Dana Denis-Smith can pick her timing. Just weeks after she launched her new legal business in 2010 with £500 of her own money to market it, she discovered she was pregnant with her first child.
Fast forward eight years and Obelisk Support is now a multi-million dollar business with 12 permanent staff in London and 1,500 lawyers around the world, mainly women who take on freelance legal work, mostly in the commercial sphere. Denis-Smith, 42, says most of the lawyers work around their family and study commitments after being what she calls “economically inactive” because of inflexible work practices in traditional firms. Obelisk supplies legal solutions to numerous companies including Goldman Sachs, Vodafone, BT, Siemens, ING and Barclays, as well as law firms such as Linklaters and White & Case.
Denis-Smith was born in Transylvania, Romania, and worked as a journalist before moving to the UK on a Reuters scholarship. She studied at the London School of Economics before attending BPP Law School in London, then took a graduate role at Linklaters. She worked in the finance, commercial and employment sectors before starting her own business in emerging markets in 2008.
Denis-Smith was named Personality of the Year at this year’s LexisNexis awards in the UK, and The Times named Obelisk one of the UK’s top 50 employers for women in 2015 and 2016. In 2014, she launched the First 100 Years project in the UK and gave herself five years to create a large digital library charting the journey of women in law in the lead-up to the 2019 centenary of the change that allowed women to practise as lawyers. (Australia beat the UK to it by one year and you can read more at the First 100 Years website.)