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One company’s mission to provide new career paths for returning lawyers: the founder’s view

I have long been concerned by the vast disparity between the
number of women who enter the legal sector and the percentage of women who rise
to the top of the profession. It is clear to me that there is one large,
contributing factor, which is becoming less and less of an ‘elephant in the
room’, and one which increasingly the sector needs to tackle. Women in
particular, and parents more generally, who wish to combine a legal career with
other commitments, most notably having a family, have been leaving the
profession in the face of a constant struggle to balance work with life. The
attrition rates speak for themselves – women have left, and continue to leave,
the profession in droves. We know why they are leaving and so the key question
is how can we, as an industry, stem this flow?
In 2010 I went on a trip to India to research my next
entrepreneurial move. Whilst there, I witnessed a trend of outsourcing to offshore
destinations which left me puzzled and frustrated given the amount of legal
talent which lay dormant right here in the UK. This gave me a business idea,
and thus Obelisk Support was born. I could see that we can offer a route back
into the profession for exceptionally talented lawyers by allowing them to work
flexibly. By tapping into this wasted talent pool, Obelisk Support could
compete with offshore destinations on quality, flexibility, price and
efficiency in its work with large multinational corporations and City law
The last 4 years have not been an easy ride – and I did face
something of an uphill battle in trying to convince clients that women could
work flexibly, often remotely, without compromising on the quality of their
delivery. But, the stories of our lawyers (80% of whom are female, many of them
returning from a career break) who have succeeded in working flexibly around
their family and other commitments is testament to the shifting attitudes of
the legal industry (and, admittedly, four years of hard work from the Obelisk Support
Seeing the work coming through the pipeline and clients
returning positive feedback on our lawyers’ work, some of whom never thought
they would earn again by doing legal work, fills me with great pride. And so it
is that I measure our success by the success of our lawyers.  Our success is best portrayed by the
individual stories of the lawyers we have placed.
The stories are many and underpin just why we have become
known as the legal business with a heart. Jane qualified at a top law firm,
where she practiced for 13 years, before taking a 10 year career break whilst
she started a family. After such a long break, re-entering the profession can
be daunting. However, through Obelisk, Jane is now working for a large bank.
She works remotely from home, for an average of 22.5 hours a week, all fitting
around her other commitments.
Annie, who has a younger family, was able to work around her
family commitments, working mostly from home and for around 5 hours a day. In Annie’s
own words, working with Obelisk has benefited her enormously ‘both personally and professionally’.
Karina moved to Chile, but was keen to stay in full-time work.
We secured her a full-time placement supporting a large telecommunications
company in Ireland, where she was able to work completely remotely from home.
We really do put the client and lawyer at the heart of our
legal solutions, and this is demonstrated by the unique way in which we
approach each client and consultant, taking into account the needs of both
parties and tailoring an efficient solution. My vision when I started Obelisk
Support was to enable women like Jane, Annie and Karina to do the work they
love, without having to make impossible compromises. That they have been able
to do so, whilst simultaneously delivering exemplary service to large
multinationals and law firms, should demonstrate to the legal profession that
flexibility can, and does, work.
Guest post by Dana Denis Smith, founder of Obelisk Support