

Ireland IP and Technology Law blog

A&L Goodbody’s Ireland IP and Technology Law blog gives you all the information you need to know about Intellectual property & technology law in Ireland.

EU Law Blog 

The team at EU Law Blog deliver concise commentary on legal developments within the EU, highlighting and commenting on current developments in EU case law and legislation in English.

Techno Llama 

Cyberlaw is one of the fastest moving areas of law, and there’s plenty of interesting analysis and thought pieces over at TechnoLlama by Andres Guadamuz, with emphasis on open licensing, digital rights, software protection and virtual worlds. Articles are often whimsical, with a serious underlying message.

The UKCLA Blog

The United Kingdom Constitutional Law Association publishes this highly credible resource of expert comment and analysis on matters of constitutional law in the UK and further afield, with articles cited in academic writing, official publications and in the news media.

Harry Clark Law

For a City trainee perspective on the world of law, Harry Clark Law is a relatively young blog that’s developed into a full package legal resource. Online, Harry Clark shares his own views as well as those of guests via written blog posts, podcasts and  videos.

USA and Canada Legal Blogs

Scotus Blog 

No matter whether you’re a lawyer, law student, or just have an interest in the U.S. Supreme Court and its cases, this blog is an oldie but a good one – it’s first blog post was published way back in October 2002. Run and written by lawyers, Scotus blog is well reputed for covering the cases and decisions better than any other US new organisation, as well as illuminating and drawing attention to the nomination and confirmation process for new justices.

The Girl’s Guide to Law School

Founded by Alison Monahan, a former member of the Columbia Law Review, the Girl’s Guide to Law School aims to help young women get what they want from law school. Alison shares her own experiences and that of guest posters to create a conversation about the unique stresses faced in law school and how to overcome them.

Slaw

Slaw is a Canadian online legal magazine, started in 2005 and written by and for the Canadian law community by lawyers, librarians, technologists, marketers, students, educators and everyone in between. Slaw covers perspectives from academia, law firms, non-profits, regulatory bodies and beyond, and the practice and teaching of law as well as industry changes and the future of the Canadian legal industry. Slaw is considered essential daily reading by many in Canadian legal circles.

Above the Law

Above the Law takes a behind-the-scenes look at the world of law, providing news and insights about the profession’s most colourful personalities and powerful institutions, as well as original commentary on breaking legal developments. Above the Law is published by Breaking Media.

Lawyerist

What began as a one man legal blog turned into a full-blown media company, home to the largest online community of solo and small-firm lawyers in the world. Articles, survival guides and podcasts share ideas, innovations and best practices, with a particular focus on technology.

The Law for Lawyers Today

Published by Thompson Hine LLP, TLLT is a resource for lawyers, departments and firms focusing on legal ethics and professional responsibility, including the ‘law of lawyering’, risk management and legal malpractice, running a legal business and other related topics.

LawSites

Written by legaltech guru Robert Ambrogi, LawSites takes an in-depth look at the legal industry and how it evolves, adopting new technologies and practices. Via written blogs, TV interviews and podcasts, LawSites is a reliably no-nonsense resource for anybody who wants to know what’s happening in legaltech behind the scenes – minus the puff pieces.

Asia and Australasia Legal Blogs

Bucket Orange

BucketOrange Magazine is powered by some of Australia’s brightest upcoming legal minds, passionate about alternative legal publishing. They say that they are the first boutique online legal publication created exclusively for young Australians – written by lawyers for everyone. Blogposts look at all aspects of law, from practice to application, including keeping readers informed and empowered about their everyday rights.

China Law Blog 

This is a no-frills blog discussing the practical aspects of Chinese law and how it impacts business for anyone who is currently or about to begin conducting business in China. The blog is run by international law firm Harris Bricken, and its contributing writers help to challenge Western misconceptions of Chinese law with accessible and engaging articles grounded in real experience.

Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy

Gautam Bhatia graduated from law school in 2011, starting his blog in 2013 to analyse important constitutional cases, past and present, and to “engage with the set of diverse political and philosophical values that underlies the text of the Constitution, and has informed its interpretation over the years”.

LGBT Law Blog 

Stephen Page is a leading divorce and surrogacy lawyer committed to championing the rights of and interests of LGBTI people in Australia. His posts tackle discrimination parenting, property settlement, same sex domestic violence, and same sex law issues. 

Singapore Law Blog 

Singapore Law Blog covers the latest Singapore court decisions and legal news, as well as routinely showcasing practically relevant law journal articles and covers Continuing Legal Education events. It invites guest contributions and even providing access to a database of articles on Singapore law from both domestic and international sources, ensuring a number of voices and a variety of expert opinion is at your fingertips.

Finally, we couldn’t go without including Obelisk’s own thinking space! The Attic offers a weekly mixture of thought pieces on working culture in the legal industry, profiles of consultant and event speakers, and guidance on career development for lawyers and legal consultants looking to work differently.

What legal blogs do you follow? How do they help you in your work? Send us your recommendations and we’ll add them to our list…

The Legal Update

Last week, we joined two different online events that tackled the impact of COVID-19 and the future of the legal profession from different angles. The first event, focused on law firms, featured Mark Cohen and Richard Susskind in a LegalGeek webinar, while the second was organised by Ari Kaplan with Bob Ambrogi as guest speaker in a relaxed lunch & learn format. What did we learn?

#1 Tech is every legal team’s best friend

It’s a fact: the legal workforce has become a remote workforce in the span of a week. All over the world, legal teams have had no choice but to adapt to lockdown restrictions forcing them out of office buildings. As Robert Ambrogi recently wrote, the speed at which lawyers were able to get up and running outside of their office was staggering with 90% of lawyers making the transition in a week or less and 46% in a day or less. For in-house legal teams already using Microsoft tools, Microsoft Teams has become the go-to meeting spot while others have jumped onto the Zoom or Google Meet bandwagon.

However, tech adoption hasn’t been equal everywhere with in-house legal teams leading the tech revolution and law firms lagging behind, despite claims to the contrary. As a general counsel said, “we’ve worked with legal clients for 25 years, and the gap in understanding remote working communication technology was already widening in the past 5 to 10 years. [The Covid crisis] has just sped up the mindset shift from those who were already starting to embrace technology. The shift has now moved from accepting that the tech is required to understanding how best to integrate it over the longer term with support.”

Whatever the tech solution, the number one take away from the crisis is that latent technologies already existed to collaborate in new ways and have enabled us to understand that traditional models are no longer necessary. Lawyers can work remotely in an integrated fashion. The nature of legal practice has changed to the extent that it could possibly be malpractice to not be technically capable, as tech access, data security, data movement, etc are all part of modern legal services.

#2 Medicine and law may have a lot more in common than previously thought

Ultimately, law is the business of knowledge, much like medicine is the business of health. Like lawyers, doctors were hit full force by the COVID-19 tsunami and remote medicine became the new normal but that is not where similarities stop. In an analogy with the medical sector, Ari Kaplan argues that the legal system needs to move on to a triage system where when you have a problem, you don’t start with a specialist. In medicine, you start with a GP and then move onwards. We might be headed to a legal ecosystem of tools that will help companies sort out more of their own issues, have access to more standardised processes and involve fewer lawyers doing the work.

For Mark Cohen too, the current legal business model is outdated and legal buyers have access to more information than ever before. In the future, law will be a marketplace where it won’t be about pedigree or brand or Oxbridge or Magic Circle but about competency, metrics of customer satisfaction and skills. Taken a step further, this model means that legal buyers will eventually not need legal practitioners to be licensed. Not all future practitioners will be certified lawyers and that is a good thing. If GCs are buying legal knowledge, do they need a qualified solicitor when a legal engineer can do the job as efficiently?

Inevitably, this will reshape the landscape of legal education and training. Up until 20 years ago, legal expertise was the only thing that lawyers needed to succeed. Today, lawyers need augmented skills such as project management, understanding of supply chains, basics of data management and analytics. Lawyers have to be able to read a balance sheet. In addition, they need to master the basics of technology and understand how tech is used in the legal marketplace.

The lawyers of tomorrow will be tech-enhanced multi-disciplinary advisers, which gives a big leg up to millennials and Gen Z who choose virtual environments wherever possible and who as digital natives, are already comfortable with tech
. As Mark Cohen once said, law is not about lawyers anymore but about legal professionals.

#3 Pricing, pricing, pricing

For law firms, the billable hour is the biggest part of the business model that needs to change. Robert Ambrogi went as far as saying that it’s the greatest obstacle to innovation in law firms as it’s founded on the premise of inefficiency.

  • Most participants agreed that restructuring fees would be an opportunity for tech-savvy lawyers who would be able to create digital offers and reach their clients more efficiently.
  • For the time-being, law firms should be putting out COVID-19 pricing or flat rates during hard times.
  • Past the COVID-19 crisis, lawyers would start charging based on the result delivered. If clients are charged for value delivered, it doesn’t matter where the work is done or how long it takes.
  • Others suggested rendering legal services by subscription as a way to offer “more for less” legal services.
  • For multi-month contracts, legal suppliers could offer a flat, monthly retainer that makes it easier to plan and budget for clients, while realigning the focus of suppliers on deliverables.

#4 Law is a buyer’s market

According to Mark Cohen, “consumers are now driving the legal bus and that will accelerate post-covid.” For a few years, GCs have already been experiencing the future of legal with the “doing more with less” challenge, adhering to budgets and considering where they buy their legal services. Until now, long relationships forged between traditional legal providers and companies have somewhat shaped legal buying but with stricter budget controls, clients will realise that they can get the same value from a range of different providers” ie Big 4, companies like Obelisk Support, managed service providers etc.

The COVID crisis is effectively empowering big corporations to set demands and we recently saw an example of that when BT announced to their legal panel that they would look at things like expertise, experience, culture, approach to innovation, and diversity and inclusion to select their legal suppliers. In incentivising the panel firms to adhere to the principles of a charter signed by the client, BT is forcing cultural changes within their supply chain.

#5 Metrics vs Values

Based on Mark Cohen’s observations on US law firm culture, metrics like profit-per-partner (PPP), profit origination are the measures of success and drivers of law firm culture. Law’s scorecard in how it treats its own profession is currently very low – including higher rates of suicide, divorce, drug abuse, and alcoholism than many other professions. Every metric of despair points to the fact that lawyers are doing well financially as a group but yet they’re not very happy.

Yet in the UK, pointed Richard Susskind, there is a growing concern about profit versus purpose. This COVID-19 period is a fundamental challenge to values. Law firms that responded in the first two weeks saying they cared about people and two weeks later, fired them, will have a problem. They’ll be seen as purely profit-making companies.

The virus has given us an opportunity to look at how legal services can be delivered differently and that is the greatest impact of the virus on the legal world. The crisis offers an opportunity to step back and contemplate what’s important to us, noting that it’s hard to change values as you move along. 
Sooner than later, vendor profiles won’t just include security profiles and corporate history. Clients will start asking about in-depth work from home measures, commitment to gender and diversity equality, as evidenced in the report Built to last? A blueprint for developing future-proof in-house teams.

Making Work, Work

Be they lawyers by day, legal superheroes by night or pro bono lawyers who are passionate about making the world a better place – each and every one of the lawyers below deserve recognition for outstanding legal efforts in their community and beyond. As a responsible business, we at Obelisk Support look up to lawyers who are changing the world for the better. After our list of lawyers who changed the world in 2019 and 2018, the 2020 list honours the rule of law and lawyers who contribute to our society in the current COVID-19 crisis. Our list also features lawyers who protect our planet as sadly, the climate crisis is still as critical as ever, even if we are all taking positive steps to live more sustainable lives. Without further ado, here is the 2020 list of lawyers who are changing the world for the better.

Xu Zhiyong

Civil rights activist, China

Source: Chinachange.org

A former law lecturer, Xu Zhiyong is a human rights lawyer who has long been an inspiration for human rights advocates around the world and was recognised as one of the top global thinkers by Foreign Policy news. Using his legal experience, Xu firmly and carefully pushed his calls for political change and social justice in existing laws, which led him to co-found in 2003 the NGO Open Constitution Initiative. This organisation consisted of lawyers and academics in the People’s Republic of China who advocated for the rule of law and greater constitutional protections. Xu was subsequently arrested in 2009 on charges of tax evasion and detained shortly before being released on bail. In 2012, he co-founded the New Citizens’ Movement, a collection of lawyers and activists demanding civil rights protections and rule of law. On January 26, 2014, Xu was sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”. In February 2020, he was one of the few lawyers criticising President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and was arrested in southern China. He hasn’t been seen since 15 February 2020.

Funke Adeoye

Social justice advocate, Lawyer, Nigeria

Funke Adeoye

Funke Adeoye is a Nigerian lawyer, social innovator and international development enthusiast. She founded Hope Behind Bars Africa in 2018, an organisation that leverages technology to increase access to justice for indigent inmates across Nigerian prison facilities, as well as help correctional facilities in Nigeria achieve inmate rehabilitation and reintegration.

Hope Behind Bars was conceived after Adeoye wrote her thesis on prison reforms and restorative justice in Nigeria. She began volunteering with prison-focused organisations, which gave her the opportunity to see the true state of Nigeria’s prisons. She was horrified by what she saw, several poor prisoners who had been awaiting trial for years had no access to justice in sight. She spent a part of her time as a legal associate handling a couple of probono cases and in 2018, she eventually got Hope Behind Bars Africa off the ground.

An experienced lawyer, Funke is a 2019 fellow of Cornell University’s Center for Death Penalty Makwanyane Institute. She has personally handled over 30 pro bono cases from the lowest courts up to Court of Appeal, most of which she secured an acquittal for inmates who had been wrongly accused. Passionate about human rights and inclusion, Funke believes no box nor boundaries are required for thinking.

Mariel Hawley Dávila

Public health advocate, Attorney, Mexico

Source: Marielhawley.com

Latina lawyers represent a formidable force and yet, are often underrepresented in the media. Mariel Hawley Dávila, a Mexican lawyer turned motivational speaker and ultra marathon swimmer uses her sports achievements to fundraise for community causes. After reading law at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Hawley worked at Basham Ringe y Correo Abogados, Banco Santander and Grupo Marti. While practising as a lawyer, she completed some of the most challenging open water swims on the planet and was recognised as Woman of the Year 2019 by the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA). WOWSA founder Steven Munatones explains a small sliver of her background and accomplishments, “Her selflessness and widespread charitable works are constants in her life. She is always on the go: she swims, she works, she writes, and she is a working mother who had to struggle on after the death of her husband in 2015.” Through her marathon swims and channel crossings, she has been raising money for the Quiero Sonreír project to fund surgeries for Mexican children with cleft lips and palate, paying for oncological treatments for children with cancer, working with women in jail, and promoting health via Mexicanos Activos for many years.

Anne Bodley

Young law students advocate, Senior Finance Lawyer, UK

Source: lex-lead.org

After studying at the New York University of Law, Anne Bodley worked at Magic Circle firms, before moving to Tanzania in 2003 to work for the United Nations.  It was while in Tanzania that she nurtured a vocation to help others less fortunate, often helping locals with basic tasks – either buying mobile phones for those in need or taking people on trips to hospital. In 2010, she founded Lex:lead, a charity that runs an annual essay competition to help would-be lawyers in the world’s least developed countries, funds their studies, and creates internship and scholarship opportunities…truly important work to help men and women studying law to succeed. To date, Lex:lead has handed out 68 cash prizes (nearly US$40,000) to underprivileged students across eligible countries in Africa, Asia and Americas, as reassessed regularly by the United Nations. since July 2012, Lex:lead has been an intellectual partner to the World Bank-supported Global Forum on Law, Justice and Development. From 2015 onwards, the project started placing students in internships (also funded by sponsor law firms) and in 2018, the charity launched a mentoring program to further support students and countries of operation. To add to this impressive list, Bodley works full time at HSBC as senior legal counsel in the global banking and markets division focusing on e-channels (payments and cash management area).

Eric Gitari

Gay rights activist, Lawyer, Kenya

Source: Harvard Law Today

Kenyan lawyer Eric Gitari co-founded the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) in 2012 to fight for legal reforms and create a civic space for LGBT individuals in Kenya. To him, changing the laws are a way to slowly change society. After growing up in rural Meru, in eastern Kenya, he studied law, against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to be a doctor. After law school he joined a prestigious law firm, but was unhappy and quit. The following years saw him travelling, teaching at a juvenile prison, writing stories, living as a nomad and hitchhiking across east Africa. Upon his return to Kenya, he volunteered with an organisation dealing with gender-based violence before getting a job at the Kenya Human Rights Commission in charge of setting up their LGBT programme. He noticed homophobia worsening on the continent, with Nigeria and Uganda pushing stricter legislation, the 2011 murder of a prominent anti-gay rights activist in Uganda, and rumours of an anti-homosexuality bill in Kenya. That’s when he co-founded the NGLHRC. In a major victory for Kenya’s LGBT community, the organisation won a case in 2018 to ban forced anal testing, which had long been used on men suspected of homosexuality. They are now looking at striking down two sections of the penal code making consensual sex between adults illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in jail. In 2019, he was one of several gay rights activists leading a petition to decriminalise homosexuality in Kenya (which the High Court rejected). Gitari is currently working on his PhD at Harvard University in the United States, and is researching the criminalisation of homosexuality on the continent.

Susan Ojeda

Probono champion, Family Lawyer, USA

Source: theledger.com

In January 2020, the Florida Bar honoured Susan Lilian Ojeda, founder of Legal Ministry HELP, Inc., a nonprofit organisation providing free legal services to those in need in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties (Florida). Before receiving her J.D. from Stetson University College of Law in 2001, Ojeda earned the William F. Blews Pro Bono Service Award, given to students who provide free services beyond what is required for graduation. In 2003, she founded what would eventually become Legal Ministry HELP, Inc. Ojeda helps to obtain domestic violence injunctions and assists with dissolutions of marriage and child custody cases for victims of abuse; assists the elderly; assists widows and widowers; drafts legal documents for immigrants; paternity cases and child support cases; and drafts wills and other legal documents for indigent persons.

Jeff Smith

Disabilities Advocate, Environmental Lawyer, Australia

Source: ProbonoAustralia.com.au

With a Masters of Law from Sydney University, Jeff Smith worked in the environmental and social justice sector for about 20 years. Most notably, he was the CEO of the Environmental Defenders Office of NSW, a community legal centre that specialises in public interest environmental law. He also serves on the Boards of the Haymarket Foundation and EDO Ltd as well as the Advisory Committee for the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law. Prior to that, he has been on the following Boards and management committees – CLC NSW, the Total Environment Centre, the Environmental Planning and Law Association, and the Climate Institute. Smith has written extensively on environmental law and policy, criminal justice and the rule of law. He has taught in a wide variety of fields including industrial regulation, environmental law, litigation and criminal law and process, postgraduate and undergraduate courses at Macquarie and Sydney University. In August 2019, he became the new CEO of People with Disability Australia, a national disability rights, advocacy and representative organisation giving the disability community a voice of its own. He now focuses on shaping Australia’s response to improving the lives and opportunities for people with disability over the next decade and beyond.

Qin Yongpei

Activist, Human rights lawyer, China

Source: FrontlineDefenders.org

In a legal career spanning more than a decade, Qin Yongpei has defended other human rights lawyers facing reprisals from the Chinese authorities, provided legal assistance to vulnerable groups, and taken up cases involving unlawful administrative detention, industrial pollution, forced demolition of housing, and wrongful convictions. He is the founder and director of the Guangxi Baijuming Law Firm, where several human rights lawyers in Guangxi also worked. In July 2015, he was briefly taken and questioned by police in what has become known as the “709 Crackdown” targeting human rights lawyers and other defenders across China. In May 2018, the authorities revoked Qin Yongpei’s lawyer’s license and ordered him to shut down his law firm. He then founded a legal consultancy services company to continue his legal work. Around the same time, he also co-founded the “China Post-Lawyers Club” to provide solidarity and mutual assistance to human rights lawyers who have been disbarred. He is currently detained and charged as “subversive”. Since the coronavirus broke out in Chinese prisons, his wife has no idea whether he is still alive or in good health.

Jodi Goodwin

Asylum seekers advocate, Immigration Lawyer, USA

Source: PRI.org

When illegal immigrants made world news in 2019 because of the rough treatment enforced by the Trump administration, many American lawyers got together to provide legal help to asylum seeking families. Jodi Goodwin is one of the lawyers on the front line at the border, part of a group of legal first responders who risk their own financial, physical and psychological well-being to serve refugees teetering on the edge of survival. In Matamoros and six other Mexican cities stretching along the border from California to Texas, 60,000 migrants have been displaced since the start of the Remain in Mexico policy in early 2019. In Brownsville, where roughly 15 lawyers cross the border on a regular basis to represent refugees, only a few are immigration specialists qualified to represent clients in court. Jodi Goodwin is one of them and for her efforts, the self-described “guerilla lawyer” received the 2019 American Immigration Lawyer Association’s Pro Bono Award. Now, her work is made more challenging by the border closure due to the coronavirus crisis. In The Monitor, she says, “I and the few other warrior lawyers here on the border depend on going to Mexico to be able to represent our clients. Not being able to travel to Mexico makes things monumentally more difficult,” adding that technology like FaceTime and messaging services, “absolutely is not able to replace in person meetings, especially dealing with people who are victims of trauma and trafficking.” A graduate of the University of Texas and St. Mary’s University, she is involved in several organisations designed to teach and train young lawyers and holds several positions with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, including Past Chair of the Texas Chapter of AILA, national and local liaison committees with Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Sukhjit Ahluwalia

Homeless advocate, Solicitor, UK

Source: David Brunetti for Seva Street

As of December 2019, an estimated 320,000 people are homeless in the UK, according to the latest research by Shelter, and the COVID-19 crisis has made things worse, creating housing nightmares for many vulnerable people. While many take part in charity fundraisers to tackle the issue, others like Sukhjit Ahluwalia take the matter into their own hands. A true example of a lawyer giving back to his local community, Sukhjit Ahluwalia helps the homeless in Stratford and Ilford (where he grew up) via a charity he founded. A solicitor since 1998, Ahluwalia worked several years in the City before founding his own law firm, Avery Emerson. Priding himself on delivering a personal and human approach towards Avery Emersons’ clients, he also applied the same approach to the wider community. In 2007, Ahluwalia became probono lawyer for the Sri Sathya Sai charitable trust, an India-based organisation serving society in the fields of health, spirituality and education and in 2018, he founded the charity SEVA Street. Seva Street prepares and distributes food to the homeless, serving hot home-cooked meals each week to people living on the street at Stratford Center in east London. In the Newham Recorder, he said, “What we really want to do is help people get off the streets, but we realise that’s quite a big task in itself, so there’s steps to get there. Going onto the streets and giving out food makes a small difference, but it also helps us understand what the needs are.”

Making Work, Work

At The Attic, we are always interested to talk to people doing interesting things in the legal industry, so we were delighted to have the chance to catch up with Gavin Sheridan, former investigative journalist, now CEO of Vizlegal. Having previously worked in a social media startups, he became interested in law and felt that there were opportunities to use technology to improve things for people working in the law. The result was Vizlegal, a legal search and tracking platform.

Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to legal tech?

I’m Gavin Sheridan, the co-founder and CEO of Vizlegal. My background is in investigative journalism – freedom of information (FOI) and open source intelligence, in particular. I previously worked as Director of Innovation at a social media startup called Storyful that specialised in open source investigations, and which was later acquired by News Corp.

I became interested in law via litigation involving my FOI and Aarhus requests for information to Irish public bodies. I felt that there were opportunities to improve the state of the art when it comes to legal information, litigation, and mobile accessibility and open data.

How would you define the scope of Vizlegal?

Our scope is global but we’ve started with Ireland, the EU and the UK. We think there’s an enormous amount of data out there to acquire and organise.

The intention of Vizlegal is to “empower lawyers by indexing and graphing the relationships of all the world’s legal information.”

So why do lawyers need Vizlegal? What benefit does that bring to a firm or the everyday working life of a lawyer?

Lawyers use us every day for various reasons – but mainly it boils down to two main things: searching for things, and keeping up to date with things.

This can include knowing

  • what stage your case is at,
  • when the other side has filed something, or
  • when a new judgment is issued that contains a certain phrase you are interested in.

For others, it’s being able to quickly look up a court rule or practice direction on your phone. And for others, it’s digging through tribunal or court decisions to find a key one.

What is it about the intersection between law and technology that is interesting to you?

I come from a technical background, so I tend to take an interest in the application of technology to any field. Law is interesting because it has been relatively unaffected thus far by digital transformation.

Do you think it helps to come from a non-legal background?

It certainly gives you a different perspective. As a non-practitioner, I tend to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes, which may give some advantage in identifying inefficient processes that could maybe be improved.

In every industry, including journalism, there are many things done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, and law is no different. We think that there are many, many opportunities to make the lives of our customers (practitioners!), both less stressful and more productive.

Access to data is central to access to justice – does that resonate with you?

Yes it does. I’m an FOI advocate, litigator and trainer and have spent a decade in the access to information domain. I believe that without adequate access to legal data or information, access to justice is hindered for everyone.

How is Vizlegal changing the legal space in Ireland and legal outcomes?

We are less focused on legal outcomes than we are on improving the lives of our customers. If we can reduce anxiety, increase productivity, make peoples’ lives easier and happier, then we think that we are achieving our goals. We think that these things lead to second-order benefits in the system overall and that’s a good thing.

How will technology affect the legal landscape?

We are in an information-heavy industry and that information needs to be organised and structured. We think that technology will mean that more lawyers can do more things with less time and more productively. The machines can focus on the mundane tasks, while the humans apply their skills in the areas where human brains are best.

What key skills do you think lawyers need today (particularly in terms of tech)?

Understanding product development and customer empathy is an interesting area – it is a skill that many other industries are focussed on. Also, understanding that data is not scary and that spreadsheets are great! (Journalists are going through the same thing!)

What key skills, particularly tech, should tomorrow’s lawyers be developing?

Continued focus on customer happiness and success is important – and learning new ways to achieve the same goal, but better is also great. I think that the keyword is adaptable.

What’s next for Vizlegal?

We continue to add to our coverage and we continue to add tools to make the life of a practitioner easier: including better court date management, better alerts, better and faster ways to search and improvements in managing lots of these things on mobile devices.

Always the goal is: how can we reduce the number of steps, clicks or taps to achieve the job that is needed to be done by our customers. We will expand into the UK market this year and then, to the rest of the world.

Any last words to add?

We enjoy buying coffee for lawyers so we can listen to their problems – be it using court forms, rules, badly built government websites or anything else. Our door is always open.

Books in boxes
Women in Law

That lawyers have an ongoing love affair with words, nobody can argue with that. A significant part of a lawyer’s career is spent writing text, structuring arguments, analysing documents and being a stickler for punctuation. What most people are unaware of, is that many lawyers have an intense creative life back at home. At Obelisk Support, our consultants are also vegan gurus, rugby coaches, interior designers, DJs or novelists. Every year for World Book Day, we feature lawyers who are authors on The Attic. In the past, we’ve interviewed a space lawyer turned science fiction author and a sole practitioner turned romance novelist. This year’s selection of female lawyers turned authors will make you rethink your idea of lawyers.

#1 Caro Fraser

A former commercial and maritime lawyer, Caro Fraser is known for unbeatable plotting and characterisation in her novels. Whether she writes about post-WW2 family picnics or the lives and loves of a group of London barristers, she has a knack for immersing her readers in a different world.

While her Caper Court series will appeal to lawyers who wish to read about other lawyers (barristers, really), armchair time-travellers will revel in her recent Summer House series featuring the 1930s English upper class in a country house. She wrote romance novels that she described as “romantic fiction for the thinking woman”, certainly another way to use legal brains for sheer entertainment value.

#2 Meg Gardiner

Celebrated crime writer Meg Gardiner read law at Stanford Law School and after graduation, practiced law in Los Angeles before returning to Santa Barbara where she taught writing and legal research at the University of California. Similar to John Grisham, Meg Gardiner writes legal thrillers that tend to be well received and go on to be bestsellers. She gives readers what they want, aka page-turning thrillers with serial killers as a bonus (inspired by real baddies, which adds to the thrills).

Did you know that she relocated to the United Kingdom with her family in the 1990s? It was during her free time in the UK that she wrote her first novel, completing a task that she had set for herself over 10 years earlier. Asked why she likes to write thrillers, her answer was: “Thrillers throw characters in the soup. They demand that characters dig deep and fight back – or die trying. I love writing stories in which people have to do that.”

#3 Marjorie M. Liu

Not all lawyer-authors write law-inspired books that take place in real life. Marjorie M. Liu is best known for writing comic books for Marvel, epic fantasies whose characters may live in a universe wracked by a race war and inhabited by violent witch-nuns, vicious deities, and innocent civilians. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill legal book.

Of course, her career could have panned out very differently. Liu read law at the University of Wisconsin where she received her J.D. and although she loved law school and her internship at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, she was working at a law firm when the sale of her first book convinced her to switch careers. Coming from an immigrant family, she was torn about walking away from the law into an uncertain writing career, but determined to make it. She is now a New York Times bestselling and award-winning writer best known for her fiction (paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels) and comic books. Teaching comic book writing at MIT, she redefines strong female characters in fantasy worlds. If you want to see her, you might get lucky at ComicCon events around the world.

#4 Theodora Goss

Harvard Law School alumna, Theodora Goss did not enjoy being a lawyer, revising corporate contracts until 2 a.m. while deeply in educational debt. Understandably, as soon as she paid back her law school loans, she turned her focus to one true love, literature. Now a creative writing teacher, she is best known for her short stories and poetry, as well as for her Gothic fiction novels.

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daugh­ter, a mashup based on of some of literature’s most famous horror and sci-fi classics, she writes about creating female monsters from a Victorian science fiction point of view. In Red as Blood and White as Stone, she writes a compelling, somewhat dark (but not too dark) fairy tale, interwoven with pre-, during-, and post-WW2 interludes. If you enjoy blending several different genre types, historical, fantasy and magical realism, you will definitely enjoy Goss’ books.

#5 Lisa Scottoline

A former corporate lawyer, Lisa Scottoline decided to change careers for family reasons. The birth of her daughter pushed her to give up her career in the law firm and become a full-time writer, a choice that shaped her life and opened new horizons. Now a New York Times bestselling author and Edgar award-winning author of 32 novels, she captivates readers with popular fiction whose characters are warm and down-to-earth.

Having sold over nine million copies in the United States, she is recognised internationally as her work has been published in 23 countries. Besides publishing like clockwork at the rate of a book per year, Scottoline is the president of the Mystery Writers of America and writes, together with her daughter Francesca Serritella (yes, the same one – and also a bestselling author), a weekly column on the Philadelphia Enquirer titled “Chick Wit”.

#6 Melinda Snodgrass

Trekkies would not be able to boldly go where no Spock or Scottie precursors have been before without Melinda Snodgrass. A celebrated science fiction writer, Snodgrass wrote several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation while serving as the series’ story editor during its second and third seasons. She also contributed scripts for the series Odyssey 5, The Outer Limits, SeaQuest DSV, and Reasonable Doubts; she was also a consulting producer on The Profiler.

Where does law fit in all this outer space lark? After studying opera at the Conservatory of Vienna in Austria, Snodgrass went on to read law at University of New Mexico School of Law. She practised law for three years, first at Sandia National Laboratories, then at a corporate law firm, but discovered that while she loved the law she wasn’t terribly fond of lawyers. So she began writing. In addition to her successful writing career, she is the executive producer on the upcoming Wild Cards shows being developed for Hulu, a series she started writing with George R. R. Martin in 1984.

 

Family & Work

Here at The Attic we are always interested to meet lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs and are delighted to have had to opportunity to talk to  Sarah-Jane Butler, now CEO of Parental Choice. Having qualified at a Magic Circle law firm and worked for over 10 years in the City, she set up her own business in 2011 to help working parents achieve a better work – life balance whilst handling the challenges of juggling a career and childcare responsibilities.

Sarah-Jane, tell us a little about your background

I studied French and German at university and then converted to law, doing my training contract at a Magic Circle law firm. I qualified into capital markets and securitisation, and spent over 10 years in the UK and overseas before settling down and getting married in the UK. I was happily on the partnership track and loved the buzz of fast-moving city life. The work I did was intense but enjoyable, more or less. In 2011, I had my second child and at that point the work- life balance became very difficult and I took some time out to assess what I wanted as a mother and as a lawyer.

What does Parental Choice do and why did you set it up?

In 2011, I was reliably informed by a partner in the firm I was working for that if I was serious about my career and trying to combine that with children, I would need a day and night nanny, and perhaps a creche for my children at the weekends.   

It was clear that the firm I was working for, whilst they were keen to have me back, were not set-up to offer any support or advice to enable me to do this and I was expected to manage by myself. The stress was hard to deal with. I realised at that point that parents needed to be supported, both mentally and practically, by their employers. To expect employees to be as productive as possible, whilst also managing a home life and the stresses that everyday life imposes without providing support was unrealistic. There is a reason why so many employees, women in particular, look for a new career direction after having children.

Parental Choice was born out of recognising this need. I wanted to help other working parents with the minefield of childcare options, and offer them ongoing support through wellbeing talks dedicated to parents and the issues they may face – child anxiety, preparing them for school, dealing with technology or sleep techniques.

The business started trading in 2011, at the same time as I retrained as an employment lawyer.  On the one hand, I wanted to help parents find the care they needed for their children, whether that was a nursery, nanny, childminder or school, and if they employed a nanny make sure they had the payroll and legal support they needed to become an employer. On the other hand, I wanted to offer these services as a benefit to employees through their employers, thus showing that employers recognised the stress often caused by trying to find the right childcare to fit working hours.

What are the services now offered by Parental Choice?

Parental Choice has grown over the past nine years. It now provides practical support services for businesses and families in relation to sourcing both reliable childcare and elements of elder care. In addition, it offers employers with wellbeing programmes for its working parents and carers with access to experts experienced in a range of areas such as mental health, education and parenting. Its vision is to be an international trusted wellbeing provider making a difference to the lives of our clients’ employees and private clients. In fact, we also have an established EMEA practice offering help to families who are relocating within EMEA find childcare or education options.

Our key values are Care, Expertise, Empathy and Diligence so whether we are dealing with employers, big or small, or individual parents, we try our best to make sure they get the right information and support for them.

How do you feel your legal background has helped you in business?

Of course, my background as a city lawyer means I have a good understanding of business and am very commercially aware.  More importantly, I feel that an appreciation of customer service has been instilled in me through my practice as a lawyer, which has led to me building my business with customers at the centre of what we do.  

What advice would you offer to anybody thinking of setting up a business?

Be prepared to do everything!  As a law firm fee earner, I had lots of people around to help. Now I have to wear a lot of hats, including IT support and HR, but I have also been known to vacuum, run a duster over my desk and do the photocopying.  I would also recommend retraining and being relevant. I was a City lawyer, so when setting up Parental Choice, I recognised that offering legal advice to parents who are employing nannies would be beneficial. With this goal in mind, I retrained in employment law.

Find a niche, get relevant and stay relevant.

What about that work – life balance, have you achieved this?

In a manner of speaking, yes. I probably work as hard as I did before but this time it is on my terms. I work around my family rather than trying to fit them around my work. 

I have a great management team, who are also all mothers, who recognise the importance of work – life balance for themselves and their teams as well. The company itself has won several awards for its flexible working strategy (for example: working hours are 9-3) and its focus on working parents, including being named in 2015 by Working Families as one of the top ten SMEs to work for. In 2019, I was named as one of “We Are The City’s Rising Star Champions” for making a difference to the workplace for female employees. These awards are important as it shows that Parental Choice practices what it preaches and benefits its own employees as it aims to help its clients help its employees.

One last word from you, Sarah-Jane

I really believe in work/life balance and achieving the best solution for you. I try and practice this within my business and encourage my team to be flexible and put their lives first. Childcare traditionally is inflexible so I would actively encourage employers to give consideration to flexible working requests and look at what else they can do to support their employees practically and emotionally; the fact that Obelisk Support exists and helps lawyers to work flexibly is such an amazing step forward. 

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

Are you up to speed with the new routes into the legal profession? It used to be that apprenticeship opportunities were for college leavers and covered only paralegal roles, but things have changed. Increasing numbers of businesses across the UK have been launching apprenticeships, particularly since the government introduced a levy in 2017 for any employer in the UK with an annual pay bill in excess of £3 million that could only be spent on training apprentices.

What are legal apprenticeships?

In the legal sector, this has led to many law firms launching Law Society- and SRA-approved ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeship schemes. This means it is now possible to join a top law firm in a potential fee-earning role without having first gone to university. Effectively, legal apprenticeships provide opportunities to gain on-the-job experience whilst studying to qualify as a legal professional.

Law apprentices gain professional legal qualifications, which can be right up to solicitor level, alongside paid employment in a law firm. For qualification as a solicitor, this means learning alongside earning on the job for six years.

Legal apprenticeships – Kennedys case study

Apprentices typically spend one day a week studying and the remaining time working in much the same way as a paralegal or trainee would. “I spend my Mondays studying at BPP University and the remaining four days of the week working in the office. During the week, I attend training events and courses, but the majority of learning is done ‘on the job’ and as you progress through your role,” explains Caitlin, a Solicitor Apprentice in Kennedys’ Cambridge office.

Kennedys were one of the first law firms in the UK to offer a legal apprenticeship and are now in their seventh year with their legal apprenticeship programme moving from strength to strength. In 2019, Kennedys won Best Degree Apprenticeship at the 2019 School Leaver Awards, making it their third award in three years. With over 60 apprentices across their offices, Kennedys actively recruits from schools and colleges, welcoming people from the age of 18.

Hannah Worsfold, the HR Manager responsible for Trainees and Apprentices at Kennedys, was clear that whilst the firm does benefit from the apprentice levy, there is another real benefit to offering an alternative route to qualification via an apprenticeship. “It allows Kennedys to reach people from a much wider range of backgrounds who more accurately represent the diversity of our client base. Kennedys has a strong focus on legal innovation and welcome ideas from all levels of the firm and a more diverse workforce brings a variety of perspectives and ideas.

“We believe our apprentices are the talent pipeline for Kennedys and offering an alternative route to qualification provides an opportunity for young people to earn whilst they learn.

“I believe this is a driver for young people who do not wish to take the university route and incur student debt but would rather enter the workplace at the earliest opportunity. This is reflected in our application numbers, as we usually receive circa 600 applications across all of our offices”.

Ross Bell, a Senior Associate at Kennedys who is also an Apprentice Supervisor, was equally positive about the benefits of employing apprentices. “Apprentices are an important part of Kennedys’ future and they offer advantages over traditional recruitment of litigation assistants and lawyers.

“Apprentices – compared to either litigation assistants or trainee solicitors – usually have no legal or working background/are starting from scratch. They therefore require an intense level of training and supervision to ensure learning in a swift directed fashion but their progress can be remarkable and I have enjoyed working with apprentices who performed exceptionally in their roles having been provided with responsibility from day 1.”

Legal apprenticeship – Cartmell Shepherd case study

This is echoed by Holly Moxon, a solicitor apprentice halfway through her second year of the apprenticeship with Cumbrian firm Cartmell Shepherd. She notes, “the law is often different in practice and theory, so being able to learn both at the same time has been very beneficial.

“The skills and tips that you pick up in the office on a daily basis are incomparable to what you can learn reading from a textbook”.

In Cartmell Shepherd’s case, an apprentice was not something they had necessarily been seeking, with the proposal driven by then 20-year-old Moxon.

Moxon originally had a place at university to study law, but soon realised that the traditional university route was not for her. Still wishing to qualify as a lawyer, she began working at Cartmell Shepherd in an administrative role before making the apprenticeship proposal to her bosses.

Peter Stafford, managing partner at the UK 200 Group legal firm, said: “We were impressed by Holly’s initiative when she brought the proposal to us.

“Solicitor apprenticeships have until now mainly been provided by larger city firms, but we could see no reason why it shouldn’t be something we offered here at Cartmell Shepherd.

“Holly has been a great addition to our team and has worked hard to complete her first year of study.

“We’re passionate about investing in high-quality training and development for all of our staff, along with recruiting local people with talent and potential.

“The apprenticeship route serves both of those criteria very well, so this is certainly something we would consider again in the future.”

Adoption of legal apprenticeships by the legal industry

The legal industry still has a long way to go in terms of widening access to the profession. The number of firms and in-house legal teams offering apprenticeships is growing but there are notable absences in the top firms, and where apprenticeships are offered, the number of positions on offer is far fewer than trainee positions.

Apprenticeships are on offer in Magic Circle firms, but not to qualify as a solicitor, with Linklaters, Freshfields and Clifford Chance offering paralegal and legal project management options. Clifford Chance and Slaughter & May both expressed their decision to maintain solely training lawyers using the traditional training contract method when the option for solicitor apprentices was first introduced in 2016.

Solicitor apprenticeships are more widely on offer in the Silver Circle and other Legal200 and Legal500 firms. Firms such as Mishcon de Reya, CMS, Eversheds Sutherland, Dentons, Irwin Mitchell, Pinsent Masons, Withers and Addleshaw Goddard, to name but a few, all offer solicitor apprenticeships.

There is no central database of all apprenticeships but a few of the key firms are listed here. As with training contract applications, it is often a matter of searching individual firms in which you have an interest and determining what opportunities are on offer.

How will the introduction of the SQE change things?

The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in 2021 will also apply to apprentices, with the apprentice providers we spoke to not envisioning this will affect the numbers applying.

Interestingly, Carol Fish, Director at Cartmell Shepherd, observed that students qualifying by the more traditional route (university, law school and a training contract) “will not have the opportunity to have the in-depth experience on the job that an apprentice will have had.”

Given apprentices will have had six years client-facing experience by the time they sit SQE2, compared to a more traditional two, could solicitor apprentices be actually better placed to successfully pass the SQE? We will watch this space with interest.

What’s next?

At present legal apprenticeships are for those who want to qualify as solicitors, as well as non-qualified paralegals. The Bar Standards Board has been consulting on opening up new pathways to qualification outside sitting the bar vocational course, and in 2019 approved a new training regime for barristers opening up four routes to qualification, which includes an apprenticeship. These new pathways come into effect in September 2020.

So far as in-house apprentice positions, that is harder to gauge as there is no central database of companies and businesses offering legal apprenticeships, outside of the government’s list of places actively recruiting. We know that councils, including Bristol City Council, employ solicitor apprenticeships as well as the in-house legal teams of FTSE 100 companies such as ITV.

With university fees continuing to be high and job prospects for graduates becoming more competitive, it is expected that competition for apprenticeship places will increase. Once the current cohorts have successfully qualified as solicitors in 2024 and onwards, no doubt more firms will take up the mantle.

What do you think about legal apprenticeships? Does your firm offer them? Are you an apprentice yourself? Let us know your thoughts @ObeliskSupport.

FIRST 100 Years of Women in law - book review
Women in Law

On Monday 23rd December 2019, we celebrate the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become professionals in the UK. The First 100 Years project is the national campaign celebrating this centenary, focusing primarily on the progression of women in the legal profession since 1919. First 100 Years has been celebrating this centenary throughout this year in many ways, one of its latest being the newly released FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law, which is the first book of its kind telling the story of women in law throughout the last 100 years in an accessible and informative way.

About First 100 Years

Set up in 2015 by Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith, the First 100 Years project has been building an archive to tell the previously untold stories of the pioneering women who made history in the legal profession. From the first female solicitor, Madge Easton Anderson, in 1920, to Elizabeth Lane, who was the first woman appointed a County Court judge and then the first woman appointed to the High Court, right up to the present day with the first female President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, and future firsts, like future president of the Law Society I. Stephanie Boyce, who will become the first President from a BAME background in 2021.

First 100 Years is a multimedia project, telling the history of women in law in many ways to ensure as many people as possible can learn about the stories in a way that suits them; from the filmed biographical interviews, a podcast series, a unique music commission to an artwork commission for the Supreme Court, and now a book, there is something for everyone to learn about the inspiring female pioneers that shaped the profession today. The purpose of the project is not just to understand the history of women in law, but to use this to provide the context for promoting further gender equality in the profession, by assessing progress so far and how far we still have to go.

FIRST

FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law seeks to capture the lives of female pioneers in law, past and present, to ensure we do not lose the stories of these incredible women. It does so following the format of the First 100 Years timeline, podcast series and exhibition, decade-by-decade, delving into the broader themes of each decade, including the wider historical context that impacted women’s place in the profession. It also goes further into the many stories of the individual women including biographical information and both archival and modern day pictures of the pioneers, making it a highly informative and entertaining read.

Lucinda Acland, a long-term volunteer on the project and the host of the First 100 Years Podcast series, and Katie Broomfield, an academic in the field and a champion of the project, have brought together archival material, material produced by the project through the video and podcast interviews and their own research to create this book. FIRST is the product of over five years’ worth of efforts in building the archive, which was not an easy task.

The project’s founder, Dana Denis-Smith, often refers to the fact that what she thought would be a history project, turned into an “archaeological dig” to unearth the stories because women’s achievements often go unacknowledged and their stories rarely told, so finding out many of the stories took a lot of work. The writing of the book itself, however, was done in a very short amount of time. It was originally not intended to be released until 2020 but due to an incredible amount of interest, the task was brought forward and the authors got it done in a matter of months in time for the centenary celebrations, and we are so pleased they did as it has been a huge success!

There was a hotly contested debate around the title, from the authors, publishers, editors, proof readers and the First 100 Years team. Being the first of its kind, it was important to ensure the title hit the correct tone. It had to transcend the purely feminist literature section of a library and be a credible history book in its own right, irrespective of the fact it featured women. In the end, it was actually The Attic editor Laure Latham who came up with the simple yet effective title: FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law. It captured the essence of the project, with the name of the project in the title, but also the simple word “FIRST” alluded to the women featured as “firsts” in various ways, and is also signifying that there are many achievements for women in law to come – this is just the beginning.

Why is FIRST so important?

Ultimately, women need to understand their history to be able to place themselves within it. It has become apparent to the First 100 Years team over the past few years that, understandably, people could not accurately estimate how long women have been in the profession, or have known the many anecdotes that have since been shared, such as not being allowed to wear trousers in the courtroom, having no female lavatory facilities or women frequently being asked to make the tea in meetings. It is only by understanding the background can we both recognise how far we have come and make sure we fight to ensure history does not repeat itself. As Baroness Kennedy says in her testimonial of the book, “this is a vital and stunning piece of our history…the absence of women in the system of law was a gross impediment to justice” and we must ensure women’s place in the profession is cemented.

The Next 100 Years

As The Secret Barrister says in their testimonial of the book, “[FIRST] offers not only a unique celebration of the progress achieved by women in the law, but a vital reminder of how much work there still is to do”. Despite the progress of the last 100 years, there are still barriers to be broken and progress to be made, and there are plenty of plans in the works for The Next Hundred Years! You can get involved by following us on social media @First100Years and @Next100Years_, checking out all the many resources we have on our website www.first100years.org.uk and contacting us at [email protected].

Make sure to get your copy of the book by going to www.first100years.org.uk/our-new-book/

Here’s to the Next 100 Years!