Sunday, 24 February 2013

Joshua Rozenberg

I talked to Joshua Rozenberg about this week's baffling news that The Guardian is abandoning its dedicated law section. Especially puzzling given there's so much legal news worth reporting at the moment! Guardian Law remains, but will be "semi-automated".  So essentially it will become a repository for legal content appearing elsewhere in the paper and online - no longer commissioned and edited as a separate specialist section. 

Could part of The Guardian's thinking be that it simply doesn't make sense for legal news to be separated from the rest of business and other news content any more, precisely because there is so much important legal material to report? I put this to Joshua.

"Well it was interesting that the news of the change to Guardian Law came on a day when the top two news stories were both legal cases: the Pistorius trial and the Vicky Pryce jury debacle. Legal content is as important as ever, there's no doubt. And I'm as passionate as I've always been to explain the legal stories in the headlines accurately and simply for the average man and woman on the street to understand - and to know how the law and legal process impacts on their lives. You'll still be able to read my regular column in the Guardian each week. 

"I do think there's something in what you say about legal issues permeating the news, so perhaps not always needing separate treatment. In a sense The Guardian's decision can be seen as confirmation of just how important law is in the world of current affairs. But I will miss having a dedicated law page editor, someone with specialist knowledge who challenged the ideas I pitched to her and who used to critique my work.  An editor in that position can champion legal stories for a prominent position in the paper or on the website, as well as promoting their importance to news editors in line with their true relevance to the news agenda (which is not always obvious to non-specialist editors)." 

We talked at length about the continuing challenge for the quality broadsheets to move with the times and grapple with the thorny issue of adapting to changing news consumption habits.

"It is well known that print editions generally run at a loss across the board. But broadsheets have yet to find a way of making enough money out of online content to support the considerable journalistic resource still required to keep the quality of content up - in terms of those classic journalist skills of breaking news first and reliably, and providing insightful analysis. Maybe it's because people were initially given online content for free, but now there's a definite reluctance to pay for it. And no newspaper website has yet to establish itself as the obvious first port of call for job adverts. 

"Interestingly, iPad editions are faring much better in terms of convincing people to part with their money. So as new platforms emerge, perhaps people will be more willing to pay for good quality content." 

Just when you thought the Huhne v Huhne case (Vicky Pryce trial) couldn't get any more bizarre, this week we had the gob-smacking story of the jury discharged for failing to reach a verdict, apparently having no clue what they were meant to be doing. The collective jaw of the nation dropped as press reports emerged of the questions this jury had asked by way of direction from the judge.  Most famously they asked the meaning of "reasonable doubt", to which a rather weary-sounding judge replied that these were "normal English words." You can read the full eye-goggling list of their questions here

More worrying perhaps, was the flurry of comment across all media platforms in the following hours and days. Not so much the debate whether juries are still relevant to the system (some very persuasive arguments were put that the man/woman on the street's involvement in the justice system is a key tenet of our democracy) but some very worrying tales of bizarre jury behaviour in other cases - eg one juror asking for a Ouija board to consult the deceased. I kid you not!

On the day the news broke that the jury had been disbanded, Joshua Rozenberg commented in a BBC interview: "I wouldn't want that jury judging my case." Perhaps the system does work after all...

London Fashion Week brought a spangly tinge to the area around King's College and Somerset House in legal London this week. I've never seen so many snappy trousers, natty hats and colourful platform shoes in this part of town before. 

My favourite story from Fashion Week though was the personal PR campaign of the fashion world's latest star Cara Delevingne. She must be one of the most photographed women of the moment (as the British Fashion Awards' Model of the Year), she's on the front cover of the current edition of Vogue. Yet she felt the need to add to the legion photographic images of her by making her own Instagram diary of her behind-the-scenes life at London Fashion Week. For someone whose image is so central to their career, Instagram makes total sense. It's the obvious medium.

Whilst pondering the rise in popularity of Instagram, another story caught my eye: a shockwave in the States as several states prepare to drop the teaching of hand-writing from their syllabuses on the grounds it is obsolete in our digital age.  They say it's keyboard skills they need to equip their students with for the real world. 

And what will this world look like in twenty years? Are we moving closer to Ray Bradbury's dystopian vision of a world where the written word is banned, books are outlawed and any houses containing them are burned by firemen? Time to get Truffaut's sublime film version of Fahrenheit 451 out again. #anyexcuse

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Neil Denny

Neil Denny would like to see more "Artisan Lawyers". Last time I caught up with this consultant collaborative lawyer we talked in depth about “conversational riffs” and how being mindful of these, and consciously able to “change your tune”, can help you step out of repeating negative patterns in your interaction with the people closest to you. When we met up this week, he had another new idea to intrigue me with: how the legal profession (and particularly its clients) could benefit from lawyers embracing 'Artisan values', delighting in complexity and embracing both challenge and change, as opportunities to show off their skill. Lawyers delighting and embracing change?? What’s this?? Kysen’s clients by definition tend to be those who are very comfortable pushing the envelope and doing new things (otherwise they wouldn’t be engaging with such new-fangled and radical ideas as professional PR) but I’m well aware they are untypical of the profession. I was keen to know more...

Over coffee in Covent Garden, I asked him what this meant. “The idea of the Artisan is the polar opposite of the inadequate workman who blames his tools: the Artisan is the highly skilled craftsman who does the work, not for the wage so much as for the sake of the work itself, finding joy in being excellent. It's typified by the character Geppetto in the story of Pinocchio, who takes a dud piece of wood, skillfully creating a wooden figure so life-like that ultimately it turns into a real boy.

"Take a look at which describes the essential difference in the Artisan mindset: a switch from simply “doing a shift” to “making a shift”. I believe this is a perfect way to develop business, because it focusses you on the type of business that you really want to do. Don’t we all want to do more of the work that satisfies or excites us, for clients we really want to work with? And isn't this how we do our best work too? So the opportunity is to build a business - and a reputation for excellence, enthusiasm and enjoyable working relationships, all at the same time? Surely it’s a win:win all round.”

At a time when the profession is being attacked for its reluctance to do away with antiquated structures fixated on the billable hour, this could be an exciting, pleasurable alternative.

And it strikes a chord with my own experience I have to say: having built Kysen up over the last 12 years, today I feel incredibly lucky to be able to take on only the work we really love doing and for the people we really enjoy working with. Neil and I talk about getting to that point in life where work doesn’t feel like work so much anymore because the intellectual stimulus, the working relationships, and everything else about it is just so enjoyable. I share with him a favourite saying – an Irish blessing that hangs in my kitchen at home: 

"May you work like you don’t need the money, 
love like you’ve never been hurt,
and dance like nobody’s watching."

“I do think this could help lawyers adapt to the very daunting level of change they are having to face,” Neil tells me. "At the end of the day people don’t resist change, but rather the loss they fear will result from change. Give them the skills and encourage a mindset that enables them to gain from the change - so in this case an opportunity to enjoy their work more - then you’ve really got a chance to move everyone forward.” 

Now that is an ambition worth having.


A rather depressing attitude to mental health issues displayed this week, when a judge poo-pooed a career criminal’s defence that the reason for his latest crime was “depression”. “Everyone’s depressed” the judge said, “it’s the weather.”

Part of me recognises where this particular Lordship was coming from, the recent cold spell having been undoubtedly challenging to the spirits. But his comments were highly ironic, dismissing any consideration of potential mental health issues so summarily in the same week the Mental Health Bill received its last reading in the House ofLords before going to the Queen for Royal Assent and becoming an Act.

This little story shows once again it's not just the law that needs to change  - there's a big challenge ahead in changing social attitudes to mental health.

We all enjoyed our Kysen Company Day this week, time for reflection and team discussion that forms a key part of our Professional Development Programme. This week we focussed on the promises we made to ourselves at the start of the year – “Kysen Resolutions” – and took time to think how these should feed into the different aspects of our work and relationships with clients and journalists.

Last year our theme for the year was “Long Term Relationships” and we had a very happy experience getting closer to client and journalist friends, also reconnecting with some old friends we hadn’t worked with for a while who came back into the fold. This year we are asking ourselves how we can take these relationships to the next level: in answer, the team came up with a new theme for 2013: “Sharing”.  We spent time on Tuesday thinking about what this might mean in practical terms: encouraging clients to have “Kysen Days" at our office, working alongside us for a day to see how we work; inviting more journalist friends to come in and give lunchtime talks on do’s and don’ts in our dealings with them; running joint brainstorms to share ideas and creative thinking; etc.

Do you have suggestions about how we could “share” more in our work with you? We'd love to hear your thoughts...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Leslie Keegan

Barrister Leslie Keegan asked me this week the price of an apology. For some people he knows, it would be worth a million dollars. We talked as the 1000 page McAleese Report was published, officially recognising the Irish State's role for the first time in the unlawful enslavement of over 11,000 women in church-run institutions, where they were forced to work for no money and sometimes abused. Girls as young as eight were referred by local priests or even the courts and some would stay there for life. Yet for years the wrong done to them by the State was never acknowledged. The Magdalene laundries were even excluded from the Residential Institutional Redress Board which awarded compensation to  people who'd suffered at the hands of other Irish residential institutions as children, because they were privately run rather than institutions of the state. But this week's report brought the Irish authorities to account, arguing that as more than 25% of victims had been sent to the laundries directly by the State they couldn't evade responsibility.

"As a student, I was involved in a voluntary project that took me to the laundries." Leslie told me as we discussed their story  this week. "The scheme involved creating a place of respite for city children. We built a tree house at a centre that provided summer holidays for city children and at the end of each visit, when the children had gone home, the laundry girls - "Maggies" as they were known - would come to clear up."

I got to know some of them well and over the years I heard their stories. Endless hours of hard, unpaid labour, from morning til night; little or no education; no hope of escape for many - indeed if you weren't "claimed back" by someone on the outside, you could be there for the rest of your life. Tales of cruelty were rife - even physical  abuse." 

Aside from his clinical negligence practice for which he is famous, Leslie is known for his work in institutional care cases having acted for a number of successful claimants before the Residential Institutions Redress Board in Ireland.  Unsurprisingly he has received a number of enquiries to represent victims of the Magdalene laundries scandal.  This latest development is close to his heart.

"Reading about this week's Report I have mixed feelings," he tells me. "It's a good first step; the Irish authorities finally acknowledging some responsibility: as the Report puts it, for "significant state involvement in how the laundries were run". But did you notice how the Taoiseach slid out of a full apology? Enda Kenny says he is "sorry the stigma of being in the laundries was not removed," but stopped short of a proper apology. As any psychiatrist will tell you (and I work with a number in the course of my work) an apology is crucial in enabling victims to start the healing process and move on.  At least it seems the labour members of the coalition government are putting heavy pressure on the Taoiseach now to make a full apology and to sort out a compensation scheme for the Magdalene women.

"I do think these victims are owed financial compensation. But I know most of them will say it's actually the State apology that will be most valuable."

Did you hear the good news? The Law Society forecasts growth for global legal services (although predicts continuing pressure on high street firms).

If you want to see how The Law Society came to its conclusions, you can take a look at its most comprehensive and authoritative study to date on the legal services market here. I'd love to hear your interpretation of the findings.  Please do either leave your comments in the box below or contact me directly.

I particularly like the Law Society's creative scenario planning that accompanies the research.  Looking further ahead to 2025, four different versions of the future are described, anticipating different political, economic and market developments as a means of helping firms with their long-range thinking and business planning: The Law Is an App - a highly dynamic, competitive environment where only the fittest and most adaptable survive; Wise Counsel - a world where legal expertise is highly valued and demand for good quality legal services is strong; Mini Clubmen - the Mini used as a metaphor to describe the transition from a classic to a familiar work-a-day model; and Bleak House - a scenario describing tension between buyer and provider in which the outlook for both is bleak. 

I'm not so sure about these as "alternative" visions of the future; if you ask me, all four seem to be playing out in different parts of the legal services market in the current day...

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Huhne v Huhne speed points court drama this week - and there were many, as we were all subjected to a very unsavoury tale of family misery - is the fact that the "marital coercion" defence Chris Huhne's ex-wife is using to say she was pressurised into doing wrong and not responsible for her own actions, is only available to women. In law, it is not possible for a man to argue the same position, ie that he was so under the influence of his wife that he didn't know his own mind and his own actions. Nor is the defence available in the context of a civil partnership.  Highly ironic that this little gem emerged in the same week the House of Commons approved gay marriage.... The law clearly needs to marry up it left hand with its right.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Spectator Leveson Debate

We were "the spectators" this week of a conversation between Max Mosley, Guido Fawkes, Mail journalist Richard Littlejohn, Dr Evan Harris and others. The occasion was a debate asking whether Leveson is a fundamental threat to the free press which was organised by The Spectator and chaired by famed journalist and broadcaster Andrew Neil. Fawkes and Littlejohn were for the motion, together with John Wittingdale MP (Chairman of the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee), arguing that Leveson represented an insidious threat to free speech; Chris Bryant MP (yes, the labour MP for Rhondda famous for that photo in those underpants), was against the motion, alongside Mosley and Evan Harris, arguing not that free speech should be curtailed, but that Leveson contained some sensible practical suggestions for reining in press intrusion and protecting innocent people's privacy, not least improving rights of redress. 

It was a shame that the one lawyer on the advertised panel couldn't make it on the night "because of work commitments". Something really should be done about law firms' long hours culture.  Being one speaker short after proceedings had begun, Neil spotted MP and free speech campaigner Evan Harris in the audience and invited him to join the panel instead.  We all watched amazed as he scribbled down a quick speech in front of our eyes, in the 10 minutes the other speakers took their turns.  He then took to the podium himself to deliver an an argument as eloquent and persuasive as the best of his co-panellists.  Impressive. 

It was a lively affair, with strong views and feelings expressed on both sides of the panel - the emotional charge of the evening heightened by the fact that the two journalists present had covered some of the more embarrassing episodes in their fellow panellists' lives (MP's expenses, sexual peccadilloes - you get the picture) and, in the case of Fawkes, didn't hold back from the occasional very personal reminder of this to underline some of their more serious debating points (ie questioning politicians' true reasons behind the desire to restrict the press). Just as strong feeling came from the floor: a collective distaste of politicians citing the need to protect grieving families from press intrusion (the Dowlers, the McCanns) when the public suspects the real motivation for wanting to curb the press is far more likely politicians' self-interest.  Also perplexity as to why the press - the tabloids in particular - didn't reveal known suspicions about the Savile affair long before the horrible truth finally seeped out.

But the big surprise of the evening was how much consensus there was on the point that one of the biggest problems with the balance between press freedoms versus privacy rights currently is the system for funding libel litigation to give injured parties a proper right of redress: suing for defamation is a rich man's game - even a Conditional Fee Arrangement won't cover the other side's legal costs if a case is lost.  Few ordinary folk can take that risk.  Mosley told the Leveson Inquiry last year that probably only 1% of the population can afford to sue.  And he put this case again very well at this Spectator event, arguing that the Leveson reforms are required if only to bring in the proposed new inquisitorial arbitration service for handling claims such as libel and breach of privacy.

Is it just me, or do all roads at the moment seem to be leading back to the issue of  litigation costs...?
New reality TV show for the Autumn promises mass Appeal: the Court of Appeal is to allow cameras into its court rooms for the first time from October this year.  Announcing the move, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge explained the decision not to allow cameras in the lower courts or in long jury trials was for fear of provoking disruption and deterring witnesses. 

Currently the only court to allow cameras routinely is the Supreme Court, so this trial in the Court of Appeal is significant - although Lord Judge doubted it would create great television, saying "In most cases I suspect John and Jane citizen will find it incredibly dull".
As if Liverpool wasn't "glam" enough, visiting this vibrant city to catch up with our good friends at Weightmans, we learned this week that Tate Liverpool is poised to open its exhibition on Glam! - The Performance of Style Culture in just a few weeks.  70s glam emerged from the British art schools of the day of course (think Brian Ferry, Brian Eno, David Bowie), and so the exhibition seeks to explore the links between the art, the music, the dance scene and the fashion that defined the era, as a serious exercise in art history. Hmm. Think perhaps someone just wanted to put on something fun that would pull in the crowds.  Well with treats in store from David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and others, as well as a plethora of psychedelic colours, false eyelashes and disco balls, I'm not complaining!  In fact, as the exhibition is so short and will not apparently be coming to London, I'm thinking we should make a special detour when we visit Weightmans' Manchester office later this month, just so we can take it in.