Saturday, 24 September 2011

Troy Davis

Troy Davis R.I.P.

Some events make nearly everything else pale into insignificance. News of Troy Davis' execution this week, and the first hand accounts from his death chamber, completely stopped me in my tracks.  

So this week I am devoting The Conversation to Troy Davis, a man silenced by the state.  

In 1991 Davis was convicted, then sentenced to death, for the 1989 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia.  He and his family have protested his innocence from the first to the last - his final words this week were "I did not personally kill your son/father/brother... ".  The evidence relied on to convict him was highly dubious: no conclusive ballistics, the conviction relied on eye-witness accounts, several of which were  later recanted amidst claims of police coercion. Numerous pressure groups, notably Amnesty International, also politicians and celebrities including Jimmy Carter, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mia Farrow and Susan Sarandon, have endorsed a campaign to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The UK Foreign Office has also supported the campaign and this week published a statement on its website issued by the European Union in response to Davis' execution, reaffirming 'its principled and longstanding opposition to the use of capital punishment under all circumstances'.

I remember attending an Amnesty event at Portcullis House when Troy's family came to the UK to speak to the Foreign Office.  Hearing the story direct from his sister and nephew brought home the tragedy in human - not just human rights - terms.  I was with Russell Jones & Walker partner Julie Morris who in a previous life had worked on a number of death row cases. She opened my eyes to some shocking statistics about America - the land of the free - and its record as a capital killer. Did you know it is one of the top 5 capital killers in the entire world, ranking right up there with China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen - and ahead of Saudi Arabia?

Most chilling of all the coverage of the event this week has to be the first hand accounts of the journalists present at the execution - as much part of the death chamber scene as the attendance of a medical officer. Personally I found the effect of their highly factual, objective accounts more disturbing than any of the more emotive reports I read during the course of the week.  If you missed these, you can read them here at Daily Mail Online

Makes you wonder how far we have really come in the modern world. But at least the fight goes on...

by Steve Bell, The Guardian

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Alberto Saravalle

Bonelli: Alberto Saravalle
We had a surprise visitor from Milan this week, as Bonelli Erede Pappalardo senior partner Alberto Saravalle was unexpectedly called to London on client business. A perfect opportunity to line up some (very last minute) journalist meetings with national and legal press. So my treat was to spend half a day with this fascinating man.

Continental elite firm Bonelli is an international law firm that happens to be head-quartered in Italy, and although Italian by birth, Alberto is very much a 'global citizen'. Born and educated in Italy, he also studied both at Cambridge and at Yale, lived in Paris for a few years, also in New York where he still has a base, (and is licensed to practise at the New York Bar). He is a world class corporate and capital markets lawyer, but what struck me most in my conversations with Alberto were his views on the importance for lawyers - indeed anyone in a demanding business role - of having a hinterland, a life outside of work and an emphasis on one's own humanity.

His own interests are varied - from extreme sports, to film, to music and to fine art.  Also, in addition to his capital markets practice, he has an unusual specialism in art law, renown as the 'go to guy' (as The Times' Edward Fennell put it) on issues relating to the restoration of artworks after illegal sales - something that the world's major museums, particularly in the US, now realise they should resist. But most of all you see Alberto's philosophy in his descriptions of how he and other senior partners at Bonelli design the professional development and employee engagement programmes at the firm.

"I believe that with any business person who is at the top of his/her game, you will find they are so much more than a perfect technician, smart negotiator etc. They will be a powerful human being as well; the sort of person everyone's attention turns to when they enter a room, who clearly has a lot to say not just on matters of business - for that reason, a person of whom others are always keen to know what's in their mind.."

I can certainly think of a number of clients for whom this is true.  But is this how I see leaders in business, the City and politics generally?  Hmm.  I'm not so sure.  But it's certainly my view of Alberto.

* * *
The wheels of the legal and regulatory machinery are certainly back in motion after the Summer recess. We had the MoJ give us the referral fees ban last week, followed this Monday by the Vickers Report, then later in the week we had more big banking litigation with the news the UK is now suing The European Central Bank over a regulatory change that would be prejudicial to the UK banking community. This week we also saw the brakes slammed on the Law Commission's review of cohabitation rights.
Family law is already so far behind the reality of modern day family life and relationships, this review of cohabitation rights was desperately needed to bring it up to date. The ditching of the review is a massive retrograde step.

* * *

I won't name names, but loved this media tip from the managing partner of a big City firm:  "If my phone rings in a meeting and I see it's a client, I will wait to the end of the meeting to answer; if it's a bank lender, I'll ask my secretary to say I'll call back immediately after the meeting; if it's a journalist, I'll answer the call right away".   No wonder he's such a favourite with the media!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Sue Brown

Completely out of the blue, at the end of this week the MoJ announced a ban on referral fees.  Insurers welcomed the ban, but others felt the announcement was rather at odds with the Legal Services Board's conclusion that a total ban was inappropriate, and that instead the focus should be on creating greater transparency.
Prolegal's Sue Brown happened to be at our offices while it was all kicking off, so a brilliant opportunity to get her take on the issue first hand.  Sue is a highly experienced and market-leading claimant lawyer, and has very strong views that she is not afraid to put on the record.  She believes the ban will be extremely dangerous for consumers because, she says, insurers' enthusiasm for the ban has less to do with their distaste for 'treating clients as commodities to be bought and sold', and more to do with their having spotted an opportunity to remove independent solicitors from the process altogether.  Post Online's coverage of the story lead with Sue's comments, under the banner 'Prolegal warns MoJ over dangerous referral fee decision'.  Sue is clearly a woman to be approached with caution!

Prolegal has a reputation for doing things differently and their response to the referral fees ban was no exception.  In addition to the expert comment that Sue was only too happy to provide to the press, the firm decided to commission a cartoon.  We put them in touch with nationals-and-private-Eye regular Ken Pyne who at breath-taking speed produced this gem for us.  

Check out Prolegal's new website too - a dramatic change of image indicative of their move up-market, adding a range of high-value-add legal services to their commoditised offering.

* * *

Others had plenty to say on the ban as well, many coming from an altogether different point of view.  We were busy across the whole Kysen team placing comment from the London Solicitors Litigation Association, Parabis, and the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, who all had insightful points to make to further the debate.  

Our man Elliott here was particularly busy dealing with national and insurance press - at one point an enquiry from Channel 4 as well.  He thoroughly enjoyed himself - an exciting flurry of activity at the end of an already-busy week (or at least that's what he told me...)

Light relief this week came in the form of Vogue Fashion's Night Out, a global event taking place in no less than 16 countries around the world including, of course, London (Covent Garden for the first time), Milan, Paris, New York.   Brilliant fun! Even though we only made it to two shops.  But when you're offered champagne, food and beauty treatments while you shop, where's the incentive to move on!  Thanks Betsey Johnson and The Sanctuary Spa!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Nicky Richmond

Straight-talking Nicky Richmond is a legal blogger to watch. I'd highly recommend you check out her blogs and twitter feed. Nicky is joint managing partner of boutique law firm Brecher and renown for telling it exactly as it is, whether advising clients and large-scale property finance transactions or sharing her views on the inner workings of the legal profession. Not surprisingly, clients and colleagues love Nicky for just this. You can get a taste of her inimitable style from her twitter feed, (her ID is 'saysitstraight') and her personal blog (entitled 'Saying It Straight').

What I find particularly skilful is how Nicky perfects adjusting her voice to suit different platforms. For example she blogs regularly for Estates Gazette, and these are highly entertaining reads. Take a look at this blog post about the 'Strange New Beasts' that are to be found in the property finance arena currently, and how parties looking for finance need to look in quite unusual places these days.  In addition she writes for the print edition: her blog pieces are sometimes reproduced in print, then followed by slightly more technical articles on the same topic for the professional pages, using an altogether more serious tone of voice. 

Different again is her personal blog Saying It Straight, ('as sure as eggs is eggs - food and law') where she recently wrote a hilarious piece about lawyers during 'Dog Days', being the days in August ending with the 24th 'defining a time period that is hot or stagnant, or marked by dull lack of progress'.  If you're involved in the legal profession, you'll find this amusing...
Follow Nicky and enjoy!


International bank litigation kicked off in a big way this weekend with news that the US Federal Housing Finance Agency's has filed lawsuits against 17 foreign banks (including three in the UK) for allegedly misleading them over the quality of mortgages sold. 

Joe Lynam's piece for the BBC was masterful in its succinctness, summarising a highly complex area in a very short broadcast segment. An excellent case study in the structure and brevity of broadcast stories compared to print media.  

Exciting news for Kysen this week was our move to 22 Long Acre, in the heart of London's creative district, Covent Garden. The building we have moved to is the former headquarters of Channel 5. It's an inspiring place to work and we are all loving it.

We had some intriguing comments when we tweeted photos of the area, including some of the local street performers, and asked people to guess where we'd moved to. My favourite was in response to this photo: legal journo and academic @richardparnham tweeted 
 "I didn't know The Body Shop, or Kysen, had opened a branch in Narnia..." 
Well he does now!

My other favourite quote was from one of our staff after a client meeting on our new roof terrace:
"we need to bring in our sunglasses now we're working here."  
Not sure the English weather will allow this to become much of a problem!