Friday, 25 November 2011

David Greene

Had an almost heated exchange on twitter this week with good friend David Greene of Edwin Coe, formerly president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association.  I had made reference to some strategic work I am doing with some refreshingly forward-looking barristers that are having to respond to seismic change coming at them from all quarters: the withdrawal of Legal Aid hitting publicly funded work; the impending rise of 'volume legal processors' in the post-Legal-Services-Act world, poised to take over the space currently occupied by high street referring solicitors; the rise of in-house solicitor-advocates; the communications revolution; and more.

David responded:  @ClareRodway Do forward-looking barristers become solicitors?
    
'Absolutely not necessarily!' I answered, my strong belief being that the core roles in a legal team will always be required - someone to project manage, someone to manage the client, teamwork on legal arguments, and someone with the skills to put across the arguments in court in the most persuasive way possible (so advocacy).  What's changing with deregulation is the boundaries between these roles - not the roles themselves.  
                  
A rational enough argument to my mind....  Imagine my surprise at David's reply:


@ClareRodway your response may edge into certain sections of private eye,but hey ho it's still barristers wanting to be solicitors;why not?


Certain sections of Private Eye?  The cheek!  Differences to sort over a lunch or beer, clearly...  In conversation with David this week and over the years, I do know that our views are not in fact that far apart.  Indeed he has gone on record to express his views of competition between solicitors and barristers: that there is clearly a need for specialist advocacy services that barristers deliver, and that the vast majority of solicitors simply do not have the capacity nor inclination to provide them.


But he does question the Bar's pre-occupation with Direct Access work, arguing that it threatens to push barristers towards taking on a project management role.  This, he says, is potentially suicide because it places the barrister in direct competition with their main work providers, just at the point where the barrister moves out of their comfort zone.  I can see his point.  There is a clear danger here, although many barristers I speak to are keen to avoid this element and want to target Direct Access work only where the client themselves (eg an in-house lawyer of a sizeable and well-resourced company) is sufficiently skilled and willing to take on that project management role themselves.  A far more productive and mature approach would be for the Bar to strengthen its relationship with solicitors he says, rather than positioning themselves to compete directly with them. 


'I do see that the Bar is between a rock and a hard place,' he concedes.  'It sees solicitors competing for some of its work.  It feels it must respond in kind.  Direct access, alternative business structures and the procureco model (which provides a corporate structure for barristers to bid for work against solicitors) seek to lay down the challenge.'


However at the end of the day, the Bar would be far better off focussing on developing the real skills it has that set it apart from solicitors - rather then trying to develop competing skills, he says.  'The real selling power of the Bar is working with us, not against us - and this is something they shouldn't forget'.

***

Did you notice how the Leveson Inquiry sucked the airspace from the Stephen Lawrence trial? Funny that. A point much discussed at Kysen this week. Press freedoms and controls are a central part of our democracy, so important of course.  This must have been the reason the inquiry dwarfed the coverage of the Lawrence trial.  Didn't have anything to do with the fact we are more interested in watching celebrities on our TV screens.  No.  Definitely not.


***

Exciting for us was the launch of our new website.  We are all very proud.  The look & feel is quite different from our previous website: bolder, more confident - a good reflection of how we've changed over the last few years.


Refreshing the imagery was just one reason why we decided to revamp the website.  But in particular we wanted to position it more appropriately alongside our social media communications and blogs.  You'll see we now have links to our social media threaded throughout the site.
 


Have a browse and tell us what you think...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Paul Howcroft

Sometimes it’s the people you’ve known the longest who hold the most surprises.  I first knew Fladgate litigation partner Paul Howcroft in the early 1990s when I was Marketing Director at Nicholson Graham & Jones (now K&L Gates). He was famous in the firm as one of its most highly regarded banking litigation and insolvency lawyers, managing a 10-strong team looking after litigation matters for one of the top clearing banks.  A City man through-and-through was how I always saw him.


After I left Nicholsons, we kept in touch vaguely over the years.  Then three years ago I had the pleasure of crafting a press release to announce Paul’s appointment at one of Kysen’s longest- standing and best-loved clients: Fladgate.   So nice to be working with him again!


Was I surprised to see him at a mid-town firm?  Certainly the City / West-End divide is not as it was in the 1980s and before, and legal careers move more freely between the two.  What has surprised me though is how Paul has developed a burgeoning art law practice alongside his banking, litigation and insolvency work.  And to look at the calibre of cases he is handling, this man is not dabbling; acting for the sellers of a Leonardo da Vinci drawing against art dealers for the recovery of secret profits; acting for US owners of a painting by Edvard Munch in a Nazi looted art dispute, to give you just two examples.

And I’m really enjoying his Art Law London blog. One of his recent posts discusses the Henry Moore sculpture that stands outside the Houses of Parliament, Knife Edge Two Piecein the context of 'res nullius', the legal term referring to things that belong to no-one, which can’t become owned just by the taking.  In the context of valuable works of art, res nullius is highly problematical.  Paul explains: 'The artist and the Contemporary Art Society, which paid for the casting, gave the work to the grateful nation in 1967, and what was then the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works accepted delivery.  However, when the British Council recently wanted to send the sculpture for display in the garden of the Kremlin (as it would), it could find no national or local government department or agency that had any record of ownership.'

Apparently there have been a number of reports of Henry Moore sculptures disappearing. 'In light of that,' asks Paul, 'and also a case called Sullivan where a defendant was acquitted of theft because the money he took did not seem to belong to anyone, should one not be organising a hoist and a heist?'  Love it Paul!  'Sadly, there are two reasons why not' he advises.  'The first is that the Sullivan case has not been followed and is regarded as bad law, and the second is that Knife Edge Two Piece is in one of the highest security areas in England.'

According to his self-styled twitter ID, he says he would be a renaissance man 'if only he had the time, talent and energy.'  Don’t believe the anti hype.  A renaissance man he most certainly is.

***

What a contrast between New York / London approaches to the Occupy movement this week!  Whilst UK protesters were saddened to see Occupy London served with eviction notices, at least the UK approach is focused (so far) on reasoned and legal argument.


In contrast, news of the Occupy Wall Street evictions was dominated by scenes of police brutality. There was even a report of an incredulous retired US Supreme Court Judge, Karen Smith, shoved up against a wall and threatened by a NYPD officer when she questioned him after she had allegedly witnessed him beating up a woman at the Zuccotti Park raids.


Policy chairman for the the Corporation of London Stuart Fraser told Channel 4 News this week he was prepared to use "all legal measures," including riot police, to remove protesters.  Let's hope we stop short of the excesses of the New York authorities.

***

The Lawyer's PR drinks was a memorable event last Tuesday, by all accounts.  I couldn't go, but the Kysen team was well represented by Sophie and Elliott.  They told me the event was very useful for networking among the legal PR and journalist community.  They caught up with various Kysen alumni, such as Cara Rowell who is now at Farrers and Sonia Malhotra at Taylor Wessing, also chatting to Christian Metcalfe who is just finishing his role at Estates Gazette before moving across to Lawyer 2B.  

From other sources though, I heard that the event was also good for partying.  Mags tweeted that the event 'went on till the wee hours with dirty words of Karaoke and kebabs being tossed about'.  Karaoke?  Kebabs?  Sophie, Elliott, you said nothing about this!  I have to say they were both bright-eyed, bushey-tailed and working hard first thing Wednesday morning.  Well they have youth on their side... 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

James Stanbury

Can you quantify the cost of human suffering?
I had a fascinating conversation with James Stanbury, partner at leading forensic accountants RGL this week, as this is a subject he knows about in granular detail. James is best known for his work on claim quantification and economic loss in the context of commercial/personal litigation and insurance matters.  He works very closely with solicitors – their focus being issues of liability, his focus being quantum. He is a member of the Academy of Expert Witnesses and has prepared over 400 expert witness reports on civil and criminal claims.


But  as a leading practitioner in his specialist area, he is often invited to write about slightly left-field topics, involving high level issues. In conversation with a journalist this week, the subject of quantifying remedies for human rights violations came up, and the reparations programmes of recent years.  Having blogged just two weeks ago about FW de Klerk’s role in ending apartheid by reshaping the rule of law, South Africa’s 2003 reparations programme immediately came to mind.   A more recent example is of course the formal apology and modest compensation offered in 2010 to women victims in Sierra Leone following the country’s 10-year armed conflict.  And currently the Moroccan government is implementing both individual and community-based reparations for more than 50 years of widespread abuse.


The idea that victims of human rights violations are entitled to remedies is relatively new says James: “It is only in the last 15 years or so that international law has really developed to allow the pursuit of global justice, to create formal processes to redress the harm suffered by individuals at the hands of dictatorial and abusive regimes and to impose accountability on their protagonists.” 


But how can you quantify such damage?  “Reparations are not intended to replicate the tort system” he says, “so the awards tend not to be comparable.  Of course one of the main dissatisfactions with reparation awards is that they reflect insufficient compensation to the victim – in turn reflecting the enormous difficulty - and ultimate impossibility - of quantifying harm and the realisation that no amount of money can compensate an individual for the loss of a family members of for the trauma of torture. Awards should not be interpreted as an effort to put a price on the effects of harm, but merely as a contribution – and, critically, as an acknowledgement (even if token) that harm has been done."  Quite.


***


Sometimes the most interesting conversations are the ones that tell you something surprising you didn't know about a person you see every day.  That was my experience this week. I've worked closely on a number of client accounts with our Mr. Elliott Burton for a number of years, but it wasn't until a meal at this week's staff outing that I learned he had auditioned for the part of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter, ultimately played by Robert Pattinson. Of course Robert Pattinson went on from this to international heartthrob status in the Twilight series. So to think this could have been Elliott put us all in reflective mood. Thank goodness fate dealt its hand and he wasn't deprived of his glittering career in Legal PR!  (Thanks to Honey for the inspired artwork.)

***


The pool of musical talent at Allen & Overy was the other big surprise of the week.  Their rendition of Bizet's Carmen at Sadlers Wells was a revelation. The cast of 100+ A&O employees and alumni (also Roll On Friday co-founder Matthew Rhodes OBE in the role of Morales), plus 50 schoolchildren, raised over £15,000 for their chosen charities -  the British Red Cross and three East London primary schools: Christ Church, Sir John Cass and Stepney Greencoat.  The cast was coached by City Music Services, a fascinating company that offers 'a unique and creative dimension to time-challenged City business people's lives, by offering singing, instrumental and dance lessons in the workplace'Monteras off to Don McGown, the A&O corporate partner who heads the firm’s Music Programme.  Inspiring stuff!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Gill Steel

Gill Steel talks a lot of sense about change. The professions are arguably facing more change today than ever before.  The legal profession has The Legal Services Act and Jackson Review to contend with; barristers involved in publicly funded work are additionally grappling with the withdrawal of legal aid; and the accountancy profession is facing unprecedented regulatory change in the audit market, most recently the OFT announcing a probe into the dominance of the Big Four.  Add to this the impact of globalisation, a more volatile economic climate than we have seen in decades, the revolution in communications thanks to the explosion in social media, and the general acceleration in the rate of business change, and it's no wonder than the average forward view of UK business has shrunk to about half its usual time-period.  


So how do we respond?  Well part of the answer is to do with adaptive strategies of course, ie reading the market ahead (prophesying skills a distinct advantage here), identifying your strengths weaknesses, opportunities and threats; developing new markets for existing services; new services for existing client markets; and various permutations in between  (diagrams, matrices and graphs supplied).  But in practice the biggest factor is often the human one: can you get your partners to see that change is happening, that change is needed - and how?


Gill runs a company called Lawskills that aims to equip law firms to cope with change.  In conversation over tea she talks about the need for a mindful approach.  "We all know the old adage - in fact a definition of madness: 'If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got'.  The soundest business analysis and planning will amount to nothing if the people in the business don't see that a change in approach and behaviour is required, and are enabled to make that change.  This is often the biggest challenge of all in change management."


She encourages her clients to see change as something that needs to manifest in the small things - changes in individual choices (eg what work to take on and what to turn away) and daily behaviours. It can be less daunting presented this way she says, so in many cases partners are more likely to go with it. "Particularly (but not exclusively) in smaller firms, encouraging the individuals that make up the firm to make these 'small' changes is often a more effective way of achieving the bigger-scale change required at the broader firm level. It's like joining the dots."   


Gill also talks excitedly about the Training Review the root and branch overhaul of the legal education and training system, which this year was reinvigorated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards, having previously fallen into disrepair.  


"The big idea is to look at a range of entry points now into the profession, for example perhaps offering apprenticeships in law for school leavers, not just the graduate options.  I'm thinking about what skills they'd need to be useful in a business at this early stage."


So plenty to keep Gill busy!  Follow Gill on twitter. 


***


A sobering reminder this week of the plus side of no-win-no-fee arrangements came in the form of Chris Jeffries' interview with the Today Programme, following  his libel win this Summer against the Sun, Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Express, Daily Star and the Scotsman for their coverage after his arrest on suspicion of Jo Yeates' murder last December. He was speaking just days after Vincent Tabak was convicted of the murder and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years.


Talking about his ordeal, he criticised the Government's plans to reform Conditional  Fee Agreements (CFAs) and said that without a no-win, no-fee arrangement he would never have been able to bring the media to account for defaming himIf ever there was a good example of a CFA providing access to justice where it really mattered, this is it.


***

I flew to Oakland this summer, the day that riots broke out in the UK.  I remember being shame-faced with my American friends answering their questions about what on earth was going on back at home.  Now, Oakland has its own rioting, and its own Occupy movement.  Does that make me feel any better?  Of course the answer is no.  It's just an even sorrier state of affairs all round. Do we think the 1% are getting the message?   



One part of the Oakland riots story that particularly caught my eye concerned the distress of genuine campaigners that agitant elements had clashed with police and vandalised banks.  They said it played into the hands of detractors and gave them reason to criticise the movement.  The BBC news report described a note found taped to a shattered glass window, saying: 


"We are better than this... Sorry, the 99%" 


- a reminder that behind those just using the situation as an opportunity to cause trouble, there are people with integrity at the heart of this protest.  


Let's just hope they don't get forced out by the rabble elements.