Friday, 5 February 2021

Vanessa Ugatti



I had a fascinating discussion recently with a woman who describes herself as the “True Worth” expert, and knowing so many lawyers who work themselves into the ground at times, run ragged by client demands and huge workloads, I had to share what I learned from her on this blog.  Quite simply, Vanessa Ugatti believes too many conscientious lawyers are not getting a fair return on their hard work and the value they provide.   

Clients come to Vanessa overworked and underpaid because they have difficulties around pricing and billing, and because they so often find it hard to resist pressure from their own clients to over-service.  The good news is she has solutions that can turn this around for them, for good. Her service is something I believe every lawyer should know about! 

From my days working in-house in law firms, I remember the levels of anxiety I would see when talking to lawyers about their approach to billing clients.  So many times I saw intelligent professionals avoid talking to clients about money, then drop an unexpected bill and duck for cover! When the client responded in shock and horror, the lawyer would be quick to discount the bill, writing off hours of valuable work they had done.  And of course this negative experience then created a perpetual cycle, as they were even more nervous about approaching the topic of billing the next time around.  And this doesn’t even touch on the subject of the swathes of Work-In-Progress that never gets billed.  This type of behaviour around billing is not only a disaster for the individual lawyer, meaning they have to work doubly hard to meet their financial targets, but it makes financial management and capacity planning a nightmare for firms.  So I started to run coaching sessions to encourage better behaviours around billing: open and up-front communication with clients at the outset to manage expectations around costs and payment stages, and then again at the time of billing, so clients would know what to expect before an invoice hit their desk or inbox. In talking to lawyers about why they were so shy to talk money, I soon learned how tied this was to their level of confidence in the true value of their own work and their standing as professionals. 

Vanessa takes this to a whole other level.  She digs deep to unearth the psychological blocks that get in the way of people seeing their own worth and the value they add in their work for their own clients.   

“My clients are clever and self-aware”, she tells me, “But it can be hard to see, acknowledge and tackle these sort of issues by yourself.  In theory it’s a no-brainer: better billing practices mean generating more revenue ethically without having to get more clients, do more work or compromise value (or personal values) simply by lawyers charging what they’re really worth and getting it.  But in practice, it can be a whole other matter, impacted by some very personal issues people carry with them about where their identity comes from and the strength of their own self-worth.” 

Through consultancy, in-house workshops, one-to-one coaching and motivational speaking, Vanessa gets to the bottom of what’s really happening in people’s minds to make lasting changes to their attitude about themselves and their worth, and their behaviours around pricing their work and billing.   

Given the legal profession is working so hard to address mental wellbeing in the workplace, and challenging unhealthy but long-entrenched work patterns and cultures, surely it makes sense for more focus to be placed on why they are so often keen to write off WIP and discount bills.  Making sure lawyers see the value in their own work and encouraging them to bill properly can short-circuit the need to over work and make a big difference to their mental health.  A subject close to Kysen’s heart, and that of many of our friends-in-law.  (If you missed Emma Cessford’s guest blog last month, interviewing RPC’s Ed Fitzgerald on the topic of mental wellbeing, you can access it here.)  Thanks for the insights Vanessa! 

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 The debate continues about how to clear the backlog in criminal trials that’s been created by 
social distancing requirements (although many believe the crisis is rooted in the withdrawal of funding from this part of the justice system over decades).  The numbers are alarming: there are now 54,000 criminal cases in the queue, which is a record, and means defendants are being held for longer without trial, and victims and their families are having a long wait for justice. 

The Labour front bench has called this week for a reduction in the number of jurors from 12 to seven and we are being told that the Justice Minister us ruling nothing out… including the idea of judge-only trials for less serious cases.  But as a top trial lawyer, 7BR’s Collingwood Thompson QC, told me last summer and wrote in The Times, trials without juries MUST be the last resort.  He came right off the fence in expressing his views that this would be very bad for justice, as for a number of reasons judges are far more likely to convict.  If you have a subscription, you can read his full article here.  

So what’s the solution?  Answers on a postcard please...

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The news that the
Lawyer’s Hot 100 has recognised Fred Banning made us all smile this week. It’s highly unusual for the legal title to recognise marketing specialists in their annual list of the profession’s most excellent and relevant movers and shakers. However, Fred, Head of Corporate Communications at Pinsent Masons (and with great pride, a Kysen alumnus) is not just a stand-out marketer but also this year, a campaigner who has made a huge splash nationally. Diagnosed with cancer, Fred has been tirelessly fighting for the terminally ill to receive the Covid vaccine, appearing on the Today programme and across many other outlets, attracting support from NicolaSturgeon amongst others. We’re behind Fred 110% and so pleased to see his well-deserved Hot 100 inclusion.

You can ask your local MP to support Fred’s Early Days Motion here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/57850/terminal-illness-and-covid19-vaccination

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Ed FitzGerald

In this edition of The Conversation Kysen account director Emma Cessford talks to the RPC director of brand, marketing and sales Ed FitzGerald.

“I really don’t believe you can typecast people on the topic of mental health awareness and make assumptions about their attitudes simply according to age, gender, seniority or social background.  Different people bring a whole host of different life experiences to how they think and feel about mental health. I’m Gen X, but for personal reasons I am very alive to the issue of mental wellbeing.” 

I recently spoke to RPCs Ed FitzGerald on a subject close to my heart: mental health. The three things that particularly chimed with me throughout our conversation were the need we all have for community in our working life; the importance of law firms collaborating with clients if they are to address unhealthy working practices; and the truism that mental health issues don’t discriminate and can affect anyone.  

“You can’t parcel people up into boxes when dealing with mental health. This is why firms need to offer a variety of mental wellbeing initiatives, as different people engage in different ways and have different needs”, Ed explains. Indeed, it seems that RPC have done just that over the last couple of years, from offering counselling sessions to all staff across the firm with a clinical psychologist from Hello Self, to training specialist mental health first aiders. Are these good initiatives being used? And who within the firm is using them? Ed explained that take-up over the last couple of years has grown consistently, with large numbers of people across the firm taking advantage of them enthusiastically.  Importantly, all levels of seniority use the support available, which promotes an important point that even the most successful professionals have issues with mental health from time to time.  Old stigmas are thankfully fading, (ie that mental health issues are for the mentally weak), and are being replaced with a much healthier attitude that the mind, like the body, needs care … and fixing from time to time.   

Without the buy-in and support of clients, firms can only progress so far in promoting healthy working practices, such as calling time on a long hours culture.  This is why the Mindful Business Charter is such a unique and brilliant initiative.  RPC have recently signed up to the Charter and I was keen to ask Ed all about it.  “The Charter is based on the idea that true cultural change is most effective when clients and firms work together and have the same expectations. It recognises that one of a law firm's greatest commodities, ‘brain power’, needs taking care of, which means firms and clients alike have a vested interest in avoiding burnout.” As one big bank GC famously put it, “If I’m paying top dollar for a lawyer’s clever thinking, I want to know I’m getting the best of their brainpower.  A strung-out, stressed professional is of no value to me.”   

Ed outlined that RPC were thoroughly supportive of the Charter and “are currently working internally with each team as to how to implement it meaningfully”. He believes the number of firms committing to the Charter tells a positive story, that real, long-term change is starting to happen in the legal sector.  

“Sense of community” is a recurring phrase used by Ed throughout our conversation, as he sees it as a key part of fostering mental wellness. Of course, it’s a commodity we are all valuing more than ever this year, thanks to our Lockdown experiences…and it’s captured perfectly in John Lewis’ new Christmas advert. Whilst ‘sense of community’ is nothing new to RPC, (its culture is rooted in this), Ed admits that the firm has had to work harder to ensure people maintained their feeling of community during lockdown and sustained periods of working from home. This is not a unique challenge with many companies having to get inventive to keep that spirit going – albeit virtually. For RPC, Ed explains that they’ve been “running creative projects to keep people connected, from coffee roulette to exercise challenges on Strava" to, see how far people can run, walk, cycle or swim during lockdown, with the added benefit of encouraging people to leave their desks and get physically active.  “We wanted to make sure people still felt that sense of collective purpose which comes with working at RPC.  It’s important for everyone to maintain their presence within our community,” he says. 

I asked Ed if one of the positives coming out of Covid-19 was a greater awareness and compassion for mental health and whether the sector would keep the conversation going post-pandemic.  His response was interesting:   

“Without a doubt, awareness of mental health issues has increased during this year with more conversations taking place to ensure people are being looked out for and the right level of support is being provided. This is a conversation that needs to happen a lot more across all sectors – and society in general – during normal times. There is a greater need for compassion and to be more accepting of people’s individual circumstances and the challenges they might be facing in their personal lives.”  

Our conversation inevitably turned to the future, to which Ed hopes that the “conversation around mental health continues until it becomes part of everyday discourse and that people are as comfortable talking about it and seeking treatment for it in the same way they are for physical issues”. Now, I’m sure this is a sentiment we can all get on board with, so take five minutes out to ask a colleague, a friend or a family member “Are you OK?” and keep that conversation going.  


Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Julie Mortimer

Profile photo of Julie (Murphy) Mortimer

Julie Mortimer is very pleased her firm had been investing so heavily in its wellbeing and flexible working programme before Lockdown.  It couldn’t have been better preparation as the infrastructure and the team to manage it were all in place.   


Mills & Reeve is regularly listed in The Sunday Times’ Best 100 Companies to work for, and last year was voted top UK firm in a RollOnFriday poll for work-life balance and flexible/remote working. “We’ve always been pretty good on flexible working, with the technology in place to support it. So when Lockdown hit, the firm was able to press the button on increased remote-working and have it in place across the entire business – so 1100 people – overnight”, Julie told me.   “And our market lead in the field of staff wellbeing meant we were able to anticipate what the issues might be in Lockdown and take a highly nuanced approach to looking after our staff.  We had the basics covered already, so next the challenge was to think through how support might need to vary to suit different groups: eg how the needs of people living with children, or with other responsibilities in the home, might differ from those living on their own, who might need more communication or more or different IT kit or furniture for example.  And how they might differ again in the case of young professionals in shared accommodation with less space to themselves and perhaps no garden.”  The firm’s HR team was already well used to working closely with the tech team and the firm’s management, to deliver the excellent working environment it is famous for.  When we spoke (over Zoom rather than coffee of course), Julie was full of praise for her colleagues and the brilliant job they did identifying the varying needs of different people and making sure the firm customised its response in supporting all of them.  “In fact they did such a good job, that some of our clients asked us to help them fathom this challenge in their own businesses.”  Impressive.  “A number of our clients didn’t have the resources and skill-sets to approach this challenge in the same way or they just needed something to get them started, and we were able to help by sharing content and materials with them.  They saw this as a significant value-add and it was nice to support them in a different way in these difficult times.”   

Julie and I chatted about what the future holds post-Lockdown and the permanent changes we all expect to see, if we ever do get back to “normal”.  Most firms I talk to are saying they are planning a hybrid model in the post-Corona era (whenever that might be), offering most staff the option to work a portion of their time in the office and a portion from home.  However Julie was particularly mindful of the Government’s keenness to encourage workers to return to the office this Autumn if they can, because office working is such an important stimulus for the economy. “It will be interesting to watch the trend in the wider business world.  We don’t expect to ditch our offices any time soon, but we do expect our centre of gravity to shift towards more homeworking. We’ve been piloting returning to office based working and it’s gone well. Our people felt confident we’d made the office environment Covid-19 secure and it was great to see some different people face to face.”

Given Mills & Reeve is one of the handful of firms that lead best practice on staff engagement and satisfaction in the profession, it’s safe to say all eyes will be watching what they choose to do and how they go about it.   

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Is TikTok Banned in the USA? Trump's Order, ExplainedThanks to Lockdown, TikToK has come out of nowhere to become one of the biggest names in business, and is expected to be bought any minute by Oracle, Microsoft or some other tech giant.   (By the time you read this, it will probably already have happened!)  And don’t we just love it!  So much creativity and humour in so many ordinary households! It’s definitely been one of the major Lockdown silver linings for me.    
Here are a few of my favourites:   
How about you?  Do please share yours in the comments section below. 

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KEEP CALM AND WELCOME BACK TO THE OFFICE - Keep Calm and Posters Generator,  Maker For Free - KeepCalmAndPosters.comAnd from next week, we’ll be subjected to a Government and campaign to get us all back to the office. Although we will be staging our return gradually, you can bank on us to be doing our part to support the local hostelries, cafes and bars in and around Mayfair and the City.  We are PRs after all

Monday, 10 August 2020

Kate McMahon






Kate McMahon thinks our new Lockdown work habits make us miss out on creativity and that lawyers need to take care to find other ways to bring it in. 
Kate is onothe founding members of private prosecutions specialist firm Edmonds Marshall McMahon (EMM), which was set up in 2012 and has been phenomenally successful since then.  The firm handles cases that the police and CPS don’t have the resources to pursue, (online fraud being the classic example), providing a private service alternative.  We’ve all heard the stats on the meteoric rise of online fraud in Lockdown.  Needless to say, Kate’s firm is having a bit of a moment. 

EMM has long promoted remote working, most of its lawyers working from home one day a week.  So it was  in a good position compared to most to cope with the challenges of Lockdown. Still, she has a lot to say about its limitations.  “We all know that remote working has been brilliant for efficiency and that generally speaking productivity levels have gone up as lawyers and staff don’t waste time travelling to the office or client meetings, and every Zoom is governed by an agenda which keeps everyone much more focussed.  Of course this is good news, and no wonder many firms and chambers are rethinking their property requirements and how they expect lawyers and staff engage with the business once Lockdown is over.  But there is often a spontaneous creative flow that happens when people are sitting across a table from one another in real life, throwing ideas around in an organic way, and this is missing in the new [mew] Zooms and Teams environment." 
“Strict timelines and a focus on efficiency can be the enemies of creativity”, Kate continues.  “Lawyers love procedure and often place more emphasis on this than on creative thought even in normal times.  Lockdown has only made this worse.  Of course procedure, process and consistency are all vital when it comes to implementing a legal strategy, but there is no point in following procedure if the initial idea you are attempting to put into practice is not right.  We take great pains to find ways to put the creative back in to our work.” 
“Another limitation of Zoom communication we’ve found is the way it tends to silence the more junior members of our team.  We need to make sure they are included properly in discussions because they may have a perspective that no-one in the senior team has.  But the nature of video conferencing makes it harder for people to interject in the flow of a conversation, so the less experienced won’t push themselves forward in the same way they would in a physical meeting room environment.  In a small video conference, our senior team makes a conscious effort to watch for people who look like they’re about to say something, then clam up.  They may open their mouth, but close it again before saying anything.  And when you know someone well, you know they have something valuable to say, so you can invite them when you see that happen. It can be difficult to observe non-verbal signals on a screen.” 
Kate describes a similar issue that happens in her work for clients. “With clients in particularly tricky situations, or who are going through a legal process that is very unfamiliar to them, the job for us as lawyers is not just about “doing law”.  There’s a big handholding element too.  And this is difficult to do in a digital environment.  You need to be able to pick up how your client is feeling at any one time and spot where they look confused so you can make sure they are understanding what is happening to them and what your advice is, and give them the right support.  As a legal advisor you have to be extra vigilant in a digital set-up to pick up the cues.” 
But what Kate misses most of all she tells me, is face-to-face communication with colleagues.  “As we’ve grown since we first began in 2012 we have been incredibly selective in our hiring, picking people we really want to work with professionally and personally.  I miss seeing them in real life!” 
Let’s hope a return to near-normal is just around the corner. 
***
I just love The Family Law Company’sOnly Human” campaign that launched this week. It’s carefully crafted to run across multiple channels - video ads, client guides, website, social – and is such a powerful way to put across the culture this firm is most famous for: driven by empathy for clients much more than by fees. I’ve always said that the best forms of communication are about ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’.  This campaign is such a good example. Do take a look.

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Without doubt this is the year of the staycation.  For some reason nearly everyone I know is planning a visit to Hayling Island, so right now I’m hearing the name on a daily basis, having not thought about it for decades since childhood holidays there myself.  Seems we are all exploring long forgotten corners of our own country… and we’re loving it!  I’ve long been a fan of being a tourist in your own back yard.  It forces us to notice the wonderful things right under our noses.  Silver linings of Lockdown, see….   

Monday, 27 July 2020

Linda Lamb


As the founder of a fast-growing family law business, when Linda Lamb spends money on marketing it has to count. So Return on Marketing Investment is a subject very close to her heart. How does she measure it?

“I wish it was as simple as just looking at the bottom line. But it isn’t. When you’re establishing a new brand, developing your profile is crucial and you need to find the right business partners to help you achieve that. You’re balancing lots of different priorities at the same time – creating a strong recruiter brand as well as nurturing business, both directly from clients and via law firm referrals – so an effective PR strategy is fundamental to future success. Our focus is on quality and building for the long term – and that requires investment.”

LSL Family Law already has a loyal following - Linda’s thoughtful advisory style and her dedication to client service (she used to be a midwife!) are a winning combination – the next step is attracting other family law professionals to join the team. LSL Family Law can provide an empowering career alternative for successful family lawyers who want to stay at the top of their tree, work flexibly and achieve that all-important work-life harmony. Linda has created an exciting way forward for family law professionals who are weary of the same rigid career paths, of relentless hours in large firms and who are not enamoured with the idea of branching out on their own as a sole practitioner.

A passionate advocate of new technology, Linda has integrated AI software with her website to enhance efficiency and to create the best possible client experience. Client feedback is amazing. She has also developed an impressive consultant portal system enabling those who join her team to share LSL Family Law’s well-established resources and third-party services. In addition to benefitting from LSL’s cutting-edge software and systems, consultants are offered IT support, mentoring and business development advice and are relieved of the responsibilities of compliance issues, credit control, indemnity insurance and marketing, leaving them free to concentrate on the needs of their clients.  And of course in the challenging environment created by the pandemic, Linda's focus on technology has been massively beneficial.  She has been using her technology and processes to induct clients online before setting up a video or phone chat.  She has also taken pains to develop the ranking of her website and using social media to highlight LSL Family Law is very much open for business, even conducting mediations online. 

 “When evaluating the benefits of marketing, it helps to establish your objectives and expectations early on. We wanted to grow our brand in a specific way and we chose Kysen because of the team’s excellent reputation and their track record in the legal sphere. We were impressed by Kysen’s warm, friendly, client centered-approach - which mirrors our own - and we felt that the team understood our needs from the start. How do we judge success? Initially, by achieving coverage on the right topics and in the right places – articles and comments being published in national broadsheets and legal trade titles – so that we can make that vital connection with our target audiences. The next step is to consider the level of engagement generated by these pieces – the likes and comments on social media, responses from established contacts and enquiries from new clients and prospective consultants. When a top family law lecturer and practitioner at a magic circle family law firm publicly express support for your views on the importance of business savviness in legal practice - that’s when you know your marketing strategy is having the desired effect.

“Kysen have been instrumental in boosting our profile and in helping us to achieve our strategic aims. The team are a delight to communicate with and are incredibly supportive. From writing articles for top legal publications to penning comments on family law storylines in soaps, our PR journey together has been extremely productive and tremendous fun.”

We’ve enjoyed working with you too Linda!
***
Suspension of Jury trials a threat to the rule of law, reads a Legal Futures headline this week  Too right!  There have been lots of positive changes to working practices during Lockdown, not least the revelation that we are all actually very productive when working from home and appreciate spending less time commuting and slowing down to enjoy the simple things.  But doing away with juries would most definitely not be one of them!  There must be another way to deal with the pressure on the criminal justice system posed by social distancing requirements.  

7BR's Head of Chambers Collingwood Thompson QC put it best in a recent piece in The Times, saying trials without juries must be the last resort as there are legitimate fears about how judges would reach a verdict on their own. He doesn't pull any punches! If you have a subscription, you can access the full article here
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Love this latest Coronaviral clip: an Indian journalist interviews a pair of donkeys on the road about why they are not wearing facemasks.  Supposedly he did it to help raise awareness of the importance of mask wearing. And as the video went viral, he can certainly claim he achieved that aim.  

For me, I just enjoyed  the light relief. If it passed you by, you can enjoy the interview here.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Ruth Napier


Profile photo of Ruth Napier

Cripps PG's Ruth Napier believes in a layered approach to marketing law firms.  With almost 20 years experience in legal marketing, and before that 15 years marketing big banks, what she doesn’t know about professional services marketing isn’t worth knowing.  When she agreed to share her wisdom on the subject of Return On Marketing Investment, I was all ears.

"The secret to getting the best returns is to focus your marketing effort on the areas that will give you the most value.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Now in an ideal world you shouldn’t need to spell this out, you may think.  But from my own 30 years in legal marketing and PR I am well aware that a good proportion of many legal marketing teams’ activity happens because senior partners or QCs ask them to jump and they respond by asking “How high?”  It takes a strong marketing professional to direct a firm’s or chambers’ marketing, rather than merely implementing the requests of the lawyers.  “Once you have identified those key areas, the next golden rule is to plan joined-up campaigns that organize, co-ordinate and synchronise layered streams of marketing activity around them,” she continues. “So you might be marketing fewer initiatives, but you are making sure that each is promoted thoroughly, and in a multi-faceted way.  So you will put together a programme that involves maybe a direct mailer to clients, a seminar, a page on the website and also press activity, all on the same topic area to really make an impact.”  This is the way to do it!  In my book, co-ordinating activity that puts partners and barristers into face-to-face conversations with existing/potential clients, with promotional initiatives that place the firm/set in the best possible light for the particular area of work in question at just the right moment, is the best way to deliver tangible results – i.e. new instructions.  And of course any marketeer who can demonstrate clear returns on marketing investment will earn respect and therefore have much more say as to how the organisation’s marketing is done going forward.  Not many are in such a privileged position as Ruth.  But she’s earned it.  What a refreshing change from the all-too-familiar picture of the massively overworked marketing team running breathless from one stand-alone marketing task to another: a seminar for the corporate team one week, then a press push for the real estate group the next, flipping their attention to a cocktail party for the private client department after that. 

“When I’m deciding what type of initiatives to include in my marketing mix for any one campaign, I have a picture in my mind of a marketing and business development “hopper”: you begin with activity targeted at audiences of hundreds of thousands, such as press work where your messages will be reaching vast numbers of people you can never hope to meet; mixed together with initiatives that reach thousands, such as a conference; then hundreds, such as events hosted by your own firm; then finally when you are talking about one-to-one conversations between partners and prospects, (or with clients where you are hoping to get a new type of instruction), you are reaching people in their tens; and hopefully at this point individual clients (or new mandates from existing clients) start popping out the bottom of the funnel.   

And of course the flow from prospect to new piece of business may not be linear.  For example appearing in the press may become most critical at the point you are meeting clients and prospects face-to-face.  The key is to have a good spread of activity from each of these levels in the hopper, in your mix.”

I can count on one hand the legal marketeers who are as determined to show tangible new business results from their marketing programmes (and most of those I can count have been profiled in this blog). Far more often the claim is that it’s impossible to show a direct correlation.  But does she feel ROI is as important in these strange times we live in?  Is it even possible in this Lockdown-disrupted market?  "As we are in an uncharted period of global change, it might be tempting to throw ROI out of the window, but it's still an important part of understanding the impact of specific marketing activity.  However target-setting for a particular activity or campaign is being less informed by historic benchmarks of course, which makes the job of pinpointing ROI harder", she says.  That's a natural challenge that comes with doing business in "unprecedented" times, I guess!  It's clear Ruth thinks we shouldn't give up.  After all, when financial times get hard, ROI plays a critical part in justifying what marketing spend needs to continue. 

Let’s all be more ambitious! Ruth is proving it can be done – and that the more you can demonstrate results, the more autonomy you are given to run your firm’s/chambers’ marketing programme the way you think it should be run.

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Finance's Return To The Office: Major Considerations For CFOs
So the entire legal profession appears to be planning its return to the office (or chambers).  Have you already started allowing people to return?  And are you phasing it in between September and the New Year?  Many people we speak to are busy making workplaces safe, to enable a safe return after the Summer for those who want to, (who feel starved of the social interaction that office life brings / are desperate for other reasons to escape home confinement!), but limiting numbers, with a view to encouraging more to return in the New Year.  But hardly anyone is planning a return to previous office working patterns, nor a complete switch to a remote-working model.  Many firms and chambers have been canvassing their people to gauge appetite for continued home-working post-Coronavirus and the overwhelming trend seems to be people requesting a hybrid, so the freedom to create a new pattern of home and office working in a mix that suits them individually.


What’s your experience?  We’d love to hear.  If you’d like to share, please use the Comment box below.

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funny-face-masksWe heard this week that facemasks are not going to be made compulsory office-wear, but looking at some of the wonderfully creative designs popping up on the market, many of use may well choose to make them part of our new professional look.  Here is a selection of my faves….


Friday, 10 July 2020

Andrew Gilmore

Profile photo of Andrew Gilmore

Grosvenor Law's Andrew Gilmore believes working practices have changed forever because of the Lockdown experience, as remote and virtual hearings have become prevalent, but that in the area of criminal law sometimes face-to-face just can't be replaced. 

Andrew and I were speaking after he had helped Kysen with a media enquiry from the Express, requesting expert legal comment on an EastEnders crime storyline.  As you can imagine Kysen never likes to turn journalists away empty handed, so through a mutual friend and client Derrina Jebb from SA Law we were put in touch and Andrew prepared some insightful comments at breakneck speed. We were extremely grateful for his input (you can take a look at the full article here), so thank you Derrina for the introduction. (Readers, do bear us in mind if you are sat on your sofa watching a TV or film plotline that has a legal angle.  We have a little-black-book of TV journalist friends who love to hear how real legal life compares with the stories they are reviewing.)  Andrew knows the system pretty much better than anyone I know.  He began his career at the Serious Fraud Office before moving to East End criminal law firm JR Jones, followed by a 14 year stint at Janes Solicitors,  finishing up at Mayfair's best, Grosvenor Law, which specialises in complex cases for high net worth individuals, whether arising from business or personal life.  Not only was he super helpful with this press enquiry, but we also got talking about the justice system.  And when he opines, given his background and expertise, you really want to listen. 

We talked at length (over Zoom of course, as this is the way The Conversation has evolved in recent months 😉), about how everyone's Coronavirus-induced experience working remotely from home is the way forward and how it has expedited the courts' take-up of technology as well, most of which is a very positive experience. "However with criminal work you have to appreciate how stressful it is for an individual being defended from accusations in the context of the Criminal Justice System", Andrew explains. "It's so highly personal, and threatening, so when clients meet the lawyers defending them, it needs to happen in person. They want to know you're there for them and they will want to check out the cut of your jib, to see who it really is that they have on their side. Often the defendant will feel backed into a corner and that everyone is against them. And usually that first meeting with the lawyer(s) takes place at a police station, which is an intimidating environment for a defendant, so clients certainly don't want you attending by phone or video. They need your physical presence because in this distressed situation they will want an element of personal comfort and support, at a level that doesn't occur in the commercial law world. Criminal defence work is very much a trust based service industry."

There is a place for online hearings in the Criminal Justice System and for this reason Andrew has been very pleased to see how the use of technology has ramped up in the criminal courts.  "They bring tremendous efficiencies when it comes to smaller, preliminary hearings.  For these, online is perfect.  It's so much quicker, cuts down on travel time and cost, and is convenient all round: better for prisoners and  for the prison system, as it dispenses with the need to transport defendants between prison and court, so to this end it saves tax payers money. It's also been interesting to observe another benefit of running these smaller hearings online; there's far less space for people to talk when a hearing is conducted via a medium like Zoom. And when people do talk, what they say is to the point.  This all cuts out time that is usually wasted when hearings happen in person.  It also dispenses with the physical "faffing about" that happens in real life as people take their seats in a room, and the additional talk and chatter that happens at this point.  So in all, the whole process is slimmed down considerably.  However when the case gets to the full trial, the in-person element is critical. Yes, online can help speed up the system, but detachment is not good when it comes to a trial and is likely to be detrimental to defendants. Anyone accused of a crime will want to see their accusers face the full trial process."

When judging the fairness of the Criminal Justice System, empathy for defendants is generally in short supply.  But to my mind, one of the central tenets of justice and respect for human rights is what happens to an innocent person who is put through the system.  Do they emerge unscathed? Or is the process so frightening and stressful that they are left with lasting damage?  "Whilst efficiency in the system is important", Andrew continues, "we need to be wise as to when technology should take a back seat in the courtroom and understand when face-to-face shouldn't be substituted."

I was keen to ask Andrew about a point Head of 7BR Chambers Collingwood Thompson mentioned to me last week, that "judge-only" criminal trials are being suggested to deal with the backlog of cases resulting from the need to socially distance in the courtroom (meaning far fewer trials can take place a day). Collingwood gave me his view (which we placed in The Times, available to view here if you have a subscription), that judges are far more likely to convict than juries. "That is precisely why the profession has been up in arms about the suggestion", says Andrew.  Yes we need to deal with the backlog, but judge only trials are not the way."

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In case you missed it, New Law Journal recently published a three-page feature detailing the results of a joint study with Kysen on how top legal marketing professionals measure Return On Marketing Investment.  You can access the full article here.  Measuring ROI is a thorny challenge for the professional services sector at the best of times.  And now even more so, as firms, chambers and other legal businesses scramble for position post-Lockdown, at a time when every single penny of the marketing budget has to count.  

Over the next few weeks on this blog we will be publishing in full the individual interviews summarised in this feature, to give you even greater insights. 

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So we are gradually returning to pub culture and I have to say the British Public has never in history looked so coiffured, all at the same time.  By the end of next week, I imagine everyone in saloon and public bars up and down the country will be pumped and preened without exception.  Rare for everyone's haircut cycle to be so in sync.  Time for the great national selfie?