Sunday, 23 September 2012

Graham Coy

I'm over the moon to be working with Munday's Graham Coy again. I mentioned last week we were lucky enough to have two former clients come back into the fold. Well, this week I had the very pleasant task of travelling to Cobham, Surrey, to catch up with Graham and his team to talk about work after a three-year hiatus. It was sublime. Together with his colleague Sarah Duckworth we always had a ball chasing up PR opportunities, thinking of creative new angles and hearing their unique take on all things family-law-related.

Graham and Sarah are big proponents of mediation, collaboration - and more recently arbitration - in family cases. When occasion demands they can be as hard-hitting in Court as any City divorce law team - indeed they are famous for it.  But they are mindful of the trap for lawyers in fanning the flames of antagonism between the parties, which may make for a great legal case but is not at all necessary in the best interests of the family. Especially where children are involved.

"Sometimes a full on court battle is exactly what's needed to sort out a difficult, intractable situation between two people. But sometimes the opposite is true.  Particularly where children are involved, it can be vital to preserve relationships as much as possible, as the couple will need to have a continuing dialogue over the children's future.  Can I say that I've never seen a divorce lawyer on the other side whip up the bad emotion between a couple, to suit their own interests and encourage the inevitability of a big expensive fight in court? I'm afraid I can't. And that's quite shocking actually. 

"Sometimes the right thing to do is to fight tooth and nail and not hold back, using everything in the legal armory and hitting hard. But sometimes the right thing is to encourage your client to take a more conciliatory approach. Even to the point of recommending that a couple see a relationship counsellor rather than divorcing at all, which we have done on more than a few occasions.

"The point is, it's a big responsibility handling someone's divorce: your client can be emotionally quite vulnerable - even clients who are the very top of their own profession or industry.  People who are usually logical, dispassionate and capable of making very fine judgements find it a completely different kettle of fish when they're looking at something so personal and emotional as their own marriage. This can put their legal adviser in  quite a difficult position. You need to be their voice of reason, reminding them what's in their best interests in the context of the bigger picture. But how much should the legal adviser lead and guide the client, and how much should they just follow, doing what they're asked to do? The answer is different every time and it takes years of experience to perfect these nuanced points."

Of course Graham and Sarah too have this experience in spades. If you were to ask their clients what they appreciate most about how they handled their divorce, this is exactly what they would point to. Graham sits as a mediator too, so he sees divorce from all sides. And that's a very valuable perspective to be able to give a client. 

It's good to be working with you again Graham!

Much amusement in our office when auto-tuning hit the political mainstream this week when the remix of Nick Clegg's mea culpa video, apologising for the Lib Dem's broken promises on tuition fees, blared suddenly from the BBC News channel on our office TV screen.

The original apology video had been released a few days ahead of next week's Lib Dem conference in Brighton.  But no sooner uploaded on YouTube, than savagely - and brilliantly - pilloried, as an auto-tuned remix. By Thursday morning it was among the top trending topics on Twitter. The remix that is. Not the original. No. 

But did he redeem himself by giving permission for the mock video to be released on iTunes to raise money for charity? Or did he just add insult to self-inflicted injury?  Watch the video again here. You decide.

I have been blown away by Tate Britain's Pre-Raphaelites - Victorian Avant-Garde this weekend. Regular followers of this blog will know I have been looking forward to this exhibition since it was first announced this April.  It has now just opened and I can thoroughly recommend it.

I had forgotten how much poetry and story were part of the whole Pre-Raphaelite movement. We wandered around the gallery soaking up the iconic paintings such as, among others, Sir John Everett Millais' Ophelia (pictured) from Shakespeare's HamletHolman Hunt'Isabella from Keats' gruesomely dramatic poem Isabella, or The Pot of Basilalso his breathtaking rendition of Tennyson's Lady of Shallot from Arthurian legend.  Reading the excellent curation notes that brought so many of my favourite stories and poems so well to mind, linking them to the magnificent paintings, I was struck by the almost multi-media  nature of the experience.  This Victorian Avant-Garde really was ahead of its time.

The exhibition runs to 13 January 2013.  If you've seen it, or plan to, do share your thoughts.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Eduardo Reyes

Eduardo Reyes has to be one of the nicest men in legal journalism. We have known him for years, first as Editor of Legalease's In-House Lawyer magazine and more recently as Features Editor at The Law Society's Gazette. Indeed, it was Eduardo who introduced Clare Turnbull to me, just before she won her award for Outstanding Contribution to Law Firm Marketing at the Legal Business Awards in 2007, after her 12 years in-house at Pinsents. She has worked with me in the Kysen team ever since. 

Eduardo is famous for wanting to keep in close touch with his audience, to perfect his understanding of what they need to read / be informed about. Of all the journalists I've known to focus on this so seriously, Eduardo takes this to extremes: at In-House Lawyer he regularly ran round table discussions and focus groups to get to the heart of what was keeping in-house lawyers awake at night. And at The Gazette he is just as diligent in keeping close to his readers.

He was in an uncharacteristically downbeat mood when I spoke to him this week, having just written a thought-provoking piece on the Hillsborough disaster for the Gazette blog. Well, who wouldn't be. He was asking the question whether a cover-up on such a scale could happen again. 

"I was in Sheffield on the day of the disaster in 1989, at a student and youth conference just south of the university. So the terrible events of that day are etched indelibly on my mind. It took so long for the facts of what had happened to trickle through to everyone in those pre-mobile days. And of course we know now that the truth took decades to filter through. In contrast, it took far less long for the truth to come out from the 7/7 bombings, with initial attempts to cover up shortcomings of the emergency services immediately "challenged" by amateur footage taken by passers-by on mobile phones. Rather depressingly, it begs the question whether the only difference between people's honesty surrounding the two disasters is sparked by developments in technology rather than a maturing of our collective morality."

Doesn't he think any lessons have been learned from Hillsborough at all? "That's one of the most depressing things about the large scale cover-up: the lost opportunity to draw accurate lessons."

In more positive mood, Eduardo also spoke to us this week about a campaign he is involved in to encourage government funding of research into Rett Syndrome. His youngest daughter suffers from this syndrome and he tells me it may be the first neurological condition to find a cure. There is a Facebook vote for funds to be awarded to a charity at the moment and the particular Rett research charity he and his wife fundraise for is in with a good chance to win. Please do what you can to get as many people to vote for Rett Syndrome Research Trust as possible. Here's the link for you to vote and share... 

We have the legal profession's appetite for chocolate to thank for probably our most successful, and definitely our most fun, viral campaign to date. Brand valuation consultants Intangible Business have conducted some worthy research into the link between law firm brands and chocolate bars which The Lawyer ate up hungrily, promoting the story in the magazine's That Friday Feeling e-bulletin and inviting the legal community to suggest its own matches between law firms and chocolate brands. As soon as the story hit people's inboxes, the entire legal profession seemed to down tools and devote time to cooking up tasty morsels to show off their wit and insight. Some of the responses posted on The Lawyer website are unprintable in such a respectable blog as this. ...but you can take a peek through this link here

To give you a flavour of some of the more polite comparisons contained in Intangible Business's original report, here's a couple of titbits for you to enjoy.

Slaughter and May was compared to a Crunchie bar as "they crunch through things and they're bigger than they look". In contrast, Ince & Co is a Mars Fun Size because it is "not too demanding but big enough to have fun"

BLP's Hotel Chocolat comparison was made on the basis of the firm being "top of the range, twist on the traditional, creative and all about the visual". 

Brecher was down as Rococo Chocolates for being "exclusive, independent, quite quirky and self-owned" and Holman Fenwick Willan was Green & Black's due to its "consistently top quality across a variety of flavours"

Sophie Bowkett has been abandoning her lovely Covent Garden base in recent mornings, apparently preferring to breakfast with her broadcast chums. In the last three weeks she has accompanied clients for a variety of performances on Sky News, BBC and Reuters TV on a range of topics as diverse as Oligarch litigation, women in boardrooms and banking regulation. We miss you Sophie! We can serve croissants in the office if this makes a difference. Don't desert us! 

"After a 4am start last Friday for the Today programme, I can promise you there's no danger you'll lose me to a job in broadcasting!" she reassures.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Phillip Shears QC

Phillip Shears QC and the recent successful prosecution of Asil Nadir is very good news for the  SFO. Phillip is from the business crime team at top set  7 Bedford Row  and he led the prosecution in the Nadir case. Managing some of the press interest around the  news of the conviction, I was privileged to have the opportunity to talk to him about his role. 

I was curious to know what he thought of the prevailing view of the media that new SFO Chief  David Green is more determined to see successful prosecution and fraudsters being brought fully to account for their wrongdoing, whereas predecessor Richard Alderman was arguably more inclined to negotiate deals. And of course there has also been some unhelpful media rhetoric about high profile prosecution failures on Alderman's watch. 

"The negotiations that brought Nadir back to the UK to face trial, were carried out under Richard Alderman. To revive such a complex case after it had lain dormant for some 17 years presented huge logistical problems.  The new prosecution team had just a few months to prepare a fresh Indictment and Case Statement, a task which, in a case of this type would ordinarily take about a year to prepare. And of course we were working from a standing start, whereas counsel on the original team had lived and breathed the case from the beginning of the investigation. In total, there were 64 counts of theft over a three year period, totalling 146 million pounds, as a result of which there were literally  tens of thousands of documents to review – and the preparation was  interrupted by the need to respond to a number of abuse of process applications which the defence made prior to trial; whilst all failed they took time and resources.”

"This was, of course, to be a trial by jury. The methods by which Nadir had taken the monies were complicated and various. Considerable judgement has to be applied in complicated fraud cases  to achieve a balance between demonstrating the full extent of the dishonesty alleged and producing a prosecution which is intelligible to the jury. As it was the jury had to listen to, and then decide upon, some 6 months of evidence. Fortunately the result indicated that we got it right, and vindicated the SFO decision to revive the prosecution,” 

This puts me in mind of one of my favourite sayings: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference!"

More than anything, Phillip believes the successful conclusion to the Nadir story shows the value of persevering with these complex cases, the benefit to the public interest achieved and, critically, the importance of setting aside sufficient government funds to do so. 

Proceedings in cartoon form? Yes, you heard me right. Thanks to @gavward who tweeted a link to this priceless story in the ABA Journal and bought it to my attention. Lawyer Bob Kohn, limited to a 5-page brief by a US district judge in an e-publishing case found an imaginative solution: he submitted his pleadings in a form of a cartoon strip. "A picture paints a thousand words" he said, which of course is very handy when your word count is limited. It complied with court rules because he was careful to use the required 12-point or larger type and 1-inch margin. You couldn't make it up! You can read the full story here. Enjoy!

Welcome back to some much loved old friends. This September we welcome two former clients back into the fold.  

Since the days we last worked with the Family team at South East regional leader Mundays, the firm has gone from strength to strength. We're excited to be working with the whole firm now and taking its light from under the bushel and holding it up for all to see. Mundays has as strong a reputation for its commercial law work as its advice to private clients, offering services across a broad range of practice areas. So a real variety of yummy legal topics for us to work on.

CDG is an extremely successful firm operating in a very niche area: shipbuilding and offshore procurement law. Founder and Managing Partner Simon Curtis is the author of the leading text book in the field and is unbeatable in the marketplace. The firm is embarking on some exciting projects which we will be announcing soon.

Our development theme for the year (for the purposes of our IIP Standard) is "Long Term Relationships". Working with old friends again in this way gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. :-)

We also have a new barristers client we are very excited about, but can't name them yet. They specialise in an area very complementary to some of our solicitor clients. Watch this space...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Tim Oliver

Talking to Parabis CEO Tim Oliver just after the grant of his firm's ABS licence, I praised him for his diplomacy. This is the first ABS licence to be granted for a structure specifically designed to enable private equity investment and it has famously taken an age to be approved by the SRA - almost eight months - despite the application being made in the very first days ABSs were allowed, 3rd January this year. 

It was the following public statement that I thought particularly deft: "While at times we have felt frustrated at the time it has taken to secure our licence, we are very pleased with the robustness of the application process." I caught up with him this week to ask about the story behind this artful phrase. 

"I have no criticism of the depth or thoroughness of the process the SRA take you through to satisfy themselves that the structure you are creating has a genuine business purpose and is not some dodgy money laundering device. Of course it's important to have such a fine filter in place. What I had a problem with though, is that I simply didn't believe the SRA had the right resource - nor depth of resource - to deal with our application in reasonable time. First it created an inordinate amount of business uncertainty. it stymies you; you can't motor forward with any strategy while you are waiting on such a fundamental decision about your future structure. Second, the SRA failed to appreciate the sheer number of stakeholders involved, all waiting for conclusion on investment - our 2,300 staff, our bankers, and of course the investors themselves. There's no doubt we risked losing some good people from the firm as a result of the delay, and the uncertainty and drain on morale it caused. And we had a real challenge keeping the funding in place. The high street banks we used just couldn't understand what was going on. The FSA had given approval within 28 days. The bank told us they had never had a transaction that had taken beyond three months for a regulator to approve, so the deal they gave us had a three month time limit. We had to go back no less than four times to negotiate a month's extension each time.

"What I find particularly depressing is the fact that what we are trying to do with this private equity backing from Duke Street is bang in the centre of what the Legal Services Act, and a deregulated legal market, is supposed to be all about. Yet you got the impression that the administrators on the ground seemed to be very nervous of what we were proposing and I think struggled at times to know how to assess it. Indeed it took six months for them to get their heads around it. In short, they lacked the specialist background to understand this was actually a very straightforward private equity deal. A template case and exactly the kind of development the LSA was intended to facilitate.

"There is no doubt there are some excellent people at the helm of the SRA who have real vision and who embrace and encourage legal business innovation. But the operational end needs to keep pace with that culture."

At this point Tim starts to echo the sentiments of my friend Andrew Hopper QC who talked about just this issue in this blogspot only a couple of weeks ago - the critical disconnect between the sophisticated vision / rhetoric at the senior end of the regulator and what happens on the ground.

"I do think the SRA has learned some lessons over the last few months, have listened to feedback from firms and others going through the process, also from the Legal Service Board, and are taking steps to put this right. They are staffing up with exactly the right skill sets and are involving some former City firm lawyers in the ABS approval process."

Tim is philosophical about the journey the firm has been through. "Being a frontier person you have to expect things to be harder for you than for those following on behind. Hopefully we have chopped a few trees down for those coming in after us."
Kysen's @Sophie_Bowkett was at the Commercial Court for the Abramovich judgment this week and tweeted some pics. We love these big high profile cases at Kysen of course. The kind of legal story you can really get your teeth into - and which appeals to a much more generalist audience than is often the case with the more specialist-audience legal topics we are often dealing with. So yummy opportunities for some excellent broadcast coverage. 

We still find it hard to believe that statistic, that more than 60 percent - yes you heard me right, 60 percent!! - of the Commercial Court's workload involves a former-Soviet Oligarch or super-wealthy Easter European businessman. No wonder the UK legal authorities saw fit to invest so much money in the new Rolls Building to encourage this trend for litigation from overseas. But do we think this is a wise investment? Is attracting so much overseas litigation into our courts a good thing for the UK legal system and surrounding economy? Or do we think it diverts money from other parts of the legal system that desperately need it? We're canvassing opinion amongst our legal friends, so do please tell us what you think...
So are the Paralympics "transforming perceptions"? The news is good so far: tickets selling out as never before; the Opening Ceremony attracting Channel 4's highest ever ratings (astonishingly, even more tuned in than for the concluding episode of Friends); and a first day of stunning record-breaking performances for Team GB. Anti-discrimination law friends at RJW Slater & Gordon say numerous disability charities are planning campaigns and events to capitalise on the moment, expecting a sea-change in public attitudes. I certainly loved the idea of shifting the emphasis to what people can do and I think the idea of the Superhumans is inspired. Looking at this picture of "blade runner" Oscar Pistorius, who competes in both Olympic and Paralympic events, the moniker certainly fits.

I have to say my fave moment was seeing Royal Marine amputee Joe Townsend coming down the zipwire from the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower with the Olympic torch and seeing Boris Johnson's tweet: "And thanks to Royal Marine Joe Townsend's stunning zipwire display. That's how to do it! #OpeningCeremony." For anyone who's forgotten Boris' own botched zipwire display, you can view it again here