Obelisk In Action Trending

Legal500 Award for Obelisk CEO, Dana Denis-Smith

The year 2019 starts on a high note for Obelisk Support CEO and founder of The First 100 Years project, Dana Denis-Smith, after 2018 saw her voted LexisNexis Legal Personality of the Year. On 6 February 2019, she received an Outstanding Achievement in Legal Services prize from the Legal 500. The Legal 500 UK Awards recognise and reward the best in-house and private practice teams and individuals, with over 50,000 interviews conducted to ascertain the winners.

Taking place the same evening as the 20th anniversary reception of LegalWeek by Hyde Park (which we at Obelisk Support also attended), the Legal500 UK Awards in the heart of the City of London was a great gathering of ‘winners’ and got together the key players in the sector – across the profession from in-house to law firms and barristers chambers – for a night of celebration.

Gender Equality in the Legal Profession

At the Legal500 UK Awards 2019 last night, the Legal500 made a public commitment to the promotion of diversity in their rankings and encouraged firms in the room to put forward more women and people from minority backgrounds for consideration.

Legal500 UK Editor, Georgina Stanley, said that if firms do not put forward women and people from minority backgrounds then they “risk being an echo chamber for the status quo”. In an industry where gender balance remains a big issue, all of us legal professionals also serve as role models for future generations of women.

They showed their support for the centenary of women in the legal profession this year by awarding all the Outstanding Achievement Awards to women: Penelope Warne (CMS), Julia Salasky (CrowdJustice), Nilufer von Bismarck (Slaughter and May), Sharon White (Stephenson Harwood), Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia LVO (Payne Hicks Beach), Sandra Wallace (DLA Piper), and Dana Denis-Smith of Obelisk Support and the First 100 Years project.

Interestingly, all the awards for women were given by men. Surely, an area to improve on in the future.

Outstanding Achievement in Legal Services: Dana Denis-Smith

Every member of the audience received a booklet upon arrival listing 2019 winners, booklet which included a feature on the women being recognised for their outstanding achievements in legal services. This is what the feature on Dana Denis-Smith read:

“As the founder and CEO of Obelisk Support and as the founder of the First 100 Years project, Dana Denis-Smith has put her desire to help women succeed in law at the core of her professional life. The former lawyer and journalist founded Obelisk Support in 2010 to help City lawyers – especially mothers –to work flexibly around their family and other commitments, while simultaneously providing businesses with flexible access to lawyers. The company now serves clients including BT and Goldman Sachs. In 2014, she founded the First 100 Years project to chart the history of women in law and celebrate their achievements. 2019 marks 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was enacted, allowing women to enter the professions.”  

Reflecting on her award, Dana Denis-Smith says, “I was extremely pleased that the Legal500 put the spotlight on women in law and was very honoured to be in the company of some incredible women leaders of the last 25 years.”

Legal500 Award Ceremony

Legal 500 Award Ceremony 2019

This year’s Legal 500 award took place in the magnificent 14th-century Great Hall of Guildhall in London, a medieval jewel of architecture with stained glass windows. The turnout was fantastic, a lot of smiles and tinkering glasses. The Legal 500 team took the stage expressing how we should promote diversity within our legal teams, especially individuals from BAME backgrounds.

Partner Charity: Save the Children

Legal 500 awards

It was a delight to have the Legal500’s partner charity, Save the Children at the awards. The silent auction included a Darth Vader portrait as well as a £400 red wine set (lawyers know their wines), and whoever contributed to the charity could see how their contributions helped the children thanks to a virtual reality stand showcasing real-time contributions. It was truly a heart warming and eye-opening experience.

2019 Winners

We were thrilled to see familiar names in the cohort of 2019 winners, including many clients such as Linklaters in Corporate/Commercial, Goldman Sachs in Banking, BT in CSR & Employment, Ocado and ASOS in Retail and O2 Telefonica in Telecoms.
We were also very proud to see names associated with Obelisk Support’s partner charity, The First 100 Years, including Sandie Okoro of the World Bank.

Congratulations to them!

For a full list of winners, click here.

Making Work, Work Trending

Lawyers Who Are Changing the World For the Better 2019: Call for Nominations

There are countless unsung heroes throughout history that are deserving of greater recognition and appreciation. At Obelisk Support, we strive to shine a light on remarkable lawyers who are positively impacting the world via our legal blog, The Attic.

In 2018, we celebrated lawyers who are changing the world for the better and who are using their skills to give back to the community and to create a positive impact on the planet.

Nominations for the 2019 list are now open!

Join us in celebrating the contributions and achievements of other lawyers who share the same positive values and change society and the planet for the better.

Who Deserves to be Recognised?

The list of probono lawyers who are changing the world for the better recognises the achievements and contributions of members of the legal profession who promote accessibility, inclusion and equal rights of others or who are advocates for the planet and who fight climate change.

The 2019 list will feature recipients who demonstrate excellence and leadership in one or more of the following eligibility areas:

  • climate change
  • access to the legal profession
  • equal rights
  • environment
  • education
  • health and wellness
  • animals and wildlife
  • local community
  • poverty

How to Nominate Someone

Please take the time to nominate a friend, colleague, client, employee or employer who deserves to be celebrated for their outstanding probono efforts! Consider nominating lawyers whose accomplishments have yet to be publicly acknowledged.

Send an email to [email protected] including

  • Nominator name and email address
  • Nominee name and email address
  • Legal specialty of nominee
  • Country, city of nominee
  • Public awards/recognition of achievements
  • Why the nominee deserves to be part of the list in 100-150 words
  • A photo of the nominee (with rights to use on The Attic)
  • Links to relevant websites of nonprofits, lawyer profile, media articles

Final Nomination Deadline: extended to 31 January 2019

Recognition Process

The entries will be reviewed individually and judged on merit by a panel of lawyers, journalists and members of the legal industry.

2019 List

Finalists will be contacted individually by email and the final list will be published on 31 January 2019.

Making Work, Work Trending

Professional Ghosting in Law – Why It Happens and How to Tackle It

We have noticed a lot being written recently about professional ghosting. Though not necessarily a new phenomenon, the practice of ghosting – going suddenly silent after previously being communicative and interested in forging a partnership  – in the age of remote communication, appears to be becoming an increasing problem.

There’s no sugar coating it- in the vast majority of circumstances (the only exception being where the relationship is toxic and bullying in nature and the ‘ghoster’ has no other choice but to cut all communication) ghosting is extremely inconsiderate and comes as a complete shock – however, it is important to understand the circumstances that may have led to the ghosting in order to handle it in a satisfactory manner and prevent a similar situation happening again.

Where Ghosts Lurk

Prospective employers once were the prime ghosting culprits in the recruitment process – after exchanging emails and partaking in interviews for a job, with the promise of follow up and feedback left unfulfilled. Now it is an employer’s market, the tables have turned and some candidates are reportedly dropping employers without warning when something else comes their way.

The legal industry is not immune from professional ghosting; law firms will recognise the ghosting client, but lawyers themselves are also guilty of the practice. One commenter on a LinkedIn post on the topic says:

‘A prospective consultant was talking about ‘ghosting’ during our interview the other day. She mentioned that she had been approached about a few roles at very short notice because the lawyer assigned to the role had simply not turned up on day one!’ And in an even more extreme example earlier in 2018, a Nebraska lawyer was suspended for first being a no show in court, and then failing to appear at an OSC as to why they failed to show initially!

It is shocking for most of us to think that a professional might risk their reputation and future employment by behaving in this manner, but it may be more common than we suppose – as those on the receiving end of (and those who commit) professional ghosting are often embarrassed and reluctant to talk about it.

Why Professional Ghosting Happens

We can narrow down some of the possible underlying reasons why people ‘ghost’ in a professional context:

1. People like to talk, but don’t consider action

Communication on a possible working relationship often dries up when the other party realises the other person is serious about implementing what you have discussed. Networking events are ripe for people who want to talk ideas and potentials, but ultimately they may not have the resources or the conviction to follow through on every conversation. Their intentions at the time may feel genuine, but the embarrassment of not being able to meet your expectations may prevent them returning your calls. It’s all too easy to be overly earnest, but learn to filter through the bravado, and create genuine, human first connections with people who really want to give their time and receive your input.

2.  Fear of conflict

Some people are so focused on pleasant interactions, they avoid the inevitable negative interactions altogether. This can happen at all levels – no one enjoys the difficult conversations, but they need to be had to avoid leaving someone out in the cold. Unanswered questions can lead to a long lasting knock on a person’s confidence in their ability and demeanor, so it is always preferable to get things out in the open and allow the individual the opportunity to heal and improve.

3. Bad organisational structures

A lack of response may be down to communications getting ‘lost’ along the organisational chain of command, so it is always worth following up with more than one contact in relation to your enquiry before giving up the ghost. However, you should ask yourself if you really want to continue to invest your valuable time in an organisation that does not invest in their interpersonal relationships.

4. An inability to say ‘No’

Similar to those who fear conflict, people who feel they must say yes to every opportunity may find themselves so overwhelmed by commitments, that they simply bury their head hoping a lack of answer will be enough to tell the other person they are no longer available. Recognising the limits of our time and making smarter choices, instead of trying to do as much as possible is better for both wellbeing and career – overcommitting and failing to follow up can damage a reputation irreversibly.

When Ghosting Isn’t Real

Sometimes what is initially construed as ghosting is simply a difference in expectation of the level of communication, and this can often occur between lawyer and client. It’s very important to manage expectations and be clear about your role, your workload and other clients and pay structure (e.g. reminding them that each phone call/email is costing them), otherwise frustration can occur on both sides which may lead to communication breaking down altogether.

How To Recover From A Ghosting Encounter

Ghosting is not just confounding and hurtful, it can reflect very poorly on your future job chances. “Ghosting is the result of poor character – I don’t think that people who are well behaved ghost,” says Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support. “I feel that there are a lot of excuses but ultimately, it comes down to not doing to others what you wouldn’t want others to do to you.”

The only way forward is to send a final ‘closure’ note and draw a line under the experience. It’s an act unlikely to elicit the response you seek, but it at least allows you to regain some control of the situation. You can choose to politely accept that they are no longer interested in communicating with you and wish them well for the future, or – if you feel that there may be still some hope of response – let them know you are open to their feedback on why they no longer felt able to continue the communication, whenever they feel ready to give it.

Ultimately, the underlying common denominator in ghosting is communication – be it a mutual lack of connection, or inability or neglect by one party, avoiding communication breakdown in working relationships will keep the ghosts at bay.



The Legal Update Trending

LinkedIn for Lawyers: Top Tips for Managing Your Presence

With 73,000 lawyers registered in the United Kingdom, LinkedIn is by far the most popular social network for legal professionals. At Obelisk Support, we know from experience that a good LinkedIn profile can increase your visibility, help build your personal brand or connect with industry peers. How you approach LinkedIn will depend on your own personal goals. As with all social networks, it is essential that your profile stands out from the crowd and that you get the most from your presence on the site.

The following tips will help you to create a solid and searchable presence as a lawyer on LinkedIn.

* This content was updated in June 2020 to reflect recent changes in how members interact on LinkedIn.

#1 Create a strong profile

Some people think of their LinkedIn profile as a public version of their CV, but there’s much more to it. To create your profile you should approach your experience in a similar manner, but remember it’s not just a copy and paste job. Your LinkedIn profile is your chance to show a more complete picture of you, beyond your experience.

  • Use a current and professional but relaxed photo. Try to avoid over styling or using filters, as you want to present a natural and down to earth image. Some professionals use photos of themselves speaking at events to show they are active and well-regarded in their field – generally though simplicity is best for a first impression, so smile and face the front on a plain and unobtrusive background. You can show a bit more of your personality with the cover image, or use the space to display your business branding.
  • Your headline is crucial. This is what will appear under your photo, and while many people leave it as their current title (as auto-filled by the site), it is better to write something more intriguing to create say more about your profile.
  • List relevant work experience only. It can be tempting to put in everything you’ve ever done, but just a like a CV you should focus on what is most relevant to your current direction. If you are currently on or have previously taken a career break state why and what you did as factually and assuredly as you would your other experience – there is no need to get tangled up in euphemisms or start over describing your ‘roles’ and ‘responsibilities’ during this time!
  • Remember you can add your own sections to include any volunteer experience, side projects, publications, board assignments, and more.

#2 Engage

Why? Because the LinkedIn algorithm rewards activity in recruiter and other searches.

  • Put a like on an interesting post.
  • Comment meaningfully in a full sentence.
  • Like/reply to other insightful comments.

Be discerning in connecting: quality over quantity. This week, challenge yourself to comment on relevant posts only in full sentences.

#3 Connect

LinkedIn isn’t like Twitter, where you can follow and be followed by anyone and everyone and cast your audience net widely and indiscriminately. LinkedIn provides the opportunity to craft a more useful, relevant and supportive online network of contacts, many of which you will have in-real-life contact with.

  • Start by importing your professional contacts from your email. You can then select which of these you want to connect with on LinkedIn. Remember, don’t add anyone and everyone! Maintain a network of people who you feel will be valuable going forward. Use LinkedIn’s recommendations and check out 2nd-degree contacts (people who are connected to your 1st degree connections).
  • Build your online network by checking out the networks of people you have had the strongest and most valuable professional relationships with. If you are adding someone you haven’t had previous contact with, add a short message explaining why you’d like to connect.
  • Personalise connect requests. Don’t expect answers to direct messages. This is social media; not formal email, and many people are working.
  • Don’t feel you have to accept every contact request you get. It is your profile and you are in control of who sees your updates.

#4 Share knowledge and ideas

This is where LinkedIn really goes beyond an online public CV. Publishing, sharing and following others’ content can greatly expand your knowledge base and raise your own profile.

  • Keep an active presence on the site, publish relevant articles and follow thought leaders and organisations to grow your personal brand and keep abreast of the talking points and news in your area. Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith, lawyer and Tedx speaker, regularly shares insights on her LinkedIn profile.
  • People will mostly follow you from the content you post. Try to keep your posts (texts, images, videos) as valuable as possible. What are the most impactful words you can post today on LinkedIn?
  • Try to mix up some variety with your content. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Are you sharing someone else’s content?
    • Are you posting content that highlights you as an expert?
    • Are you posting content to collaborate with others?
    • Are you posting your story as a way to inspire others?
  • Share relevant posts and articles from your network on a regular basis. Encourage your network to engage with share your own posts by including intro lines such as ‘Those of you in [Family Law] might want to take a look at this’ ‘I would be interested to hear your thoughts, feel free to share with your network!’
  • Be sure to also join relevant groups and associations (including your local Bar Association), and follow any Live events that may be of interest. Some examples you might like to follow include The Law Society who have a number of interest groups in addition to their main company page, e-Legal a popular network of lawyers from a number of sectors, and Legal Productivity, which focuses on the business of law in a changing industry.

#5 Treat your contacts as you would colleagues

LinkedIn is a social network, but it’s easy to forget this aspect. Conversations with like-minded individuals, be they online or in person, are always valuable.

  • Thank people for connecting and following – it’s nice to be nice, but you also never know where it might lead.
  • If you regularly like or comment on someone’s posts, or vice versa, get in touch privately to let them know how valuable you find their information. Interaction on LinkedIn is all about give and take, and it is important to support other’s efforts too.
  • LinkedIn has many alerts to make you aware of people’s work anniversaries and new job moves. Instead of just clicking the ‘like’ button, add your own message to show your genuine interest and goodwill. Here’s a little more advice on better LinkedIn etiquette from Fast Company.

#6 Create native videos

If you are trying to stand out from the crowd, look no further than native LinkedIn videos.

  • Native video allows LinkedIn users to record and upload video directly to personal profiles – directly from the mobile app.
  • LinkedIn Native video metrics allow publishers to identify the companies their viewers work for and what their job titles are.
  • Native videos earn an average of three times the engagement of text posts and are five times more likely than other content to start a conversation among LinkedIn members.
  • To boost your profile, native video content, as with all social media, should be just 20% directly promotional and 80% helpful, informative, or otherwise engaging.
  • The best quality videos tend to be produced on desktop, then sent to mobile device for upload.

LinkedIn is professional, but the most impressive and searchable profiles do well because they also show a well-rounded personality. Your profile should be approached as a living and breathing extension of you and where you want to get to in your career – because you never know, it could be the thing that helps you get there.

Obelisk In Action Trending

Lawyers’ independence En Garde

A question was put to the legal sector this week that echoed around the whole of the City – do institutional clients threaten lawyer independence?

This eyebrow-raising question is at the heart of a piece of research commissioned by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in the wake of the Tomlinson Report, which raised serious concerns about how major financial institutions can influence their law firms.

The answer – presented to an audience of lawyers, academics and regulators at UCL’s Centre for Ethics and Law on Wednesday evening – came from the very man who was brought in by the SRA to carry out the study, Dr Steven Vaughan.

Dr Vaughan (pictured above) is an academic from the Law School at the University of Birmingham. After spending the best part of ten years as a City lawyer advising multinational companies, governments, the UN and the World Bank, he now carries out research into the legal sector and corporate finance.

In this study for the SRA there is no doubting Dr Vaughan’s findings and certainly no evidence of him sitting on the fence. Do institutional clients threaten lawyer independence? In a word, yes.

Professor Richard Moorhead from UCL invited Dr. Vaughan to set out his findings to the audience in detail, which was followed by a discussion with Enid Rowlands, Chair of the SRA, and Alasdair Douglas, Chairman of the City of London Law Society.

Dr Vaughan said the relationship between large commercial law firms and their large clients, with the impact these relationships can have on professional independence and therefore ethics, standards and risk, is critical in delivering effective regulation across the legal profession.

He said his findings essentially point to a shift in the dynamic of lawyer-client relationships inside large firms, whereby the client can hold significant power over the lawyers they instruct.

There are a series of complex factors behind this, which have all developed at a “staggering” pace in recent years;

  • increasing competition for legal services
  • the growth of General Counsel
  • the relative size of clients to the law firms they work with
  • and the ongoing impact of the financial crisis.

In particular, Dr Vaughan highlighted the private regulation of professional lawyers via contract. This relates to law firm panels and outside counsel guidelines seeking to impose their own terms of engagement on law firms, and the practice of what Dr Vaughan calls ‘shadow clients’, where third parties – namely borrowers – pay the fees of, and have a powerful voice in the appointment of, their lender’s lawyers.

  • Dr Vaughan’s insights and observations – which are based on interviews with lawyers working in this space – outline the tension between the existing state framework on one hand and the commercial imperative of being close to clients on the other
  • The lawyers he talked to lamented the loss of their professional advisor status, which has now changed to being one of a service provider in the light of de-regulation of the legal services market
  • Dr Vaughan described how some see the Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLP) as the ‘holders’ of professional values for the whole firm – potentially eroding the essential concept of individual professionalism.

And the research suggests a somewhat “insidious” increase in the kind of risks some firms are prepared to take, especially wrapping liability of third party advisers working on an uncapped liability basis and signing indemnities.

The SRA commissioned Dr Vaughan’s research to get a better understanding of these kind of client relationships as it works to evolve the existing regulatory framework.

Summing up, Dr Vaughan said the current principle of ‘independence’ and associated guidance as set out in the SRA handbook does not match the realities of what is happening practice. These principles could be better framed, whilst the area of ‘shadow clients’ should be addressed head on.

Next up was SRA chair, Enid Rowland, who said lawyer-client relationships are indeed a complex area, and the SRA understands that commercial pressures do not operate in a ‘bubble’. She commended Dr Vaughan’s report as a great read and singled out the role of lawyer secondees as being of particular interest.

Ms Rowland told the audience that the SRA’s aim is to have as free a market as possible for legal services, and her organisation’s emphasis was on professional standards rather than more regulations. The standards, she said, just need a sharper, clearer definition.

The SRA chair suggested a great way to raise standards in the profession is to share and champion good practice, and there is a role for the SRA in this. She cited three key things to focus on;

  • the need for lawyers to ‘push back’ against client pressure to avoid compromising their professional independence
  • review the work and the impact of the office of COLPs
  • more research.

Alasdair Douglas, Chairman of the City of London Law Society, then took to the floor, with a somewhat different view on lawyer-client relationships and the perceived threat of lawyer independence.

Drawing on his 35 years in the legal sector, Mr Douglas emphasised that lawyers, regardless of commercial pressures, knew their personal and professional independence was key to both their reputation and the firm’s reputation.

He looked instead to Government policy, such as the proposed 1% tax, and legislative reforms in legal aid, judicial review and the suggestion of ‘lawyer free’ judicial hearings as far greater challenges to lawyer independence.

The debate made for very interesting listening, and led to a number of thought provoking questions and observations from the audience, all under Chatham House rules.

Dr. Vaughan said further research will look at the in-house picture. On the point of who is responsible for ethical training and professional independence standards, Prof. Moorhead confirmed there is currently no comprehensive training for lawyers, and this is essentially the practitioner’s role rather than academics.

I was struck by this situation in the context of planned relaxations to the CPD rules and my experience of there being an absence of any formal ethical training programme in law firms.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It was certainly something we discussed informally over a glass or two of UCL’s hospitality.

It was great to see a number of Obelisk Support’s consultants at this event. As a business driven by change and innovation, Obelisk and its community of consultants, is always keen to listen to and understand the latest thinking. I commend these UCL events to all our readers. The next one takes place on 1st March, examining the impact and role of COLP’s in the post ABS-world.

See for details.