Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Legal Blogging

(Eric twitters by Purplime)

If you are looking for an online source that aggregates blogs, law reports, legal magazines, journals and more, then you should check out Insite Law Magazine Netvibe (sponsored by Wildy & Sons).

It's run by the tireless blogger, Charon QC, and notable twitterer. He writes, he interviews, he podcasts. I recommend him.

If you haven't yet tried Twitter...and I can see a suspicious what the hell look (memories of Mehitabel the cat here) coming across the physiog, then go viddy it and see. Sorry I saw Clockwork Orange yesterday: it's most infectious. (If ever a film was relevant now, then in our post-9/11 era, this is it.)

If you aren't sure what to do with Twitter and who is, check out David Pogue in the New York Times. I like Twitter. I don't know what to do with it though....


Friday, February 20, 2009

Thomas the Tank Engine

(Thomas the Tank Engine)

Do you ever get the feeling that Thomas the Tank engine is a smug bastard? He and the Fat Controller are out to shake you down. They think a cute smile will make you pleased at paying twice the fares the French passengers do.

I had to go to Leeds this week. It's far from London and I get nervous on long journeys. I'm examining a PhD thesis.

An early start to catch the 8 o’clock from Kings Cross. All I had to do was catch the tube from Baker Street. Ah, Baker Street—have you been there? Yes, pictures of Sherlock Holmes, very romantic except it's a bloody maze. It was one of the first tube stations with one line in 1863. The Metropolitan Line gave its name to the Paris metro. By the time another four lines were stacked on top of the original, no one knows where the hell they’re going when they enter labyrinth.

I’m going east, easy, but not if you ignore those little signs that say north and south. But I’m not going north or south. Oh yeah? There’s my tube. Jump! I’m going to make it to Kings Cross after all.

Five minutes later when we hadn’t stopped, I discovered I had gone neither east nor west, but north to the northern wastes of Finchley Road. (It's not even in Finchley.) I'm good at running and around stations. I found my tube back.

I reached Kings Cross and got my train seat. Not before the ticket machine chewed up three credit cards. It’s like when the guy in Videodrome inserts a gun in his belly like videotape (Betamax or VHS?).

I don’t know who’s sliding down that bloody Barclaycard tube on TV, but he’s getting fat on my credit card. The self-satisfied twit!

You ever taken an early morning train? They’re full. Serious commuters armed with Blackberrys and laptops—who’s the fastest on the thumbball? I get the guy who’s off to make the big sale up north and he sits opposite me at one of those skinny tables. He's fully armed: Blackberry, iPhone, and laptop.

We get to know each other by doing a little tango with our feet trying to find that spot where your toes don’t get crunched by his clodhoppers. We get cosy and swirl around together as our tootsies get intimate. Finally he stops moving and I can rest my feet!

He’s got one of those games on his iPhone that makes you seasick to watch him playing it. He’s rolling from side to side, moving it up and down—I just want to vomit.

Of course you know what happens after the tango? It’s time for the fight! And we do. It's laptops at dawn. He opens his Dell: I open my Mac. Who can push his screen the furthest and claim the most territory on that table? We're both fast. I feint, he sidesteps and then we both lunge our tops together. Crash! We collide. We glare at each other. He smirks and pulls out his Vodaphone wifi dongle…I crumple in defeat…

Of course coming back from a dinky little town like Leeds ought to be a doddle. Like hell, let me warn you. Leeds is a malevolent force, a metropolitan miasma genetically mutated to prevent people leaving its maw. Don’t believe me? The first time I went to Leeds all the trains were cancelled and I had to spend the night there.

This time, the first train I jump on there's an empty seat. I get my own laptop table. I can play solitaire without interruption…

"This is your onboard train custodian—bloody jailer more like—I regret to inform you (who writes their scripts? some robot) that 14.40 train to London has been cancelled." I’ve entered one of Stephen Hawking’s extra parallel dimensions. I’m sitting in a cancelled train. It doesn’t exist but I do. How can this be? Matter and anti-matter can’t both exist in the same place. I’m going to implode!

"Please make your way across the platform to the 15.05 train…" The space time paradox is resolved and I’m alive. But do I have my own table? Is it empty? No! It’s bloody full like the morning train. But this time I’m sitting opposite an old lady. We do a genteel waltz with our feet. I smile; she demurs. She opens Mills & Boon. I open my Mac. Order is restored--the universe is at peace!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Vultures and the Obama Rescue Package

The New York Times is predicting the return of the vulture investors with the passing of President Obama's rescue package. But no one is quite sure.

I've written extensively on vulture funds who invest/buy distressed debt. (The link here will lead you to at least another six posts and papers.)

Vultures want to buy debt cheaply enough that they can sell it on for a gain of a few points. The question is: Is the current debt available so toxic that it's radioactive? So there is a waiting game. Because if it is terribly toxic, the price should be much lower.

One such vulture, Howard S. Marks, is sitting on a fund of $55 billion. But as the NYT says, "He and other potential investors are wary of the risk in this case." Moreover, "Even for the vultures, the risks — political as well as financial — seem daunting. Some worry about being seen as profiteers who benefit at taxpayers’ expense, even though the economy could get worse unless they swoop in."

Yet, "If the vultures do alight, their rewards could be enormous. Funds specializing in distressed investments earned annual returns of more than 30 percent in the early 1990s as the economy pulled out of recession."

They fear being damned if they do and damned if they don't. Now there is discussion about the government putting "a floor under their potential losses."

Nevertheless, vulture funds are back and it won't be too long before they crop in the UK and elsewhere. Indeed Business Week says they're already here. As they say in New Orleans--and it's almost Mardi Gras--laissez les bons temps roulez!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bitter Lawyer Interviews Deidre Dare

Bitter Lawyer interviews the recently sacked Allen & Overy Moscow lawyer, Deidre Dare.

She is now writing for the Moscow News and continuing her fiction writing. And her case for unfair dismissal against Allen & Overy continues.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Perils of Women in Law

I am writing a paper about women in law. A lot of it is as one would expect, high attrition rates: low promotion rates, and pretty awful retention rates.Then along comes Allen & Overy's suppression and sacking of Deidre Clark, a lawyer in their Moscow office. Her offence is to write mildly erotic fiction on her own website. The story narrates the adventures of expats living in Moscow. Here's how she describes the life (from Chapter 7):
Anything goes in Moscow: you can drink as much as you like while driving, you can wear your seatbelt or not, you can smoke wherever you want, including elevators and restrooms, you can buy any drug over the counter, you can eat as much fat as you like, you can fuck anyone you want (including the guy who is interviewing you for a new job, I found out once) and, maybe most importantly, you can dress like a complete slut if you feel like it.
There's always been an air of the wild west about Moscow and expat communities use this type of environment to break free of the constraints they have back home. A & O obviously thought Deidre had broken too free.


At first they sent her a cease and desist order not to write any more chapters of her book. Then shortly after they fired her for gross misconduct.

According to The Lawyer, Deidre has instructed Fox Williams to sue for unfair dismissal. The story is a little more complicated however as she had already filed a grievance against sexual harassment by a partner. Whatever the outcome A & O is going to be paying big money and they are going to damage their reputation.

In an interview with the Times, Deidre Clark talks about life in Moscow and how the law firm suppressed her right to free speech. She is from the US where this matters. The Times equates her plight to that of Petite Anglaise in Paris, an English woman who worked for a French company that sacked her when it discovered her blog. She won big damages in her court action. We shall see how Deidre Clark gets on.

There are lots of stories of harassment in law firms by senior figures. Mostly they are dealt with quietly and the partner might be told to behave or not. If anyone is to be moved or removed it will be the associate. She at least will get a good reference.

While law firms are improving their "diversity" figures across gender and ethnicity, they are still poor in absolute terms. Stories like this will work to the detriment of law firms as they try to recruit new staff. The world doesn't respond to simple command and control forces any more. It is a much more subtle and complex place. Web 2.0 networking--Facebook or blogs--means life is more multi-directional and multi-dimensional.

Life is not just hierarchical. The horizontal axis is even more important. It's important for living life socially and, crucially, economically. The complexity of organizations and the networking brought about by technology mean that entities communicate with each other in many different ways. There is more permeability among institutions as groups come together for specific purposes then disband. Permancy is redundant.

Perhaps, however, the change that business, including law, is finding hard to take on board is the emotional aspects of work and life. These were always kept separate. No longer. The emotional part of work is integral to its successful completion. Some actually seek it.

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe's senior partner, Ralph Baxter, said at the Georgetown Symposium on the Future of the Global Law Firm last year that law firms should take the intellectual law training for granted. What firms really needed was "right brain" abilities that enabled lawyers to empathise and collaborate with clients. Now this is an overly mechanical and instrumental view of what firms want from their associates. But at least it shows they are beginning to understand the complexity of modern life and how it can impact on the institution as well as the individuals.

Allen & Overy has yet to understand that the figure of the stiff upper lipped Englishman no longer represents them and nor should it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snowy, Snowy London!

This is taken out of the front window of my study in London. It's snowing harder and harder.

And this shot is from the study back window looking down between the rows of houses.

We have had around 6 inches (15 cm) of snow overnight and London has ground to a halt! There are no buses, the Tube has all but stopped, the trains are erratic, and my friend, Simon, didn't stand a chance flying to Berlin today for his conference.

A friend of mine called to say she was walking to work down Regent's Street to Westminster Bridge. She had to stop for a coffee to warm her feet. Another friend came in from Northampton, where there wasn't much snow, and was rather shocked when she arrived here.

If you are like me and cycle around London on a Brompton, (and there are lots of them now)then here you go.

When I lived in Chicago, during my PhD, the city always got several feet of snow in winter and out would come the snow ploughs and gritters. The snow would be shipped downstate in trains. One year the mayor was slow in clearing the snow. Of course he lost the next election. I think Boris better get his skates on...