Wednesday, August 31, 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Given that hardly anyone is wearing clothes and most of the action takes place on the beach, one isn't aware of modern historical references, only those situated in the story.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....


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What's Wrong with Sponsoring Law Degrees?

(thank you Colin)

Saturday, August 20, 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.


Wednesday, August 17, 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.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Google Law!

(thanks to

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....


Tuesday, August 09, 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.

Friday, August 05, 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.


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...


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.