Sunday, 29 July 2012

John Flood

Professor Flood blew my mind this week. Better known to some as twegal @JohnAFlood and famed blawger at, 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!

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