Thursday July 9 2020 Lunchtime publication Edition 16
Diary news, commentary, insights, appointments and arts from the legal world
SHORT THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
– FITTING IN WITH RFC
The announcement by the cream of City law firms – including Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Clifford Chance, DWF, Dentons, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Macfarlanes, Norton Rose Fulbright, Pinsent Masons, RPC, Slaughter and May, Travers Smith and White & Case – that they will sign up to the Race Fairness Commitment (RFC) is potentially a landmark development in creating mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing equal opportunities in the legal workplace.
Much of this new environment will hinge on the collection of data. But there is also a cultural dimension to the move. In particular the RFC includes an explicit commitment to continue to foster workplaces where BAME people can ‘be themselves at work as much as White people – without feeling the need to be inauthentic in terms of their speech or culture, simply in order to “fit in”’.
The interesting point here is that there are plenty of white law graduates – crudely characterised maybe as ‘bog-standard comp-educated kids from Essex’ – who also feel that they are discriminated against on grounds of accent, manner and origin. Historically, those who have managed – against the odds – to get through the system have done so by adapting fast to their new environment. Maybe they too will no longer feel the pressure to do so.
THE LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
Doesn’t Work For everyone
Veteran law business leader Sir Nigel Knowles is rapidly making his presence felt as the Group CEO at beleaguered DWF. Having floated on the Stock Exchange in the Spring of last year DWF was always going to be a test case for the viability and sustainability of the new model of ownership. And, to give it the benefit of the doubt, the conditions created by Covid-19 were bound to create an adverse environment.
But things did not go well and it required the smack of decisive management to stop a slide into catastrophe. Knowles’ arrival on the scene – quite literally a knight riding to the rescue – has delivered that through major cost savings and a new way of managing. As a result, this morning the firm was able to report strong trading in the first two months of the financial year and organic revenue growth of c.6% year-on-year plus other improvements. Nonetheless questions have been raised as to whether DWF has effectively pulled the plug on other floats by law firms. Maybe so for the foreseeable future. But what it really underlines is that a very different management style and culture is required. Does that suit the typical lawyer’s temperament? Right now, probably not.
Gold – Mine! Mine! Mine!
In whatever light one might regard the calamitous state of things in Venezuela it does throw up complicated legal scenarios. Hence it was that last week the courts in London decided that a hoard of gold held by the Bank of England on behalf of the Venezuelan central bank should not be handed back to Venezuela on the grounds that the presiding Maduro regime was not legitimate.
As Sarosh Zaiwalla, the British lawyer from Zaiwalla & Co. acting for the bank, observed after the judgment had been handed down, “It is very rare for a case of such international legal importance to be decided by reference to legal questions alone without taking into account the facts on the ground, and still rarer for an English Commercial Court to be told that it can only decide a question in the way that the Government says it must. This has led to the unusual result in this case that while at the same time acknowledging the UK’s full diplomatic relations with Mr Maduro’s government, the Court has also upheld as valid in England Mr Guaidó’s acts of appointment [the opposition leader claiming to be the righful President] which are considered unlawful and invalid in Venezuela.”
(Fortunately in the UK we can be content that the Supreme Court never gets drawn into political controversies of a constitutional nature – perish the thought!).
Did We Pass?
We are not out of the woods yet over the C-Virus but we are in a position to start taking stock on how well we coped with the enormous jolt to the system.
According to this week’s ‘Looking Glass’ report, from global law firm Clyde & Co and Winmark, (the professional network organisation) there is general satisfaction with how business responded to the unprecedented threat posed by the illness in terms of working practices, operating procedures and technology.
“COVID-19 has had a profound impact across the business landscape with old certainties blown away overnight.,” said Peter Hirst, Clyde & Co Senior Partner. “One of the positives to have come out of this crisis has been the ability of so many organisations to rapidly adapt, not least by shifting to remote working models and adopting new technologies. Now the immediate shift has taken place, risk management and mitigation must remain central considerations for boards and their general counsel as they seek to address the longer-term challenges and opportunities the pandemic has presented them with.” In other words the real challenge starts now.
Back to Work? Not necessarily
This morning at nine o clock BDB Pitmans ran an Employment Webinar on the grim topic of ‘Collective Redundancy Consultation – What do you need to know?’ I am afraid that I was too busy writing this to be able to join in but past experience of the firm’s seminars suggest that it would have been very thorough. After all less than a fortnight ago it ran one on ‘Back to the Workplace – the Do’s and Don’ts’.
So what has changed since? Maybe the Chancellor’s largesse from yesterday wasn’t quite as generous or comprehensive enough to allay fears that large scale lay-offs are just around the corner.
And, er – what happens next?
Following the revelations of what has been going on at Wirecard in Germany their auditors EY, the creative accountancy firm formerly known as Ernst & Young, is facing all kinds of trouble. But it has also resurrected the old debate about the need to separate out auditing from consultancy services. This goes back for two decades or more and was brought to life originally around the time of the collapse of Enron whose auditors then were Arthur Andersen.
Andersen also had a law firm and it seemed at the time that everything was lost. But not quite. On both sides of the Atlantic Andersen has come back to life and in Europe, of late, it has been operating under the brands Andersen Tax, Andersen Legal and Andersen Tax & Legal. However with perfect timing these have now announced that they will ‘demonstrate the unified and seamless approach of the global tax and legal firm’ by just operating as Andersen.
“Our common brand, Andersen, is reflective of our ‘one firm’ culture and encompasses all that we do as a global organization,” said Mark Vorsatz, Andersen Global Chairman and Andersen CEO. “It signifies our ability to provide best-in-class service and our deep commitment to investing in our people.” What was it that someone once said about history repeating itself?
ARTWORK OF THE WEEK – SOOYOUNG CHUNG
at DLA PIPER
Consultant Cornelius Medvei, who has largely selected and coordinates the extensive art collection at DLA Piper, introduces Royal College of Art graduate Sooyoung Chung whose work now hangs in the firm’s Aldersgate Street office.
“I chose this artist as her work has resonated particularly strongly with everyone in the office, clients and staff alike,” explains Cornelius Medvei. “These two pieces were some of the first pieces we bought – from her degree show at the Royal College in 2018 – to add to our collection in anticipation of the move to 160 Aldersgate Street. We hang them together and they complement one another very well.”
Sooyoung Chung’s practice considers prosaic architectural spaces and the everyday objects that fill them. Her painting Monday depicts cardboard boxes and office envelopes atop a cluttered desk, hinting that someone has just left the room in the middle of working. Meanwhile The Other Space Confirmed Bachelor is populated by keys strewn on a table, coffee cups, bananas and pills. The seaweed of a decorative aquarium is visually coupled with the design of a vacuum cleaner hanging on a wall. Her painterly style shifts from the hyper-realistic to the graphically stylised and she flattens out space to create depthless, motionless scenes.
“I look at things around me,” says Sooyoung. “I observe objects around me. I observe the silence of things in front of me. I sometimes think that the beings of silence wander in the air and rest for a moment in the things [they pass]. It is as if the soul was swallowed by another’s body.”