Photography Competition Awards Ceremony
Obelisk In Action

Last night (10th July) saw us announce the winners of the 1st Global Law Photography competition, themed around climate change. 

The judging panel, led by Marcus Jamieson-Pond, photographer and former CSR Manager,  was impressed not only by the quality of all the photographs submitted but also by the accompanying stories explaining their significance. As well as being inspired by the thinking and creativity of the competition entrants, our audience at Lexis House was privileged to hear from Peter Barnett, climate litigation lawyer at ClientEarth.  As an NGO working at the cutting edge of climate change, ClientEarth are using the law to fight the climate crisis and show the true power of lawyers to drive change in this area. Obelisk Support were delighted to raise funds for ClientEarth, as well as raising awareness of their work in this area.

Our thanks go to LexisNexis, home of the LexisPSL Environment service, who were supporters of this initiative and hosted the presentation evening.

Here are the three top photographs and our winners’ stories:

Winner – Magdalena Bakowska

Winner

This photo represents the spectacular Namib desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world, to draw attention to the problem of global warming and water shortages, so common in this region. Arid regions of southern Africa, although beautiful, are particularly exposed to further drying. The region is said to be one of the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change and having less natural capacity to adapt to such impact, although, ironically, African nations are considered to have contributed the least to the problem of global warming.

Namibia’s climate is, in general, dry and hot, with already irregular rainfall patterns. As a result of climate change, the country, which is highly dependent on climate sensitive natural resources, is predicted to become even hotter, leading to aridification.

Highly-Commended – Camilla Bindra-Jones

Highly commended

All week concerns were expressed by SpringWatch for the fledglings under watch. Strong winds unusual for England in June came as predicted & scattered the precious cargo.  I felt the parents sorrow & placed their children in a row. I know not why I took a photo & felt a need to bury them but maybe it was to stay the busyness of the world. Death makes us wish to turn back time; our recently awakened awareness of climate change calls us to a state of mindfulness.  We must stand together and do as much as we can to try to stay the damage of us in time past.The swallows have nested in the open garages since 1993. The numbers arriving this year were reduced by around 70 per cent. It was this fact, along with the unusually strong winds that made the loss of the fledglings additionally upsetting.

Commended – Lauren Bruce

Commended

This photo was taken at the Solheimasandur plane wreck in Southern Iceland. Airplanes have a huge environmental impact, both the pollution when flying and in the environmental destruction of a crash. Strangely this crash site had been repurposed as a tourist attraction, juxtaposed against the natural beauty of its surroundings.

Making Work, Work

On Tuesday June 25, 2019, the Academy Awards of the legal industry, aka The Lawyers Awards, took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. Obelisk Support was shortlisted in the Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion category and we were particularly impressed by the winning entries in the in-house category. Via Obelisk’s legal blog, The Attic, we contacted some of the winners of the In-House category to learn about their secret recipe for legal success – and congratulate them along the way.

General Counsel of the Year: Tess Bridgman, Cory Riverside Energy Group

Tess Bridgman, general counsel and company secretary of recycling and waste disposal firm Cory Riverside Energy Group, won the much-coveted title of General Counsel of the Year 2019 thanks to the impressive evidence of technical, leadership and strategic excellence at the heart of a complex and business-critical project she led. Indeed, Bridgman has been right at the heart of the action at her company’s most significant steps forward in recent years. In 2018 the company was acquired by a consortium of infrastructure investors and in 2019, it went through a major debt refinancing.

Aged just 34, Bridgman helped steer one of the most impressive turnarounds in the market, transforming Cory from an over-leveraged, distressed conglomerate into a focused and profitable infrastructure business aimed at serving Greater London. In parallel, Bridgman changed Cory’s in-house team from a siloed structure to a department that is now considered not just an enabler, but also a creative leader of change.

Tess Bridgman shared the following with us. “Winning the General Counsel of the Year award means a lot to me, topping off an incredible three years at Cory Riverside Energy. When I joined, the company was undergoing huge change and was undertaking multiple complex transactions simultaneously. With no prior GC experience, I was really thrown in the deep end and am so proud to have come out the other side with this award. This is not something I could have done, however, without the incredible wisdom, support and challenge that I received from my colleagues and advisers.”

“To be a great GC in today’s world you need to be more than “just the lawyer”. It is beginning to sound trite, as I know GCs and in-house counsel have been saying this for some time now, but the role is about being a truly trusted adviser to the board, the CEO, the senior management team and, effectively, the whole business. It is about taking a leadership role in influencing the strategy and direction of the company and / or major transactions, and taking the skills learned as a lawyer and applying them to situations that may not, on the face of it, be “legal” (for example, the ability to synthesise complex issues to enable clear commercial decisions to be taken; or the ability to project manage). Success requires an enquiring mind, and having the confidence to ask questions or speak up and make a stand on issues that matter – whether these relate to matters of commerce, governance, sustainability, diversity or any other important issue facing your organisation. It requires energy, to manage multiple issues and projects at one time, and determination and empathy, to lead and influence others and navigate multiple and varied stakeholders.”

Fittingly, Bridgman is also a strong voice for female leadership – no doubt inspired by her ancestor, New Zealand suffragette Kate Sheppard who led the women’s campaign for women’s votes in 1893.

In-House Commerce and Industry Team of the Year: Post Office

For state-owned company the Post Office, the biggest challenge has been to become a commercially sustainable business and financially independent of government funding. It goes without saying that its legal team has been busy, winning In-House Commerce and Industry Team of the Year thanks to their hard work in modernising the Post Office as a business. In the last year it has overhauled its panel, created an academy to upskill its lawyers and created new procedures to streamline the contract approval and legal risk management processes.

A Post Office spokesman shared the following with us: “We’re delighted and proud that the Post Office’s legal team has won this award following a year of supporting the business during its continuing transformation.”

“The team’s achievements include supporting major Post Office strategic initiatives such as its acquisition of  Payzone Bill Payments and the negotiation of a new agreement with major high street banks for the services provided on their behalf through Post Office branches.”

“At the same time, the team has implemented changes to increase efficiency and value in managing the broad range of business matters it is required to support.”

In-House TMT Team of the Year: Farfetch

Fresh from winning Luxury Deal of the Year and Luxury Business In-House Legal Team of the Year at the Luxury Law Summit in London in April 2019, the Farfetch legal team wins TMT Team of the Year thanks to how they supported a period of fantastic growth for the company, culminating in the NYSE listing in September 2018. The legal team was also commended for their ‘keeping sane’ approach to procuring external counsel assistance.

The legal function at luxury fashion tech platform Farfetch was set up just five years ago, and has been at the centre of the company’s strategy and operations for all that time, advising the business through super-charged growth. 2018 was truly a year to remember; it achieved a US$5.8bn listing, a group re-organisation including a new holding company in the Cayman Islands, the acquisition of a digital and technology business in China, a global partnership deal with Harvey Nichols and an innovation partnership with Chanel, and the acquisition of a US-based premier streetwear online marketplace. At the same time, it was involved in the launch of an office in India and a tech hub in Portugal. The breadth of regulatory changes, corporate transactions and commercial issues was enormous, but the team, led by general counsel James Maynard, took it all in their stride.

In-House FTSE Commerce & Industry Team of the Year: Tarmac

Reflecting a building materials industry changing with the underlying construction industry, Tarmac has been through major restructuring and managed to forge a culture of innovation, having recently developed a new rubberised asphalt using recycled waste tires. Corporate innovation and changes came with high-stakes legal challenges. Tarmac wins FTSE Commerce & Industry Team of the Year thanks to their strong application of legal skills, leadership, management and innovation in demanding situations and under lots of pressure.

Katie Smart, general counsel for Tarmac, shared the following with us: “We’re absolutely delighted to have won this award which is a fantastic reflection of the hard work and dedication of very single member of the legal and compliance team.

“We’re all proud to work for Tarmac and this recognition from The Lawyer Awards helps shine a spotlight on the range of exciting career opportunities available within our company, as well as the wider construction industry which is such a great place to work for many professions.”

In-House Banking & Financial Services Team of the Year: Zopa

Pioneer P2P lending fintech Zopa matches people looking for a competitive loan rate with investors looking for a higher rate of return, and has lent more than £3.7bn to low-risk UK borrowers since 2004. Zopa’s bank is scheduled to launch in 2019 with plans to offer FSCS protected deposit accounts, credit cards, and a money management app. This company growth into new territory has been supported along by the legal team and this week, Zopa’s legal team won In-House Banking & Financial Services Team of the Year thanks to their creative legal advice and collaboration to facilitate the business as well as for the team’s focus on returners and diversity.

The Zopa legal team pushed into new regulatory territory over 2018, spearheading the launch of a new challenger bank to sit alongside its existing business, creating the world’s first hybrid peer-to-peer and digital bank.

General counsel Olivia Broderick saw Zopa through its acquisition of a banking license, the new bank creating unusual challenges alongside the existing peer-to-peer lending entity. The new bank needed people and assets to prove to the regulator that it was a resilient business and for this, the legal team led a TUPE transfer and a series of asset transfers from the P2P business to the bank.

Congratulations to all the winning teams for their achievements!

 

Obelisk In Action

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 Barclays, 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, Barclays in Legal Ops, 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.

The Legal Update

We’ve waited, we’ve debated, we’ve theorised, we’ve read the forecasts, but the question of Brexit’s impact on the UK and the financial services market still looms large. Obelisk Support recently attended the UK Financial Services Brexit and Beyond Summit, a City & Financial Global event, to get some insight on managing the EU withdrawal process from a legal perspective. Note that this Summit took place before the UK Government presented its Brexit Bill and some things might have changed.

The overall feeling in the room was that the UK should and would be leaving the EU as ‘global Britain’. Most in the industry were confident that Brexit would not change London’s standing as a global financial powerhouse, even in the event of no deal. John Glen MP, Economic Secretary, pointed to the UK FinTech industry was worth £7.5bn, giving the UK an advantage that other marketplaces did not have. However, this is not without a lot of work currently being done, and to come, to prepare for every eventuality and the inevitable legislative and regulatory changes that would follow. Some job losses would also be consequences, but these were stated to be a ‘fraction of original Bank of England predictions’.  

New Regulatory Responsibility

The UK FCA will have temporary authorisation to wave/manage authorisations to allow temporary operation until agreement is signed, Nausicaa Delfas of the FCA confirmed. Firms will not need to make many changes to be compliant and are advised to take their own legal services on how to manage a no deal Brexit, for themselves and their customers. Firms must let customers know about how their services/products/rights and protections in contractual terms will change. There will only be a need to move client’s activity if it is in client’s interest. Customers will be protected when we leave via the Ombudsman regime.

Areas of risk will include contractual continuity, data adequacy, and clearing, which need agreement on both sides, and transfers of personal data between UK and EU raise questions. On Day One, the UK will have equivalent framework to the EU’s. Outcome based equivalence is the principle – our rules do not need to be identical but achieve similar outcomes with market-specific rules. The FCA welcomes US FCA rules, which have broadly equivalent outcomes. Unsurprisingly, predictable and stable regulations are necessary for financial services to thrive. 

Legal Clarifications and Myth-busting

The next task involved debunking some of the myths relating to Brexit in a panel discussion with Michael Dougan (MD) Professor of European Law and Jean Monnet Chair in EU Law, University of Liverpool, Chris Allen (CA), General Counsel, Clients and Products, Standard Chartered Bank, the Rt Hon The Lord Garnier QC (G) and Paul Hardy (PH), Brexit Director at DLA Piper. 

MD kicked off with a ‘back to basics’ reminder about the withdrawal act and the withdrawal agreement bill, both bases to avoid unnecessary disruption. EU law is not designed for third countries and was created for state members. The withdrawal agreement bill requires separate legislation if we are to reach an agreement. Much of EU law can be incorporated into UK law without reference to the withdrawal act and EU law will be in place until the end of the transitional period. He stressed that there would be no such thing as a happy ending, whether the country reaches a deal or no deal, remains or leaves. We just have to deal with the consequences of Brexit as it is happening.

G stressed that ministers have had to power to create secondary legislation throughout acts of parliament for a long time, acts that can bridge the gap until the full transition has been completed.  CA was concerned about the sheer volume of legislation to check and be translated into UK law. The huge amount of complexity and the volume make this a very challenging task. The reality is that 800 pieces of secondary legislation have to be adopted before March 2019, going through sifting committees at the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Brexit illustrates the difficulty of incorporating a multilateral system for all into a unilateral system for all.

Post-Brexit Contracts Continuity

For James Smethurst of Freshfields, the validity of contracts depends on whether or not licences are required. Take derivatives: Mere payment under these contracts is not a regulated activity, unlike entering into compression or new contract. Look at particular activities: Regulated activities for insurance is not so much entering as performing the contract. Any activity beyond payment may require licences. What would be the consequences of performing the contract without licences?

Validity & Enforceability

Additionally, what is the governing law of the contract? If it is UK law, the agreement will remain legal and valid without loss of authorisation. The place where the contract has to be performed will impact its enforceability. If an activity has to be performed in a EU member state and that contract is therefore illegal in the UK, is it unenforceable under UK law? Not necessarily. The answer depends on whether engaging into a contract constitutes an ‘adventure to break the laws of a foreign state.’ Even if the contract remains valid and enforceable, could one of the parties terminate for loss of authorisation? Are there reps of warranties within the agreement and whether they are given only at the outset of the agreement, repeated at any point during the contract or continuing? What’s the consequences of one of the parties losing its authorisation  and could the doctrine of frustration be invoked?

Most complex financial services contracts should have provided for the loss of authorisation. The regulatory risk is quite high for insurers as they might be subject to sanctions and regulatory scrutiny in EU member states. Regulatory exposure of firms means they might need to address that risk and transfer that contract to another entity in a EU member state that has the authorisation. 

Talent Retention & Immigration Law

Ilda de Sousa, partner at Kingsley Napley LLP, discussed the situation of EU nationals currently in the UK. The transitional period is slated to last from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020. Freedom of movement should not be an issue during that transitional period. The EU secondment scheme will go live on 29 March 2019 and is aimed at EU nationals and their family who can show residency.
There will be an app to download with 3 questions:
  1. Nationality,
  2. How long they’ve lived in the UK,
  3. Criminal convictions.
If a residence of over 5 years in the UK can be established with proof, the home office will access HMRC data and EU nationals will be prompted to pay a £65 fee (£32 for under 18s). For stay-at-home parents without HMRC records, they would need to produce documentation to show residency, with no more than 6 months outside of the UK during 5 years. Otherwise, they would have to apply for pre-secondment status. They would be granted leave to remain until they reach the 5-year period. By 30 June 2121, all EU nationals must have applied for secondment/pre-secondment status.
What about EEA nationals and Switzerland? Norway has struck a deal with the UK government and other countries are negotiating. New immigration rules should come into effect on 1st January 2021. The concern is if you haven’t clocked up 5 years or been granted leave to remain, then there would be no recourse to reach a settled status. In a no-deal scenario, the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK will be honoured.
The question is, how to attract future EU nationals after Brexit? Pending immigration white paper, EU nationals should be treated like non-EU nationals but rules might be less restrictive for higher skilled workers. Immigration is very expensive and businesses might have to face £1000 per year for a visa in addition to government fees. Is this the best way to make the UK as attractive as it should be? 

Conclusion

To paraphrase Nausicaa Delfas of the Financial FCA, with less than 5 months to go, the focus was on providing certainty and confidence to firms and their clients operating in the UK, which involved being ready for all possibilities. While she emphasised the need for London to keep influencing global standards, it was pretty clear that without certainty, firms would need to change how they operated on the basis of a worst case scenario. 
News

On 23 October 2017, Obelisk and a dozen of London startups joined Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, on a trade delegation #LondonIsOpen to meet with French startups in Paris and map out commercial cooperation between both cities. As reported in Forbes, Obelisk embodies the spirit of London-based SMEs with ambitions to expand into new markets on the continent despite the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union in 2019. We caught up with Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support, the only lawyer part of the British delegation.

#1 What was the objective of the #LondonIsOpen event in Paris?

It was a follow-up to an earlier trip by Sadiq Khan in March 2017 when they launched a collaboration programme focused on establishing a network of global cities to help entrepreneurs develop their businesses across different markets. Obelisk was part of this previous trip too.

 #2 Who was present in London and in Paris?

The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, took 12 businesses with him to meet facilitators, as well as corporates, interested in working with U.K. businesses. We met with global French companies such as L’Oréal and BNP Paribas, as well as the French representatives of multinationals, such as Johnson & Johnson.

 #3 What did you learn during the event?

The trip confirmed that London has some really exciting tech businesses that are very scalable, but that when scaling internationally, there is always a need for localisation. This was something that the COO of Trainline, Mark Brooker, highlighted in his presentation.

There are some really great partners businesses can rely on – take the Eurostar, for example, whose CEO Nicolas Petrovic joined us on the trip. They connect the E.U. and Britain and they are committed to collaboration across the channel.

#4 How can Obelisk inspire other professionals considering doing business with France?

France has an increasingly dynamic startup scene, as well as some really large, global multinationals. The new government also seems to be undertaking structural reforms which should make operating in France easier and cheaper for British companies British SMEs should continue to be bold and seek new business opportunities beyond our borders. France seems like a logical first step, being both a geographical neighbour and established commercial partner. Plus, the rise of Paris as a technology hub is very exciting news for businesses with a tech angle like ours.

 #5 Why is Paris an important business partner for the legal industry?

France is a major economy and has some very large global companies that are facing increased volumes of work. Cost control and a need for flexibility in delivery is important to them, so there is a good opportunity for a business like ours, supporting legal services as the work flow increases.

#6 Tell us about an anecdote that illustrates the event

I loved the fact that a good chunk of the mission happened on the train to Paris. As we had nowhere to go, it took away from the pressure of meeting new people and made connecting with the delegation easier.
As we were all so engrossed in speed mentoring and meeting the Mayor, lunch was served in a brown paper bag – but it included a most delicious chocolate cake – a winner!

 #7 What are your next steps at Obelisk?

Booking a trip to Paris soon is for sure a next step to follow up on meetings and lessons learnt. The year 2018 should see Obelisk France set up and running.

Media

Obelisk was one of 30 London-based fast-growing technology scale ups to accompany the Mayor on his trade mission to NYC and Chicago this month. The Attic caught up with Dana to find out how it went…

What kind of businesses and individuals did you meet?

The Mayor of London is a great champion of small businesses, especially given our role as the largest job creators. So it was in this vein that he selected 30 fast growing businesses to join him on his US trip. The businesses had to focus on the B2B market as the nature of the trip was to introduce us to large corporate buyers and to showcase the strong businesses that are London-based.

The other businesses were absolutely fascinating – very innovative services and amazing variety of sectors. Most of them are technology-enabled ground-breaking businesses that are reshaping the industries they serve. The energy of the founders and leaders that joined was truly contagious – a lot of lessons can be learned from being in a peer-to-peer environment that is supportive and ambitious.

How did you enjoy opening the New York Stock Exchange?

This was a unique moment and without a doubt the highlight. It was wonderful that only the women leaders on the trip were invited to join the Mayor to ring the closing bell. Sadiq Khan is not only a supporter of SMEs but also a great believer of the economic value of women in the workplace, so that was truly a special moment.

What do you think of the work the Mayor and the London and Partners team is doing to show London is open for business?

The #LondonIsOpen campaign was a brilliant and positive response to the Brexit vote. It has kept the world’s eyes firmly on London as a business destination; they have done a lot of work to highlight the strength of the private sector, they showcased the fast growing businesses and the general open business environment that London offers as an enabler of building a business.

How important is it for growing London-based companies such as Obelisk to present themselves to the US market in the wake of Brexit?

All fast growing businesses are looking for markets in which they can grow, for business partners that value their services and that can underpin that growth. So being able to be in the US with the Mayor was fantastic from an access and credibility point of view. We now know we have a lot of help at hand to push for growth in the US, across that whole market.

Did you get much down time to explore as a tourist?

I started every day with a long walk – around the financial district or walking along the Highline which is a suspended garden walk along some decommissioned train tracks. Nothing beats jet lag like a walk and a hearty breakfast.

What was the most important take away for you from the experience? What do you hope to see in future once we leave the EU?

If you have a strong business, although a ready-to-access market can help, in the end you can take your services anywhere. Success has no borders.