Friday April 30 2021 Edition 55
Diary news, commentary, insights, appointments and e-vents from the legal world
SHORT THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK – WHO DID YOU SAY YOU ARE?
‘Even the biggest law firm brands are relatively unknown to the broader population’ according to the results of a recent survey. So should law firms – and those who work for them – be relieved at that? Or will their egos be deflated?
Law firms and their solicitors are not actors on their own account. It is their clients who make the news – whether that be in a high profile criminal case or a big business bust-up. However the survey result does have wider implications about the status of lawyers in relation to both the law itself and the wider community. When Nigel Boardman the former head honcho at Slaughter and May was appointed recently to lead the inquiry into the Greensill lobbying controversy most people familiar with City law would have been impressed. After all, you could not get much better than the top person at Slaughters. Yet it did not seem to cut much ice with the wider community. Neither the integrity of the investigation nor the quality of the findings seemed to be guaranteed by names which are platinum to most of the readers of this Legal Diary. Indeed, some political commentators said the appointment was another example of the ‘cronyism’ which was what the Greensill issue was all about.
It is rare for solicitors to be in the limelight. Even Dr Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors (one of the champions of the Sub-Postmasters and mistresses) was only fleetingly on our screens recently. Whether that is right or fair or clever is a matter worth pondering,
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In this week’s edition
+ LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
– ‘The Charter for Black Talent is not another tick-box exercise’
– New ‘Reports Legal’ Shimmers
– Straight-talking in Brussels?
– A Case of ‘No Comment’ on pensions leak
– Righteous Pensions – Small pensions fund need help
– Just Doing the Right Thing at Reed Smith
+ LEGAL COMMENT OF THE WEEK
THE POST OFFICE SCANDAL: THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
+ SPECIAL REPORT OF THE WEEK – SUIT YOURSELF
Here, there, anywhere or everywhere – where works best?
+ APPOINTMENTS OF THE WEEK
BCLP and Kennedys
LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
‘The Charter for Black Talent is not another tick-box exercise’
Brick Court QC Harry Matovu is one of the brains behind the new Charter for Black Talent in Finance and the Professions which has just received the backing of the Bar Council (as well as the four Inns of Court and several Chambers including Brick Court itself). The focus of the Charter is to facilitate career progression into more senior roles for black professionals. “The recognition of talented Black professionals and their promotion to positions of leadership in business and the professions is long overdue, and the fact that the Charter has the support of other sectors gives this initiative real weight. The Bar Council is proud to support it,” said Derek Sweeting QC, Chair of the Bar Council.
It is the controversial Sewell Report which provides something of a backdrop to the Charter. “The support of the Bar Council could not come at a more important time,” says Matovu. “It seems curious that the Sewell Report should boast about ‘the onward march of minorities into positions of power and responsibility in professions such as the law and medicine’, when that is not a picture of our profession that most of us at the Bar would recognise, particularly given the statistics for Black barristers in the highest-earning areas of practice at the Bar.
“Equality of opportunity is fundamental to any true meritocracy, and as we begin to emerge from the events of the last year, the Bar must hold itself to the highest of standards in this area, whatever position others may take. The Charter for Black Talent is not another tick-box exercise. Many senior executives and partners in the financial and professional services sectors have confirmed that it has the ability to drive real and lasting change in the recruitment and progression of talented Black professionals to senior grades. So I hope the Bar will unanimously support the Charter. If not now, when?”
‘If not now, when?’ is one of those perennial questions hanging over the desire for change. The answer hinges on the significance of what has gone before. It will take the historians to judge whether events of the past year have been a decisive catalyst in transforming opportunities.
More information on the work of the Bar Council’s Race Working Group.
‘Reports Legal’ Shimmers
Even in the crowded market for legal journalism there is always room for a new approach. So definitely worth following up on the new REPORTS LEGAL led by Dominic Carman whose theme is ‘in-depth reports examining work done by international law firms across a variety of markets and sectors’.
Topics covered by the current edition include the state of Hong Kong, Gibraltar (‘a hub for crypto entrepreneurs’) and SPACs – plus some rather delightful off-shore elite firms. It’s glossy and beautifully presented as an E-magazine so it’s no surprise that its already attracting some great advertising. And it’s FREE.
Straight-talking in Brussels?
Can anything good come out of Brussels? In post-Brexit, post-Covid Britain that might be a tricky question. However, one exception is First Law International which in 2020 came out as the The Lawyer’s Global Network of the Year.
Headquartered in the EU’s capital, FLI has more than 100 leading national law firms as members of its FLI NET. “Our experts specialise in cross-border legal projects, enabling each of our clients to achieve growth and success on a global scale,” it explains.
One of its several claims to fame is to be at the forefront of innovation in LegalTech and it is now staking its reputation on the launch of FLInstitute, a ‘digital compliance training platform for in-house legal teams.’
“First Law International’s fully digital training platform helps in-house counsels understand the risks facing their business and help avoid infringements of local legislation in jurisdictions across the globe,” says Daniel-Casares Lauritsen, the network’s Chief Business Development Officer. “As part of our compliance program, we now offer TRACE-accredited training digitally covering Anti-corruption and Anti-bribery, as well as a variety of other modules which we co-create with our clients and local counsel. In a post-pandemic global environment, online training programs make it easier for internal teams to disseminate information quicker, more effectively, and usually at a much lower cost.”
One of the particular benefits is that the platform allows for multiple languages, depending on the teams’ locations. For once, in other words, not everyone is expected to speak Anglais/Inglese/Englisch/Saesneg/Béarla.
Another Case of ‘No Comment’?
It’s too serious a subject for joking but, nonetheless, reports that Equiniti failed to properly update its database, resulting in pension statements being sent to the wrong addresses of hundreds of former members of the Sussex Police force does have a strong hint of Line of Duty about it. The Equiniti data breach exposed the names, National Insurance numbers, salary banding, dates of birth, police service details, and pensions information of police officers. So if you were part of an OCG it could all be very interesting. No suprise then that almost 500 coppers have recently issued a compensation claim in the High Court against Paymaster 1836, the pensions part of Equiniti Group.
Acting for them is specialist group action law firm Keller Lenkner UK, whose Head of data breach, Kingsley Hayes, has taken a pretty robust approach. “A data breach of this scale has a significant impact on the individuals affected. Equiniti has thus far failed to recognise the seriousness of the data violation and the impact on the large number of police officers affected. The breach included highly confidential information which, placed in the wrong hands, could have significant consequences, including identity theft or other fraudulent activities resulting in significant financial losses. Equiniti had a duty to protect this information and should be held accountable for their failure to do so. They should compensate victims fairly.”
Due to privacy concerns emanating from the case, the Judge has ordered that the names of the claimants be kept confidential. As one of the affected individuals commented. “Knowing that my personal information may potentially be used to defraud me or others is deeply troubling.”
Looks like the next storyline for Jed Mercurio.
Talking about pensions, the Treasury committee has recently published an unanimously agreed report which calls for environmental, social and governance (ESG) regulations for smaller pension schemes. Great idea but how practicable is it?
“From our experience trustees of smaller schemes which are not in distress situations are engaged and interested in ESG and keen to do their part, “ says Jane Kola, Partner at specialist pensions law firm Arc Pensions Law. “The challenge they face is how to do this cost effectively and how to influence change.”
The problem is that, as of now, there are no common standards and no benchmarks to work with. And, not surprisingly given current market conditions, small schemes do not have the resources to create that metric for themselves. So the answer?
“The larger schemes taking the lead should help smaller schemes comply in future years but only so long as that thinking does trickle down,” suggests Kola. “If not then a great deal of time and money will be wasted in compliance that could have been spent more wisely in promoting material and lasting change.”
Umm. Definitely one to think about.
Just Doing the Right Thing
Every law firm wants to claim the moral high ground these days setting out their values and explaining how they are making the world a better place .
The way Reed Smith puts it is, “At Reed Smith, we strive to always ‘do the right thing’. Being a responsible business is vitally important to us. It is central to our core values: integrity – excellence – teamwork and respect – innovation – impact.”
To see how they do it take a look at their 2020 Responsible Business Report,
LEGAL COMMENT OF THE WEEK
THE POST OFFICE SCANDAL: THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
The appalling abuses perpetrated by the Post Office on its sub-postmasters and mistresses have been called – officially – “An affront to the public conscience.” However, just a single member of the PO’s top brass resigning as a minister of the Anglican Church does not quite to reflect the gravity of the offences. Here Nick Gould examines some of the key questions still to be answered.
Last week at the Royal Courts of Justice, the tide finally turned in the Post Office Scandal. Having waited, in some cases more than 15 years, 39 Appellants had their convictions for fraud, theft and dishonesty overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The detailed judgement made it clear what the judges thought about the behaviour of the Post Office and individuals involved with it and with Fujitsu which operated the discredited Horizon IT system.
As lone voices (but with full support of their clients) in pushing for so called “limb 2”, barristers Paul Marshall and Flora Page developed the rarely used argument that these convictions were “an affront to the public conscience” – something that the Court accepted in its final judgment.
These Appeals are over, but there are many more to come and numerous other issues and questions to be addressed. These include notably:
– what was the basis of the advice given by various legal advisors to the Post Office over many years
– how can the non-disclosure of key documents and information be accounted for?
[On these points the SRA is now, apparently, gathering information].
– hundreds more postmasters wait for their convictions/ prosecutions to be overturned; how long will this now take?
– what about the compensation for all those whose lives were destroyed? When will it come? An immediate and unconditional interim payment for each Appellant is surely the right thing to do.
– there have been numerous calls for a powerful judge-led enquiry; the current enquiry set up by BEIS (which essentially owns the Post Office) is limited in its scope. Something more credible and comprehensive is required. When will it happen?
– who was responsible, ultimately, for corporate governance during this sorry saga, which apparently was about ‘Protecting the brand’. It ended up doing the exact reverse.
So there was indeed a massive miscarriage of justice. It has discredited the legal profession and the criminal justice system in the eyes of thousands of people. It should never be allowed to happen again (but, of course, it will). As Seema Misra, one of the victims, said, “If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.” [Well, not quite anyone, one suspects].
Nick Gould, partner at Aria Grace Law, was part of the team who advised three of the falsely accused.
SPECIAL REPORT OF THE WEEK – SUIT YOURSELF?
Here, there, anywhere or everywhere – where works best? And for whom?
One of the biggest law firms in the world, Clifford Chance, has just announced that by the end of June its UK partners will be allowed to work remotely for up to half the week. Other law firms are following suit with variations on this theme. Notionally it is one of the benefits of the Covid crisis that bosses have started to think the unthinkable and operate their businesses in a more flexible way which better suits the needs of ALL their diverse people.
How exactly it will play out remains to be seen. But one of the major anxieties should be that there are now completely conflicting claims made for remote working especially regarding those believed to be disadvantaged in the race for career advancement. Some suggest that it will be good for them. Others maintain that it will disadvantage them even further. Here are the two arguments as advanced in the past few days:
UK firms choose hybrid working model to increase access to skills
According to the quarterly FSSC Pulse Survey conducted in February and March this year, long-term remote working is expected to have a positive impact on access to skills. 40% of respondents reported it will improve staff retention, with another 40% expecting flexible working to widen existing talent pools. 20% thought it will boost staff productivity.
Remote working has significantly improved employee training and collaboration, bringing people from across sites together and creating content that can be re-watched. Commenting on the survey results, Claire Tunley, CEO Financial Services Skills Commissionsaid, “As lockdown lifts, organisations are offering flexible working options which they believe will improve access to skills and boost productivity and competitiveness. Employers see this as an opportunity to improve staff retention and significantly widen existing talent pools.”
Hybrid working could lead to discrimination and lack of diversity
OE Cam, a firm of business psychologists, is urging businesses to consider the unintended impact of hybrid working. Their modelling suggests that planned policies will likely lead to greater discrimination and a lack of diversity within organisations in the UK and offices worldwide. The very flexibility to work from home that is being welcomed by employees, may inadvertently lead to those who choose this option suffering detrimental impacts to their careers by missing out on opportunities.
The team of organisation consultants and psychologists at OE Cam explored how businesses will be affected as they move to a hybrid working model. The formation of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’, something that has been noticed by organisations during remote working, will be even more prominent in a hybrid workforce.
‘Present privilege’ means that those in the workplace are more likely to be involved in spontaneous discussions in the office and have better access to the boss – meaning that they are more front of mind for promotion.
Those working remotely, who may potentially include greater numbers of working mothers, the disabled and minority groups, will be left at a disadvantage, finding themselves a part of the ‘out-group’. Over time this could lead to them becoming unnoticed, left without a voice, the ability to contribute or progress.
“I saw first-hand in a meeting how remote workers became disadvantaged over their physically present colleagues,” explains. Martyn Sakol, Managing Partner at OE Cam. “A team was considering a significant deal. It adjourned for a planned break. Those who were working remotely logged off to take a comfort break alone, while those in the office continued group conversations. When the meeting resumed, it became glaringly apparent that the opinions on how to shape the deal had changed amongst the office-based team; their new stance did not reflect conversations that had included any remote participants. It was apparent at this point that the implications to businesses worldwide could be hugely damaging.
“The issue for any organisation now is to reduce the effects of out-groups. Businesses must be mindful of which employees are the ones most likely to wish to work remotely most of the time. Experts believe that there are certain groups this will include: those with caring responsibilities, parents (with more mums choosing, or even feeling obliged, to work remotely over dads), disabled employees – for whom the commute can be more difficult – and older generation workers, hoping to improve their work-life balance.”
So, there you have it. Not quite as cut and dried as we hoped.
APPOINTMENTS OF THE WEEK
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) has appointed their existing Partner Daisy Reeves as the firm’s inaugural Inclusion & Diversity Client Relationship Partner.
Reeves will focus exclusively on collaboration and thought leadership with clients and communities on best, and next, practice in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across BCLP’s 30 international offices. The goal, the firm says, is to “Actively shift the needle on global inclusion” so that ‘inclusion and diversity runs through all that is undertaken by BCLP’.
Daisy has a unique understanding of both the global inclusion landscape and BCLP’s diversity platform, and we are excited to utilise Daisy’s experience as a change agent so BCLP can further collaborate with our clients, to foster inclusion wherever we do business,” said BCLP Co-Chairs Lisa Mayhew and Steve Baumer.
Kennedys has appointed Nathan Buckley as a regulatory partner in its Manchester office and as part of the firm’s 20 strong national regulatory team. Formerly at Clyde & Co. Buckley specialises in regulatory defence work, particularly corporate manslaughter/gross negligence manslaughter, health and safety, environment and motor crime investigations and prosecutions, together with inquests across all industries.
Nick Thomas, senior partner at Kennedys commented: “Our growth is always led by client demand and need. We have recently enjoyed significant expansion in the North following the opening of our new office in Leeds and the move to our new larger premises in Manchester,Nathan’s expertise will help to establish a hub in Manchester with a view to growing our regulatory team’s work in that area.”
Worth a watch
The Virtual Conference for UK-Africa legal services under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice and featuring Andrew Skipper of Hogan Lovells in conversation with a group of experienced GC’s who know the African client scene well.
For background go to Virtual conference for UK-Africa legal services – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk),
AND FINALLY PARLEZ-VOUS?
The Legal Diary is delighted that it has a cosmopolitan readership for whom no European language represents a barrier (although, embarrassingly, super-strength Scouse is occasionally a problem to the editorial team). So we are delighted to alert you to an ‘en ligne’ conference hosted by
Le cabinet Linklaters tiendra une conférence en ligne détaillant comment les autorités de concurrence intègrent les critères environnementaux et de développement durable :
|Prise en compte des aspects environnementaux par les autorités de concurrence Avec Charlotte Colin-Dubuisson, associée Mardi 4 mai 2021 11h00 à 12h00 (CET) Les nombreuses discussions et publications relatives à l’articulation entre le droit de la concurrence et le développement durable (projet de lignes directrices au Pays Bas, fiche informative au Royaume-Uni, consultation de la Commission européenne) attestent de l’importance de ce sujet pour les autorités de concurrence en Europe. Si les autorités reconnaissent que les règles de concurrence ne devraient pas faire obstacle aux objectifs environnementaux et de développement durable, elles précisent néanmoins que la poursuite de tels objectifs ne saurait permettre aux entreprises de s’affranchir de ces règles. Cette session sera l’occasion de revenir sur les discussions récentes en matière de coopérations « vertes » entre concurrents mais également sur la prise en compte par les autorités de concurrence du développement durable et des critères environnementaux dans l’analyse en matière de contrôle des concentrations.|
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Cordialement, Laurence Bault Directrice Conseil