Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tristan Kirk

The Evening Standard’s new court reporter Tristan Kirk has some very big shoes to fill. He takes over this week from Paul Cheston, who was in the role for 23 years and was widely regarded in the court reporting community (they all spend their time buzzing around the same courts so know each other really well) as the best in the business bar none. I know you are all keen to hear from Tristan, but first a word about his predecessor.Paul was famous for filing his stories by phone, only referring to hand-written notes to check keys facts, his storylines forming as he dictated them down the line, his mid-morning deadlines being so far ahead of his rivals’. And I’ve extolled Paul’s legendary storytelling skills in this blog before, describing how he grabs attention with his opening lines like no-one else. Here’s a personal favourite, from a court case we worked on together.  Just count the number of wows in this one sentence:

“The woman who humiliated one of the richest men in the world has revealed for the first time details behind how she delayed a brain operation to make legal history.”

No wonder his court reporting made the Standard’s front page so often. No pressure Tristan, as we all eagerly await your first stories this week!

For all of you who will miss Paul, the very good news is that he hand-picked Tristan as his successor. “There was only one man for the job – and it’s Tristan”, Paul told me before he left. Before joining the Standard team, Tristan was working for Central News Agency based at the Old Bailey. The defining moment of his career so far, he tells me, came during his time covering the phone hacking trial last year, with Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson in the dock. Reporting of the case was a complicated matter, with the courts attempting to restrict journalists’ coverage and the press in turn challenging the court’s right to do so. This was when Tristan found other journalists turning to him to check what they could and couldn’t do and how they might mount their challenges; being by then already a seasoned court reporter, Tristan knew the rules better than any of them. He only realised this himself at this point, and it spurred him to think where he really wanted to take his career next. When Paul announced plans to retire, it seemed too good to be true; for someone keen to make their name as a court reporter, it doesn’t get much better than the Evening Standard beat …and given Paul had been in role over 20 years, obviously the opportunity doesn’t come up that often! I’ve just interviewed Joshua Rozenberg about the planned overhaul of our courts system, so I was keen to know what Tristan thinks is the best and worst aspects of it currently, and what he hopes to see in a reformed system.

“I think on the whole we are right to be very proud of our judicial system.  It’s the best in the world and little wonder how many rich foreigners choose to bring their disputes to London. In terms of reform, what I’m most interested to see is how the courts adapt to our increasingly digital world. It’s a significant challenge for them. I covered what was supposed to be the first paperless criminal trial at the Old Bailey last year, with jurors viewing evidence on iPads rather than paper, and the usual hard copy evidence bundles nowhere to be seen. It was a troubled trial that eventually collapsed (not because of technology), but by which point everyone had long given up on the iPads. It just proved too difficult. I don't know why the "new" technology is such a challenge really.  The pre-courtroom bit works fine electronically, but what the courts haven’t yet mastered is how to handle documents in the hurlyburly of the live courtroom. But we’re only talking about the need to pull out the right pieces of electronic evidence as they are referred to court. You wouldn’t really think it’s that difficult!  The rest of the business world has adjusted to digital as norm.  Why does our judicial system struggle so much?”  I have to say I agree, especially when you consider how keen the courts are to underline the point they are one of the UK’s biggest exports. When it comes to technology they are really not showing their commercial mettle. 

Am I sad to see Paul go. Of course. I’ll miss him. As a keen reader of the Standard, am I worried I’ll miss out now he’s gone? Happily I can tell you Paul has found us the perfect man for the job. We’re going to enjoy Tristan’s coverage. Watch this space!
So Lord Lucan has finally been laid to rest.  Last week’s news sparked a memory: when Jon McDonnell QC first launched 13 Old Square, we handled the press interest for him. Despite our meticulous preparation, and repeated rehearsals with our founder spokesperson, when in front of journalists Jon had an uncanny habit of dropping a total gem of a story into the conversation, that he’d completely forgotten to tell us about before. 
One such example was when he casually mentioned in front of a Legal Week journalist “Ah yes, that was about the time I was representing Lord Lucan”.  Lord WHO???  “Yes, I represented Lord Lucan at his trial”. “But we thought the whole point of that trial was that Lord Lucan wasn’t there!” we protested. “That’s quite right” Jon explained, “but someone had to represent his interests In Absentia and so I was appointed to do just that”. 

I learned that day that it was Jon’s argument in court that prevented Lord Lucan ever being declared dead, so responsible in fact for starting a legend. “Either he killed the nanny, so he’d have a good reason to disappear; or he didn’t, which means someone else did, so it’s quite logical to suppose they might be holding his Lordship captive. Whichever, it cannot be correct to assume that the most likely reality is that his Lordship is dead.” It was this argument that gave rise to a cultural legend. That has lasted up until now.
Here's a little gift for you...  We thought we'd go through the latest Ofcom stats that track changing news consumption habits, as we know you all keep a keen eye on how the power is shifting from print to digital when it comes to news. Being people who get far more excited about stories than boring facts and figures, (we are PR people after all), we thought we'd use "the medium of fairy tale" to put the information across. So, especially for you, here's a little presentation we've called The Cinderella Effect (thanks to Francesca De Mori for the title idea!) : Print v Online, A Changing Story.

Click here to enjoy ... and feel free to share.  

Monday, 1 February 2016

Joshua Rozenberg

Adapt or die!This is Joshua Rozenbergs answer to a question I asked him on behalf of @CDPSolicitors: Does he have any ideas on helping the electorate love their high street lawyer?”  I had shared on twitter my plan to interview the UKs premier legal spokesperson following his Honorary QC appointment. This question is typical of what people in the profession want to know.

Theres no doubt the high street firms are under significant threat", he answers. "They are squeezed between the withdrawal of Legal Aid; the rise in technologies that can handle high volumes of the routine low grade legal work once done by people; and between Government plans to give our courts system a complete overhaul, with a new modus operandi based on the reality that ordinary people can't afford lawyer representation, so a rise in litigants in person. How are the high street firms to respond? Well they either need to merge, or find an area of work not widely practised where there may be opportunity, or they need to streamline legal services with a mix of lawyers and no-lawyers based in a factory somewhere.

I was keen to know what Joshua thought of the fact that whilst the lower end of the legal market is suffering under so much pressure, the big-ticket litigation end is one of the UKs biggest exports. Tycoons from all corners of the world often choose to fight their legal battles in London. So should more of the profits that stream in to the UK legal system be deployed to help the lower end? 

In many ways that patronage does happen already: the City firms do enormous amounts of pro bono work, which is one way of cascading money from the top through to all levels of the system." We start discussing Goves highly controversial idea that City law firms should be charged some form of levy, either cash payment or pro bono work.  Joshua thinks this is a bad idea: This idea was never going to go anywhere. First, its impossible to define who pays; second, it’s effectively taxation, for which you need legislation; third, its a massive disincentive to those already contributing hugely in terms of pro bono work. Of course theyre going to think “We’ll pay if they make us, but we'll stop our own pro bono projects. I also think people dont appreciate that City lawyers make a significant contribution to the wider profession just by being practising solicitors. Many of them don’t need practising certificates because much of the City work is of the non-reservedvariety, i.e. it doesnt require a licensed lawyer to do it. So just in volunteering to pay fees they are adding to the coffers used for helping and supporting smaller firms.

Joshuas view counts for a lot. He has been appointed as an Honorary QC because of his services to the public in bringing legal issues to their attention and explaining them in ways they can understand...first his work on the BBC's Law in Action, which he launched in 1984 and returned to in 2010 after a 23-year break; then in legal columns in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, where he remains legal affairs commentator to this day. 

As The Guardian's Roy Greenslade puts it: Rozenbergs great skill is in explaining complicated legal issues with calmness and clarity that makes them easily understandable to the public. He is the first journalist to receive this honour. Id like to think this is a positive sign that the profession is increasingly outward-looking, that it cares how legal issues are presented to and understood to the general public. Im certainly very happy that the excellent and important work legal journalists do is being recognised at this level. And if this is the first of a new trend, I agree of course the honour absolutely had to go to Joshua!

At least there's good news that, Gove has decided to reverse Grayling’s plans for further cuts to fees for criminal defence lawyers. He’s also ditched the proposal to make lawyers bid for legal aid work at police stations. Whilst I’m pleased at this news as the planned reforms had been so poorly thought through, I was perturbed to the read the reason for the U-turn: apparently it's because the Government is facing so many legal actions about the changes and Gove doesn’t want his department to be tied up for months, (if not years), of expensive litigation. Clearly you have to be careful taking on the legal profession! But I was rather hoping the reason behind the Government's volte-face was a fundamental change of heart … 


Exciting news outside the profession is that Mattel has just launched a range of “body positive” Barbie dolls, so Barbies in more realistic body shapes: petite, tall and curvy (ie with thighs that actually meet).  As a mother of teenagers I do think this is a good idea, especially when you consider that scaling up a classic Barbie to life-size gets you a woman 5 foot 9 inches tall with an 18 inch waist, meaning a Body Mass Index of 16.24 which is basically malnourished.

Response has been mixed though, with people joking on Twitter that Barbie’s boyfriend is due a makeover too and asking where the “Dadbod Ken” is.  Personally, given what we learned from last year’s survey, that single women actually prefer dadbods over a ripped torsos as it signals someone who might spend time with them rather than disappear for hours down the gym, I think this could an inspired next move for Mattel...