Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Action Hots Up--Irwin Mitchell Declares ABS

(thanks to Paul Mannix)

Now the Alternative Business Structure action is hotting up thanks to Irwin Mitchell's declaration that it will incorporate and use its investment to take on the many mid-tier law firms wondering what to do come October 2011.

If anyone is in the dark, this year the first ABS come into existence under the provisions of the Legal Services Act 2007.

The legal profession is being so complacent and ostrich-like about ABS that Irwin Mitchell's action is a necessary corrective. It's clear from a basic analysis of the law firms in the UK that the mid-tier firms are essentially fungible. They all say they do the best work for their clients, they all hire the best graduates, they all take the finest care of their clients, and they all learn about their clients' business. It's impossible to distinguish one from the other. And most of what they say is "iffy" at best. (I'm being very mild putting it this way.)

If these firms don't think strategically about their futures, they're lost. Irwin Mitchell has moved from being a personal injury firm into a law firm that will be able to offer a range of custom made services with a strong commoditized services wing that will offer white-label services to low cost providers. It is this last part where the investment will earn its return.

The comments on The Lawyer article are of interest. They represent the traditional views which are no longer consonant with the way the legal services market is moving. I'm surprised by the blinkered views especially as this is not new. Irwin Mitchell is not unlike Australia's Slater and Gordon, a personal injury firm that floated in 2008.

Let me reflect on three aspects of the Slater and Gordon flotation that are relevant to the UK. First, the firm was reconstituted with a transparent and meritocratic career structure, something which few UK law firms have. Second, the firm grew by merger and acquisition and its success can be measured by its stock performance. Participants in the firm now possess tradeable equity. Third, the system of regulation predicated on the back of the Australian incorporated law firm legislation, ie. outcomes focussed regulation, appears to be working. See Christine Parker's paper. The UK's version will be starting soon.

Now let's see if other law firms can shake off the dust.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Associate or Is This the Life You Want?

With thanks to Peter D. Lederer via The Careerist with H/T to Solicitr.

Three associates from a 200-lawyer firm in Tennessee talk about their average day. As they say....

Josh: "There's a lot of document touching."
James: "A lot of my job is information management/document management."
Dan: "You're never in control when you leave [the office]."

And Vivia Chen notes the clip is not slick or cute but it rings terrifyingly true.

This fits remarkably well with a recent post in the Belly of the Beast on the Misery Index which says:
Large law firms and their management consultants have redefined a word — productivity — to contradict its true meaning. Recent reports from Hildebrandt and Citi measure it as everyone does: average billable hours per attorney.
From this is derived the Misery Index which is based on the proportions of associates billing more than 2,000 hours a year. Combining the MI with attrition rates would provide a true picture of a law firm's commitment to its future.

Perhaps law firms should start re-evaluating their futures. Having probably lost much expected loyalty from associates and incoming classes because of their mass culls during the recession, they will find it increasingly difficult to continue along the same path. Other professional service firms demand high levels of commitment but not in the singular way law firms do. For example, McKinsey talks about career development this way:
The pace of progress is determined by your ability to lead clients to solutions, help your colleagues succeed, and develop and share knowledge.
I've confirmed this with others.

So are we going to persist with a model that no longer really works in the new legal profession of the 21st century?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spiral--Can Life Be More Hollow?

The picture above--taken from the Canal+ website--shows the despair and hopelessness in the faces that infects this series of Spiral 3: The Butcher of La Villette. This weekend I've been catching up on missed episodes (3 and 4) and watching 5 and 6. As subfusc and drear as the setting is, I find myself on tenterhooks for the next one. (Not the best simile, I know.)

So far the series has contained political corruption (now a commonplace with a state so vast as the French), incest (consensual), Jack the Ripper-style murders, human trafficking of Russian women, police brutality, judicial malfeasance, and a few others I've missed.

Despite the negative tone of some comments, I think Spiral is wonderful. It never takes an easy way out like so many detective TV shows. Just when you think a character might have got away with something, a twist occurs to make your stomach knot in tension one more time--e.g. Raban burgles his own judicial chambers but to be seen by his pupil. Characters don't always act in character.

And you know the coffee they drink is strong and bitter and the cigarettes rough and aromatic. The smells and sounds of Paris almost come through the screen. I'm already looking forward to season 4.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

There Will Always Be an England....!

(thanks to Peter)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Looking Back on LWOW


The last two weeks have been hectic. My first week at the Law Without Walls ConPosium in Miami and then back to Brighton for the annual meeting of the Socio-Legal Studies Association meeting where I had organized the legal profession stream of papers.

The difference between the two couldn't have been more startling. LWOW was innovative, sparkling and creative. SLSA was academics sitting in rooms talking for hours on end.*

A word about the rooms--our building was "intelligent" and "green", ie. every so often the windows would open and close of their own accord; lights would switch on and off puzzling us. For the first day we feared  the doors would lock and not let us out.

So how did the LWOW ConPosium work out? Well, you could wait until May 6 and read the Time magazine report but that's a bit long to wait.

The ConPosium was structured around presentations by the students of their projects of worth. For these the selected LWOW students were paired up so they had to collaborate not compete with each other--something unusual for law students. Each team was given 50 minutes to pitch their project. You can see how it was put together here.

The founders of LWOW chose an unusual approach to evaluating and assessing the students' work. Each presentation was prefaced by a thought leader creating a context for the work in 5 minutes. Compression focusses the mind.

The students then had 25 minutes to showcase their work in whatever way they chose via Powerpoint, song, dance or poetry. As each pair had been mentored during the previous three months by an academic and a practioner member of the faculty, their project had to reflect these diverse interests.

The final stage was the "judging" which was done by a panel of academics, practitioners, and entrepreneurs. This last group gave an unusual twist to the projects because these people were concerned to see if the projects of worth could be viable in the "real world".

Over two days we watched and critiqued 11 presentations. I was blown away (sorry but the cliche works) by the creativity and imagination shown by the students powered by a fierce intelligence. Students from China, the UK, the US, and Europe crossed cultures to produce original ideas. The titles alone will give you the idea.

There was a winner but I know it sounds corny as every project had the potential to win and all the students (and faculty) came away knowing they had participated in something very special.

One final thought: every participating law school contributed much but the University of Miami School of Law is to be applauded for its imagination and daring in instigating LWOW. The founders put in enormous amounts of effort to ensure LWOW would succeed. And truly finally, Michele DeStefano Beardslee and Michael Bossone are to be congratulated for their unstinting and tireless dedication towards LWOW. Without them there would be no LWOW. I am honoured to have been part of the first phase of LWOW.

*I had one session at SLSA which consisted of three PhD students presenting their research. Wonderful seeing researchers tackling their first projects and working through the methodological and theoretical barriers. They will get there.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Law Without Walls ConPosium Starts Today!

Today is the first day of the LWOW ConPosium when the students start presenting their Projects of Worth before international judging panels of academics, practitioners, entrepreneurs and more.

Over two day 11 groups of students with their associated faculty will show their semester's work in a 50 minute workshop slot. We have students from New York, Miami, China,  and London. Culturally, it will be fascinating to see how it mixes. That picture above is appropriate after all.

More as we go through the ConPosium.....

Who You Gonna Call?

According to Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman, consumers will be confused after October when alternative business structures set up. Because consumers will be able to select from lawyers and non-lawyers to do their wills, divorce or conveyancing, if something goes wrong their ability to complain will be curtailed.

Sampson says he can only receive complaints about fully-qualified lawyers, not paralegals:
The majority of complaints it receives about legal services are unable to be dealt with as they are about unqualified professionals. Since it was created six months ago, the ombudsman has received about 40,000 complaints. It has only been able to take on 4,000 cases and has almost completed 1,500 of these. Sampson says the ombudsman receives a lot of complaints about deficient wills written by unqualified legal services providers.
This is analogous to the regulatory scope of the Financial Services Ombudsman when it started. Its scope was limited but then extended as more and more financial service providers entered the market. I imagine the Legal Ombudsman will have to take similar steps and be given the powers to do so. If not, then the legal services market will look fragmented and confusing as he predicts.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New Structures for Law Firms?

Julie Adams has written an article in Accountancy Age speculating on new structures for professional partnerships. She makes it clear that younger partners do not see the traditional model enduring.

Conventional partnerships will change into more "employee-owned" forms along the lines of the John Lewis department store model. See this discussion for how it works. This would enable employees and partners to participate in ownership but with greater ease and flexibility of movement. Their equity would be tradeable.

Of course there are other models such as the Goldman Sachs quasi-partner model which isn't a partnership but behaves like one. Stephen Harper has written about this.

Both John Lewis and Goldman have very high leverage ratios (if John Lewis can be said to have one). While some people may spend their entire careers with the firm, average tenure is short. In the case of Goldman burnout occurs after 7 years. Or as the Jesuits would say, "Give me the man and I'll show you the corpse."

Moreover, the advent of ABS there will be increased competition for senior positions as more professionals participate. The world will be more multi- and inter-disciplinary.

Technology and client demand, according to Adams, will lead to a greater segmentation of services and their delivery. Commoditization and standardization and new forms of service delivery are the key here. It's worth reading Jordan Furlong's paper "The Talent Portfolio: New Options for Where, How and By Whom Your Work Gets Done."

The part I like in Adams' article is her depiction of the changes wrought by Generation Y who use work and technology differently from earlier generations. We haven't got to grips with the potential of the scale of change here yet. In part I suspect people discount Gen Y as a fad, even chimerical. It's not and we won't be able to impose our values on it. See, for example, the shillingmesoftly blog. So, as a necessity, change will happen.

Addendum: I just came across a good post on Legal Futures about the choices to be made with respect to alternative business structures and new law firms.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Solicitors from Hell Going to Hell?

There is no stopping the campaign against Solicitors from Hell. This saga is going to run. According to Mr Justice Tugendhat Rick Kordowski is abusing the process of the court by "seeking to cause the claimants to incur costs which he says they have no prospect of recovering from himself," reports the Law Society Gazette.

Apparently Kordowski has 15 libel suits filed against him by lawyers who are offended at the complaints made by clients against them. Tugendhat said, "He plainly has a grievance against solicitors." He doesn't appear to ask why that may be so. Nor does he accept Kordowski's public interest argument.

It's worth delving behind the public rhetoric. Jon Robson interviewed Kordowski in the Guardian a short while ago. I thought this part was straightforward:

What would he say to the many lawyers appalled, perhaps devastated, by unfounded criticism placed on his site? "Go back to your client, or whoever complained about you, and sort out your differences," he replied.

Why doesn't he vet claims? Kordowski said that he once did try checking with firms before publishing. "Everyone denied the allegations and so I don't do it any more."
I was reminded of a BBC documentary on the TV programme Rough Justice. After the first person had been freed because of a miscarriage of justice, Lord Denning was interviewed saying that journalists shouldn't interfere in the work of the police and courts once the judgment had been rendered. In other words, keep quiet, take your medicine, and don't complain because it's not your place to do so.

Why do I get the feeling that history is beginning to repeat itself?

Spiral....the Grittiness Returns

After the smoothness of Silk (sorry if it sounds like a cigarette commercial), it's good to see the return (saison trois) of the gritty Spiral (with BBC website link) or Engranages in French (with French website link) on BBC4.

In the first episode we get Jack the Ripper style murderers, paedophiles, dangerous pit bulls, and a touch of voodoo. All part of a normal day in Paris. We have detectives taking blow jobs and coke from prostitutes, crooked lawyers being shot up in the street, juges d'instruction of the highest rectitude, grande dames insisting that police breathalyzers were made to detect cheap plonk not premier crus. C'est impossible!

I first wrote about Spiral in 2006 when it was shown here in the UK. I was struck by the different relationships between lawyers and prosecutors and judges in France compared to the UK and the US. If you want to see how then have a look at Lincoln Lawyer, recently released. As I said, French lawyers are more deferential than ours.

Many of the commentators at the Silk post expressed some bafflement with the oddities of English legal procedure and traditions. The French version will make them feel like they are driving around the Place de la Concorde in the wrong direction in rush hour. We focus on the lawyer as the hero whereas the French seem to honour the investigating judge as the true searcher for truth. Remember, this is a country where a law graduate chooses whether to become a judge or a lawyer.

Spiral  has some things in common with another terrific recent BBC4 series, The Killing. They aren't English. The Killing is Danish. Both the protagonists are women--strong but subtlely flawed. You have the feeling they are on the brink...Any moment...

We see them make mistakes, get chided by their superiors, and watch them wonder, for the n-th time, why they are doing it when everyone else conspires against them. Given the politics of these investigations, it's amazing that any crime is solved. Politicians and superior officers are always interfering to protect their cronies.

We are getting a nice line in policiers on TV. Denmark has given us The Killing and Wallender, France Spiral, and Italy Zen. (And I will say I am deeply grateful to the BBC for bringing us all of these.) I would love to see Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole from Olso come to the screen, but I suspect it might be a bit too gritty even after the diet we've eaten. If you haven't read The Leopard yet I recommend it but preferably before a meal not after. Since reading about "Leopold's Apple" I haven't touched one....

(Having checked out Nesbo's website (sorry can't do those funny Os with a line through them) I see one of his books--but not a Harry Hole--has been filmed, Headhunters. See also the trailer at YouTube.)

So do tune into Spiral or if you can't then watch it on the BBC's wonderful iPlayer.

For those of you outside the UK who have some difficulty persuading iPlayer to show you its wares, I recommend Tor. It does the trick and you can watch.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Government Abandons Legal Services Act--Tesco Law Dead!

In a shock U-turn the government has decided to abandon the most controversial parts of the Legal Services Act. Alternative Business Structures will not be introduced in October, if at all.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice said, "We have listened carefully to the concerns of the small firms and decided their preservation must come before innovation. Consumers are best served by traditional means. This is the essence of conservatism."

RIP Tesco Law.....