Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Putting Lawyers on Contract is Good Business Sense

Peter Rouse, chief executive of 7 Bedford Row Chambers and myself have written an opinion piece on the business model for law firms for the April 27 issue of The Lawyer. We reproduce it here:

(Structures #13 2005 by Lisa Call)

The recession is forcing many participants in the commercial legal market to question the law firm business model. A number of recent attempts to tackle it, including partner and associate layoffs, de-equitizations and four-day weeks, have only tinkered with the edges. More significant change will be forced by the growing number of corporate clients that have simply not been offered a better alternative. The present economic situation is merely fast-forwarding the inevitable.

There is no reason why the current business model could not be redrawn into one which would be more competitive and offer better value and service without dramatically reducing profitability.

Law firms have always pursued simple full employment. The general idea is to hire associates, open foreign offices and convert as much recorded billable time as possible into fees collected. The approach can be summed up in one word: leverage. It is the basis of partners’ profits. But the acquisition, retention and disposal of recruits is an expensive business. Maybe the full employment model has run its natural course. If so, what is the alternative?

Although legal work has become more commoditised and an increasing proportion of it shipped offshore, it is perhaps lawyers themselves, both associates and partners, who are the commodities, traded and marketed by recruiters and head-hunters. New service models such as Axiom Legal, Rimon Law and Lawyers Direct are flourishing. One recruiter is now even advertising ‘pay as you go lawyers’. At the same time, the equity partnership prize is becoming ever harder to win, and even less sought after by today’s younger lawyers who are more mobile and happier than ever to migrate to newer opportunities.

Since a sufficiently large pool of high-quality and experienced lawyers is emerging from the crisis, why not rent lawyers for a specific period or task and then let them go again? The advantage of temporary resources is that they can be deployed as and when needed and released when not.

In the US, the concept of the contract attorney is well established. In England and Wales, solicitors have been renting barristers for advocacy for centuries from the bar, a resource which now features 13,400 barristers and QCs. Other bodies such as government and corporate legal departments take barristers on secondments. However, present restrictive bar regulations (self-employed barristers are not allowed to conduct litigation or manage client affairs) mean barristers have limited value to firms or clients for day-to-day work.

Yet if these regulations were relaxed then self-employed barristers could represent a huge and powerful resource for firms willing to abandon a full employment model and work with a hybrid. They have the great potential advantage of offering significantly lower costs than employed solicitors.

This new model would be flexible and could be configured to expand and contract with the ebb and flow of client work. A smaller, tighter front-line team would oversee client relationships, supervise the work and manage the firm. Rather than constantly seeking merger partners, law firms could structure their growth in a more organic fashion which would build collegiality as well as returns.

Recruitment costs would be reduced allowing firms to become more competitive on price without compromising on service. They would be more transparent both to their clients and to their employees. More opportunities could flow to the many junior and would-be lawyers who find themselves without work or scratching at the doors of the professions that they are so keen to join. It also opens up many possible innovations for those firms and chambers that are looking hard and seriously at the potential of alternative business structures in the Legal Services Act.



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Friday, April 17, 2009

John Flood Standup

I battle the demons--aliens speaking to me from space, denying me the right to criticize Hawking, Hamas, houses, and black holes!

This is me doing standup...at the George...god help us...





And here's the link to John Flood, the plumber's youtube video. I think it's better than mine!
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Academia



(thanks New Yorker)


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Thursday, April 09, 2009

After the SLSA

The Socio-Legal Studies Association finished today. We met at De Montfort University in Leicester.

I liked De Montfort but Leicester is an appalling town. Ring roads for boy racers and endless roadworks making any pedestrian's progress feel more like Tetris than walking. Leicester has a slogan: One Passion--One Leicester. Sad, very sad...

I did have a pleasant stroll down the riverbank until I had to surface at what looked like hoodies' corner with me giving myself fairly short odds on getting through. I'm still here.

The conference was very well-arranged. My sessions were on the first day which takes the pressure off for the remainder. The speakers in "Lawyers and Legal Professions" delivered excellent papers that created plenty of discussion and is leading to at least one new research project with a couple of people there.

Other interesting sessions included one on Legal Education which had a paper on a big study of pupillage at the Bar. Unlike Justine Rogers' study which is ethnographic, this is a large quantitative project which so far has had a 95% response rate! It's tracking students from the Bar Vocational Course through pupillage into their careers.

It's already confirming some known suspicions. Unless you are white, male, and have top degree from either Oxford or Cambridge, you won't get a position in the top commercial chambers. These are resistant to change. Without these characteristics you are likely to end up in house or practising outside London. Anna Zimdars at Manchester is doing the research.

Unfortunately not all papers were so rigorous. Various studies of teaching particular subjects on the curriculum were dire: no theory, no data, just opinion.

China figured interestingly. One paper suggested that by 2015 China would become an intellectual property protector rather than an appropriator. Another argued that China was so distinctive that no matter how much it appeared to incorporate Western modes of legality, it would only be superficial and that Confucianism with a dose of Maoism is the true path.

My journey to the edge of the world is over and I'm back in London.
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Monday, April 06, 2009

Podcast on Globalization of Law, G20, Plagiarism, and Standup Comedy...

Charon QC has interviewed me again and our conversation is available in podcast from Charon QC. We ranged quite widely. (Ignore the occasional popping noises.)

Lawcast 126: Professor John Flood - Globalization of law, G20 and other matters


Today I'm talking to John Flood, a professor at Westminster University about the globalisation of Law. We also discuss G20, the protests, the issue of tailored essay writing services and his recent foray into stand up comedy.

Podcast and iTunes versions available here for listening and download.


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Friday, April 03, 2009

BabyBarista Exposed!

BabyBarista (Tim Kevan)

A barrister turned surfer and writer who has been anonymously writing the BabyBarista blog has finally come into the open as his first BabyBarista book will be coming out in August from Bloomsbury. Tim confesses all in Times Online.


Here's the story of Tim's odyssey.

Tim Kevan IS BabyBarista

Many people are well acquainted with the loveable BabyBarista and have loyally followed his antics through Chambers since he burst onto the scene in February 2007 in his blog. BabyBarista was soon snapped up by The Times Online and he has felt at home on its pages ever since.

Now let us take you back to the beginning – Baby Barista and The Art of War (Bloomsbury) propels this fantastic blog to the next level by bringing its formidable characters to life in one cohesive narrative. Here, Tim Kevan, barrister, author and creator of BabyB talks about his inspiration and the origins of the rookie lawyer.

Creating BabyBarista by Tim Kevan

I started writing BabyBarista in February 2007, having at that stage been practising as a barrister at 1 Temple Gardens for some nine years. It’s a strange thing to say but I discovered that this bold, irreverent and mischievous voice along with a collection of colourful characters had simply jumped into my head and the words started pouring off the page. I wrote it as a blog and was hopeful it might raise a few smiles but in my wildest dreams I hadn’t imagined quite the extraordinary set of circumstances which then unfolded. First The Lawyer Magazine commented “If this is a fictional account it is genius”. I then emailed a few publishers and started getting interest as well as taking on a literary agent who had approached me direct. In the meantime, I was contacted by The Times and they very kindly offered to host the blog and finally, I got a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing - all within the space of less than three months.

Since that hectic start, it’s been a long haul. I’ve taken a break from the Bar and moved down to North Devon where I’ve been anonymously writing the blog and also finishing the first book in the BabyBarista series. The book’s coming out in August and is called BabyBarista and the Art of War and centres around BabyB’s first year in chambers where he is fighting his fellow pupils for the coveted prize of a permanent tenancy. It’s a fictional caricature of life at the Bar and includes characters that probably exist in most workplaces such as UpTights, OldRuin, BusyBody, Worrier and even JudgeJewellery and her penchant for stealing cheap jewellery. Alongside the pupillage race is an altogether different battle with BabyB’s corrupt pupilmaster whose dishonest fiddling of chambers’ records to avoid a negligence action all starts to unravel and threatens to embroil BabyB’s entire career.

With the first book finished, I’m still very much enjoying writing the blog as well as working on book two in the series.

BabyBarista and The Art of War by Tim Kevan will be published by Bloomsbury in August 2009. Trade paperback, £11.99

For further details of to request an interview with Tim Kevan or BabyB please contact Jude Drake in the Bloomsbury press office: tel: 020 7494 6470 or email: jude.drake@bloomsbury.com
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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Private Boom/Public Bust/Legal Ethics?


John Lanchester in the London Review of Books said:
"So: a huge unregulated boom in which almost all the upside went directly into private hands, followed by a gigantic bust in which the losses were socialised." (October 2008)

Joseph Stiglitz also criticized Obama's plan in the New York Times to buy toxic assets for producing the same results as Lanchester's diagnosis. Thus the financialization of daily life and the overproduction of capital have shifted the dynamics of life in ways we were not predicting.

This came to mind when I received an invitation to a workshop by ephemera: theory & politics in organization which is organizing a workshop on the business school and the financial crisis. One claim alleged is that poor business education is in part responsible for our present circumstances. Could the same be said of legal education?

Consider, for example, the editors' blog at the Harvard Business Review, "The Economy: Let's Blame the Lawyers", the gist of which is that lawyers will do all right because (a) they are hated less than bankers, and (b) someone has to sort out and profit from this mess.

One interesting illustration of this thinking is the story of the move by derivatives maven, Dan Cunningham, from Allen & Overy's New York office to Quinn Emanuel, the litigation firm. Cunningham is known for his expertise in structured products and his very close connection with the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA). When he moved from Cravath in 2001, it was considered a coup for a British firm to recruit someone of his calibre. Now the bottom has dropped out of his particular market niche, the litigators have realised where he can make a direct contribution to their work, even though he is no litigator. Someone has to tell the litigators what these structured products and derivatives are.

Can we see Dan's move as a sign that lawyers are going to come out ahead in these messy times? Unfortunately, I suspect that is going to be an over-optimistic reading of the runes.

Lawyers will not escape culpability for their role in the financial meltdown no matter how much they try to portray themselves as victims. Their role was significant: they enabled these deals to work by creating the documentation that gave the deals legal reality, their legitimation. Each transaction can be perceived as a symbolic universe in which order since this universe is "the matrix of all socially objectivated and subjectively real meanings" (Berger & Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality 89). Without the lawyers' input the transactions would have been meaningless. As I have suggested before, there is something jesuitical about the lawyer's role.

Of course with all the scorn piled on the bankers there is a tendency to view the lawyer as a kind of underlabourer who merely carried out the tasks assigned. But this is too simplistic a reading. The lawyers were key participants and because of their professional obligations they were supposed to bring a professional ethos, an ethic, to the work. It appears they didn't.

The law firms will soon be in the firing line for their contribution and will be the recipients of writs and lawsuits. It seems the lessons of Enron were not well learned.

But look on the bright side. As teachers of legal ethics, we shall have a wonderful bounty of case studies to pore over and commune with our students about in years to come. Articles will be written and more. With luck legal education may come to respond to what has happened this time and reinforce ethical principles and thinking.

Sadly I see no sign of this occuring in British legal education which leaves ethical training until the last possible moment and at best gives it scant attention. I along with some other sociolegal researchers are now composing our grant application to study ethics in large law firms. I hope the profession responds well to our research. It should do as there are good people in the legal profession who still retain the spirit of professionalism.
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