Friday November 6 2020 Edition 33
Diary news, commentary, insights, appointments and arts from the legal world
SHORT THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK – A LIST FOR OUR TIMES?
Yesterday my erstwhile colleagues at The Times LAW published the now annual ‘Best Law Firms 2021’. It was accompanied by the disclaimer that it had been compiled on the basis of law firms’ own evaluations of their rivals and competitors – so don’t blame The Times if you didn’t agree. Mind you, for the uninitiated, it was a curious list with worthy firms such as Wilsons of Salisbury and MSB Solicitors of Liverpool being put, apparently, on a par with the mighty Weil of New York and the legendary Carter Ruck of London in terms of recommendations.
In an important way, however, that was a correct analysis. Getting the right law firm is all about getting the right lawyer with the right expertise in the right place and at the right price. A niche firm on a couple of floors in Chancery Lane – such as Hughes Fowler Carruthers – can be a much better bet than a mega firm in a Bishopsgate for certain types of work.
But what’s useful to the client might nor be right for the legal business strategist weighing up possible merger partners. That’s where a new service like Legal Target https://www.legal-target.com/about a specialist legal search engine, comes into its own by providing comprehensive data about firms with the depth and detail that potential suitors (or recruiters) might demand.
In other words, there are lots of lists and lots of way of grading and assessing lawyers and law firms. We can’t all be best. But we can all probably do a bit better.
In the week’s edition
+The Legal Diary
– The IBA’s ‘Virtually Together’ Conference
– Litigation Funders Bond Together
– Major Trauma Group Sets Up
– Adieu Kemp Little
– CMS Surveys Digitalisation in CEE
– Lawyers still party animals
– Still pedalling after all these years
+ Quote of the Week – Don’t Impress Me Much
+ Legal Commentary of the Week – The Depp Case
+ Campaign of the Week – Recruitment Agency Race Fairness Commitment
+ Artwork of the Week – Antony Gormley’s HINGE – Not socially distanced!
THIS WEEK’S LEGAL DIARY
IBA Reaches Out
It’s the opening week of the International Bar Association’s annual conference. Of course it’s happening ‘Virtually Together’ this year and so it is enjoying the attendance of an amazing 10, 000 delegates. Star attraction to open the event on Monday was Ban Ki-moon, the Former United Nations Secretary-General (2007-2016) and former South Korean Foreign Minister who had presumably been prepped to express his deep concern for ‘attacks on lawyers around the world, sometimes from the highest levels of government.’ Taking a global view he referenced last year’s ‘Justice for All’ Task Force report which noted that 1.5 billion people had a ‘justice problem’ that they could not resolve. “Funding for access to justice has declined by 40% in the last 4 years and the economic downturn puts even greater pressure on financing,” he said.
So what’s the answer? More affordable lawyers – and that probably applies across every jurisdiction from America to Zimbabwe. “We will not be able to reduce this justice gap without significant action and reform by the legal profession,” he said. “The legal profession needs to adapt, and the disruption caused by the pandemic should be harnessed and deployed as a catalyst to longer-term, progressive reforms. One possibility is to embrace paralegals, who represent a cost-effective way of expanding legal empowerment services, particularly in resource-poor countries without large numbers of lawyers. Sierra Leone and Indonesia are two positive examples of countries that have recognised paralegals which has enabled them to expand access to justice services.”
Citing countries from Africa and the Far East might be initially surprising. But as the experience of the Corona virus has demonstrated, Europe and North America do not have all the answers. It’s time to look further afield
As a service to the legal profession, the IBA is providing 60 sessions outside of the paywall that are free to attend. Details can be found here: www.ibanet.org/VirtuallyTogether-open-sessions.aspx
Litigation Funders Bond Together
Collaboration seems to be very much the name of the game this week. Maybe it is the impact of the pandemic which is giving lawyers the headspace to reflect on the benefits of doing things co-operatively rather than in isolation. Anyhow, earlier this week Brown Rudnick announced the launch of the Litigation Funding Working Group (LFWG), which brings together leading litigation funders, insurers, institutional claimants, legal advisors and other participants across the litigation funding market in the UK and Europe. Their purpose is to develop ‘model documentation’ which will support the continued growth and development of the litigation funding market.
Elena S. Rey, a partner at Brown Rudnick’s Special Situations team, points out that “This initiative comes at a time of rising demand for litigation funding products in an evolving regulatory environment.”
The model documentation will be freely available and is intended to
The LFWG features a hefty slate of major funders and institutional claimants – in fact, too many to mention but including the likes of Affiniti Finance Limited, BDO Global, Bench Walk Advisors, Grant Thornton UK LLP, King Street, Litigation Capital Management Limited and Therium Capital Management along with insurers and brokers including AmTrust Financial, Marsh Ltd., QLCC, and others plus legal & expert advisers and barrister chambers. It could be a force for good.
Ending Drama of Trauma
Next up in our theme of collaboration is the creation of the Major Trauma Group. It is reckoned that over 10,000 people die following a major trauma injury every year in England and Wales. Whether from car accidents or other mishaps. injuries are the main cause of death for people under 45 in the UK.
Many patients then leave hospital without legal advice or access to adequate community rehabilitation follow up. A paper published in the Journal of Intensive Care Society highlighted that in 70% of major trauma centres patients fail to receive legal advice.
To remedy this gap the Major Trauma Group was launched this week as a new national service by some of the UK’s leading law firms in this field – Boyes Turner CL Medilaw, Enable Law and Moore Barlow and the Brain Injury Group – in collaboration with medical clinicians. The Group will be a source of information for these individual victims as well as directing them to appropriate legal services.“We are proud to be launching The Major Trauma Group,” said Trevor Sterling, Chair of the Group. “It is the first venture of its kind where lawyers and medical professionals will work together for people affected by major trauma. The Major Trauma Group will ensure that no patient goes without the legal and rehabilitation support they require and that patients’ opinions on issues that affect their care and rehabilitation are heard by decision-makers.”
Adieu Kemp Little
I am sure it is a smart move commercially but it is a little sad, nonetheless, to see Kemp Little being vacuumed up by the legal arm of Deloitte. The firm was a bright, energetic start-up operating from small offices in Piccadilly when I first came across them. They were unstuffy, accessible and embodied the legal industry’s positive answer to the new tech revolution. I hope that their spirit will not be squashed by rubbing shoulders too much with big business accountants with legal ambitions.
[For more on this see
CMS Surveys Digitalisation in CEE
A survey by law firm CMS investigating how digitalisation will impact on central and eastern Europe has revealed that almost two-thirds (65%) of companies in the region believe that it is a priority in achieving their goals. The Covid-19 pandemic in particular has underlined the importance of the digital agenda with 45% of respondents saying that it has accelerated ongoing projects.
Financial services and life sciences are the key sectors identified by respondents in which digitalisation is expected to be most driven by the fallout from the pandemic, followed by the manufacturing, automotive and energy sectors. Only 6% of businesses have delayed their digital projects due to the pandemic.
“Despite the continuing impact of Covid-19 globally, it is encouraging that many companies across CEE are either pressing the fast forward button or planning to commit greater resources to go digital,” says Dóra Petrányi, CEE Managing Director at CMS. “We already have high-quality digital infrastructure across many CEE countries with high speed broadband, e-commerce and 4G usage. However, to be on par with other developed nations, we need to become more digitally competitive through new technologies such as 5G networks and artificial intelligence, supported by the necessary regulatory frameworks and standards.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) is seen as the key instrument of change but it does not come without widespread concerns. “A significant proportion (86%) are worried about potential legal liability issues while 60% are either concerned or very concerned about security risks,” says CMS. “At present, only 4% of respondents believe that AI is over-regulated while over half (60%) would like to see more guidance and regulation on AI to be put in place.”
Lawyers love party animals
According to Appreciate, which operates the Love2shop rewards product, people working in the legal sector are keener than most to have their annual firm Xmas parties this year.
Apparently 34% of employees in the legal sector want their company to hold some sort of office Christmas party this year, compared to a national average of 24%.
Frank Creighton, Director of Business Development at Appreciate Group, said: “Clearly Covid-19 has changed our attitudes to Christmas parties this year but in the legal sector the desire to get together and celebrate is still strong. We imagine there will be a lot of virtual, Covid-safe Zoom Christmas parties come December, with people letting their hair down in different ways.”
One dreads to imagine how.
Still pedalling after all these years
The legal profession’s annual bike charity Tour de Law – in support of Breast Cancer Now – has just finished counting the receipts from its October event and announced that it raised the massive sum of £207,000.
Teams from 50 law firms were involved but the stand-out winner – and of course there has to be a competitive element – as the Cycle Your Way 2020 Champion were the domestiques from Jones Day (who pedal under the moniker ‘Terrible Economic Cycle’) generating a high octane £21,050 after cycling 7,819km. (This also won them the ‘Going the Distance’ award for the team that travelled the furthest).
To mark their achievement they were presented with the Tour de Law Champions jersey, provided by Team INEOS Grenadiers having wrestled it from the handlebars of last year’s winners Sidley Austin (who could only manage a humiliating 13th this time round).
Claire Pulford, Associate Director of Events & Community at Breast Cancer Now, said “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is an extremely difficult and uncertain time for people affected by breast cancer. COVID-19 has put many areas of our work on pause – as such the funds raised through Tour de Law are more critical and urgently needed than ever before. By taking part you have helped us to continue our world-class research, and to provide life-changing care and support that so many people affected by breast cancer rely on.”
For the full list of winners go to https://breastcancernow.org/get-involved/sports-adventure/charity-bike-rides/tour-de-law
QUOTE OF THE WEEK – ‘IMPRESSIVE?’
Commenting on the Government’s response this week to its 2017 consultation on the question of reform of corporate criminal liability, Kingsley Napley criminal litigation partner Alun Milford says:
“Three years to consider a consultation exercise, produce a fence-sitting report of 74 paragraphs and then pass the buck to someone else is hardly impressive. So the status quo continues but this issue has not gone away.”
That tells it like it is – but is anyone listening? Doubt it. Don’t you know there’s a Covid On?
COMMENTARY OF THE WEEK – THE DEPP CASE
The extraordinary case of, in effect, Depp versus Heard generated a vast amount of comment on everything from the squalor of celebrity lives to the catastrophic cost of going to law, But was the case really about libel or domestic violence? Here are two views on its significance.
Sarah Harding, a Partner within the Family team at Hodge Jones & Allen
“At a time where the court system has been hugely impacted by the pandemic, to be given three weeks of High Court time is unacceptable.
If this was a domestic abuse case and had been held within the family courts, overseen by a district judge, it would have been a much simpler process, all while still providing the necessary protection to the victim.
The high-profile nature of this case meant that it was given a substantial amount of time and resource, which seems to me to be completely unnecessary.
It is disappointing to see this reflected in our justice system when there is a significant backlog of cases, involving serious allegations which cannot get a court listing at all. While, undoubtedly, cases with cross allegations of abuse by both parties are complex, we’ve worked with many clients in similar cases and, in reality, it is very rare for witnesses to be allowed to give evidence, and the court would usually not allow (and do not have time) to give more than one day, which is usually permitted.
“However, it is hoped that this case will encourage other victims of domestic violence to come forward and seek the protection that they need. This case will highlight that the courts do listen, regardless of wealth or stature.”
Sarah Jane Lenihan, Partner at Stowe Family Law
“This ruling will help induce some much-needed confidence in victims, knowing that even someone as famous and wealthy as Johnny Depp cannot avoid the truth being told.
Domestic abuse comes in many forms and can lead to a lack of confidence in victims following (often) many years of enduring such behaviour. As such, one of the ongoing fears I regularly hear from victims is whether somebody will believe them. It takes great strength not only for victims to seek advice but also to speak out against their abusers.
As we move into a second lockdown, this judgment serves as a reminder to victims that they do not have to suffer in silence and that there is help available.
It became very clear during the last lockdown that resources for victims of domestic abuse are severely underfunded, and many urgent calls were made to the government to rectify this. Government guidance makes it very clear that household isolation instructions do not apply for victims who need to leave their home to escape domestic abuse.
Victims of domestic abuse who find the courage to speak out can breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that family lawyers and courts will continue to sit and be fully operational during the second lockdown.”
CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK – EQUAL CHANCES FOR ALL IN RECRUITMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills, Slaughter and May, and Travers Smith have joined up with more than a score of recruitment agencies serving the legal sector sign up to the Recruitment Agency Race Fairness Commitment (RFC) to ensure that Black and ethnic minority job seekers get the same opportunities to compete for roles as similarly qualified White counterparts.
The Recruitment Agency RFC was developed by diversity recruitment specialist Rare and it recognises that external agencies have an important role to play alongside internal recruitment and HR teams in ensuring equal access opportunities to all candidates.
“Crucially, this initiative is about maximising opportunities for experienced and senior candidates, as well as entry-level, to ensure a “top-down” as well as “bottom-up” effect on diversity in organisations,” says a spokesperson for the initiative. “Candidates join an organisation at one of two stages: at entry level or through lateral recruitment, meaning racial equity of opportunity must be addressed at all recruitment points.”
Gareth Quarry, Chairman and Joint Group Chief Executive at SSQ, and one of the most senior and long-standing legal recruiters in the world said,
“SSQ is committed to fairness at work regardless of ethnicity and we aim to present shortlists that are rich with diversity. It is only by being pro-active that we will break down unconscious bias and open up the profession to everyone. The law is less diverse than many other business sectors. This is a product of our educational and social systems to a large extent. We are determined to do all we can to change this.
It is very easy to talk about diversity. True inclusion is harder to achieve. We work with our clients to help them achieve their diversity objectives ….and to shape the legal profession of the future to ensure that it becomes a fairer one.”
Signatories to the RFC commit to a range of measures, including:
+ ensuring that their candidate pools at least match the UK ethnic diversity and aspire to the local population if greater;
+ taking the time to explore contextual backgrounds and experiences of Black and ethnic minority candidates to better represent diverse candidates to organisations;
+ demanding hard, factual feedback on any ethnic minority candidates not hired. “Didn’t fit” and “something is not quite right” are not acceptable reasons for not hiring and are often code for bias.
Recruitment agencies will be asked, on an annual basis, to submit evidence of progress in relation to the nine points in the Recruitment Agency RFC. This will be reviewed by a steering group, comprised of representatives from Rare and the founding law firms, to ensure the commitment remains fit for purpose.
Further details about the Recruitment Agency RFC and its associated measures can be viewed at http://recruiter.racefairnesscommitment.com/
LEGAL ARTWORK OF THE WEEK – ANTONY GORMLEY’S ‘HINGE’
No social distancing here – With thanks to Antony Gormley and Weil
With lockdown all around, social distancing de rigeur and lawyers deprived of enjoying the artwork on their own office walls we have taken the liberty of featuring the brilliant HINGE by Antony Gormley which can be seen (actually from the street) in the atrium of Weil’s office adjacent to the Commercial Court off Fetter lane – because now is the time to enjoy the City streets free of the crowds. Enjoy (but don’t get caught doing this kind of thing yourself).