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...

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