Friday, December 30, 2011

Some Nightmares Just Won't Go Away.....



Hot off the press, this one. Rick Kordowski, creator of Solicitors from Hell website, is appealing the judgment against him.

So far the Law Society's actions have failed to close the website, which has resurfaced as Solicitorsfromhell.net (see below), and now Kordowski is back to challenge Mr Justice Tugendhat's decision.

Kordowski said, "[he] was tempted to leave it alone and let it go down in  history as one of the most ‘archaic’ judgments of all time."

However, Kordowski further said, "the individuals who accompanied the Law Society on the claim against him failed to follow the Pre-Action protocol code. [He] is also perplexed to why these individuals had not (and still haven’t)  contacted [him] to ask who the authors of the words complained about were."

One other interesting aspect of this is that the Law Society complained to the Information Commissioner (IC) about Solicitors from Hell, but received a less than helpful reply. The IC said although he found some of the comments offensive, other accounts of clients' experiences were credible.

Moreover, the IC can't be expected, nor is it his role, to police websites. And, he says quite definitely, that it isn't his role to "rule on what is acceptable for one individual to say about another, be that a solicitor or other individual. That is not what my Office is established to do." That's where libel comes in if you want to take action.

But accepting that we now live in a socially networked world, the Information Commissioner suggests that the best route is for solicitors to approach Solicitors from Hell directly to negotiate changes where there are factual inaccuracies.


In a final recognition of the new world order that professionals and others have to live within, the IC effectively tells the Law Society "live with it". There are plenty of websites that rate people and products and if you kill one, then it will pop up elsewhere....just as Solicitors from Hell has done.


It is an unwinnable battle.


Given that Hugh Tomlinson QC of Matrix Chambers who is acting for the Law Society can't be cheap, I hope the Law Society has the support of its members for the costs of this litigation. They clearly aren't going to get any money from Kordowski.

I still have my doubts about shooting the messenger. It can make the Law Society look like a bully if it's not careful, no matter how justified it may think it is.



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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Time to Get Serious!

During the year I've blogged on many frivolous things--ABS, Legal Services Act, legal education and more. But now it's time to reflect, collect one's thoughts, and get serious.

This blog post is about my new coffee machine! Now you see what I mean about SERIOUS.

The last few days have been blissful as I have begun to learn the wiles and idiosyncrasies of my La Scala Butterfly coffee machine and Mazzer Super Jolly Doser grinder. I speak to you from the depths of a hyper-caffeinated soul that sees into the darkness that is great coffee.


This is the La Scala Butterfly coffee machine which Mike at Ideal Espresso Services refurbished for me. I found the machine and Mike on the forum, Too Much Coffee, where I was considering which machine to buy. As Mike said to me
It has had a frame-up rebuild with new gaskets and seals throughout. New ECU (electronic control unit). New pump. New lever micro-switch. New cupholder/drip-tray cover. New double filterholder with 18g Synesso basket.
In other words it had been lovingly restored. Here's the interior. It's a heat exchanger boiler.


Just look at all that brass. You know this is going to last for ever. Oh, it weighs 25kg.... All its parts are from commercial machines so it will be easy to maintain.

The sides are painted and here Mike let me choose the colour. I selected a Turquoise that melded nicely with the kitchen as you can see.


Sorry the kitchen's a mess...You can see the knock-box on the right. La Scala's are heavy. It has an E61 grouphead which itself weighs about 9 kilos. It's this thing which looks like Cyrano de Bergerac's nose. Espresso Passione has a list of E61 machines here. The E61 is to coffee machines what the E Type Jaguar is to cars--no need to say anymore


The La Scala is simple to operate. There's one pressure dial, which when it's at 10 o'clock means it is heated and ready to rock. This only takes 15 to 30 minutes.


The pipe behind the grouphead is the "escape valve" for excess steam to the right of the dial. After putting the portafilter in the grouphead, one flips the lever to the right and the coffee comes forth.


Here's the coffee.


And to get the right grind of coffee? I use my Mazzer Super Jolly Doser grinder. This thing is big also. It weighs 14kg and is about 600mm tall. 


Mike's friend Lawrence brought some coffee for me as well as fitting some new burrs for the grinder. Lawrence runs a company called Dark Fluid which both roasts and blends coffee. And one of his most popular blends is "Schrödinger's Cat". A complex blend of course with superimposed flavour particles all over the palate. Whether you go for the Copenhagen interpretation of this paradox--it's both alive and dead--I leave to you, but the coffee is excellent. Head down to Brockley Market on Saturdays to try.

Merry Christmas everyone!




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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Your Worst Nightmare is Back....!



In June this year I asked "why does Solicitors from Hell" exist? That post received a comment today from pirate which said, "And back again solicitorsfromhell.net".

I thought this would happen and that the Law Society's victory in the courts would be pyrrhic. There was a twitter exchange that suggested the legal profession shouldn't be executing Kordowski but dealing with the complaints. We also said the website will come in some form, maybe offshore. Well here it is and this is what it says:
SolicitorsFromHell.net is the successor in title to Rick Kordowski’s SolicitorsFromHell.co.uk
Normal service has resumed under new owners. We believe that Kordowski’s legacy must be preserved and continued in this new format. By way of paying tribute to Kordowski we are reproducing the best segments from SolicitorsFromHell.co.uk, particularly past editorials.
To those of you who want to use the official channels of complaint dealing with solicitors’ conduct being the Legal Ombudsman or the Solicitors Regulation Authority then as a first port of call we advise you to do so. This site caters for the disenfranchised legal consumer; in other words, those members of the public who are convinced the official route has not or will not serve their needs or the justice of their grievance.
I think we're in for an interesting ride on this. I shall be very curious to see how the Law Society reacts. I have a feeling that Solicitors from Hell has mutated into the hydra and no matter how many sites the Law Society tries to close it will keep returning to haunt them.



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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry Christmas.....



My favorite is their 4'33'' version of Silent Night

(thanks to New Yorker)

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Monday, December 05, 2011

My Dog Used To Be Exactly Like This!








I'm feeling a bit dozy as I have just drafted a research grant application but there's a lot more to go yet...

[If you look over to the right there are pictures of my former Pekingese. Pao, the black one, doubtless heard the crowds when chasing his squeaky ball. He made enough racket which sounded like "Plausa, plausa...."]

(Thanks to New Yorker)
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Troika Rampages Across Europe



The effect of the Troika's actions on the regulation of Irish legal services has been severe and radical. The combined might of the IMF, the EU, and the European Central Bank is considerable.

Ireland, however, is only one of its beneficiaries. Italy, Greece, and Portugal are also feeling the heat of change chasing them. As I said yesterday, there's nothing like a good crisis to compel change.

When the apparatchiks of the IMF visit they are very good at fossicking out illiberal tendencies in trade and professions. This means that lawyers can no longer hide behind their former privileges. In Ireland's case the Troika saw that the Competition Authority had reported on professional legal service change in 2006

With a hat tip to Jonathan Goldsmith the Troika isn't holding back. Its demands include the implementation of ABS, freedom of association among lawyers (and other professionals), external ownership and investment of law practices, all of which must shock average Continental (and perhaps civilian) lawyers.

Their historical collaboration with the state, as opposed to the legal profession-market relationships of Anglo-American lawyers, appeared to protect them against radical change since state and profession aims were identical. (See Dietrich Rueschemeyer on comparing professions.) No longer it seems. If the labour market is inefficient then it must opened.

The IMF sees these changes as streamlining the public sector as well as liberalizing markets. Effectively government must be reigned in, and state enterprises privatized, while the market (hopefully) flourishes.

For example, in Portugal the IMF proposes judicial reform along with a revision of the civil code of procedure to reduce case backlogs and increase judicial efficiency. It also says all limitations on practice to be eliminated unless justified or proportional (see page 94 of IMF report).

The IMF reports (linked) for Greece (one and two), Ireland, and Portugal are available. Italy is yet to be drawn up.

What has been viewed as an English peculiarity is now becoming the norm--external investment, ABS and more. Don't waste a crisis.....





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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tesco (Ireland) Law?



Ireland is about to head towards Tesco Law. Turns out that Tesco is in Ireland also, so that helps. Last Friday (25 November) I spoke at a conference at University College Dublin on Regulating the Legal Profession.

Ireland has introduced its own Legal Services Regulation Bill (PDF of Bill here) which is based on a report by the Irish Competition Authority published in 2006. The first sentences of the executive summary are trenchant
The Competition Authority has concluded that the legal profession is in need of substantial reform. The profession is permeated with unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on competition which should be removed so that consumers can benefit from greater competition in legal services.
That these changes are occurring is testament to the intensity of the financial crisis in Ireland. Among the many changes required by the IMF, the ECB, and the EU (the Troika) in exchange for a rescue package was 
To increase growth in the domestic services sector
Government will introduce legislative changes to remove restrictions to trade and competition in sheltered sectors including:
- the legal profession, establishing an independent regulator for the profession and implementing the recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group and outstanding Competition Authority recommendations to reduce legal costs.
One journalist at the conference joked that "You should never waste a good crisis if you want to get something changed." The Irish government was given slightly less than a year to introduce these changes. The Irish legal profession had been successful before at fighting off change until now.

The conference, organized by Colin Scott, Dean of UCD Law School, attempted to bridge the divide between regulators and practitioners and academics so that a useful conversation might flow. Something flowed at least.

For Julian Webb (who spoke on the Legal Education and Training Review) and myself it was like looking back through a time tunnel to five years ago in the UK when the legal profession was so defensive about the changes being introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007.

The Irish bill essentially proposes the same things that the British have done--separate and external regulator, separating representative and regulatory elements of professional legal bodies, reformed legal training, more open and unrestricted access to lawyers' services either through firms or ABS, and external complaints procedures.

The practitioner speakers at the conference saw these proposals as threats to the integrity and independence of the legal profession. They desire to kill the bill. That isn't going to happen. If they want to pick a fight that they have some chance of coming out of alive then it will be in the negotiations over the details of regulation after the legislation is passed. They know this but still feel as if they must go through the motions. It's a waste of political capital.

I feel we've started a dialogue of sorts. This was helped by trying to put the Irish experience in a less parochial context. Lynn Mather of Buffalo gave a keynote speech on lawyers, the market and the state which theorized some the issues that legal professions face. I placed the regulatory push into its global context. And Colin Scott distinguished meta-regulation from mega-regulation which you can get an idea of from his inaugural lecture, Regulating Everything.

From both economics and sociological perspectives there is no doubt that these changes will occur. More conferences and workshops will be needed to develop the conversations.


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Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Should We Be Teaching in Law School?

(thanks to New Yorker

There is one thing wrong with the question in the title and that is whether in fact we should have or need to have law schools. The more I think about what the UK Legal Education and Training Review has to do, the more I feel for them. Probably since the days of 1870 at Harvard Law School has there been such an air of turmoil around legal education.

It's clear we don't know what we are doing or why. David Segal's article in Sunday's New York Times, "What They Don't Teach Law Students: Lawyering" speaks to an American dilemma but one that shortly will become an English one too.

The gist of his article is that law firms have to take on the task of training their associates to be "real" lawyers, not just pretend ones out of law school who don't know anything. Moreover, law faculty have no incentive to change this because their reward patterns aren't directly tied to their students getting jobs but to the articles they publish. Teaching also takes a junior role to scholarship.

In part this is because law schools appeared to be trade schools without any serious role in the academy except to bring in money. Now this has become institutionalized because the entire economic infrastructure of law schools is built on a state-guaranteed loan system. Some might say redolent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For Brian Tamanaha they're a drug.

Law firms are finding that clients refuse to pay the costs of training associates straight out of law school:
Last year, a survey by American Lawyer found that 47 percent of law firms had a client say, in effect, “We don’t want to see the names of first- or second-year associates on our bills.” Other clients are demanding that law firms charge flat fees.
Law jobs as a result are harder to get. Recently in New York a lawyer, who is an adjunct professor at one of the elite law schools there, told me how all adjunct faculty at the elite schools in the north east of the US are being asked to try and place their students. It seems not all are getting jobs.

Whether law schools should become trade schools again isn't the reason I'm writing. There is something wrong with law schools and legal education and they need fixing. Their curriculum follows a path that seems to lead nowhere. And this is true in the US and the UK.

Students are bored, overworked and frustrated. We ought to be able to design a curriculum that excites them and commits them intellectually and emotionally to law. Unfortunately I don't think the legal profession is good at doing that.

Law Without Walls--which is entering its second year--has begun the redesign process and has generated more excitement than any other legal educational venture that I can think of.

So, do we need law schools? While we ponder this I'm sure new educational ventures will come along and stealthily extract the law school consumer base and it could be too late for law schools to repair the damage. Is the law school the best medium in which to learn law?

UK law schools are about to commit seppuku soon. They are to charge tuition fees considerably higher than hitherto but with no concomitant increase in quality or innovation in the curriculum. Indeed, most likely students will be paying more for less as universities freeze hiring or make staff redundant. It won't make the "student experience" anymore satisfying. Indeed, I think it will lead to law schools closing down or shrinking so much that they become adjunct departments to business schools or such. They might as well become paralegal training centres.

All law students--here and in the US--should read David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years. It's a tremendous read showing how the phenomenon of debt is at the root of our social and economic structure. Law students, and others, need to understand the phenomenology of debt and how it rules their lives. If they do, law schools will have no option but to reform. But how?

Follow up: The New York Times has published a series of responses to Segal's article.



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Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Really Do Want to Be a Lawyer



(H/T to @lawcampus)
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Becoming a Global Lawyer



Peter Lederer and I have put our first joint paper on SSRN. The title is "Becoming a Global Lawyer" and it is based on interviews I have conducted with Peter. The paper's abstract says
Using oral history we track the rise of legal globalization through the experience of an early partner in Baker & McKenzie, the world's largest and most global law firm. The paper considers two case studies in counseling and advising illustrating the role of the lawyer and clients in the construction of complex deals. In addition, we examine the role of education, career, and cosmopolitanism.
This will be the first of a series of papers. We welcome any comments and feedback.

***************

Why this should be so, I don't know. But if you google "global lawyer", you get this....


It looks nothing like Peter, nor me.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Law Firms Forget Their Culture at Their Peril

(Thanks to Martin Rowson)

Jotwell has just published my review of Milton Regan's chapter on Taxes and Death: The Rise and Demise of an American Law Firm in Austin Sarat's edited collection, Law Firms, Legal Culture, and Legal Practice, 52  Stud. in Law, Politics, and Society 107 (special issue) (2010), available at SSRN.

Here is part of the review:
Jenkens & Gilchrist was a small but high-end law firm in Texas with desires to grow, especially into New York. But its profits per partner (PPP) were insufficient to attract the best lateral hires even though by Texas standards it was successful. (See Sida Liu’s review of profits.) Having been through a bad spell in the early 1980s the firm had rebuilt itself but it remained at heart a regional law firm. Then enter stage left Paul Daugerdas in 1998.
Daugerdas was a lawyer and an accountant who had worked for Arthur Andersen and Altheimer & Gray where he had developed a tax shelter practice. (Both of these firms have subsequently folded.) He claimed he could bring in a book of business worth $6 million a year and moreover he wanted to be compensated based on his revenues, not those of the firm. After much argument over Daugerdas himself and the legitimacy of his work he was taken on. In his first year at Jenkens he generated $28 million in revenue, the firm’s PPP rose and the firm went from 77th to 57th in the AmLaw 100.
It didn't take long for IRS to become involved and for both the firm and Daugerdas to die professional deatths. Daugerdas was convicted on all counts and the firm folded. Jenkens traded its traditional professionalism for a quick and assured buck. It didn't work and Regan has written its obituary. RIP Jenkens & Gilchrist.




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Saturday, October 22, 2011

How's Your EQ? Are You Good at Relationships?



I've been talking at a symposium on globalization and the legal profession at Fordham Law School in New York. We talked a lot about how lawyers and law firms depend on relationships in order to succeed. Are they good at forming and maintaining relationships? On the whole, yes, but it can be fickle.

One presentation by Neta Ziv and Chris Whelan showed how clients are imposing all sorts of client-relationship conditions on their outside counsel. For example, Wal-Mart insists that they select relationship partners from a list including people of colour, women, and those working on flexi-time. Perhaps we had doubts about Wal-Mart's motivations.

So it was interesting to see three reports this week focusing on lawyers' relationships--I'm leaving aside their more than high divorce rates--and how they can be fostered. One was on training associates in business development from the perspective that it's too late to leave it to partner time. The idea is that associates will form lasting relationships with their co-equals in inhouse departments.

Lawyers have been slow to adopt the idea of relationship managers, almost preferring the rain maker model of togetherness. The problem with this is that the lawyer is the key element not the firm.

So Allen and Overy is to train its partners in relationship management with the help of McKinsey. Of course the main purpose is to persuade the clients to come up with more business, so it's demand creation. I wonder how clients will like being milked, sorry advised on other matters. This is a tricky one to accomplish without creating the wrong impression.

The intriguing client relationship management programme is that initiated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It is imposing relationship managers on the big law firms because  following a pilot the "SRA reached the conclusion that larger and global outfits have "a greater range of issues that require greater engagement to understand." This means they are, perversely, high risk.

I suspect the real reason is to stop the large law firms from introducing their own regulator. So how long will it last?




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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lawyers on Tap or Lawyers' Water Torture



It is a truth seldom told to students, but the legal profession is facing its most profound changes. As the recent UCL debate on legal education showed, legal academics are frightened by the future. So much so, they refuse to acknowledge it. Life will continue the same.

It won't.

Although October 6 was meant to be Legal Big Bang it turned out to be Unheard Whimper. This is frequently allied to the steady drip. All so subtle, it is virtually unnoticed.

If we add up various movements we see how the changes are slipping in with little awareness. The Lawyer carried a story on Eversheds' move into the temping lawyers market. Eversheds will second lawyers into clients' inhouse departments. This is similar to Berwin Leighton Paisner's Lawyers on Demand which will do contract work at the client's base or in the BLP office. These are cheap lawyers who will fill whatever gaps their clients perceive. These are not members of Eversheds or BLP in the way their "normal" lawyers are.

Contract lawyers are essentially lawyers who are either desperate to get a job or perhaps those who have deliberately stepped off the treadmill.

Perhaps the most sophisticated version of this is Axiom Law. But whereas BLP-Eversheds promises no more than cheaper contract lawyers, Axiom is offering a different style of legal career. If you want to opt out of the legal rat race, Axiom offers a way forward that is distinct from contract lawyering. It involves secondments or more multi-skills mixes of talents and expertise.

While these services concentrate on qualified lawyers who can be hired out when needed, Acculaw has shifted the delivery model to an earlier stage. Get them while they are training--farm them out to law firms that need to be seen to be fulfilling their service obligations by taking trainees--they'll feel good. What will happen to the trainees? Well there are no promises there....

Let us add DWF's new apprenticeship track for would-be lawyers as legal executives as an alternative to qualifying as a solicitor and altogether we can see how the deskilling of law is taking place. The rise of technology, legal process outsourcing with globalization has begun to create a global market for legal talent which is pitting expensive suppliers against lower-cost ones. Indian lawyers are still a lot cheaper than US and UK lawyers. Both of these regimes are trying to find ways of reducing their costs so they can maintain their lock on the global legal market. I'm not sure they can do it.

Both the UK and the US have problems with the costs of legal education (no links here just google this and you'll get more than you want, believe me). Students are angry while law school faculty are on the whole complacent. British universities are about to raise their tuitions next year, without any increase in the quality of their product. They are clearly forgetting they play in the global market--for example, the cost of law school tuition in Holland is 1600 euros a year (compared to 9000 pounds in the UK or 46000 dollars in the US) and they teach in English.

So who has their fingers in the dike? Anyone?




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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Fighting Between Accountants and Lawyers Breaks Out on Damp Squib Day!


A real fight has broken out between accountants and lawyers (reported in Accountancy Age) and it's going to be bloody. That's the sort of thing that happens on damp squib day (October 6, 2011) when alternative business structures don't quite happen.

The chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, Michael Izza, has written a strong letter to Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society (a former sparring partner of mine).

Izza told Hudson that the Law Society must not restrict lawyers and accountants from working together now the Legal Services Act has blessed such unions.
Izza claimed that current Law Society guidance restricts lawyers and solicitors working together in MDPs, warning that its updated guidance in response to the Act must take a different stance.
"To ensure the orderly and desirable development of multi-disciplinary practices, I suggest the Law Society staff with responsibility for this work commence discussion with ICAEW staff before drafting becomes too advanced."
I was surprised to read this as I thought the MDP battle was long over. It appears not. Why the Law Society might be objecting to MDPs is a mystery. Have they forgotten Cnut? While the ICAEW isn't an approved regulator by the Legal Services Board, the Scottish Institute is as is the Certified Accountants association. Accountants are part of the regulatory and professional services scene and to attempt to exclude them is retrograde and, frankly, silly.

The Law Society is taking on the accountants on too many fronts and it's going to lose. This battle is long gone. The Law Society should be focusing on the privilege battle with accountants, but I suspect it will lose that one too. Surely the Law Society can behave in a more grown up way?


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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Damp Squib Day....


Damp squib day or bad firework day.... This was meant to be the Big Bang of legal services when the thrillingly named Alternative Business Structures took off into the stratosphere.

Not even a fizzle.

This is because the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Ministry of Justice can't get their act together. So while we shall have licensed conveyancer ABS, we won't have lawyer-type ones until next year. Stephen Mayson had some choice words to say about the SRA's dilatoriness recently.

A law firm no one has heard of says it's going to float on a stock market I'd never heard of either. The post-ABS world is buzzing and exploding in the firmament.

That's about it on this tremendous day.

And if you google damp squib, this is what you get. Don't ask.






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John Flood's Random Academic Thoughts (RATs): Damp Squib Day....

Do read Julian Webb on hEaD Space The Glorious 6th?

John Flood's Random Academic Thoughts (RATs): Damp Squib Day....
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Monday, October 03, 2011

I Might Try This on the Plane Tonight...


(thanks to New Yorker)



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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Changing Face of Legal Education



DWF, a predominantly northern law firm, has started a new entry track for lawyers via apprenticeship. It is a paralegal academy for school leavers run in conjunction with the Institute for Legal Executives (ILEX).

With the unbundling of legal services and the need for differentially qualified legal personnel, this move is symptomatic of the changes taking place in the profession and education. England and Wales offers multiple routes to qualification as a "legal professional". Note I didn't say lawyer.

It is no longer necessary to be a lawyer in the traditional sense to carry out legal services, even reserved (authorized) ones. So legal education is adapting to this new market. And this is even before the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board have done much of their legal education review. They are already being pre-empted.

We now enable people to become lawyers by stages if they want. It might be easier for someone out of school to take an apprenticeship route and qualify as a Legal Executive, and if they want they can convert those qualifications and their experience into a "full" lawyer qualification.

With the increased role played by legal process outsourcers, private education companies, legal services and their suppliers can be viewed on a spectrum from mass production to individual construction. This fits in with new ventures like Acculaw who are going to provide legal trainees on demand and other established companies like Axiom Legal. See my earlier post on these.

If you add in the tied training programmes that educational companies like BPP are engaged in as are the accountants who are buying entire degree courses at universities, we are seeing the increased commercialization of professional education that is moving away from the academy.

Is the academy becoming redundant? I don't think so but it has not worked out how it must respond to these moves. And I am not proposing it should dumb down its offerings, but it may be that the academy will be working for elites rather than the mass. Of course there won't be enough elites to go around.


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Monday, September 26, 2011

Do You Read the I Ching?


(thanks to New Yorker)

This is just how I feel sometimes.....
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Is the World Like for New Law Graduates?


Three items this week reinforce the idea that the legal world has changed and continues to change rapidly. They are all to do with education and training of professionals.

KPMG, the accounting firm, has taken 90 school leavers and placed them in accounting courses at Durham and Exeter universities on courses it effectively owns. Over four years they will divide their time between academics and working for KPMG, And they will be paid and get jobs at the end of their "studies".

A new Axiom-like clone has sprung up for trainee lawyers. Acculaw will place trainees in law firms and inhouse law departments as seconded trainees for periods of three to six months. Law firms will be spared the costs of hiring and maintaining trainees. 

For employers Acculaw says the benefits are
• reducing costs
• improving efficiency
• improving resource management
• an alternative to legal process outsourcing
 For trainees
• a truly unique training contract
• working for more than one firm throughout your training contract
• a fresh approach to trainee management
There is of course no guarantee of a job at the end of this process. It's a cheap and cheerful way of providing low cost labour to the profession. At least--in the British system--the graduating trainee will earn the title of lawyer.

The final item is a post by Brian Tamanaha--Sobering Numbers: Law Graduates Who Do Not Become Lawyer--on Balkinization. He reports that at 30 law schools (list on post) less than 50% of graduates gained employment as lawyers. And that is after three years of study with tuition costs in the region of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. Of course there is dispute over what the figures mean, include and exclude.

The assistant dean for career development at Michigan State College of Law, Elliot Spoon, reckons that an overly fine distinction between "JD required" and "JD preferred" resulted in an undercount as it would be feasible to consider JD preferred jobs as legal jobs, eg. law clerking.

Indeed it is a brave new world for law graduates. Stable careers are long gone and contract work is becoming the norm for many, even at the training level. Education it seems is transforming into training without the benefits that true education can bring. More and more the employers, as in the case of KPMG, are taking charge of selection leaving the academy as a mere processing plant. And an expensive one at that.

The current model of legal education is unsustainable in its present form. It can't make up its mind as to whether it is education or training for jobs, or, worse, some cackhanded attempt at both. This failing besets legal education in both the US and the UK and others too.

Legal education is a perverse mix of cheap delivery and expensive consumption. The academy has the present advantage of providing the only route into the legal profession, or what's left of it. I imagine it won't retain that monopoly. In the UK there are ambitious for-profit "education providers" (eg. BPP in the UK part of the Apollo Group in the US) who are muscling into the market and already forming bonds with employers such as law firms. The ABA vainly hopes by delaying accreditation of offshore law schools it will protect US law schools.

Unfortunately, the legal academy, except for a few (eg. Bill Henderson, Brian Tamanaha) refuses to recognize a problem or at least collectively reflect on it. In the UK we are seeing the unbundling of legal services and the education and training that works alongside it. Soon the academy won't be recognizable and maybe that's not a bad thing in itself. But the academy will have to face this before long. I hope they won't have held off too long.




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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is Competition in Law Taking Off?


Ken Clarke, the British Justice secretary, is giving a speech that praises Tesco Law and external investment in law firms according to the Financial Times. Increased competition will improve services for consumers. Around 30% of the top 100 law firms in the UK are considering taking external investment or going for an IPO.

Not everything is going to plan. Stephen Mayson pointed out that the road towards the Solicitors Regulation Authority permitting alternative business structures (ABS) on October 6 has been chaotic and won't be happening until "early next year", which is a little vague and will upset many investment plans.

Still, these changes put the UK and Australia in the vanguard of regulatory liberalization in the world today. It was interesting therefore to see a recent report by the Canadian Competition Bureau assessing Canada's steps towards professional services liberalization. One can perhaps, tentatively, generously, call them baby steps. Or maybe that should be crawl.

In 2007 Canada issued a review "Self-regulated professions: balancing competition and regulation". Out of the 53 recommendations covering five professions, it recommended lawyers justify how long it took to become a lawyer, increase mobility between provinces as well as international mobility, free up advertising, abolish tariffs, and allow multidisciplinary partnerships or ABS.

In four years there is some increased inter-provincial mobility, some advertising and marketing and...er...that's it. The Federation of [Canadian] Law Societies said "We've done as much as can be done." Oh dear. How can they be so parochial?

Adam Dodek, of Ottawa University, claims the report has skipped over the most salient issues and that the legal profession is hoping all this horrible ABS stuff will go away, which of course it won't. This where the forces of globalization will come into play and compel the Canadian professions to face a grim reality--adapt or die. There are plenty of examples of both choices.



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Monday, September 05, 2011

The Bonus Culture



Bonuses are all the rage now. Rupert Murdoch was given $12.5 million in his $33 million pay package from News Corp. this year which is up 47% on last year. And his son James was awarded $6 million. The difference is that James seems to realize that the Murdochs might not have actually deservedly earned these bonuses. He has declined his but Rupert is keeping his. With an extended family he probably needs it.

At a slightly more mundane level it has been spring bonus time for associates in big law firms. Amy Kolz has written an incisive article, "A Waste of Money: Spring bonuses didn't help retain associates during the boom times, so why did almost 50 firms dole them out again this year?" (H/T to Peter Lederer)

The upshot is that as one or two firms published that they were paying associates between $2,500 and $20,000 bonuses then the others joined in and to cap it a further couple of firms then decided to award more. Justification? Hard to discern unless you have the mentality of a sheep or lemming (in the old but discredited Disney sense of cliff-jumping).

Kolz argues convincingly that these bonuses achieve nothing. Associates like them but they won't persuade them to stay with a particular firm. Why should they? Everyone does it. It all cancels out.

Kolz writes
"Clients are watching, and we all have to be careful that we're operating in a way that gives clients value for what they're paying," Milone, chair of Morgan Lewis, says.
It's a reasonable concern. Though general counsel may not resent the spring bonuses per se, they are wary of any development that could lead to higher costs, says Frederick Krebs, the recently retired president of the Association of Corporate Counsel. "If these bonuses result in increased rates and increased costs, then it will be a problem," he says.

Of course, the risk of alienating clients and increasing compensation costs in an uncertain economic environment might be worth it if it was clear that these bonuses helped to retain or attract associates. But it's not. An examination of the results of our 2011 Midlevel Associates Survey shows that there is no statistically significant relationship between associates' ranking of their compensation and benefits and their expectation that they will still be at their firm in two years. (For statistics wonks, the r-squared in our linear regression analysis was only 0.026.) Our finding echoed a 2007 study that Indiana University Law professor William Henderson did based on our 2004 Midlevel Associates Survey—he also found that the relationship between compensation ratings and the expectation that associates would stay two more years at their firm was close to zero. (emphasis added)
The danger is that these costs will be passed on to clients who are already angry over law firm billings.  The alternative is that partners take less which is most unlikely. Some years ago Mark Chandler, general counsel of Cisco, said he was looking to law firms reducing their costs year on year, not raising them.

Law firms have no institutional memory to speak of nor are they smart about how they organize their businesses. That's not to say they aren't clever people, they are. But the herd mentality among law firms is startling. Forget what we've done in the past, and let's do it again, again, again.

It doesn't matter whether it is pay, bonuses or mergers, the result is the same. They did it so must we. Without asking if it is a good course of action. Law firms aren't going to cover themselves in glory with this one. And finally associates know exactly what the game is: they are not fooled by these tactics. Here's one
Associates also understand that there can be an implicit trade-off between money and quality of life at a firm. "I'm not thrilled that we didn't receive a [spring] bonus, says one associate at Baker & McKenzie. "But the work I do is phenomenal, and the clients are phenomenal, and if I want to play at this level [of practice], you sometimes have to go along with certain things, whether it be a [slightly] lower compensation level or [if I were somewhere else, perhaps] the requirement to work 2,600 hours," he says. The associate says he has no plans to leave Baker.
 
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eating as Globalization....


I am teaching a course at Miami that includes a number of readings on globalization, but I am always searching for better ways to reach students. I think I have found an unusual one with the film, How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman.

In the 16th century the Portuguese and the French were fighting over control of Brazil. The indigenous tribes were caught in the middle of this struggle. Different tribes allied to different forces. The Frenchman is captured by the Portuguese and is then taken prisoner by the Tupinambas who favor the French. The Tupinambas are the mortal enemies of the Tupiniquins, allies of the Portuguese.

The Tupinambas don't believe the Frenchman is French. They decide to keep him for 8 months--and give him a wife--when they will eat him. The Frenchman tries to adapt to Tupinamba ways which involves having his body shaved and going naked. (Apparently the film was banned for a while in Brazil for "excessive" though faithful nudity.) The film at times has an anthropological feel about it.

Having helped the Tupinambas vanquish the Tupiniquins, the Frenchman is eaten. His neck is promised to his wife and she is seen contentedly chewing away. Is this a sign of counter-globalization insurgency?

Unfortunately not as the film closes with a quote saying that the Tupinambas were exterminated and their bodies laid out on the beach shortly after eating their little Frenchman.

I hadn't realized until I watched it that the film was made in 1971. Given that hardly anyone is wearing clothes and most of the action takes place on the beach, one isn't aware of modern historical references, only those situated in the story.

For a different take on globalization this is an excellent tale by which to understand it. I stumbled on this film by accident. The Richter Library at Miami has a great and extensive film collection and there buried within it was How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman. I'm going back to look for more....


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It's Hectic Here in Miami...


(Thanks to New Yorker)

After an August full of rain, my back yard in London looks just like that. Only my elephant is smaller.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What's Wrong with Sponsoring Law Degrees?


(thank you Colin)
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Friday, August 19, 2011

...And Complaints Can Be Bad For You


In my previous post, I vainly hoped lawyers could learn from the complaints process they now have to follow. Unfortunately (h/t to Legal Futures) they haven't quite absorbed the lessons. This is definitely a case of being placed on the naughty step.

Two law firms refused to follow the Legal Ombudsman's orders to compensate clients. The result was the LeO went to court to get enforcement orders with the consequence that in addition to paying the compensation the firms had to pay the LeO's court costs.

Stupid? I think so. Law firms aren't going to get anywhere by being adversarial. As the LeO says:

“The cases are a reminder that ombudsman decisions, once accepted by complainants, are binding. Lawyers need to remember that our decisions are enforceable through the courts and that failure to comply promptly can mean an unnecessary expense.
“Those who don’t comply are likely to have to pay costs ordered by the courts, and risk being referred by us on conduct grounds to their regulatory body.”
I'm sure the legal profession must be thinking the world is conspiring against it. All we need is the next step to name the law firms. They should have warning stickers.


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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Complaints Can Be Good for You...

While people argue over Rick Kordowski's Solicitors from Hell, the complaints bandwagon rolls on and on. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has issued new requirements to law firms on how they are to collect information on complaints.

The SRA's starting point is clear
A perception of poor complaints handling by the legal profession was one of the drivers for the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA). In response, a fundamental requirement of the LSA is that approved regulators must ensure legal service providers have effective procedures in place for the resolution of complaints. Section 112(1) of the Act also requires an approved regulator to make provision for the enforcement of those requirements.
This is the result of the Legal Services Board's YouGov research on complaints handling, which ought to be compulsory reading for all lawyers. So the SRA will now require law firms to collect data on first-tier complaints in a new way.
The complaints categories down the left hand side are those used by the Legal Ombudsman. The row across the top is self-explanatory and covers the previous 12 months. I will be curious to see what gets inserted into the box marked "other". I also wonder if the categories will capture the full extent of consumer satisfaction. The categories seem to me very much "lawyer-type" ones.

The SRA, following the Financial Ombudsman Service approach, will use the data to construct waves and trends of complaints to allow it to see if there are systemic issues in complaints. The data will also inform the SRA that it has a problem with law firms that aren't handling their complaints properly. (You can see how the Financial Ombudsman Service analyzes its data here.)

This is all part of the risk-based approach to regulation now in train. My guess is that lawyers may well be in for a shock when they start seeing the results of the analyses.

My ever-eager curiosity also wonders how much--if any--of these data will be made public. Some redaction might be needed, but it should be there in the public domain, so at least we could see if things are improving.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Google Law!

(thanks to thegioiseo.com)

It's happened. Google has entered the law business! Google has invested in Rocket Lawyer according to Forbes magazine which says Rocket Lawyer has 70,000 users a day. Paul Lippe also covers this at the New Normal.

I've been giving presentations for the past couple of years where I have always finished with a picture of Google's logo and said, "There's the world's next biggest law firm. Beat that if you can." It was usually met with disbelief.

Google analyzes information very well and law is information. At some level there will be the need for sophisticated interpretation via human thought but for how much longer?

First it was Tesco Law and now it's Google Law!

Rock on....



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Monday, August 08, 2011

Global Legal Education


I have put a new paper on SSRN on legal education--"Legal Education in the Global Context: Challenges from Globalization, Technology and Changes in Government Regulation".

The abstract reads
Legal education is going through profound changes around the world because of globalization, technology, and government changes in the organization of legal services. English lawyers have traditionally enjoyed high standing in the world but the question arises will changes introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007 and potential changes arising from the Solicitors Regulation Authority Bar Standards Board Institute of Legal Executives review of legal education damage that reputation? The paper examines legal education in a number of dimensions taking into account the developments in the global field of legal education. Keywords: professions, globalization, technology, lawyers, education, regulation.

The argument of the paper is that from an empirical point of view there is an inexorable move in the world towards the Americanization of legal education, in the form of the widespread adoption of the JD degree over the LLB. This is occurring as much in Commonwealth countries--Canada, India, Australia--as it is in others more conventionally aligned with US interests, such as China and Japan. Much of this drive comes from a need of the legal industry to have fully-trained personnel ready with "day one" competences, whatever those actually mean.
 I welcome any comments.
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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Mea COLPa and the Lawyer's Gone Bust...


Two separate items in Legal Futures raise concerns about lawyers and their relationships within their own firms and with their clients. They tell different sides of the same story, from inside and outside the law firm.

The first is that many firms haven't begun to train their staff in risk and compliance for when outcomes focussed regulation begins October. Yes, three months.

The second is that there has been a steep rise in compensation claims against solicitors. The figure is now over £200 million.
New figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said the value of the 1,952 open claims against the Solicitors Compensation Fund at the end of June was £205m, £76m more than at the same time in 2010, even though there were almost 1,000 more claims open then.
I wrote before that law firms are confused and perplexed by who should be their compliance officer for legal practice and what that officer ought to be doing. By October 2012 the COLP has to submit a report on the preceding year. That means having all the reporting and accounting systems in place now, or by October at the latest.

If law firms can't get their compliance act together then how are they going to respond to client complaints? How will they catch dishonest lawyers? Note that law firms have also to appoint a COFA (compliance officer for finance and administration) too. If these processes are fully functioning will clients have confidence?

Perhaps, instead of trying to kill off Rick Kordowski's Solicitors from Hell, the Law Society and Bar Council should be prompting their members to start thinking and acting to ensure clients are satisfied, well-served, and confident in the legal profession.

Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman, wrote recently that customer service will be the key criterion
What is important here is the introduction of the concept of customer service as a basic standard against which barristerial actions are to be judged.  I know from my own experience that the vast majority of barristers take their responsibility to their client as their central, driving motivation.  However, there remain a small number of the profession who see customer service as something which is wholly the responsibility of the solicitor and therefore not a matter with which they need to concern themselves.  It is this small group who may struggle to adjust to the new reality.
Barristers, it seems, have not yet adjusted to a non-adversarial complaints system where they can "prove" their innocence. That will be only one part of the process.

Lawyers must realize that the new world of legal services won't wait for them to catch up from the 19th century to the 21st. We know other suppliers will jump in and begin to mop up. It might be Coop or it might be Quality Solicitors, but it won't be the lawyers who stand there with question marks over their heads. Whoever works out that consistently good service across all fronts to all clients improves business will win.


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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

What Do You Say to In House Counsel to Make Them Want to Give You Work?

(thanks to thenonbillablehour

Vivia Chen writes a simple yet telling piece on how not to blow the dream date when outside counsel are asked to meet in house counsel to win a mandate and client.

Based on the thoughts of Nino Cusimano, GC for Telecom Italia, it seems all so straightforward why anyone would mess it up, but they do. He says
that he's often shocked at how lawyers flub the first meeting and blow their chance at getting business. "I am often left with the impression that close to zero preparation time has been put into the [initial] meeting," he writes in CC. "Time after time, I find myself thinking, 'What a wasted opportunity these meetings can be.'"
Preparation--always crucial so why wouldn't you do it? If I have a PhD student about to have his viva, I will prepare him so he knows what kinds of questions to expect and to understand what the atmosphere will be like. It's intense. That requires preparation.

So what would be the most important thing to know? What your prospective client does? What is the business?
Research the client. Incredibly, says Cusimano, aspiring legal providers often show only the most rudimentary familiarity with his company, "which basically means no familiarity." He suggests a crash course on the company's filings, corporate governance policies, management, products, and market. "Research our interests, the current focus agenda for the legal department, all in a few easy clicks. Google us and read about the major litigations we are engaged in."
That hurts. And following on from yesterday's post on reverse auctions, Cusimano states
Be up-front about fees. "We will describe to you our legal-vendor rating process. I will look for constructive comments on it. Be frank. I would be happy to know what sorts of innovative fee structures you're using with clients—a few examples will come in handy."
There's more but it all seems so obvious that I wonder why it has to be said at all. Perhaps it is part because we train lawyers to argue but not always listen. To listen and respond--simple, effective, and apparently sometimes difficult.

So to put in a blatant plug, Law Without Walls (LWOW) will be commencing its second season in the near future. LWOW insists on its students and faculty work together across cultural and geographical boundaries. This forces one to listen. Under these conditions one can't do it half-heartedly: it takes commitment. This is one of the reasons why LWOW has scored great successes.

In its next iteration it has added Stanford, Indiana-Bloomington, St Gallen, and Sydney universities to its roster. Given that LWOW now wraps the world, to have everyone online at a particular time is fraught. When we start I'm going online at 10pm...



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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Lawyers, the Comorra, and Dutch Auctions


(thanks to movieaddicts)



There's a scene in Gomorrah (about the Neopolitan Comorra) where dress-makers compete to win an haute couture contract for a major clothing designer. They are asked to bid for the work in money and time--the lowest amount for each. Pasquale pleads with his boss not to go below a certain number of days which of course he does to win the contract. It's a reverse auction. These are also known as Dutch auctions, in contrast to "normal" English auctions where the price ascends not declines (see Smith 1990: 120). Later in the film Pasquale sees Scarlett Johansson on TV wearing one of his dresses.

Dutch auctions are very desirable for buyers of services although not so good for the sellers. Lawyers are now finding out what it is like to be on the receiving end of a Dutch auction. With a hat tip to my friend, Peter Lederer, the Wall St Journal has run a fascinating article on the machinations of corporate counsel to impel lawyers and law firms to embrace reverse auctions. (Here's an alternative location if it's hiding behind Murdoch's paywall.)

Here's the opening:
Spurred on by budget pressures, companies' use of a controversial auction process to negotiate contracts with law firms has surged in recent years, a trend that could eventually reduce the revenue attorneys can expect to reap from clients.

Several big companies—including GlaxoSmithKline PLC, eBay Inc., Toyota Motor Corp. and Sun Microsystems—have used the tactic, known as reverse auctions or competitive bidding, to pressure law firms to lower prices, especially on high-volume work such as tax filings and intellectual-property transactions. Many lawyers now worry these auction-based pricing strategies are spreading to more complex projects.

"Is it making all of us uncomfortable? Yes. Especially when you start to move away from the more routine sort of work," says Toby Brown, the director of pricing at Vinson & Elkins LLP.
What is interesting is that this isn't being done through beauty parades and pitches but instead through websites where law firms bid against each other and against the clock. Sounds like a chess game, no?


Despite the tender feelings of law firms and lawyer that this might all be a bit infra dig--"not very professional is it, old chap?"--it's gathering pace and market share.
Ariba Inc., the maker of one of the main reverse-auction software tools, claims that around 40% of today's market for legal work—a threefold increase from just a few years ago—is contracted through electronic, online means, most of which involve a reverse auction, according to Sundar Kamakshisundaram, a marketing manager for the company.

And David Baumann, general counsel for TechNexxus LLC, which helps companies cut down on legal, technology and business-services costs, says more than a third of the work they do involves reverse auctions, about four times more than in 2008.
Lawyers will plead that their work is complex and varied and can't be priced like other products. It doesn't really wash when one sees investment banks pricing complicated deals every day. How many other suppliers are able to say, "I won't tell you the price now. Wait until I think I've done enough, then I'll let you know."

As one general counsel so aptly put it:
"Every lawyer will tell you that every piece of work they do is incredibly important and risky and has to be custom-made, and that's just nonsense," says Jeff Carr, FMC Technologies' general counsel. "No matter how legally brilliant you are, there is always an alternative."
What's the difference between a loaf of bread and a lawyer? You eat one and the other eats you.
*****************
Smith, Charles W. 1990, Auctions: The Social Construction of Value. California.
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Waiting for ABS....or Godot?


October will pass without Alternative Business Structures and it looks likely it will be the end of the year before we see them, unless you are a licensed conveyancer that is. In part this is due to the way parliamentary business is done and also to the manner in which appeals against Solicitors Regulation Authority decisions will be conducted. There is also the vexed question of what criminal convictions have to be disclosed by potential investors in ABS.

I'm sure we'll get there in the end even if parts of the legal profession wish this would all go away.

I was struck by Dan Bindman's column on Legal Futures, "Are you an ABS optimist or pessimist?" It's worth reading for the views represented on the potential effects of ABS. Dan ultimately says,
One thing is certain: the new entrants will have little regard for broader notions of access to justice, or the social value of having an independent legal profession to police the three-way interface between the state, the market and the individual.
We don't know this of course. And Dave Edmonds, chair of the Legal Services Board, comments,
Dan Bindman’s article poses the right questions. But I quarrel strongly with his assertion that new entrants will “have little regard for broader notions of access to justice”. Why will they not? Many of the most ambitious and innovative lawyers operating in the present marketplace have a very high commitment to this fundamental cause. My belief is that extending the ability of citizens to secure affordable legal advice from new forms of law firms (which will be in the main run by lawyers and properly regulated by regulators for whom access to justice is an underlying principle) will enhance access to justice, not diminish it.
Read the other comments also--there's good stuff there.

When it comes to dynamic change the legal profession has always been in the vanguard of resistance. It's almost a reflex action. Legal aid was resisted when introduced in the 1940s. Then lawyers learned how it would benefit them. They love it now! But that's going.

Lawyers were opposed to neighbourhood law centres because they thought they would take away business. Instead they promoted it. Their funding is being cut now.

The legal profession has a good eye for resisting winners and on that basis I think they might be on to something with their opposition to ABS. Just don't leave too late...
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Solicitors from Hell a Criminal Conspiracy Against the Legal Profession?

(thanks to Byfield)

As I came out of the BBC yesterday with Des Hudson*, the chief executive of the Law Society, he said Rick Kordowski was a criminal. I reminded Des that the police didn't think so. He wasn't happy.

We'd both been invited to discuss Solicitors from Hell on Radio 4's You and Yours consumer affairs programme. For those of you who might not know Solicitors from Hell allows disaffected clients to write their stories about their dissatisfaction with their lawyers. At times the voices are plaintive, frustrated, and upset. A number of lawyers have sued Kordowski for defamation, except he's got no money. And recently a judge suggested the Law Society and the Bar Council take action against Kordowski and his website.

The BBC has put the story and the difference between Des and myself on their news website. You can listen to our discussion here: we are Chapter Three.

My view is quite simple. Whatever one thinks of Kordowski or his website, it serves a need. It demonstrates clearly that people need an outlet to express their feelings and concerns about how they are treated. Instead of attacking Solictors from Hell the Law Society should be doing something about those complaints. It should be preventing the need for a website like Solicitors from Hell. If there's no felt need, then no SfH.

Lawyers are improving their game--don't get me wrong--but far too slowly. In the first six months of setting up the new Legal Ombudsman received nearly 40,000 calls which turned into close to 4,000 complaints. And there is a backlog as well. But that's far too many complaints for a profession to have landing on its doorstep. It's still not an easy process to complain about bad legal services. It could involve the Ombudsman or it might the task of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Certainly the Law Society website doesn't make clear about how to go about complaining except to give a link to the Legal Ombudsman. Take a look at its website home page and see how easy it is to locate the complaints section. It's not.

This is one of the reasons why government decided the professional bargain was no longer working and passed the Legal Services Act in 2007 and established an entirely new regime of regulators for the legal profession and legal services market. Professions have to be accountable to the public.

--------------------------------------

*Here's Des in a better mood and you can read previous posts on Solicitors from Hell from March, April, and June.




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