Law firms’ hot air on climate change

Surprised none of the legal press picked up the recent pledge made by 20 corporate law firms to slash their Co2 emissions. But, then, times are tough right now.

The firms which have signed up to the pledge are listed here.

DLA Piper CEO Sir Nigel Knowles broke off from his daily tree planting ritual to comment on the pledge, speaking of law firms’ enthusiasm to “drive change” and adding that meeting climate change obligations is increasingly a “moral and business imperative.”

To which Times journo Alex Spence responded on Twitter: “Law firms are leading the way at cutting carbon emissions, says Sir Nigel Knowles. What about all their work for big mining companies etc?”

There’s more about law firms’ commitment to the social pronouncements they make in my Guardian law column this week.

How panic changes your politics

The London riots turned lots of liberal people I know rather illiberal – or maybe it just revealed their true colours.

One trendy Dalston-dweller who I’m “friends” with on Facebook wrote last Monday: “At my front door. This is fucked up. Fucked up. Bulldoze those council estates with the scum inside them still in there…”

But in the riots’ aftermath, as debate rages about the harsh sentences being handed out to those involved, the liberals-turned-illiberals have remained conspicuously silent. Don’t they feel an urge to counter some of the criticism judges and magistrates are facing with their sentencing policy?

I feel a bit sorry for the courts on this. Riots scare people; they’re dangerous to society; they get a lot of attention and so become very public – and sentencing policy obviously has to acknowledge these things.

I imagine it’s a nightmare trying to walk the line between imposing a penalty that is tough without being unfair, knowing your credibility will be damaged if you get it wrong and end up having your judgment overturned.

Still, there’s little doubt that some judges and magistrates are getting it wrong. The four years for the Facebook riot inciters, in particular, looks as over the top as some of the sentences handed out (and later substantially reduced on appeal) to those involved in the 2001 Bradord race riots.

Looking back now, some of the first instance judges who presided over the Bradford cases seemed to fall victim to racist panic – remember, the Bradford riot cases were dealt with in the wake of 9/11. Something similar appears to be happening this time around (albeit with a less directly racial element), with the scary global recession taking the place of scary Al-Qaeda.

But, then, judges are only human – and as my Facebook friend well knows, it’s easy to panic when there’s riot in the air.

How optimistic we were: pre-Lehman interview about downturn

My Times interview from April 2008 – before Lehman Brothers’ collapse – with Eversheds’ partner Jon Roper about surving a downturn makes interesting reading now as we lurch towards a double dip recession. Things have turned out far worse than most expected – although quite a few of Roper’s predictions have proved correct.

Maintain a sense of perspective. I started my career in 1974, the year of the oil crisis, the three day week and one of the worst stock market crashes in recent history. When I arrived for my first day at work there was a car battery sitting on the partner’s desk with a fluorescent tube attached to it for the days we didn’t get power. I don’t envisage that happening again.

Don’t panic. Many lawyers will, in all likelihood, do rather well out of this downturn. When there’s less money around people fight harder over what remains, so commercial litigators should find themselves in high demand. Yes, there may well be a drop in transactional work, but there’ll always be deals and related corporate work about.

Hope that your firm didn’t get carried away during the good times. At the height of the early 90s boom, Jaques & Lewis (which subsequently became the London office of Eversheds) very nearly moved to a smart new premises. I remember the partners’ meeting: on one side was a bullish faction arguing that profits were up and it was time to re-locate, on the other was a cautious group concerned about the possibility of economic problems ahead. Fortunately, the cautious group edged it. Soon afterwards the property market crashed, plunging several firms who’d given the go ahead to similar moves into severe financial difficulties.

Strategy tends to be rather more carefully thought out these days. Even just going back a few years to the dot-com boom, there was a much greater element of simply hoping for the best. The fact that most firms now have full-time executive partners who’ve spent the last few years concentrating on long-term planning, should hold us all in good stead.

What we don’t have this time around is as much flexibility. When the IPOs dried up and M&A transactions slowed during the last recession, I found myself doing quite a lot of banking re-structuring work. Nowadays, with the profession much more specialist, lawyers won’t be able to turn their hands to other types of work in quite the same way. If the downturn is deep, firms may well find themselves having to implement re-training programmes.

Stick together. Competition has become such that lawyers can no longer afford to shut themselves away and forget about the rest of the firm. Just as you hope that colleagues specialising in other areas will send work your way when the market is buoyant, it’s important to point struggling clients in the direction of those at your firm with expertise in insolvency, restructuring and corporate recovery-related fields.

Watch out for the big fish. In the good times big law firms go after big clients. In the bad times they start reaching into smaller ponds. You may suddenly find that a client, with whom you thought you had a sole and exclusive relationship, has instructed another firm to act alongside you. Of course, that’s less likely to happen if you’ve fostered loyalty by maintaining high standards when there was plenty of work around.

Be ready to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. A change in economic conditions can throw up all kinds of possibilities that you wouldn’t necessarily foresee. We ended up using the last recession to recruit lawyers to bolster our corporate practice. Strange timing, you might think, but it was something we’d wanted to do for a while and the fact that things were relatively quiet meant that people were more willing to consider a move.

Keep your passport handy. The spread of law firms abroad will probably play a part in how this downturn is dealt with. If, for example, our Beijing office was busy and London was comparatively quiet, we’d certainly consider sending some associates — and maybe even a few partners — to work out there for a period.

The last thing we want to do is lose our lawyers. Not least because we put a lot of time and effort into recruiting and training them. There were, however, redundancies in the previous recession. Not very well-publicised, as I remember it, but if you trawl back through the archives of the legal press, you’ll see that it happened. Although it was nothing compared to the cull that took place at the investment banks.

Get ready to swot up on new legislation. Once people identify the cause of economic turmoil, laws are usually introduced to prevent a repeat performance. The 70s gave rise to a lot of counter-inflation regulations; this time it will probably be rules against banks lending to sub-prime borrowers. And, of course, more law means more work for lawyers. And so the cycle continues . . .

Jon Roper is a partner specialising in corporate finance at Eversheds

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article3697181.ece

London riots: an evacuation plan

As London descends into clockwork orange-style anarchy, it’s difficult to get too excited by legal news.

But as I don’t want to risk going outside, I thought I’d courageously stay in and do a blog post about lawyers – then tenuously link it to the riots.

Sadly, there’s not much going on in the legal world right now, with most of the bigshots away on holiday. But Legal Week does have part two of its epic hour-long interview (designed by the same people responsible for become-a-barrister.com?) with the head of Allen & Overy, David Morley.

Ah, David Morley – one of the nicer big law bosses, and a man who really does seem to like interviews.

He likes them so much that the last time he did one he invited the interviewer to spend the night at his house. Really. Here’s the paragraph after the journalist (the Times’ Alex Spence) wakes up and comes down for breakfast with the A&O chief:

“The next morning, I find Mr Morley at the kitchen table, newspapers spread out in front of him. Mrs Morley prepares a generous breakfast, then grabs the dogs and we all head off for a brisk walk on Esher Common. I struggle to keep up. Which does not bode well. On our return, it’s time to change into workout clothes. Mr Morley re- emerges in full, cycling lycra.”

Perhaps if things get really bad in London Mr Morley will have me to stay, too?

Work experience: the night shift

Only in the world of corporate law do you get summer placement students working until the early hours of the morning – as the Lawyer reported yesterday.

In response, Financial Times general counsel Tim Bratton tweeted: “awesome story, we’ve just had a good laugh about that one around here”, before diving back into the ball pit which has recently been installed in the newspaper’s fun-packed in-house legal department.

Tim Pitt-Payne QC provided some cross-examination: “How much was student paid? How many hours did they work? Minimum wage? #ukemplaw

And the Guardian’s Maya Wolfe-Robinson weighed in with: “Ha”

It was interesting to see the law firm involved was SJ Berwin, the same establishment where junior lawyers were set an annual billing target of 2,500 hours a few years back – a figure which equates to around 15 hours a day spent in the office.

The original Legal Week article is paywalled – a shame as the comments are brilliant.

To give you a flavour, here are a couple:

To balance out some of the comments below: I think that many of these comments are uninformed. Let’s face it, Berwins associates’ hours are no longer than anyone else’s in the London legal world and it is disingenuous to imply otherwise.

Associate SJ Berwin -11 Jan 2007 | 14:22

I will eat my keyboard if the posting below which starts “To balance out some of the comments” is actually written by an SJ Berwin associate!

Associate SJB -11 Jan 2007 | 14:20

In other news, well done to the Legal Services Board for bravely approving plans to force law firms and barristers’ chambers to publish internal diversity and social mobility data on their websites. It’ll be fascinating to read the information that comes out in the first round of publication in December 2012.

And finally, another Johann Hari post over at Jack of Kent, where David Allen Green has written an open letter to Indy editor Chris Blackhurst. In it, he argues that a “health warning” should be placed “as neutrally as possible” at the bottom of all Hari’s articles warning readers about the possibility they’re not properly sourced, and that Hari should have a “subtle” tattoo emblazoned on his forehead re-stating his risk to the public.

Okay, I might have made that last bit up (but the health warning suggestion is real).

The bloggers behind the essay cheat story

Oh dear, Oxbridge Essays…

The notorious essay writing company’s unsuccessful attempt to crack the law student market is the subject of my Guardian law article this week.

Here’s one of their, er, unconventional model answers (for an inns of court scholarship):

“It may not be the best thing to say but all the Inns are beautiful and offer fairly similar services. I wanted to go with whichever Inn I felt a greater attachment to and that was Lincoln’s Inn, primarily because I used to walk through New Square past Wildy’s each day on the way to university and was able to picture myself working in the gardens for which Lord Denning used to care from time to time in his later years, or drinking tea in the newly refurbished MCR!”

Geeky legal market followers may recall the storm that erupted about all this a couple of years ago (my Legal Week article about it is behind a paywall, but for subscribers here’s the link).

The story was broken by Ekaterina Zelenova – a qualified barrister who is completing her QLTT transfer exams to become a solicitor – on her quirky and excellent Android’s Reminiscences blog.

It was then followed up by Simon Myerson QC, author of the informative ‘Pupillage and how to get it’ blog, who argued Oxbridge Essays’ services equated to “cheating”.

But it was left to legal blogging godfather, Mike Semple Piggot (AKA Charon QC – pictured above), to score the best scoop of all, persuading Oxbridge Essays head of sales John Foster to do a podcast interview with him. Foster makes a great pantomime villain, with Mike playing the role of slightly disapproving parent doing his best to give a wayward youngster the benefit of the doubt. Perfect Friday listening.

Social mobility, with a dash of nepotism

Got a great story from a tipster last night.

Yesterday was the launch of ‘Professions for Good’ – a public information campaign made up of the representative bodies for the UK’s largest professions, including the Law Society and the Bar Council.

Professions for Good’s stated aim is to “seek to unite the leading professions to maximise their contribution to a fairer society, a strong economy and better informed policy making” and their first campaign is on fair access to the professions and social mobility.

Their PR agency is Spada, led by Gavin Ingham Brooke (pictured).

To a room of two hundred or so people, they screened a video that had been commissioned on fair access and equal opportunities. In the credits it notes the creator of the piece: Alexander Ingham Brooke – the son of Gavin.

In other news, a Pupillage Portal-related fuck up – and not the first.

Btw, please keep the leads coming. Contact me via twitter or at alex@alexaldridge.com

Column spurs work experience offer

I know from the bitter experience of setting up this very basic blog that website design isn’t easy. But surely the Bar Council, with all its resources, could have done a better job on its new careers website, become-a-barrister.com , which I reviewed last week for the Guardian.

As usual, the piece provoked a good debate in the comments section – and even saw a barrister offer some work experience to wannabe barristers from working class backgrounds (whatever that term actually means).

Here’s the post, which was written by LeeGUK, who appears to be Lee Gledhill of specialist medical and regulatory law set Alexander Chambers.

In light of this article, if there are any working class people who have qualified in law who would like to shadow a successful (formerly ?) working class barrister for a few days then I would be only too happy to arrange it (subject to our clients’ consent and our not being over-whelmed by demand: a lot of people want to become barristers).

Contact Lee through this website: www.alexanderchambers.co.uk

In other news, Matthew Parris in The Times reckons that after we’re done with Hackgate the lawyers are next (£). Parris seems to have a particular dislike for lawyers, but his comments make interesting reading.

“MPs have bitten journalists; journalists have bitten MPs; now judges, who hate the media, are about to bite journalists,” he wrote on Saturday. “Sooner or later comes biteback time. That the practice of law in England has for centuries been a stitch-up to enrich a professional monopoly at vast public and private expense is perfectly well known — not least by lawyers, who subliminally know that theirs is not quite a gentleman’s calling. Hence their rather desperate pomposity and self-regard. It must crack.”

David Allen Green says sorry

Good to see lawyer-journo David Allen Green hold up his hands and admit he got it wrong publishing his blog linking Johann Hari to incest porn (offending paragraph since removed) – albeit via a pretty highly qualified apology.

It’s scary to think that a guy trawling the internet can find some weird piece of information and then use it against someone else, without any attempt to contextualise it (Hari has written about incest, after all) – and then have it picked up by the mainstream media.

As Green himself admits, porn has got nothing to do with the theme of his blog, which was about making up quotes/fake Wikipedia posts. Include stuff like that and you enter witch hunt territory.

Green is an interesting bloke, who I met last year when I interviewed him for a piece I did on legal blogging for Legal Week. He’s got an amazing story, which I recount in the Legal Week article, having carved out a dual career as a lawyer and journalist in a really original way.

He also tends to be extremely hard on journalists he deems to have made a mistake – which could be related to his quirky route into journalism, having never worked in a staff job on a paper or magazine and experienced some of the pressures of trying to get copy out on time.

Still, often he has got a point with his criticisms. As we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, journalists need to be called to account on occasions. But as Green has found out, everyone fucks up sometimes.

Finally, never nice when someone gets forced out of a job, as News International legal chief Tom Crone was yesterday, but amazing to see an in-house counsel, that least glamorous category of lawyer, on the front page of the Guardian website [sorry, no link as it’s changed, but he was, I promise]. Surely a first unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.

According to all the reports, Crone, who knocked back my multiple interview requests when I covered the in-house beat for Legal Week, sounds like a good lawyer who’ll have no trouble bagging another job. But in the highly unlikely event that you’re reading Tom, and you want a bit of extra publicity to help you land that top position, do get in touch if you fancy doing an interview.

THIS BLOG’S KEY ROLE IN HACKGATE

Yesterday I was surprised to receive a call from Allen & Overy PR supremo Campbell McIlroy, politely but firmly asking me to slightly alter the blog I did that morning on his firm’s involvement in the hackgate saga (which I did).

My first thought upon taking the call: oh no, I’m gonna be sued – and to justify the picture below, I then contemplated life in an 18th century debtors’ prison.

Having composed myself, I went on to marvel at how people must be actually reading what I wrote on my battered old laptop and then self-published!

In other news, interested to see in The Lawyer that Freshfields is launching an internal investigation into one of its business support functions.

Frank Maher, a partner at Legal Risk, a leading law firm in the specialist field of professional regulation, recently told me some crazy stuff about corruption in City law firms.

According to Frank, alongside former Hogan Lovells partner Chris Grierson there are another three City lawyers currently being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – with one of the cases involving “one of the biggest law firms in the country, millions of pounds and a truly unbelievable set of facts”.

The legal profession’s own version of hackgate/MPs expenses on its way?