Sunday, 29 July 2012

John Flood



Professor Flood blew my mind this week. Better known to some as twegal @JohnAFlood and famed blawger at www.johnflood.com, John is Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Westminster and an esteemed scholar and researcher. We were discussing his recent win of an Innovative Teacher of the Year award as voted by the undergraduate class at Westminster. He uses YouTube videos of eg a Florentine leather factory to bring to life the textbook tort case of the East India Leather Industry brought to account for polluting the river Reth, inviting his students to "imagine the smells". He certainly has a gift for finding the most interesting part of a story and using it to light up even the most disengaged lecture theatre. 

Our conversation turned to the most famous tort cases of all, the one that started it all: the snail nestling at the bottom of that now infamous ginger beer bottle in Donoghue v Stevenson, which kicked off the very concept of tort and a "duty of care" independent of any contractual relationship. How does John go about teaching this one? 

"Well of course nobody knows if that snail ever existed." This is the point at which he blew my mind. What do you mean, might never have existed, I asked, incredulous. "The whole discussion in the case took place in the interlocutory hearings, ie hearings about whether or not the ginger beer drinker could sue, in principle. And then the case settled of course, so no evidence was ever produced in a court to support the suggestion the snail was ever there." This man definitely knows how to get your attention. No wonder he won that award for best teaching. 

John's research interests take him to some interesting places too, both geographically (when we met he had just returned from giving no less than four talks in Canada, at the International Legal Ethics Conference) and philosophically (his research focusses on professional ethics and the globalisation of law - and he is currently on the Legal Services Board's Research Strategy Group looking into regulatory issues arising from the Legal Services Act). 

"There are some very interesting differences from how North American lawyers view professional ethics compared to our view here in the UK," he tells me.  "In the US the focus is far more on an individual's personal code of ethics, whereas here the attention is far more on corporate regulation. This is one of the key reasons why the States is so resistant to Legal-Services-Act type change. Also their focus on the individual morality of lawyers is somehow linked to their distaste for lay professionals having any kind of control of law firms. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out as the global village continues to shrink."

A last thought he left me with was the growing fashion in the US for "Private Attorneys-General": more and more financial regulation is relying on individual whistleblowers to alert the public prosecutors to an issue to which, if it progresses, they're entitled to a cut of the amount of the fraud. Could it happen here? In my view this idea is far too entrenched in the US's bounty hunter culture to travel across the pond. But fascinating none-the-less. I'm left wanting more, keen for my next tutorial with this master scholar.

***
Dominic Egan must think I'm stalking him. Those of you who follow my tweets will know I spent Wednesday celebrating my wedding anniversary at the seaside in Whitstable, Kent. Sauntering along the beach I spotted Dominic over a garden wall, so of course I stopped to say hello. I have known Dominic for years, in fact from way back in the day when he was deputy editor, and Cat Griffiths was editor, of Legal Business magazine in the mid-1990s. He and his family are visiting friends who live by the beach he says.

This is not the first time I've bumped into him in his family time. I once spent an entire flight to Menorca chatting to a woman and playing with her beautiful baby boy, only realising on the return journey a week later, when we met them all queueing through customs, that the Dad in this family was none other than Dominic. That baby boy is now a healthy young chap of eight years old - which tells you two things: 1, an eight year gap proves I'm not a stalker; and 2, I have been around in law a very long time.

***
Danny Boyle won Gold for Great Britain on Friday.   Our organisation of The Games got off to a shaky start on Wednesday though, when we managed to insult an entire nation by displaying the wrong Korean flag at the opening of the women's football game against Colombia. Easy to muddle up South and North Korea I guess, but someone really should have checked as these two countries have technically been at war for quite some time! Couldn't have been much worse we thought, although our chum  Matt Bulley at RJW Slater & Gordon disagreed, promptly telling us about the toe-curling gaffe at a shooting competition in Kuwait earlier this year: as the winning Kazakhstan team were presented with their gold medals, a comedy rendition of their national anthem from the Borat movie was played, when organisers downloaded the wrong version from the internet. Don't believe it? Check out the YouTube clip here.

But our man Danny has completely redeemed us. It was an inspired idea to commission a world class film maker and theatre director to take charge of the ceremony. All the ideas, spark, creativity and imagination you see in Boyle's film-making was there.  And of course his experience as a theatre director meant he had no fear in staging live even the most ambitious of ideas.  Highlights?  All of it really.  But of course The Queen's comedy cameo role - unbelievable! And the beautiful cauldron-lighting sequence, witnessing the torch literally being passed from Olympic heroes to the next generation, the seven nominated teenagers lighting the 205 copper petals rising to make up the Thomas-Heatherwick-designed Olympic cauldron - breath-taking!

Even the Americans are saying Danny's the Gold Standard.  Look at this New Yorker write-up. Personally I think there's a knighthood in the offing.  Thanks Danny.  We love you!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Joshua Rozenberg


"Just don't call me Doctor" said Joshua Rozenberg, as I congratulated him on his second honorary doctorate this week, this latest one from Nottingham Law School

Joshua is undoubtedly the country's most high profile commentator on law, known by many as the voice of the BBC's Law In Action on Radio 4 (which he launched in 1984). Not only does he also write regularly for The Guardian and The Law Society Gazette, and previously for The Daily Telegraph, he is an Oxford Law graduate and the only journalist to be listed in The Times' independently-judged list of the UK's most influential lawyers. He can often be seen or heard on radio and TV as a legal pundit, commenting on a wide range of legal developments and stories.

As you would expect, we have known Joshua for many years. He has chaired a number of round table client events for us on discussion subjects as diverse as "The Brave New World of Legal Services", "Commercial Risk" and "Piracy on The High Seas". This man is one of the most diligent chairmen I have ever come across, planning meticulously before each event, even to the extent of asking for bullet-point opinions from all participants ahead so he can draw out interesting points from the most shy and retiring of the people there. No wonder he always gets so much out of the folk he interviews. 

So I asked him: what does it feel like to be given not just one, but two honorary doctorates. He told me "Of course I'm honoured by this kind gesture from Nottingham Law School. But as I said to the roomful of law students at this week's graduation ceremony: honorary degrees are good fun, but it's the things you work for that are worth having." Joshua is modest to the last.

Joshua and I were bemoaning the fact that the broadsheets generally have far less appetite for proper, dedicated legal coverage than they used to.  "The print editions of most newspapers in the UK now devote less space than they have done in the past to coverage of demanding subjects such as international relations, science, politics and the law," he says.  With the exception of business-related stories, such coverage as remains tends to be at the lighter end of the market: parliamentary sketches, for example, rather than the detailed accounts of debates that the newspapers used to carry.  Law has suffered from the same change in approach.  And the reason is not hard to see: selling newspapers in a declining market requires them to have the broadest possible appeal.

"But although a newspaper such as The Daily Telegraph sees no need to have a full-time legal correspondent, others such as The Times and The Guardian carry extensive coverage online.  The Guardian law page in particular draws on a number of different resources to provide extensive coverage of legal developments.  This combined with the authoritative law blogs provided by law firms, chambers and legal publishers is the future of legal journalism, enhanced by free access to judgments and proceedings in Parliament." 

And of course we still have Joshua to keep us updated on legal developments.  He's part of legal journalism's heritage, he keeps us up to date and well informed today (he deserves an honour for this alone), and he is undoubtedly part of legal journalism's future.  Set yourself up to follow him on twitter and get regular legal updates from the great man to your phone.

***
Our lovable big brother Boris Johnson is trying to help all of us plan around Olympics chaos. But his public information announcements on Tube and bus routes have had a mixed response since their launch at the start of July. Some of us love them, finding Boris's approach fresh and funny.  Others are unhappy his voice is everywhere and drawing comparisons with George Orwell's 1984.   

The thinking behind the campaign is simply that Boris is worried Londoners will use the Olympics as an excuse 'to pull a sickie'.  He has said this on record. Check out this choice report in The Huffington Post of the speech where he urged Londoners to avoid the temptation to 'Work From Home' which he says can only mean one thing: - 'basically sitting, wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again'. Not quite my experience I have to say, but for a politician you have to love his style of delivery: a (very cheesy) breath of fresh air.

***
Never thought 'jet stream' would become part of my daily vocabulary, but I'm definitely developing a depth of expertise in this scientific phenomenon I never knew I wanted. In the UK our collective heart skips a bit whenever we hear "the Jet Stream is on the move", promising a return to more appropriate Summer weather (Yes, it is Summer. Did you forget?)

As a person I'm not normally that easily given over to pessimism, but even I can't help suspecting this promise of a heatwave and a hot Olympics is a cynical PR ploy to make sure the expected thousands of overseas visitors don't change their minds at the last minute and cancel their flights. But then... the sun is out as I write this...  I can feel the optimism returning...

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Charon QC


I had lunch this week with the most dangerous man in legal education. We have Mike Semple-Piggott to thank for BPP Law School, which he launched in the 1990s and subsequently sold to become a serial legal education entrepreneur. You may know him better as the man behind famed and fictitious blawg persona Charon QC.
Why “Charon”? I asked him. “Charon is the name of the ferryman of Hades, paid to bring  souls across the river Styx. When I was deciding on a character to be the face of my blog when it started 10 years ago, I liked the idea of dragging lawyers into hell with my writings.” You can also see why they call him dangerous.
And the QC part? "Well, for the first years of Charon's life online he was merely a lawyer" Mike tells me. "Then when the QC Selection Panel decided not to make up any silks in 2004/5, it seemed the perfect time for a fictitious lawyer to be given the moniker." 

Mike’s blog is now part of the legal establishment, albeit defining the subversive fringe. If you’re not familiar with all parts of the blog, take a look here. He is prolific: reams of insightful comment on legal developments and legal market change, in blog and podcast format, plus a Law Weekly Review, laced all the way through with humour and a mischievous spirit. He has a vast audience of practitioners and interested lay people; also law students attracted by the free books and lectures made available for them. No wonder he attracts an audience of some 90,000 lawyers (including a loyal following in the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Board). He’s not in it for money. I’ve come across this before with legal educators and Mike exemplifies it. Their prime driver is simply not commercial. In contrast to the classic business mindset, often concerned about giving away their Crown Jewels when publicising expertise and opinion, educators instinctively like to share information, rather than hold on to it for personal gain.
He does have to cover the (substantial) costs of running the blog though, and his model for monetising it takes care not to compromise the quality of its content. He carries advertising from such names as PannoneRiverview LawOxford University Press as well as the law schools

But business took up only a tiny part of our conversation this week. Mike regaled me with a veritable rainbow of colourful stories, like the time travelling back from Singapore he brought a suitcase of counterfeit watches through customs, for a lecture he was planning on intellectual property rights. This was in the days before importing fake branded goods was illegal. But it raised the eyebrows of the customs official who stopped him on his way through nevertheless.  He made the mistake of trying to engage Mike in a legal argument. Needless to say after just ten minutes of "lively" conversation Mike was waved through. 

So he’s not in it for the profit. And he’s not in it for the honours either – he’s turned down two visiting doctorates and a visiting professorship so far this year. So what does motivate this man? “I like to do interesting things, discover the new, immerse myself in legal concepts and fresh ideas. I'm in it for the fun.  Forget the past, I say. The future’s what excites me.” 

Funny how by being so interested, you become one of the most interesting men in the marketplace.
***
So the SFO is worried about ‘reputational damage’ and is bringing in a raft of special advisors and other senior appointees to put its house in order. It's a comfort to know that in this often superficial age some people still recognise that fixing reputation is not always only about profile and spin, that sometimes it's more about the "essence" of something; one of the newly appointed experts at the SFO is none other than Geoffrey Rivlin QC, a high profile former judge, who will be focussing on improving case management.  The SFO was heavily criticised this May for an overly cautious position since the ill-fated raids on the Tchenguiz brothers last year, in March 2011 - and subsequent legal cahllenge. In fact no raids were conducted in the entire financial year since.  The SFO clearly needs help.  

The high profile appointments were announced this week just days after news reports the SFO would investigate the LIBOR rigging scandal. Reckoned to be potentially the most expensive investigation yet staged by the SFO, no wonder it has focussed minds. The question is though, can this crack team of senior executives do enough in the time available to make sure on this occasion the crooks don’t get away? With these latest appointments at least the outlook is promising.

***
This week the Olympic torch relay reached the town where I live. It coincided with a family birthday and I had the day off. A celebratory breakfast in bed was dutifully served, and then from our bedroom window we watched the torch pass right in front of our house. Special!  Those who know me will be well aware I am not a sports fan. But even I feel part of the Olympics now.  I love how the torch relay has worked to make everyone feel part of this national event.
It reminds me of an excellent internal communications stunt by DLA, which we observed at close quarters some years ago when we first got to know the firm well. 1,000 partners and staff took part in a relay-style walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in a single day, dividing the journey into 740 segments, a different regional team taking a 10 mile segment each. Fantastic way to bring all the offices together in one collective endeavour. We had just started working for DLA as they did the walk and raised 500,000 pounds for the charity Wellchild. The excitement, camaraderie and sense of collective achievement was palpable.
I'm almost tempted to dig out my tracksuit for July and August. Almost, but not quite.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Ray Parker




Ray Parker is looking for the woman who saved his life. 
Victim of a cycling accident which left him with a serious brain injury, slurring his speech and causing some Dysphasia, Ray is grateful he is as much “himself” today as he is; in the case of brain injury, the time that elapses between impact to the head and treatment is critical in preserving as much brain function, and as much of your personality, as possible. In Ray's case he was extremely lucky that a casual passer-by on the quiet cycle path where the accident happened, between Canterbury and Whitstable, was an off-duty GP with her daughter. She had the knowledge and presence of mind to administer first aid and call an air ambulance.



"I was cycling home from college, going through Clowes Wood on a designated cycle path" says Ray. "All of a sudden I found myself waking up and all I could see was black. I could feel the blood pumping out of my head and the next thing I remember was a lady with a Dutch accent saying she was a doctor, telling me to lie down. She rolled me onto my side, put my head on her daughter's lap and phoned an ambulance. I had a two-inch hole in my head that was bleeding profusely, but she stopped the flow - and basically she saved my life. I have no idea who she is but I would love the chance to thank her. So if anyone knows who she is, please ask her to step forward and make herself known."


Ray's lawyer is Prolegal's Ben Posford, who specialises in catastrophic personal injury cases. He explained to me that the cycle path Ray was on was in a very sorry state of repair and that a broken piece of concrete had become stuck in Ray's front wheel, sending him over the handlebars, landing head first on the concrete and fracturing his skull. Ben intends to bring the company responsible for maintaining the path to account, for letting a designated cycle path fall into such awful disrepair. It encourages cyclists, but it's a death-trap. He would also like the GP to step forward, as she would be a key witness in Ray's case. 


If you've heard or know anything that could identify our Good Samaritan, please call Ben Posford at Prolegal on 0207 743 6700.
***


Any takers for London's latest luxury pads? The Shard's publicity machine rolled into impressive action this week, starting with a reminder on Monday that the apartments go on sale later this Summer for a cool £30-£50 million a piece, the most prestigious apartments in Europe; followed by stories speculating about who will be buying them, The Evening Standard coining the phrase "Oligarchitecture" to let us all know who has been showing the most interest; and culminating this Friday with reports of the previous night's opening extravaganza. Check out this Telegraph video of the laser light show at the inauguration ceremony.

One news report the PR team probably didn’t plan was Monday’s story of the maintenance worker stranded on the outside of the building, 72 floors up, swinging in the wind.  the London Fire Brigade had to be called.  We were visiting our friends at Lawyers On Demand, at Berwin Leighton Paisner's offices on the opposite bank of the Thames from the Shard. They had seen it all that morning from their office window. It made national news later that day. For all its futuristic design, the Shard will require manual window-cleaning - 11,000 panes no less, covering an area the size of eight football pitches: the sound of Health and Safety lawyers across the City sharpening their pencils is audible.
***
The banks' Summer corporate hospitality season has become just a little bit “Awkward”. We heard from an accountancy friend that his invite to the Henley Regatta from a bank at the heart of the Libor scandal was rather compromised when his hosts had to explain they couldn't attend themselves.  Instead they turned up just to hand over tickets and introduce their guests to each other, then made their excuses and left.  This year's Regatta of course coincided with the news of the Libor scandal breaking. A similar issue has arisen with other Summer hospitality events. The reason for their non-attendance? Apparently a Dictat from the heads of PR: no photo opportunities please of bankers swigging the champagne. Quite.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Collingwood Thompson QC



When it comes to the Barclays banking scandal, Collingwood Thompson QC has seen it all before.  One of the leading lights in 7 Bedford Row's Regulatory and White Collar Crime team, Collingwood started practising law in the 1970s, so decades before the Financial Services Markets Act of 2000 that created the FSA, and long before The Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism in the 1980s when the bowler-hatted old boy network was replaced by red-braced and brash casino-style bankers. He began at a time when relationships in financial institutions were so family-like and cosy that insider trading wasn't even unlawful, just the accepted was to get ahead in the City. And over the years we have observed the growth of financial regulation. Today Collingwood is a leading silk in his chosen area of specialism, working in both civil and criminal courts in London, regularly advising on overseas cases as well, also sitting part time as a judge on the Midlands circuit.

Our conversation took place during a journey to the BBC this week, for Collingwood to do a Newsnight interview. 

Collingwood had been invited by the Newsnight team to be their "expert talking head, explaining to viewers how the myriad legal issues in the scandal, particularly any criminal proceedings, might play out. I was fascinated to hear his views on how this latest scandal could potentially change the face of the banking world as we know it. Collingwood is not a man to sit on the fence (for which the Newsnight team love him of course!)

"When you think that no individual banker has been convicted for their part in the events that led to the current economic crisis, it makes you realise what a charmed life bankers have led.  Instead it's the corporate entities that are penalised - and who suffers then?  That's right: shareholders and tax payers, the public at large.  But this latest debacle is all about dishonesty - the FSA Report makes it clear there has been deliberate distortion of the market to enhance the profits of the bank and the size of individuals' bonuses.   This is undoubtedly fraud and I don't think the public will stomach it this time if the individuals responsible are not made to pay.  But is there sufficient political will to see through a rigorous investigation? And do the regulatory authorities have enough money and other resources behind them in any event?  It's sobering to think that Barclays' £60m fine is sizeably larger than the SFOs entire annual budget.

"But is this really a new phenomenon? No, we've seen this all before.  In fact long before even my earliest years in financial services litigation.  One of the leading legal precedents in this area is 200 years old and has a direct bearing on the events emerging in the last few days: in the famous Stock Market Fraud of 1814 false reports of Napoleon's death were deliberately circulated to manipulate the bond market.  The high profile naval hero Lord Cochrane was brought down by the scandal. He and his co-conspirators were sentenced to 12 months in prison, a fine of £1,000 each and an hour in the public pillory. In addition Lord Cochrane was stripped of his naval rank."

Reading up on this case, one key difference stands out in comparison to the present day; in Lord Cochrane's case, public opinion was most definitely on his side: after his prison terms was over he was re-elected to the House of Commons, and due to the public outcry over how he had been treated the punishment of pillory was abolished.  Not sure that the bankers in this latest scandal can expect such forgiving treatment from the general public. 

"What I think the public will really object to if fraudulent bankers are not brought to account, is the contrast with how individuals at the other end of the social spectrum have been treated. A good illustration is the authorities' determination to make an example of last summer's London rioters, jailing a college student with no previous criminal record for six months for stealing a £3.50 case of bottled water. Will the public stick watching banking fraudsters go free? I don't think so."

I can't argue with the man. You can view his snippet on Newsnight here.

***

The highlight of my week though was The Lawyer Awards. Not just for the glitz (The Grosvenor House), the entertainment (Jason Manford) and the legal celeb-spotting (we all knew Robert Jay was going to win Barrister of the Year for his high profile lead council role in the Leveson Inquiry). For me the thrill was seeing friends collect well-deserved awards on the night. Russell Jones & Walker Slater & Gordon's Manchester based Mike Cain named as one of the top two Assistant Solicitors in the entire country; the firm's employment team coming second in Employment team of the Year category. Mayer Brown's mining team winning Infrastructure/Energy team of the Year, for their pioneering work putting in place Afghanistan's first mining code; and best of all seeing the Brecher team's incredulous faces when their win as Boutique Firm of the Year was announced. I used to work in-house at the old Brecher & Co before its merger with Nicholson Graham & Jones and 15 years ago reported to Valerie and Andrew Brecher, who head the new firm today and I knew Nicky Richmond well there too, now the new firm's joint Managing Partner (as well as famed legal blogger and tweeter). I have to say these guys are seriously self-effacing. Knowing them so intimately and having the advantage of the consultant's helicopter view I've always known how outstanding they are. My challenge was to persuade them to see themselves the same way and have the confidence to put an award submission in. I felt particularly emotionally invested and was over the moon to see them win. You couldn't wipe the beam off my face for the rest of the week! No more hiding lights under bushels for them. Congratulations Brecher! This award absolutely went to the right firm! 

***

Wish I could have been at the London Solicitor's Litigation Association's 60th Anniversary bash, but sadly it clashed with The Lawyer Awards. Kysen was represented of course, (our Adele Baxby made lots of new friends among the Junior LSLA), but I couldn't be there myself. By all accounts it was a great event, celebrating just how far the LSLA has come since its inception. Over the past 60 years it has grown in influence, for example advising on the plans for the new commercial court complex at Rolls Building before it opened (this is the court famous for handling Oligarch and other overseas big-ticket litigation). At the same time the LSLA has been campaigning hard at the small ticket end of the litigation market having a key role in the Jackson Review. President Francesca Kaye believes strongly that to maintain its status as a world class legal system London must be capable of serving both its own people at all levels of the market, as well as attracting lucrative litigation from other parts of the world. And with the Junior LSLA growing like topsy since its launch just over a year ago, the LSLA's influence looks set to increase long into the future. 

My favorite story though was hearing how former President and high profile legal pundit David Greene opened the dance floor by proffering a hand to current President Francesca. Those who know David well will be aware he has been on crutches the last few months after a fall from a ladder. Ever the gentleman, he at least put his crutches aside for the dance, but even Frankie's grace was challenged as he wheeled her round the floor with a big plaster of paris boot on his foot. What a picture! Shame no cameras were allowed. :-)