Friday, 1 July 2016

Arpita Dutt

GUEST BLOG - Arpita Duttanti-discrimination lawyer and equal rights campaigner

Response to Brexit vote

(An abridged version of this piece appeared in The Times "The Brief" earlier this week.)

 The morning after the referendum, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. That’s often enough to make me feel good but I woke up deeply upset, in shock and disbelief at the outcome - Brexit.

The split of the vote around the country made it clear that this was a country deeply divided, and rather than feel proud of being British, a country I was born in, one that I have loved and worked hard for, as my parents as immigrants to this country had done before me, I just felt sick with a sense of alienation.

It was a feeling that had been growing before the EU referendum vote as it seemed that public figures, posters, newspapers and members of the public had used the Leave campaign to vocalise racist views and lay the ills of years of under-investment in public services, community infrastructure and housing at the door of all ‘immigrants’ indiscriminately, whether from the EU, non–EU ethnic minorities or British born.

I don’t think it’s racist to talk about immigration, but I also believe in calling out racism strongly when it’s vocalised, whatever the context.

Let’s talk factually and not pander to stereotypes, slogans and myths.

I own up to living in the diverse ‘London bubble’ as it’s been called,  but for the last 25 years I have been a strident campaigner against racism and xenophobia, strengthening communities and cohesion and listening to people as I have travelled around the country.

I have worked with European anti-racism organisations to build bridges and good practice and to talk about immigration. When I’ve come back from Europe I’ve often felt how lucky we are compared to immigrants in other EU countries.

I‘ve witnessed the lack of facilities for local people, and I’ve experienced the vitriolic words of hate against immigrants. Most of all, I’ve felt ashamed at the deprived areas and circumstances in which I feel no-one in the UK should have to live in.

In the last 5 years I’ve been physically harassed and verbally abused by the English Defence League in Grays and taunted with shouts of ‘there aint no black in the Union Jack’.

Last Friday, I suddenly felt unsafe again, and I felt like the ‘other’.

So, this racism isn’t new; but it appears to have been given greater legitimacy to emerge and is manifesting in nefarious ways around the country as recent reports that have been reported by the media and on the Twitter tag  #PostRefRacism show.
But, it’s not just me that feels this way. My ethnic minority friends fear for their children now. Our parents experienced the worst harassment and exclusion, and as British born second and third generation children of immigrants, we too were called ‘Wogs’ and ‘Paki’s’ but that’s not what we expected our children to experience.

As I travelled to work on the bus on Friday, I heard a fellow Spanish passenger talking to relatives on her phone in utter disbelief about the result.

She has two small children and she felt deeply uncertain about the future, and whether she could stay in this country.

Now I fear that the perceived mandate for out and out racism will give oxygen to the far right as the politics of division intensifies.

As a lawyer, I have helped secure justice for victims of race discrimination in their workplaces and in the community; I have chaired a London Borough Hate Crime Forum for 5 years working with the local police, housing agencies, the council and community organisations to instill victims with confidence and create reporting centres to report hate crime; ensuring agencies work together effectively to deal with those reports.

I founded ARA Trust, a charity that has worked to bring young people and families from diverse backgrounds together to educate and create understanding amongst new and existing members of communities.

I have worked with Hope Not Hate and the trade union movement on many anti-racist campaigns.

All of these organisations continue to carry out valuable work, and they are needed more than ever.

I know that we are much stronger when communities work together to eradicate all forms of extremism.

We must all be vigilent, record and report all hate crime and stand together because ‘Brexit’ should not be a proxy to legitimise racism and xenophobia.

We have to do better than this.

We have to be better than this.

In 2016, that’s not what being British is about. I’ll be redoubling my efforts.

Arpita Dutt is a Founder and Partner of employment law firm BDBF LLP and writes in a personal capacity.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Matthew Kay

Matthew Kay is a very emotionally intelligent man. We’ve been having a ball working with him to promote Pinsent Masons’ Vario through an eye-catching campaign urging lawyers to connect with their human side.  “In an age where the legal market is delivering increasing parts of the service through artificial intelligence”, he says, “human lawyers need to be astute about what it is they offer that’s different.  AI can be excellent for increasing efficiencies, particularly in terms of speed and consistency of outcomes for clients, and that’s important, but clients want relationships with people, not robots. This is where lawyers’ emotional intelligence and a nuanced soft-skill-set becomes key.”  (You can catch up with the Vario #NoClones campaign on the @PMVario Twitter stream, or by using the #NoClones hashtag.)

Indeed it’s this kind of enlightened thinking that distinguishes Vario from its closest competitors in the contract lawyer market: an important point of difference is how they select lawyers for client assignments not just on the basis of the required legal expertise, but by matching individuals’  behavioural styles with the culture of the client organisations they are being placed into. “It makes for a much more pleasant experience all round, which encourages everyone to keep coming back for more: our clients tell us they like this approach because our Varios fit in to their culture so much more quickly, and get on so well with everyone else in the team; and our Varios say how much more valued they feel on our placements, compared to other places they’ve worked. We all spend so much of our waking life at work, it’s just as important to get the “people” bit right, ie enjoying working with people you naturally get on with, as it is to be able to master the technical parts of the job.”

Matthew took over the reins of Pinsent Masons’ Vario in December last year. Up to that point, although Vario had been phenomenally successful, the business had developed pretty much by accident, its 30% year-on-year expansion being more through natural market demand than by strategic design.  This is all now changing and Matthew has some very definite plans for where he wants to take the business next. 

“Whilst interest in contract lawyering has grown exponentially in the last few years, for some reason it is seen very much as a London legal market phenomenon.  In the regions, although there is huge demand on the client side for the contract lawyer option, the lawyers themselves are far less aware of this as a career option.  Their assumption is often that they would have to compromise the level at which they’re operating in the legal market in order to achieve a better work/life balance. We need to educate them.  The reality is they can have it all!  A contract lawyer anywhere in the country can, and should, expect to be doing interesting legal work, on high-quality assignments, for big companies and house-hold names. We know this because we are constantly receiving work from big name clients who want contract lawyers in all different parts of the country outside London, and we don’t always have enough of the right lawyers to meet the demand.”

Another of Matthew’s aims is to change perceptions that contract lawyering is the preserve of people approaching the end of their careers, after many years in private practice. “We’re keen to get to lawyers 1-8 years PQE and challenge them to demand the career they really want, right from the start. Why shouldn’t they have a good work/life balance right from the beginning! I want to encourage lawyers to start as they mean to go on!”

We’ve only been working with Matthew for a short time, but already the #NoClones campaign has shown how bold he is prepared to be, and how much creative energy he is putting in to his ambitions for Vario. I have no doubt he will achieve his aims of shaking the contract lawyer market up by challenging its accepted demographics. This is most definitely a space … and a man … to watch.

Donate by 18th July to Amnesty’s campaign against child marriage and FGM, and you can double your impact.  For these two Summer months, the UK Government (Department of Education) has pledged to match ALL donations Amnesty receives for its work to end FGM and early/forced marriage in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso.  
The charity is planning a massive educational project to change cultural attitudes in the region. Local Amnesty members will reach out to different community groups such as schools, women’s groups, men’s groups, encouraging everyone to stand together against these inhuman practices and reject them as socially unacceptable. 

Click here to Donate Now. There’s never been a better time. 

Here’s a story that goes one better than “Man bites dog”.  I’m sure you are all familiar with the Journalist’s/PR’s mantra “Dog bites man is not a story; but man bites dog, now there’s a story”.  Well, The Times recently ran a fabulous feature entitled “Workplace drudgery drives feminists back to the kitchen”.  It tells the wonderfully counter-intuitive tale of how after decades of fighting to escape the kitchen and enjoy the fulfilment of interesting careers, many modern women are (as The Times’ David Sanderson and Rosemary Bennett explain) “increasingly embracing domesticity as an antidote to the drudgery of the workplace”.

I love it!  It’s about time the classic aphorism was updated.  From now on, when I’m coaching PR skills and storytelling, there’ll be no more “Man bites dog”; only “Work drives feminists back to the kitchen”.   

Friday, 27 May 2016

Michael Fleming

Michael Fleming believes “Trust” is the key to success for any lawyer attempting business development.  A man after my own heart!  I love what he has to say about the role of the Trusted Advisor, and how perfecting this is the best way to generate new clients and keep old clients coming back to you time and time again.  He even has a formula for it (courtesy of Charles H Green, famed author of three books on the Trust Quotient in business): 
T = (C + R + I) - SI
…. where T = Trust, C credibility, R relationship, and I stands for intimacy.  And what’s the SI that’s to be subtracted after all these wonderful qualities are mixed together, I hear you ask?  Self Interest of course.  Neat.

Michael is Head of Legal Training at specialist training & coaching company Kissing With Confidence (you’ve got to be confident doing business under a company name like that!)  He joined them some 10 years ago, after 20 years as a private practice lawyer.  So he knows the legal sector inside and out, which means all the training and coaching he offers, (from networking and pitching, to negotiating and influencing, and everything in-between), is based on a very good understanding of what life is really like for lawyers, and how legal services are bought and sold in the real world.   Important for any consultant working with solicitors and barristers, in my view.

I met Michael at a training and networking event run by Pinsent Masons' Vario especially for its freelance lawyers.  The subject of the evening was the increasing importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence in an age where we are seeing more and more Artificial Intelligence in the legal services mix. (You can read more about Vario's event in the Daily Telegraph here.) Just days before the event, news broke of US law firm BakerHostetler’s hire of a robot lawyer, ROSS, into its bankruptcy team, and the event hosts were quick to use this to advantage: "as AI increases in law", said Vario CEO Matthew Kay, "so lawyers need to promote their human side and polish up their soft skills as a point of differentiation". (You can follow Vario's thoughts on this on Twitter, via @PMVario or under the hashtag #NoClones.) So Michael’s session couldn’t have been better timed. He certainly had everyone’s attention.  He led a fantastically engaged and lively session.  We were all ears.

Afterwards, I wanted to know more about this emphasis Michael places on Trust in the lawyer-client relationship. 

“It’s all about lawyers developing that classic Trusted Advisor role and understanding what this means in all its aspects.  There are 10 or so key principles we aim to get across in our coaching programmes on this: first, that the trusted advisor is in it for long term relationships, not short term gain; second, they put clients’ interests before their own; third, a Trusted Advisor is genuinely interested in their clients and their business, demonstrating this by working hard to understand the client’s underlying interests too, not just “surface wants”; next, they are reliable; they do what they say they’ll do.  And they are credible.  Lastly, they get up close and personal, and connect emotionally (appropriate professional boundaries maintained at the same time of course!), and are enthusiastic and passionate about what they do.  At the end of the day it’s about authenticity.”

It’s one of my personal bugbears that people often misunderstand the sales process and think it’s about “swizzing” people into buying things they don’t need.  But that’s not good sales at all; in fact it’s called conning people.  Good sales is about understanding/anticipating people’s needs and delivering products or services that will best meet those needs.  It’s actually about helping people; in law this means listening deeply to what it is that clients really need, (in terms of service and price points as well as legal expertise), and shaping your service to fit.  And if as a salesperson you don’t really believe your service is the best solution for the target client, then don’t sell it to them!  Instead recommend the person who can help them more.  You’ll win in the long run.

It will be no surprise to you that Michael’s emphasis on trustworthiness as a key to successful business development was music to my ears.  If this is what Kissing With Confidence is all about, then I’ll pucker up now!

A court case this week confirmed the term "Superhero" is free for all of us to use and the Kysen team breathed a collective sigh of relief.  A large segment of our IIP-accredited internal training programme is centred around being SuPR Heroes (see what we did there?), using our four SuPR Powers of Persuasion, Perfect Timing, Storytelling and Soundbite-Spotting to make our PR performance superhuman.  

Given the concept of the Superhero is so embedded in our culture, it seems ridiculous that anyone using the word might be infringing a trademark.  In this case, the mighty Marvel and DC Comics had joined forces to challenge little man author Graham Jules, halting publication of his book "From Business Zero to Superhero", in a David-and-Goliath battle worthy of any comic book tale.  Just days before the court case was due to start, Marvel and DC stood down, withdrawing their objection to Jules using the word.  So no court has yet ruled on whether "Superhero" is so much part of culture it can't be "owned" or protected for commercial purposes.  But at least for now common sense has prevailed.
We are in the kitchen with a favourite client this week, exploring the "marketing mix". Cookery and business coach Richard Coombes will be leading us in a shared learning experience, as together we think about how to blend business development and PR activity ever more smoothly.  The Kysen team will be joined by the firm's two in-house PRs and also four members of their in-house Business Development team. We've carefully prepared Venn diagrams showing how BD and PR activity need to dovetail for best effect.... and this week's challenge is to recreate these diagrams in the medium of cake! Of course we'll be discussing the key ingredients and how they need to be mixed, stirred or folded together with skill, for best results, as we do this.  Watch out for pix on Twitter. Can't wait!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Jeremy Sokel

Our friends at Nottingham Law School always say that a qualification in law can take you anywhere and help you rise to the top in any sphere, and Jeremy Sokel is the perfect example.  From private practice lawyer, builder of grand design homes to CEO and Chairman, and now … (drum roll please) …MD of film production company Into The Woods and executive film producer!  Regular followers of this blog will know why this has got me so excited.

I’ve known Jeremy and his wife and law partner Jessica (a long-time client of Kysen) for a very long time (I got to 20 years and decided to stop counting!).  Together they run employment law boutique Learmond Criqui Sokel which is my reason for keeping in touch.  Well that and the fact they are amongst the very nicest people you could hope to have the pleasure of getting to know in business. 

Given my passion for film, you can just imagine my reaction when Jeremy invited me to a private screening of his soon-to-be-released film Us And Them.  I must watch about five movies on average per week, at home or at the cinema, but this was the first time I’d ever been asked to view one pre-completion and be part of a team providing feedback before the final cut.  And it was brilliant!  So much so, that when Jeremy and his director were ready for my “objective feedback” once the film reel had whirled to an end, I realised I simply didn’t have any – I had been so sucked in by the story, I’d got totally carried away!  With a power lead performance from Jack Roth (yes, son of the legendary TimSkellig,Reservoir Dogs, Lie To Me), and a fantastic supporting cast, Us and Them is most definitely a must-see when it reaches a cinema near you.

Us And Them is billed by its creators as “the film to ignite a generation”.  A bold claim, but considering it’s been selected from hundreds of applications as one of a few films to be shown at the British Film Council’s London Screenings Breakthrough 2016, it looks like they can back it up. Jeremy says  “It’s certainly very much a “now” film - the first British thriller to explore the discontent and sense of disenfranchisement simmering beneath the surface of our post-credit-crunch society, where cheating bankers have escaped with impunity and the humble taxpayer has been made to pay the price in their place.”

I’m not going to give any of the plot away, as a big part of the joy for me was how the story was revealed in layers: one minute you think you know what’s going on; then the story flips and you realise the film is about something else altogether.  All I will say is that the central idea is about all hell breaking loose when disillusioned youngster Danny (Jack Roth) decides to confront a wealthy banker on his home territory.

Us And Them is as entertaining and funny as it is thrilling, at the same time as having something interesting to say and being very clever about how it says it.  The writing is superb and there are some truly wonderful moments to enjoy.  Oh, did I mention it also has a killer soundtrack from The Sleaford Mods, The Damned and the O'Jays?

You can find out more about the film here

I ask Jeremy if he’s looking for further investment.  “Not just at the moment, although there may be opportunities further down the track for anyone interested in getting involved.  Right now we have more than enough to finish the film.  Our focus at the moment is finding the right distributors.  With this in mind I’m off to Cannes next week, so watch this space…”  Need a PR to help while you’re out there Jeremy??
So the first print-only newspaper to be launched in 30 years has died.  What a surprise.  New Day was always a curious “counter-intuitive” experiment, hoping to tap in to a generation of web-weary readers, longing for news in hard copy only.  An expensive disaster for Trinity Mirror. 

They’ve learned the hard truth that, as Ofcom’s annual report on our changing news consumption habits continually shows, even if we bemoan our screen-addicted lives and constantly reminisce about the days we used to actually pay attention to people in the same room as us, none of us can resist the immediacy of all that information flowing direct to our computer screens and phones.

In a way the demise of New Day is good news: it proves we're all a lot less luddite than we'd care to admit 😉  
Of course it was always going to be Sarah O’Connor at the FT who took on the robots.  The irony is not lost.  If you missed this priceless experiment to see how a leading FT-trained journalist compared with a computer called Emma when it comes to writing news, then you can catch up with the plot by watching this short video.

Emma is a “machine augmented neural search interface”, in other words an autonomous artificial intelligence (AI).  She has been designed by robotics company Stealth, “to operate autonomously for delivering professional services related to financial analysis, research and consulting”. Lawyers take note: it won’t be long before a cyborg is coming your way too.

Emma certainly gives Sarah a run for her money, completing the task in just 12 minutes compared to Sarah’s 35.  But to the very visible relief of all in the FT’s editorial team, Sarah wins hands down: whilst Emma’s story is packed with figures, albeit accurate and with some decent enough analysis, Sarah is far better at zoning in on the one key stat that in fact makes the whole story.

So skilled white-collar workers may be safe for now.  But for how long…? 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tristan Kirk

The Evening Standard’s new court reporter Tristan Kirk has some very big shoes to fill. He takes over this week from Paul Cheston, who was in the role for 23 years and was widely regarded in the court reporting community (they all spend their time buzzing around the same courts so know each other really well) as the best in the business bar none. I know you are all keen to hear from Tristan, but first a word about his predecessor.Paul was famous for filing his stories by phone, only referring to hand-written notes to check keys facts, his storylines forming as he dictated them down the line, his mid-morning deadlines being so far ahead of his rivals’. And I’ve extolled Paul’s legendary storytelling skills in this blog before, describing how he grabs attention with his opening lines like no-one else. Here’s a personal favourite, from a court case we worked on together.  Just count the number of wows in this one sentence:

“The woman who humiliated one of the richest men in the world has revealed for the first time details behind how she delayed a brain operation to make legal history.”

No wonder his court reporting made the Standard’s front page so often. No pressure Tristan, as we all eagerly await your first stories this week!

For all of you who will miss Paul, the very good news is that he hand-picked Tristan as his successor. “There was only one man for the job – and it’s Tristan”, Paul told me before he left. Before joining the Standard team, Tristan was working for Central News Agency based at the Old Bailey. The defining moment of his career so far, he tells me, came during his time covering the phone hacking trial last year, with Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson in the dock. Reporting of the case was a complicated matter, with the courts attempting to restrict journalists’ coverage and the press in turn challenging the court’s right to do so. This was when Tristan found other journalists turning to him to check what they could and couldn’t do and how they might mount their challenges; being by then already a seasoned court reporter, Tristan knew the rules better than any of them. He only realised this himself at this point, and it spurred him to think where he really wanted to take his career next. When Paul announced plans to retire, it seemed too good to be true; for someone keen to make their name as a court reporter, it doesn’t get much better than the Evening Standard beat …and given Paul had been in role over 20 years, obviously the opportunity doesn’t come up that often! I’ve just interviewed Joshua Rozenberg about the planned overhaul of our courts system, so I was keen to know what Tristan thinks is the best and worst aspects of it currently, and what he hopes to see in a reformed system.

“I think on the whole we are right to be very proud of our judicial system.  It’s the best in the world and little wonder how many rich foreigners choose to bring their disputes to London. In terms of reform, what I’m most interested to see is how the courts adapt to our increasingly digital world. It’s a significant challenge for them. I covered what was supposed to be the first paperless criminal trial at the Old Bailey last year, with jurors viewing evidence on iPads rather than paper, and the usual hard copy evidence bundles nowhere to be seen. It was a troubled trial that eventually collapsed (not because of technology), but by which point everyone had long given up on the iPads. It just proved too difficult. I don't know why the "new" technology is such a challenge really.  The pre-courtroom bit works fine electronically, but what the courts haven’t yet mastered is how to handle documents in the hurlyburly of the live courtroom. But we’re only talking about the need to pull out the right pieces of electronic evidence as they are referred to court. You wouldn’t really think it’s that difficult!  The rest of the business world has adjusted to digital as norm.  Why does our judicial system struggle so much?”  I have to say I agree, especially when you consider how keen the courts are to underline the point they are one of the UK’s biggest exports. When it comes to technology they are really not showing their commercial mettle. 

Am I sad to see Paul go. Of course. I’ll miss him. As a keen reader of the Standard, am I worried I’ll miss out now he’s gone? Happily I can tell you Paul has found us the perfect man for the job. We’re going to enjoy Tristan’s coverage. Watch this space!
So Lord Lucan has finally been laid to rest.  Last week’s news sparked a memory: when Jon McDonnell QC first launched 13 Old Square, we handled the press interest for him. Despite our meticulous preparation, and repeated rehearsals with our founder spokesperson, when in front of journalists Jon had an uncanny habit of dropping a total gem of a story into the conversation, that he’d completely forgotten to tell us about before. 
One such example was when he casually mentioned in front of a Legal Week journalist “Ah yes, that was about the time I was representing Lord Lucan”.  Lord WHO???  “Yes, I represented Lord Lucan at his trial”. “But we thought the whole point of that trial was that Lord Lucan wasn’t there!” we protested. “That’s quite right” Jon explained, “but someone had to represent his interests In Absentia and so I was appointed to do just that”. 

I learned that day that it was Jon’s argument in court that prevented Lord Lucan ever being declared dead, so responsible in fact for starting a legend. “Either he killed the nanny, so he’d have a good reason to disappear; or he didn’t, which means someone else did, so it’s quite logical to suppose they might be holding his Lordship captive. Whichever, it cannot be correct to assume that the most likely reality is that his Lordship is dead.” It was this argument that gave rise to a cultural legend. That has lasted up until now.
Here's a little gift for you...  We thought we'd go through the latest Ofcom stats that track changing news consumption habits, as we know you all keep a keen eye on how the power is shifting from print to digital when it comes to news. Being people who get far more excited about stories than boring facts and figures, (we are PR people after all), we thought we'd use "the medium of fairy tale" to put the information across. So, especially for you, here's a little presentation we've called The Cinderella Effect (thanks to Francesca De Mori for the title idea!) : Print v Online, A Changing Story.

Click here to enjoy ... and feel free to share.  

Monday, 1 February 2016

Joshua Rozenberg

Adapt or die!This is Joshua Rozenbergs answer to a question I asked him on behalf of @CDPSolicitors: Does he have any ideas on helping the electorate love their high street lawyer?”  I had shared on twitter my plan to interview the UKs premier legal spokesperson following his Honorary QC appointment. This question is typical of what people in the profession want to know.

Theres no doubt the high street firms are under significant threat", he answers. "They are squeezed between the withdrawal of Legal Aid; the rise in technologies that can handle high volumes of the routine low grade legal work once done by people; and between Government plans to give our courts system a complete overhaul, with a new modus operandi based on the reality that ordinary people can't afford lawyer representation, so a rise in litigants in person. How are the high street firms to respond? Well they either need to merge, or find an area of work not widely practised where there may be opportunity, or they need to streamline legal services with a mix of lawyers and no-lawyers based in a factory somewhere.

I was keen to know what Joshua thought of the fact that whilst the lower end of the legal market is suffering under so much pressure, the big-ticket litigation end is one of the UKs biggest exports. Tycoons from all corners of the world often choose to fight their legal battles in London. So should more of the profits that stream in to the UK legal system be deployed to help the lower end? 

In many ways that patronage does happen already: the City firms do enormous amounts of pro bono work, which is one way of cascading money from the top through to all levels of the system." We start discussing Goves highly controversial idea that City law firms should be charged some form of levy, either cash payment or pro bono work.  Joshua thinks this is a bad idea: This idea was never going to go anywhere. First, its impossible to define who pays; second, it’s effectively taxation, for which you need legislation; third, its a massive disincentive to those already contributing hugely in terms of pro bono work. Of course theyre going to think “We’ll pay if they make us, but we'll stop our own pro bono projects. I also think people dont appreciate that City lawyers make a significant contribution to the wider profession just by being practising solicitors. Many of them don’t need practising certificates because much of the City work is of the non-reservedvariety, i.e. it doesnt require a licensed lawyer to do it. So just in volunteering to pay fees they are adding to the coffers used for helping and supporting smaller firms.

Joshuas view counts for a lot. He has been appointed as an Honorary QC because of his services to the public in bringing legal issues to their attention and explaining them in ways they can understand...first his work on the BBC's Law in Action, which he launched in 1984 and returned to in 2010 after a 23-year break; then in legal columns in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, where he remains legal affairs commentator to this day. 

As The Guardian's Roy Greenslade puts it: Rozenbergs great skill is in explaining complicated legal issues with calmness and clarity that makes them easily understandable to the public. He is the first journalist to receive this honour. Id like to think this is a positive sign that the profession is increasingly outward-looking, that it cares how legal issues are presented to and understood to the general public. Im certainly very happy that the excellent and important work legal journalists do is being recognised at this level. And if this is the first of a new trend, I agree of course the honour absolutely had to go to Joshua!

At least there's good news that, Gove has decided to reverse Grayling’s plans for further cuts to fees for criminal defence lawyers. He’s also ditched the proposal to make lawyers bid for legal aid work at police stations. Whilst I’m pleased at this news as the planned reforms had been so poorly thought through, I was perturbed to the read the reason for the U-turn: apparently it's because the Government is facing so many legal actions about the changes and Gove doesn’t want his department to be tied up for months, (if not years), of expensive litigation. Clearly you have to be careful taking on the legal profession! But I was rather hoping the reason behind the Government's volte-face was a fundamental change of heart … 


Exciting news outside the profession is that Mattel has just launched a range of “body positive” Barbie dolls, so Barbies in more realistic body shapes: petite, tall and curvy (ie with thighs that actually meet).  As a mother of teenagers I do think this is a good idea, especially when you consider that scaling up a classic Barbie to life-size gets you a woman 5 foot 9 inches tall with an 18 inch waist, meaning a Body Mass Index of 16.24 which is basically malnourished.

Response has been mixed though, with people joking on Twitter that Barbie’s boyfriend is due a makeover too and asking where the “Dadbod Ken” is.  Personally, given what we learned from last year’s survey, that single women actually prefer dadbods over a ripped torsos as it signals someone who might spend time with them rather than disappear for hours down the gym, I think this could an inspired next move for Mattel...

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Timothy Hill

The Law Society’s Timothy Hill wants to stop preaching to the converted. The people most keen to sign up to the conferences, lectures, seminars he organises on protecting firms from cyber-crime, are by definition usually the ones who need it least: delegates will always be those who recognise the risk already; he wants to reach those who don’t. 

Tim is the Law Society’s Technology Policy Adviser, responsible for helping to support the Society’s members tackle cyber security and cyber-crime. Solicitors, amongst other professionals, are prime targets for cyber hackers because, aside from the obvious attraction to criminals of the client monies they hold, they are repositories for clients’ intellectual property and other commercially sensitive (for which read valuable) information. Moreover, sorry to break the news guys, but law firms are often seen as the “weak link” in the information chain according to some cyber risk experts.  

We met at a Cyber Risk round table discussion hosted by Weightmans EC3 team. The event was chaired by BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam, the man who broke the story of solicitor and sole practitioner Karen Mackie’s plight at the hands of “vishing” fraudsters (she was tricked by an elaborate cyber scam into transferring some 750,000 pounds of client money to the criminals). She has since been declared bankrupt, struck off and faces losing her home. A salutary tale if ever there was one.   
“This is a massive issue for the profession. Hackers are circling law firms on a daily basis and it’s my job to make all solicitors aware, and provide them with the tools and guidance they need to protect themselves. Awareness of risk is still low. You may think this surprising, given how often cyber risk headlines legal press. But the more the topic is pushed in the media the more it can actually be counter-productive; I do think that the more scare mongering the statistics and stories, the more the reality of the risk is undermined. Yes there’s a very real threat and yes people experience losses. But it’s hard to convince people who’ve not experienced it themselves, nor witnessed anyone else’s in their own network experiencing it.”

But what should law firms do to protect themselves from this new category of threat? I was keen for Tim’s advice. “First and foremost, appoint someone with specific responsibility for cyber risk. This should be a senior person, although exactly who this is in terms of job role will of course vary from firm to firm. It could be a Managing Partner, or someone close to that level, who takes ultimate responsibility and promises oversight of the issue, but delegating to someone with greater specialist insight (and spare time).

Second, firms should have a written policy, even if just a brief one, to crystallise the thinking around these issues. I’d go so far as to say even a sole practitioner should have a policy. It’s in the writing of it, i.e identifying and articulating the issues, that firms will find the benefit. The new EU data protection regulations have just been confirmed, which will bring in a new duty around compulsory data breach notification. Drafting a policy will help firms think about what data they hold and how it moves through the firm/business. Once firms have pinned this down, it’s that much easier to think about the risks to that data, how to limit and/or manage certain risks… even accept some risks…..the point being that they would be doing this consciously.

Third, although this applies more to the larger firms, training is an important element in the mix. A good option might be to join the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership, a forum for government and industry to exchange information on cyber threats and vulnerabilities that was set up in 2013 by the Cabinet Office. The Law Society can sponsor firms to join. Membership is free. The Law Society has a veritable library of cyber security resources for law firms and I am keen to make sure everyone who needs to know, (not just want to know), knows they’re available. See here for a comprehensive list. Highlights include:

·        Law Society Consulting: Nick Podd, who has over 20 years experience in both physical and data security within the military, as well as in industry and The Law Society.

·         Data Protection: Advice on protecting personal data in online services: learning from the mistakes of others.

·         Encryption to Protect Data: Information Commissioner’s guidance.          

Firms would also be well advised to check out the government backed Cyber Essentials scheme, designed to guide businesses in protecting themselves against cyber threat and providing free-to-download documents that can use as guidance to implement essential security controls
Fourth, firms shouldn’t forget the human factor; the tightest, most encrypted IT routines will not help you if your cyber-criminal is actually a staff member who hasn’t been vetted properly in the recruitment process, and is now supplementing their salary by the sale of confidential data on the black market."

So if your firm has so far only half-heartedly taken on board that cyber threats are real, make it a New Year’s Resolution to dig into these resources and put some proper protections in place.

Thanks for the wake-up call Tim!    

Encouraging news to start the year with, that the British Government is finally going to do something about the parallel Sharia court system that undermines British women's rights to justice. Thanks to The Times' The Brief  for bringing the story to me. The Government is taking action at last because it is concerned that Sharia courts in the UK are effectively creating a parallel system of (in)justice, with women discriminated against in particular. Undercover TV documentaries have shown that some women seeking divorce from violent husbands through the Sharia courts are unaware of their legal rights to leave the marriage. They are sometimes even pressurised to attend reconciliation sessions with their violent husbands present, despite injunctions from British courts in place to protect them from violence.

Congratulations to all the investigative journalists and campaigners who worked hard to raise this issue. The Inquiry will be set up in the next weeks and months.