Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Alex Aldridge

Alex Aldridge Alex Aldridge has been working hard to harness the powerful force that Legal Cheek has become. Since he founded the site nearly six years ago from his flat in a Hackney tower block, it has developed from an irreverent and at times rather wild and chaotic legal news blog to become an online community of law students, trainees and junior lawyers with a massive social media following, four full-time employees and an office in London’s trendy Dalston. It’s not always easy to classify. News is still the central part of what Legal Cheek does, but it’s also now well known for careers advice, training contract and pupillage rankings and student events.

As it has grown, the tone has changed ... not least because Alex doesn’t write it any more, having moved over to focus full-time on the commercial side. These days the editorial part of the site is run by news editor Tom Connelly, 29, and features editor Katie King, just 23, with support from junior reporter Natalie Kaminski, also 23. “It’s legal journalism for millennials written and edited by millennials,” says Alex, now a veteran at 39.

For its readers, 60% of whom are law students, many of them undergraduates, Legal Cheek is often the only legal news source they know, with many having discovered it through friends sharing its news stories and memes on their Facebook feeds. This means it has become relied upon to be a trusted source of news and information about the legal profession. The response of the Legal Cheek team has been to focus on establishing the blog as a credible, officially verified reliable source of news, whilst at the same time making sure the “colour” of its news is just as vivid.  Alex, who has 12 years of experience as a journalist, writing for titles including The Times, The Guardian and Legal Week before he launched Legal Cheek, has worked hard to pass on the old media professionalism he learnt to his new editors. And to underline his establishment credentials, he has made sure to secure external verification of these high journalistic standards that he works to.  Legal Cheek is one of the few legal news outlets whose Twitter feed carries the "blue verified" badge.  This is a big deal and hard to achieve, signifying that the account is of public interest.  The blog itself is also listed as a verified Google news publisher and is regularly cited in the national press ... most recently with two name-checks in two weeks in The Spectator.  And of course the hiring of Joshua Rozenberg as a regular columnist was a big step in underscoring the blog’s establishment credentials.  “Yes we still go out on a limb on many stories.  This is what Legal Cheek is all about”, Alex tells me, “But the point is we are very very sure of our facts when we do, so people can trust what we publish”.  Clever man. 

“A good example”, he tells me, “was the story we ran at the time KWM was going into administration.  We knew that a number of City firms were clubbing together to make sure existing KWM trainees would all be looked after.  The editors were extremely confident of their source and checked all their facts carefully, so we ran the story when nobody else did.  Then on publication, we experienced a backlash; trainees were nervous and in some cases sceptical that they would be saved.  But we stood our ground and we didn’t buckle, because we knew our source was watertight.  Within two weeks all trainees had been reassigned thanks to this rescue package from the City firms and our story was vindicated. Then the traditional publications followed with their versions of the story.” 

Given Legal Cheek is more geared to social media than any other legal news outlet, (Facebook being its main distribution channel, alongside Google), and given Alex is so OCD about faithful reporting, I thought he would be the perfect person to ask about the new phenomenon of "FakeNews".  Here’s what he had to say:

“The term Fake News is used to apply to many different scenarios, and it suits some protagonists to confuse them”, he told me.  “The original meaning stems from dubious propaganda activity at the time of the US election and the rise of Trump: the dissemination of deliberately inaccurate information from dedicated fake news sites, largely in Eastern Europe, designed to mislead low-IQ audiences (eg some voters) who don’t have the wherewithal to question what’s being fed to them.

“However, since then, the term Fake News has also been commandeered and misused by all sorts of people to cast aspersions on perfectly dependable news sources.  Indeed the term first broke into the mainstream (rather than being a discussion point for media insiders) when Trump himself turned the tables at his first press conference as President-elect, and used the term to vilify Jim Acosta from CNN because he didn’t like his line of questioning.  We’ve also seen the YouTube video: "You are fake news!" he proclaims, while ignoring the journalist’s question.

“But the term has also been used by the mainstream media establishment to undermine public trust in newer, more social news sources, such as Buzzfeed and so forth.  It suits some traditional news organisations to push out a message of “come to our trusted brand”, suggesting that their long-established “pedigree” means their news coverage is by definition more reliable.  But this belies the fact that many of the new internet news outlets are staffed to the hilt with classically trained journalists, with long career pedigrees from exactly those publications that like to look down their noses at the hip new contenders. These journalists continue to work to the same high standards of faithful reporting and journalist ethics at their trendy new homes.”  

We have direct experience of what Alex is talking about here: our friends at Buzzfeed are a classic example: numerous ex-broadsheet journalists, (a previous assistant editor at the Sunday Times to name just one), now pushing out stories on social platforms, but still working to the same strict journalist codes they always have. 

And as for Legal Cheek, however it develops in the future, it’s reassuring to learn that although its stories are often challenging, and may even occasionally offend, we never have to worry that they’re fake. 

Image result for amazon droneSo how long before my Amazon delivery is brought to me by drone? The alarm caused by the drone near Gatwick airport at the weekend, which forced a runway to close and delayed flights, just serves to highlight the need for regulation to catch up with how mainstream this new technology has become. You can buy drones on the high street now (and on Amazon too of course), for as cheap as 20 or 30 pounds.

So are we afraid of the future we are headed towards, where our lives are taken over by robots? If you want some reassurance, you might find some comfort in this piece earlier this year on the World Economic Forum website by Rutger Bregman, journalist and author of Utopia for Realists.  Entitled "A growing number of people think their job is useless. Time to rethink the meaning of work", the article expounds Bregman's view that robots taking over our jobs is a good thing ... if we only adjust how we look at work and life.  As he puts it: "jobs are for robots and life is for people".  It's thought provoking stuff...

The sad news of the passing of the creator of Paddington Bear was actually most uplifting. News reports of Michael Bond's death at the ripe old age of 91 reminded us that the central message of this much-loved tale is one of kindness, decency and tolerance ... and of opening arms to welcome a refugee.  Relevant today more than ever. 

For all the chaos Paddington creates around him, he remains faultlessly polite and kind. As fellow author Michael Morpurgo said in the Guardian, Paddington "reflects the best of us: we all get into scrapes, and through his innocence and kindness he relates to everyone."

It's wonderful when you think of it, that the appeal of this story about a WW2 refugee has endured so long and spread so wide: 30 million copies sold worldwide in 30 different languages.  A tale of kindness to refugees we would all do well to remember. And definitely one of the better narratives in children's literature to come out of the 1950s.

I for one will be giving the bronze statue of this loveable bear at Paddington station a daily wave as I walk past on my commute.  Goodbye Mr Bond.  And Thank You.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Peter Ashford

It’s always such a pleasure catching up with old friends, especially when they're as interesting company as Peter AshfordPeter and I worked together years ago when he was head of commercial dispute resolution at Cripps (then Cripps Harries Hall).  He is now Head of International Arbitration at Fox Williams. He specialises in international trade, joint venture and commercial contract disputes and has a leading reputation in alternative dispute resolution, particularly arbitration, being the author of not one but two three of the leading texts on the subject: Juris Publishing’s Handbook on International Commercial Arbitration and Cambridge University Press’s IBA Rules on Taking Evidence in International Arbitration and IBA Guidelines on Party Representation in International Arbitration. He sits regularly as an arbitrator.

Peter is one of the people in my career who has taught me the most about the philosophy, principles and practical mechanics of alternative dispute resolution.  You’ll see from the extracts of our conversation below how effortlessly he brings complex topics to colourful life, making them easy to understand; if he hadn’t become a market-leading commercial practitioner he could have had a highly successful career as a teacher I’m sure.

We reconnected recently after a gap of a few years, on the occasion of his latest book launch, for the Party Representation book.   I was keen to know why he had chosen to gravitate more and more towards a specialisation in arbitration as his career progressed, so we agreed to meet over lunch soon after to chat.  His answer surprised me:  “Arbitration gives you so much more scope to be creative.”  Really?  What did he mean by this?  “You are far less constricted by rigid procedural rules compared to court litigation, which means you have the space and the licence to be imaginative about how you resolve a dispute.  You are freer to think about what’s really at the heart of the issue between the parties; how best to get to the bottom of the problem; what you really need to decide the issues; how to bring the parties to a more similar perspective on the process for the issue at hand.  Also once you reach resolution, the decision of the arbitrator is generally final – there is no appeal – so the parties can put the dispute behind them and move on.  In commercial real life that can be important, especially when the parties fighting have (and want) an ongoing commercial relationship.”

“Perhaps a helpful way to think about this is to consider a dispute involving perishable goods.  Let’s say a cargo of oranges, shipped from South Africa to the UK.  The buyer claims they were sour by the time they arrived at the dock.  The seller denies this.  Take this issue through the traditional courts and by the time you’ve gone through all the procedural steps of a very long-winded process to get to the first judicial pronouncement, the oranges themselves have long since perished.  The argument quickly becomes academic.  In contrast, take the dispute to arbitration and the arbitrators have the freedom to say to the parties ‘Why don’t we all just go down to the docks this afternoon, crack open a crate of those oranges, taste them for ourselves and discuss together, with the goods in front of us, how sour they are, whether all of them have been affected or only some, and make a decision on the spot on quality and what the or level of compensation would be'.”  

There is a place for the rigour
s of traditional court litigation he tells me: “Arbitration and mediation are not panaceas for all disputes.  Sometimes that rigid procedure the Courts bring is just what’s needed, for example if a party wants to set a precedent for a queue of similar disputes they know are waiting in the wings or there are complex fraud allegations where the full machinery of the Courts to aid investigation is useful. Also, the immutable consistency of the English court system is one of the biggest pulls for the many super-wealthy foreign litigants we now regularly see in the London commercial courts, along with the transparency of the system (which make it easy for a foreigner to navigate) and our judiciary’s reputation for being one of the least corrupt in the world.  And sometimes it’s important to play hardball rather than take a conciliatory approach, so a tough fight in court does the job best.  It’s horses for courses – and a judgement call at the end of the day as to which approach is best although the choice of litigation or arbitration is generally taken a long time before in the underlying contract when the nature of the dispute that might emerge is unknown”

See what I mean?  He explains it all so simply.  Isn’t that so often the way with those who are right at the very top of their chosen profession?

It was a most interesting discussion over lunch. What's more, for someone whose entire livelihood is about conflict, he is one of the most affable, engaging and amusing people you will ever come across in the profession - and I've known him for years, in a work as well as a lunch context. Ironic? Maybe not. Perhaps it's the whole reason he's so excellent at conflict resolution!
Don’t get me started on the Trump Administration’s “Alternative Facts” PR regime. It’s been interesting talking to our lawyer friends about this one, paid as they are to present only one side of an argument on behalf of clients. Are “alternative facts” just a part of life as a grown up?  Are they just an unpleasant norm in business and politics?  Their answer?  Unilaterally, a resounding “No!”. @JA_Button from @SA_Law put it best when she tweeted this simple reply: “often two (or more) sides to a story but facts are facts.”

The similarity between the Trump administration’s Alternative Facts” and George Orwell’s idea of the mutability of the past expounded so well in his iconic dystopian novel 1984, is chilling. Even more so when you learn this book, and its concepts of Double Think and Big Brother were all "inspired" by Hitler’s WWII propaganda machine. Perhaps it’s not so surprising then, that sales of 1984 spiked after Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway’s first used the phrase “Alternative Facts”.  That week 1984 rocketed to No 6 on Amazon’s best-selling list.

And it’s not just Alternative facts, but "Fake News" that we have to contend with these days: the worrying new trend for websites that select, and sometimes entirely make up, stories purely for their value as “click bait” and the advertising this attracts. As I write this, yet another story is breaking about the problem of big brands such as Mercedes and Waitrose inadvertently funding fake news, their adverts appearing right next to highly dubious, even offensive, content.  The problem is the way current algorithms for placing online adverts work, targeting platforms with the highest click-rates and, as The Times Alexi Mostrous puts it, “the internet’s inability to prioritise fact over fiction”. (You can read his full article here if you have a subscription to The Times)

There is good news though: Parliament (The Culture, Media & Sport Committee) is launching an inquiry to address the growing problem of fake news. Amongst other things the inquiry will explore what counts as 'fake news'; where the boundary is between biased but legitimate commentary, versus propaganda and lies; the impact fake news has on the public’s understanding of the world; the extent to which the way advertising is sold has encouraged the growth of fake news, eg through the pull of fake news to attract more hits to websites; the practicalities and ethics of using computer-generated algorithms to root out fake news from genuine reporting and whether/how this amounts to censorship.  If you’re interested, you have until 3 March to make your views known

Friday, 1 July 2016

Arpita Dutt

GUEST BLOG - Arpita Duttanti-discrimination lawyer and equal rights campaigner

Response to Brexit vote

(An abridged version of this piece appeared in The Times "The Brief" earlier this week.)

 The morning after the referendum, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. That’s often enough to make me feel good but I woke up deeply upset, in shock and disbelief at the outcome - Brexit.

The split of the vote around the country made it clear that this was a country deeply divided, and rather than feel proud of being British, a country I was born in, one that I have loved and worked hard for, as my parents as immigrants to this country had done before me, I just felt sick with a sense of alienation.

It was a feeling that had been growing before the EU referendum vote as it seemed that public figures, posters, newspapers and members of the public had used the Leave campaign to vocalise racist views and lay the ills of years of under-investment in public services, community infrastructure and housing at the door of all ‘immigrants’ indiscriminately, whether from the EU, non–EU ethnic minorities or British born.

I don’t think it’s racist to talk about immigration, but I also believe in calling out racism strongly when it’s vocalised, whatever the context.

Let’s talk factually and not pander to stereotypes, slogans and myths.

I own up to living in the diverse ‘London bubble’ as it’s been called,  but for the last 25 years I have been a strident campaigner against racism and xenophobia, strengthening communities and cohesion and listening to people as I have travelled around the country.

I have worked with European anti-racism organisations to build bridges and good practice and to talk about immigration. When I’ve come back from Europe I’ve often felt how lucky we are compared to immigrants in other EU countries.

I‘ve witnessed the lack of facilities for local people, and I’ve experienced the vitriolic words of hate against immigrants. Most of all, I’ve felt ashamed at the deprived areas and circumstances in which I feel no-one in the UK should have to live in.

In the last 5 years I’ve been physically harassed and verbally abused by the English Defence League in Grays and taunted with shouts of ‘there aint no black in the Union Jack’.

Last Friday, I suddenly felt unsafe again, and I felt like the ‘other’.

So, this racism isn’t new; but it appears to have been given greater legitimacy to emerge and is manifesting in nefarious ways around the country as recent reports that have been reported by the media and on the Twitter tag  #PostRefRacism show.
But, it’s not just me that feels this way. My ethnic minority friends fear for their children now. Our parents experienced the worst harassment and exclusion, and as British born second and third generation children of immigrants, we too were called ‘Wogs’ and ‘Paki’s’ but that’s not what we expected our children to experience.

As I travelled to work on the bus on Friday, I heard a fellow Spanish passenger talking to relatives on her phone in utter disbelief about the result.

She has two small children and she felt deeply uncertain about the future, and whether she could stay in this country.

Now I fear that the perceived mandate for out and out racism will give oxygen to the far right as the politics of division intensifies.

As a lawyer, I have helped secure justice for victims of race discrimination in their workplaces and in the community; I have chaired a London Borough Hate Crime Forum for 5 years working with the local police, housing agencies, the council and community organisations to instill victims with confidence and create reporting centres to report hate crime; ensuring agencies work together effectively to deal with those reports.

I founded ARA Trust, a charity that has worked to bring young people and families from diverse backgrounds together to educate and create understanding amongst new and existing members of communities.

I have worked with Hope Not Hate and the trade union movement on many anti-racist campaigns.

All of these organisations continue to carry out valuable work, and they are needed more than ever.

I know that we are much stronger when communities work together to eradicate all forms of extremism.

We must all be vigilent, record and report all hate crime and stand together because ‘Brexit’ should not be a proxy to legitimise racism and xenophobia.

We have to do better than this.

We have to be better than this.

In 2016, that’s not what being British is about. I’ll be redoubling my efforts.

Arpita Dutt is a Founder and Partner of employment law firm BDBF LLP and writes in a personal capacity.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Matthew Kay

Matthew Kay is a very emotionally intelligent man. We’ve been having a ball working with him to promote Pinsent Masons’ Vario through an eye-catching campaign urging lawyers to connect with their human side.  “In an age where the legal market is delivering increasing parts of the service through artificial intelligence”, he says, “human lawyers need to be astute about what it is they offer that’s different.  AI can be excellent for increasing efficiencies, particularly in terms of speed and consistency of outcomes for clients, and that’s important, but clients want relationships with people, not robots. This is where lawyers’ emotional intelligence and a nuanced soft-skill-set becomes key.”  (You can catch up with the Vario #NoClones campaign on the @PMVario Twitter stream, or by using the #NoClones hashtag.)

Indeed it’s this kind of enlightened thinking that distinguishes Vario from its closest competitors in the contract lawyer market: an important point of difference is how they select lawyers for client assignments not just on the basis of the required legal expertise, but by matching individuals’  behavioural styles with the culture of the client organisations they are being placed into. “It makes for a much more pleasant experience all round, which encourages everyone to keep coming back for more: our clients tell us they like this approach because our Varios fit in to their culture so much more quickly, and get on so well with everyone else in the team; and our Varios say how much more valued they feel on our placements, compared to other places they’ve worked. We all spend so much of our waking life at work, it’s just as important to get the “people” bit right, ie enjoying working with people you naturally get on with, as it is to be able to master the technical parts of the job.”

Matthew took over the reins of Pinsent Masons’ Vario in December last year. Up to that point, although Vario had been phenomenally successful, the business had developed pretty much by accident, its 30% year-on-year expansion being more through natural market demand than by strategic design.  This is all now changing and Matthew has some very definite plans for where he wants to take the business next. 

“Whilst interest in contract lawyering has grown exponentially in the last few years, for some reason it is seen very much as a London legal market phenomenon.  In the regions, although there is huge demand on the client side for the contract lawyer option, the lawyers themselves are far less aware of this as a career option.  Their assumption is often that they would have to compromise the level at which they’re operating in the legal market in order to achieve a better work/life balance. We need to educate them.  The reality is they can have it all!  A contract lawyer anywhere in the country can, and should, expect to be doing interesting legal work, on high-quality assignments, for big companies and house-hold names. We know this because we are constantly receiving work from big name clients who want contract lawyers in all different parts of the country outside London, and we don’t always have enough of the right lawyers to meet the demand.”

Another of Matthew’s aims is to change perceptions that contract lawyering is the preserve of people approaching the end of their careers, after many years in private practice. “We’re keen to get to lawyers 1-8 years PQE and challenge them to demand the career they really want, right from the start. Why shouldn’t they have a good work/life balance right from the beginning! I want to encourage lawyers to start as they mean to go on!”

We’ve only been working with Matthew for a short time, but already the #NoClones campaign has shown how bold he is prepared to be, and how much creative energy he is putting in to his ambitions for Vario. I have no doubt he will achieve his aims of shaking the contract lawyer market up by challenging its accepted demographics. This is most definitely a space … and a man … to watch.

Donate by 18th July to Amnesty’s campaign against child marriage and FGM, and you can double your impact.  For these two Summer months, the UK Government (Department of Education) has pledged to match ALL donations Amnesty receives for its work to end FGM and early/forced marriage in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso.  
The charity is planning a massive educational project to change cultural attitudes in the region. Local Amnesty members will reach out to different community groups such as schools, women’s groups, men’s groups, encouraging everyone to stand together against these inhuman practices and reject them as socially unacceptable. 

Click here to Donate Now. There’s never been a better time. 

Here’s a story that goes one better than “Man bites dog”.  I’m sure you are all familiar with the Journalist’s/PR’s mantra “Dog bites man is not a story; but man bites dog, now there’s a story”.  Well, The Times recently ran a fabulous feature entitled “Workplace drudgery drives feminists back to the kitchen”.  It tells the wonderfully counter-intuitive tale of how after decades of fighting to escape the kitchen and enjoy the fulfilment of interesting careers, many modern women are (as The Times’ David Sanderson and Rosemary Bennett explain) “increasingly embracing domesticity as an antidote to the drudgery of the workplace”.

I love it!  It’s about time the classic aphorism was updated.  From now on, when I’m coaching PR skills and storytelling, there’ll be no more “Man bites dog”; only “Work drives feminists back to the kitchen”.   

Friday, 27 May 2016

Michael Fleming

Michael Fleming believes “Trust” is the key to success for any lawyer attempting business development.  A man after my own heart!  I love what he has to say about the role of the Trusted Advisor, and how perfecting this is the best way to generate new clients and keep old clients coming back to you time and time again.  He even has a formula for it (courtesy of Charles H Green, famed author of three books on the Trust Quotient in business): 
T = (C + R + I) - SI
…. where T = Trust, C credibility, R relationship, and I stands for intimacy.  And what’s the SI that’s to be subtracted after all these wonderful qualities are mixed together, I hear you ask?  Self Interest of course.  Neat.

Michael is Head of Legal Training at specialist training & coaching company Kissing With Confidence (you’ve got to be confident doing business under a company name like that!)  He joined them some 10 years ago, after 20 years as a private practice lawyer.  So he knows the legal sector inside and out, which means all the training and coaching he offers, (from networking and pitching, to negotiating and influencing, and everything in-between), is based on a very good understanding of what life is really like for lawyers, and how legal services are bought and sold in the real world.   Important for any consultant working with solicitors and barristers, in my view.

I met Michael at a training and networking event run by Pinsent Masons' Vario especially for its freelance lawyers.  The subject of the evening was the increasing importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence in an age where we are seeing more and more Artificial Intelligence in the legal services mix. (You can read more about Vario's event in the Daily Telegraph here.) Just days before the event, news broke of US law firm BakerHostetler’s hire of a robot lawyer, ROSS, into its bankruptcy team, and the event hosts were quick to use this to advantage: "as AI increases in law", said Vario CEO Matthew Kay, "so lawyers need to promote their human side and polish up their soft skills as a point of differentiation". (You can follow Vario's thoughts on this on Twitter, via @PMVario or under the hashtag #NoClones.) So Michael’s session couldn’t have been better timed. He certainly had everyone’s attention.  He led a fantastically engaged and lively session.  We were all ears.

Afterwards, I wanted to know more about this emphasis Michael places on Trust in the lawyer-client relationship. 

“It’s all about lawyers developing that classic Trusted Advisor role and understanding what this means in all its aspects.  There are 10 or so key principles we aim to get across in our coaching programmes on this: first, that the trusted advisor is in it for long term relationships, not short term gain; second, they put clients’ interests before their own; third, a Trusted Advisor is genuinely interested in their clients and their business, demonstrating this by working hard to understand the client’s underlying interests too, not just “surface wants”; next, they are reliable; they do what they say they’ll do.  And they are credible.  Lastly, they get up close and personal, and connect emotionally (appropriate professional boundaries maintained at the same time of course!), and are enthusiastic and passionate about what they do.  At the end of the day it’s about authenticity.”

It’s one of my personal bugbears that people often misunderstand the sales process and think it’s about “swizzing” people into buying things they don’t need.  But that’s not good sales at all; in fact it’s called conning people.  Good sales is about understanding/anticipating people’s needs and delivering products or services that will best meet those needs.  It’s actually about helping people; in law this means listening deeply to what it is that clients really need, (in terms of service and price points as well as legal expertise), and shaping your service to fit.  And if as a salesperson you don’t really believe your service is the best solution for the target client, then don’t sell it to them!  Instead recommend the person who can help them more.  You’ll win in the long run.

It will be no surprise to you that Michael’s emphasis on trustworthiness as a key to successful business development was music to my ears.  If this is what Kissing With Confidence is all about, then I’ll pucker up now!

A court case this week confirmed the term "Superhero" is free for all of us to use and the Kysen team breathed a collective sigh of relief.  A large segment of our IIP-accredited internal training programme is centred around being SuPR Heroes (see what we did there?), using our four SuPR Powers of Persuasion, Perfect Timing, Storytelling and Soundbite-Spotting to make our PR performance superhuman.  

Given the concept of the Superhero is so embedded in our culture, it seems ridiculous that anyone using the word might be infringing a trademark.  In this case, the mighty Marvel and DC Comics had joined forces to challenge little man author Graham Jules, halting publication of his book "From Business Zero to Superhero", in a David-and-Goliath battle worthy of any comic book tale.  Just days before the court case was due to start, Marvel and DC stood down, withdrawing their objection to Jules using the word.  So no court has yet ruled on whether "Superhero" is so much part of culture it can't be "owned" or protected for commercial purposes.  But at least for now common sense has prevailed.
We are in the kitchen with a favourite client this week, exploring the "marketing mix". Cookery and business coach Richard Coombes will be leading us in a shared learning experience, as together we think about how to blend business development and PR activity ever more smoothly.  The Kysen team will be joined by the firm's two in-house PRs and also four members of their in-house Business Development team. We've carefully prepared Venn diagrams showing how BD and PR activity need to dovetail for best effect.... and this week's challenge is to recreate these diagrams in the medium of cake! Of course we'll be discussing the key ingredients and how they need to be mixed, stirred or folded together with skill, for best results, as we do this.  Watch out for pix on Twitter. Can't wait!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Jeremy Sokel

Our friends at Nottingham Law School always say that a qualification in law can take you anywhere and help you rise to the top in any sphere, and Jeremy Sokel is the perfect example.  From private practice lawyer, builder of grand design homes to CEO and Chairman, and now … (drum roll please) …MD of film production company Into The Woods and executive film producer!  Regular followers of this blog will know why this has got me so excited.

I’ve known Jeremy and his wife and law partner Jessica (a long-time client of Kysen) for a very long time (I got to 20 years and decided to stop counting!).  Together they run employment law boutique Learmond Criqui Sokel which is my reason for keeping in touch.  Well that and the fact they are amongst the very nicest people you could hope to have the pleasure of getting to know in business. 

Given my passion for film, you can just imagine my reaction when Jeremy invited me to a private screening of his soon-to-be-released film Us And Them.  I must watch about five movies on average per week, at home or at the cinema, but this was the first time I’d ever been asked to view one pre-completion and be part of a team providing feedback before the final cut.  And it was brilliant!  So much so, that when Jeremy and his director were ready for my “objective feedback” once the film reel had whirled to an end, I realised I simply didn’t have any – I had been so sucked in by the story, I’d got totally carried away!  With a power lead performance from Jack Roth (yes, son of the legendary TimSkellig,Reservoir Dogs, Lie To Me), and a fantastic supporting cast, Us and Them is most definitely a must-see when it reaches a cinema near you.

Us And Them is billed by its creators as “the film to ignite a generation”.  A bold claim, but considering it’s been selected from hundreds of applications as one of a few films to be shown at the British Film Council’s London Screenings Breakthrough 2016, it looks like they can back it up. Jeremy says  “It’s certainly very much a “now” film - the first British thriller to explore the discontent and sense of disenfranchisement simmering beneath the surface of our post-credit-crunch society, where cheating bankers have escaped with impunity and the humble taxpayer has been made to pay the price in their place.”

I’m not going to give any of the plot away, as a big part of the joy for me was how the story was revealed in layers: one minute you think you know what’s going on; then the story flips and you realise the film is about something else altogether.  All I will say is that the central idea is about all hell breaking loose when disillusioned youngster Danny (Jack Roth) decides to confront a wealthy banker on his home territory.

Us And Them is as entertaining and funny as it is thrilling, at the same time as having something interesting to say and being very clever about how it says it.  The writing is superb and there are some truly wonderful moments to enjoy.  Oh, did I mention it also has a killer soundtrack from The Sleaford Mods, The Damned and the O'Jays?

You can find out more about the film here

I ask Jeremy if he’s looking for further investment.  “Not just at the moment, although there may be opportunities further down the track for anyone interested in getting involved.  Right now we have more than enough to finish the film.  Our focus at the moment is finding the right distributors.  With this in mind I’m off to Cannes next week, so watch this space…”  Need a PR to help while you’re out there Jeremy??
So the first print-only newspaper to be launched in 30 years has died.  What a surprise.  New Day was always a curious “counter-intuitive” experiment, hoping to tap in to a generation of web-weary readers, longing for news in hard copy only.  An expensive disaster for Trinity Mirror. 

They’ve learned the hard truth that, as Ofcom’s annual report on our changing news consumption habits continually shows, even if we bemoan our screen-addicted lives and constantly reminisce about the days we used to actually pay attention to people in the same room as us, none of us can resist the immediacy of all that information flowing direct to our computer screens and phones.

In a way the demise of New Day is good news: it proves we're all a lot less luddite than we'd care to admit 😉  
Of course it was always going to be Sarah O’Connor at the FT who took on the robots.  The irony is not lost.  If you missed this priceless experiment to see how a leading FT-trained journalist compared with a computer called Emma when it comes to writing news, then you can catch up with the plot by watching this short video.

Emma is a “machine augmented neural search interface”, in other words an autonomous artificial intelligence (AI).  She has been designed by robotics company Stealth, “to operate autonomously for delivering professional services related to financial analysis, research and consulting”. Lawyers take note: it won’t be long before a cyborg is coming your way too.

Emma certainly gives Sarah a run for her money, completing the task in just 12 minutes compared to Sarah’s 35.  But to the very visible relief of all in the FT’s editorial team, Sarah wins hands down: whilst Emma’s story is packed with figures, albeit accurate and with some decent enough analysis, Sarah is far better at zoning in on the one key stat that in fact makes the whole story.

So skilled white-collar workers may be safe for now.  But for how long…? 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tristan Kirk

The Evening Standard’s new court reporter Tristan Kirk has some very big shoes to fill. He takes over this week from Paul Cheston, who was in the role for 23 years and was widely regarded in the court reporting community (they all spend their time buzzing around the same courts so know each other really well) as the best in the business bar none. I know you are all keen to hear from Tristan, but first a word about his predecessor.Paul was famous for filing his stories by phone, only referring to hand-written notes to check keys facts, his storylines forming as he dictated them down the line, his mid-morning deadlines being so far ahead of his rivals’. And I’ve extolled Paul’s legendary storytelling skills in this blog before, describing how he grabs attention with his opening lines like no-one else. Here’s a personal favourite, from a court case we worked on together.  Just count the number of wows in this one sentence:

“The woman who humiliated one of the richest men in the world has revealed for the first time details behind how she delayed a brain operation to make legal history.”

No wonder his court reporting made the Standard’s front page so often. No pressure Tristan, as we all eagerly await your first stories this week!

For all of you who will miss Paul, the very good news is that he hand-picked Tristan as his successor. “There was only one man for the job – and it’s Tristan”, Paul told me before he left. Before joining the Standard team, Tristan was working for Central News Agency based at the Old Bailey. The defining moment of his career so far, he tells me, came during his time covering the phone hacking trial last year, with Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson in the dock. Reporting of the case was a complicated matter, with the courts attempting to restrict journalists’ coverage and the press in turn challenging the court’s right to do so. This was when Tristan found other journalists turning to him to check what they could and couldn’t do and how they might mount their challenges; being by then already a seasoned court reporter, Tristan knew the rules better than any of them. He only realised this himself at this point, and it spurred him to think where he really wanted to take his career next. When Paul announced plans to retire, it seemed too good to be true; for someone keen to make their name as a court reporter, it doesn’t get much better than the Evening Standard beat …and given Paul had been in role over 20 years, obviously the opportunity doesn’t come up that often! I’ve just interviewed Joshua Rozenberg about the planned overhaul of our courts system, so I was keen to know what Tristan thinks is the best and worst aspects of it currently, and what he hopes to see in a reformed system.

“I think on the whole we are right to be very proud of our judicial system.  It’s the best in the world and little wonder how many rich foreigners choose to bring their disputes to London. In terms of reform, what I’m most interested to see is how the courts adapt to our increasingly digital world. It’s a significant challenge for them. I covered what was supposed to be the first paperless criminal trial at the Old Bailey last year, with jurors viewing evidence on iPads rather than paper, and the usual hard copy evidence bundles nowhere to be seen. It was a troubled trial that eventually collapsed (not because of technology), but by which point everyone had long given up on the iPads. It just proved too difficult. I don't know why the "new" technology is such a challenge really.  The pre-courtroom bit works fine electronically, but what the courts haven’t yet mastered is how to handle documents in the hurlyburly of the live courtroom. But we’re only talking about the need to pull out the right pieces of electronic evidence as they are referred to court. You wouldn’t really think it’s that difficult!  The rest of the business world has adjusted to digital as norm.  Why does our judicial system struggle so much?”  I have to say I agree, especially when you consider how keen the courts are to underline the point they are one of the UK’s biggest exports. When it comes to technology they are really not showing their commercial mettle. 

Am I sad to see Paul go. Of course. I’ll miss him. As a keen reader of the Standard, am I worried I’ll miss out now he’s gone? Happily I can tell you Paul has found us the perfect man for the job. We’re going to enjoy Tristan’s coverage. Watch this space!
So Lord Lucan has finally been laid to rest.  Last week’s news sparked a memory: when Jon McDonnell QC first launched 13 Old Square, we handled the press interest for him. Despite our meticulous preparation, and repeated rehearsals with our founder spokesperson, when in front of journalists Jon had an uncanny habit of dropping a total gem of a story into the conversation, that he’d completely forgotten to tell us about before. 
One such example was when he casually mentioned in front of a Legal Week journalist “Ah yes, that was about the time I was representing Lord Lucan”.  Lord WHO???  “Yes, I represented Lord Lucan at his trial”. “But we thought the whole point of that trial was that Lord Lucan wasn’t there!” we protested. “That’s quite right” Jon explained, “but someone had to represent his interests In Absentia and so I was appointed to do just that”. 

I learned that day that it was Jon’s argument in court that prevented Lord Lucan ever being declared dead, so responsible in fact for starting a legend. “Either he killed the nanny, so he’d have a good reason to disappear; or he didn’t, which means someone else did, so it’s quite logical to suppose they might be holding his Lordship captive. Whichever, it cannot be correct to assume that the most likely reality is that his Lordship is dead.” It was this argument that gave rise to a cultural legend. That has lasted up until now.
Here's a little gift for you...  We thought we'd go through the latest Ofcom stats that track changing news consumption habits, as we know you all keep a keen eye on how the power is shifting from print to digital when it comes to news. Being people who get far more excited about stories than boring facts and figures, (we are PR people after all), we thought we'd use "the medium of fairy tale" to put the information across. So, especially for you, here's a little presentation we've called The Cinderella Effect (thanks to Francesca De Mori for the title idea!) : Print v Online, A Changing Story.

Click here to enjoy ... and feel free to share.