A lot of time and effort goes into formulating a strategy. This might involve partners’ conferences, staff consultations and animated debate – and ultimately, agreement upon strategic objectives, how they will be achieved, and perhaps a mission statement. The strategy is then published within and sometimes outside the firm, but what then? Too often the immediate demands of practice, the need to satisfy clients and achieve fee income targets, take over completely and it can be easy to slip into decision-making without regard to the agreed strategy. How can you maintain consistency with what you say and what you do? First, make sure that all partners publicly subscribe to the overall plan. All should sign the strategic document and publish the signed copy so that no one signs up lightly. I know of one firm that encourages anyone in the organisation to challenge any partner or anyone else for doing anything in conflict with published strategy. Second, keep reminding decision makers of the framework for their decisions. Head the agenda of each meeting of partners, departments or teams with key points from the strategy document, and require minutes of such meetings to say how decisions made reflect overall strategy. Ensure that accounting procedures are aligned to strategy, so that billable time is properly recorded and not written off unless in circumstances allowed by your strategy, and that no one fails to obtain payment on account of costs where strategic principles require it. Culture change can be hard enough to achieve with existing personnel, but there is no excuse for making it even more difficult by bringing in new people whose attributes are not aligned to that strategy. If, therefore, you require that everyone makes best use of IT, you look foolish if you hire someone who boasts that they don’t know how to switch on a PC, no matter how good a lawyer they are or what fees they earn. Make sure that your recruitment procedures lead to taking on people who fit in with what you are trying to do. Finally, remind everyone of the firm’s objectives. Put them on screensavers on their PCs, on performance review forms – why not even on the backs of payslips? Introduce these ideas and, who knows, you might look back at your next annual conference and congratulate yourselves on actually doing what you said.
Christina Blacklaws, Blacklaws Davis, London I read Nicola Laver’s article ‘Virtual firms thrive in the downturn’ (see  Gazette, 23 July, 12) with interest. As a firm we have embraced a hybrid model, which combines physical locations with virtual working. This has helped us grow to be the largest specialist family firm in the country. In my role as a Law Society Council member for child care I am very aware of the challenges facing family lawyers, particularly those handling both private and public funded work. High street firms are under immense pressure and we have found many experienced sole practitioners and teams within firms electing to join us. With the right technology, we have found that a person can be as productive (and much happier) working from their home as they would be in an office. Nonetheless, those who wish to establish virtual firms should never underestimate the amount of support that needs to be provided to their consultants. There are demanding operational and human resources issues to be tackled. One particular area that needs to be addressed is the culture. Working from home can be a lonely experience and, after the initial excitement has died down, solicitors need continued support to prevent feelings of isolation. It is these cultural issues that will determine whether virtual or semi-virtual firms are successful. With the right approach, however, I am confident they will provide a model that can successfully compete with new entrants into the legal market.
Perhaps London’s investment bankers are wishing they’d chosen a career in corporate law instead. Alistair Darling looks set to come down heavily on banker bonuses in his pre-budget speech today, with commentators predicting a super tax on bonuses in excess of the impending 50% income tax for high earners. Put simply, this means that a law firm partner on, say, £1m a year will be in a better tax position than an investment banker on a £200,000 salary with an £800,000 bonus. It doesn’t seem like there’s any love lost between lawyers and bankers – according to reports, one unnamed City law firm advised the Treasury on how to implement a bonus tax that couldn’t be avoided by the bankers. But unfortunately, if another tactical leak to the newspapers is correct, government advisory work is in for a bit of a squeeze: Gordon Brown apparently wants to cut spending on consultants by 50%. By doing this, in tandem with a 25% cut on government marketing and communications, he expects to save £650m. More worrying for the City’s legal elite are unconfirmed reports that there will be an extra rung added on top of the new 50% top-earner income tax rate. Predictions of a 60% to 70% tax on earnings above £500,000 have been sounded in some parts of the media. All of this could be moot – Darling, predictably, has not pre-empted his speech by commenting on the reports, but he did have this to say: ‘You would expect the broadest shoulders to bear the greatest burden.’ Broad shoulders indeed, but hopefully not broad shoulders that have already booked their flights to pastures new.
Are law firms more like publishing businesses than they think, and what might that mean? This sounds like an odd question, probably, if you’re a lawyer and/or you run a law firm, but bear with me for a few hundred words more than we normally allow on the blogs. I’m conducting this gedankenexperiment because I’ve always thought that legal and publishing are ‘similar’ in that they can both, in large part, to my mind be described thus: transactional content production businesses based around information gathering and transformation. That means that they may face similar challenges (or ‘problems’ in old money) and may even be able to face up to those challenges having learned from each other’s approaches. I could be wrong, but it’s worth discussing, which our LinkedIn group has been doing. James Dunning of management consultancy Geotrupes posted a discussion asking whether law firms might experience the same problems faced by media businesses as the internet burned through their revenue models. The responses were fascinating – mainly because, as usual, they showed how disparate the views are on this issue within the profession and its service industry. ‘Confusion over strategy; lack of focus on customer service; antiquated pricing systems, and lack of professional management – that sounds like the old newspaper industry to me. The next year should be very interesting,’ said Peter Blair of Mar-aon Consulting. John Harman, director of multimedia at The College of Law, said: ‘Law firm discussions about the way forward with technology and internet etc is certainly reminiscent of the music industry circa 1999 – you have to change the framework, not just the picture in the frame. Ironically, social networking for instance is much more attuned to old school legal practice than many give credit to.’ I think that’s perceptive and accurate (the music industry has also faced very similar problems to the newspaper businesses and it is, of course, ‘media’), and it’s why we created the Gazette’s social media channels. Marianne Barber, knowledge services deputy director at The College of Law, also backed that point: ‘It’s not about the technology but recognising that these tools can mimic face-to-face skills to create the necessary relationships, thus enabling a business to spread far wider than its traditional market [my emphasis]. This applies equally to law, I would have thought, as to any other client-based enterprise.’ I emphasise those words because to me diversification is key to building revenue for media businesses and may well be key to legal’s future too. Stephen Kuncewicz, an IP, media & entertainment lawyer with Ralli in Manchester, was unequivocal: ‘This issue is one of if not the biggest facing our profession… [and] I can’t fail to see how the answer is anything but an unqualified “yes”. Not only that, but “it’s happening already”. ‘The unavoidable fact remains that the world, our playing field and our clients are changing around us at an exponential rate and we’re struggling to keep pace, let alone catch up. The profession faces a number or fundamental challenges which find a great many parallels in the media industries, with the most obvious being that our business model is out of date and becoming rapidly unfit for purpose.’ Business law specialist Spencer Laymond at Palmers Solicitors in London seems to agree. ‘If you stick your head in the stand, yes your bottom is probably going to get bitten. Those that don’t embrace change are at risk. But if you are complacent at anything, you are not going to survive and that’s no truer for the legal market than a universal principle of life. ‘Those firms that take the initiative and modernise their practice will be fine. I don’t believe there will be as much confusion and crisis as the hype [says], though. A fundamental key to the success of a firm is not the internet, but the client relationship and source of referral work.’ But of course the internet will change forever the choice of mode for the client relationship, and the way referrals function. Now, I’m not saying that the public will suddenly turn in droves to infomediaries like Moneysupermarket or their ilk for lawyers tomorrow. But I do think that the internet will push the creation of more technologies that allow law firms to do more than they have traditionally done, do what they do more cheaply, and diversify their revenue streams, and those firms that don’t do that will lose out. This is exactly what the media businesses are trying to do. They used to be businesses filled with capable, expensive specialists, with two streams of revenue – advertising and sales. Sales have fallen off a cliff (and have been doing so for years) and advertising revenue, especially in recruitment, has been winging its way online for years. This isn’t about making people pay for news content – not even Murdoch would say that’s the way to make money from publishing, even if he is doing it. Right now, cash is coming from non-content sources. For example, British newspapers are selling white-labelled legal and all kinds of other ‘products’; they’re littered with ‘reader offers’ and suchlike, all passing some money to the business; certain newspapers make millions from online gambling. I’m obviously not saying law firms should do this. But something like this, perhaps, is inevitable. To be clear, I’m saying that Susskind and many before him speaking to other sectors are likely right about commoditisation because they’re being proved right in media right now – in other words, it wasn’t new – and it’s down to this: what you always did that made money may not be your (primary) revenue stream of the future; but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money if you can see that you ‘own’ relationships, and use those to create new revenue streams. So, how will you do that?
They nibble at your best winter coat, and make an annoying noise when they pop themselves dead on lightbulbs. But it turns out that moths can be good for something – at least civil litigation solicitor Bob Heckford, who recently retired from Plymouth law firm Bond Pearce, seems to think so. Heckford is an amateur naturalist and has just discovered a new moth species in a Devonshire oak wood. He now boasts the signal honour of being (probably) the only solicitor to have a species of moth named after him: ectoedemia heckfordi. Apparently, it was the caterpillar’s emerald green colour that revealed that it was a new species – all the other larvae of native moths that live on oak leaves are white or colourless, don’t you know. The adult moth, previously unknown to science and only the second new species to be discovered in Britain in the last 50 years, is black with a white stripe, and just 3mm long. Well spotted, Heckford; the legal profession’s answer to David Attenborough.
A new code of practice for non-lawyer will-writers which has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading is ‘without teeth’, probate solicitors have warned. The OFT approved a new code of practice drawn up by the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) last week. The OFT approval came as the Scottish government indicated last week that it would seek to introduce compulsory regulation of non-lawyer will-writers. Under the new code of practice, IPW members will have to pass an entrance exam and complete ongoing professional training. They will be obliged to provide consumers with a minimum seven-day cooling off period, and complete work within strict time frames agreed with the client. The code also gives consumers access to an independent redress scheme, and provides protection for any money paid by clients in advance, if the work is not completed. The IPW’s 190 members make up an estimated 20% of all the UK’s will-writing businesses. Members will now be able to use the OFT Approved code logo on business advertising and literature. Helen Clarke, chair of the Law Society’s wills & equity committee, said she applauded all attempts to improve standards and safeguard the public. ‘But a code of conduct is only as good as it can be enforced, and this code lacks serious sanctions. An IPW member who is expelled for misconduct can just carry on writing wills regardless,’ she said. Clients’ long-term interests would not be protected by the new code, Clarke added, because if a will-writing company went bankrupt, there would be no safety net. ‘When a law firm folds, the Law Society intervenes and the profession takes on the cost. The IPW code contains no such provision.’ Patricia Wass, chair of the Law Society’s probate section, said that the public did not always recognise the difference between a trained and qualified solicitor and a will-writer. She said: ‘Tax planning, assets held overseas, older people cohabiting – these are all parts of the complexity of modern life that can’t be learned on a short course of training. It’s a lifetime’s work, even for solicitors.’ Wass added that she supported the Scottish government’s decision to table an amendment to the Legal Services (Scotland) bill to introduce compulsory regulation of non-lawyer will-writers. She said she urged Westminster to adopt the same approach. Shefali Talukdar, head of private client at Manchester firm Clough & Willis, said the IPW code is ‘without teeth and lacks meaningful sanctions’. She added: ‘Only 20% of will-writers are members of IPW – which means 80% won’t be subject to the new code of practice. But it’s a step in the right direction.’ Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners chief executive David Harvey said: ‘Having a quality code of conduct is a good start, but we need to ensure consumers are fully protected. That means professional will-writers should be subject to both rigorous examination and a meaningful regulatory scheme.’ IPW chairman Paul Sharpe said: ‘It is crucially important that consumers receive the highest standard of service from properly trained and qualified professionals. With IPW’s OFT-approved code, consumers can tell at a glance that businesses will provide them with the highest standards.’ A Law Society spokeswoman said: ‘While a code of conduct is important in providing quality assurance, anything short of regulation is not providing the most appropriate safeguards for the consumer. ‘The consumer needs to be protected and know that any person writing their will is adequately trained, insured, protected against dishonesty, has a complaints and disciplinary mechanism in place, and remedies are available when needed. ‘These are all key elements that form part of the solicitors’ regulatory model. Solicitors have the training, knowledge and protections in place to ensure that consumers are provided with a professional service, with safeguards to protect the consumer in place. Until will-writing becomes a regulated activity, the same standards cannot be guaranteed by all will-writers.’
A solicitor whose lavish lifestyle included driving a Lamborghini worth more than £80,000 was jailed last week for four years and eight months after a joint investigation by the police and Solicitors Regulation Authority. Benjamin Cornelius, 37, was convicted at Cardiff Crown Court of money laundering and mortgage fraud amounting to more than £650,000 on behalf of drug dealer David Carl Richards. The jury heard that Cornelius disguised his involvement in the money laundering and fraud, misleading his then employer, law firm William Parry of Swansea, as well as the various financial institutions involved in the property purchases. Police raided Cornelius’s home in October 2009, and his assets were restrained by court order so that he could not sell them while the regional asset recovery team worked with the SRA to discover how much he had profited from his crimes. He sold the Lamborghini in breach of the court order. Richards was convicted of drug trafficking in July 2010 and is now serving a 12-year sentence. Detective superintendent Chris Dodd of Wales-wide police taskforce Tarian said: ‘Without dishonest solicitors, accountants and financial advisers, criminals would find it much harder to hide or try to legitimise their criminal property… We are grateful for the invaluable assistance of the SRA.’
The claimant was a Tamil of Sri Lankan nationality. He left Sri Lanka and travelled to Malaysia where the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determined that he had good grounds for claiming that he would face persecution if returned to Sri Lanka. It was decided that, under the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (the Refugee Convention), he would be accorded protection against return to Sri Lanka. Consequently, he was issued with an identity card which provided that he would be given protection against removal to Sri Lanka (the UNHCR card). The claimant did not claim asylum in Malaysia. He travelled to Cyprus and, from there, used a forged passport to enter the United Kingdom where he then sought asylum. The UK sent a formal request to Cyprus under art 9 of Council Regulation (EC) 343/2003 (establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the member state responsible for examining an asylum application lodge in one of the member states by a third-country national) (the Dublin Regulation) to accept responsibility for the claimant’s asylum claim. Cyprus accepted responsibility for the claim. The defendant secretary of state certified the claimant’s claim as clearly unfounded under para 5(4) of Pt 2 to Sch 3 to the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004 and decided that the claimant would be removed to Cyprus. The claimant sought judicial review of that decision. He submitted that: (i) he had had a legitimate expectation, based on the secretary of state’s mandate refugee policy, that his asylum claim would be considered in the UK; (ii) he would be at substantial risk of detention in inhumane conditions in breach of his rights under art 3 of the Convention; (iii) that if he were not detained, he would not be provided with proper welfare support and appropriate living conditions so that there would be a substantial risk of breach of his rights under art 3 of the Convention; and (iv) he would be at substantial risk of refoulement to Sri Lanka in breach of his right to protection under the Refugee Convention and arts 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (see  of the judgment for the relevant provision of the policy). The application would be dismissed. (1) The claimant could not demonstrate that he had had a legitimate expectation that his claim would be considered under the mandate refugee policy. Applying established principles, the claimant could not show that the relevant statement in the mandate refugee policy was clear, unambiguous and devoid of relevant qualification. It was clear that the main point of the policy was to explain to officials how the mandate refugee policy worked, including that it might be necessary to consider applications for asylum under the Refugee Convention made by persons from outside the UK. In that context, the relevant statement was properly to be read as a reminder to officials that, if a claim for asylum was made by a mandate refugee who was present in the UK, the usual rules regarding consideration of their claim applied. The sentence relied upon by the claimant could not fairly be read as a clear and unambiguous statement that the secretary of state would herself consider the asylum claim in the UK and would not seek to operate the Dublin Regulation procedure even in a case in which she would be entitled so to do. It required very clear and distinct wording explaining that before it could fairly be concluded that the mandate refugee policy was intended to be read as having the effect that, in the case of mandate refugees, the Dublin Regulation would not operate. No such clear and distinct wording was used in the policy (see - of the judgment). Claire Physsas (instructed by Satha & Co) for the claimant. Lisa Giovanetti (instructed by the Treasury solicitor) for the secretary of state. R v IRC, ex p MFK Underwriting Agents Ltd  STC 873 applied; R (on the application of Bancoult) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  4 All ER 1055 applied; Paponette v A-G of Trinidad and Tobago  All ER (D) 275 (Dec) considered. (2) There was a presumption that a contracting state to the Convention would respect its international obligations in asylum matters, which presumption had to be rebutted if the claim was to be made out. A degree of adverse commentary on a state’s asylum procedures, even from highly respected sources such as the UNHCR, did not immediately lead to the conclusion that the presumption was rebutted (see  of the judgment). In the instant case, there was a significant evidential presumption that Cyprus did responsibly and properly act to assess asylum applications made to it in an effective manner. The claimant was a long way from being able to rebut that presumption. Although there were adverse opinions on Cyprus’s asylum procedures from certain local organisations, there was no pattern of adverse reporting from respected international organisations. The pattern of reports in the case of Cyprus was very far from showing agreement on the part of the leading international bodies that Cyprus’s asylum procedures were far from deficient or that asylum seekers there could not in practice have their claims for asylum considered effectively. The UNHCR had not suggested that asylum procedures in Cyprus were deficient or in any way unacceptable. Any criticism that was made did not show that there was a substantial failure on the part of Cyprus to comply with its international obligations with respect to protecting asylum seekers against refoulement to countries where they might be at risk, nor was it suggested that asylum seekers could not safely be sent to Cyprus under the Dublin Regulation procedures. There was no pattern of conduct by the Cypriot authorities to deprive potential asylum seekers of all information about their rights or how to apply for asylum. There was no good basis, on the evidence available, for concluding that there was any significant impediment on an asylum seeker in Cyprus who feared refoulement from applying to the European Court of Human Rights for an interim protection order (see , , -,  of the judgment). TI v UK (App no 43844/98) (unreported, 7 March 2000) considered; KRS v United Kingdom (App no 32733/08) (unreported, 2 December 2008) considered; MSS v Belgium and Greece (App no 300696/09) (unreported, 21 January 2011) considered. (3) Although in the various reports of the international organisations there were, at some places, some criticisms of the detention conditions in which asylum seekers were held, they were comparatively muted in tone. They fell a long way short of the sort of material which supported a claim that the secretary of state would act in violation of the claimant’s rights under art 3 of the Convention by sending him to Cyprus to face detention there (see ,  of the judgment). (4) On the evidence, there was no indication that there was a serious problem and disregard for the welfare interests and living conditions of asylum seekers in Cyprus. The UNHCR had not suggested that there was a serious problem for asylum seekers in Cyprus such as amounted to inhumane treatment contrary to art 3 of the Convention. The claimant fell far short of demonstrating that the secretary if state would act in breach of his rights under art 3 of the Convention by sending him to Cyprus (see - of the judgment). Per curiam: In my assessment, although the reports of these local organisations which are produced for publication in the public domain are entitled to weight (as equivalent reports from local organisations in Greece were taken into account in MSS from local organisations in Greece were taken into alongside reports from international organisations), they carry considerably less weight than the considered reports of bodies such as the UNHCR, the ECRI, LIBE and the US State Department. Local organisations such as KISA do not have the resources nor the general perspective on acceptable standards of protection for asylum seekers which those other bodies have. Nor is it apparent that the local organisations are engaged in a process of dialogue with the Cypriot authorities in the way that the UNHCR, the ECRI and LIBE appear to be, in the course of which the authorities are given an opportunity to comment on possible criticisms. Therefore, the reports of the local organisations risk being rather one-sided in the picture they present (see  of the judgment). R (on the application of Elayathamby): Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court (London) (Mr Justice Sales): 11 August 2011 Per curiam: …where materials are not published and readily accessible in the public domain, a contracting state cannot be expected to be aware of those materials when deciding whether it is lawful to send an individual to another country under the Dublin Regulation procedures (see  of the judgment). Asylum seeker – Removal from United Kingdom to state of which person not national or citizen
Subscribe now for unlimited access Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Get your free guest access SIGN UP TODAY
Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community Get your free guest access SIGN UP TODAY To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Subscribe now for unlimited access