Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Lonely Snowman




I had a conversation with a lonely snowman this week. Visiting the North of England, I met this forlorn figure, a white silhouette marked out alone on the wintry horizon, his frosty cheeks smudged charcoal grey with tears as he bemoaned the loss of this friends and remembered good times past. 

Captive in his icy garden on a hill, he turned wistful as he regaled me with stories of the friends he used to make in bygone times, over the fence in the next-door school yard.



“A new snowman would appear every winter day"he told me, "the children's busy hands creating in the snow every break time, and before and after school. We’d chat over the fence, the children running rings around us as they pulled their sledges, played sliding games on the ice and had snow ball fights that lasted until their little fingers turned numb in their wet mittens. We found it impossible not to smile, their excitement was so infectious. The sound of those mischievous little people laughing and playing in the snow brought on a glow warm enough to melt even our icy hearts.”

But the playground is deserted now, not a snowman in sight, despite inches of the white stuff, perfect for building with. Even the children have vanished. So where are they now? I ask. Why are you all alone?

“I blame the elf & safety killjoys!” he rages, his white face momentarily flashing red. Keep calm, I urge him. If you get too hot under the collar you’ll melt!

“The schools have not only banned snowball fights, but they now insist on keeping the children indoors when it’s icy out. Can you believe it?! They are so afraid of being sued for accidents if the children slip or trip.  But what about their childhood? They are missing out on what could be some of the most magical moments and memories of their lives. And what’s to become of me? A sad, lone snowman. The only one for miles around!”

I am so moved by his plight that I resolve to find a way to connect him with other snowmen again.  They are far fewer now, scattered sparsely across the landscape, but there must be some snow-cial media platform that could help put them in touch, surely? Ideas anyone?

And as for keeping our children safe, don't get me started!  What is this ridiculousness about a health & safety risk?  In robbing our children of such a key part of childhood fun, surely the far greater risk is in denying them a very basic human right! 

Don't listen to the killjoys.  Let's make the most of the festive fun.  'Tis the season to be jolly after all.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Happy Holidays!

              The Conversation is taking a break over the festive season,
                                        returning 12 January 2014



Sunday, 15 December 2013

Jo Worby




Jo Worby is one of those rare people in business who is more interested in talking about other people's success. She is also rare in being a female managing partner. She has developed ambitious plans for her law firm, Maidstone-based Brachers, since taking on the role and a lot of them are focussed on engaging the people in her business.

"A strategy has to be delivered through the people in a firm.  The legal profession is arguably facing its biggest challenge ever in terms of the changed business environment in the post-Legal-Services-Act world, with new types of competition in the form of Alternative Business Structures that lawyers have never had to face before" [new types of legal business often referred to as "Tesco Law" that are a far cry from traditional partnerships]. "We need people to adapt as we reposition upstream and focus on higher-value-add services and our sector specialisations, away from the volume businesses challenging high street firms. And we want our people to be excited by this challenge. There would be little point in me deciding on a new direction for the firm if nobody bought in to that. We simply wouldn't move very far forward. The key in my view is to involve everyone in the journey from the very outset, so we all share in the plan, all pull together in the same direction and all share the pride when it is successful."

And successful it most definitely has been, with Brachers involved in the most headline-grabbing deals, redevelopment projects and other initiatives this year in its chosen region (Kent and surrounding counties), including many that in previous years would naturally have gravitated to London firms: the sales of Kent Pharmaceuticals and Cambridge-based Digital Healthcare, also a key role in the high profile regeneration of Betteshanger colliery to create a world-leading green technology and R&D park, to name just a few. It's been a good year for Brachers.

Jo's emphasis on bringing everyone in the firm along with her, everyone working together on a shared vision, puts me in mind of a study shared on Twitter this week by Bird & Bird's Keith Hardie, revealing how seldom employees know their employers' strategies. The Towers Watson Global Workforce Study was profiled on the website of the International Association of Business Communicators in an article headed "Strategy minus Communications equals Suicide: what's the point of creating a strategy if nobody gets it". A subject very close to my heart as a communications professional: communication is absolutely vital to strategic success.

The study surveyed 32,000 employees worldwide and rather alarmingly found that only 34% said they could articulate their company's strategic goals. And when those 34% were asked to articulate those goals, 51% got them wrong! O dear. So if so few understand their companies' strategies, how on earth can they be expected to implement them on the ground effectively??

For Jo, it's not just the people inside the business that pre-occupy her, but elsewhere too. She once described Brachers' business to me as "legal expertise delivered through people and for people" and this speaks volumes about her approach. "As a partnership we need to concentrate on getting the relationship bit right", she tells me, "...relationships with clients, with staff..and with each other. And this emphasis on relationships needs to be shared by everyone in the firm. We need to listen closely to what our clients are saying to us to understand what is really important to them. Equally, we need to listen to staff and colleagues, perhaps even listen to ourselves a bit better, to understand what motivates us all to do our absolute best in and for the business. If we can unlock these secrets we will be able to put so much more in to achieving our common goals.

"We have some clear financials goals too, so it's not just about the soft stuff. These are essential for achieving our growth plan in the ever-changing legal landscape. Honing our services around where we know we add most value to clients is central to this, hence the importance if listening to them! They tell us it's our deep sector expertise and also the level of engagement with clients that delivers them the most value-add. We are known for being highly creative in the way we apply our legal expertise to find solutions to clients' commercial problems...and at the same time for having stringent supervision and management controls to sanity-check this creative thinking. A compelling combination, as one client put it.

"So we know what clients prize in our work for them. And we need to keep feeding this back to everyone in the business, making sure everyone is crystal clear what makes the difference from the clients' point of view."


This chimes with another conversation I had this week, with Riverview Law's @Jezhop who talked to me about "Moments of Truth": the interactions in the customer experience that are the most important to them.

2013 has been a stellar year for Brachers under Jo's leadership. Given her skill for inspiring and engaging those around her, the future for Brachers looks even brighter.
***

We all enjoyed another classic from Legal Cheek this week, who shared with us his bizarre find of the US divorce attorneys named after iconic indie band Joy Division and using the strap line (of course) "Love will tear you apart".  His Twitter pic of the firm's logo, and suggestion that more firms should be named after bands, was retweeted over 250 times within the first few hours of posting, sparking the inevitable Twitter repartee including such choice gems as "Do they go to court and ask for a new order?"  Nice one @jezrobson.

So come on then, what other bands do we think should be commandeered as legal brands? Insolvency specialists Dire Straits? Wills and estate planning boutique Megadeath? You must have played this game before, so let us know your best selection.  
***
Are you all set for the release of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues? With three teenagers in the family it's big news in our house and we have our VIP tickets booked for the release date at our local Vue. 

I've particularly enjoyed the creative promotional campaign for the film, from the Movember-perfect posters at the start of the push (see pictured); to the viral video of the four 
lead actors' a capella rendition of Afternoon Delight at the Sydney premiere. (If you're a fan of the first film you'll understand the significance); to the inspired tie-up with Virgin trains, bringing Ron Burgundy's voice to a series of special onboard train announcements, brightening up the daily commute for legions of work-weary passengers in the week running up to the release.

Just hope the film can live up to all this wonderfully inventive hype. I'm optimistic. Should be a perfect way to fire up the festive family fun :)  Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Chris Swart




I was interested to know HFW partner Chris Swart's thoughts on the sad passing of Nelson Mandela, given his South African background.  I discovered only recently that Chris studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar [for those of you that may not know, this is considered by many, including Time, Yale and Associated Press, to be "the world's most prestigious scholarship"] "...  and that his family were leading opponents of the apartheid regime [his father was one of the founders. with Helen Suzman, of the Progressive Party] and Chris and his brothers left South Africa in the 1980s in difficult circumstances. As a student leader at the University Natal in 1980 Chris hosted what was then only the second Free Mandela campaign protest meeting in the country, at the very beginning of that campaign with Bishop Tutu and his daughter Zindzi.  Since 1990 Chris has returned to South Africa regularly and currently spends several months a year there.

So how does he feel about the death of Mandela? Could he put into words what this exceptional man meant to him and his family and his experience of South Africa?  How does he see the post-Mandela future?
"Growing up in an anti-apartheid family in 60s and 70s Nelson Mandela was mainly a mythical figure, (though I used to listen avidly to accounts from Helen Suzman of brief meetings with him on Robben Island), and we did not expect him to be released in his lifetime.  At the same time he was demonised as a "terrorist" by the apartheid government and this was ingrained in the belief systems of most whites.  What he achieved in directing the negotiated end to apartheid (again much much earlier than expected even in the 80s) ; a peaceful transition to democracy (which seemed impossible for most of the previous three decades); establishment of the rainbow nation upon a foundation of reconciliation, which he embodied, as well as massive economic growth and regeneration, is remarkable beyond description and certainly the beyond even the remotest expectations I or anyone else had prior to his release.  
"Whilst he endured 27 years in prison we are fortunate that he had nearly 25 years to establish his legacy after his release.   My impression is that it is now thoroughly ingrained in South African society; his sad passing has been anticipated and factored in for some time and I do not expect much, if anything to change in South Africa as a result of his death.  Crises will come and go, but the country and its people will endure as they always have. It will remain a stunning, fascinating and dynamic  part of the world."

I've known of Chris's market-leading commodities expertise for some time (he heads the
Commodities team at HFW and is a very well known figure in the industry).  But his professional biography, whilst detailing his legal and market expertise very well, gives hardly anything away about his colourful background.

When I spoke to Chris, he had just secured a highly unusual freezing order against a number of Syria's leading business figures on behalf of the world's biggest commodities company. It is believed to be a legal first, in that the application for the freezing order was granted on top of a government sanctions order already in place.  His successful court application was a real coup. As a legal marketeer I was interested to know the story of how he has got to this point, ie how he has developed such a formidable practice and team.

Before his time at HFW, Chris headed the shipping team at legacy firm
Lovells which he brought with him when he moved to HFW in the 1990s.  He is famous for re-shaping the team and its expertise since then into a commodities practice which now leads the market.  I asked him to talk me through the transition.

"
After I joined HFW, it became clear not only that the firm needed to broaden its base from shipping and insurance, but that the very nature of shipping and commodities businesses was changing.  Our clients' interests and opportunities were broadening and we needed to understand this dynamic, respond and anticipate the next stages of these markets' development.  Whereas once shipping was limited to the transportation of goods around the globe, now our clients are involved in all aspects of international commerce: from the extraction of raw materials; to the multimodal transportation of those physical commodities to ports; to the shipping of those commodities around the world; to the regulation controlling their sale in end markets; to the commercial deals surrounding the various elements in this end-to-end process and the associated insurance, finance and derivative products that have grown up around it.  This is what was behind my drive to expand our legal practice from shipping to commodities and HFW was an excellent platform from which to do this. My partners and colleagues all have intimate knowledge of the different aspects of international commerce and so we are able to offer a very joined-up approach. The last couple of decades has told a story of changing opportunity. Our pedigree in this part of the business world, and our detailed knowledge of the markets concerned, means we have been perfectly positioned to add significant value to clients’ activities."

Genning up on the history of Rhodes Scholarships I read "For more than a century, Rhodes scholars have left Oxford with virtually any job available to them. For much of this time, they have overwhelmingly chosen paths in scholarship, teaching, writing, medicine, scientific research, law, the military, and public service. They have reached the highest levels in virtually all fields."  Chris Swart has been able to call the shots in his career quite clearly. Given his areas of interest, and given what I have learned over the last seven years about this excellent firm and its dedicated and thoughtful approach to its very specialised markets, I'm not at all surprised Chris has found his natural home at HFW.
***
The highlight of the week has to be our Christmas party in...drum roll...Paris! On Wednesday we all took off on Eurostar for a #KysenDayOut in the City of Lights. We had our celebratory lunch at Cafe Marly facing the Louvre (the world's most visited gallery I am told). A well deserved trip for all the Kysen team, all of whom have worked incredibly hard and effectively this year. (And I'd like to point out this was less expensive than taking everyone to Manchester, which would have been equally lovely in its own way).

The joke of the day was a news exposé that good looking diners in French restaurants get better tables. According to the Daily Mail, guests at Paris restaurants are seated following a strict "appearance policy". Our very own Cafe Marly was cited as a prime example! Where were we sat? Were we offered the best seats in the house?!

You shouldn't expect anything less from your favourite PR consultants ;)
***
Another highlight for me was the "Surrealism and the Object" exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, which I caught the following day. Some amazing pieces there from the likes of Man RayMarcel Duchamp, Dali, among many others.

I have always been quite taken by Duchamp's idea of positioning an everyday object, famously a urinal or spade, in a new context as a "ready made" sculpture, this simple presentation pointing out the natural absurdity in our lives. 

The surrealists' obsession with dolls and mannequins required a strong stomach at times, reaching into our memories of nightmares for a response. Best of all in my view was Dali's Lobster Telephone. Amazing to see it in real life...or in surreal life I should say.



Monday, 2 December 2013

David Johnson




Double congratulations to Weightmans' David Johnson on his appointment as FOIL President this week, as both Weightmans and FOIL are long-standing clients. He is one of the youngest ever FOIL presidents and takes up the role at one of the most challenging times the association has faced, with the upheaval and pace of change in the insurance sector showing no sign of abating. As his new role was reported in the media he stressed his determination to fight the defendant lawyers' corner, at the same time as looking to increase opportunities to collaborate with claimant organisations such as APIL and MASS. This got my attention and keen to know more, I asked to speak to him about it. 

"I'm a firm believer in the "win:win" proposition. Yes, sometimes you absolutely do have to fight, but many times in business there are solutions to be found working together rather than immediately taking an adversarial approach. It's particularly true I believe when it comes to the challenges in the insurance industry. Rather than perpetuating the "them and us" between the defendant and claimant communities, I believe there's a lot to be gained by working on the common ground. And there's more commonality than you might think: for example at the end of the day all sides want to see less money wasted in cumbersome administrative processes, less money drained from the pot by fraudsters and more money going to genuine victims so they are properly compensated according to what they deserve. So plenty we can all work together on. 

"The efficiency point is particularly key in my view, especially since we now have a new norm of fixed fees for claimants in the same way we have had for defendants for a number of years. On the defendant side of personal injury claims, efficiency has long been inherently linked to profitability because our insurer clients have insisted we work on a fixed fee basis. By contrast, claimant lawyers have until very recently worked on an hourly rate basis, so there has been no incentive in the system to keep cases simple and hours down (although good claimant lawyers have always sought to conclude cases quickly, so their clients can be compensated as soon as possible.) Now our business models are more aligned, both sides working on fixed fees (and I expect claimant law firms about to face the same "consolidation" in the industry that defendant firms went through some years ago), we share more affinity than ever before. This has got to promote a better understanding between us and be good for future collaboration.  I'm very optimistic: I can see great opportunities for ever closer working and some exciting solutions being created as a result. It falls upon organisations such as APIL, MASS and FOIL to exploit those opportunities for the common good of their respective members."

Good to know FOIL has appointed such a visionary as president at such a challenging time for the industry. I for one will be watching his lead...
***
Big excitement this week with the British Legal Awards. If you haven't caught up with the winners list, you can view it here. We were rooting for a number of friends: @HuronLegal, @LOD_Law, @Mayer_Brown_UK, Miranda Correia Amandoeira, Serle Court and @Weightmans.

Love how Legal Week's write-up of the event points everyone to the Twitter hashtag #BritishLegalAwards "to follow the reaction". Yet another example of how Twitter is changing news reporting.
***
"Selfie" is the new Word Of The Year according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Here's the official definition: "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website." Love how the OED's language is still so "Radio 4" even when describing the latest social media memes.


What really tickled me was how the National Portrait Gallery jumped on the news this week to launch a campaign to "keep the world's most expensive selfie" in Britain: Van Dyck's 17th century self portrait. 12.5 million pounds is needed and the gallery is hoping to raise the money from the public: social media is playing a big part - a Twitter hashtag has been set up (#savevandyck) and 5 pound donations are being accepted by text. Love the Art Fund's comment on the campaign: "This is the only 12 million pound selfie in existence. We're bringing all the latest technology to bear on the campaign."


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Ann Francke




Chartered Management Institute CEO Ann Francke talked to me this week about the concept of the "Accidental Manager". Ann is a new friend thanks to a thoughtful introduction by Beverly Landais (who's newly a trustee of the CMI board). I was curious to meet Ann to find out what the CMI thought of, or could do for, the management skill-set in professional firms. In my 20+ years working with the profession, particularly the 12 spent in-house in law firms, I have seen a slow evolution as firms have become more adept at management and have gradually invested more time, energy and money in this discipline. This upward trend runs hand-in-hand with firms' gradual transformation from dusty professional practices to commercially-oriented legal businesses.  But progress has often been tortuous and only certain parts of the market "get it" even today.

I have repeatedly seen lawyers promoted to management roles because of their magical rain-making ability, bringing work in to the firm and earning a phenomenal level of fees. History shows that these people are often the very least skilled at managing others: they are focussed on their own super-performance, often to the exclusion of everything else and certainly only rarely interested in that key characteristic of effective management: seeing "success" as enabling OTHER people's performance. So why are they so often promoted to these management roles? Because it's seen as a badge of honour, a status point. It's because the management skill-set is often not valued in firms, sometimes not even recognised at all as something distinct in its own right.

I was keen to know what Ann thought of the profession's experience of management.

"Lack of recognition for the management skill-set is not just confined to professional firms, although I have to say that this part of the business world particularly struggles to value it. You may be surprised to learn that across all industries, only one in five people in management roles are actually trained in management at all." This is how we got on to the topic of the "Accidental Manager", which is her name for this syndrome. "The answer is very simple: if you put someone in a management role, train them for it!  It's in everyone's interest for businesses to be better managed. Statistics show quite clearly that well managed companies perform better. We look at the metrics regularly in our Wellbeing, Motivation and Productivity Reports. Last year's for example shows unequivocally that the UK's "growing" organisations are generally all in the bracket we describe as "High Trust" companies, ie using a management style focussed on employee engagement, openness, collaborative working, consensus, etc. In contrast "declining" organisations tend to fall in the "Low Trust" category, ie relying on more bureaucratic and/or authoritarian management styles. So the difference that good management makes is very real. It's tangible. And it translates directly into financial performance."

So does she think that professional firms are no worse than other parts of the business world?

"Not quite. There are exceptions but generally speaking professional firms are quite a few years behind. Let's take gender diversity as just one management issue for comparison purposes. It's a high-impact one, because if you can't resolve this issue in your organisation, you stand to lose out on unlocking talent from 50% of the pool. And we know that improving diversity is a key differentiator between "growing" and "declining" companies.  Did you know that a man is three times more likely to be promoted to partnership in an accounting firm, and TEN times more likely in a law firm? The professions are clearly significantly behind other sectors and we can see that law firms in particular have a problem."

Doesn't she find this depressing? Frustrating?

"Quite the opposite because there's so much we can offer to help firms. There's so much we could do!" She takes me through the services and resources available (from an online library to qualifications and even Chartered Management status). "And firms are embracing the management skill-set more and more, with the success stories spurring others on. For example at the National Management and Leadership Awards I was delighted to see a law firm (HardingEvans) on the shortlist."

So it's a journey. I look forward to the next 20 years along the route.  Thank goodness we have people like Ann and organisations like the CMI to help us find the right direction.
***
I've been enjoying the new Crackanory TV series that started on Dave last week. "Imagine if Jackanory was set free from its childish shackles. Beautifully funny tales about life in the 21st century." reads the marketing blurb on the BBC website. If you're my generation you'll understand my excitement. If not, like everyone else in the Kysen team apart from Clare Turnbull, you'll be reading this with a completely non-plussed expression on your face. Clearly designed for a generation that grew up with the children's version Jackanory in the 1970s I'm most definitely in the target demographic for this new series! We have a TV celeb in an armchair, just as before - but a contemporary set now with a leather armchair, rather than the very 1970s wicker chair and plants I remember...

My favourite story so far has been about the man who finds an unpublished Shakespeare in his attic, read by Rebecca Front. Other readers for the series rank amongst our most favourite TV comics: Jack Dee, Jessica Hynes, Sally Phillips, Harry Enfield, Charlie Higson, Stephen Mangan... the list goes on. If you haven't caught the series yet, watch out for it this Sunday at 11pm. 
***
A curious art installation in the foyer of The Hospital Club at the moment. I arrived for a lunchtime meeting today and was confronted by these three brightly coloured beehives immediately inside the front door, with Ashurst's logo on the side. Apparently part of the club's Sustainability Week

I asked at reception for information about the hives and Ashurts' thinking behind them, but none was forthcoming. I even posted a Vine on Twitter asking if anybody knew more. Would anyone like to enlighten me? Ashursts, you have my full attention... 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Helen Obi




Helen Obi is undoubtedly the client who has surprised me the most in my 25 years... inviting us to appraise her and her comms team at Mayer Brown. Before we met up for lunch, she sent me a list of criteria to assess them by, eg skill-level, relationship with us, plus some questions about what we would like them to do more/less of, asking me to promise to be frank. Helen and her team are our clients. And she was asking us to appraise them. I was impressed... and intrigued. I’ve known Helen for many years, first working with her at DLA Piper where she was Head of Communications for 10 years, then last year we worked on a project together for BLP, and now happily for us at the start of this year she took up a permanent role heading the comms team at our very good friends at Mayer Brown. Over lunch I took the opportunity to quiz her about the supplier-feedback idea and what was behind it.

“There’s lots of good reasons for taking this 360-degree approach to keep improving the team. But perhaps the main one is to be seen to be practising what we preach! Together with the Business Development team we are constantly telling partners and fee-earners they need to listen to their clients and other stakeholders more. In such a competitive environment it’s essential to know exactly where your clients see the real value in what you do for them. Lawyers need to understand that often clients take their legal expertise as a given (this often comes as a shock to them), and find the value-add in other things. Perhaps the way that the service is delivered. It might be the relationship that is valued more than the tasks.  In part linked to this, it may be the lawyers' strategic view that they value, that comes from so-many-years experience advising in a particular sector. The point is, if you don’t know what it is that the client values, how can you hone your services (and price them) to encourage more flow from the profitable areas of work?”

I took the opportunity over our lunch to find out more about what Helen has been doing to elicit feedback from the firm’s clients.

“It’s really exciting: we’ve just completed a series of client videos, capturing on film what clients have to say about the firm and the teams that look after them. The idea is to play them back to partners through a series of presentations Sean [Connolly, senior partner] is giving internally. It's so much more powerful delivering this feedback by video, rather than circulating a written chart feedback report. People really feel they are hearing it from the horse's mouth. The reaction to the first one we did was very telling: word spread like wildfire as those who'd attended and seen the videos chatted about it in the corridors to co-workers enthusiastically. It has gone down incredibly well."

And has the firm learned anything new? "What the lawyers have taken away is how detailed and real the feedback is. It underscores the point that you can't assume you know what clients value. The answer is always quite nuanced. One client for example, talked about how he appreciated the team's understanding of how his needs has changed as the market switched. In his experience he said, the legal profession can be quite slow to adapt when client needs change in this way. But our team got it right, talking openly about how to reconfigure the service we provide, so the expensive private practice resource is focussed on the bits of the work that really need that level and sophistication of input."

Reading the latest about Mayer Brown in the legal press this autumn and listening to the word on the street, the phrase on everyone's lips is that Mayer Brown is a firm on the move. Sean is driving change and people internally and externally are sitting up and taking notice.  With such creative techniques as these client feedback videos in play, I'm not surprised.

Isn't it nice when someone you've known for so long can still take you by surprise.
***
Great minds think alike. The Cabinet Office has brought out a board game "Legislate?!": a fun way to learn about the passge of laws from Bill to Act. Clearly we have set the trend with our own PR training game SuPR Powers


I love how the worlds of business and politics are both embracing these more visual, creative approaches to putting information across.  You can register for Legislate?! here.
***
Feeling festive yet? I most certainly am :)   Christmas decorations are up in Covent Garden already - and yes I will gloat that these are by far the best in town. Eat your heart out Oxford Street!

But what's really put me in the mood is working on some fun Christmas themes. My favourite so far is placing commercial insurance lawyer and amateur thesp Peter Forshaw of Weightmans in the Evening Standard on the topic of the health & safety hazards waiting in the wings of every Christmas pantomime. And of course the Standard's sub-editing team had just as much fun with the headline as you'd expect: "Pantos aren't really a danger? Oh yes they are, say law experts." Love it!

You can read the full article here.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Maurice MacSweeney




The dilemma facing 2 Hare Court's Maurice MacSweeney is what you call a nice problem to have. With not just one, not two, but three QCs on the phone hacking trial at the moment, I was keen to know what this means for Chambers, both good and bad. 

"Clearly the profile is great for showcasing the set's expertise, but having 3 out of 16 QCs taken out of action for a whole six months, including our head of chambers [Jonathan Laidlaw QC], brings its own challenges for the business," he tells me. Jonathan Laidlaw QC is defending former CEO of News International Rebekah Brooks; Andrew Edis QC is prosecuting; and Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC is defending Ian Edmondson, former news editor of the News of the World. "And Jonny will hardly be pausing for breath after finishing the phone hacking trial next Easter, before starting immediately on another corporate manslaughter trial, and then acting for the FA in the Hillsborough Inquiry

"To have three of our QCs on such an important and high profile criminal case is a great testament to the esteem in which our silks are now held. Andrew Edis was named Silk of the Year at the recent Chambers Bar Awards and we were shortlisted as Criminal Set of the Year as well. But we had others nominated for work on non-crime areas also, in particular health & safety and professional discipline, reflecting the breadth of expertise at 2 Hare Court today. 

"What we are finding as we grow as a set is the importance of this strength in depth and our interdependence as a team." Barristers talking about "interdependence"?? This got my attention! I wanted to know more...

"To be fair, all the top sets will say the same: the more a chambers develops a reputation as a collective," [for which, guys, you can read "brand" by the way...] "the more each member will benefit individually at the end of the day. A solicitor client may come to us asking for one of our high-profile silks. This is of course where these headline-grabbing cases help to attract the best work. Ultimately clients want the best person for the job, but this is a matter of perception. On closer analysis of a client's need, we may actually advise them that another individual at the set is more suitable, has more directly relevant expertise, etc. Where our brand is strong, clients are happy to take this small step of faith and trust us to go with another barrister." Well, any barristers still in doubt as to the value of the collective's brand, here's your answer.  

Trust of course plays a huge part. Maurice tells me in certain instances he will recommend silks in other sets if he truly believes they are more suitable for a particular mandate. "Building trust and long term relationships is key. We are not about quick wins, but building long-lasting relationships. We may be in the headlines today but at 2 Hare Court we play a very long game."

A man after my own heart.
***
Is the long-awaited litigation tsunami finally hitting our shores? Katy Dowell thinks it might be. Chatting to her on the phone just before she published her Lawyer Litigation Weekly, she told me "it's just gone bonkers". Finally so many cases that have been talked about pretty much ever since the credit crunch hit, have made their way to the courtroom

Maurice concurs. His office is next to the clerks room at 2 Hare Court, where he hears the level of enquiries rising audibly. "I think what we're experiencing is a good number of investigations that have been bubbling beneath the surface for a long time, slowed in the past because budget cuts have meant they are under-resourced, finally seeing the light of day as they turn into prosecutions." Good news for the legal community.

To read Katy's litigation update, click here. If you don't subscribe already to the weekly emails, I'd highly recommend you do.
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Seeing Lloyd Cole at the Komedia in Bath this Monday brought back very fond memories of my college youth. Remember Perfect Skin? Rattlesnakes? Some artists you see this long after their heyday disappoint. But Lloyd was class. If you are a fan, do make the effort to see him on this tour, and check out his new album, if you haven't already. He's as fresh as ever.

The demographic of his fanbase is clearly very narrow, as he was 'big' on the circuit for about... gosh! ...must be all of two years. Loved his dry comment to Monday night's audience that a few years ago he would quip about fans' needing his gigs to end in time for them to relieve the babysitter, whereas now the chances are their eldest child is probably old enough to look after the siblings... if they haven't left home for university already. That's so us!!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Graham Coy




Graham Coy must know more about matrimonial disputes than anyone else I know. I say this with confidence because he leads a family law team at Mundays that is made up of not only litigators and mediators, but collaborative law experts (there aren't many of those) and now an arbitrator (even rarer). Regular readers of this blog will know that I have an ongoing interest in new ideas on dispute resolution. Speaking to Graham this week I was interested to know if his experience across these different forums gives him any fresh insights into the anatomy of disputes and how to unlock them. 

"Each of the four dispute resolution areas we work in requires a completely different mindset, which is both the challenge and the excitement of working across such a range. With classic litigation, you start off trying to reach agreement between the parties, often by means of correspondence between the lawyers, which may or may not be easy or productive, then if this fails you go to court. In contrast, collaborative law starts with an agreement that no-one will take the matter to court and a commitment by everyone to sit through as many meetings as required to reach a consensus. For lawyers, this can be a challengingly different dynamic. Mediation is different again: as a mediator you sit down with two clients, often represented by two different law firms, your role being that of an honest - and neutral - broker helping them to reach agreement. In arbitration the lawyer's role is different again, much more like a judge, your decisions having similar authority in terms of weight enforceability."

I am aware how Graham and his team help clients weigh up the options and decide which of the four approaches is most suitable to their needs. But what I wanted to understand more was whether and how working through disputes in such a variety of ways had changed his outlook.

"I do remember the sea-change in my thinking when I first did mediation training in 1997. It teaches you to look beyond what is being presented to you on the surface, to see the real drivers behind people's words and the positions they take. You develop a much better understanding of where people are coming from: I have long maintained that all lawyers have a responsibility to avoid being led down blind alleys, to always keep the bigger picture in mind and be prepared to remind their clients and others involved in a case of this. Divorce lawyers have a particularly heightened responsibility in this regard because the clients they are advising are often in their most vulnerable states ever. Understanding where all the parties are coming from is a big part of this, using that knowledge to direct them all to a more positive outcome. Mediation training makes you think about yourself, your own behaviours and also prejudices, in a totally new light. I honestly believe this has improved my ability to understand clients and be a better adviser to them as a result.

"Without wishing to sound too evangelical about it, I think mediation training should be compulsory training for every lawyer at the start of their career, not just an option later."

Now there's an idea...
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Are we ready for Rebekah Brooks phone-hacking trial? We have quite a few friends-in-law involved in the case, but will we be reading anything about their involvement in our daily papers? Reporting of the trial is unusually tightly restricted. Apparently even the verdict is not going to be published immediately, as there is such a long line of journalists queuing up to be tried subsequently, and this decision of course musn't prejudice their trials. 

By curious coincidence, this is the same week the Government has set its deadline for the Queen's approval of its Royal Charter on press regulation. This inadvertent clash must have skipped the notice of the powers-that-be. I am sure they are gutted it falls in the same week. We may be witnessing more atrocious stories of a media out of control and this may dampen the public's reaction to the proposed regulation. When otherwise they might be outraged that their democratic right to a free press is being curtailed, this is the one week in which they may be uncharacteristically accepting of the idea.

Bet Government kicked themselves when they realised their mistake. 
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I know I know. It's not even Halloween and already we are talking about Christmas. The festive lights are in place in Oxford Street. I had an eerie evening's walk earlier this month, the road closed off, just a few pedestrians in the dark watching cranes lifting giant white raffia balls into position, necklaced above the street. The "snowstorm"  theme is a marked contrast to last year's Marmite-sponsored theme (either you loved it or hated it), the result of a competition run by the New West End company. We'll have to wait until 12 November for the star-studded "switching on" spectacle. See you there? 

In the meantime we are busy dreaming up some novel Christmas-themed editorial ideas. It's not our fault - it's the media that plans so far ahead! 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Beverly Landais




"Highly poachable" is how The Lawyer described  Beverly Landais this week. Her planned exit from Devereux Chambers(in fact from the profession altogether as she is moving to the financial sector) became public, some saw this as evidence of the Bar's inherent problem holding on to these talented, hard-hitting senior managers brought in to transform their practices. Others see the positives: that honing their skills and succeeding in such a "special" environment makes these strategists even more desirable as senior managers and leaders. A challenge for the Bar of course, but one you might characterise as a "nice problem to have".  After all, if you can hold your own in an organisation filled with highly practised advocates paid to argue for a living, and get them to follow your lead, you are clearly working some magic.  As The Lawyer's Kate Beioley  put it, "Chief Executives who successfully grapple with the challenges are eminently poachable by organisations beyond the Bar".


Beverly was kind enough to share her thoughts with me on the matter, and how she feels about this big career change. She leaves Devereux at the end of next month after a hugely successful four-year period during which she has overseen the modernisation, rebranding and repositioning of the set.  

"I have to admit I am leaving the set with sadness because they are a fantastic set and I have enjoyed my time here.  I have many friends amongst the barristers and the staff.  I am proud of Devereux and it has taken a very special opportunity to tempt me away. I have worked in Legal Services for 15 years and I know that I will miss it.  Yet I have previously worked in Financial Services and Insurance and enjoyed that too. I have always taken the view that I am able to add more value because of the breadth and depth of my sector knowledge across a range of Professional Services."

Head of Chambers Ingrid Simler QC  credits Beverly with modernising the set and raising the profile of Chambers as one of the UK's top commercial and civil sets. She even goes so far as to say it is thanks to Beverly that Devereux is now synonymous with excellence at every level.  How does Beverly respond to such high praise? Answer: she is quick to emphasise it's all about other people:

 "A key for me at Devereux has always been to think beyond what I personally can do. That's the job of a senior manager after all isn't it, to focus on enabling others? Most people want to do a great job and in my experience there are four vital ingredients to achieve this:  clear and consistent communication; appropriate levels of resource;  good processes that focus on outcomes; and training to provide the skills to do the job as well as stretch and challenge to even better performance.  I try to focus energy on getting the optimum blend of these ingredients."

Beverly also says it is about making sure the change you implement is properly embedded in the organisation, that it is firmly planted in the collective memory. "Part of this is recruiting talented people  around you and encouraging them to take responsibility and think for themselves. I have been extremely fortunate to recruit in some brilliant people - like Vince Plant, Head of Clerking Services, who is one of the most client focused and business development savvy person I have met at the Bar."

Beverly has just been elected to the Board of Trustees of the Chartered Management Institute (announced at the CMI Annual Meeting last week). The vision of the CMI is to support "Better led and better managed organisations", something we know Beverly pioneers in the professions. It is the only chartered professional body dedicated to raising standards of management and leadership across all sectors by setting professional management standards – built into their qualifications, membership criteria and learning resources. I was curious to know more about this new role: 

 "I completed the Chartered Manager accreditation in February and found the experience incredibly valuable. I wanted to give something back and, as I believe better managed organisations lead to more satisfied employees, owners and clients, it seemed logical to put myself forward for consideration by the Nomination Committee.  There were 5 candidates and 2 places, the term is for 3 years and I am delighted to have been selected."


The past few years have seen Devereux gain numerous prestigious awards that prior to her arrival simply didn't happen. Indeed on the day of our exchange the set had just been short-listed as "Chambers of the Year" for Legal Week's British Legal Awards. There is no doubt about it: Beverly leaves a strong legacy and an uncompromising belief that success lies in providing superb levels of client service coupled with the highest quality advocacy and advice.

Beverly Landais is going to be a hard act to follow.
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Did someone make up this "living dead man" court story especially for Halloween? Have you seen this?? An unbelievable story of an Ohio court refusing to reverse a declaration that Donald Miller was legally dead, even when he turned up in court clearly alive and well. He absconded in 1986 after losing his job, and wasn't seen for 30 years by his wife and family who sought a declaration he was legally deceased so his "widow" could claim Social Security death benefits. Ohio state law has no mechanism for reversing the declaration once three years has passed so the man walked out of court still dead as far as the law is concerned. You couldn't make it up.
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How could I have got Lowry so wrong! A trip to the The Lowry Galleries at Salford Quays, when visiting friends at the Manchester office of Weightmans, put me right.


All my life I had thought all Lowry ever did was paint matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs against industrial backdrops. How wrong I was! All manner of genres is covered among the 400 items on show, from seascapes, landscapes to portraits, many rendered in minute, life-like detail a far cry from the crude simple figures he is most famous for.

Why is the breadth of his work not better known? Brian and Michael, you have a lot to answer for!