Diary news plus insights, commentary and appointments from the legal world
September 22 2023
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SHORT THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Integrity at what price?
Is professional integrity a meaningless attribute when it comes to litigators? But what about personal integrity?
As the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry continues on its melancholy way individual lawyers who acted for the Post Office are being put under the spotlight. But not many ‘mea culpas’ are being heard. Maybe because when you enter the litigator’s fight-pit you have to check in your conscience on the other side of the rope.
The film ‘Dark Waters’ starring Tim Robbins was on TV earlier this week. It told the story of how Rob Billott, a courageous lawyer at Taft Law in Cincinnati, took on Du Pont on behalf of victims of water pollution in West Virginia. The struggle went on for years. Colleagues and other lawyers jeered at Billott, ’You want a medal for standing up for the little guy?’ Amazingly, in the end, Billott triumphed. He didn’t get a medal. But he certainly had his integrity.
In this week’s edition
+ LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
– Law Firms Put Callers on Hold
– Number’s Up at Browne Jacobson
– Taylor Wessing Look for a Chain Reaction
– Lash Back Over Failure in Reformed Whiplash System
LEGAL COMMENT OF THE WEEK
on infected blood victims, the Tik Tok fine, the PM’s U-turn on net zero deadlines and the On’Line Safety Bill
APPOINTMENTS OF THE WEEK
at Farrer & Co and Signature Litigation
LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
Taylor Wessing Look for a Chain Reaction
Blockchain is changing the world of business and, in the case of Taylor Wessing, also changing how high-performing staff are rewarded. The firm has just introduced what is called an innovative employee incentive programme which is built on our new best friend ‘distributed ledger technology’.
“The programme, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the legal market globally, is designed to provide micro-incentives to the firm’s lawyers and enhance the firm’s leading blockchain, digital asset and cryptocurrency practice,” says the firm.
So what might have been, in the past, a bunch of flowers or a round of applause for ‘an outstanding contribution to the firm’s culture and its responsible business objectives’ is now being transformed into what are called LAW tokens. These can either be traded with other lawyers on the blockchain or redeemed with the firm for benefits – including non-cash vouchers – and/or to make donations to a number of charities.
The benefits of the new scheme, however, are not just for the happy individuals awarded the LAW tokens. It is also part of a cunning plan to expose Taylor Wessing staff to the nature of the emerging blockchain world in which they now live. “A very significant number of our clients in the tech space are developing distributed ledger applications and we are representing an increasing number of blockchain and crypto businesses, as well as investors in – and acquirers of – those businesses, “ said Angus Miln, Partner, (Executive Board Member and Head of Emerging Companies and Venture Capital). “We want our people to develop the skills necessary for us to continue to expand our practice in these areas.”
NOTE: For the Blockchain aficionados ‘LAW Tokens are minted on Polygon, a permissionless (public) EVM-compatible blockchain, which allows the firm to leverage the scalability, efficiency and security of a layer-2 Ethereum scaling solution’.
Law Firms Put Callers on Hold
Telephones, remember them? Handheld devices which enabled you to actually ‘speak’ with other people in real time. Highly unfashionable these days, one appreciates, when the preference is to tick a box or click a reply, but in the outside world some people still use them – especially when trying to contact law firms.
But according to First4Lawyers’ latest White Paper From First Impressions to Follow-up Calls: Creating a Customer Journey there are plenty of law firms who are painfully slow in responding to calls – or even do not get back at all. A team of‘mystery shoppers’ from customer experience experts insight6 were hired to contact 50 personal injury and 50 wills practices by phone and through their websites. In total they spoke to 65 firms including 35 which offered both services, and they then rated how they were dealt with.
What became clear is that PI calls get a much better hearing than calls about wills with 56% of callers being put through to a fee-earner or specialist on the first attempt. By contrast with wills just 40% of callers were put through at once. In fact, for wills 8% waited more than two working days before receiving a call back – while , 20% were not folllowed up at all!
“More positively, customers were broadly happy when they did speak to firms but the rating of their overall experience was coloured by how quickly they received a callback,” said the report. “Some 60% of those who called a PI firm rated their overall experience at eight out of 10 or higher, compared to 40% of wills callers.”
First4Lawyers’ managing director Qamar Anwar added, “While law firms spend a lot of time and money getting the phone to ring or the email to ping with prospective clients, our research shows that many are still not putting enough emphasis on what happens when they do. The reality is there is still much to do to keep pace with the change in how consumers are engaging with law firms. “
Number’s Up at Browne Jacobson
Tim Johnson, a commercial insurance partner at Browne Jacobson has become the first solicitor in private practice to become accredited as a Plain Numbers practitioner. As our Prime Minister has pointed out on numerous occasions, including this very day, we need to become a more numerate society and Plain Numbers ‘accreditation’ is a step towards that.
Plain Numbers is a social purpose company that works with brands across a wide range of sectors, in particular financial services and insurance, to improve understanding of numerical information by customers.This is particularly important given that the Financial Conduct Authority’s new Consumer Duty outlines the importance of firms ensuring consumer understanding, and the guidance specifically draws attention to the fact poor numeracy must be considered.
According to research by the Association of British Insurers,71% of adults said better explanations of numbers in insurance documents would help to improve their interaction with the sector. Tim Johnson believes that by working with the team at Plain Numbers the Browne Jacobson team will be able to enhance the firm’s policy drafting and distribution service.
“After our ground breaking academic research into the readability of insurance policies, I am excited about the opportunity to add clarity of numerical communications to our services to clients,” says Johnson. “With the increased regulatory focus on customer understanding and fair value brought about by the Consumer Duty, this is the perfect time for us to further enhance our offering by ‘adding words to numbers’ through this innovative and exciting partnership.”
For more go to https://plainnumbers.org.uk/
Lash Back Over Failure in Reformed Whiplash System
As a long-term observer of the motor accident ‘whiplash’ problem the Legal Diarist was unsurprised to see that the number of unresolved cases in the (relatively new|) Official Injury Claim (OIC) Service portal now stands at 349,000 .Not quite as bad as the number of people waiting for NHS treatment but starting to head in that direction given it was only set up in May 2021. Anyway, a report by a cross-party committee of MPs has now raised concerns that only “just over a quarter” of cases had reached settlement in the first couple of years.
For those claims that do reach settlement, the latest monitoring data shows that in the quarter to 30 June 2023, it took an average of 251 days for a claim to reach settlement—up from 238 days in the previous quarter, and 227 days before that.
The big irony of the story, however, is that while the aim was to streamline the whole process by designing it so that claimants could use it without the need for legal representation, that has NOT proved to be the case. Of the total number of claims submitted via the portal since its inception, 56,064 (10%) of claims were brought by unrepresented claimants, whilst 514,150 (90%) of claimants had legal representation.
The MPs’ report highlighted concern about the low proportion of unrepresented claimants using the OIC portal and suggested that this was because of the “complexity of the process for claimants attempting to navigate it by themselves and a lack of awareness of the new process”. One submission branded it a “policy failure”.
Add that to the list one is tempted to say.
LEGAL COMMENT OF THE WEEK
TOPIC: Delays in the compensation of Infected Blood Victims
COMMENT BY: Des Collins, Senior Partner of Collins Solicitors (who represents some 1500 individuals and their families who have been infected by the infected blood scandal)
“Whilst we do not begrudge the Government compensating Post Office Horizon victims, yesterday’s announcement is a glaring reminder of the starkly different attitude they are taking on compensation for the Infected Blood scandal. It shows, once again, that those affected are being treated unfairly and deprioritised.
“Despite the Paymaster General accepting the Infected Blood scandal “shouldn’t have happened” and the “moral case for compensation”, my clients have been waiting and waiting for redress. Yet the Government continues to kick the issue of meaningful compensation into the long grass.
“The victims of the Infected Blood scandal are dying at a rate of one every 4 days, whilst the Government continues to sit on its hands insisting that it must wait for the Final Report, notwithstanding that in April this year Sir Brian Langstaff recommended the immediate setting up of a Compensation Scheme and an immediate interim payment of £100,000 to recognise those who had already died.
“The Post Office announcement yesterday makes it clear that the Government could set up a Compensation Scheme for Infected Blood victims if it wants to prior to the publication of the Inquiry Final Report, but it simply chooses not to.”
TOPIC: The Tik-Tok Fine
COMMENT BY: Antony O’Loughlin, Director Head of Litigation & General Counsel, Setfords
“The €345m fine imposed by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission against TikTok Technology represents another stark warning to technology companies over the need to ensure user privacy, especially in respect of children and young people (as well as vulnerable users).
In spite of the claims from TikTok that it has now taken steps to privatise the profiles of child users by default and properly inform them in respect of the accessibility of their profiles online, the level of the fine and the ongoing investigation by the DPC into data transfers by TikTok to China is a reminder that in spite of the sheer size and scope of TikTok, it must still operate within rules and laws designed to protect its most vulnerable users.”
TOPIC: The Prime Minister’s announcement on rolling back some of the government’s net zero-related policies,
COMMENT BY: Estelle Dehon KC and Ben Cooper KC, co-chairs of the Bar Council Climate Crisis Working Group
“Many people in the legal community are concerned that the UK government is rolling back key elements of the policies introduced to meet the legally mandated carbon budgets and the legal requirement to achieve net zero by 2050. These policies have been relied on in public and before the courts as evidencing that the government would meet its legal obligations. Sudden changes in these policies create uncertainty and result in a loss of confidence in clear government policy statements.
“There is also widespread concern that industries, local authorities and individuals have acted on the policy commitments and announced dates, and made financial and administrative decisions accordingly.
“It is further concerning that the government has relied on these policies to demonstrate how it will meet its international commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
“The UK was previously a leader on responding to the climate crisis. Independent oversight has reported that the government is already failing to meet its legally binding targets and to implement and action its climate policy commitments. We urge the government to rethink its approach, in light of its international and domestic legal obligations to achieve net zero.”
TOPIC: The passing of the Online Safety Bill
COMMENT BY: David Ostojitsch, Director of Government Relations and Policy at PIMFA, (the trade association for wealth management, investment services and the investment and financial advice industry)
“We are delighted that the Online Safety Bill has passed its final reading in the House of Lords. The legislation establishes a ‘Duty of Care’ on social media websites and search engines, making them more responsible for the content they publish for the first time.
“PIMFA is pleased to have been part of a campaign group that included consumer groups like Which? and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, trade associations such as UK Finance, the Association of British Insurers and the Investment Association and other stakeholders including the City of London Corporation, City of London Police and the Carnegie Institute UK.
“That such organisations came together to campaign for fraud to be included as a priority harm within the Bill is a measure of how passionate we all are about the need to protect the public from such a menace. Fraud is the most widely reported crime in the UK, and most of it now occurs online.
“But PIMFA will continue campaigning to ensure the public is properly protected from fraud. Ofcom must be appropriately resourced to regulate the whole of social media, and it will need help. To ensure that the law is enforced and fraud eradicated in this country, PIMFA has repeatedly called for the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to have a role in helping Ofcom manage its new position. We will continue to campaign for the FCA to have such a role and hope that, in time, it will help stop fraudsters from gaining access to potential victims.”
LEGAL APPOINTMENTS OF THE WEEK
FARRER & CO.
Clare Reddy (left) has joined Farrer & Co as a Partner in their Commercial Property practice. Formerly with Lewis Silkin, where she was a Partner and Head of the Construction practice, Reddy has over 20 years’ experience in construction law and advising on matters such as regeneration, mixed use development, and the refurbishment and fitting out of commercial property. She is recognised in the Legal 500 and Chambers as a noted practitioner in construction law and has extensive expertise advising developers, contractors, investors and occupiers both in the UK and internationally.
The move reflects Farrer & Co’s continued focus on growth in the commercial property sector. “Clare has fantastic experience and expertise in areas that are strategically important to us and that will help to further strengthen our client offering,” commented Mark Gauguier, Partner and Head of Farrer & Co’s Commercial Property team. “Her extensive knowledge of construction law combined with her experience in handling complex and multi-jurisdictional development projects and procurement strategies will add strength and depth to our existing commercial property expertise.”
Clare Reddy added, “ Having worked alongside members of the firm’s commercial property, planning and banking teams for the past couple of years for a mutual client, I’m confident that I’m joining a firm with a real commitment to excellence, integrity and client service.”
Philipp Kurek (left), an investment and international commercial arbitration specialist, has been appointed to the partnerhip of Signature Litigation in London. Previously a partner with Kirkland & Ellis, Kurek specialises in international arbitration with particular expertise in investment arbitration, representing clients and providing strategic legal advice in ICSID and ad hoc arbitration proceedings.With a strong focus on global arbitration Kurek has represented international clients in claims against a number of states in Central and South America, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
“Philipp will strengthen our existing arbitration practice and in particular with his focus on investor state claims, “ said Signature’s founding partner, Graham Huntley. “The appointment reflects our objective of growing the partnership both organically and with strategic hires.”
“Signature’s conflict free, disputes-only platform provides a compelling proposition for international clients seeking focussed, specialist advice,” commented Kurek.
Kurek’s arrival follows the appointment of litigation partner Jérémie Fierville in Signature Litigation’s Paris office in April 2023, as well as the appointments of arbitration partners Neil Newing (formerly a counsel with the firm) and Tsegaye Laurendeau in September 2022.
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