Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oh, The Shame of It!

(Thanks to New Yorker)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Desert Island Discs

(Thanks to Enchanting Eden)

I listen regularly to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. Every week someone is asked about their life and has to choose 8 records to take with them to the island. 

It's hard to choose just 8 records. I've been playing this all my life and although the selection changes frequently, there is one that always stays. It is Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

I heard a wonderful version today. Here's the Allegro Moderato (1):


Saturday, March 27, 2010

More Flowers Blooming...

When I wrote a month ago about letting a thousand flowers bloom in the world of legal services (here and here), I expected these changes to occur after the licences for Alternative Business Structures (ABS) were issued in October 2011 by the Legal Services Board.

But ideas don't always wait for their cues.

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) is taking over the legal department of Thames Water. BLP will take over 15 of Thames' lawyers in a new managed legal services division. According to the Lawyer the deal will be worth around £5 million a year to BLP.

As a result of being on Thames' legal panel, BLP had already taken on around 20% of the company's work. Now that it has taken on their legal team it will be taking over the remainder of the former panel's work. (The panel was heavily populated by the Magic Circle.)

The effect is to embed the law firm inside Thames Water to do the key strategic work while more mundane matters will be cascaded out, Mexican Wave style, to regional law firms.

Without going into detail, the Lawyer coyly mentions that the Thames' lawyers will be paid differently "but not necessarily less."

Having just been at the Georgetown Law Center conference on Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business as Usual? where ideas like this were mooted, it's fascinating to see them come into play. American lawyers have a lot to learn yet on this.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How Much Do You Bill to Bill?

The American Lawyer enters the realm of meta-legal practice with the question: how much can you bill to bill?
"Fifteen law firms have billed the Lehman Brothers estate more than $300 million in total fees and expenses since Lehman filed for bankruptcy in September 2008. By almost any standard, that's a lot of money. But the cash pouring in hasn't stopped the key firms involved from protesting aggressively when the fee committee monitoring the case moves to slash their bills, even if the proposed cuts amount to a fraction of a percent of the firms' total requested fees."
While some of the fat trimmed from the bills has been due to lawyers flying first class instead of economy, quite a chunk of it is due to the cost of preparing bills. For example, Jones Day submitted a 700 page fee claim that cost $122,000 to compile.

The law firms involved are bucking against the committee's cap of one per cent of the total bill. They claim that courts typically allow between 2.5 and 5 per cent.

It's good that the committee is investigating these claims rigorously. For many years lawyers and law firms have expected their bills to be paid without question--a form of lese majeste.

This degree of openness has yet to be transplanted to the UK where bills are applauded even. Slaughter and May billed the UK government £33 million for work on RBS, Northern Rock, etc. We don't know the contents of that fee note, however.

As long as hourly billing rules then these fights will continue. And the lawyers will appear greedy and trough-sniffing, regardless of the merits. I wonder what it will take to make them innovate and change?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Was Moses the First Transactional Lawyer?

(Thanks to New Yorker)

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Stop! In the Name of Love..."

I've always loved the Supremes and Motown but recently their new reincarnation at the Supreme Court in the UK maybe earning similar rave reviews and plaudits for their most recent number in Agbaje v. Agbaje, a family law case.

John Bolch at Family Lore lays out the basic facts. (Researching Reform and John Bolch discuss the case in a podcast.) The Nigerian couple married in the UK, acquired British citizenship but then lived in Nigeria for many years. The wife relocated to the UK when the marriage was falling apart. The husband, a successful barristers, pursued his divorce in Nigeria where the court gave the wife a derisory settlement. She applied to get proper financial provision in the English courts.

It took the poor woman five years to get the case through the courts but finally justice prevailed and instead of £21,000 ordered by the Nigerian court, she received £275,000 from the English court.

So, trying to use foreign courts to escape one's responsibilities, especially if the connection with the UK is proven to be strong, won't be permitted. You can see the full judgment here.

You can run but you can't hide.

Here they are! But even with their new gowns, I think Diana and the girls have the edge. And we don't even know if they can sing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We're Here to Help....

I made an appointment to seek advice from a government department. This was after trying to find some information on the web and by phone and failing dismally.

"Bring two forms of ID, one including your address."

At my appointment, I proffer my two forms of ID--driving licence and passport that have my name, address, date of birth, etc. The assistant looks them over carefully.

He turns to his computer--first moving the screen away from me--and asks for my full name. Then he asks for my address. Then he asks for my date of birth.

As I am trying to get some help from this expert, I bite my tongue and without my looking at the documents of mine he's holding, I tell him what he wants to know.

I'm wondering what would have happened if I gave him different details. Would he notice?

Once the preliminaries are over, I put my question to him.

"I can't answer that," he says. "You need a technician."

"I made this appointment for this specific question so you had notice."

I'm still hoping to get some information so I have now nearly bitten off my tongue.

He calls for a technician but no one answers his call.

"I can't help you. I'll give you a number to call..."

This was where I came in.

Since I may need to refer to this event I ask if he has recorded my visit. After much button clicking on his mouse, he says yes. I don't know what the computer said since I can't see the screen.

I leave wondering if I can sew my tongue back together

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Regulator Reviews Research

For the last three months the legal services market and legal profession has has a new regulator, the Legal Services Board (LSB). The LSB has been radical, fresh and stimulating in its approach to its tasks. (You can see its business plan here.) Under the Legal Services Act 2007 the legal profession (and market) is being shaken up in ways never before envisaged and the LSB has an important role in steering those changes.

One feature that has impressed me about the LSB has been its commitment to research. This has now been cemented by the establishment of a Research Strategy Group within the LSB to guide the LSB in this area. The LSB has invited me to be a member of this group and we have our first meeting soon.

There is no better time to be doing research in this area!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Who's Mr Stupid?

(Thanks to FT)

Buying something on Amazon the other day got me a free credit card. The lure was a discount and free delivery there and then. I'll take it and stick it in a drawer.

The card is due to come in a week. No card but a text message telling me to call to activate my card. Then I get a call from the Bank of America, whose card it is.

Why haven't you activated your new wonderful credit card?

Because you haven't sent me one.

We have.

I haven't received it.

It goes on a bit like this.

We'll send you a new one.


No card comes and I get another call from Bank of America. They take me through their security checks even though I have no card. We repeat the above conversation. I can't quite tell if they have actually sent another card; if they have it's lost too. They offer to send out card #3.

It's been over a month now when the latest call comes through. Repeat above with addition that you've sent me three credit cards so far and someone is eating them.

This one says I actually received my card on February 8 (ie. card #1). Undertone of I'm not telling the truth....?

Well, I don't have it nor do I have any of the others you sent.

Turns out no others have been sent. This one promises to send out a new card.

You'll have it in a few days. I'll drop it in the post for you.

Yeah, the world's flat and the moon is made of green cheese!

Lord help us if a giant bank like BofA can't organize a simple credit card, how the hell are they going to rebuild the economy?

Monday, March 08, 2010

"The Power of Yes" (or the Fear of Saying No)

In the Power of Yes a playwright tries to find out the causes and explanation for the financial crisis. David Hare populates the stage with bankers, hedge fund managers, MPs, lawyers, journalists and the occasional journalist. (Background pack here which includes a good timeline on the crisis.)

He asks them why this happened and Myron Scholes "explains" why the Black-Scholes options pricing theorem should always work. Long Term Capital Management is mentioned almost as a passing embarrassment. A minor blip on the smooth horizon of the derivatives radar. The fault of the 1998 Russian economic collapse not the model. Models play an unfortunate role throughout the crisis, whether it's Black-Scholes or the Gaussian Copula. They seemed to inspire unquestioning faith in their adherents.

As the various characters come forward to explain their roles or why they should be exonerated of blame, the playwright's anger, and hence ours, rises at the utter cupidity and stupidy of these City folks given such freedom by the regulators and government. One of them aptly says which government minister will willingly criticize the City when a warm seat on the board of an investment bank beckons when he steps down. They were frightened of saying no.

Gillian Tett--unnamed in the play but clearly recognizable--analyzes, perhaps the most hated man in the crisis, Fred Goodwin and his response to the collapse of RBS and the scorn hurled at him. He wasn't to blame; it was the fault of the market... Nor could he say sorry. (I've reviewed Gillian Tett's book on the crisis, Fool's Gold.)

The message of the play pushes the lack of responsibility by the main players in the system, their lack of acceptance of culpability, that they did anything wrong. Indeed William Keegan in the Observer noted, and this should send shivers down anyone's spine:

It is still not clear that the commercial bankers have appreciated the rightful degree of public anger. But central bankers have. In Istanbul (at an IMF meeting) Paul Tucker, the deputy governor of the Bank of England responsible for financial stability, told the Institute of International Finance: "We can't continue with a regime where, to put it crudely, the downside is picked up by the taxpayer and the upside is picked up by bank shareholders and executives."
If you would like more information, Mark Thomas, a guerilla comic, has put together a fine video of his understanding of the crisis recorded at the National Theatre.

The play won't run much longer so go and see it--it's well worth it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How To Get Your PhD

(Thanks to Dion

I am starting some work on analyzing the Bar and barristers with a young researcher at Manchester University, Anna Zimdars. Her research is in the field of equal opportunity and social justice issues in higher education and employment.

I got to know her at the SLSA conference last year--which I posted about--when her paper was one of the few bright moments among some dire sessions. Anna was doing a large-scale study of entrants to the Bar about which we know little. She and I are going to work further on these data taking into account practice areas.

Having received her PhD in 2007, Anna was inspired to write a short guide, How to Get Your PhD: A Guide for Students. It is the sort of guide everyone wishes they'd had at the start. I recommend it and it's a free download.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

So It's Hard to Get a Blog Right....

(Thanks New Yorker)