Friday 20 August 2021
Diary news, commentary, insights, appointments and e-vents from the legal world
SHORT THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
– Afghan Legitimacy?
The current horrific chaos in Afghanistan is not likely to last long. Before we know it – maybe even right now – sharia will be shaping life on the streets and , presumably, in business too. Those who believe in a rules-based system will have a new model to follow.
Already though, on the international front, attention is being paid to the $10 bn. of Afghan government central reserves held (predominantly) in US banks and which the Taliban regime will, no doubt, soon demand be repaid. This raises the murky question of the point at which the theocratic rulers gain international recognition. The British government has insisted that it ‘recognises countries not governments’ and as Anne Schuit (author of Recognition of Governments in International Law) points out, ‘The meaning of recognition of governments varies in time and between individual States.’
The long-running case in London featuring the Venezuelan gold held by the Bank of England (which is being denied to the Maduro government on grounds of its illegitimacy) is a case in point. When the Taliban start hiring London lawyers to argue for their rights under international law a signifiant milestone will have been reached. Whether or not that will be a hopeful sign is a matter of debate.
In this week’s edition
+ LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
– Screening Justice: is this remotely possible? (Berkeley Research Group)
– Ample opportunity for expansion of litigation funding (Ampla Finance)
– Doubling Up for the Law Society Excellence Awards (Bushra Ali)
– Industry focus for new trainee scheme at BCLP
– To the Manor Born? (BDB Pitmans)
APPOINTMENT OF THE WEEK – Bird & Bird
LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
Screening Justice: is this remotely possible?
Without remote hearings the justice system would have ground to a halt over the past year or so. So was that a win for the technology?
The jury, so to speak, is still out. Supporters of screen-based justice argue that it has massive benefits in terms of saving time and expense while also enabling the legal process to continue. But no-one is suggesting that it can fully replicate the face-to-face exchanges. And, moreover, according to a new report by consulting firm Berkeley Research Group, remote hearings often had an unseen psychological impact.
The research, which consulted with expert witnesses, lawyers and psychologists from around the world, focused on the psychological impact of conducting proceedings remotely and the extent to which these had affected the outcome of hearings and tribunals.
“Expert witnesses responded positively to the additional virtual barrier and familiar surroundings during cross-examination as traditional techniques deployed by lawyers proved less effective,” commented the researchers. “However, some found themselves resorting to imagining the traditional physical environment to prepare mentally for each question and maintain focus and avoid being lulled into a false sense of security.”
Also the actual technological experience seemed to weigh on some people. These included the subliminal processes that can kick in and sway decision-making, such as associating the frustration of technical issues with those providing evidence or spending more of an arbitrator’s mental capacity on managing an unnatural situation, rather than carefully considering all aspects of the evidence provided. “It was noted that decisions were being reached considerably more quickly compared to in-person hearings.” Interestingly one commentator even suggested withdrawing video from the equation altogether, thereby allowing decisions to be made, “Based purely on speech and lessening the potential impact of unconscious bias.” Mind you, that would still leave evidence to be shaped by accent, tone of speech and fluency. No system it seems is likely to be perfect.
Ample opportunity for expansion of litigation funding
Further evidence of the development of third party litigation funding comes with the appointment of Richard Kennerley as the new CEO of Ampla Finance.
The company is going thorough a period of particular growth right now maybe reflecting the growing crisis in marriages under the shadow of Covid. As the company explains, there is strong demand for its matrimonial and estate loan products, which offer individuals quick access to flexible finance to cover divorce proceedings and loans to estate beneficiaries and executors.
“I am delighted to have been appointed CEO of [Ampla Finance] at this crucial time in its evolution,” says Kennerley who has had extensive experience in the Australian market. “ In addition to developing our family and legacy products we are also excited about expanding into new markets and product offerings. One of the main attractions that drew me to Ampla is its overarching commitment to putting the customer at the heart of everything it does, which has established the business as one of the pioneers of the legal finance market in the process.”
Ampla is probably best known for its digital Hub which keeps clients and solicitors up-to-date with the loan status at all times, allowing approval in up to two days and funds to be drawn with quick client approval.
Doubling Up for the Law Society Excellence Awards
Getting on to the shortlist for one of the Law Society’s individual Excellence awards is a cause of satisfaction. Getting on to two shortlists is almost a matter of celebration in its own right regardless of the outcome. So that’s the position of Bushra Ali, Founder and Director of Bushra Ali Solicitors who is up for both the ‘Sole Practitioner of the Year’ and ‘Woman Solicitor of the Year’ categories at the awards event which takes place (virtually) in early October. Commenting on the news Ali said, “To be a finalist in both the Sole Practitioner of the Year category and the Woman Solicitor of the Year category is absolutely unbelievable and I am deeply honoured for the nomination and for the finalist place.”
Law firms have had a very mixed experience during the Covid crisis with some of the larger firms reporting especially good results. But many smaller firms have faced enormous problems.
“The entries we’ve received during a very challenging time for solicitors are a testament to the outstanding work accomplished across the legal profession,” said a spokesperson for the Law Society. “Congratulations to all the firms, teams and individuals who have been shortlisted.”
Detailed criteria are set for all awards. For the Woman Solicitor of the Year award they include specifically ‘opening doors historically closed to women and inspiring and influencing others to pursue a career in law’. This could include initiatives such as setting up networks to support women in the profession; championing sponsorship, mentoring and other programmes promoting progression of women in their careers; and volunteering for charities and other community groups for the benefit of wider society. “I’d very much like to extend my congratulations to all my fellow finalists and wish them all good luck! Let’s take this as an opportunity to celebrate together!” said Ali.
Industry focus for new trainee scheme at BCLP
A clear industry-specific focus is at the heart of two new trainee lawyer programmes from Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP (BCLP) with applications open from next month.
The Real Estate Sector route will include a core real estate seat alongside a range of complementary seats such as planning and zoning, commercial construction, tax, investment management, real estate disputes and real estate finance.
Meanwhile the Financial Services route will have Finance Transactions Practice as a compulsory seat, with a choice of complementary seats: corporate transactions including energy, environment and infrastructure; financial services disputes & investigations; tax; technology, commercial and government affairs; and real estate finance.
In both cases there will also be the opportunity to complete an international or client secondment related to the sector.
“We remain committed to offering tailored and different career paths for emerging talent and these new sector-specific opportunities will strengthen our talent attraction for aspiring lawyers who have a clear sector interest. Many trainees won’t know which practice they want to pursue on joining BCLP, but we also understand that for some future trainees, they already have a clear practice or sector in mind,” said Senior Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager Chloe Muir.
There will also be an Innovation seat within the mix designed to increase collaboration between the practice groups and the firm’s Innovation Team.
The firm is also doubling from two to four the number of places on its legal placement programme next year which enables students join the firm for a 12-month period. Formerly exclusively with Queen Mary University of London it will now be open to all penultimate year LLB undergraduate students at institutions which permit a placement year. “Due to the success of the placements with QMUL and the high calibre of talent, we are keen to expand the programme to further diversify our intake and look forward to working with other universities on this programme,” said Grace Ambrose the Senior Graduate Recruitment & Development Advisor.
To the Manor Born?
Hugh Lumby, the high-powered former Head of Global Real Estate practice at Ashurst LLPUK is joining BDB Pitmans, as a consultant to the firm’s Real Estate practice in Southampton. In what is quite a coup for the south coast’s legal community Lumby brings with him twenty-five years high level experience including helping to deliver the infrastructure for the London Olympics and the acquisition and development of office buildings in the City of London.
The appointment is of particular interest to the Legal Diary since, as it happens, Hugh Lumby is also now a leading politician on Winchester City Council, the home district of the Legal Diarist. We will refrain here from entertaining readers of the Legal Diary with the details of parish pump politics of central Hampshire other then mentioning that Lumby’s current role is as the shadow portfolio holder for the local economy. Given that Winchester has just been rated the most expensive area to live in the UK maybe his greatest challenge is how to counter the trend of generously-paid London lawyers coming down the M3 and inflating house prices for everyone else.
APPOINTMENT OF THE WEEK – BIRD & BIRD
James Gong, a technology, media and telecommunications specialist, has joined Bird & Bird as a Corporate partner in Beijing. Gong was previously at Herbert Smith Freehills, where he was Of Counsel.
Bird & Bird commented that his appointment was an important part of building a market-leading Corporate practice with M&A and big data capabilities in the TMT sector across the Asia-Pacific region. He will also be working closely with the international Data Protection group, focusing on providing compliance services for international network clients ahead of the enactment of the new Chinese cyber and data protection laws.
“James’s region-specific expertise and impressive experience in Tech & Comms regulation and compliance will service the needs of our international clients in mainland China and help us develop our Chinese tech and comms client base,” says Ted Chwu, co-head of the international Tech & Comms team and head of China at Bird & Bird.
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