Saturday, 29 October 2011

F W de Klerk

FW de Klerk is a man who knows a thing or two about dispute resolution. As we all know, the former President of South Africa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, along with Nelson Mandela (whose release he engineered), for his role in ending apartheid. But what I hadn't quite appreciated until hearing him speak at this week's London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA) annual dinner, was just how much he approached this incredible challenge with a lawyer's mind and toolkit.  He studied law at university and practised in the Transvaal after graduation.  The key contribution he made to the ending of apartheid was his role in the intense negotiation process between his own governing National Party and Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) aimed at constitutional change and securing equal voting rights for all individuals: the democratisation of South Africa no less.  


At the LSLA dinner he spoke to us on the topic of The Rule of Law and Constitutions in Rapidly Changing Societies"There's a common misconception" he said, "that South Africa’s peaceful transition, in essence, involved the transfer of power from the old National party government that I headed to the new ANC government headed by Nelson Mandela. It did not. Instead, what was involved was the transition from the old South African constitution where parliament was supreme, to a dispensation where the constitution itself - and not this or that political majority in parliament - was supreme."  

He discussed in detail how law has a central role in clearing up the mess of the globalising world. The lessons from South Africa's experience have huge relevance today, with so many countries currently 'in transition'.  It was fascinating to hear these ideas from a man who had engineered change on such an epic scale.  Particularly thought-provoking was his point that the use of legal process can be not only to effect change, but also to create stability in a changing environment:  "Constitutions and the rule of law can accordingly play critical roles in providing a framework within which rapid change can take place, without destroying the foundations of stability.  By the same token, the absence of constitutional frameworks and the absence of the rule of law can have catastrophic consequences."

You can download his full speech here, via the LSLA website. (Just click the link on the left hand side where it says Speech by Former President FW de Klerk...)


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This week's local hero has to be St Paul's Chancellor Giles Fraser, for sticking to principle to the point of resigning in the dispute between senior colleagues and anti-capitalist protesters Occupy London, camped outside.  As St Paul's announced possible legal action, Canon Fraser said his position had become untenable and that “the church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence"


Even former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey stepped forward to express dismay at the 'mis-management' of the situation by St Paul's.  If you missed his no-holds-barred critique you can read it in the Telegraph here.  He doesn't hold back.  Great stuff!


[Since posting this blog, we now know of course that the Dean of St Paul's has also resigned...]


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On a lighter note, uplifting news came this week from Netflix, the US movie-streaming people, who announced plans to launch in the UK early next year.  YES!  Having recently become an addict of the brilliant music-streaming site Spotify, I am utterly taken with the idea that I should be able to access any music/film, ever made anywhere in the world, at the click of a button and on any console I choose, for a modest monthly fee.  This is my new expectation.  But like many of you, I have been mightily frustrated that movie-streaming is so far behind its music equivalent.  BUT ALL THIS IS TO CHANGE!  Early next year...  I have a birthday in January.  They must know this.  :-)




Saturday, 22 October 2011

David Barber

You could be forgiven for thinking that cutting edge marketing at the Bar is a wholly new phenomenon. But of course barristers clerks have been at the sharp end of 'business development' for decades - with, historically, a far greater responsibility for reeling in business directly than any law firm marketing manager.


I had a fascinating conversation this week with seasoned Chief Clerk at Pump Court Chambers David Barber. He tells a wonderful story of when he first stepped in to the Chief Clerk role at Pump Court Chambers some 15 years ago: at the time, the delineation between the circuits meant that jobs in certain parts of Hampshire were considered 'local' to London sets, who would then charge travel which the client solicitor couldn't reclaim. With a base in Winchester as well as London, Dave cannily spotted an opportunity to sell an advantage to solicitor clients by reminding them Pump Court could take on this work without that additional layer of travel costs. So a mailshot was prepared and sent. Whilst well received by clients and contacts, and successful in terms of bringing new clients into the fold, it was rather frowned upon by the Bar Council at the time - in fact formally challenged. Was this 'brazen' approach appropriate from such a well-regarded barristers set? Dave took the Bar Council on - and won his point.


Today the set is known for its strategic, as well as tactical, thinking - and still retains just a cute a sense of what's really important to clients as it did 15 years ago: that a good service, from people who know how to work in a  legal team is just as important as top-knotch legal expertise. Times have moved on and the game may be different and more complex today, but this principle remains the same.


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What a week for grim news... I hardly know what to pick. The Government's desire to re-wind our commitment to European Human Rights legislation is worrying enough, without our Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge suggesting British courts are free to ignore rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. (Thank goodness Supreme Court head Lord Phillips stepped in to remind everyone that the Strasbourg court does in fact have to be followed).  


Grim also, in its way, is the latest development in the very sorry story of our Justice Minister Djanogly, whose regulatory role has now actually been curtailed to withdraw his authority over claims companies because of a conflict of interest he failed to declare.  No, you did hear me right, I am talking about our Justice Minister.


But grimmest of all has to be the way the death of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi was covered by the media. Are we all comfortable with such graphic photo imagery?  The Guardian posted a twitter debate about its use of the images, which makes interesting reading. As to the conduct of the death sentence on Gaddafi itself, I'll leave Amnesty to comment on that - and the less said about Hilary Clinton's reaction the better. Wow indeed.


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But Lord Judge also wins the prize for the most deft communication of the week, on the topic of the reform of our defamation laws and threats to press freedom. That tricky balance of protecting both reputations and freedom of speech was examined again this week as the draft defamation Bill was scrutinised this Wednesday by a joint committee of the Lords and Commons. An eminently sensible amendment was suggested, giving further protection to legitimate investigative journalism, that needs in the public interest to go beyond the boundaries of what can be proved true.

Speaking on press freedom at the Justice Human Rights Law Conference, Lord Judge stressed that the 'priceless' role that investigative journalists play in unearthing scandals must not be diluted by knee-jerk regulation following the phone-hacking scandal. He made his point beautifully, acknowledging the 'cruelty and insensitivity' of the behaviour of the worst (in fact criminal) parts of the press, most notably the phone-hacking in the Milly Dowler case, and pointing out that this very conduct was of course brought to our attention by... another part of the press:

"The first of these scandals - the cuelty and unfairness – should never happen. The second – the revelation of a public scandal – must be allowed to continue to happen."  

Excellent point well made.  


Friday, 14 October 2011

Philip Posner

I met a Rabbi on a beach in Santa Cruz, who was going from one group of sunbathers to another, selling his book: a fascinating discourse on ethics described through a series of imagined dinner conversations between famous ethical role models such as Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, the prophet Amos, together with - wait for it.... their favourite recipes! Rabbi Philip M. Posner's "The Rabbi and his Famous Friends - Food for Thought, Character & Soul" is part cookbook, part ethical dissertation. Wonderful stuff! In conversation he tells me "I believe physical nourishment is inextricably wrapped up with our character".

As a communications consultant I will always say that a face-to-face meeting over a meal ranks right at the very top of the hierarchy of communication, in terms of giving the best opportunity for a quality conversation, for establishing rapport, and for developing understanding and common wavelength. So I just loved the Rabbi's thoughts on conversations over meals: "Sharing bread in the course of ceremonies or simply at ordinary meals forges bonds which, in principle, will never be lost or forgotten". And he tells me that the word companion in fact means 'those with whom you have shared bread', the word derived from the Latin com, meaning 'together,' and panis, which means 'bread.'  Well, that I didn't know. But I do now, and to me it makes total sense.

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The Lawyer unveiled its list of Star Bloggers this week, who will be providing "commentary analysis and opinion on the profession's good, bad and ugly",  in a new blogging section online.  At Kysen we were all delighted to see one of our favourite legal bloggers (and a client - I must declare my interest): Nicky Richmond, managing partner of Brecher, aka @saysitstraight on Twitter. It's official Nicky: according to The Lawyer, you're a 'luminary'. (But we always knew that...)

Read Nicky's hilarious first blog: The Unspoken Tyranny at Law Firms. We did warn you she says it straight!


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This week's Blackberry Out(r)age put us all in bad humour. How dare they? Don't they realise this is like switching off our oxygen? Some of the jokes circulating on Twitter put smiles back on our faces though. Here's a selection, my favourite being:

Q. What did one Blackberry user say to the other Blackberry user?
A. Nothing.

Liz Booth at Insurance Day provided another whilst we shared our frustration over the phone yesterday:

Q. What do you get if your iPhone breaks down this week?
A. Blackberry and Apple crumble.

Thanks Liz.  Great idea for soul food this weekend in fact.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Edward Fennell

Ok, so ABS Day wasn't quite the Big Bang some had predicted, but there were a couple of noteworthy events that happened on the day. For me the highlight was the launch of Edward Fennell's new monthly online column in The Times, in which he plans to profile an 'ABS'-impacted business each edition.

I spoke to Edward about his new column when we met a couple of weeks ago - but he had asked me to keep it under wraps until it was launched.



"I'm not so much interested in Alternative Businesses per se," he said. "The point of the column is more about looking at traditional legal businesses that are having to do something different, either in their business strategy, or the way the business is structured, in response to the advent of ABSs".  Also, he says, the Legal Services Act generally and to some extent other market-changing regulation such as Jackson on litigation costs." 

The first edition launched this week on ABS day (6 October). If you missed it on the day, you can find it here.



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...but the first ABS has now emerged on to the market. On the day that the Council for Licensed Conveyancers became the first Approved Regulator able to license these new entities, the first ABS law firm came into being: Premier Property Lawyers, a Leicester- based wholly-owned subsidiary of myhomemove.


...and the first UK law firm announced plans for a stock market flotation: Oxfordshire-based firm Everyman Legal


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Sadly, another obituary this week. But a review of the week would be incomplete without mentioning the death of Steve Jobs. Our papers and screens have been full of tributes to how his ideas have transformed the way many of us work and live. "He made technology fun - and he made it beautiful" is typical of the sentiments expressed by a very broad - and global - public. 


The images of the innovative forms that some of the tributes are taking are particularly arresting. A candlelight 'app' vigil in Tokyo, a farewell carved into an apple in California...






Opinion in our office is divided as to whether this outpouring of global grief is proportionate. "He's not family, or a close friend, after all." The BBC's News Magazine has written an interesting piece on just this, which you can read here. But clearly for some, the man changed their lives.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Connie Chen

Connie Chen has an interesting perspective on doing business in China.  Based in Holman Fenwick's Sydney office (one of the firm's three Australian offices), Connie specialises in international corporate and commercial transactions and China-related investments in particular.  Her role requires an insight into both.  She talks of the classic divide we have all read about - the west's focus on productivity levels, profit and cashflow: the east's preoccupation with businesses 'doing social good'. A case of never the twain shall meet? She describes the rude awakening for many western companies in China when the credit crunch hit, forced to realise what this difference really means in practice when blocked from making redundancies to balance the books again. But what I find fascinating is her view of the changing perceptions in these straitened times of the west by the east, and of the east by the west.

What some western companies are starting to question is whether there might in fact be  commercial as well as social benefits to be gained from not making redundancies: more stability, not just in the individual company but their broader business community too, stronger staff loyalty, etc. Some are saying these companies will come out of the recession in a stronger competitive position than those that made harsher personnel decisions. Is there a leaf western businesses could take out of the communists' book.

Eastern business are learning lessons from the west too, she says, particularly with commercial contracts.  The west famously has an insistence that everything be governed by the letter of the contract and a very legalistic approach that is rather frowned upon by easterners, who prefer to limit contracts to expressing broad parameters only, expecting the detail - and any differences - to be sorted out by relationships, discussion, negotiation, and trust between the parties. With so much contract wrangling taking place now thanks to the credit crunch, she says that some eastern business people are now seeing benefit in negotiating more detailed contracts at the outset, the parties articulating in finer detail how they see things, and looking at scenarios for what might go wrong, improving everyone's understanding of expectations and intentions at the start - even if in the event of a dispute the contract is ultimately set aside and the matter resolved through relationships and discussion in the old-fashioned eastern way.


Perhaps the twain between east and west is starting to meet after all...

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Exciting news from Shakespeare's Globe this week: an amazing initiative next Spring to bring all 37 of his plays - yes you heard that right: all 37 plays! - to the stage in one  six-week season, each performed in a different language. Great opportunities here for global firms to think of creative ideas for sponsorship and client hospitality. 

The Globe team has scoured the world to find exciting or novel productions.  As well as offerings from the heavyweight international theatre companies, there will be a rendition of Othello from Chicago in hip-hop form, a production of Love's Labour's Lost in British Sign Language and a version of Cymbeline from the world's newest country, South Sudan, which became an independent state only in July this year, after 50 years of conflict:  Apparently the pitch for the South Sudanese theater company included a heartbreaking note from the brand-new country’s presidential adviser on culture:  “I used to lie in the bush under the stars reading Shakespeare’s plays, not thinking about the killing that would take place in the morning.”  Powerful stuff, this Shakespeare.

If you missed the news of the Globe to Globe initiative this week you can catch up here.

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This month's Tweetinglegals tweetup was fun.  Thanks Shireen Smith (aka @Azrights) for organising. Some 50 legal tweeters met up on Monday night at The Old Bank of England in Fleet Street.  For anyone still unconvinced of the value of twitter in business, these tweetups, giving you the opportunity to make human contact with fellow tweeters, so make the point that networking online is not separate and mysterious from networking In Real life: the two go hand in hand.  

If you're good at networking in the real world, these social media platforms just open up new doors and expand opportunities.