Riverside walk autumn
Family & Work

This year’s pandemic has affected all of terms in mental health, whether we have suffered isolation during lockdown or anxiety in the face of uncertain futures. At Obelisk Support, we take mental wellbeing seriously and have been supporting our legal consultants and staff throughout the pandemic with wellbeing resources and inspiration. Today’s ideas for nature walks and activities, from quiet city streets to awe-inspiring ancient paths, will bring you a breath of fresh air and help you improve your mental wellbeing.

Footways London

Did you know that it takes 12 minutes to walk from Liverpool Street Station to Brick Lane? 18 minutes to walk from Victoria Station to Big Ben? Since the start of the pandemic, Londoners have been looking at ways to travel and commute around the city safely. Heavy-traffic streets are not the most relaxing places and choosing pleasant routes require a fair bit of local knowledge. This is why an initiative like Footways hits the right spot for urban walkers as it features a network of quiet and interesting streets for walking in central London. The best part? It connects major places (British Museum, Covent Garden, Southbank Centre) via accessible streets. This map could come in very handy when you have visitors in town or for your own urban adventures.

Lost Paths: Don’t Lose Your Way

In February 2020 when lockdown was looming on the horizon, The Ramblers, the walking charity, launched a nationwide initiative to search and map an estimated 10,000 miles of historic paths, which people have used for centuries, that were missing from modern maps and were at risk of being lost forever. Why did it matter? If not claimed by 2026, the Government cut-off date, it would no longer be possible to add them to the maps and the public’s right to access them would not be protected in the future. Lucky for us, Don’t Lose Your Way was a success and within six weeks, thousands of people joined the search and mapped 100% of the UK. You can join the movement to help preserve these paths in the future or if you have a favourite path to share, send your stories to The Ramblers.

Forest Bathing

Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) was developed in the 1980s in Japan. Although people had been taking walks in the country’s forests for centuries, new studies showed that such activity could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was found to boost the immune system. Forest bathing has become a wonderful way to boost your mental health for free – all you need is a forest. Wondering where to find good forest bathing spots near you?

Outdoor Gyms

Are you considering incorporating a workout into your walking routine? Outdoor gyms are open fitness facilities that you can use without booking – just turn up and use them at your leisure. To find an outdoor gym near you (and plan a nice walk to get to it), check out The Great Outdoor Gym Activate app or Fresh Air Fitness’ online site locator.

Scavenger Hunts & Beyond for Children

Wellbeing is not defined quite the same when you are 6 years old as when you are, say, quite a bit older. The Woodland Trust is a treasure trove of ideas to take the children outside and have them enjoy a wild romp, from nature scavenger hunts to making a fairy door (which could very well be used as temporary prop on a walk) or building a den.

Look for Ancient Trees

You do not need to live in Fangorm Forest on Middle-Earth to channel your inner Ent. The oldest and most important trees of the UK have a venerable online following on the website of The Woodland Trust which maps our ancient tree heritage. You can search the map for ancient trees near you. Alternatively if you know of an ancient tree that is not on the map, you are invited to contact The Woodland Trust and add your tree to the map.

Another way to walk to an ancient tree is to find Britain’s Tree of the Year. Each year, The Woodland Trust crowns Britain’s Tree of the Year after publishing a shortlist. This was the 2019 shortlist – are any of these trees near you?

Walk & Swim

Combining two outdoor activities known to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing, you can also go on a walks to find a wild swimming spot. The Kenwood Ladies Pond Association published a handy book called Wild Swimming Walks which includes 28 car-free days out across southern and eastern England to walk, swim and have cake. Elsewhere in the country, you may want to contact your local wild swimming groups (many are active on Facebook) or check the wild swimming map on the website of the Outdoor Swimming Society. What’s not to love?

Enjoy your time outside as the days grow shorter and colder and remember the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. You will never regret a day outside and as lockdown has shown all too well, staying inside is not good for anybody’s mental health.

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. 

Family & WorkMaking Work, Work

Book the Christmas night out. Arrange the venue. Sort the menu. Organise the free drinks and the bar. Set the dress code. Book taxis. Send invites. Chase numbers. Chase numbers some more. Marshall people. Organise the Secret Santa. Buy extra presents for the Secret Santa when someone doesn’t bring a gift. Agonise over sending cards to the office. Buy cards. Find something to wear. Attend night out.

Book the food delivery slot. Book tickets to see Father Christmas. Book tickets to the panto/ballet/Christmas play. Buy festive jumpers. Plan the menu. Buy the Christmas tree. Get the Christmas tree home. Buy Christmas cards. Write Christmas cards. Organise a family photo. Oversee the making and extremely slow writing of child’s class Christmas cards. Find £1 coins. Send £1 coins to school. Plan advent calendar. Make mince pies. Make more mince pies. Buy mince pies. Locate Christmas decorations. Decorate tree. Decorate house. Buy presents. Buy presents for your family-in-law. Wrap presents. Entertain children. Find ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Be Santa. Get up early. Cook the Christmas dinner. Decorate table. Serve Christmas dinner. Be nice to extended family. Collapse in exhaustion.

Exaggerated perhaps, and possibly only for those with school-age children, but pretty overwhelming. And if any of it sounds familiar, it is likely that you shoulder the mental load – that is the task of orchestration and project management – of Christmas. At work, or at home.

Now of course not everyone celebrates Christmas but the point remains. To facilitate ‘a nice time’, be that Christmas or any other occasion, the burden usually falls on one person. Despite the situation improving in recent years in terms of gender balance, research still shows that the mental load falls disproportionality on women.

you should have asked cartoon

There is a reason that cartoons like this one, and the excerpt from the book below, get thousands of likes within minutes. They’re funny. But they’re also pretty real.

christmas to do list

In 2017, a report commissioned by a US nonprofit care organisation Bright Horizons, but which is still no doubt applicable to the UK, found that mothers are “responsible not just for their half of household duties and childcare, but also for organising, reminding and planning virtually all family matters”. The more the woman earnt, the worse it was. Even just looking at holidays and family gatherings, the study found that primary breadwinning women are 30% more likely to organise them.

The reports might show improvement, and the United Nations has done its bit by launching the Unstereotype Alliance to eradicate all harmful gender-based stereotypes from advertising, but none of that is any good if you’re in the thick of it.

So, some suggestions on managing the mental load this Christmas:

Start talking now

Have a conversation now with all the relevant people in your household/wider family with whom you usually celebrate as to what they would like the next six weeks to look like.

Sure, there may be some traditions that you all agree on keeping, but don’t adhere to the well, we always do that. If it is time to find a new tradition, move on.

Set boundaries early

If there is any year to abandon wasteful presents that no-one enjoys receiving or buying and the pressure to reciprocate, this is surely it.

Agree now what gifting/cards and so on that your team at work / family as a whole will participate in, communicate said decision clearly, and then divide up the tasks. At home, every adult in the family buys (and wraps) their own presents – no excuses. You are all busy.

If you have a significant other, you can also take that moment to make it clear what, if anything, you are buying, and reciprocally. I don’t mean tell them precisely (although that might be better) but more a general agreement on budget / type of expectations. Emma Thompson might have realised her husband was a slimy *** in Love Actually but women everywhere also felt her pain in hoping for one thing and receiving something totally …. other.

Divide and conquer

One of the most telling things about the cartoon above is the line “you should have asked”. That’s the mental load right there – the person bearing it doesn’t want to have to ask. They want each person to be clear about what they need to deliver, and to do that without letting the side down, and without imposing on the other party.

If you’ve agreed to organise the Secret Santa for the team, that means actually doing it. Not just picking the names or sending the first email. It means checking that everyone has a name, sorting the drop off location, deciding when the presents will be handed out, making sure you have a couple of neutral back up options, and then actually checking every one has a present.

If you’ve agreed to sort the Christmas jumpers for school, that means doing it all, including working out what size you need, what the theme is, what else they will wear with it, and when you need to do it by.

Likewise, if you’re in charge of laundry, it doesn’t mean putting a load on and shrinking it all in the dryer. It means making sure no-one runs out of clean clothes, that specific kit is clean on the days that it is needed, and that nothing changes size.

Credit for what already happens

Chances are, your colleagues/ partner / support network already does a fair amount and that there is plenty of teamwork already happening. Acknowledge this, give credit where it is due and work out how to move to the next stage.

Trust people

If you don’t want to shoulder the mental load, you need to let go. Remember that “done” is better than “perfect” and by perfect I mean your idea of perfect. Accepting that another person will have a different perspective and will achieve things differently is part of managing the mental load.

If you’ve discussed generally what is important to the outcome, what values need to be taken into account, and the budget, let others get on with achieving their parts of the task in their own way.

Just as it would be infuriating to be micromanaged in a more professional context, remember that the objective is to have to do and remember less, not treat others like they did it wrong just because it wasn’t how you’d have done it.

On this note, best wishes for the festive season and remember to spread some good cheer!

record player for relaxing music
Making Work, Work

Stress is often cited as one of the unpleasant side effects of a successful career in the legal industry. Research in 2016 suggested that 63% of those surveyed thought law was more stressful than any other profession. Perhaps unduly biased but the fact remains that LawCare, the charity providing information and support to anyone in the legal community experiencing mental health and well-being problems, reports that by far the most common reason for calls to their helpline is stress.

There are many reams dedicated to the consideration of why this might be, including endemic issues with the structure and common practices of the legal world, including the expectation of long hours in pressurised situations. It is also suggested that those motivated to work in the legal sector by their very nature have a personality type that is perfection-seeking or very driven and/or that lawyers and other staff like to be in control – and when they are not, this causes stress.

Whatever the root problem, we know that stress can cause extreme physical and emotional debilitating symptoms that can at the very least can be disruptive to both work and personal life.

Music and the brain

Researchers at Stanford University have found that music can affect the brain in surprising ways. Scientists at Stanford in 2006 suggested that “rhythmic music may change brain function and treat a range of neurological conditions”.

“It’s too easy to forget how fundamental rhythm is in so many things and how important musical rhythm can be,” says Patrick Suppes, former Lucie Stern Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Stanford, who studies brainwaves and language cognition.

Further research at Stanford in 2007 showed that “music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory”.

“The study suggests one possible adaptive evolutionary purpose of music,” said Jonathan Berger, PhD, associate professor of music and a musician who is another co-author of the study. “Music engages the brain over a period of time, he said, and the process of listening to music could be a way that the brain sharpens its ability to anticipate events and sustain attention”.

5 ways to use music to manage stress

#1 Pick a song to change your mood

Make yourself a soundtrack or a playlist that reflects how you’d like to feel – don’t listen to music which reflects your current mood. For example, Spotify did a study with Cambridge University psychologist David Greenberg where they found that a ‘wake up’ song needs to “start gently (even for just a few seconds) and then build”, the idea being that it will gradually lift you out of your grumpy mood and into a positive one.

To decrease anxiety, try listening to Weightless by Marconi Union (below). According to Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International Weightless is the song that produced the highest reduction in anxiety in a study carried out on the effects of music and anxiety that “resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates”. Dr. Lewis-Hodgson warned against listening to the song whilst driving – perhaps try Adele or Coldplay instead, which both featured on the list Mindlab released of the top ten relaxing songs.

#2 Listen to uplifting dance music

Stress coupled with winter viruses can leave you feeling like there is no time for anything and that you are always playing catch up. While it might feel counter-intuitive, spending an hour listening to uplifting dance music is not a waste of time at all.

In 2008, scientists from Sussex University and the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany found that “after listening to just 50 minutes of uplifting dance music, the levels of antibodies in volunteers’ bodies increased”. They also found that “levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, decreased significantly in those listening to the dance music compared to the control group”.

#3 Dance it out

Give your body a double whammy of a boost in endorphins (which are the body’s natural painkillers) and improve your sleep, which in turn will have an effect on stress levels, by dancing/moving in a way that raises your heartbeat at the same time.

Personal preference will dictate whether this is in a fitness class, such as Zumba or spinning, by going to a nightclub (just don’t ruin it by drinking heavily) or just a dance party in your kitchen. The key is not just the uplifting dance music or the exercise but combining them both with doing something distracting to help reset your brain.

#4 Take time out

Take your lunch hour and go to a concert. If you work in a city there are plenty of lunchtime concerts. We like the sound of the 40-minute Friday lunchtime concerts at Bishopsgate Institute which are back from 22 November 2019 – you can even bring your lunch to eat whilst you listen. The series of nine concerts will cover a range of musical genres, from the traditional to the unexpected, including drums & electronics and harp (Keziah Thomas, below). Make it a fast-paced walk in daylight there and back and you’ll also be contributing to increased sleep, which will help with both increasing performance and reducing sleep.

#5 Reduce your blood pressure

One of the symptoms of stress is a racing heart and increased blood pressure. Everyone who works in law will be familiar with the creeping feelings of your heart thumping and blood pressure rising particularly when faced with situations that are not entirely or at all within our control, particularly things like delays to a commute or the actions of colleagues. If you can listen to classical or calming music with a slow tempo you may be able to revert to your normal resting state far quicker.

Making Work, Work

We are delighted to have Audrey Tang,  Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of “The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness as a guest blogger on The Attic. 

While it can take time for laws to change, negotiations in everyday legal practice can move swiftly and sometimes unpredictably.  For lawyers, it is not just about what is reasonably foreseeable but responding in a volatile environment under pressure.  The practice of mindfulness can help build resilience to unpredictability supporting any management and navigation through it as well as broaden thinking in order to innovate for success.

Do this: Think of your professional abilities on a scale.  Outline them in no particular order.

Those who are experienced or natural in their professional role may have a longer scale than those who are just starting or learning.  But whether you are already practised, or just starting out – you have the capacity to develop more.

The difference between taking a mindful approach to leadership to any other skills textbook is not in making the scale longer, but by adding depth. 

How will I benefit from mindfulness?

By incorporating mindful practice enhancing your self-awareness, you will refine the leadership skills you already have, as well as develop further your emotional agility to adapt as needed – either using what you’ve got, or through innovation.  Most importantly, mindful practice will also support and assist your longevity in role and promote your growth. (Tang, 2018)

Mindfulness underpins the successful practice of professional skills, and enhances the emotional agility to interchange between them for best effect.  As the needs of those around you change so too must your disposition and approach.  This is true whether your desire is to remain at the forefront of your organisational field, the “right person for the job” or simply “the winning side”.  

While you may have many skills at your disposal, under stress can you pick which is right?  …and for how long can you sustain that effectively?  Every day comes with pressure. Significant decisions have to be made – which have far reaching – and sometimes life changing – consequences; the threat of competition is always lurking; alliances may need to be formed which may or may not serve you long term; Further, if you are also an emotional agile leader, you will often have a team who – with open lines of communication – will seek your advice as they need to; and of course, you will also have a fulfilling life outside the workplace which needs maintenance and attention.

This is emotionally draining, and while popular articles cite the Hygge of the Danes, or the slower pace of other countries, the “pause button” is much harder to find within the driven executive culture of the UK and US.  

What mindfulness offers is the ability to take control of your behavioural and emotional state.  This in turn enables a better performance of all your other skills essential to your role.  The world will not wait for you – unless you make it.

15 Mindfulness Tips

While most professional training involves how one can develop more skills, increasing the breadth of ability, mindfulness works on giving depth to everything you already do. As such, here are 15 mindfulness tips for success in the driven legal world.

For clearer awareness and focus (especially on a documents you have worked on for some time):

#1 Energising palette/mind cleanse 

Similar to the wine connoisseur who takes a water biscuit between tastings, refresh your energy before picking up where you left off, rather than heading directly from one task to another. Try some star jumps, or splashing water on your face, maybe even deep breathing (point 2). This allows you to enter the next task with more energy and engagement than if you were still focused on the last.

#2 Deep breathing

Mentally scrolling through possible outcomes to explore can bring feelings of stress.  Simply breathe in through the nose for 4 counts, hold for 2 and breathe out through the mouth for 6. This calms you physically enabling your mind to ‘breathe’ again as well. 

#3 Paired Muscle Relaxation

Tensing and relaxing pairs of muscles helps you recognise when certain emotions are at the fore.  (I have a tendency to grind my teeth, so recognising how my jaw feels when it is tense and relaxed, often cues me into recognising my stress better. )  Once you are able to recognise that you are experiencing stress you can take steps to manage it in order to progress your work with a more conducive mindset.

For creativity:

#4 Look through the eyes of…

This is a common technique used in coaching and therapy to enable greater understanding of how a situation may be perceived by someone else.  But why not also use it to enhance creativity too?  By thinking of a task through the eyes of the client, a service user, perhaps even your family or a specific friend if so relevant…you may tap into a point of view you had not considered that enhances what you are trying to do.

#5 Observe with all your senses

All too often we observe only with our eyes.  By thinking about how you feel, what you smell, or what something sounds like, you may again access another level of awareness which can contribute to your design or ideas.  Try to observe with all your senses and gather yet more information which can be utilised.  Is there a preferred time of day when brainstorming is more productive? What language do those you might be trying to influence use eg the difference between “I hear you” and “I see what you’re saying” can give an insight to the type of stimuli they respond well to. Alternatively, a metaphor of smell or taste could be more effective than one of sight.

For Team Cohesion:

#6 Plan

You are extremely busy yourself, yet you want to help.  Why not pre-prepare a template for the questions you are commonly asked?  This enables the person asking to utilise your guidance while still doing the task themselves, and saves you some time too. Similarly, if you know you are a “Yes” person, have some planned statements so you do not spread yourself too thinly – even a simple “I’ll give you an answer at 5pm” can give you time to think about whether you really can help.

#7 Try something new 

Do you have the same conversation (or discussion) over and over again?  As soon as you recognise you are in a loop, stop, take a moment to breathe (which relaxes your body and mind enabling greater clarity of thought) and try to proceed in a completely different way.

#8 Identify your real agenda

As an extension from point 7.  Ask yourself – What is actually going on here?  What do I really want from this interaction? (You don’t need to admit it to anyone, but recognising it can help you take the most effective action – even if it involves changing tack).

For performance:

#9 Ask don’t assume 

People generally don’t hide important information deliberately, sometimes the task is so habitual to them they forget to mention it.  Have an agenda of questions which you may need answers to when learning something new.

#10 It’s not always enough to think you know it

If making a presentation, it’s not enough to know you have a dynamic script when read in your head.  Presenting is a performance skill. Sometimes rehearsing something OUT LOUD helps you recognise the gaps in your knowledge, argument or phrasing.

For you:

#11 Have photos of loved ones accessible

So often you will say “They are on my phone”.  Research has shown that looking at a photo of a loved one/happy memory can release a small hit of endorphins.  Yet, when they are on a phone you need to take the phone out, unlock it, look for it and sometimes worry about being caught!  If you can, keep the memory accessible.

#12 Personalise your “Mask”

You may wear a professional ‘cloak’ or ‘step into role’…  Even if it is not possible to personalise your outfit overtly, it is possible to wear something that reminds you of you on the inside!  It is as essential to ground yourself after a successful performance as it is to play the part professionally during.

#13 Recognise the good things – and offer thanks

You may be focused on a new achievement or target, but don’t forget to spend a moment to recognise how far you’ve come and what you have right now.  Spend a moment each day to think about the things you are grateful for – and sometimes, it might even be nice to voice them if they were offered by others.

#14 Feeling down – Play out your recent personal showreel

It is possible to make yourself feel better by thinking about past achievements.  However, as you play out your personal showreel also try to think about recent incidences (however small) of the things you are proud of.  Life moves forward, and making new memories is as important as cherishing old ones.

#15 Better yourself rather than beat others

Although much of your work may centre around winning, manage any personal competitive streak (which can negatively impact on your self-perception) by recognising when you are in the mindset of comparison and turn the focus to doing something to achieve a goal you want for yourself instead. For example, if a colleague wins a praise and you feel a sense of disappointment that you have no recognition (even if you weren’t aiming for it), identify what it is that would make you feel personal pride, and focus on that – maybe it’s spending a little more quality time with your children, or signing up for that long desired course.

Many of these exercises can be developed to raise awareness and focus further, through meditation and combining their practice with other techniques – many of which I discuss in my book “The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness.”

While these ideas may seem obvious to some, these tips are often harder to implement than you may think – especially on a consistent basis.  Further, being mindful is as much about making what we are vaguely aware of explicit – and getting it to work for us.

Family & Work

Or the train, or gym. Wherever you’ve time spare to yourself, get your headphones on and dive into our top picks of educational delights, interviews, humour and the ultimate in fluffy indulgence if you have even a passing interest into the royal family.

If you’re more into a busman’s holiday, see our top picks of legal podcasts for 2019 here.

To while away an entire afternoon…

#1 Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

American journalist, political commentator and broadcaster Dan Carlin is famed for his unique blend of “high drama, masterful narration and Twilight Zone-style twists”, winning awards for bringing history to life in a rather unorthodox way.

His Hardcore History podcast episode Ghosts of the Ostfront, regarding the Eastern Front of World War Two, won Slate Magazine’s award for the fifth-best podcast of all time.

Episodes are often four hour deep dives into periods of history you won’t have studied in the same way at school.

#2 Serial

You’ve probably already heard of Serial, as episodes of seasons one and two have been downloaded nearly 350 million times, establishing an ongoing podcast world record.

Serial is created by Sarah Koenig, who says the podcast is a bit like a documentary “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things”. A non-fiction narrative, Serial is divided into episodes, with each series investigating a different issue – season one is built around the murder of an 18-year-old high school student who disappeared one afternoon.

Serial has won awards for the innovative telling of a long-form non-fiction story (including the first-ever Peabody awarded to a podcast) and needs to be listened to in order – not one to dip in and out of but one to keep you gripped for weeks to come.

If you’ve only got an hour…

#3 Longform Podcast

Longform.org recommends new and classic non-fiction from around the web and the associated podcast is a weekly conversation with a non-fiction writer on how they tell stories.

All lawyers no matter what work they actually do surely once harboured a secret desire to uncover crimes and this episode with Jeff Maysh does exactly that. A freelance writer based in LA, Maysh uncovered the story of the ex-cop who gamed the McDonalds Monopoly game and stole millions, writing a piece for the Daily Beast earlier in 2019 about “Jerome Jacobson and his network of mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, and drug traffickers [who] won almost every prize for 12 years, until the FBI launched Operation Final Answer“.

“I’ve always looked for stories with the theme of identity and identity theft. I’m very interested in people leading double lives. All of my stories are the same in a sense. Whether that’s a spy or a fake cheerleader or a bank robber or even a wrestler—someone is pretending to be someone they’re not, leading a double life. I find that really exciting. I’m drawn to characters who put on a disguise.” ~ Jeff Maysh

Longform Podcast Episode #307: Jeff Maysh

#4 The Axe Files with David Axelrod

Podcasts about American politics can be a fascinating and rewarding rabbit hole and the best is hosted by David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama, and director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

His podcast, The Axe Files, has a 300 strong back catalogue of episodes where he has interviewed the great and good (and otherwise) of US and UK politics as well as a host of others.

Highlights over the years have included Barak Obama (#108), Karl Rove, former White House senior adviser and deputy chief of staff (#80), Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (#208) and staff writer for the New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin – he covered the O.J. trial as a journalist (#241).

#5 That Peter Crouch Podcast

Die-hard football fans will no doubt already listen to former England and Liverpool player Peter Crouch’s collaboration with Five Live alongside Tom Fordyce and Chris Stark. Those less obsessed may appreciate Crouch’s remarkedly natural talent for opening up and giving an intriguing analysis of his time as a professional footballer. That Peter Crouch Podcast is taking a break from new episodes for the summer but there are plenty of back episodes to whet your appetite for the new season starting again come August.

#6 13 Minutes to the Moon

Another BBC production, this time the story of how the first moon landing was saved. 13 Minutes to the Moon tells the story of the people who made Apollo 11 happen and who prevented it from going badly wrong. The series of 12 episodes was first released in the lead up to the 50th anniversary on 20 July 2019 and episode 11 is the 13 minutes in real-time. As it says in the first episode, it isn’t a spoiler to say we know they got there, “this podcast is about trying to understand how that happened.”

13 Minutes to the Moon is hosted by Dr Kevin Fong, a medical doctor with a special interest in space medicine who wished he could have been an astronaut, who “wanted to take the listener along with him on a deep dive into a subject of a lifelong fascination”.

#7 How To fail With Elizabeth Day

How To Fail With Elizabeth Day “celebrates the things that haven’t gone right” where guests explore what their failures have taught them about succeeding better. Day, a British journalist, broadcaster and novelist, was previously a features writer for The Observer from 2007 to 2016 and has also written four novels.

Looking at the twin concepts of success and failure, Day says:

“It was fascinating to see how men and women had different attitudes. Many of the men I approached balked at the idea they had failed at anything. They cited lost tennis matches, unrisen soufflés and the inability to play a musical instrument. The women routinely responded that they would have trouble whittling down their myriad failures to just three instances”.

Start with some of the most listened to episodes: Dolly Alderton (S1, Ep 3), David Nicholls (S1, Ep 7) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (S5, Ep 2) as well as Day interviewing herself (S1, Ep 8).

#8 The New Yorker Radio Hour

The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick, presents a weekly “hourlong program that is very much of The New Yorker, infused by its values, hosted by its writers and editors and artists, but also something unique, capacious, freewheeling”.

The extensive back catalogue includes guests such as Aziz Ansari, Sarah Keonig and Amy Schumer alongside staff writers and cartoonists but it is perhaps best listened to in ‘real-time’ so start with the most recent, which unsurprisingly this week features again the anniversary of the moon landing.

#9 David Tennant Does a Podcast With…

Interviewing the biggest names from film, TV, comedy and others, David Tennant and his widely appreciated “velvety voice” gently coaxes out his guests’ stories and manages to ask the questions to which you might never have known you wanted the answer.

Guests, an eclectic mix, include Olivia Colman, Gordon Brown and John Hamm but there is no extensive back catalogue as this podcast only started in January 2019.

#10 The Minimalists

Return home inspired to pare back your possessions and re-assess your values by listening to Joshua Fields-Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, better known to their millions of listeners as The Minimalists. Addressing all manner of topics including positive thinking, holidays, budgeting, possessions and the decline of the American Dream, the message is to inspire people to lead more meaningful lives.

And the aural equivalent of a trashy magazine…

Royally Obsessed

Presented by American journalists Kaitlin Menza and Lisa Ryan, who both write about The Royals for everyone from Cosmo to NY Mag, this is the ultimate in switching off beachside. Sometimes we all need to listen to something a little less serious, so if you’ve even a fleeting interest in Kate, Meghan and royal fashion, this will pass the time nicely.

Do you have an essential listen to add to our list? Let us know @ObeliskSupport

Making Work, Work

As schools in the UK get ready to break up, thoughts turn to summer holidays and some well earned R&R. Or at least, they should be turning to those things. As Bloomberg law reported in 2018, lawyers are notoriously bad at taking holidays. Despite the comparatively generous allowances provided by many big law firms, less than a third of lawyers use up all of their holiday allocation, according to a study by career research company Vault. Just 31% of associates working at American law firms took all of their holiday allowance, a picture that is similar to lawyers in many other countries too. And of course, among those that do take all their holiday entitlement are those who took the work with them, both physically and psychologically, with all too many employers only happy to encourage them.

It is vital for lawyers to properly step away from work on a regular basis. A summer holiday means a chance to spend days outdoors, cut out screen time and get stuck into that book that has been on your to-read list for far too long. It is a time to focus on loved ones, and reconnect with everything that makes you ‘you’, outside of work. Taking the opportunity to spend a few days, a week or more completely out of office should be a priority, helping you to reset and return to work refreshed and motivated.

Whether you have already booked an extended stay abroad, or are thinking about some long weekends exploring what your own country has to offer, we want you to make the most of it! Here is some advice on how to enjoy stress-free summer travel in 2019.

#1 Create An Itinerary

It may seem counterintuitive – a summer holiday is meant to be a time for spontaneity and to switch off from planning and scheduling, but a properly thought out itinerary is a must. If you are heading to an unfamiliar area without an itinerary, you will end up spending too much time trying to figure out transport, location whereabouts, other details such as payment options/booking fees, before realising you haven’t brought vital items such as suitable shoes/swim gear etc with you… Knowing in advance what you want to do and what you will need to do to get there will help you to avoid typical stress points of travelling.

An itinerary also helps you to get a better sense of the needs and preferences of your travel partner, or members of the family/group you are travelling with. Working out what you want to do together ensures you have everyone’s interests covered, and brings everyone together in the excitement of what’s ahead.

For the tech lovers amongst you, there are apps that can help you create a list of activities, travel routes and packing lists. For Gmail users, Google Trips is an ideal one-stop shop to organise your travel documents and information, as well as providing customised maps showing all the landmarks, restaurants, bars and points of interest near where you are staying. Check out this list for 5 other popular trip-planning apps.

#2 …But Don’t Try to Plan the ‘Perfect’ Holiday!

It’s only natural that we make summer holiday plans with a picture painted by many idealistic travel agency adverts in our minds. However, with all the planning and organising in the world, things will always happen outside of expectations and there are effective ways to manage your mental health in the dog days of summer.

Holidays are not about trying to recreate an ideal; they are highly personal, and are inevitably affected by natural occurrences out of our own control – illness, changes in weather, even changes in mood can alter the image you had in mind. So while an itinerary is important, don’t get caught up with trying to tick off every essential you’ve read in Lonely Planet. Be realistic, go with the flow, and be prepared for things to not quite go to plan, and you won’t be needlessly disappointed.

#3 Write a Holiday Journal or Read Books

Spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day of your holiday writing down the agenda for the day, what you did, what you learned, what you felt etc. This will help you remember the smaller moments and capture the complete experience of the holiday beyond the photos. It will also help you appreciate the time after you return, and reading over each day will provide the inspiration you need to plan your next trip.

If writing’s not your thing, read books you don’t have time to read the rest of the time. From Oprah’s Best Beach Reads to the FT’s selection of summer books, there’s a whole world of wonderful books to escape your work life if not in person, at least in spirit.

#4 Disconnect Your Work Devices

Have we made this point (more than once) before!? It’s advice that bears repeating: to avoid slipping into being ‘on’, make sure all notifications and synced inboxes/document drives are disconnected from mobile devices before you set off. Dads Net has a helpful list of tips to take a digital detox.

If you feel it might make you more anxious to be completely switched off from work, bring a separate work device/laptop that you can lock up and leave in your apartment or hotel room, to be accessed only when you have some down time and are in the right mental place to check in and, most importantly, check out again.

#5 Set Boundaries With Your Out-of-Office 

When setting your out-of-office answer phone and email auto-reply, don’t be ambiguous: Make it clear you are on holiday and will not be checking communications. Yes you are a lawyer, so the likelihood is this won’t be strictly true, but it is better not to give the impression that you are on call in your absence. Try not to use phrases such as ‘if urgent I will…’ ‘or I will have limited access…’. This is a good guide to draft an effective out of office message.

If applicable, provide the details of the colleague who will be covering, and give the date of your return. As long as you have giving your clients prior warning of your absence and have ensured that pressing matters and impending deadlines have been dealt with/will be dealt with before you head off, there should be no need to be reachable at any time during your holiday.

Wishing you a safe, relaxing and fun summer holiday!

Making Work, Work

Around 2013, a new kind of flexible worker emerged on the photo-sharing social media platform, Instagram. Taking the concept of flexible (and indeed worker, although that is another article) to an entirely new level, accounts such as @wheresmyofficenow waved goodbye to the more static based notion of flexible working. They became part of a movement sweeping across the mindset of the millennial generation: the flexible worker with no fixed home base, often living out of a van.

Questioning everything from the concept of work right down to the notion that we should remain in one place to do it, these nomadic individuals began documenting life and work from the road and posting photos to Instagram, in answer to the question where’s my office now.

Fast forward to 2019 and this way of life is a growing movement – a sub-culture of people on the move, many of which are embracing minimalism and attempting to reassess what is truly important for a happy and balanced life. All of which is documented for envy and inspiration through the hashtag #vanlife, which currently includes more than five million photos on Instagram.

Where millennial influencers lead, others are sure to follow.

Technology and flexible working

Back in the legal world, flexible working as a concept is growing. “As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce” we noted back in December 2018.

For too long, the concept of lawyers working from the beach, forest or up a mountain has been a reaction to technology in the worst way – overworked city lawyers never switching off, accessing email and responding to client requests from their holidays as efficiently as from their desks, perpetuating a ‘always on’ approach.

The legal market is generally waking up to the idea that flexible working can and should mean “finding hours that suit your life and how you best work” (Anna Whitehouse, Flexible working campaign) which in time will no doubt mean that we will see lawyers and those working in legal markets working from remote locations.

As Louisa Van Eeden-Smit commented in her piece for The Attic last year, “flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder”. In theory, the van life way of life should be able to include lawyers, facilitated largely of course by the advance of technology.

“Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world… add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.”

Are lawyers working flexibly on a remote global scale?

Search Instagram for #travellinglawyer and you’ll find over a thousand photos mainly from exotic-looking locations, with the occasional British city / county court thrown in for good measure. This is an improvement on the landscape of five years ago, but it seems that at present the majority of travelling lawyers are fitting in their wanderlust lifestyle around their legal career rather than it forming an integral part.

For some, frequent travel from a fixed base is the basis of their current story. They use their Instagram profiles to highlight the places that they visit outside of client boardrooms and the causes that they represent.

Juanita Ingram, a US attorney, author and actress based in the US and London (who founded the Greater London branch of Dress For Success, a charitable organisation that “helps disadvantaged women become economically independent by providing them with free professional clothing and styling and interview coaching, as well as on-going support after they’ve re-joined the workplace”) uses her Instagram and other social media channels to showcase her international travels where she speaks on various topics regarding female empowerment and self-worth.

© iamjuanitaingram

The Legal Eagle Mummy is a lawyer and disability rights advocate whose daughter’s heart condition means she has had to travel abroad for treatment. Anonymous on Instagram, she has been able to work remotely whilst also using her photographs to raise awareness.

© The Legal Eagle Mummy

For others, every spare moment away from the office is spent travelling. They do not yet appear to be working in the same way that those embracing #vanlife are but they are helping build the vision that being a dedicated and brilliant lawyer does not mean remaining in the office 365 days a year.

Kathy Kass is a New York Attorney who spends weekends and holidays travelling and taking part in marathons, documenting her travels online

The anonymous Caffelawyer is a lawyer working for a magic circle firm in London, splitting his time between London and Milan.

© Caffelawyer

When is a travelling lawyer not a lawyer?

On the flip side, the #travellinglawyer hashtag also reveals those for whom the call of remote travel has proved lucrative enough to take a break from law altogether. Prominent #vanlife contributor Lisa Jacobs was a lawyer, as was Felipe Villegas Múnera

© Vacayvans

Both Lisa and Filipe now spend their lives travelling and posting scenes of their travels and methods of transport, providing inspiration of where others could work, monetising their travels in a different way entirely.

Interestingly, many of these ex-lawyers are still happy to share that they were lawyers, which may well encourage others to consider whether they can both travel and work in the legal market.

More soberingly though, for some van life is more of a necessity than a chosen way of life. Liam Seward is not a lawyer, but others in his position could be. Some are teachers, others charity workers. They live remotely because they have to, because they can’t afford to work and rent and living in a van affords them the ability to continue working. 

Where is the future of flexible working?

It is becoming accepted across the board that not everyone seeks to be a partner in the traditional model and a better balance in life is sought right across the profession, from trainees right the way up to experienced partners. Magic circle firms are bringing in flexible working policies allowing all staff to request to work from home. Big law firms are setting up offshoots to address specific types of legal issues staffed entirely by lawyers who choose where and when to work. And of course, there are employers like at Obelisk who make the most of legal talent with a uniquely flexible and remote workforce.

The more that this occurs and people talk about it, or photograph it and share it on social media, the more others will start to listen and follow suit. The mere presence of any lawyers on Instagram showcasing life outside of work and the office is positive, even if as yet the realisation of the dream of truly remote flexible working as a lawyer on the road is perhaps more few and far between.

In another five years, we look forward to the #vanlife concept having evolved more fully. We hope that it will include lawyers and others who have up until now been restrained by increasingly outdated models of working.

Women in Law

Returning to work after a career break is tough. If you’re struggling to find a way back, don’t give up hope. Though it may seem like there are many obstacles in your path, there are practical steps you can take to regain your confidence and find work that works for you. That’s the message that Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan want to give women with their new book, She’s Back. Lisa  set up her consultancy of the same name as she was tired of hearing similar stories from women struggling to return to work, and decided to channel her energy to provide tactics and strategies to help them. Simultaneously straight talking and empathetic, we guarantee you will walk away from reading our interview with Lisa feeling fired up and ready to take back control of your career…

Tell us about your own experience of returning to work, and how that led you to where you are now and writing the book?

“I had what I thought was a successful career. I had started out with Arthur Andersen in 1988. As the firm collapsed in 2001 after the Enron scandal, I moved across to Deloitte who backed the firm in the UK. I was director of brand and communication there, until the wheels came off. Our nanny handed in her notice just as our children were starting school. I quite suddenly found myself struggling to work out how I was going to manage bringing up my children and managing a demanding career, and decided to take a career break. There I was a few years later wondering what happened. I had 20 years of experience behind me, and no future plan. I looked around at the school gates and saw so many people in this situation: accounts lawyers, management consultants, all trying to get back to work. That led to setting up a consultancy – there wasn’t a business model or anything to begin with but I started out by getting sponsored by organisations to do some research to prove that this was a real issue, and began looking at ways we could help them. To put a spotlight on the issue I was doing lots of writing and getting people involved in the community, and with my business partner Deb decided to write a book, which came out this year and has been well received.”

What are the most common things you hear from women who have taken a career break?

“That they are leaving because of a lack of ability to balance young children and career. Couples are making decisions about whose career will take back seat in the months and years to come, but there is no long term plan for how to get back, so when the children get older and the time comes for the person to return to work – and it is still primarily the woman – they have no idea how to get back. I can’t claim to be an expert on gender roles generally, I can only talk about what we see in the circles we work with, but professional women tend to pair with professional men, and statistically marry older men, so in general when children come along it is the woman expected to take the hit and very few see it any other way.

The other most common thing I hear when women approach me is : ‘Can you help me, I am a mum with two children, looking for flexible work?’ Being a mum doesn’t differentiate you; and you are already defining yourself as a problem by leading with what you need to work around. It’s only after you hear this that you find out they have 20 years legal experience in the City! We need to change the approach.”

So, is there an issue with the way women perceive themselves when taking a career break?

“Yes, and I say that with complete understanding of how hard it is and the difficulties that we face – we are emotional after becoming parents, and so many people live far away from family support networks nowadays, it is very hard. I say women don’t help themselves because I did and said the same things myself! I started by thinking ‘ok I need something that will work around the school run’, so I was looking on flexible working websites. But only 11% of quality professional jobs are being advertised as flexible positions – employers often will be open to flexibility in discussions but they won’t lead an advert with it, so nor should you. Tell people you were 20 years working with big four firms and you’re looking for new opportunities to apply legal skills to – that is the difference. You are 5 times more likely to find work through introductions in your network than through recruiters, but they need to have something to tell that person other than ‘she needs to work flexibly!’

We often don’t acknowledge how vulnerable and lacking confidence we can become once we have children. We can start to remember differently how our work lives went and think we only got there by luck. You starting losing touch with that driven, confident side of you, because as a mum you don’t get told you’re doing a good job – you can do everything right but you will never know because you don’t have a performance review as a parent!”

Are there other things at play when it comes to a loss of confidence in your career?

“Ageism is a big thing, and again we have to fight against external and internalised attitudes. Employers and individuals need to stop seeing post-40 years as being past peak or entering final stages of our career – we still have 20 years of work ahead of us! I have done so much more in my 40s and 50s  professionally and personally than I ever did – or indeed ever could have – in my 20s and 30s, so don’t buy into the narrative that it is too late.”

What practical steps do you talk about in the book to help people prepare for and come back from a career break?

“First, everything is so much easier if you have kept in touch with your industry and colleagues  – if you haven’t it is much easier now to seek them out and reach out again – gone are the days of the gatekeeper PA and trying to book an appointment to meet senior people. Being on LinkedIn is essential as that is where all jobs and connections are. People are really willing to offer advice and take time to meet you if you reach out to them, especially those that know what you are good at. You need to have those conversations to bring the other side of you back out.

Take part as much as you can while you are out of the workplace – networking events, online webinars, parent meetings, whatever will put you in touch with the right people – it’s all in your hands to open the door and get out there.

Don’t feel it is insurmountable, remember that there are other ways to work and find paid employment – taking on freelance projects or by joining organisations like Obelisk – every little bit helps to add to your CV, keep your skills up to date, and keep in touch with peers. All this will make it easier to step up when you are ready.

And don’t put your head in the sand when it comes to finances, plan for your financial future!”

A big concern! How do you encourage women to think long term about their career and financial position?

“Again, it’s up to us. We can’t just leave it to legislation and employers – only 2% men took up shared parental leave last year, we still have a culture where men fear their career will be harmed if they do, and that will take a long time to change.

Women need to view work like a game of chess, and play the long game. We often look at cost of childcare for the first year or so and decide it is not worth it, but we should be thinking about what happens in 8 to ten years’ time. If you decide to step back completely, after 5 years childcare costs go down but your market value has gone down even more. Short term sacrifices are worthwhile if you want to continue your career so take the initial financial hit if you can, take a part time role, pass up a project or promotion if it helps you keep your foot in the door.”

One thing that we commonly see women returning to work find difficult is how to present themselves on their CV. What advice would you give?

“It’s important to see your CV or LinkedIn profile as a marketing tool. Employers spend on average just 8 SECONDS scanning a CV for suitability so your opening paragraph must be compelling – again don’t lead with what you want, lead with what you have to offer. Another thing people don’t often realise is that recruiters use software to scan for keywords in CVs first, so make sure you are hitting all the points from the job description.

When it comes to addresses your career break, don’t jump through hoops trying to justify it with irrelevant information about being part of the PTA and so on, as it comes across defensive. Appear confident about it! Just write ‘Planned Career Break’ and the length of time. Keep the most relevant information at the top with an experience or skills summary – don’t bury the good stuff on page 2, even if it did all happen 20 years ago. Finally if you have had lots of similar part time or short contract roles list them together and summarise details in one paragraph rather than listing bullets for each to keep things more concise.”

How should lawyers seek to update their skills to become more employable in technologically fast changing market?

“As a lawyer, you will know plenty of other lawyers, so talk to them to find out what you don’t know and what gaps you need to fill. It’s so much easier now than it used to be to keep up with technology and learn independently. There are many free resources on the internet, so search for YouTube tutorials and online courses. Most technology being used today is intuitive and designed to be user friendly, so it is often a case of simply using and learning as you go – just take the time to do it. Get to grips with social media management tools such as Hootsuite to make it easier to post regularly to market yourself.”

Lisa also agrees that being part of platforms like Obelisk Support is beneficial as they provide help keeping skills up to date, such as our recent LexisPSL introductory webinar, and regular events focusing on current developments in the industry.

Final thoughts

The bottom line as Lisa states is, no one will do it for you. There is support out and information there if you reach out and look for it. Your career and success before you took a break came about because of you and the work you put in – you are still the key to your own success.

Lisa and Deb don’t just tell you all the things you need to hear in She’s Back – the book also contains useful exercises that you can carry out to help you on your way. Lisa recommends that you find a friend to do them with you, so you can challenge one another and stay motivated. She’s Back is shortlisted for CMI’s Management Book of the Year 2019 and can be purchased on Amazon. You can find out more about their work on www.shesback.co.uk