Friday, 27 September 2019

Catherine Baksi and Jessica Learmond - Criqui



Didn't you just love Catherine Baksi's Sky interview on the Supreme Court prorogation judgment this week? This award-winning legal journalist, (regular contributor to The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian to name just a few of the top titles she regularly writes for), has been a regular on Sky News over the last couple of weeks, dissecting the issues in the prorogation drama and especially this week's shock Supreme Court judgment that our Prime Minister broke the law in suspending parliament. She has succeeded in explaining to viewers some very complex legal issues in terms beautifully concise, clear as crystal, perfectly delivered in a cut glass British accent - whilst sitting in the hot seat dressed in a leather bomber jacket. Choice quote: "I'm reminded of that song from The Clash - I Fought The Law and The Law Won". Don't you just love her style!

We first introduced Catherine to the Sky team a couple of years ago when they approached us for help finding a female Joshua Rozenberg, (you should take this as a compliment Joshua!). If this last two weeks is anything to go by, they have certainly found her. :)  You're welcome!

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Image result for Jessica Learmond-Criqui
Employment law guru Jessica Learmond-Criqui never disappoints. One of Kysen's first ever clients in 1999 (when she worked in Big Law, before setting up her own boutique Learmond Criqui Sokel), she always stretched us with her original twist and unusual take on legal topics. 

Back then she got everybody's attention with the concept of "love contracts": HR professionals can manage potential fallout from workplace romances by getting both parties to sign legal documents saying the relationship is consensual.  This can flush out any issues of "imbalance of workplace power" in office romances that may need to be managed (even more relevant now in the post-Harvey-Weinstein age) and also avoid problems where perfectly balanced relationships end sourly. 

She has taken up her pen again for the press recently and gave us this gem for The Times - "Facebook users should be classed as workers and paid" (£).  Here's how the argument goes: given they make money from our data, we are all effectively their data-inputters when we're active on the site. And they haven't been paying us, so they owe us our money in arrears.  She even calculated how much they owe: " if 42 million users claimed an aggregate of £853.84 over two years, that would mean a very large bill for Facebook", she says.

Jessica! We've missed you! Glad you're back!

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Image result for gc summit 2019Talking to General Counsel and other in-house lawyers face-to-face, I can tell you for sure just how important the legal trade press is to them.  For years I’ve been impressing on our law firm clients that the leading legal titles don’t just reach private practice lawyers, but a large community of in-house lawyers as well – and of course these are often the people in large corporates who choose which law firms to instruct.  Our PR programmes focus heavily on national and broadcast media, (The Times, FT, BBC, etc) and the leading sector trade titles (Estates Gazette and Property Week for the property sector, Retail Week for the retail sector, Spear’s for private clients etc etc and so on and so forth).  But we almost always include a strong thread of legal trade press in the mix, depending on the target audiences for our campaigns.Very often lawyers will challenge us, saying: “Why do we want to be in the legal press? We don’t want to talk to our competitors! Where’s the value in telling our story only to other firms?” But this misunderstands the audiences of the top legal press.  Yes they are read avidly by law firm partners, fee-earners and staff (and our barrister clients love them for this, as private practice solicitors are primary work-givers to the bar).  But a good 30-40% of the readership will actually be lawyers in in-house legal departments.  Each of the main legal trade titles has invested hugely in developing this part of their audience and their knowledge and contacts go deep.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend three days on a residential GC strategy conference in Spain in the company of about 50 or so top-ranking in-house lawyers, thanks to The Lawyer who were hosting the event and a US client of ours UnitedLex who were headline sponsors. They specialise in large-scale business transformation projects for the in-house legal teams of big corporates, and have recently come over from the States, taking the European legal market by storm. I made the most of this golden opportunity - of course, I hope you’d expect nothing less of me! - to find out what really makes in-house lawyers tick, what their pressure points are and what keeps them awake at night.  Here’s what they had to tell me.

A recurring theme was ‘commoditisation and disruption’. Brad Swann, Senior VP at Inmarsat, called these ‘the two major factors’ in business today. GCs have a challenging role advising their business on how the risk matrix changes as their organisations change structure and shape. Moreover, in-house legal departments themselves are being challenged to go through their own business transformations, perfecting how human lawyers, AI and other technology are deployed alongside one another, seamlessly and to best effect.

I had expected this to be a big theme for GCs, I have to say, especially as our client and event sponsor UnitedLex had helped to put the conference agenda together; we knew the delegates were interested in the large scale business transformation projects they had run for large corporate legal departments. What surprised me more, speaking to GCs, was the emphasis they placed on the people issues in their businesses. As one Europe GC put it, ‘our business involves the gathering of thousands of people in one place and, whilst we take security and health & safety very seriously indeed, there is always the prospect that something might go wrong – whether that is due to mechanical failure, human error or bad actors.’ When you put it like that, you can see exactly why a GC would have sleepless nights! Even more unexpected though, was the emphasis that almost all of them placed on the management of their legal teams. For example John Abramson of Travelers stressed to me the benefits to the wider business that stem from the stability in his legal team. Having a group of lawyers who’ve worked in their respective roles for a long time, so have a deep understanding of the business and its issues, and who are well practised (efficient, effective), at working together, is invaluable he says. So one of his biggest preoccupations is how to keep them engaged and enjoying their work, so they continue to stick around. And how best to manage the workflow to make the most of the team’s potential in delivering what’s needed for the business.  Others I spoke to agreed with this and talked to me about the positive difference a well managed team can make and the importance of giving this sufficient focus. They also spoke about being mindful of issues outside of work that can affect how an individual feels and performs in their role. 

It was such a privilege to be part of the UnitedLex team and get a hot ticket to this event, to be able to speak to these GCs direct.  I was extremely lucky to have these conversations in person and glean these insights face-to-face, but my point is that the leading legal trade titles are communing with this GC audience all the time and are exceptionally close to how these professionals live, work and breathe. They know what’s most important to them and they know intimately their likes and dislikes when it comes to selecting and working with private practice firms.  Don’t leave this element out of your marketing planning. It has huge value.