The launch of our latest Verdict Magazine in March shone a spotlight on the young pioneers carving out brilliant careers in the legal and business worlds.
We heard from leading legal professionals Eloise Skinner, wellness blogger and associate at Cleary Gottlieb, Dana Denis Smith, the founder of flexible working legal tech company Obelisk, Harini Iyengar, Women’s Equality Party candidate and barrister at 11KBW, Wynne Lawrence, Green Economy lawyer at Clyde & Co, and Jonathan Andrews, disability campaigner and associate in Reed Smith’s entertainment and media team.
To mark the launch of Verdict magazine, we invited some of new wave of young influencers to speak at our Pioneer’s event held in Shoreditch in early March.
Here’s our rundown of the innovators we welcomed on the day:
Dana Denis-Smith: How to start something from nothing
Dana Denis-Smith practised as a lawyer at Linklaters for two years after starting her working life in journalism as a reporter for Reuters. She then went on to found Obelisk, one of the first legal tech companies of the post-2008 wave of start-ups.
Dana shared the lessons she learnt growing up on a farm in communist Russia. In her youth she went door to door selling apples handpicked from her farm. She soon discovered her neighbour was selling juicier ones and upped her game. “It doesn’t matter what cards you were dealt with, you can strive to make your business a success,” she told the audience of 100 students at our Pioneers event.
Dana is now at the helm of Obelisk, a flexible working platform harnessing the talent of ex-City lawyers, and the First 100 Years project, a digital library charting the history of women in law.
Hear Dana Denis-Smith's Podcast on The University of Law YouTube Channel.
Jonathan Andrews: Thinking about disability in new ways
“When I think about disability, I think about how integral it’s been to how I experienced growing up in the world,” Reed Smith media associate Jonathan Andrews told us during his talk.
Jonathan was diagnosed with autism at the age of nine. “I didn’t know any different -- I was born as I am,” he said. His family were incredibly supportive and with their encouragement he adapted to the challenges and recognised the strengths of his condition.
The King’s English graduate converted to law and started a training contract with Reed Smith.
“At the time I was applying there weren’t many lawyers speaking out about disability in the profession. I thought, maybe that’s a sign, I might not fit in. Thankfully my upbringing taught me not to think in that way, and actually, isn’t it possible there are but they’re just not open about it? And if there isn’t maybe it’s time they did,” said Jonathan.
Since then he has set himself the task of raising awareness of autism in the legal profession and has been re-appointed to a second term on the Law Society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
“When people hear about neurodiversity conditions such as autism, they often think what can’t they do. By investing in inclusion we can add a great benefit to the profession and wider society,” he summed up.
You can hear Jonathan’s full talk here.
Wynne Lawrence: The climate risk lawyer
Wynne Lawrence told us that “When most people think about insurance they picture a man with a hat going from door to door accosting people -- like Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day.” But insurance law, the integral gearbox of society, is rapidly undergoing a rebrand.”
The Canadian Londoner studied international relations at the University of Toronto followed by a masters at the London School of Economics. She trained with Clyde & Co and is now a senior associate specialising in climate risk and resilience.
Wynne is a founding member of the firm's cross-practice area climate change resilience initiative. The group examines climate risk across the global firm’s practice areas and assists clients on the risks posed by climate change to their businesses as they transition to the low carbon economy of the future.
Wynne told budding legal professionals that: “The only constant is change. Life will throw curveballs at you and the beauty is accepting what comes and making the best out of every situation.”
You can hear Wynne’s talk as a podcast here.
Eloise Skinner: Making space for wellbeing within corporate law
Cambridge University triple-first graduate Eloise Skinner is an associate in the London office of US firm Cleary Gottlieb. She completed a total of seven vacation schemes at US, silver and magic circle firms before settling here.
Life as a corporate lawyer in the City can be intense, she explains to the audience. So, she decided to embark on a range of activity to “bring back balance, breadth and depth” to her life and work.
The rising star is now on a mission to make space for wellbeing within corporate law. Eloise explains that there is more to be done within the legal profession to ensure good mental health and wellbeing.
Harini Iyengar: Advocating for equality inside and outside the legal profession
Harini Iyengar was called to the bar in 1999 while seven months pregnant. She completed pupillage as a single parent of a small baby and successfully obtained tenancy.
A “non-traditional applicant for the bar” and the daughter of immigrants who came to the UK from India to work as doctors, Harini told the audience she learnt about the barrister profession while on an outreach programme. After achieving an Oxford University law degree and Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL), she set out on her path to becoming a barrister as a woman of colour in 1990s England.
Over her career, she has won many large and high-profile cases, balancing her busy employment, equality and education practice with campaigning for the Women’s Equality Party (WEP). Harini is the WEP lead candidate for the May 2021 London Assembly election and will also stand as the party’s co-leader.
Harini has given expert legal evidence to the House of Commons inquiry into high heels and work dress codes and authored ‘A Practical Guide to the Law of Gender Pay Gap Reporting’.
Harini’s advice for those setting out in the profession was: “Go to the place you’ll be most successful, whether or not you’ll fit in. You don’t have to fit in or feel comfortable; growth happens in areas you feel more discomfort.”
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