On the sofa with Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk

At Legal IT Insider we try hard to promote women every day, not just on International Women’s Day, and we are publishing a series of interviews with senior and inspiring women in the legal profession that will come out every month in 2020. But who better to mark #IWD20 than Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk, who is a fierce champion of women in law and whose First 100 Years sets out to celebrate a centenary of women being able to practise.

Dana what’s on your high priority to-do list at the moment that you can share with us?

I am focused on scaling Obelisk even further by expanding our offer beyond legal. We have a great tech platform that we can build on in terms of service lines and international expansion.

What have you accomplished lately that you’re really proud of?

For sure 2019 is a year to remember – holding down 2 full time jobs on Obelisk and First 100 Years campaign and making a success of them both. Huge effort on the campaign and record-breaking year for Obelisk…in the same year!

And anything you’re not proud of?

I don’t get proud much so never really have a reason to not be proud. I celebrate each day and each achievement and I see all obstacles as opportunities.

Can you identify two or possibly three areas of real progress you see in the legal sector, being as specific as possible.

Openness to flexible working…when I first started Obelisk, potential clients said they would never work this way.  10 years on, we are a thriving business!  Still more to do but there is significant change in clients being open to outsourcing their work to us, allowing us to manage the capacity we have in the most productive and cost-effective way. Legal work doesn’t have be offshored or nearshored into delivery centres – ‘homeshoring” through intelligent work allocation and connection to local talent is a high-quality solution to time and budget-pressed teams.

I also like that there has been more opening up of consumer-facing non-legal companies offering dramatically different services that make legal advice accessible…Farewill, for example, example.

And where do you see the most extreme examples of lack of progress – extra points if you can say how you would change them!

For a female-majority profession, the gender imbalance and overall lack of diversity in leadership is depressing. Introducing quotas if the profession must have the partnership model is the only way to bring about change and level the playing field.

Also, the new law space looks worryingly like the old law in terms of leadership and the access to finance, clients and opportunities for women to scale businesses. This area is dire and no action whatsoever has been taken to support this group. So, watch this space!

I would like to see buyers more preoccupied with the whole supply chain and who is in it,not to focus solely on fixing law firms.

If you have to pick one of these words as an agent of change what would it be and why? Process, mindset, or passion.

Passion is what makes one a visionary with the resilience to put ideas into practice not just day dream.

What is your career highlight to date?

I think seeing the first artwork to depict women hanging up in the Supreme Court to mark the centenary of women in law ranks pretty high – to be able to say I made that possible by coordinating the whole process from fundraising to commissioning and donating it to the top court in the country – I am proud of that. And equally surprised that I found myself in the position of making Lady Hale’s dream come true.

Who is your biggest influencer and why? 

It has always been my father – encouraged my imagination, going against the current in search of new ideas and to have courage. It’s hard to be a leader without courage and vision – and he taught me both.

What’s your favourite tipple?

I am not sure I have a favourite but for a cheeky drink, probably sherry.

If you could hang out in a bar with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

If the bar is at the Royal Opera House, I would love to chat to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we share a love for opera and it would be great to hear her thoughts on the predicament of women in many of the operas – married away against their wish, often going mad as a result – I’d love to hear how she reconciles these sterotypes with her women empowerment views in the name of art or some other way. And, I would have loved to have had afternoon tea with Mary Midgley, the philosopher, whom we lost last year.

Our next interview is with Nicole Bradick, founder and CEO of Theory and Principle and frequent conference speaker and thought leader. To get involved in our women in law series please contact caroline.hill@legalitlabs.com