Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Andrew Hopper QC

Andrew Hopper QC is dismayed by the lack of joined-up thinking at the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Andrew is one of a very small handful of solicitor QCs, who never studied or practised as a barrister, but whose advocacy skills came to the attention of the senior judiciary while prosecuting for the SRA's predecessors at The Law Society in disciplinary and regulatory proceedings - and as a consequence was encouraged to take silk. He is co-author of both The Solicitor's Handbook (a guide for solicitors on regulation of the profession) and also The Law Society Gazette's Guitde to Outcomes-Focused Regulation (an attempt to get to grips with the new basis of regulation, in principle and practice). When it comes to solicitors' conduct and regulatory matters, he certainly knows what he's talking about.

Over a very pleasant lunch this week we chatted about a constant theme I hear speaking to law firm senior managers as I go about my business: that despite the beautifully-phrased rhetoric at the top, policy-end of the regulatory system, (showing a good understanding of how legal services business is changing and enthusing about opportunities for innovation), on the ground the processes are run by (not his words but mine; he was more discreet!) pettifogging, clipboard-holding, middle-management officials who seem to have no connection whatsoever with the sophisticated thinking at the top. I remember attending (and blogging and tweeting about) an excellent event at the Royal Festival Hall hosted by Russell-Cooke on legal market regulation and hearing Legal Services Board Chair David Edmonds wax lyrical about how privileged he feels sifting through the hundreds of ABS licence applications, privy to such a wonderful 'constant flow of ideas for doing legal business differently' - this on the very same day a client had been moaning to me about her experience of the SRA at the sharp end, describing a rather Kafkaesque world as she attempted to progress her firm's licence application.

"When it comes to solicitors disciplinary issues, the matter becomes very personal and very stressful" Andrew tells me. 'Hard won reputations established over many years can be crushed in weeks or days, never to be fully recovered - this reputational damage is entirely out of proportion with the conduct at issue. What I find really unfair is the fact that there is little sanction against the authorities for unreasonable or inappropriate prosecution. Unlike the SFO, it is very rare for costs orders to be made against the SRA if their prosecution fails, or if only an insignificant "success" survives the trial process, with all serious matters dismissed. So where's the disincentive? It just encourages an over-zealous approach and provides no imperative whatsoever for SRA managers to take proper care over those all-important decisions - decisions that impact other people's careers, even lives - whether or not to prosecute. This insistence cuts out all humanity from the process and is certainly a far cry from the policy makers' rhetoric.

"In my experience the profession is packed with people who want to get it right. We have a major challenge on our hands with the new approach of "Outcomes-Focused Regulation" and the word from the top is exactly what we all want to hear - that the authorities want to work with individuals and entities to help them get it right; and that regulation, supervision and any sanctions will be appropriate and proportionate. I have no doubt these policy makers do have a very sophisticated understanding of legal business and current context of change. The trouble is there are two major disfunctionalities at the SRA: first, the people at the top appear genuinely not to know what is happening to their policies in practice at the grass roots level once the over-zealous prosecutors get their hands on them; and second, these people at the grass roots simply don't understand the relatively sophisticated policies coming from the top."

A boardroom development coach who works regularly with FTSE100 boards, once described to me that the key to good leadership is all about the connectivity between top level management thinking and what happens on the ground. He likened it to a drive shaft, connecting the engine of a corporate vehicle to the wheels. If the drive shaft is disconnected you basically have a car crash waiting to happen. His words, not mine.

We all know Boris Johnson is mad as a hatter. And we all love this latest gem from his "Mayor of London presents.." series: our wonderful city as a catwalk for hats. Hatwalk is part of London's 2012 Festival and celebrates London's creativity and heritage by showcasing established and emerging hatmakers by recreating headwear for some of London's most famous statues. Yes, hats on statues! Brilliant and bonkers in equal measure! 

At the weekend I happened to be watching the film of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. At one point the characters gather round a meal table and discuss a word for each of the world's great cities. For London the word was "stuffy". Excuse me?? Don't they know how off-the-mark and out-of-date they are?? I will be writing to the author with photos of Hatwalk enclosed.

Everyone was a winner this week at our very own Kysen Olympics in Embankment Gardens. (Think Egg & Spoon race is more than a 100-metre sprint!) Thanks Elliott for organising. 

It was a really good fun afternoon with a mix of (mostly) comedy physical exertion and sedentary Olympic quiz. We were all shocked I have to say when we realised how few of the Paralympics questions we knew the answer to, compared to the rest. What was that point made by Olympic cycling silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead talking about sex and disability discrimination in sport this week? About how comparatively little media coverage there is of female and paralympic sports? 

On a more positive note, enjoy these pictures of the Kysen team getting egg on our metaphorical faces. 

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