Friday, 6 July 2018

Dana Denis-Smith

The world is catching up with Dana Denis-Smith. In conversation with her at last week’s FT Innovative Lawyers Summit, I commented on how fantastically her First 100 Years of Women In Law project has caught the imagination of so many people in my world, and men and women alike. For any of you unfamiliar with its aims, the initiative is designed to showcase the contribution of women to the law and highlight female role models for young lawyers, by telling stories of the barriers and opportunities female lawyers have encountered since they were first allowed to become practising lawyers almost 100 years ago.

“I’m quite astonished that it’s become so zeitgeisty. I’m far more used to being the squeaky wheel in the corner, the lone voice banging on about things I think are important but nobody else seems interested in” she tells me shyly. “I thought it would be the same with this initiative. But when I first conceived the First 100 Years of Women In Law project I had no idea what was around the corner: Trump, Harvey Weinstein, the whole #MeToo movement. Suddenly equality and dignity for women have become mainstream issues rather than specialist interest topics.”

Dana invited me to her next event so we could talk more about her work and I couldn’t believe my luck! Suddenly I had the hottest ticket in town: First Women of the Supreme Courts in Conversation, hosted by Gray's Inn and sponsored by Serjeants Inn Chambers (one of its joint CEOs is the effervescent  Catherine Calder who is a trustee of Dana’s project) Mischon de Reya, Clyde & Co and LexisNexis. So I was treated to a panel discussion on what it is to be a woman in law between Baroness Hale, the famed law reformed and the first woman to serve as President of the UK’s Supreme Court; Susan Kiel, another law reformer and the first female Chief Justice of Australia; Beverly McLachlin Who was the first female Chief Justice of Canada and the longest serving of any Sec; and Georgina Wood, the first woman to service as Chief Justice of Ghana. Given a key aim of the First 100 Years project is to role model success for younger women, way to go!

These awesome women gave us gems, such as “Women are half the population so bringing your “womanhood” to your work is just as valid as men bringing “manhood” to theirs!”

More than one said “My life changed as a young woman after reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, describing the dawn of their realisation that women are somehow secondary persons to men. [Note to self: order copy for daughter right away.] Whilst the first wave of feminism was focussed on legal rights for women, the next wave, these world-leading custodians of the law told us last night, must be to deal with the more insidious cultural issues that prevail to this day, which subtly, not directly, telling women over and over they are subsidiary to men.

Indeed the premise of the First 100 Years initiative is based on marking next year’s  centenary anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919,  which ended the notion that women weren’t ‘persons’ in the eyes of the law, which had prevented them from being able to practise law.  But law reform only gets us so far. It’s a cultural shift we need to achieve next, for everybody’s benefit, men’s and women’s alike.

Last night Dana invited us to join her on a journey. “The First Women of the Supreme Courts event is just the first of a whole series of exciting and inspiring initiatives and events taking us up to the centenary moment next year, 23 December 2019.  There will be storytelling, events and an amazing digital museum documenting the journey of women lawyers from 1919 to the current day. We will be promoting interviews and biographies of prominent women in law on our website and also asking about the pioneering women who inspired them."

Today, everyone wants a slice of Dana and her First 100 Years project.  This is definitely an initiative of our time. As I say, everyone is finally catching up with her thinking.
The other hot ticket that landed in my lap unexpectedly was for the FT Innovative Lawyers Summit.  A client over from New York asked at the last minute if I could meet him there and help with some introductions.  What a privilege!  I can't divulge any detail of what was discussed in the sessions, (Chatham House Rules, you understand), but I can tell you that my brain definitely expanded several inches hearing discussions about the role of humans v machines in the delivery of legal services today and into the future.  

And I learned from a new friend at UnitedLex, Nancy Jessen, that the smart firms are thinking about this and using classic management consultancy concepts such as the "stratification of legal services".  This is not a new concept they told me, but I have to say I'd never come across the terms before and I've been in conversation with law firm managers for some 30 years.  I definitely think that that some management consultancy discipline could be very good news for law firms just now as they navigate through how technology an digitisation is transforming the business world.  UnitedLex we need you! 
We loved The Telegraph's story about the use of foreign words in advertising.  Audi, for example, has relied on ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ (advantage through technology) for over 30 years to bring to mind Germany’s reputation for high quality craftsmanship and technical expertise.

The reason foreign words and phrases work is down to psychology apparently: they encourage people to embrace a fresh outlook.  This is a subject close to  our own hearts of course, our company name Kysen being a phonetic interpretation of the Japanese business term "Kaizen" which means "continual improvement".  A concept we buy in to as we are all keen here to keep learning....

Friday, 29 June 2018

Jonathan Ames

There’s no one I can think of who produces more legal news stories each day than The Times’ Jonathan Ames. With an average of 12-15 stories per day, (ok he takes a break at weekends, but still...). To achieve this level of output, he currently does two shifts daily, starting at 7am and finishing at 7pm. Gruelling! But no wonder The Times’ email bulletin The Brief has been such a huge success.

The words “brutal” and “relentless” are mentioned when I ask Jonathan about the pressure of filing so many stories every day. But he’s clearly relishing the role and rightly proud of what he and his colleagues have achieved. “It’s a lot of work, no doubt about it. But it’s very satisfying to look back each day, week, month, and see how much we’ve produced. We aim for as wide a spectrum of legal stories as possible, combined with a bit of gossip and some opinion. And about 80% of our news stories are sourced by ourselves, rather than responding to press releases. The Brief is all about old school newspaper journalism, but in a digital context.” [Great soundbite Jonathan!]

I spoke to Jonathan just days before The Brief is to be housed on the main Times Law website. At a time when newspapers and magazines are struggling to monetise content, given there’s so much information available free online, and in an era when most newspapers have been reducing their legal coverage (The Telegraph dispensed with a full time legal correspondent,  and The Guardian its legal  editor role, as far back as 2009) I was keen to know how his paper  has managed to make a success of bucking the trend and expanding legal content. 

“The Brief was launched in October 2015 as an experiment, The Times wanting to see if they could take a specialist subject the paper was already well known for and create some added value”, he tells me. The Times' legal editor is none other than Frances Gibb, the pre-eminent legal editor amongst all national newspaper editors, so The Brief is starting from a strong base in this regard.  Frances oversees all legal content in the main paper as well as in the Law section, in hard copy and online. “The idea was that the new specialist email bulletin, free to anyone who signed up for it, would remind specialist audiences about The Times’ excellent coverage of legal issues, and reel more subscribers in to the main paper.” Three years on, it’s been a huge success. Job done! Jonathan, all that hard work has been worth it! 

It has to be said that The Times has form in this area: The Brief was based on the highly successful Red Box bulletin that worked the same way for its political coverage. As Jonathan put it, “The Times is famous for grabbing commercial enterprise on the web by the scruff of the neck”. [Wow this  man IS good for a soundbite! Made me wonder if he'd ever consider a job  in PR. But knowing Jonathan as well as I do, I wouldn’t dare ask for fear of the expletives!] “There was a lot of scepticism when we first installed the paywall. But now, arguably it’s the healthiest Fleet Street paper online, along with the Mail and the FT.”

“This next stage”, he tells me, “Is about bringing The Brief closer in to the main Times brand. From Monday [2 July] The Brief will still be sent out as a daily email bulletin as usual, but the content will be housed on the main Times website, in the Law section.”

So does this mean it will no longer be free to non-Times-subscribers?  “Existing Brief subscribers will need to sign up and pay for a Times subscription if they don’t already have one. But for a certain period we’re offering a special deal for these readers, to reward them for their loyalty to The Brief.”  

Don’t miss out! If you haven’t done it already, sort out your Times subscription this weekend! 

Next week sees one of the best women-in-law events yet: First Women of the Supreme Courts in Conversation. UK Supreme Court president Baroness Hale will be joined by former Chief Justice of Ghana Georgina Wood, Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin and Chief Justice of Australia Susan Kiefel, to talk about the experience of women in law. The event is hosted by Gray's Inn and sponsored by our friends at Serjeants' Inn Chambers (among others).  It forms part of the First 100 Years of Women In Law project, in association with Spark 21, (the charity that celebrates, informs and inspires future generations of women in the professions).  

I assume everyone is now aware that 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which enabled the first women - initially four, each with a first class degree from Cambridge - to pass their law exams and be admitted as lawyers for the first time.

I'm planning to catch up with First 100 Years founder Dana Denis-Smith at next week's event and will be writing up our Conversation for this blog, so watch this space...

What an amazing coup for The Lawyer Awards: snaring star comedian David Mitchell as the evening's entertainment.  Fantastic!  He regaled the Grosvenor House Hotel audience of solicitors, barristers, legal marketers, PRs and journalists with a tale of a disastrous mini-pupillage he did as a youngster, when a client was refused the return of a driving licence after a ban because the judge mistook Mitchell for the driver and decided he didn't look trustworthy enough.  

For me personally, as regular readers of this blog will know, it was particularly cool seeing Mr Mitchell as only a month ago I was lucky enough to catch his Peep Show partner Robert Webb at the Hay Festival, discussing his book How Not To Be A Boy.  Now I have the set!

Friday, 15 June 2018

Fay Gillott

Fay Gillott believes internal marketing is as important as external marketing. Particularly so in the case of law firms and barristers chambers. In fact she goes so far as to say the success of your external marketing depends on getting the internal bit right.

I caught up with Fay during the Hay Festival so I had a good opportunity to quiz her about her 20 years’ experience as head of operations and business development in legal businesses.  (In her time she has covered a variety, including a silver circle law firm, a patent attorney and two sets of barristers chambers.)  She is famous for leading successful revenue enhancement and change management programmes, so when she offers her pearls of wisdom on the practical and tactical points that really make a difference between “nice in theory” and “success in reality”, you listen!

“The markets for legal services are more competitive than ever before.  This means there is a need for a professional approach to marketing and more paid-for activity.  But lawyers are “on a journey” to understand this.” [Nice euphemism Fay].  “Those who "get it", use marketing effectively, but with others you need to work hard to bring them along with your thinking. Internally lawyers put the barriers up: advertising is tacky, they say, and social media is not just tacky but dangerous too!  It takes quite some persuasion to show that if these communication channels are used the right way, they are completely capable of communicating messages about the business’s expertise, imparting knowledge and offering  something serious and valuable, in a way that is wholly consistent with a top law firm / chambers brand.”

I was particularly keen to hear Fay’s thoughts on how the rise of social media as a mainstream channel is shaking up the professional services marketing mix, given the study on this topic Kysen is currently working on with New Law Journal

“Many lawyers don’t yet accept social media as a fact of business life.  Some still dismiss it as merely something that students do, not believing that it projects a professional image. And with some the resistance is not just to Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn too.  More are comfortable with LinkedIn, it has to be said, and some get professional help with their profiles and use their LinkedIn accounts for creating a regular blog.  But Twitter is seen by many as a scary frontier to be avoided altogether.  So you can see how much work there is to do in a firm or a set, to convince lawyers that a properly managed social media stream is necessary for the business, before you even get on to what they might do as individuals to support the corporate channel, eg posting and tweeting themselves.”

This social media example is just one illustration of how the success of internal marketing directly impacts the effectiveness of the external effort: with everyone engaged and working together with the central marketing team, the traction in the external marketplace is going to be so much more.  You can extrapolate from the following and apply the same principles across all the other areas of the marketing mix…

“Time needs to be set aside and sessions arranged to present the planned approach for how the business is to engage with their audiences through social media, using reasoned arguments and lots of evidenced examples as to why it is important and why the particular approach has been chosen.  It needs to be an interactive session, so people engage properly, as this encourages buy-in.  These sessions also need to cover what the role of individuals and teams is within the programme, so everyone is clear not only what the business-wide plan is, but what their own role is within this. And of course, very importantly, support needs to be offered, to skill up and encourage those individuals and teams as they give to the programme what is being asked of them.

“Once you’ve cracked this internal challenge, the rest of the marketing effort becomes easier.  Not only is everyone in the business clear about what they need to do, but also the more understanding they have of the rationale behind the strategy of the professionals they employ, the more lawyers will listen to them and let them get on with their job!  The sum total of all of this is that the marketing actually happens, rather than being half-done.  Lawyers are always keen to ask about Return On Investment in marketing.  To my mind, the most important factor in maximising the ROI, is making sure that that the marketing activity prescribed in the strategic plan actually happens in real life!”

From my own experience working 12 years in-house in law firms, I have to say I completely agree:  at the end of the day, strategy is delivered through people, and particularly so in a legal business. This is why investing time in making sure everyone is clear about the strategic plan for developing the business, and their role within it, will reap dividends.

Image result for robert webbA personal highlight at the Hay Festival was Peep Show’s Robert Webb talking about “How not to be a boy”, promoting his book of the same name. He challenged the audience with some very interesting thoughts on the unhelpfulness of gender assumptions and how ‘The Patriarchy’ is as bad news for men as it is for women. I was inspired to buy the book and I read it in just three days. Very entertaining. A definite recommend.  Favourite bit: his little daughter talking over the family breakfast table about “the trick [she meant the patriarchy] that makes men sad and women get rubbish jobs." That about sums it up in my book!

You can buy "How not to be a boy" here

Image result for racoonHere’s Adele’s favourite story of the week: the racoon that scaled a skyscraper in Minnesota over a period of 20 hours.“Just look at his little face”, she says.

On a serious point, she went on to point out what it says about viral memes. This story was broken by a small local radio station and was soon livestreamed and was trending on Twitter (#mprraccoon) – all major news outlets covered it around the world (which is mad). It's interesting, she says, how the news agenda is set more than ever by what the people want, rather than what newspapers think people should know about.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Julie Gingell

SA Law’s Julie Gingell has been talking to me about the importance of creating “thumb-stopping moments” (love the phrase!) in an increasingly digital world. She insists she didn't coin this phrase herself, but she was certainly the first person to introduce me to it.  What she means by this term, is the importance of making all the marketing content her firm pushes out so arresting, that it stops people in their tracks as they scroll through their inbox and news feeds on their phones throughout the working day.  “There’s so much legal content out there now on social media channels and email arriving direct to people’s phones, that if you want to make sure it’s your firm’s update on a topic that people look at, rather than a competitor’s, you’ve got to offer something eye-catching to stop them scrolling past.  There was a time that you could bank on people using their commute into work to catch up on longer reads and in hard copy – whether perusing a national broadsheet, or catching up on industry magazines.  That’s where we would often choose to place our updates.  Now however, most people are expected to be up-to-date with their inbox by the time they reach the office, so commuter time now means heads down and eyes glued to phones.  Time is so short for everyone.  So if you can offer something on social media as snappy as eg “a 30-second guide to the new regulations on…”, you’ll have a much better chance of snaring readers’ attention and making sure it’s your firm’s take on the topic that’s the one everyone’s digesting, rather than anyone else’s.”

This is also where a good visual comes in to its own of course.  As Julie says, a picture really can sometimes paint a thousand words and a well-designed infographic can be just the sort of 30-second download that a busy scroller will prefer.   

Julie gave me these pearls of wisdom in the context of an interview for Kysen’s joint study with New Law Journal into how the rise of social as a mainstream channel is impacting the law firm marketing mix.

“There’s no doubt the shape of my marketing budget has changed entirely in the last 10 years or so, thanks to the rise of social media”, she tells me.  “Where once the dominant spend was on printed material, after a while shifting to expensively designed e-mailshots, now all you have to do is to Tweet a link to a soft copy and, if you have been diligent in making the right connections on social media platforms and listening to what people say they want in terms of content, it will be downloaded hundreds of times within minutes.  We had this experience with our Recipe Book recently: 2,000 downloads in just a day-and-a-half.  No need to spend tens of thousands on hard copy print runs.  No need to check email addresses.  And of course with GDPR coming down the line this May, releasing material on social platforms is a brilliant way to get around the new restrictions on direct mailing people.”

Does she think that press coverage still has an important role to play in the marketing mix, given how easy it is for firms to push material out themselves, on their own terms, with far less restrictions on what they can say and far more control over when they can say it?  “A strong press profile is still incredibly important”, she says, “because it’s the one channel that carries with it a built-in Third Party Endorsement, which is incredibly valuable; it counts for a lot when The Times chooses one of our lawyers to be their authoritative expert voice on a new legal development.  What we may lose in control, compared to putting out our own stories, a good press profile gains us kudos and influence. What I will say social is brilliant for is extracting more value out of your press cuttings, or other marketing material, once the initial news moment has passed.” She explains how you can tweet a repeat days or even weeks after initial publication with a simple message of “in case you missed it…”  This is a good example of how Julie talks of using social platforms as “glue” between all the different strands of her marketing mix.  “Only a few years ago it was the website address that was the central pin linking everything together.  Now it’s the social media activity… the ability to mention on social platforms the event you attended, the roundtable you hosted, the press article you appeared in, etc etc.  For our Lexcel accreditation we are asked to detail our social media strategy and plan, but I have to say I think this is the wrong way to look at it; I don’t have a separate social media plan, instead seeing it as just one thread that’s integrated into everything we do.”

Another interesting observation Julie shared with me is the key role social media plays in the life of firms whose business opportunity is to a large extent bound up with their standing and influence in local marketplaces.  Having one of the biggest Twitter followings amongst the main players in the Herts/Beds/Bucks region where the firm has its roots, confirms SA Law’s place as a centrepin of the local community.  “Being linked in with the key influencer groups in our locale, and regularly retweeted and endorsed by them, increases the value of our own retweets and endorsements of other people’s material.  In other words it increases our own stock as influencers.  And the strength of our engagement with the local marketplace being so visible in this way has been very important in demonstrating our continued commitment to the region, particularly at a time when we have been busily expanding into London markets.”

You’ll see as I post more survey interviews that Julie really is in the vanguard, amongst the best of the legal marketeers. She made sure that her firm was one of the earliest adopters amongst professional firms of Instagram.  My word, this firm even has a Spotify account to communicate elements of the SA Law brand that only their taste in music can express! No wonder she was one of the first (we think possibly the very first?) non-lawyer marketing professionals to make partner when Legal Disciplinary Practices first came in. Thanks for your insights Julie! Valuable as ever.

If you would like to take part in the Kysen / New Law Journal study into the impacts of social media on the law firm marketing mix, do please send me your contact details using the comment box below, and we can start a conversation. 

We are in the midst of a series of one-to-one 'qualitative' interviews, some of which (like Julie’s) we are publishing on this blog over the next weeks and months. In addition, NLJ will soon be conducting a 'quantitative' survey amongst their readers. Do get involved!  We look forward to hearing from you!
On the subject of the new digital lingo, I just have to share this wonderful "Digital Terms Deciphered" glossary, that our good friend Simon Marshall has created.  It tells  you everything you need to know about the trendy new digital terms constantly being bandied about these days, but might be too afraid to ask.  Do you know your rich snippets from your alt tags?  Your backlinks from your iframes? The difference between agile and waterfall platforms?  As Simon says, it can be as confusing as knowing your lattes from your flat whites - but the good news is we did all eventually master ordering a coffee, didn't we!  

You may know Simon from his time as an in-house marketeer at Osborne Clarke and then Burges Salmon.  You may also be up to date with the news that he's recently set up his own legal marketing consultancy called TBD (To Be Determined).  If you don't know Simon, take it from me he is one of the best social media sages for professional firms around.  You can connect with him here on LinkedIn.
Everybody’s talking about Slaughter & May’s gender pay gap news: one of the most iconically ‘City’ of the magic circle law firms is paying female associates more than their male counterparts. This story is one of those watershed moments for the profession, not so much because of the stats themselves, (see below), but because when a firm like this considers gender equality something to be proud of and integral to their brand, then other firms will surely follow.  And this is precisely the claim Slaughters has been making: their publicity machine has been explaining how their “one-firm culture ... values remunerating employees in a less differentiated and more egalitarian way”.  (*waves* to ex-Kysenite, now Slaughters communications manager, Ollie Hibberd).

Yes it’s true that digging in to the stats arguably raises more questions than this story answers, (not least whether paying women more than men can actually be considered achieving equality; also whether the firm was justified in excluding their all-female secretarial pool from stats they publicised about pay for business services staff). And yes, I know this new-found interest in promoting equality is only happening because of the gender pay gap reporting legislation. But however we’ve arrived here, all firms are now suddenly interested in addressing inequalities in their own workplaces. This is definitely a moment to celebrate. 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Jan Miller

Jan Miller

Talking to New Law Journal editor Jan Miller, I learn that Fake News is proving to be Good News for some. A topic I’ve visited a number of times on this blog, Fake News is something that to date I’ve only understood as a threat and a negative. Indeed earlier this year Legal Cheek editor Alex Aldridge tutored us on its origins as a dubious propaganda activity at the time of the US election and the rise of Trump; explained to us the explosion in fake news "factories" - websites that specialise in disseminating deliberately false stories e.g. to sway low-IQ voters who don’t question what they read, or to serve as “click-bait” to boost reader numbers (and therefore advertisers on the back of this) in a way that properly researched, accurate stories simply can’t compete with. The famous Mark Twain maxim “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” never had more relevance! Depressing isn’t it, to see journalistic standards plummet with the rise of so many dubious web and social based news outlets - and the reading public supposedly ok with that as long as they are entertained. 

So I was encouraged to learn from Jan that she is seeing a positive impact of Fake News. What she talked to me about is in essence a flight to quality, with readers and contributors alike being attracted more than ever to reliable and trusted content.

“We have noticed the Fake News phenomenon having actually helped boost interest and demand for our news services in some areas, as lawyers are increasingly keen for news sources that are accurate and authoritative. The stock value in trusted news and comment has risen; what was once give-away (and taken for granted), is now seen as a valuable asset. In their concern to avoid ingesting unreliable information, our experience is that customers are becoming more discerning in regard to the news sources they choose and are demonstrating that they are prepared to invest in, and pay for, trusted and responsible sources."

“Contributors also want to be seen as authoritative commentators. They recognise that it’s easy for their comments to be misused, twisted, taken out of context etc, particularly on social media channels. Some firms are closing Twitter accounts that previously they were quite relaxed about, so concerned have they become about control of message in such an anarchic environment. Others are tightening up their monitoring and managing procedures on social channels, setting clear policies and standards for staff posting and making people accountable. The more social activity becomes mainstream for lawyers, as a way of reaching out to clients, referrers, influencers and peers, the more they realise the need for a professional, even ‘corporate’, approach.”

Jan and I also discussed at length how the rise of social as a mainstream channel is impacting the law firm marketing mix more generally. Now that firms, chambers and lawyers can so easily publicise their own news and opinions, on their website or elsewhere online, and now that they can communicate direct with their target audiences on eg LinkedIn or Twitter, do they still see a need for publicity through “traditional” media? How do they assess the value, influence and reach of the channels they pick for their marketing output? How do the different channels compare in terms of ability to control messages on the one hand, and on the other hand the influence they confer? And how far are lawyers engaging with newspapers’ and magazines’ own new formats, such as video content, webinars etc.? These are just a few of the questions we have been asking. We’d now like to invite you into the discussion...

Over the next few months New Law Journal and Kysen will be working jointly on a study looking in to the impacts of social media on the legal marketing mix. We are planning a series of one-to-one 'qualitative' interviews, some of which we will publish on this blog. Early  in the New Year NLJ will be conducting a 'quantitative' survey on certain aspects as well, amongst their readers. If you have strong views on this subject, or interesting stories to tell, or for any other reason would like to take part in this study, do please send me your contact details using the comment box below and we can start a conversation...

Image result for woman in lawI felt very privileged to be invited to attend the Women Leaders In Law conference on 8 November (thanks for the invite Catherine), not least because of the impressive line-up of speakers.  To name just two: Lord Neuberger provided the best example of a HeForShe moment that I have seen to date, tipping his hat to Supreme Court president Baroness Hale in explaining why there is no logical reason to think women are any less capable professionally than men; and Law Society president-elect Christina Blacklaws took the opportunity in her opening address to announce the launch of a new study aimed at achieving gender parity and equality in pay and partnership statistics in the legal profession (working with the Bar and Lexis Nexis too).  

The conference was hosted by Spark21, the charity that "celebrates, informs and inspires future generations of women" and that owns and manages the pioneering “First 100 Years of Women (2014-2019): Women in Law” campaign, marking 100 years since women have joined the profession.  

At the conference I was shocked to learn that the legal reason women were not allowed to enter the legal profession prior to 1919 was, according to case law, that they were not considered "persons" within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843 (Mr Justice Joyce's judgment in Bebb v The Law Society in 1913).  It was not until the Sex Disqualification Act was passed in 1919 that women were allowed to practise law.

We've come such a long way since then, we might think.  But have we really?  Looking at the persistent gender pay gap in the profession today and the high rates of attrition for female lawyers - women have made up over 50% of law graduate intakes since 1993, yet they account for only 27% of law firm partners - clearly Ms Blacklaws' study comes not a moment too soon.

Image result for christmas decorations in officeIt's that time of year again where every topic we are working on seems to have a Christmas theme.  "Legal reforms that every lawyer wants for Christmas.."  "The health & safety risks of staff plugging in their own non-Pat-tested Christmas decorations at works..". Even that old chestnut (roasting on an open fire) "The dangers of the office Christmas party".

Especially for the lawyers who read this blog, we have scoured this year's selection of Christmas-themed legal issues to bring you our personal favourite.  The prize for the best Bah Humbug! story so far has to go to the neighbour who took steps to force the family next door to turn off the 350,000-bulb Christmas decorations covering their house, despite the fact the display is used every year to raise money for a children's hospital.  The spectacular over-the-top display (see the pictures here) draws tens of thousands of visitors.  It is this in part that prompted the Scrooges next door to start a petition asking law enforcement agencies to do something about the "significant public safety and nuisance concerns" this raises.

No legal angle to this next story, but we just had to share this cute news snippet about the West Country publican who's turned his hostelry into a gingerbread house.  Click on the link to enjoy the pictures!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Murray Campbell

I can’t wait for the BFI London Film Festival to open on the South Bank this week (4-15 October). I’m hoping for hot tickets to a premiere or two and the chance to rub shoulders with stars on the red carpet, and to enjoy a little close-up glimpse of the glitz and the glamour of those celebrated people who inhabit the silver screen.  Ahhh.  Quite a contrast to the dry, serious world of law, I hear you say.  

But are you aware of the role that legal London often plays in some of our favourite films and TV shows?   Visiting clients in Lincoln’s Inn over the years I’ve often seen the big white and silver vans for film casts and crews parked up on the roads around Lincoln’s Inn Fields and wondered what they were about.  Being a film and TV fanatic, of course I made it my business to find out.  My friends at the Bar told me the Inns are often used as film locations because they are so perfect as period London backdrops.  In fact, I learned recently over a coffee with Murray Campbell, Member Services Director at Lincoln’s Inn and the man responsible for managing any filming around the Inn, (alongside a long list of other duties), that it’s the mix of old and new that makes the Inn such an efficient filming location.  Gothic, Palladian, Queen Anne, Tudor, Georgian and 20th century styles co-existing cheek by jowl, which makes it popular with the likes of Disney, Warner Brothers and Paramount and the like, as they can keep coming back to one familiar location for multiple sets.  

As we chat, Murray gives me the roll-call of film and TV productions that have filmed key scenes at the Inn.  The list is impressive: Judge John Deed and Silks you might have guessed would be on the list.  But did you know scenes from Guy Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes were filmed there? Also from Downton Abbey, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, About Time and Finding Neverland. … not to mention TheMuppets…Again movie!  And this year’s Wonder Woman, also The Children Act which was released only this month. 

“It does provide a small income stream for the Inn, which is helpful, but we have to balance that with the impact on members” Murray tells me.  “We only allow filming at weekends... and even then we keep it to a minimum and avoid weekends back to back, because we don’t want members’ lives to be disrupted by it.  But it is tremendous fun for anyone who gets involved.”  He then regales me with some choice anecdotes about Benedict Cumberbatch having to repeat a scene so many times over (jinxed with extras sneezing at the wrong moment, props being dropped by various cast members), that by the time it was a wrap Murray knew the lines of all the actors by heart; about Hercule Poirot staying in character between takes and wearing a special fat suit that meant he couldn’t sit down without the aid of a special contraption devised for the purpose; and about Robert Downey practising Tai Chi by the fountain in New Square first thing in the morning before cameras started rolling (I can’t think of anything else whenever I walk past now!)

I was fascinated to know more about Murray’s role. Is it all as glamorous as this?  “The filming is just a minor, albeit fun, aspect of my role.  The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is like five businesses in one: it’s a mini university; it houses the best law library in the country; it runs several five-star kitchens; it is also a 0.5 billion pound estates business spread over some 11 acres, with a mix of residential as well as commercial tenants; all this needs to be maintained and staff and members need to be kept safe and secure.”  It’s a big job.  So much goes on behind the scenes.  Something to think about next time you are strolling through any of the inns.

You can see the full list of productions filmed at the Inn on the Lincoln’s Inn website here. Next time you’re at the cinema, watch out for backdrops you might recognise.

The fallout continues from PR giant Bell Pottinger's gob-smacking campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa as a deliberate strategy for a client. The agency is in administration after clients left in droves, including a number of law firms, and the talk now is all about the need for "better due diligence" when hiring PR firms. So expect an explosion in tick-box exercises....which unfortunately ignores the simple fact in the Bell Pottinger story that no amount of due diligence would have uncovered what this one team in the agency's South African operation were doing anyway. Regulatory lawyers tell me this is a classic: knee-jerk regulation in reaction to a scandal .... that wouldn't actually have prevented the scandal that inspired it!  Exactly what happened with the mammothly onerous Sarbanes-Oxley legislation brought in as a reaction to the Enron scandal, they say.

To my mind the more pertinent issue, as I told Times journalist Jonathan Ames, is that whilst big PR firms are often seen as a "safer" bet than small and niche, (no one gets fired for hiring IBM after all), and are celebrated as all-singing and all-dancing in terms of the range of services and geographies they can offer, as the Bell Pottinger disaster has shown they can be "all-contaminating" too. The problem is their sheer size, which means that perfectly good, ethical and able PR teams in one corner of the business can be sullied by association with rogue elements in another, in an entirely different part of the world and in a separate sector - even if they have had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with these troublesome campaigns or individuals.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it? If only we could learn the right lessons by it.

So it's SJ RIP. This was a sad piece of news that stopped us in our tracks: astonishing that such an excellent and respected magazine as Solicitors Journal, that has been a mainstay of the legal publishing world for over 150 years, should have to fold because of the challenges publishers face monetising good content in the digital age.

And in terms of good content, the quality doesn't get much better than SJ. That's why, as shocked and sad as we are to see our respected journalist friends there lose jobs, we know they will quickly be moving on to new, exciting roles elsewhere. They are a very talented bunch and we look forward to working with them in their new homes soon.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Alex Aldridge

Alex Aldridge Alex Aldridge has been working hard to harness the powerful force that Legal Cheek has become. Since he founded the site nearly six years ago from his flat in a Hackney tower block, it has developed from an irreverent and at times rather wild and chaotic legal news blog to become an online community of law students, trainees and junior lawyers with a massive social media following, four full-time employees and an office in London’s trendy Dalston. It’s not always easy to classify. News is still the central part of what Legal Cheek does, but it’s also now well known for careers advice, training contract and pupillage rankings and student events.

As it has grown, the tone has changed ... not least because Alex doesn’t write it any more, having moved over to focus full-time on the commercial side. These days the editorial part of the site is run by news editor Tom Connelly, 29, and features editor Katie King, just 23, with support from junior reporter Natalie Kaminski, also 23. “It’s legal journalism for millennials written and edited by millennials,” says Alex, now a veteran at 39.

For its readers, 60% of whom are law students, many of them undergraduates, Legal Cheek is often the only legal news source they know, with many having discovered it through friends sharing its news stories and memes on their Facebook feeds. This means it has become relied upon to be a trusted source of news and information about the legal profession. The response of the Legal Cheek team has been to focus on establishing the blog as a credible, officially verified reliable source of news, whilst at the same time making sure the “colour” of its news is just as vivid.  Alex, who has 12 years of experience as a journalist, writing for titles including The Times, The Guardian and Legal Week before he launched Legal Cheek, has worked hard to pass on the old media professionalism he learnt to his new editors. And to underline his establishment credentials, he has made sure to secure external verification of these high journalistic standards that he works to.  Legal Cheek is one of the few legal news outlets whose Twitter feed carries the "blue verified" badge.  This is a big deal and hard to achieve, signifying that the account is of public interest.  The blog itself is also listed as a verified Google news publisher and is regularly cited in the national press ... most recently with two name-checks in two weeks in The Spectator.  And of course the hiring of Joshua Rozenberg as a regular columnist was a big step in underscoring the blog’s establishment credentials.  “Yes we still go out on a limb on many stories.  This is what Legal Cheek is all about”, Alex tells me, “But the point is we are very very sure of our facts when we do, so people can trust what we publish”.  Clever man. 

“A good example”, he tells me, “was the story we ran at the time KWM was going into administration.  We knew that a number of City firms were clubbing together to make sure existing KWM trainees would all be looked after.  The editors were extremely confident of their source and checked all their facts carefully, so we ran the story when nobody else did.  Then on publication, we experienced a backlash; trainees were nervous and in some cases sceptical that they would be saved.  But we stood our ground and we didn’t buckle, because we knew our source was watertight.  Within two weeks all trainees had been reassigned thanks to this rescue package from the City firms and our story was vindicated. Then the traditional publications followed with their versions of the story.” 

Given Legal Cheek is more geared to social media than any other legal news outlet, (Facebook being its main distribution channel, alongside Google), and given Alex is so OCD about faithful reporting, I thought he would be the perfect person to ask about the new phenomenon of "FakeNews".  Here’s what he had to say:

“The term Fake News is used to apply to many different scenarios, and it suits some protagonists to confuse them”, he told me.  “The original meaning stems from dubious propaganda activity at the time of the US election and the rise of Trump: the dissemination of deliberately inaccurate information from dedicated fake news sites, largely in Eastern Europe, designed to mislead low-IQ audiences (eg some voters) who don’t have the wherewithal to question what’s being fed to them.

“However, since then, the term Fake News has also been commandeered and misused by all sorts of people to cast aspersions on perfectly dependable news sources.  Indeed the term first broke into the mainstream (rather than being a discussion point for media insiders) when Trump himself turned the tables at his first press conference as President-elect, and used the term to vilify Jim Acosta from CNN because he didn’t like his line of questioning.  We’ve also seen the YouTube video: "You are fake news!" he proclaims, while ignoring the journalist’s question.

“But the term has also been used by the mainstream media establishment to undermine public trust in newer, more social news sources, such as Buzzfeed and so forth.  It suits some traditional news organisations to push out a message of “come to our trusted brand”, suggesting that their long-established “pedigree” means their news coverage is by definition more reliable.  But this belies the fact that many of the new internet news outlets are staffed to the hilt with classically trained journalists, with long career pedigrees from exactly those publications that like to look down their noses at the hip new contenders. These journalists continue to work to the same high standards of faithful reporting and journalist ethics at their trendy new homes.”  

We have direct experience of what Alex is talking about here: our friends at Buzzfeed are a classic example: numerous ex-broadsheet journalists, (a previous assistant editor at the Sunday Times to name just one), now pushing out stories on social platforms, but still working to the same strict journalist codes they always have. 

And as for Legal Cheek, however it develops in the future, it’s reassuring to learn that although its stories are often challenging, and may even occasionally offend, we never have to worry that they’re fake. 

Image result for amazon droneSo how long before my Amazon delivery is brought to me by drone? The alarm caused by the drone near Gatwick airport at the weekend, which forced a runway to close and delayed flights, just serves to highlight the need for regulation to catch up with how mainstream this new technology has become. You can buy drones on the high street now (and on Amazon too of course), for as cheap as 20 or 30 pounds.

So are we afraid of the future we are headed towards, where our lives are taken over by robots? If you want some reassurance, you might find some comfort in this piece earlier this year on the World Economic Forum website by Rutger Bregman, journalist and author of Utopia for Realists.  Entitled "A growing number of people think their job is useless. Time to rethink the meaning of work", the article expounds Bregman's view that robots taking over our jobs is a good thing ... if we only adjust how we look at work and life.  As he puts it: "jobs are for robots and life is for people".  It's thought provoking stuff...

The sad news of the passing of the creator of Paddington Bear was actually most uplifting. News reports of Michael Bond's death at the ripe old age of 91 reminded us that the central message of this much-loved tale is one of kindness, decency and tolerance ... and of opening arms to welcome a refugee.  Relevant today more than ever. 

For all the chaos Paddington creates around him, he remains faultlessly polite and kind. As fellow author Michael Morpurgo said in the Guardian, Paddington "reflects the best of us: we all get into scrapes, and through his innocence and kindness he relates to everyone."

It's wonderful when you think of it, that the appeal of this story about a WW2 refugee has endured so long and spread so wide: 30 million copies sold worldwide in 30 different languages.  A tale of kindness to refugees we would all do well to remember. And definitely one of the better narratives in children's literature to come out of the 1950s.

I for one will be giving the bronze statue of this loveable bear at Paddington station a daily wave as I walk past on my commute.  Goodbye Mr Bond.  And Thank You.