Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Glyn Maddocks




Legal Aid Gap - Glyn Maddocks is coming to get you! The withdrawal of legal aid has indeed been like a
cancer, undetected at first other than a general feeling of malaise, then some unusual symptoms popping up in different places - first some strange mutations in litigation funding appearing on the scene, deregulation paving the way for conditional fee arrangements and a whole new array of insurance-backed litigation products; then some odd metamorphoses in the rules as to who is licensed to conduct litigation and run cases and how their businesses are allowed to be structured.  No longer a requirement for "expensive" solicitors working in tag-teams with "pricey" barristers, supposedly offering cheaper options to the public, but in reality creating huge risks they won't be properly represented. Finally, a diagnosis: a worrying justice gap created by the withdrawal of Legal Aid and anyone unable to afford legal advice will just have to do without. The surgeon is told to cut a further £220 million of fat from the already slimmed down body on the operating table, slicing away layers of "duplication" and taking the scalpel to "unnecessary expense". He doesn't realize he's in fact cutting into muscle. The body lies inert and butchered now, in front of him, and certainly no nearer a cure. Surely a clinical negligence action waiting to happen.... If only anyone could afford to sue!

Against this backdrop, campaigning lawyer Glyn Maddocks has launched a charity to help plug part of the gaping hole in our British justice system left by the withdrawal of Legal Aid. The Centre for Criminal Appeals (CCA) will provide a not-for-profit solution to the shortage of both legal representation and effective investigation for criminal appeals and miscarriage of justice cases and will attempt to make viable otherwise non-remunerative cases that currently only financially reckless lawyers are prepared to take on. The CCA will cover the overheads of its lawyers and will work as part of a multi-disciplinary team involving investigators and other appropriate experts.

Glyn is a highly experienced criminal solicitor at Gabb & Co in Wales and aside from his campaigning is perhaps most famous for his role in the Paul Blackburn case, a man imprisoned for attempted murder at the age of 15 for 25 years, for a crime he did not commit. Criminal convictions are notoriously difficult to get overturned and Glyn worked tirelessly for 13 years before the Court of Appeal agreed on fresh evidence that Blackburn's confession had been forged by the police. He was released from court a free man. 

"It's this terrible concept of years, even whole lives, wasted in prison that has inspired much of my work over the last 20 years." Glyn has devoted a good portion of his career to miscarriage of justice cases. "I have a real worry that without a proper Legal Aid system, most lawyers qualified for the job just won't be able to afford to take on these time-consuming and expensive cases. And innocent people languishing in prison for crimes they didn't commit will simply fall through this justice gap. The CCA hoped that UK firms and barristers chambers may like to consider doing what their US counterparts have done for many years and provide financial support for initiatives such as the CCA. A few hundred pounds each year from the top 100 firms plus a similar amount from the top chambers would provide long term financial viability and would mean that the cca could concentrate on doing its job of acting for those who have allegedly suffered a wrongful conviction."

So, surely it's good news for British justice that the CCA is here with at least a partial cure? 

"We certainly have an important role to play but I wish I could be more upbeat. Should UK victims of miscarriages of justice really have to rely on the efforts of a charity? Is it not sad and embarrassing that this country, where the rule of law has long held sway, cannot itself guarantee access to justice for its citizens?"

Anyone interested in pledging financial or other support for the Centre, either as a one-off donation or as part of an ongoing CSR programme, should make contact
-      with Glyn Maddocks by email: glyn.maddocks@gabb.co.uk
-      via the website: http://www.criminalappeals.org.uk/
-      or via webdonate: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/centreforcriminalappeals

And anyone wishing to donate to Cancer Research's Race for Life can do do here: Cancer - we're coming to get you!

***
Cure for exam stress: those of you who know Kysen well will be familiar with our daily routines spotting legal newshooks. One in particular struck home more than usual this week. My colleague Adele was working on an education law topic about a Scottish university offering pet therapy for stressed out students, paving the way for lots of legal thought leadership about the duty of education establishments to ease the stress of their pupils. With 16-year-old twins at home, any ideas for combating GCSE-induced stress is gratefully received! The idea of pet therapy received enthusiastic attention at home... but not in fact as much as another choice story from the National Union of Teachers proposing special help in schools for the ranks of "menopausal" middle-aged women who make up such a large proportion of the teaching community. I kid you not: there are formal proposals for more water fountains to help with hot flushes and grouchiness that come with this "special age". I won't tell you how the conversations ran at home, but the phrase "no wonder" was overheard. 
***
One of the most talked about stories in legal circles this week was the 15-million pound wine fraud over "fake" rare vintages. The case, brought by a US property magnate claiming he was duped into buying a rare vintage wine by a Mayfair-based merchant, is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. Sold on the basis that its grapes were picked before George Washington was elected first US president and costing £10,000 per glass, no wonder the buyer is taking it all the way to court. You couldn't make it up!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Jacqui Rook



Doing business with Brecher's new CEO Jacqui Rook is most definitely fun. Our conversation took place over Blue eggs and toasted soldiers at Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly (her recommendation) and she made me laugh so much, tears were dripping into my egg yolk. The stories that woman can tell!

Jacqui believes people don't just buy technical expertise and know-how, but want to invest in a business relationship with a real person as well. In her mind it's all about the experience of doing business with someone, not just the outputs. And this refreshing approach is one she's keen to instil in everyone at her firm.

"No one wants to sit down and listen to negativity. A business relationship should make people feel positive and it should be enjoyed. A good exercise is to reflect on how your clients and other business associates experience you. Are you an energetic presence? Does the room light up around you? Or do you tend to have the opposite effect, sapping the energy of those you're with and having an unenviable ability to empty a room? Do people see you as the person who's always coming up with solutions? Or are you the one who only points out the defects, the pitfalls?

"What do your clients think when they look in their diary in the morning and see a meeting listed with you? Do they smile, looking forward to it as one of the highlights of their day? Or do they groan, knowing it's just something they have to get through?"

Of course Jacqui's firm Brecher is famous for its close relationships with some of the property industry's most famous players, sometimes going back decades, even generations. "We are lucky: our senior partners are complete naturals when it comes to client relationships and they are known for putting their personalities into their work too, as well as all that top-of-the-market highly-attuned technical expertise. Many of our associates too. This is what we want to see across all areas and levels of the firm".

So given her belief that "relationship" is key, what role does she think social media can play? Or does she think it's irrelevant and that only face-to-face counts?

"I think LinkedIn can work really well to set up a good face-to-face opportunity, if used skillfully. Maybe start with a message asking to Link In "because we could do some interesting business together". Then kick off a conversation with a series of skilful open and closed questions to show an interest in your target (always welcomed by people) and find out more about them. Then by the time you meet them for the first time face-to-face, you already have a conversation underway.

"For shyer lawyers who hold back in face-to-face networking situations, who are uncomfortable speaking to people they don't know, this can actually be a better place to start. It's like the first part of the conversation takes place behind a screen, and once they come out from behind the screen, a connection has already been established.

"I'm a great believer in finding what type of business development activity works for different individuals. There's no point in trying to force everyone into the same mould. It makes life unpleasant and it just won't work anyway. So if someone has a problem with conventional networking because of religious or other dietary restrictions I'll encourage them to try breakfast meetings, or cocktails 5-7pm. If some people are particularly averse to social media, rather than fighting them on the point I'd rather focus them on other business development activity such as lunching or seminars. There's always something that a person can do".

Of course another aspect of this is that Jacqui won't let her lawyers hide behind excuses! She's going to get everyone involved in the firm's business development. There's no escape. But on the plus side, you can bet she'll make it fun!
***
The old adage that today's news is just tomorrow's fish-and-chip paper looks like it's fast going out of date.  The Times reported this week that as a preventative measure to reduce littering, Liverpool City Council are requiring local chippies to provide plates and cutlery, instead of meals wrapped in paper to be eaten with fingers, if they want a pavement cafe licence.  So the much-loved chip paper proverb, used to explain the ephemeral nature of news and how soon headlines are forgotten, is becoming obsolete.  

But in our internet age, the very idea that today's news is ever consigned to mere chip paper is already well out of date: individuals caught in the midst of an ugly media storm can't any longer console themselves that awful headlines today will be no more than the wraparound for someone's takeaway dinner tomorrow.  Googleability now means stories have a horrible habit of hanging around. More reason than ever to guard reputation.

(And of course my legal friends are reminding me that it's actually been years since it was lawful to use old newspaper to serve food. Something about the potential of lead poisoning from the ink. Health & safety laws.... don't get me started!)
***
If ever there were a lesson in the use of celebrity hooks to make news stories fly, this is it:  our extremely techie legal comment about the operation of US sanctions against Russia, which we had been working on for weeks with the FT, was suddenly hi-jacked by the news that these politically-motivated trade restrictions might jeopardise the world concert tours of Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus.  Helskini Arena is apparently owned by three Russians who move in close circles with Vladimir Putin, having been friends with the Russian president since childhood.   The Finnish leg of their tours may have to be cancelled.  And so, not only was our legal commentary catapulted to the FT's front page alongside photos of the two mega-stars, but was picked up by several other national broadsheets as well ... and our client, HFW's competition and international trade law expert Anthony Woolich, invited on to the BBC's World Business Report and CNBC to explain the issues in law.  

Just goes to prove that a bit of showbiz glamour gets everyone's attention, even readers of the most serious stories in the most highbrow parts of the media.