Monday, 27 January 2014

Edward Fennell

What a rare pleasure to be watching a print journalist friend on a BBC TV programme, rather than a client: Edward Fennell and his campaign to find the remains of Alfred the Great, "The Alfred Project", featured on a Neil Oliver history special on BBC 2 this week... and of course I tuned in.

Although the BBC film comes in the wake of Channel 4's documentary about the discovery of Richard III's remains underneath a car park in Leicester – Hyde900, the community group in Winchester to which Edward belongs, has been investigating the possibility of testing bones from Hyde Abbey (where Alfred was buried in 1110) for the past four years.  

"Our search for Alfred began a long time before the publicity machine for Richard III cranked into gear," he tells me. "Indeed, some amateur historians in the Hyde area of Winchester have spent years poring over historic records. There was already a well-established local folk tradition that Alfred was buried in the "Unmarked Grave" in St. Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde which lies about 100 yards from where  Alfred had been officially buried. But until quite recently there was no way of testing out the truth of that claim scientifically. So, in the aftermath of our 2010 celebrations of the 900th anniversary of the arrival of the bones of the Royal House of Wessex in Hyde, we thought that the time had come to open the grave, see what was there and undertake the carbon dating testing. The crucial point was that, at that stage, we were under the impression that the only bones remaining from the Hyde Abbey site had been deposited in this grave. So it was not implausible that Alfred might be amongst them.”

The biggest challenge in the whole story was to secure permission from the Chancellor of the Diocese of Winchester to exhume the bones and analyse them. In fact, it took almost three years of patient legal work by another Hyde900 member, barrister Rose Burns of 4 BreamsBuildings Chambers, to persuade the Chancellor that under ecclesiastical law there were grounds for doing so. Rose features in The Times' Lawyer of the Week column this week in fact, for the cleverness of her legal arguments on behalf of The Alfred Project. 

"In March last year we were finally able to open the grave and the first sight of those bones was very emotional. Quite moving actually." This moment was captured on camera and you can see the reactions of the Winchester team in this documentary clip.

In the event the bones from the Unmarked Grave turned out not to be those of  Alfred and his family – their dates ranged from 1110-1450 – but, as in all historical research, one thing led to another and the Hyde900 team were delighted that their subsequent investigation (which would not have happened without the opening of the Unmarked Grave) produced a pelvic bone which osteo-archaeologists are convinced did belong either to  King Alfred or King Edward the Elder, his equally distinguished (but less-well known) son. 

Like me, most of you will know Edward as the award-winning City editor of The Times' Law section. He has written for The Times for well over two decades and I have known him for 25 years of that (although neither of us look old enough I know ... and I was a young slip of a thing when he was already an eminent journalist) We all love his coverage of business law and the legal world and his focus on the bigger City firms and the work they do in this particular part of the legal market; and we all enjoy his keen interest in legal business innovation, how he has tracked the advent of Alternative Business Structures and where legal market deregulation will take us. He is also famous for his In The City diary column in the paper each Thursday, biting and entertaining in equal measure, which is no doubt why it has such a phenomenal following amongst the legal community. He also takes on specialist copywriting mandates for solicitors firms and barristers including recently a history of Bird & Bird and Clarkslegal in Reading. Currently, he is working on a history of Quadrant Chambers in Fleet Street taking in both the site (going back to the 16th century) and the chambers itself.

As if his day job wasn't enough, in his spare time he is founder and trustee of Winchester's Hyde900, the community project dedicated to celebrating the 900th anniversary of the founding of Hyde Abbey, once the fulcrum of Alfred the Great's kingdom. The group is largely responsible for making happen the scientific research and legal petitioning that led to the exhumation of the bodies in the unmarked Grave for identification and authentication as the remains of members of the Royal House of Wessex.

How does he find the time? "It's something I feel passionately about. As a history graduate with a keen interest in the Anglo Saxons, I was amazed when we first bought our house in the Hyde area of Winchester in the 1980s and realised that I was actually living over the original cloisters of the abbey where Alfred the Great had been buried  but which had been pulled down in 1538. At that time there was little interest in the area’s unique history. In conjunction with various friends and neighbours we resolved to raise public awareness of what lay all around us – albeit buried underground. I very much believe communities thrive best when there is a shared appreciation and celebration of both place and people. At the heart of all these projects is the desire to unearth the rich heritage, talents and resources of the Hyde area and its people. Even so, we could not have guessed then quite how far it would take us.”  

I've always known Edward as one of the legal journalists most interested in legal futures. Fascinating to learn that he is equally passionate about the past. If you didn't catch the BBC documentary and Edward's stellar TV performance on Tuesday, you can catch up here
Anyone ever come across a "Director of First Impression" before? No, I didn't think so. Neither had I, until @theLegal500 tweeted this little gem from the Marketing Partner Forum this week.

Step forward Greenberg Traurig LLP, the first law firm to give a receptionist this fantastically wonderful job title as far as I'm aware - and I'm sure someone will soon tell me if I'm wrong...

Can I have this role please?
Another prize tweet from The Marketing Partner Forum: this wonderful diagram is courtesy of @DB_Legal, again via Twitter (don't you just love how social media can keep you in touch with live events happening thousands of miles away?), and it should be on every legal PR or marketeer's wall. Enjoy:

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Richard Meade

Richard Meade is editor of the world's oldest business newspaper and it's just gone digital-only! Lloyd's List was founded in 1734 and is widely regarded as the definitive source for news analysis and data for the global shipping industry. I caught up with Richard at a meeting with our good friends at Holman Fenwick Willan this week and took the opportunity to quiz him about the move to digital-only, which media commentators are calling a landmark moment. 

"I became editor of Lloyd's List three years ago and everything I have been doing since then has been leading up to this moment: it was the main reason behind my appointment." Knowing how nostalgic some Lloyd's List readers are about the hard copy edition, and how some readers are quite baffled, even a little angry, it has been laid to rest, I asked Richard how they gauged the right time to make the move. "We are very close to our readers and track their habits meticulously. Over the last three years we have watched our online offering steadily grow and the print version wane. The tipping point came in June last year when our annual readership survey revealed that more than 97% prefer to access information online and that fewer than 2% read the print version at all."  Echoing FastFT editor Megan Murphy's sentiments (interviewed in this blog in June 2013), Richard explained how a digital platform allows them to do so much more and vastly improve on the value they give to readers: "Digital means readers can get news updates as stories break, wherever they are in the world and in whichever time zone. At its best, all the print edition could ever do was give you a fantastically accurate and insightful snapshot of what happened yesterday... in fact what happened two or three days ago, if you were a reader in Asia waiting for your hard copy to arrive!" 

As you'd expect from an editor of such an esteemed journal, Richard has a gift for words. I love how he puts across the point that people's news consumption habits are changing and so why the media is being challenged to evolve. "When Lloyd's List first appeared in 1734, it was a notice pinned to the wall of a coffee shop in London, a report for the merchants and financiers who backed them on the ships going in and out of harbour and the cargos they were carrying. Nowadays, its readers can sit in any coffee shop and have access to the "paper" through their smartphones and tablets." 

But it's not just real time information that's the big difference, he says: "It's also how we can tell stories in a digital medium. I was shocked myself to learn that our most read story of 2013 was not in fact a story at all, but an interactive infographic!"

Well, if ever there were a story to prove the digital revolution is real and our reading and media habits are never going to be the same, this is it! Don't just embrace the future, enjoy it!

So did you know the link between international commerce law giant Holman Fenwick Willan and iconic star of stage and screen Vivien Leigh? No? Neither did I until this week. I must have walked past that clock on HFW's ground floor a thousand times over the last six years but never knew it once belonged to this emblem of Hollywood's Golden Age and star of such timeless classics as Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. The story of how the clock got to be in HFW's offices is even more surprising: Viven's first husband was none other than barrister Leigh Holman, nephew of one of HFW's founding partners Frank Holman and closely involved in the firm's early work.  Vivien used his name to create her stage persona - before leaving him (and her clock) for Laurence Olivier. She remained close to Holman throughout her life however, which is perhaps why the clock ended up in his possession.  On digging in to this fascinating story, another incidental detail about the firm's history comes to light: that a junior assistant in its early Lime Street office was William Ernest Lawrence, elder brother of the novelist D.H. Lawrence.   

How did it take me so long to unearth these priceless jewels?! Never ones to brag, you won't find these gems on the History section of the HFW's website...
The fun with Google Glass is just beginning, lawyers told us this week, as a driver ticketed for wearing sci-fi spectacles was acquitted in a US court.  In this case the court couldn't tell for certain on the facts that the driver was actually wearing the glasses, which operated as a computerised recording device, hence the acquittal. So no principles set in stone.  The case is more significant in signalling that this new technology is opening up whole new areas of legal action. 

With built in monitors, cameras, microphones and with full internet connectivity, Google Glasses enable wearers to record, save and upload anything they can see or hear.  Other uses for Google Glass have been discussed elsewhere in the press, (not all of them appropriate to be described in a respectable blog), and lawyers have been poring over the legal possibilities and pitfalls.  According to the ABA Journal this new technology is "set to become a law suit magnet".  I bet lawyers everywhere are crying in to their beerglasses ;)

Monday, 13 January 2014

Jordan Furlong

Looking ahead to what 2014 might bring, who better to guide us than legal market forecaster and crystal-ball-gazer, Jordan Furlong.  If you don’t already, I strongly recommend you follow him on Twitter @Jordan_law21 or on his blog Law21: Dispatches from a legal profession on the brink if you are keen to understand the market forces at work in the legal sphere.  Specialising in the US, Canadian and UK legal markets, he served as an award-winning editor of several Canadian legal magazines and is the author of Evolutionary Road: A Strategic Guide to Your Law Firm's Future. This man most definitely knows how to write to grab and keep your attention. 
“I’m wary of predictions” is the first thing he tells me.  “Over Christmas I’ve been reading Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, and I’m acutely aware that as a profession we lack the data to be able to predict the future with any accuracy.”  Does he think the legal profession is particularly poor in this regard, I ask him.  “I do, because I think there’s a link with the mindset required for the job.  Lawyers intrinsically lack a respect for mathematical data and analytics.” He quotes a famous Sherlock Holmes line:It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has the data. Insensibly one twists facts to suit theory, instead of twisting theories to suit facts.  This is an occupational hazard for anyone practising law,” he says, “because our work often relies on our skill to argue facts to suit a client’s best position, not to reach the correct conclusion.”

I point out that the full title of Nate Silver’s book is The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail but Some Don’t, so Jordan relents and peers into his crystal ball for me ... and he doesn’t disappoint.

“In the broadest sense, the progression and evolution of the legal market is unmistakable and irreversible.  There are forces in motion that are outside the control of lawyers taking the market in an entirely new direction.  The good news is that the market will open up and improve, become more like a functioning corporate or consumer marketplace.” He sees five main ways in which the market needs to improve and is already changing: two on the supply and three on the demand side:

-   “First, we need more providers of legal services that aren’t just lawyers, and here I think England & Wales has led the way. 

-   “Second, we need higher quality of services, among both lawyers and the new entrants to the legal market who are finding their way. Yes there will be failures as new models are tested, but failures are an important part of the evolution process. 

-   “Third, buyers must continue to become better informed. Buyers need more information about the law and the legal system, and they could use help to identify the best type of provider for what they need. Helping purchasers of legal services select their advisers more wisely would be a valuable new type of legal service.

-   “Fourth, the evolution of new tools needs to continue: better legal  technology, more mechanisms and processes at buyers’ convenient disposal. 

- “Lastly, and this is the big one, disinterested regulation of the profession must continue to improve. There are two distinct aspects of legal regulation that lawyers often get confused.  I believe lawyers should fight hard to defend the first kind, the ability to regulate professional matters ourselves (so standards, admissions, professional development and disciplinary matters, etc); that’s the core of our independence. But others outside the law should take on the second role, to regulate the marketplace itself. 
When you look at jurisdictions where the most substantial market change has resulted, for example Australia and the opportunities that have opened up for Slater & Gordon, and of course England & Wales and the Legal Services Act, governance has been put in the hands of people outside the profession. I hate seeing us lose self-governance and I hope it never happens again, but when regulation of the legal market is taken from lawyers, innovation happens and access starts to improve.”

So exciting times ahead.  Here’s to the coming year.  Wishing you all heath and prosperity in 2014.
Others who have been busily crystal-ball-gazing for our benefit include The Lawyer's Katy Dowell, Joanne Harris, Lucy Burton and Kate Beioley who published their Top 20 Cases of 2014 this week. We were delighted to see a number of our clients feature prominently. The Lawyer's Top 20 tells us to expect some of the largest-value cases the High Court has ever seen, with only the most entrenched disputes making it to court. Many of last year's big disputes have already settled, parties not having the funds to pursue them all the way.  So in 2014 we are promised a show of some of the most bitter commercial logger-heading.

If you haven't caught up with the listing yet, you can take a look here.  The Lawyer is still the only magazine with sufficient breadth and depth of contacts and knowledge in the world of civil litigation to be able to talk about court actions to look forward to, rather than looking at the year that's been.  Make the most of it if you want to be in the know!
Genius director Martin Scorcese's The Wolf of Wall Street premiered this week and I am poised to buy tickets for my own viewing as soon as it opens on the high street.  With a stellar cast that includes Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey and even England's very own national treasure Joanna Lumley, and with reviewers raving that this is Scorcese at his absolute best, I can't wait to see this tale of banking excess.  

Bizarrely, I hear that bankers throughout Europe have been block-booking seats ahead of release and using the occasion to plan some major client hospitality.  Given the film tells the story of disgraced US stockbroker Jordan Belfort who made a fortune out of defrauding clients, spending his ill-gotten gains on all manner of hedonistic pursuits, I'd say this is a risky business development strategy. But that's just me.