Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Sarah Townsend

I spoke to Property Week professional and legal editor Sarah Townsend this week, just as she stepped out of an exclusive press screening of Steve Coogan’s new film about "King of Soho" Paul Raymond. As a film buff, I was jealous. The Look of Love was not on general release until the weekend, so how had she managed to snare such a hot ticket? Answer: she was preparing to write a feature article about Soho Estates, the Soho property company that made Raymond’s fortune. The pornographer may have made his name in strip clubs, sex shops and his publishing empire, but it was his Soho property portfolio which made him, at one time, the richest man in the world - stretching far beyond merely the units he operated his businesses from. Sarah is interested in the tale of this company’s past, also its present and future now Soho has been transformed into something still vibrant and edgy, but also altogether more palatable (you can read her article, published on Friday, here.)

Today the Soho Estates portfolio encompasses an area of more than 60 acres across Leicester Square and Soho and is now owned by his grand-daughters and run by his son-in-law John James. Last year the company acquired the Foyle family’s portfolio of nine West End/ Soho properties, so still clearly has ambitions. And they are planning to develop one of the tackiest parts of Soho this year, ironically where Raymond’s empire first began with the Raymond Revuebar  in 1958.

“It’s a fascinating story how Raymond’s descendants are driving the company forward still with amazing ambition. Clearly the vision has changed, but I love how they are keen to preserve the best of Soho culture.”
“Their chairman today is now former London Mayoral candidate Steve Norris, who is always keen to stress the plan to keep the "heart" of Soho (that edginess and originality) just get rid of the sleaze. And there’s lots to play for of course with the Crossrail development at Tottenham Court Road opening up Soho to the North.

“My favourite part of the story is how Raymond was famously not a property man at all. He only bought property because he needed somewhere to invest the money he was making from his magazine empire. And because he didn’t understand property, he insisted on only buying assets within walking distance of the office! I love the fact that such a strategy could possibly result in one of the biggest property fortunes ever amassed!”

Well, I for one loved Sarah’s feature article and also plan to see the Look of Love over the next few days. I also look forward to watching the next chapter in the Soho Estates story unfold over the following months and years from my vantage point (did someone mention the roof terrace?) from neighbouring Covent Garden.

I had fun accessorising this Thursday as I headed for three parties in one evening, each with different dress codes. It’s a hard life in PR! With just a pair of party shoes and some jewellery to transform my daywear come evening, and a black and grey cardie to dress down my party clothes for the nine-to-five, I was proud to meet the challenge so minimally.

First stop was the agency drinks at Berwin Leighton Paisner, an opportunity to get together with our counterparts working for different parts of BLP’s business (it’s all about improving the collaboration you know hic!); then Hardwicke’s Hat Trick silks party.  In true Hardwicke style, the thought of boring speeches was ditched early on in the party planning process and instead "thank yous" were delivered by a jaw-dropping, conversation-stopping video with a Blues Brothers theme .  Picture the three new silks shaking their tail feathers in various different venues around the inns and you'll get the gist.  Has to be seen to be believed.  Various legal issues are being checked as I write this (to do with intellectual property rather than defamation laws I promise you!), but as soon as these are cleared I will be sharing that video with you. 

Last stop in this glittering evening 's entertainment was the Dechert Spring Party courtesy of the always charming Andrew Hearn.  Andrew and I had reconnected at a Serle Court party last Autumn, for the first time since I left legacy firm Titmuss Sainer & Webb.  This really was a trip down Memory Lane.  I bumped in to people I hadn't seen for five, 10, 15 and (ahem) 20 years.  I felt chuffed so many were able to recognise me after all that time!  And delighted to be told I have now been placed officially on Dechert's Alumni list.
On the subject of accessorising, exciting news from 7 Bedford Row: they are staging a fashion show to raise money for @RefugeCharity which works to help women and children under threat of domestic violence.

7 Bedford Row members and friends will be modelling clothes from two fabulous designers on 14 June. We’re promised bubbly, canapes, luxury, laughter and fundraising. Well, just my ticket! I’ll be there. 

I hear they are still looking for a celebrity compere, so if you have any ideas please do get in touch. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Claudia Hammond

The BBC’s Claudia Hammond wants lawyers to rethink their perception of time. Addressing a room full of professionals used to measuring their working life in six-minute segments, and all looking for a different way to do work and life (we were at one of Lawyer On Demand’s Life With Law events), the Radio 4 All In The Mind presenter, psychologist and author of Time Warped talked to us about how and why we perceive time the way we do and offered some clues as to how we can become the masters of our time, rather than time being our master.

Speaking to me before her presentation, Claudia posed this question: “Have you ever wondered why time flies when you’re having fun? Or slows down when you’re in distress? Survivors of car crashes typically talk about that critical 10 seconds leading up to the moment of impact and just afterwards seeming to last an age. Our perception of time is relative – depending on our level of busy-ness, the level of novelty in our environment or situation (because taking in new information requires more time as we need to create lots of new memories, which is why it can seem to take longer). Emotion slows down time also, as does a high body temperature, which is why time might appear to us to warp when we’re ill. But it is not straightforward either, as there can be a difference between our perception of time as it’s passing, compared to looking back and remembering. Something everyone can relate to is the phenomenon of "Telescoping", where we have trouble remembering precisely when a key event happened.” You can try this now. Which year would you say the following happened? Click on the links to find the answer: the Thailand tsunamithe bombing of the Twin Towersthe Chernobyl Disaster. This one will really shock you: when do you think was JR shot“We tend to think key events happened more recently than they did – and then we feel old when we realise how long ago they were, blaming the ageing process for our failing memory. In fact it has more to do with the fact that memories of such dramatic moments are particularly vivid, unlike other memories from the same periods of time. They feel more like recent memories because of this.”

She also talked about another familiar phenomenon, “Planning Fallacy” – a posh word for people’s inability to estimate accurately how long it will take them to get a job done or reach a goal and their insistence that somehow in the future they will be less busy, more organised and generally have more time than they do now. Some awkward shuffling was heard in the room as she talked about this. 

In a time when solicitors are so challenged to find a better alternative for calculating the cost and value of their work than the billable hour, Claudia has really made me think. Yes, an hour of a City firm partner’s time may cost £400, but now I’m asking: how long is that hour anyway? Perhaps this is the point the in-house legal community has been trying to make all along. Maybe lawyers should be factoring in an element of Claudia's time warp and offering discounts for the hours that fly because they’re having so much fun. Now there's an idea... Could take the whole discussion to another dimension.
An eerie atmosphere on Fleet Street and Strand early morning this Wednesday as the City prepared for Baroness Thatcher's funeral. Visiting friends on Fleet Street and in the Inns behind, I arrived early to avoid the rush and make sure I could cross the street given the police had closed the roads. It was not just the sight of this normally bustling area suddenly devoid of traffic that was so strange, but the noise as well. You could hear people's footsteps and unfamiliar echoes. Also to see 40 or so policemen, all in their best dress uniforms complete with custodian helmets (the classic Bobby helmets), stretching west to east for as far as I could see from Strand to Ludgate Hill added to the surreal aspect of the scene. 

A day of reflection and thankfully no serious disruption from the anti-Thatcher lobby. Unusual to see the City this thoughtful...

Talking of Chernobyl, this weekend I'm looking forward to a charity fundraiser in support of Chernobyl Children's Lifeline, which provides respite breaks in the UK for the children still suffering today from the aftershock of the Chernobyl disaster. Now it's out of the headlines, we barely give these people a thought. But in the 27 years since the nuclear explosion, 300,000 people have been displaced and the social deprivation that has resulted is heartbreaking. Not to mention the heightened rates of cancer in this community.

Chernobyl Children's Lifeline organises recuperative breaks of four weeks at a time in the UK, willing families taking them in to their homes. A cousin of mine took in two young boys last Autumn and is keen to do her bit to fund more trips so is hosting a celebrity jazz night for the purpose. Click here to find out more about this charity, or here to make a donation. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Catrin Griffiths

Editor of The Lawyer magazine Cat Griffiths says there's no room in publishing for doing things the way they've always been done. I was curious to know the thought process behind the change in how this leading legal magazine's circulation figures are calculated (since January its auditors count "audiences" not "readers") and also the rationale behind its website redesign this February. I had lots of questions to ask about the challenge for editors and publishers to keep up with the digital revolution and its impact on news consumption habits. Knowing some of the radical moves this magazine has made - at the start of last year it took the brave decision to break all news online, saving the weekly print edition for a more in-depth, analytical read - I wanted to know more about how The Lawyer  has approached adapting its model. Cat was kind enough to take time out from a busy press week to fill me in.

This woman is most definitely up for the challenge: "I find all of this so exciting!" She told me. "It gives you so much more scope to be creative than in a hard-copy-only title". Cat has always been a leader when it comes to creativity in legal editing and publishing, so I started to see how this latest revolution is really playing to her strengths. If you've been around as long as I have, you'll remember some of the classics from The Lawyer and also Legal Business, her previous editing role. As a bit of a cinephile, for me it tends to be the film references that most stick in the mind.  Who remembers which firm was represented using imagery from the then recently-released and highly controversial Reservoir Dogs?  Picture lawyers in monochrome suits, white shirts, black ties and shades, making their way manfully through some urban wasteland or other, and a headline echoing the strapline from the film promo posters "Let's Go To Work".  Also who remembers the illustrations for the story of Matrix Chambers launch with members dressed, of course, in those iconic max-length black leather coats. But Cat's smartest characteristic has always been her very cute sense of exactly who her audience is and what they are looking for from the people who deliver their news and analysis. Now it seems she is combining these two strengths to devastating effect. Did you know that whilst she has been pondering how to deliver content most effectively to her audience through The Lawyer's direct-to-mobile service and social media platforms, not only have web revenues risen over 50 per cent year on year - yes, you read that right! - but revenues from the print edition have actually risen by 15% since a redesign.  This is astonishing given virtually every other publication is having difficulties conserving revenues in print, let alone increasing.  Cat is also keen to point out that since its latest web redesign in February The Lawyer has increased its global reach by 17 per cent (this is in just six weeks) and global audience now accounts for 35 per cent of overall online users.  Impressive stuff.

"For us, circulation is not about readers, but audiences. Our weekly web audience is 89,158. Our total net multi-platform audience (ie through print and online) is 117,144. These circulation figures are audited by PwC and we are proudly transparent on our circulation/audience.  It's a subject close to our hearts as you'd expect.  People today engage with us on multiple platforms and so that's why we've changed the way our audited circulation figures are calculated.  For example a typical "reader" might receive breaking news throughout the day from our direct-to-mobile service, pick up certain other stories via our Twitter feed, perhaps check the website from a desktop PC a couple of times a week and also read the print edition on the train home on a Friday.  And what's really exciting is that in this digital age we can track user journeys through the website, see which stories are most read, and how much of a feature people read before moving on (by looking at how far they scroll), track where they go next. How even in some cases a big feature on a law firm collapse might drive a proportion of readers to our jobs pages!" She's joking at this point, but only partly. "The point is it enables us to get even closer to our audience and really understand what they are looking for and how they want to access that content. Of course it isn't always about giving them just what they want. sometimes it's about challenging those habits and saying - but you really must read this, it's important!" Well, would you expect anything less from a magazine that so proudly positions itself as the thorn in the profession's side?

"If I've learned anything on this journey is that it's a mistake to make assumptions. We were gob-smacked for example that our website revenue has risen so dramatically as a result of our new focus. Another myth is that digital content is always faster and cheaper to put together. We invest enormously in our analytical content and yes, a lot of this is best placed in the print magazine for that longer read" (we know one City firm Head of Finance who now likens The Lawyer print edition to The Economist, and Cat tells me this is not the first time she's heard this parallel) "but we've also seen how much of this content is often read in-depth online".

We love how The Lawyer publishes not only a list of its "Top 10 most read" stories, but its "Top 10 most commented on" too.  If you look at how content is organised in both print and online editions, let alone the chit chat between Lawyer writers and their audience on Twitter, you'll see that audience engagement shines through at every turn. And engaging people to this level with its content, and in so many different ways, goes to the heart of how The Lawyer maintains so much influence in the profession. Small wonder Cat is considered one of the most influential people in legal media.


Lawyers got hot, cross and bothered over the Bar Council's  Guide to Representing Yourself In Court, released Easter weekend. The Guide was issued to coincide with the changes to (...ahem, withdrawal of) Legal Aid, which kicked in on 1 April.  It's no joke, I can assure you.  Lawyers abandoned their chocolate eggs and took to Twitter in droves, despite the bank holiday. The outrage was perhaps understandable, given the Bar Council exists to represent barristers' interests.  Why would it deem it appropriate to spend time, energy and precious resources helping members of the public circumvent proper legal representation?

We tweeted news of the Guide first thing on Easter Monday, and in the shake of a lamb's tail a hot debate had kicked off, continuing throughout the day. Take a look at The Bar Council's Guide here and tell us what you think.

It's official! Kysen is now working for the man "with the best profile pic of any QC" according to the legal twitterati.  Hardwicke's PJ Kirby is shown here in full silk regalia, and clearly in a state of high excitement, on his way to the silks' inauguration. 

Hardwicke is known for being a breath of fresh air in the sometimes still stubbornly Dickensian world of the Inns of Court. Judging by the personality evident in this snap - and the fact that PJ is continuing to use it as his defining image in the Twitter-sphere - it seems that reputation is well-founded!