Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Is What ALL Writers Want!

(Thanks to the New Yorker)

All writers--fiction and nonfiction--crave to hear this. There are other ends to writing but getting approval is a major one. It's obvious really as most writing is for an audience. Even "secret" writing is now done via blogs and tweets, so diaries are wide open. A bad review or, worse, a rejection go right to the heart of one's being.

We are simple and gullible beings. These things never get better no matter how many times you do it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Law of the Future at HiiL

The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL) held its third annual conference on the Law of the Future at the Peace Palace last week. The conference brought together a range of academics, policy wonks, and practitioners to focus on the question:
In this era of globalization, does the ever-increasing complexity of political and socioeconomic relations require that a new equilibrium be sought with respect to public-private cooperation in shaping law and governance?
After a series of talks by high theorists like Gunther Teubner and general counsel like Peter Wakkie we broke into separate workshops on private actors and self-regulation, corporate social responsibility, the millenium goals, and the financial crisis and regulation.

My workshop was the financial crisis and regulation subject. Even with the contribution of invaluable input from members of the European Central Bank, various competition authorities and other institutions, there was a feeling that the tension between what politicians needed to be seen to be doing might well conflict with longer term goals in stabilizing the financial sector.

There were those who thought a rebirth of trust and legitimacy would suffice along with enlightened self-interest--a minority view. Others thought that ordinary people should be put back at the centre of interest not the banks.

There were clear differences between the US and EU views on regulation with the EU view having a clear differentiation between macro and micro perspectives on regulation. Both, however, had difficulties with raising levels of transparency among institutions.

One item that stuck out was the "large and complex institution". This beast appeared to be untameable. Think of Goldman Sachs or Barclays now and you get the picture. These organizations are so unwieldy that different parts of them can act against others without being aware of their actions. One part buys long while another sells short. Their own internal networks seem incapable of communication, in which case how are the high executives supposed to know or to understand what is being done. Should they be tamed and how?


More information about the conference can be found within the concept paper that preceded it and in the programme abstracts.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Where's Your WiFi Come From?

I know folks who do this.

(Thanks to New Yorker)


It's Worth Complaining?

(Would you buy a used car from this man?)

I'm writing this with Abba's Money, Money, Money as my backdrop. About a year ago I moved house renting my old one. The tenants wanted to take over my cable and broadband package with Virgin Media (no link given). No problem.

No problem for me: big problem for Virgin. They would do it but wanted £20 to change the names. I reluctantly agreed and told them where to send the paperwork. This where it starts going awry. Virgin had problems recording my new address. It only has two syllables and is four letters long for goodness sake. Eventually some documents arrived and I completed them.

At this point I presumed all had gone through straightforwardly. The tenant was having the money taken from her bank account for her bill.

After six months the tenants quit. Virgin sent me a bill. I ignored it. Virgin called me: I owed them money for my account.

"I don't have an account with you."

"Yes you do."

"I transferred it."

"No you didn't. The transfer failed. We told you."

"No you didn't."

Look I know this is an enthralling conversation and you'd like to read more but I am stopping it here as a favour to your blood pressure.

It seems my tenant's birthday was recorded incorrectly so the agreement wasn't transferred and I was still liable. And, oh yes, Virgin had written to me with this information. Which address no one knew as I never received it.

The tenant agreed to pay the outstanding bill. And I closed my Virgin account...I thought I had...

A few weeks later a call from Virgin. They wanted their equipment. No problem, it's waiting for you. Go and collect it.

"When will you be in so we can call?"

"I don't live there. You'll have to knock on the door and ask the new tenant."

"Are you moving house? We can arrange transfer of your service."

"I don't have an account with you."

Sorry, I don't want your pulse to race again with excitement. After speaking to a different department about picking up the equipment, I was assured all was done. Finito....

A couple of weeks later a letter from Virgin demands £100 for unpaid bill. I ignored it.

Virgin call. Yes I owe them the money; no I don't....you get the picture.

I write a letter of complaint. For the next three weeks Virgin's customer service responds to my complaint by telling me I owe them this money. I say no. Then they offer me a cut price deal. Instead of £100 they'll accept £50.

I'm a little ticked off by this time and make a counter offer of zero pounds. Customer service shouts at me that they will go after me with everything they've got. I say I will complain to the independent ADR service to which Virgin belongs, CISAS. No, says customer service. You can't. Whoa, there, Mr Customer Service man, I don't think you're allowed to say that.

I complain to the Communication and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS--a kind of ombudsman) and Virgin swings into overdrive. (Sorry about the cliches but sometimes nothing else will do.) I get letters from Virgin dated three weeks before the last call demanding payments and dismissing my complaint. Then they bring a debt collection agency into action.

My complaint to CISAS grows in size as I add Virgin's and the debt agency's letters to the complaint submission. I'm thinking bring it on. For £100 you are prepared to spend this kind of money (=how much of your resources do you want to waste?)

A week later I get a call from the debt collection agency who tells me I have no grounds for complaint, that I have a rolling contract with Virgin that I can't break except on specific dates in the year. I better pay.

"The complaint exists and is now with CISAS so you should put your proceedings on hold."

"No I won't. The law says you owe the money and you should pay. I see from my notes of your conversations with customer service you are in breach of their contract."

"Well, then, let me have a copy of the contract and those conversations and I will see if I agree with you."


More information off to CISAS. Then a quick internet search on the debt company who subscribe to the Credit Services Association which actually has a code of practice. This is a bit like lions subscribing to a butcher's service to cut up their freshly-killed carcasses. But the code does say when asked give information.

A quick email to the agency pointing out what they should do in accord with their own code of practice and to lay off until CISAS has had its say.

A quiet moment of reflection as I await Virgin's response to my CISAS complaint. CISAS ask the complainant to state the remedies they'd like. I said I wanted an apology, all the charges to disappear, and then, as an afterthought, I'd like £250 in compensation. The first two were important.

Virgin called--just as I was about to enter the dentist's surgery. Brilliant timing. We connected later. I was able to discern a slight change of tone from ballistic belligerence to cosy compliance and contrition.

"We're sorry that customer service hasn't treated your complaint well."

Depends whether customer service's role is to listent to customer complaints or complain about customers. I think it's the latter in which they were doing well.

Valerie of Virgin Media (I could see the glow behind her...) assured me that things were not good in customer service land and that they were sorry! I'm hard of hearing so I asked for that to be repeated. Wonderful, glorious: someone said "sorry".

(If you ever need to know more read David Engel's "Oven Bird's Song".)

She only had one quibble with my complaint to CISAS: £250 was a bit high so would I accept £100. Since it was an afterthought and the other points had been accepted, sure I'll take it.

She wrote me a sweet letter--still to the wrong address--saying I owed no money, no remarks on credit files anywhere, the debt collectors would be told to go where the sun don't shine, and here's a cheque.

Obviously Virgin Media doesn't want rack up black stars with CISAS so settlement is paramount. But how much money did Virgin Media waste on this matter? It must have run into thousands of pounds in salary time, etc.

I'm sure someone in their organization is saying "lessons will be learned". Of course they won't: they never are.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Global Legal 100

(Thanks to GnomePress)

Robert J. Ambrogi on Legal Blog Watch has relayed the American Lawyer's results on the top 100 global law firms. They don't make happy reading for managing partners. Clifford Chance's profits per partner fell by 41%.

Yet law firm revenues haven't suffered too much in the financial crisis--a matter of a few percentage points. Six firms break into the $2 billion band, of which four are UK firms. And 18 firms grossed over $1 billion.

Out of the top 100 American Lawyer says:
American and British players continue to dominate: Seventy-five of the world’s top-grossing firms are American, and 14 are British. Rounding out this year’s list are five Australian firms; two firms each from France and Spain; and one firm each from the Netherlands and Canada.
When it comes to profits per partner, however, niche is king. Wachtell Lipton and Quinn Emmanuel outstrip the bigger firms by a considerable margin at over $4 and $3 million respectively. But the rest of the top 10 are OK: none is less than $2.5 million. So no tears needed. In this group only three firms were British.

This is where one sees the difference between the US and UK legal markets. The US market has a huge domestic market to work in. The UK by comparison is tiny and therefore its law firms have to forage overseas. The only exception is Slaughter and May, which has excellent relations with the UK Treasury and has done a lot of work on the financial crisis restructuring.

Despite the doom and gloom law firms are beginning to see a rise in their work. What the recession has enabled them to do is downsize by getting rid of surplus associates and partners. That's good for the PEP.