Obelisk In Action

Like in 2017, the whole team at Obelisk Support is contributing to a 2018 book review to inspire your future reads. Each one of us was asked to nominate one (or more) books or blogs they had really enjoyed reading in 2018 and to explain why they recommend it. We hope that you will find this list enjoyable and that through our book recommendations, you will get to know us a little bit better. In our own words, here are our favourite 2018 reads.

Caroline

At the start of the year, I read Shami Chakrabarti’s book called Of Women – looking at the status of women throughout the world and how gender inequality is the biggest inequality over any other around the globe. Not exactly a laugh a minute, but really interesting! Otherwise I enjoyed light witty autobiographies like Sarah Millican’s How to be champion which is just daft but fun and nice before going to sleep.

Dana

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a book by Yuval Noah Harari and The Internationalists: And Their Plan to Outlaw War by Oona Hathaway.

Debbie

On the book reads for 2018 – would you believe me if I told you that I have not finished reading a single book that I started this year 🙄 which when I think about it, is actually a great way to sum up the year that I have had and how I’m feeling generally!

If I could recommend books, they would be Becoming by Michelle Obama, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

Jane

How hard can it be? by Allison Pearson is an easy read that has plenty of laughs, but at the same time touches on some very real challenges of dealing with ageism, ageing parents, living with teenagers and re-engaging as a working parent. As the main character, Kate Reddy’s life seems particularly hectic compared to most people I know, but perhaps this makes more of an entertaining holiday read. She makes some great observations about family life and has hilarious descriptions for some of the things that happen to her. This book is a sequel to her first novel, “I Don’t Know How She Does.”

Katie

My fav 2 books I have read this year- Familiar Strangers by Callum Noad -really enjoyed reading this because I had no idea what was going to happen next, although its a bit far-fetched! (also- the author is my friend and I had no idea he was good at writing, I was really impressed!). The other book is called The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Bar– it’s sad at times but also really heartwarming.

Kayleigh

I finally got around to reading The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, the story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski earlier this year. Antonia and her husband Jan, proprietors of Warsaw Zoo during the Second World War, are two ordinary people who carried out acts of real heroism at great personal risk to themselves. The book does more than simply bring that human story of resilience to life, it also goes into great detail about the ideology and use of scientific and sociological reasoning that led to that awful dark time in history and how ordinary humans can also be convinced to endorse and carry out the most inhuman acts. Some of the detail about animal species is quite lengthy, so if it’s not an area of interest your mind could wander, but I felt it created an apt jarring effect against the descriptions of horror that were frequently happening around them.

Laure

Silence: In the Age of Noise by Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge made me think about the meaning of noise and silence in our busy lives. I had never thought of inner silence as the key of happiness or silence as a means to communicate with others, but the author does raise some very interesting points. Having climbed Everest and trekked solo to the South Pole, he knows a thing or two about silence and his thesis is quite inspiring in a ‘less is more’ way if you are looking for ways to find peace within yourself. For a more uplifting read, I really enjoyed The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden, the first book in a 5-book series about the life of Gaius Julius Caesar. It’s strong on world building and as a result, scenes set in Ancient Rome feel quite authentic. It’s also a lively (if not completely historically accurate) portrayal of a society where gladiators, slaves and citizens shared the same land with very different rights (or absence of rights).

Lawrance

I loved Third World Child: Born White, Zulu Bred by GG Alcock recently. GG Alcock and his brother Rauri grew up on the bank of the Tugela River in Msinga in rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and this book is about growing up in a rural South African community and moving to the city.

Louisa

War on Peace by Ronan Farrow is an insightful book that draws on access to high-level people in the know.

Nadya

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox is a fun book to read on cold or rainy days inside. It is a must for those wanting to get a better understanding of unspoken rules of English behaviour. Kate Fox offers light-hearted yet insightful observations of the English culture and habits. What an enjoyable read!

Naz

Surprisingly, I haven’t read a book this year (not that I can recall anyway). Instead my goals have be focussed on self development, motivation and a bit of zen. A healthy mind starts with a healthy body and I’ve found vegetarian food blog Naturally Ella helpful. What I like about the blog is the option to “Explore an Ingredient” and finding healthy recipes for it, handy when you have the extra sweet potato lying around.

Sophie

A book I loved recently was Snap by Belinda Bauer. An easy to read crime novel with a great story and some fabulous characters. I’m also enjoying my cookery book – Made in India by Meera Sodha – it’s a gorgeous book with lovely inspiring photos and the recipes are easy to follow and very delicious.

Will

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult is a great story around an horrific subject, beautifully written by a great writer.

 

 

 

Dana Denis-Smith
Women in Law

On Tuesday 7 November 2018, Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Worcester in England, recognising her achievements as an entrepreneur and philanthropist championing the rights of women in law. Here is how Professor Sarah Greer, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Worcester, introduced Dana Denis-Smith to an audience of over 2,000 students, student guests and university faculty. 

Deputy Pro Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Graduands, and Graduands Guests, I am delighted to introduce you to Dana Denis-Smith.

I have had the privilege of following Dana’s work as an entrepreneur, influencer and champion for women leaders for the past seven years. She is, quite simply, a woman with the energy, ambition and ability to change the world.

Dana qualified initially as a lawyer with the leading Law firm Linklaters. In 2010, she set up her own company, Obelisk Legal Support Services, an alternative legal services company. The idea was born of a recognition that the inflexible working patterns of the legal world – with its long working hours and high pressured culture – offered little to attract and retain highly trained professional women lawyers, particularly after having children.

Dana’s concept was a company built around flexible, highly skilled legal professionals, most of them women, offering them an opportunity to work around their family commitments, using technology to facilitate their chosen working pattern, enabling many to work remotely from home. In a very traditional male environment, many were sceptical of the unique concept of what was described as a “Mum’s army”.

Typically, Dana responded by aiming high, and within a very short space of time, the company has become extremely successful. It offers women a truly alternative way of combining the career that they love and for which they have trained for many years, with caring responsibilities and work life balance. It has been named as one of the top 50 employers for women, and has recently been named by the Financial Times as one of Europe’s fastest growing companies.

Dana herself has been honoured with many accolades. She has been named as one of the 35 most inspirational Women in Business under the age of 35; been awarded the title of Outstanding Legal Innovator of the year; given the WEConnect International Best Mentor and Role Model Award and voted as one of Britain’s five most inspiring mothers for juggling a new business creation with family life. Earlier this year, she won the very prestigious LexisNexis award for Legal Personality of the Year 2018.

However, we are not just honouring Dana for her many business achievements, nor for just for the outstanding work she has done in changing women’s working lives.

In 2014, Dana founded a remarkable 5 year project called the First Hundred Years Project. To explain the purpose of the project, I need to take you back to just over a hundred years ago, and introduce you to another extraordinary woman called Gwyneth Bebb.

Miss Bebb was until recently completely missing from history. She was one of the first women to study Law at Oxford – for much of her degree, she was the only woman in a class of 400 men. She was a brilliant student, achieving a first class mark in her examinations – but she was not awarded a degree, because in those days, Oxford would not recognise women’s achievements and award them a degree. Nonetheless, she wanted to be a lawyer. A hundred years ago, women could not enter the legal profession – it was one of the very last professions in England not to admit women. Miss Bebb became a test case: she challenged the Law Society over its decision not to allow her to become a lawyer.

Miss Bebb did not win her case. The judge said, that according to the meaning of the relevant Act of Parliament, she could not become a solicitor, because as she was a woman, she was “not a person”. Despite her loss, the case attracted a lot of support. A great campaign gathered pace, with ordinary women uniting, challenging and pushing aside obstacles, refusing to accept their exclusion. Eventually in 1919, women were finally allowed to enter the legal profession after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.

Miss Bebb’s is one of those untold stories of women’s history that prompted Dana to set up the First 100 Years Project. The mission of the project is to ensure a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession by raising awareness about their history and inspiring future generations of female lawyers.

It has created a digital museum which records the oral histories of the great first women – women such as our honorary Worcester graduate, Baroness Hale, as first woman President of the Supreme Court. But equally importantly, it records the stories of ordinary women such as Miss Bebb – ordinary, extraordinary women, whose stories would otherwise be lost to history.

Dana Denis-Smith

As the project has gathered momentum it has attracted support from the judiciary, Bar Council and Law Society. Our Law students at the University of Worcester have been working since 2015 on a Women’s Legal History project, researching and contributing stories to the digital museum on the remarkable women and the men who helped them achieve equality of opportunity. Over the past three years they have visited archives Oxford Colleges and the Inns of Court, written articles and a book chapter, and presented their research at academic conferences. Next year they will graduate on the hundredth anniversary of women being allowed to enter the legal profession.

The project has enthused and inspired them, and we have all been moved by the stories of these very ordinary women, who did such extraordinary things to enable our students to have the opportunities that they have today. That is down to Dana’s brilliant idea, and her commitment to creating positive role models for future generations of women lawyers. She is without doubt one of those shining and inspirational role models herself.

Today we honour Dana for her own considerable achievements as a woman, lawyer and entrepreneur. But in honouring Dana, we also honour the memory of every one of those ordinary – extraordinary – women – women who changed the course of history in their own quietly remarkable way. In recognising Dana’s courage and determination to make meaningful change in the working lives of women lawyers, we recognise the quiet courage and determination of those ordinary women who won the battle, to ensure that every woman in the cathedral today has the freedom that we now enjoy and expect – economic freedom, the freedom to choose our own career without discrimination, the freedom to do what we were born to do.

Deputy Pro Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Graduands, and Graduands Guests, I present to you Dana Denis- Smith, for the award of an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Dana Denis-Smith

Obelisk In Action

At Obelisk Support, we are proud to have been shortlisted as finalists for the LegalWeek Legal Innovation Awards 2018 in the Supplier Innovation – Resource Management category. This follows the work we have done by investing in technology and creating our own mobile and web app to manage legal resources, cutting down turnover on client requests from over 48 hours to a few hours. This is one of several proprietary software built internally for Obelisk Support, to better serve business needs and reflect the business’ platform accurately.

2018 Awards

This year, this is the third nomination Obelisk and Obelisk leaders have garnered. In February 2018, Obelisk Support was named as one of the top 25% fastest growing companies in Europe – at no 1,171 out of 5,000 companies ranked in the 2018 edition of Inc. 5000 Europe.

In March 2018, Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, was voted by members of the legal profession, LexisNexis Legal Personality of the Year.

In April 2018, Obelisk Legal Support Solutions Limited being chosen as one of the FT1000: Fastest Growing Companies in Europe.

Previous LegalWeek Innovation Awards

Since its creation in 2010, Obelisk Support and Obelisk Support leaders have been recognised for their pioneering legal services by the LegalWeek Innovation Awards.

In 2016, Obelisk Support won Legal Week’s Innovation Awards Marketing Innovation for its project The Attic.

In 2015, Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith, won LegalWeek’s Outstanding Legal Innovator.

LegalWeek Innovation Awards 2018

The awards ceremony will take on 25 May 20118 in London.

Good luck to all finalists and may the best win.

Obelisk In Action

Obelisk Support, the legal services provider for FTSE companies and law firms HQ-ed in London, was today named as one of the top 25% fastest growing companies in Europe – at no  1,171 out of 5,000 companies ranked in the 2018 edition of “Inc. 5000” Europe.

“We are thrilled to be listed in the Inc. 5000 list in 2018 as is a testament to the important legal needs we solve for our customers,” said Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support. “Our clients trust Obelisk to help them with their legal work by matching the right skills to each job; importantly, I am proud of this achievement as it shows that driving positive change in the legal industry by being focused on people has a positive impact on financial performance; our social impact ethos means that our  1,000+ lawyers are loyal to us because we are committed to change the opportunities they have to work differently.”

In addition to Obelisk Support, the Inc. 5000 Europe list added notable companies such as HelloFresh, Dyson, Moo and Coolblue. You are in some pretty impressive company—which is exactly where you belong. As an Inc. 5000 Europe honouree, Obelisk Support Solutions now shares a pedigree with Intuit, Under Armour, Microsoft, Timberland, Pandora, Patagonia, Oracle, and dozens of other prominent recent U.S. alumni.

Obelisk Support is a revolutionary multi award-winning legal services company that connects law firms and in-house legal teams to highly-experienced corporate lawyers who want to work flexibly, whether for family or other reasons. Denis-Smith founded the business after becoming dismayed at the numbers of women she saw leaving the profession for family reasons – and realising this could be a key untapped pool of talent for innovative firms and in-house teams prepared to take a more flexible approach.

For 37 years, Inc. has welcomed the fastest-growing private companies into a very exclusive club. To be sure, considering the millions of private companies operating throughout Europe, being listed on the Inc. 5000 Europe is a significant achievement. The median company on the list increased sales by more than 254% since the start of 2013, while the average honouree grew a mind-boggling 473%. Those are results most companies could only dream of in the economy of the past three years.

“In an incredibly competitive business landscape, it takes something extraordinary to take your company to the top,” says Inc. President and Editor-In-Chief Eric Schurenberg. “The founders and CEOs of the Inc. 5000 Europe tell us they think determination, risk taking, and vision were the keys to their success, and I believe them.”

The Inc. 5000 Europe is a prestigious ranking of European-based, privately held, for profit and independent companies, based on percentage revenue growth. For the full list of this year’s Inc. 5000 winners, visit: http://www.inc.com/inc5000eu

Obelisk In Action

This year, the whole team at Obelisk Support is contributing to a 2017 book review to inspire your future reads. Each one of us was asked to nominate one (or two) books they had really enjoyed reading in 2017 and to explain why they recommend it. We hope that you will find this list enjoyable and that through our book recommendations, you will get to know us a little bit better. As our logo proudly states, we are Human First.

In no particular order, here are the favourite books we read in 2017…

Book #1 Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

By Brené Brown

Book #2 Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

By Sheryl Sandberg

#1 and #2 are recommended by Debbie Tembo, Client Relationship Manager

Why they are worth reading

These books are by women for everyone – encouraging more of us to live brave courageous lives and to stand in our truth more. To take more moments to remember the simple pleasures in life and that no matter how hopeless the world can seem some times, there is always an option b that requires living bravely in order to thrive.

Book #3: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

By Gail Honeyman

Recommended by Sophie Seymour, Operations Officer

Why it’s worth reading

It’s a great book with really wonderful characters and brilliant observations. I found myself thinking about it a lot when I wasn’t reading it and really missing the central characters when I finished it. Two other brilliant books this year are My name is Leon by Kit De Waal and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Books #4, 5 & 6: The Woods | Missing You | Six Years

By Harlen Coben

Recommended by Naz Khanom, Technical Support Analyst

Why they are worth reading

The genre for these three books are crime thriller. I love how Harlen Coben has made me excited to read and how the plots slowly unravel keeping me completely hooked. I love these books because I took them on my holidays this year. It whisks me back to reading on the sandy beaches of Tenerife, the feeling of blissfulness when being immersed into a whole new world for a couple of hours.

Book #7: Strange the Dreamer

By Laini Taylor

Recommended by Laure Latham, Marketing Manager

Why it’s worth reading

I love fantasy and this book took me on the most wonderful mind voyage, to the arid sands of a desert where the city of Weep is crushed by the shadow of a floating fortress in the shape of a seraphim. Beyond the setting, Laini Taylor is a great storyteller and Strange the Dreamer is first and foremost a tragic love story. It left me wanting for more so after I finished this book, I read the first trilogy by the same author, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and loved it just as much. Definitely recommended for all ages.

Book #8: The Racketeer

By John Grisham

Recommended by Kayleigh Ziolo, The Attic Editor

Why it’s worth reading

I resolved this year to try to read more regularly for sheer enjoyment, and decided to revisit John Grisham for a non-put-downable read with plenty of twists and turns. This ticked the boxes – slightly implausible in parts, but that at least added a sense of fun. It left me eager for another entertaining revenge-heist thriller to devour, so it helped me stick to my resolution!

Book #11: Let It Go

By Dame Stephanie Shirley

Recommended by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO

Why it’s worth reading

This book is like reading the Obelisk story in reverse. It brings to mind not just the entrepreneurial story but the constant juggle of parenting and work; and also how focus can achieve success but you don’t have to compromise on your integrity. I always loved her promise to herself that she had to make her life a life worth saving. We should all have a motto that we live by.

Book #12: Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls

By Rebel Girls

Recommended by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO

Why it’s worth reading

It’s a lovely introduction to the history of women. I love the colours and pictures and that they are snippets, it’s a beginning of the story and told well – I hope a lot of boys get given it.

Book #13: The Four Hour Work Week

By Tim Ferris

Recommended by Lawrance Shepstone, Technology Director

Why it’s worth reading

A refreshing, possibly idealistic look at living and working from anywhere and why it’s important, how to adjust your mindset and those around you to focus on performance, and best of all, examples of how it’s all done.

Book #14: The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

By Haemin Sunim

Recommended by Jane Leader, Recruitment Co-ordinator

Why it’s worth reading

I liked it because I needed something I could dip in and out of in bed at night (too tired to read anything serious!) and this book just had some nice insights and was thought provoking.

Book #15: My Name is Lucy Barton

By Elizabeth Strout

Recommended by Lucinda Acland, Community Manager

Why it’s worth reading

This is an unusual book dealing with the uneven landscape of family relationships- in particular mother and daughter love from childhood to motherhood. It’s written in a spare, thought- provoking style which deftly encompasses the range of complicated ambivalent feelings of love and loss in families.

Book #16: Strong Woman

By Karren Brady

Recommended by Lucy Paton, Key Account Manager

Why it’s worth reading

A good insight into the struggles for women in business, exploring Brady’s successes and juggling a family with a successful business. Quite inspiring.

Book #17: Bury Me Behind the Baseboard

By Pavel Sanaev

Recommended by Nadya Kirichenko, Client Delivery Manager

Why it’s worth reading

It’s very funny and sad at the same time, as well as very well written. “An autobiographical story about family, love, madness, violence, and trauma—told from the view of an eight-year-old boy—it shook Russia to the core as a surprising portrait of a generation, unveiling the madness of family structures familiar to everybody. Touchingly naïve, tragic, and incredibly funny at the same time” – Alina Bronsky.

Book #18: The Master of Petersburg

By J. M. Coetzee

Recommended by Nadya Kirichenko, Client Delivery Manager

Why it’s worth reading

This something I stumbled across and really liked – features Dostoevsky and links to St Petersburg.

Book #19: The Story of Art

By E. H. Gombrich

Recommended by Nadya Kirichenko, Client Delivery Manager

Why it’s worth reading

This is my go to reference book when it comes to art history.

Jazz FM Jazz Shapers
Media

On 7 October 2017, Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith joined radio presenter Elliot Moss on Jazz FM for the Jazz Shapers programme. They talked about creating Obelisk Support, believing in a better world, recording the history of women in law with The First 100 Years and, of course, they talked about jazz. This is a summary of the programme, that will be shortly available to listen on iTunes and on the in-flight radio of British Airways.

About Obelisk Support

Q: Is it just common sense when you’re mapping out how someone wants to receive a service, or is there something intrinsic to being a lawyer delivering a service to a client?

A: Talking about the client journey, I [positioned] myself as a consumer and tried to understand how I behave and what I expect from a service provider. It has to be easy, very much like a John Lewis “you know what you get, it doesn’t unravel in the wash”, and this is what our business is aiming to do. We want our clients to experience that it’s simple and easy to work with us.

We have about 1,100 registered lawyers, which is symptomatic of the fact that the legal profession has an over-supply of lawyers. The question is, can we get good lawyers to work with? Because we only do business law. To guarantee the quality of our lawyers, my team makes sure that they have a minimum of 2 years experience in a top law firm or a very large multinational, as this is our client base. We have other objective recruiting requirements to which we add a culture fit element. It’s a mixed process that can take up to two weeks to complete. About 40% of people make it through.

Q: When did it pop for the business?

A: In March 2012, we had 120 lawyers and I realised that we needed a larger scale. We got to 500 lawyers during the year, then 800, now 1,100 and we get new suppliers all the time.

About The First Hundred Years

Q: What was the purpose of the project you created in 2014?

A: The purpose of The First Hundred Years was to chart the journey of women in law. I had no idea of when women came into the profession [women were first admitted to the bar in the UK in 1919] and yet, all the time I was seeing stories on how women were not advancing or that there were not enough women in leadership positions. In order to understand the present and in order to help shape the future, the project was created.

Q: What are you celebrating at the end of October?

A: The [Women in Law Award Ceremony] is part of the search for the next generation of women lawyers. Rather than deciding who we think is inspirational, we decided to create awards so people could nominate people who inspire them and it’s open to anybody of any age, as long as they’ve worked 10 years in the legal profession. It opens up a new range of names for the project, beyond the pioneers, to know who will be the women of the future.

About Disruption, Change & Happiness

Q: The law is quite a conservative profession. You don’t associate the law with pioneers or breakthroughs or entrepreneurs. Have you enjoyed being a bit of a disruptor?

A: I would say I enjoy being an inventor. Disruption was part of my motivation. For me, I’m interested in change and in progress and in changing people’s lives. That’s what excites me, more than being labelled a disruptor.

Q: Why are you so interested in change and progress? Most people would carry on their daily lives.

A: My father was an inventor and I learned from him that you can tweak things and you don’t have to rip everything apart for it to work better. You can really make a difference with a few smaller changes. Change can be huge and explosive but, especially in the legal profession, it can be more gradual but with impact.

Q: What makes you the most happy?

A: I’m very happy with the team because they come to work because they believe in what we stand for. They don’t come to work because they want to earn a wage. It’s nice to see, if you like, my motivation become infectious. Now they have infected me in return, which is a really nice place to be. I’m always really happy when I see that we’ve succeeded for people who get left behind. In particular, we see elderly men being pushed out of the workplace too soon, men and women. Helping people change life directions and helping them achieve what they want makes me happy.

About Dana Denis-Smith

Q: Tell us about yourself. You grew up in rural Romania. When did you come to the UK?

A: I came over 20 years ago. I ended up going to the London School of Economics and ending up getting married and settling here, all the usual story.

Q: Do you see things differently from someone who was born and brought up here [in the UK]?

A: I do but it’s not necessarily because I was born abroad. It’s more the country and the system that are relevant, that kind of controlled economy. I can’t claim any early early entrepreneurial journey, there was no marketplace in Romania, it was communist. This idea of intervention in the market, which is a very socialist and communist way of running an economy, is a really interesting one. I realise that I apply it in the business because unless you make a match happen, you will always end up with a client wanting a full-time employee on-site in their office. The only way we can create a successful recipe for the business is because I intervene in that marketplace and I make the marriage happen between clients and lawyers.

Q: Now, do you feel very Romanian in your head, British, or is that not relevant?

A: I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world, which is maybe not a very good thing these days. If you like, I feel like a Londoner.

About Jazz

Q: Just before I let you go, what is your choice track?

A: My choice is Hugh Masekela.He’s a South African musician and the track I picked is Stimela. It’s such a universal song, really, I love it. It came out at a time when I came out of communism and I love the way he manages to mix world music with the best jazz. He’s elaborate in his style but I also like the politics of it. Politics is what motivates change. He succeeds in making a political song that remains universal to this day. The story of economic migrants is no bigger than today. It’s very personal for me too. It’s about looking for betterment.

You can listen to the interview on Jazz FM here.