Sunday, 27 May 2012

Simon Harper

Lawyers On Demand (LOD)'s Simon Harper likes dreaming up new ways for lawyers to find fulfilment at work. In the week that this award-winning alternative legal resourcing business announced plans to spin out from its parent Berwin Leighton Paisner and become independent, he spoke to us about his thoughts on how different lawyers' lives can be when they are brave enough to go after what they really want in life. We're all familiar with the story of how far the legal profession lags behind most other business sectors when it comes to promoting work/life balance and flexible working. Images of in-house restaurants, delicatessens, supermarkets, GP centres of even sleeping pods spring to mind as some of the more memorable examples of the lengths some firms go to to convince employees they don't actually ever need to leave the office. A couple of shocking suicides in the profession a few years ago galvanised change and today at least the rhetoric is that work/life balance is a good thing. Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy for example now has a Parents@A&O and a Carers@A&O initiative. But LOD take this to a whole new level, offering market-leading lawyers the opportunity to continue working at the top of their game, (for such mouthwatering clients as Financial Times, Gucci, Orange, BSkyB), but also having time to pursue other demanding interests in their lives. Some of the lawyers in their team are balancing work with raising a family, although this makes up a surprisingly small proportion of LODers. More are pursuing personal interests such as writing novels, teaching yoga - one is even a vicar!

When I asked Simon this week why he thought LOD had been so successful since its launch in 2008 (they have grown in turnover from 0-7 million pounds, and in freelance lawyer numbers from a pilot of 8 to a team of over 100) he talked about its universal appeal:
'One of the first lawyers to join our freelance pool, Sameera Khan, describes her moment of epiphany, on a Sicilian beach asking herself 'Surely my career should offer me more than this?' A classic 'Is this it?' moment that nearly everyone can  relate to. It takes a combination of reflection  and action' he says 'to make a change. It's something I can get quite evangelical about: I want to encourage people to really go for it, to push the boundaries and really strive to work in a way that gives them autonomy and fulfilment. The workplace is opening up now to new ways of doing things - perhaps one of the positives that's come out of this economic crisis, necessity being the Mother of Invention as they say. I love Roman Krznaric's idea' [the author of 'How to Find Fulfilling Work' which, by the way, tells the story of Sameera Khan as a case study] 'that to find fulfilment we should aim to be wide-achievers rather than high-achievers.'

Sameera for example enjoyed being able to combine a career with LOD as an investment funds lawyer, on an LOD assignment in the wealth management legal team at Coutts & Co, with her social entrepreneurial side developing a community hub in her native Brighton for the exchange of creative ideas and skills over tea and cake.

LOD's spin out from BLP has been designed to give the fledgling business 'more oxygen' as Simon and co-founder Jonathan Brenner have big ambitions for the future. The ongoing relationship with BLP remains key (they will be a major stakeholder in the spun out business) as the backing of this strong international brand has been a major factor in LOD's success to date. But the founders' excitement in being free to take the business in the direction they want as fast as they want, is palpable. From working closely with them in recent months we know how energised and tireless they are, regularly working around the clock and at weekends. Of course there's an irony here: work/life balance anyone?

An interesting week in the world of social media.  This last week or so must have been an emotional rollercoaster for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbergeven for someone so famously dispassionate: first the long-awaited 100 billion dollar Facebook flotation, then his wedding to long-time girlfriend Priscilla Chan (would love to see the size of that prenup!), followed only days later by the disastrous news that he is to be sued (along with the investment banks involved) for misleading smaller investors by concealing falling revenue growth forecasts. Apparently the Facebook IPO has registered more 'pokes' than 'likes' on its own social media platform. 

And all this in a week that saw a fascinating revelation that the world's leading CEOs now consider social media as important as face-to-face communication.  Also a week in which the eminently conservative and secretive investment bank Goldman Sachs started tweeting.  Apparently this move to embrace social media is part of a new vision for a more 'open and friendly' Goldman Sachs, after a run of negative media coverage following an ex-employee's expose of an internal culture of greed and widespread disrespect for clients. New PR Supremo Jake Siewart, hired this March to turn the bank's image around, was PR advisor to the Clinton White House so knows a thing or to about handling difficult news.  You can follow their tweets here.  
Great excitement at the re-opening of Leicester Square this week.  As such close neighbours to 'Premiere Square', and being in the business of PR, we felt duty bound to test out the ambiance of this famous London landmark after its 15 million pound makeover and report back to you.  So we decided to have 'team beers' at a pavement cafe after close of business on Friday (Yes, we did it for you!)  And we had such perfect weather for it!

So what did we think?  Well, some of us couldn't remember what the Square looked like before the makeover, it's been shrouded in builders hoardings for so long! But we very much liked the posh new granite paving, the arty stainless steel railings, the fancy water feature around the Shakespeare statue. And we all felt that whereas before the Square used to feel quite dowdy and rather forgotten, now it is bright and proud - far more in keeping with its international reputation as the stage for red carpet UK film premieres.  And don't you just love those statistics and 'fascinating facts' that you always find in press releases for launches of this kind? The Evening Standard told us on Wednesday that 50,000 granite blocks in 17 different sizes had been used to replace every paving stone in the square, but most of all we enjoyed reading about the special coating that's been applied to the granite to make it easier to remove chewing gum!

Next we need to sort out a method for reserving our places by the red carpet.  Being just around the corner, there must be a way we can do this without having to queue from 5am.  Ideas and tips on a postcard please...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Jeffrey Jupp

Should barristers be afraid of mediation?  Surely the rise in popularity of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is posing a major threat to the lifeblood of the Bar -  its specialist skills in advocacy and court work? In conversation this week Jeffrey Jupp, head of commercial at leading barristers set 7 Bedford Row, tells me it's not a threat at all but an opportunity.

Jeffrey has represented many commercial clients in mediation and is highly experienced in this form of dispute resolution.  His first mediation was more than eight years ago and it is now a regular part of his practice alongside his Court work. 'People often assume that mediation is a new phenomenon for the Bar, but it's been around for a long time. The starting point was the Court of Appeal case Dunnett v Railtrack and this was in 2002, so a full 10 years ago.  The case put the marker down for ADR, establishing the principle that if a party had failed to consider it properly before pitching up in court then they could expect to be penalised on costs. This was the moment the legal profession realised it needed to get up to speed with ADR - and fast. Today it is a regular feature in most commercial litigation barristers' practices.'

I asked Jeffrey whether he thought barristers were better suited to mediation than solicitors, having such a nuanced understanding of the 'anatomy' of a dispute.  'Most specialist commercial litigation solicitors will have just as nuanced an understanding of dispute dynamics and how the courts work as we do. From experience I'd say it's not whether you're a solicitor or barrister that makes the difference.  What defines the success of a mediation is the readiness of the parties and their advisors to enter meaningful negotiations and their willingness to see the other party's point of view. There is still an advocacy job to be done, but it is all about persuading the other side that it's in their interests to reach a settlement or agreement. It's an interesting shift from court work, in that it's the one time an advocate gets to speak directly to the people making the decisions on the other side. Over the years I've seen lawyers misjudge this horribly, instead grandstanding in front of their clients, or attempting to score points over the lawyers on the other side. Fatal to the success of a mediation.'

Only this week a Court of Appeal Judge made headlines critcising a defendant's decision not to pursue the option of mediation in a commercial case and warning they'd pay the penalty on costs. We loved Lord Justice Longmore's quote that mediators have a 'canny knack of transforming the intractable into the possible' and so mediation should not be spurned lightly.  The courts and the Government are becoming ever more keen on ADR and some legal commentators say it's only a matter of time before it becomes compulsory across all areas of the law, commercial litigation included.


'You can't run with the hare and hunt with the hounds' a leading commercial barrister said to me as we discussed the rather surprising news this week that trucking kings Stobart Ltd are moving in to the legal market. The promotion of their direct-to-barrister service proudly proclaimed the benefits of cutting out solicitors.  Hmm...curious.  The barristers involved are they not need to maintain a flow of other work from solicitor clients? 

How are these clients going to react when they realise their trusted barrister contacts are associated with a campaign that actively promotes the idea of them out of the picture? Certainly the boundaries between the solicitor and barrister role are changing, (not just direct access, but also the growing number of in-house advocacy teams in law firms), but the symbiotic relationship between solicitor and barrister remains key. The opportunity, my barrister chum enthuses, is to find new and exciting ways to work together and to field legal teams made up of individuals who are freer to play to their real, rather than assumed, strengths. Now that's a positive approach - and one that's got to be good for the end-user client.

The difference between humans and computers is all about our conversation, apparently.  Enjoyed reading about this year's Loebner Prize, the computer geek's dream competition that's all about challenging computer programs to fool judges into thinking they're human.

The Venue: Bletchley Park, home of the World War 2 code breaking centre where Alan Turing famously decrypted the German Enigma code. 
The Idea: according to Turing, the proof of a computer's 'intelligence' is not its actual intelligence or ability to think, but its ability to behave like it is intelligent and can think, ie to pass itself off as human. And the best way to test this? A conversation.
The Set-Up: in one room a group of humans answering judges' questions via a computer; over the internet computer programs doing the same.  Could the judges tell the difference?
The Results: some wonderfully surreal exchanges, my favourite being Q: 'Do you have an iPad?' A: 'I am thinking about life and death'.  You can see some of the other gems here.

One thought to leave you with: researching this story I learned that in previous years a number of the computers attempted to fool the judges into thinking they were human by including typos in their answers. Wonderful! 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Paul Sayers

Estates Gazette acting Professional and Legal Editor Paul Sayers is an expert in 'fierce conversations'. At an (actually very polite) discussion over lunch with Paul and colleague Henri May to discuss EG's plans for the legal section, I learned to my surprise that aside from a successful career in journalism and publishing (Sweet & Maxwell, Reed Elsevier then Reed Business Information), Paul is also a qualified people development coach. In fact he is a 'Certified Fierce Conversations Facilitator' no less - and of course I told him he absolutely should have this job title printed on his business card.  He works with training company PDA (People Development Associates), which is offically licensed by the wonderfully named and actually quite scary Fierce Inc.  Over a very pleasant meal and a glass of wine we discussed the work he does with PDA under the 'Fierce' banner in the context of conflict and mediation in the workplace.

'Fierce Inc's mantra is 'while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship or a life... any single conversation can.' The point is that organisations are often blocked for months, even years, because of 'conflicted relationships'. And where these are left to fester, for fear of facing intractible issues, the cost to organisations can be vast in terms of management time and also hard cash. 

'Businesses can be transformed by developing conversation as a skill; by encouraging authentic, courageous, and clear dialogue; and by creating a culture where candour and curiosity are the norm.  There are huge positives: improving workplace communication will boost staff engagement and thus raise productivity levels.  But equally, it's also very much about avoiding the negative: we take the view that these unresolved conflicted relationships we talk about contribute to a large portion of the estimated annual £400m + cost to UK business of individual employment disputes. A very tangible justification for investing in training techniques to encourage staff to resolve relationship issues at the earliest stage before problems become entrenched.' 

You'd think that two careers would be enough for one person,  But digging into Paul's background to write up this blog post I also discovered he is artistic director, producer and actor at the Rooftop Theatre Company in St. Albans that specialises in 'lively and accessible' productions of Shakespeare and which recently won the 2012 Fringe Report Award for Best Shakespeare Producers.  This is most definitely a man full of surprises.

This blog post is the second in a series this May on the topic of dispute resolution. 

Big excitement came this week with the announcement of The Lawyer Awards shortlist. We were delighted to see Kysen clients well represented in the list, with Mayer Brown, Berwin Leighton Paisner and Russell Jones & Walker, all up for multiple awards and Weightmans up for Regional Firm of the Year. 

One entry we were particularly involved in was Brecher's, now shortlisted for the Boutique Firm of the Year Award. Having worked in-house at this firm in its previous incarnation Brecher & Co before its merger with Nicholson Graham & Jones (now K & L Gates) in the 1990s, I know just how excellent it is and the exciting things the team does at the very top of the property market. They regularly put people and deals together and actively make things happen in the market. These are the people who introduced buyer and seller in last year's landmark sale of Bond Street's Burlington Arcade to a US buyer. Historically they have been shy to promote themselves. Talk about a firm hiding its light under a bushel! But over the last year this has been changing and Brecher is starting to get the profile it deserves. They just need to win this Lawyer Award and justice will have been done!

What do Sacha Baron Cohen and the Master of the Rolls have in common? Generally speaking not a lot. But last night they were both at the Festival Hall: Sacha for the premiere of The Dictator, complete with red carpet, paparazzi and hoards of fans; and the Rt Hon Lord Neuberger as Chair of Russell-Cooke's panel discussion on 'Enforcing Regulatory Standards in a Liberalised Market'. This event had a star-studded line-up of its own: a keynote address from Legal Services Board Chair David Edmonds (who surprised me talking about his enthusiasm for the 'constant flow of new ideas' he sees vetting ABS licence applications); Law Society President John Wotton; and Vice Chairman of the Bar Maura McGowan QC. It was an excellent event and a 'variety of views' was most definitely expressed (but thankfully fisticuffs avoided). For an inside peek at the event, read Paul Rogerson's account in this week's Law Society Gazette or check out the live tweeting that took place at the event under the hashtag #regstandards.

Most memorable moment? Apparently Sacha Baron Cohen and his entourage inadvertently blocking Lord Neuberger from collecting his coat and having to be asked to move out of the way. The words 'Do you know who I am?' were heard ... and not from the Master of the Rolls.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Neil Denny

Neil Denny's thinking on conflict resolution is music to my ears. I have long had a fascination for the dynamics of dispute resolution, having worked  over the years with so many different types of litigator, both solicitors and barristers, and I always love to hear from those practitioners who are pushing the boundaries and developing some of the more creative approaches to it. 

Neil is a family lawyer and a consultant collaborative lawyer at Family Law in Partnership (founded by the very wonderful Gillian Bishop with whom, coincidentally, I worked almost 20 years ago when she was Head of Litigation at Brecher & Co and I was its in-house marketing manager). He is also a conflict management trainer and author of the excellent 'Conversational Riffs - creating meaning out of conflict'. The music analogy runs throughout his book: the foreword is renamed an 'Overture'; each chapter is listed as a different album track, complete with title page depicting a vinyl record; and the first chapter is entitled 'A Tune A Day'. In a nutshell his message is 'change the tune', ie learn how to alter your own rhythm of communication in order to disrupt recurring negative patterns and find new ones that lead to better outcomes.  And his theory applies as much to personal relationships as to commercial disputes. 

In conversation over coffee in Covent Garden this week (we met on Twitter but it turns out we work just 100 yards from each other in Long Acre - a very modern networking story) he talked in depth about his ideas and set me thinking for hours afterwards. We were meeting just as Neil was preparing to fly to Chicago and Seattle to give collaborative leadership training to lawyers and speak on 'Grudgeology' [love it Neil!] at the North West ADR conference. North America has a big appetite for his take on conflict resolution. You can see an example of Neil's work from his 'Do Lectures' talk last year ('Inspiring talks from people who are changing the world - Go Do!')

'Conversational Riffs' he tells me 'takes its inspiration from the world of blues music and how any 'riff' that a jamming musician plays will have a significant influence on the next musical sequence that his fellow jammers will respond with. The idea is to think about how your own conversational riffs will influence how the person you are communicating with will respond, whether the conversation is an argument, a debate, a negotiation, a complaint, or whatever.'

I love this musical analogy, as it suggests there is fun and enjoyment to be found in managing conflict - and this is a big theme for Neil: 

'Good relationships are not characterised by less conflict,' he says, 'but more! The key is to manage it positively.  A survey by Begbies Traynor, the UK's leading business rescue, recovery and restructuring specialist, revealed that typically nine out of 10 managers in the failing businesses they advise had hidden bad news from their directors (often issues relating to soured client relationships, poor staff morale, etc).  So senior management had been routinely fed an unrealistic view of the business.  No wonder they had failed in steering the business to success.  The managers' excuse (84% of them) for not passing this information on?  A fear that their own careers might suffer.   So the conflict issues were neither acknowledged nor addressed, but instead avoided out of fear of what the personal ramifications might have been.  But with all this avoidance of the real issues in the business, the ramifications came later anyway - and how!'

So no more need to shy away from conflict. In future, bring it on! I'll tell my family they have you to thank, Neil ;-)

This is the first in a series of blogposts this May on the topic of dispute resolution. 


The fracas caused by The Sun's Roy Hodgson front page this week was interesting to observe.  The speed at which most of the country seemed to leap on what they deemed spiteful and inappropriate was almost heartwarming. Announcing his appointment as England manager after the resignation of Fabio Capello, The Sun's headline 'Bwing on the Euwos! (We'll see you in Ukwaine against Fwance)' was roundly branded 'disgraceful journalism' and a debate ran for days across all media platforms, traditional and social, about whether it's right to focus biting satire on an individual's speech defect.

'Is offence ever justified on the grounds of humour?', 'Do different rules apply when poking fun at an individual's personal characteristics, rather than at poor performance in a highly paid role?' An old Sun classic was dragged out of the archives in evidence on this point: Graham Taylor likened to a turnip. 'But that was criticism of his performance, not a personal characteristic' the debate raged. 'But is it a speech impediment anyway, or just a speech variation, like a regional accent?'

What was really interesting though, was how it seemed to improve Hodgson's profile.  Not many people's first choice for the role, since The Sun's lampooning opinion has turned around and everyone's calling for the man to be given a chance and show us all what he can do before he's judged.

We're very proud that our clients Russell Jones and Walker advised Hodgson on his employment contract and that, very unusually for the media, lawyer Paul Daniels' role in this is being appreciated. Check out this piece in the Daily Mail: '20million reasons why Hodgson loves lawyers'.  You certainly worked your magic on this one Paul! 

Damien Hirst took me by surprise. Visiting his Retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern I was quite prepared to tut and shake my head all the way round, disapproving of this precocious art pretender. But instead I was completely blown away. I can't think when I've seen a collection so colourful and so beautifully executed. He utterly won me over - that he had something genuine to say on his key themes of beauty, horror, life and death, and that these pieces weren't just attention-grabbing gimmicks. 

The highlight for me was the living butterflies in his 'In and out of Love' piece: huge, tropical, azure-blue and multi-coloured butterflies floated mesmerizingly around the room and honestly my heart skipped a beat. Do go and enjoy. It really is a treat!