Dana Denis-Smith

Dana is the founder of the First 100 Years project, a 5-year campaign (2014-2019) focused on individual biographies and storytelling to chart the journey of women in law since 1919. It has completely reshaped the history of professional women in law by framing it, for the first time, in its historical context. The campaign, supported by all professional bodies including the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Magistrates Association, has gathered thousands of supporters since its official launch in March 2015. Later in 2015, it crowdfunded an initial £12,000 to enable it to commission the first wave of video biographies of legal pioneers still alive, such as Baroness Hale and Dame Linda Dobbs. Dana realised how important her project had become when, upon the appointment of Baroness Hale to be the first president of the Supreme Court in 2017, many broadcasters contacted the project for footage of Baroness Hale, having discovered that they didn’t hold any themselves, as they had ignored her rise to the very top of the UK judiciary. The campaign is entirely run by volunteers.

During her research, Dana was shocked to discover that women lawyers were not allowed to use the Reading Room at the Law Society as recently as 1977, despite having been allowed to join the profession since 1919 and the first women lawyers being on the roll for 54 years by this point.

This type of prejudice strengthened her resolve to tell the stories of pioneering women professionals to educate future generations about their heritage and help them place themselves in history.

Dana started her professional life at 18 as a journalist, and went on to read history and political economy at the London School of Economics as a mature student. She continued her writing career after graduating until 2005, when she embarked on a legal career. By this time, she was already married and 30 years old – highly unusual for a trainee solicitor in a global law firm such as Linklaters. She later left the law to become an entrepreneur and, in 2010, founded Obelisk Support, a business that focuses on women in law and on reactivating talent that has been lost to the legal profession because of starting families. Her model is simple – let parents work from home and keep using their skills. Her team find and bring work to those lawyers, mainly mothers, so that they can continue to work around their families and remain economically active. Marriage and starting a family, Dana discovered, was still a barrier to women advancing to the leadership ranks of law firms even in the 21st century and this barrier would be best understood by learning from the past to shape the future.

Obelisk Support has now grown into a multi-million-pound business working with over 1,000 lawyers across the world. Dana is a well-known champion of women, and has won numerous awards – from FT Innovative Lawyer 2012 and Legal Week’s Outstanding Legal Innovator 2015 to Legal Personality of the Year 2017 (when she beat off stiff competition from, among others, Gina Miller). Obelisk was one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women in the UK in 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, Dana delivered a TEDx talk on the importance of women collecting and recording their biographies to ensure that they leave a trace in history.

She is married to John, a barrister, and has one daughter, Alma-Constance.

Links & Credits

The First 100 Years

Celebrating Women in Law