Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dana Denis Smith

Dana Denis Smith hates to see good talent go to waste.  The award-winning founder of outsourced legal provider Obelisk tells me she is not as interested in the gender equality debate that surrounds discussion on flexible working, as she is in the economic view: issues around organisational capacity, labour market structures and how to be most efficient. She's a political economist by background and it shows. 

I was introduced to Dana by long term client and friend  Nicola Sawford, Chief Exec of leading Chancery barristers Serle Court, who has just taken on a non-exec role at Obelisk. When we met, I was interested to hear from Dana what drives her.

"My motivation is less personal than intellectual.  Having said this, I am of course interested in people's personal stories of how tough it is to be a working mum in a City law firm, and having previously worked at Linklaters and become a mum myself two years ago I do have some insights into what attracts our lawyers to our model.  But the point is I think it's now time to be less introspective and start getting things done.  For me, the interesting questions are "How much time does a mother have?", "How might this time be better utilised?" and "What can organisations do to enable them to work as well as to look after children?". It just makes no sense to me for organisations to sit back and just watch all this talent walk out the door when women find it impossible to juggle their work and family commitments in a large law firm environment. There's an enormous talent pool going to waste here. I often tell people I'm in the waste management business: talent waste management!" she laughs.

Regular followers of this blog will know that we work closely with the market leader in this area, alternative legal resource Lawyers On Demand who operate in a similar space to Obelisk but who are quite distinct in a number of ways. They are both tapping in to City lawyers' increasing ennui for a life that is all work and no play, enticing them into alternative working models that benefit corporate clients because of the City law expertise they can then buy from a much lower cost base. But whereas LOD focus predominantly on embedding their freelancers in in-house legal teams of FTSE 100 companies, so being physically proximate to the client and working as part of their own team a key part of the offering. Dana makes a big play on the Obelisk website that her lawyers don't even need to meet a client. And while both companies offer top ex-City lawyers, Obelisk focusses exclusively on people, mostly mothers, opting out of the big law machines have more time to devote to their families. In contrast, LOD attracts a broader range of individuals looking to work differently, with large numbers of men in their freelance pool as well as lawyers of both genders who don't yet have family but do have other ambitions outside of work, eg running a clothes-swapping initiative, a yoga business, they even have a part-time vicar!

Perhaps the biggest difference is that at its heart, LOD is fired by the founders Jonathan Brenner's and Simon Harper's passion for the glistening possibilities that open up for people when they choose to take control of their lives and live the life they really want to. In contrast, Dana's fire comes from wanting to challenge organisational structures, legal services supply chains and entire economies. She's also not shy to challenge clients in how they purchase legal services.

"Our clients know their stuff, for sure, but the point is they aren't used to having that many different options when buying legal services. So in challenging the status quo I do find myself having to challenge individuals too, to "gently encourage" them to think about buying their options differently."

Dana was named in 2010 as one of UK Management Today's 35 inspirational women in business under 35. No wonder.

So nice to catch up with clients and friends, old and new, at our Tonic event this week. 25 or so bods working in PR, marketing or management roles in professional firms joined us for camaraderie and conversation over drinks at The Hospital Club. We know people can feel quite isolated in these roles, working in a business that's about a very different discipline from your own, so nice to get everyone together and introduce them to each other. 

Particularly pleasing was to see how the number of Kysen alumni is growing! So lovely to see that Cara (now at Farrers), Sonia (now at Taylor Wessing) and Elliott (who recently joined the Conservative Party PR office), among others, are keen to keep in touch. Also nice to realise how long we have worked with some of our clients and friends. "Is it seven years we've been working together?" asked Serle Court's Nicola Sawford. And the lovely Helen Obi who joined Mayer Brown at the start of this year has also been our client twice before, at BLP last year and previously at DLA Piper

Other delights were conversation with peeps from BDOBird & BirdBLPCovington & BurlingCurtis Mallett-Provost Colt & MosleHardwicke and Intangible Business.  
Happy 25th Birthday Tate Liverpool! As a regular Kysen haunt on our visits to Weightmans head office in the great Pool of Life, we feel some attachment to this gallery, the Tate's first foray outside of London.

Its success since opening in 1988 as a signature piece in the regeneration of the City's Albert Dock, has spurred the Tate on to open others around the country - notably on the beach at St Ives, Cornwall, and most recently in Tracey Emin's birth town Margate, The Turner Contemporary.

We love following this Tate "nationwide arts trail" and always try to make time to pop in and catch up with the latest exhibitions when we're on the road visiting law firms and barristers around the country. We look forward to more openings over the next 25 years!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sophie Bowkett

Kysen's own Sophie Bowkett has been trying something new. By day she looks after a busy portfolio of legal clients, but in the evenings and weekends since January she has been giving up her free time working pro bono for the 20th Anniversary Dulwich Festival. The arts event opened on 10 May and ends this weekend.

So what has it been like stepping out of her legal niche?

"It's been surprisingly different," she tells me. "Particularly the broadcast news story I worked on for BBC London. I am used to placing lawyers on BBC and Sky, but of course they are never the subject of the story. Even where we are the ones alerting a broadcast journalist to a story, our clients' role is always as expert commentator, not protagonist." A good example of more usual Kysen fare was Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC's appearance on Sky this week explaining why Huhne & Pryce were being released so soon after their incarceration and how the law works in this area. 

"For the Festival our best (only!) hope for national and broadcast coverage was to push individual artists. This is how I came to be placing international street artist Thierry Noir on BBC London's regional news programmeNoir was the first artist to start applying paint to the Berlin Wall. How wonderful this local London Festival managed to snare him as one of its main arts celebs this Spring!  Working on his story gave me a perspective on broadcast programming I've never had before, as I was so much closer to the centre of the story because of course the production team had nothing to draw on other than the information I was feeding them. My client was the entire story, so it brought me into much tighter proximity with the production team. One particularly visual element of the festival is Baroque the Streets, a street art project involving internationally renowned street artists "re-interpreting" some of the Old Masters hanging in the permanent collection at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. So perfect for broadcast. This public gallery is in fact one of the oldest in England, so the art project creates a lovely juxtaposition of "old" and "new". As I watched the BBC team put the segment together, I was particularly struck by how many camera shots there were, how many different angles and locations, how much time was devoted to each: so many complex shots, lasting only seconds in the final cut!

"I've thoroughly enjoyed getting so involved in the Festival (although glad I will be able to put my feet up outside work after this weekend!) It'll be interesting to see how my new perspective impacts my broadcast work with legal clients."

Well, nice job Sophie! A great result and an unusual learning opportunity for you too!
After all the headlines about relaxing planning laws to kickstart the economy, the rejection of Pinewood Studios expansion plan beggars belief! Sorry if you detect a hint of exasperation in my tone. But...really?? The film industry is one of our few growth industries; over 3,000 jobs might have been created if the expansion plans had gone ahead; and without the expansion these world-class film studios (where Skyfall was made, among other Bond films and hundreds of other classics, and where the new Star Wars film will be shot soon) will be faced with having to turn away lucrative Hollywood mandates for lack of space.

Better news for the UK in the world of film is the latest iteration of the Fast and Furious franchise in which London is apparently the biggest star. The film opens this weekend. The decision to use London for some of the key chase scenes was the result of Universal Pictures' decision to let the fans decide. If only Buckinghamshire council's planning committee had thought of this approach in deciding the fate of Pinewood Studios!
How fantastic: a giant reading festival to be staged in Trafalgar Square this Summer! The free Get Reading festival takes place on one day - 13 July. It is organised by The Evening Standard (there's a reason this is one of our favourite papers!) and is designed for children and families "to experience the magic of being transported by story in an iconic setting". A line-up of famous authors is to be announced shortly.

Brilliant idea!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Matt Illingworth

Bet you didn't know that some lawyers have been Living Below the Line. Holman Fenwick Willan's Matt Illingworth talked to me as he was just finishing a five-day challenge to manage on a daily food budget of just £1, to raise awareness - and much needed funds - for the worlds extreme poor.  An astonishing 1.4 billion people worldwide are living below the international poverty line, he told me.  That equates to 20 times the population of the UK.  I'll say that again: 20 times the population of the UK.  He is raising money for ChildHope, his firm's long-term charity partner, as part of the Live Below the Line campaign aimed at challenging the way people in the UK think about worldwide poverty.  

"I really wanted to do something meaningful for our firm's long-term charity ChildHope and when I heard they were taking part in the Live Below the Line project, I thought that would be perfect. We are so privileged in the West, and of course the legal profession in particular, that it's hard for us to comprehend how the other half lives. I'm well aware that my challenge is only for five days, so I'm not expecting to learn very much about what it's really like to be deprived of proper food.  For a surprisingly large number of people in the world this is a permanent state of affairs with little hope of better times.  And of course for me, while I am doing without food for this one short week, I am still living in a nice, safe place; I still have means to travel where I want to, or need to; and I am free to do pretty much as I please.  So what am I hoping this initiative will achieve?  Well, apart from raising money for the work of ChildHope and its ambition to help end extreme poverty, and apart from doing my bit to shine a light on the issue, I do have some personal goals.  I am hoping it will permanently change the way I look at things.  So far, my perspective has most definitely altered.  Certain things I just don't take for granted any more: the privileges laid on for us every day working in law firms, such as the free food on offer in our meeting rooms, laid on just as gestures of hospitality; the freedom we have in our lives because we don't have the constant struggle for the basics that so many do; and my view of the waste we accept as normal in the West has definitely changed.  I hope I don't lose this new perspective when my life returns to its usual routines. I certainly aim to be much more mindful of the resources at my disposal and wiser in how I use them."

Well Matt, we admire your dedication.  

If you would like to support Matt in his Live Below the Line challenge, you can make a donation here.  
Looking forward to Toasting Gromit Unleashed with the best of the South West. Thank you  TLT!  In June I have been invited to pay a visit to Bristol to admire the giant fibreglass sculpture of Gromit that this leading South West law firm has sponsored (can't wait to see this). It will be one of a total of 80 Gromit statues "unleashed" in and around Bristol over the Summer, each one designed and created by a different artist, creating an awesome arts trail and an opportunity for the individual pieces to be auctioned off for charity.  TLT are good friends of Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman Animations having advised them for many years. This very cool event is part of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Appeal which is raising money for the expansion of Bristol's Children's Hospital.

"Cracking good job, Gromit!"
Kysen has signed up for the Law-Society-sponsored London Legal Walk!  On Monday 20 May our team will be joining 6,000 or so others working in the legal profession on a 10km route through three of the Royal Parks and along Strand and The Embankment to raise money to fund free legal advice to those who can't afford to pay.   Last year's walk raised over 600,000 pounds.

In a time where we are seeing the legal aid budget dwindle before our eyes, such initiatives are needed more than ever.  The Law Society president herself has made this point emphasising the importance of legal charities such as advice agencies and pro bono centres.   

Are you walking the walk?  Do let us know.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Mike Blakemore

Mike Blakemore gave me a completely new perspective on the power of the media this week. I spoke to Amnesty UK's Media Director as I paid a visit to their Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch this week on the day of their Young Human Rights Journalist of the Year Awards. Mike had just placed a segment on the Radio 4's Today Programme that morning on the Sri Lanka conflict and talked me through how it had worked. 

"The Sri Lankan authorities need to be held to account for government-sanctioned abuses and for their current crackdown on dissent. Our activity this week has focused on urging the Commonwealth not to hold its November Summit unless the country's human rights record improves. We believe Amnesty has a critical role to play in this regard. Ideally we wanted to be able to confront Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Chris Nonis, directly on the programme. We discussed this with the producers and what we were able to do instead was to pose some questions to the presenter at the start of the program which the Today team was then able to pick up and put directly to Dr Nonis in an interview later on in the program. So this way we were able to set the agenda and make sure he was put on the spot to answer the points we felt he should be called to account for."

So less about raising Amnesty's profile then, and more about using press contacts and media opportunities to put the spotlight on different issues, make governments and individuals answer for what they are doing, or not doing?

"Absolutely. Profile-raising is important of course and it does have a place in our programme of media activity as you would expect as it is important for fundraising apart from anything else. But this other very different use of the media is a key part of our campaigning work. The media is a very very powerful tool and with skill we can use it to great effect in challenging and changing the status quo."

One of the reasons for my trip to Shoreditch was talk to be Amnesty UK about the upcoming Amnesty Media Awards on 11 June. They are keen to Increase their engagement with the legal community, not just because this campaigning organisation was founded both by a lawyer and on a legal principle: to uphold the rule of law worldwide, but also for a very practical reason when it comes to corporate sponsorship. 'We have an inherent difficulty when it comes to corporate sponsorship: one of our most important roles is holding corporates to account for their activities, alignments, relationships, etc as they may impact on human rights around the world. How can we do this on the one hand, when we are taking money from them with the other? However when it comes to lawyers it's a different story, because having a good level of defence whether innocent or guilty is a central tenet of human rights. Indeed robust convictions i.e. that are less capable of being unravelled after the event, depend on the accused having had a strong defence in the first place. This means we are much more comfortable taking sponsorship from law firms and lawyers. It just makes much more sense for us."  Of course this is where I thought I might be able to help so I had gone along to see if there might be any firms or  people I might usefully introduce them to.

The Amnesty Media Awards make for a spectacular event. They celebrate the best in campaigning journalism, both written and photographic. Regular followers of this blog will remember my post from the event last year and how inspired I was after an evening focusing on the heroism and altruism that you find in this part of the journalistic community. (A posthumous award was collected by wounded photojournalist Paul Conroy on behalf of his colleague war correspondent Marie Colvin who died in the course of covering their story about the Siege of Homs.) Last year's event coincided with the Leveson Enquiry and our TV screens at the time were being dominated by tales of journalist and other sleaze. A stark contrast indeed. Amnesty is trying to create a fund to enable more people to enter the awards. A donation of around £5000 could cover the entry fees for a number of worthy, talented but underfunded media teams that would otherwise not be able to enter.

"It's not just about making sure these people are rewarded for their work promoting human rights," says Mike, "but also, in a time where media and publishing budgets are so stripped back, these accolades, or the promise of them, can make a difference between teams being able to persuade their bosses at an expensive trip overseas should be funded, or not."

Want to make a difference? Do make contact with the team if you do.
Congratulations to our friends at The Lawyer magazine for their shortlisting as Business Magazine of the Year at this year's PPA Awards! No surprise to us, as clients and friends in the legal profession continually feed back how much they love The Lawyer's coverage and I myself have said publicly how much I respect the way they have adapted their publishing model so successfully as the digital revolution has taken hold and news consumption habits changed so dramatically. They most definitely lead the legal field in this regard.

Good news also to see how Alex Novarese is shaking up Legal Business, launching a brand new website just months after taking over the role of Editor-in-Chief. He has also snared the mercurial but inimitable Charon QC to contribute regularly to the new look magazine. Looking forward to seeing what plans Georgina Stanley has in store for Legal Week, now she has had a few months to think about it since Alex left for Legal Business.
To welcome the Spring, we have now set a date for our next Tonic event: drinks at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden on 22 May (6.30pm). Our Tonic group is exclusively for PR and marketing people in professional firms, designed as a forum for exchanging useful information and experience via LinkedIn and In Real Life. We have a number of new faces at Kysen so look forward to introducing them to our clients and friends at this event. 

If you work for a professional services firm in a marketing, PR or leadership role but have not yet joined Tonic, please do feel free to do so here.