Diary news, commentary, arts and CSR from the legal world
Thursday 7th May 2020
Act NOW to register for the Paul Hastings Webcast on ‘Returning to Work’ which takes place TODAY – THIS AFTERNOON between 14.00 and 15.00. Featuring Deborah McKenzie, Chief People Officer at Public Health England as well as a panel of lawyers from the firm it will be ‘A discursive session as we walk through the roadmap for a successful return’.
For more details contact email@example.com.
SHORT THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
We have all now internalised the Governmen’s mantra for the Corona season – ‘Stay at home – Save lives – Protect the NHS’. But it looks as if the obsession with easy-to-understand three point plans is catching. For example, in a recent statement, DACB managing partner David Pollitt, commented, “Our objectives remain threefold: to look after our people, to continue to serve our clients well, and to protect our business.”
Nothing wrong with that but the worry is that we are in danger of being brainwashed by an epidemic of catchy but maybe simplistic rules of thumb. For example, ‘Attract clients – agree work – deliver the work promptly’ – leaving out the bit about billing them in a timely way. Sometimes the rule of three doesn’t quite add up.
THE LEGAL DIARY
Axiom Stone, the up-and-coming, London and Birmingham firm, held a down-to-earth Zoom briefing yesterday for several score of its clients and friends on the realities of what’s happening in the property market. Chaired by the well-known property lawyer Jonathan Metliss from his place in Sussex it was a classic of its kind with participants dressed in everything from shorts and tee shirts to classic white business shirts and ties. Backgrounds varied from blank walls to the Wailing Wall. Maybe the Zoom etiquette is that there is no etiquette.
Businesswise it was revealing that while private property work had virtually stopped the commercial scene is busy-to-frantic as tenants try to renegotiate leases and landlords seek to secure something out of their investments. As Toby Matthews, specialist in real estate litigation, commented, “The speed of change is taking the mick”. Maybe most revealing though were the comments of political consultant (and frequent Conservative Party candidate) Adrian Pepper who highlighted the growing tensions between the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care. Who comes out on top could be a defining moment for this government.
The C-Virus lockdown is bringing out the best in some of our lawyers. The Aldwych-based Family Law in Partnership (FliP), for example, announced yesterday that for the duration of the emergency period it is opening a FREE Children & Parenting Law and Domestic Abuse Advice Helpline.
“Our team is available to answer your queries about the law relating to Domestic Abuse and Children and Parenting ,” the firm says and can also ‘signpost you to other organisations who may be able to provide help and support’. The service is going to be open every Wednesday afternoon from 2pm to 5pm with the offer of a free 30 minute appointment bookable on Tel: 0207 420 5000. Just hope that they donlt get overwhelmed before the lockdown is lifted.
Backing the ‘Indie’ Market?
Even those who keep a close eye on the emerging market of new or alternative law firms would have been surprised at the long list of female-based firms who wrote an open letter to ‘General Counsel for Diversity & Inclusion’ (which includes all the big names in UK industry) a few days ago. Almost thirty lent their names to an appeal that GCs, in the current crisis, should not succumb to the temptation ‘to turn to traditional suppliers that are perceived as less risky despite being shownto be less cost effective in the long run’. Instead they should continue to be open-minded to alternative providers – who may, indeed, be more in tune with the new times in which we operate.“Unless collective action is taken, we will be left with a less diverse, less vibrant market and that will be to the detriment of everyone working in the legal profession,” says the letter. “The opening-up of the market to a range of alternative providers over the past 10 years has been hard won and reversing this progress would be damaging.”
Frankly, how it’s all going to shake down remains a mystery. It’s clear that even the biggest firms are hurting right now. Lean, flexible and cost effective firms should be in the best place to survive. (Signatories to the letter included Rachel Amos of Senate, Emma Reid of Ergo Law and Maaike Roet of House of Lawyers and 25 others).
Ready to Partner?
One of the sad but fascinating features of the last few weeks has been the mixed picture of those firms with the conviction to confirm a new cohort of partnerships and those who have edged away from it. It has been a tough one to call but courage counts. Hence at London firm Streathers Christopher Daynes (the Managing Partner of the firm’s north London offices) was able to say, “Making decisions during this period is of course difficult because we cannot be certain what twists and turns we will need to navigate over the coming months, or the precise impact that will have on the business. We had a number of partnership promotions due to take place later in the spring. Despite having to constantly recalibrate during this period, we are nonetheless confident about the long term future of the firm and the fine qualities of those individuals who are due to join the partnership. We have therefore decided to progress with the expansion of the partnership as planned.”
Words to go down in history?
APPOINTMENT OF THE WEEK
MARTIN PAISNER CBE JOINS PAYNE HICKS BEACH
In what must be the coup of the month Payne Hicks Beach has managed to recruit Martin Paisner CBE for its Private Client Department.
With an extraordinary track record of work in the areas of charity law and private client practice Paisner is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars in his field. Whether it be general estate planning for both UK and overseas clients or as adviser to charities (both functional and grant-making) his reputation is outstanding.
Added to that is an exceptionally strong academic record as an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary University of London, Worcester College, Oxford and King’s College London. He also holds an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Glasgow and was appointed CBE in June 2004. Meanwhile, over the years, the number of trusteeships he has held of important charitable and educational bodies – ranging from The British Institute of International and Comparative Law to the Oxford Centre for Post-Graduate Hebrew Studies – is, frankly, just too long to list.
Martin Paisner qualified as a solicitor in January 1970 and became a partner with Paisner & Co in 1972, the firm dating back to its foundation by Leslie Paisner in 1972. A succession of subsequent mergers led to the creation of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner in 2018 and so Martin is departing from what one might call his family roots in order to join the highly rated Lincolns Inn outfit.
As Robert Brodrick, Chairman of Payne Hicks Beach, comments, “Martin is an outstanding lawyer with an amazing array of clients for whom he is their trusted adviser. He brings a wealth of first class experience to Payne Hicks Beach. All of us here look forward to working with Martin and continuing to drive the firm from strength to strength.”
COMMENTARY OF THE WEEK
Covid-19 takes its toll on divorced and separated couples, says Alex Carruthers, Partner, Hughes Fowler Carruther www.hfclaw.com
The tragic loss of life from Covid-19 dominates the headlines, but the pandemic is also having a deep impact elsewhere. Among those affected are divorced and separated couples: significant market turmoil has changed the financial circumstances of those with sizeable maintenance and capital obligations.
Against this background, newly unemployed divorcees and those who have diminished investment portfolios believe, with good reason, that they should not be bound by pre Covid-19 agreements to provide cash to the other party. Inevitably, some of them are seeking to challenge their divorce settlements.
There are further repercussions for divorcees and separated couples. Measures taken to mitigate the virus are affecting applications for interim maintenance, making them more difficult to implement since spending is significantly depressed.
After nearly two months, the UK lockdown has led to a predictable rise in enquiries from divorced and separated couples regarding custody. When Michael Gove stated on Good Morning Britain that children under 18 should not move between households, it caused such commotion that he was forced to backtrack only hours later. Despite his volte face, we have seen several examples of urgent children applications caused by lockdown, some of which require emergency injunctions.
Lockdown is also affecting trials and increasing the time taken in divorce proceedings. Notwithstanding interim technological solutions, such as telephone and video hearings (where different courts have varying attitudes to the security of applications such as Zoom), lawyers are having problems in gaining access to judges, who are prioritising only the most urgent work.
Despite media reports of an increase in online searches for divorce lawyers, those who are not yet separated do not want to press the divorce button when they cannot move out. Manifestly, enforced confinement puts increased pressure on relationships and more people will probably file for divorce post lockdown. Examples already exist of the extra tension breaking the camel’s back. The question now is: when to push the button?
PRO BONO/CSR PROJECT OF THE WEEK
THE ‘MAKING LINKS’ SCHOOL CHALLENGE
Linklaters’ innovative project for schools the ‘Making Links School Challenge’ ended with an unexpected conclusion last week when, for the first time, a virtual final had to be held over two days for the 20 selected finalists.
The Making Links Schools Challenge is designed to give UK state-school students currently completing A-Levels (or equivalent) the opportunity to develop the skills they need to become the commercial lawyers of the future. (There are also some rather attractive prizes on offer too). “The Challenge gives state school students the chance to showcase their talents,” said David Martin, the firm’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Partner. “With the aim of encouraging participation from those students from less privileged backgrounds, we want them to see that a career in law is not beyond their reach.”
A key part of the competition’s objectives was to improve participants’ presentation skills so, as an eliminator, entrants had to submit a short 500-word essay on their views on innovation. Coming at such a time of transition and disruption this might have been particularly apposite!
During the two-day virtual final, the students participated in various interactive sessions and prepared a two-minute video presentation providing a summary of their original mini-essay. Four finalists were then chosen to present to a Linklaters panel comprising of David Martin, Global Diversity Partner, Kate Richardson-Moore, Global Head of Talent and Engagement, and Shilpa Bhandarkar, Global Head of Innovation and Nakhoda – where the ultimate winner was decided. (For reasons of personal confidentiality the details are not available)
“We should never underestimate the importance of early opportunities – sometimes they change the course of a life,” said David Martin, “Improving the diversity of our firm starts with giving young people who might ordinarily miss out on such opportunities, more platforms to develop their skills and confidence.”
ARTWORK OF THE WEEK
‘WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER’ – SUSAN STOCKWELL AND THE STAFF OF PINSENT MASONS
The ‘shared experience’ of the C-Virus lockdown has proved to be an uncannily appropriate context for the participatory art quilt project at
Pinsent Masons being co-ordinated by its current artist-in-residence Susan Stockwell. ‘We Are All in This Together’ was actually conceived last year against the background of the run-up to Brexit. However, that trauma now seems relatively minor compared with the C-Virus which is keeping the firm’s staff largely at home and working in isolation. All the more reason , though, for them to join in and contribute individual quilt patches to an artwork that will be drawn together into its final form later this year. Susan Stockwell, the firm’s fifth artist-in-residence, had been conducting workshops at the firm before the lockdown.
‘’The original steer was to produce a response to the times we live in, from a personal, philosophical or political perspective,” explains Maggie O’Regan of InSitu Art Consultants which manages the firm’s art initiatives. “Brexit was at the forefront of people’s minds originally. With the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown, no one could have predicted how much more relevant the project would become. It now gives voice to a sense of shared experience and solidarity during quarantine, expressed creatively by staff through their contributions.””I am delighted that despite lockdown, Susan continues to engage with staff remotely through a participatory and therapeutic art quilt. Sewing and the act of making are important meditative processes that provide calm and comfort. I am also excited to see the final artwork Susan will assemble with the contributions from Pinsent Masons staff.’
‘Hope Inside Us All’, (reused army blanket and embroidery) is a detail from a previous art quilt by Susan Stockwell titled ‘Piece Makers’ 2014, where the artist engaged veteran soldiers and the National Army Museum (NAM) over a two year period.
In undertaking ‘We are all in this together’ Susan Stockwell is building on her extensive experience in a long series of similar, socially-engaged projects involving quilt artworks. These include ‘Piece Makers’ (2012-2016) commissioned by the National Army Museum and developed with veteran soldiers. Meanwhile her sculptural work – including distinctive and subtly political life-size dress sculptures made of money and maps that deal with issues of colonialism and feminism – have also been on display throughout the firm’s offices.
For more on Susan Stockwell go to http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/videos/a/video-a-chinese-dream-by-susan-stockwell
Susan Stockwell’s ‘Fast Fashion’ exhibition is currently online until May 11th https://www.patrickheide.com/exhibitions/online-exhibitionsusan-stockwell
More on Maggie O’Regan at http://www.insitu-art.co.uk
LEXFLIC OF THE WEEK
Sometimes we like to recommend ‘How to do it’ lexflics – but there is also lots to learn from how NOT to do it. Take a look at this one from Baker McKenzie and decide which category it fits.
Back to the Future: How to Build a Disruption-Ready Business – And Make it Last – from Baker McKenzie
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