Friday, 25 March 2011

Matthew Lawson

Budget aside, this week seems to have been dominated by conversations about litigation. During a lively discussion at the start of the week with market-leading City litigator Matthew Lawson, partner at international law firm Mayer Brown, I had the chance to discuss the merits (or lack) of compulsory mediation. Unpopular with many divorce lawyers we know, who argue that mediation only works where both parties buy in wholeheartedly and otherwise can be an enormous waste of time and money, compulsory mediation is now rumoured to be on the cards for commercial litigation also, Matthew told me. Would this deny a right of access to commercial justice through the courts?

This, coupled with proposals to charge parties a day rate for commercial court time, he said, part of the Government's longer term desire to make the courts self-financing, begs the question of whether we are heading even further down the route of access to a judicial system only for those with more means to pay? Is this moral, even in a commercial court context?

Matthew argues persuasively that access to a fully functioning court system is fundamental to backing up and enforcing the rule of (commercial) law - and thus a central tenet of a democratic society. He pointed me in the direction of Master of the Rolls'  Lord Neuberger's comments (paraphrased below) giving the annual Bentham Lecture, as reported in The Law Society Gazette (4 March 2011)

"An insidious notion exists that litigation is a bad thing, and that other, more consensual means of resolving disputes are necessarily good things...whilst the development of mediation has been valuable, it cannot be the norm, or approach the norm. Access to the courts is not a privilege but a fundamental right."  

We remove this under-pinning to the rule of law at our peril.


A treat this week was to have the opportunity to catch up over coffee with US arbitration and mediation specialist, and founder member of Mediators Beyond Borders, Thomas Valenti, whom I had managed to miss at last week's Lex2011TweetUp. He was in London to judge the International Academy of Dispute Resolution's International Law School Mediation Tournament, a weekend mediation competition involving 22 schools and 34 teams from all over the world.  

According to the blurb for the event,
'although legal systems may vary around the globe, the appeal of mediation is universal'. 

As a man who has made a career out of arbitration and mediation, it was interesting to hear Tom's perspective on the issue of compulsory mediation.  His view?  That although he is keen for more judges to point disputing parties in the direction of mediation, making it compulsory is often counter-productive he says; the buy-in of the parties being one of the keys to success.
In conversation with Tom, I was fascinated to learn about some of the pro bono projects he is involved with.  One particularly struck a chord, involving coaching children from hard-bitten areas of conflict around the world in the life-skill of mediation, by engaging them in team-based music projects.  The aim is to teach them the value of collaboration in achieving worthwhile results and give them the skills to manage differences of opinion within the group by means of discussion and mediation techniques, rather than resorting to expressions of frustration and violence.  The idea is to give these damaged kids skills that will equip them to cope so much better in their harsh home environments.  Inspiring stuff!

You can follow Tom at

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Sad news this week that Elizabeth Taylor has died, 'marking the end of a Hollywood era'.  At least she lived a full and vibrant life - and some! 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Kysen Tonic

Highlight of my week was seeing clients and friends at our Tonic drinks evening, a wonderful opportunity to catch up with the people we know who are working in-house in marketing or PR roles.  A number of us at Kysen have previously worked in-house and we know that at times it can feel quite an isolated role; at the end of the day you are practising a discipline that is very different from the main core of the business, ie the delivery of legal/accountancy services or similar.  The idea behind our Tonic club is to introduce our clients and friends to each other, so they can make useful connections and develop their own networks.

So on Wednesday night we had gin & tonics and other drinks at The Hospital Club in Covent Garden (Tonic..., Hospital Club..., are you starting to see the theme?).  Great company and scintillating conversation.  A nice mix of in-house legal PRs (including two ex-Kysen employees, both remembered very fondly), accountancy marketeers, a good representation from the Bar, plus a couple of other professional services marketeers who were brought along by our guests, one from the management consultancy world and one from a property consultancy.

Surprising just how many conversations I had with senior bods about current strategic planning exercises, either preparing their firms for the upturn or for significant regulatory change.  As their stories edge into the public domain, I will be sure to tell you more. Interesting times...

If you would like to join our Tonic club, send us a message via comment box below.

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Played a new business game this week at Lex2011TweetUp called match up the real and twitter identities!  It was great to meet in person for the first time some of the people I feel I have got to know so well over twitter in recent months.  But harder than I thought to recognise said people in a bar from their twitter profile pics!  Nothing to do with the fact this was the second drinks event of the evening for me, (we joined the TweetUp directly after Tonic), I promise... 

Thanks to Brian Inkster for organising.  Great to catch up with @LawyerCatrin, @TheLawyerKaty, @azrights, @ljanstis (well almost - met in the doorway as I arrived and he was leaving), @lindacheunguk @aligeary - all well worth following of course.  Many more others there that I didn't get the chance to speak to in depth. Looking forward to next time!

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Lunch with Patrick Sawers from the Sunday Telegraph was a real treat this week.  He's a man who likes to preserve his mystique, so I won't reveal too much!  As senior news reporter on the Home Desk it was interesting to hear his take on legal stories and cases - and what makes a story for him and his team.  As he went through his checklist, I was struck by how similar it was to Evening Standard's Paul Cheston's list - big money, sex, celebrity names (footballers are favourites) and a sprinkling of David v Goliath.  Then I remembered that Patrick's previous role was as assistant news editor at The Standard! 

Patrick runs a very active and excellent twitter.  Do follow!

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Favourite news story this week?  Has to be the news that the Sundance Film Festival is coming to London next year.  I was so excited when I read this in my morning paper, that I spilled my coffee!  Click here to read the full story.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Julie Gingell

A delight to see Julie Gingell this week, Head of Marketing at SA Law and now a partner - one of the first legal marketeers to be promoted to partner after the advent of LDPs. Julie came to our offices for an operational catch-up and while she was here we took the opportunity to swap notes about how social media is transforming the way we work. 

I was particularly keen to hear about an internal coaching programme she ran to help familiarise her fellow partners and fee-earners with social media. She talked me through the detail. Like many firms, SA Law has a range of social media enthusiasts and cynics. The evidence is clear though - social media activity creates new types of business opportunity and SA Law's management were keen that the firm didn't miss out through fear of these new media platforms. Last year they won two significant, profitable pieces of work through LinkedIn and they are well aware this is a trend that will only grow. 

So Julie's programme had a '3-star' to '5-star' grading. The 3-star end of the spectrum was all about setting a minimum standard of social media engagement and giving those that needed it the support to achieve it. The minimum standard at SA Law is that all lawyers need at least to have a LinkIn profile, with all relevant profile detail properly completed and a minimum of 10 connections to begin with. The programme kicked off with a seminar on how to get started and was followed up with personal visits from members of the marketing team to fee-earners desks, sitting with them at their PCs to make sure they were able to apply what they had learned.

The 5-star end of the programme was all about giving support to those more familiar with different social media, helping them to develop their Twitter routines and build up their followings and learning to use the medium in more sophisticated ways.  All about maximising opportunities for making valuable new business connections and winning work.

SA Law is a small but extremely smart law firm based outside of London in St. Albans. Nice to see a small regional firm leading the way with such an excellent best practice programme. Good on you Julie!

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Can you guess from this classic quote who my mid-week lunch guest was? If you know the man you will probably get it. Bottle of wine for the first person to post the right answer:

"I have a variety of hats, but I like to wear my trilby when I'm cycling because it's a good snug fit!"

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I had great fun this week organising a daily MIPIM blogspot and twitter feed for The Lawyer magazine, by new client Nicky Richmond at Brecher solicitors. Nicky is a natural and completely excelled herself.  She and her partners are incredibly well connected in the property world, so hooked up with everyone that mattered at MIPIM and knew absolutely everything that was going on.  Perfect for a blogger! She is also hilarious. If I tell you that her first blog entry on Day One began with...

"Looking forward to a big and memorable MIPIM.  Highlights from previous years include trying not to watch the rather pale buttocks of one of my rather proper former male partners disappear down the beach as he ran into the sea for a dare, at 4 30 a.m. ( you know who you are )." will get the gist of what her blog was like.  For the Full Monty, here's a link: The Lawyer's MIPIM blog.

I used to work in-house for Nicky and her partners many many years ago in a different incarnation of Brecher solicitors.  This week's experience reminded me just how much fun they are to work with!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Amanda Wakeley

Absolutely Fabulous evening last night courtesy of top 20 London accountants haysmacintyre - An Evening with Amanda Wakeley -  complete with cat walk, red carpet, (well purple, actually), and Amanda's beautiful clothes modelled on the very beautiful real women at haysmac.  She told us that despite her celeb credentials - she dresses Angelina Jolie for example, and famously used to design for the Princess of Wales - Amanda has a real passion for dressing 'real women' and making them look amazing.

Amanda shared with us the story of her business over the last 20 years.  Only now does she feel she is getting where she wants to be.  Creatively, she has been a tremendous success from Day One.  But on the business side - Oh what a tale of woe!  She has had to stump up hard-earned cash to buy back her own name on two separate occasions - first from her ex-husband and business partner; later from receivers, after a period of leaving 'the business side of things' in the hands of a new business partner.   

But seeing her clothes on the catwalk, you could see why she had been driven to keep going, despite all the let-downs from her business colleagues. Hers is simply a talent that must out.

In conversation with Amanda over canapes, once the formal part of the evening finished, it was interesting to hear just how critical PR had been for her business in its early stages.  Yes she was well connected from the start, but she stressed just how important it had been having a good PR on hand at the start, placing her in the top broadsheets and glossies. This is what brought in the early prestigious commissions and her reputation just grew from there.

The event itself was an example of good professional services marketing done brilliantly.  The idea behind the event was to promote haysmac's creative industries team that looks after clients in the advertising & marketing, fashion & design and TV, film & radio industries.  The logistics were impeccable; the food and drink amazing (particularly a pear blini); and the evening just wonderful fun.  And we loved the goody bags!  A handbag-shaped chocolate; a pocket-sized sewing kit in a posh silver case; and a 10% Amanda Wakeley discount voucher.  Doesn't get better than that!

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Interesting conversations throughout the week with a variety of people in the legal world about the increasing use of social media by law firms and barristers sets, and the growing enthusiasm for twitter in particular.  Quite a divide between those that see, as I do, that twitter is no longer just for early adopters, but now firmly part of the business mainstream.  Still some cynicism, particularly from those working very long hours already and simply too busy to get up to speed with an unfamiliar new medium.  Unfortunately, firms / sets no longer have much of a choice: today, if you don't engage you are in danger of looking severely behind the game.

Thinking what more we can do to help busy lawyers and marketeers to catch up, without adding to their already too long 'to-do' lists.  Hmmm.....

There is of course Brian Inkster's Lex 2011 Tweetup, taking place at All Bar One in Kingsway, 58 Holborn, on 16 March, 6.30pm onwards.  Brian is one of the first lawyers ever to tweet and is inviting all his fellow legal tweeters to meet up in the real world at this event.  If you know anyone who needs persuading of the value of twitter to the professions, this could be a fun way to bring it to life.  Brian is also speaking that day at the Lex 2011 Strategy Forum on the subject of how social media can help professional services businesses.

If you don't follow Brian on twitter already, I'd recommend it.

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Favourite news stories this week?  For me, the two most astonishing were the sad story of John Galliano totally losing the plot - (interesting to note that it was the existence of the now infamous 'I Love Hitler' video that made his denials pointless - a real sign of the times); and Gaddafi's UNBELIEVABLE 'All My People Love Me' interview. Gave me some new ideas for news management advice - it had never occurred to me that a viable tactic might be to lie just SO outrageously that your interviewers are momentarily lost for words.

The two stories were savagely and brilliantly captured by The Times' this week in cartoon form.  If anyone has an image, please do send.  Did you see it?  Gaddafi showing off long white robes with edges dipped in blood, saying 'So Galliano, don't you think?!'

More next week.