Friday, May 18, 2012

Studs Terkel Would Be 100 Years Old This Week

(In trademark red-checked shirt and red socks, Terkel sips a Quad Club martini during Alumni Weekend 2004

One of my heroes is Studs Terkel. And this year it is his centenary. Terkel died in 2008 at 96. He's my hero because of the way he interviewed people and did oral history.

In a lovely article in The University of Chicago Magazine (h/t to Peter Lederer), the author says
Terkel became famous once he began to interview the unfamous people whom he described as the “et cetera” of history.
 His voice was soothing and warm. His tone was sympathetic and interested. He engaged with people in such a way that good conversation was ineluctable. His books, Division Street, and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, told us about America and the ways of everyday life. And, by extension, about our own condition wherever we are.

I used to listen to his radio programme when I was in Chicago doing my PhD at Northwestern. WMFT was a classical music station, the nearest thing I could find to BBC Radio 3 (in pre-internet and iPlayer days). For an hour each morning up would pop Studs Terkel talking to someone...anyone...famous or was always interesting. I remember thinking what a great job, to be able to talk to people all the time.

As much as I enjoy reading books, I love going out on an interview never knowing whether I will hear something so interesting, it makes me go "Wow." That feeling of coming across something new is a tremendous feeling.

Maybe Terkel didn't theorize in the way that social scientists are "meant" to do, but in fact he did so. Terkel drew out the salient details of a person's story in such a way that the story made sense and had a feeling of completeness about it that rambling narratives never achieve. To do that with the "et cetera" of society is a wonderful skill.

I've just published my first foray into oral history with Peter Lederer on "Becoming a Cosmopolitan Lawyer", which can be downloaded from SSRN or the Fordham Law Review, along with other papers. We are planning much more.

Oral history is a great way to learn about the world and I encourage legal and socio-legal researchers to use it. There's a long list of resources here.

But the final word must go to Studs Terkel
People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Return of "Silk" (Series 2)

(BBC "Silk")

Horace Rumpole relied on the South London crime family, the Timsons, to keep him supplied with adequate draughts of Chateau Embankment, a claret designed to curl your toes.

The return of "Silk" on BBC1 (series 2) introduces us to a new London criminal family, the Farrs, on which Billy, the senior clerk, hopes the future profits of Shoe Lane chambers will rely. But only if their solicitor, the aptly named Mickey Joy, likes the performance of the barristers. By which he doesn't mean their forensic skill but rather their compliance with the larger family concerns.

To say the Farrs are like the Borgias in wickedness is to malign that estimable Florentian family. The Farrs are thugs. Their heavy man, Brendan, pulls out the eyes of his victim. The government having cut legal aid the criminal bar is struggling to keep their horse hair wigs alive. So means to an end....

We see Billy having whisky discussions with Mickey in the local pub. He wants to be the only supplier of barristers to Mickey. And since he's got three barristers on his cases, Billy thinks he's on to a winner if only the barristers play along. But there's the rub.

Enter our dashing new silk (QC), Martha Costello. Working class lass from up north beats posh southern kid, Clive Reader, to the golden prize of Queen's Counsel. (I've already made my views clear on that to the dismay of many barristers.) Martha don't like Mickey because her client, the heavy Brendan, clearly has the IQ of a 5 year old and is being set up by the Farrs to take the fall.

Billy gets Clive to act as her junior in the case. Clive is still smarting from not getting silk and to compensate has bought himself a very powerful Norton motorbike. Clive the posh boy in the Cameron-Osborne mould, is prepared to cut a few ethical corners here and there if it keeps him in well with the clerks.


Martha is as naive as Billy is manipulative. Somehow, and you have to suspend disbelief here, she persuades the jury that Brendan, all 6 foot 7 inches and 250 pounds of him, is a hard done by lad. Instructed to remove the victims eyes, nose, ears, tongue and fingers, he only takes out the eyes because he's kind. Then he calls 999 (or 911). Instead of taking the fall, he's acquitted.

You can see what's coming next, can't you? The Farrs are pissed off. So just before Martha is to take her silk victory lap up Middle Temple Lane, Billy gets a call to say that Brendan's eyes, ears, etc have been removed and he's dead.

Martha's heart is in the right place but she's seriously lacking street smarts. I hope her new wig keeps her brain warm.

As much as "Silk" irritates me, I enjoy it. And I classify watching it as work which most people can't do. So I'll be in for the whole series. More to come.

One point: these TV series about barristers are incestuous. In 2000 there was a better TV show called "North Square" about a set of barristers chambers in Leeds. The actor who plays Mickey, Phil Davis, was the senior clerk, Peter, in "North Square" (even more Machiavellian than Billy) and Clive (Rupert Penrys-Jones) was one of the barristers, Alex--again a posh boy.

Both "Silk" and "North Square" were created by the same writer, Peter Moffat, a British playwright.

Then, would you Adam and Eve it, Phil Davis (Mickey/Peter) and Rupert Penrys-Jones (Clive/Alex) both turn up in another TV show called "Whitechapel" (2009) about copycat Jack the Ripper murders where Rupe is the posh, naive, educated CID inspector and Phil is the trustworthy, university of life trained sergeant.

At this rate they'll take over every legal TV show going....Stop!

Quick Followup: The Guardian has an interview with Peter Moffat, "Silk's" writer. One of the comments refers to an even more lively Australian barrister series called "Rake". Here's the blurb:
Barrister Cleaver Greene's life continues to spiral out of control - the latest blow being the beating he's just received from Mick Corella's stand-over man Col for unpaid gambling debts. As usual, Cleaver retreats to the arms of his lover/friend/confidant Missy, a high class call girl who works at a brothel also frequented by Cleaver's friend, Attorney General, Joe Sandilands.
Can't wait to see this one!


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Make Love Not War?

While Sacha Baron Cohen assumed the role of Dictator at the Festival Hall yesterday, a group of legal regulators were slugging it out next door. Lord knows what would have happened if both sides met...

Russell-Cooke, a big London law firm, organized a 'debate-seminar-symposium' on Enforcing Regulatory Standards in a Liberalised Market with Lord Neuberger (Master of the Rolls, which means he heads up the civil side of the appeal court), David Edmonds (chairman of the Legal Services Board), John Wotton (president of the Law Society), and Maura McGowan QC (vice-chairman of the Bar).

It was lively. (The hashtag #regstandards on Twitter will give you a flavour of the flow of events.) Lord Neuberger set the tone by chiding the marketization of law and the ever-burgeoning market in regulators. He's talked about this before. Law is something special and the rule of law is central to civilized society. So, are all the changes emanating from the Legal Services Act 2007 good?

David Edmonds met this challenge straight on by stating that outcomes focused regulation (OFR) is the only form of regulation compatible with professional ethics. And that consumers need to be put first--"I fear that I plead guilty to having unremittingly acted in the interests of the consumer." This is in contrast to a speech Neuberger gave in 2010 called "The Tyranny of the Consumer or the Rule of Law." (I know because he quoted from a paper of mine about the brave new world which he didn't like.)

Edmonds' stance is quite simple and not antithetical to Neuberger's own wishes: "In short, I want to see the legal profession adopt the same commitment to consumer care as it does to client care – to embrace modern business ethics alongside those of the profession. They are not mutually exclusive and each reinforces the other." Moreover, lawyers are not the sole possessor of ethical values and "it is demeaning in this debate to imply that non-lawyers are inclined to be less ethical than any other group running a business." (There's more over at Legal Futures.)

I feel that what Edmonds said--and you should read his complete speech--was considered, rational, and not contentious, in the modern world. You wouldn't have thought so from the responses.

First up was the president of the Law Society, John Wotton. He complained that OFR is leading to more detailed regulatory rules and therefore higher costs. But this is the way the front line regulators have interpreted OFR: there's no need for them to take this direction. The Law Society would like less regulation because consumer demand would achieve the same ends. But Wotton recognized that the ABS application process was slow and the Law Society and the SRA need to collaborate more on speeding up that process. Overall, Wotton knows the legal market has changed fundamentally and is subject to forces like globalization. For example, see his speech to the American Bar Association.

Having set out his general view, Wotton then called for ethics to be embedded in legal education. That's not a bad thing perhaps but it isn't the answer to improving behaviours. Secondly, he wanted will writers to be governed by the same rules as ABS. Thus we have pleas for more regulation, not less.

Then it was the Bar's turn. Maura McGowan presented the rule of law as antithetical to the idea of markets. Consumers were not the arbiters, just as Neuberger has asserted. Outcomes were not the defining instances, but it is process that is important. This is where the Bar tries to make a canny move. If you aren't part of the market, you can claim special treatment. Why? Because the Bar has a wider duty to the public and the courts and is beyond markets.

In some ways the Bar has sought and enjoyed the aura of a priesthood. But priests, the clergy and others have always had a necessary and close connection to the market. I always enjoy watching the religious channels on American TV--just incredible performances in the creation of mass adulation. Evangelicals are now the fastest growing religious group in Roman Catholic Latin America, for example.

The Bar thinks OFR inappropriate for itself. The public interest comes first before the consumer interest, which in itself doesn't make any sense.

Moreover, McGowan inveighed against the legal education and training review. It was too much too soon. She accused Edmonds of saying that legal education wasn't fit for purpose. If one reads Edmonds' Upjohn lecture on legal education it doesn't say that: it does deplore the lack of dialogue between education and practice.

We know legal education needs reform. I question whether the legal regulators are the best ones to lead it. After listening to the Law Society and the Bar Council, I'm not optimistic. Well, let's see what they come up with......

I felt both the Law Society and Bar Council wanted to snipe at the Legal Services Board. I don't mind that but as representative bodies of their respective groups they don't seem as clued up about what is happening in the legal services market as they should be. The Bar isn't standing still. See how Riverview Chambers is shaking up the orthodoxy with its fixed fee packages (with a new one for divorce).

It was clear that they really only see from the perspective of the profession, which is too blinkered. They need to become aware of the market and how the market, and its buyers, view them. That was beautifully summarized when someone said, "Consumers don't actually want to buy legal services."

Perhaps the last word should be left to a speaker from the floor who remarked that being complained about to the Legal Ombudsman wasn't a bad thing but actually was a good thing as one could learn what the complaints were telling you and therefore improve. The panel speakers didn't really embrace that one wholeheartedly. No surprises there...

PS. Interesting article in Solicitors Journal on this event: Bar walking backwards slowly according to Edmonds....


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy 7th Birthday, Blog!

I created my blog 7 years ago today so I'd just like to say thank you to some who made it possible for me to inflict my views on you in this fashion. These are the blog's inventors--slightly weird looking as you'd expect...

Beardy, here, is Jorn Barger, credited with creating the term "weblog" in 1997, from whence our activity derives.

Peter Merholz, who is just plain creepy looking, sorry, moved things a step further by coining "blog" from "weblog" by dividing the word into "we blog" in 1999.

Things move glacially in the blogging world don't they--two whole years from weblog to blog.

Then we come to Evan Williams, who gives us two for one! First, he created Blogger in August 1999, which was bought by Google in 2003. Blogger made the whole enterprise easy and, if Wikepedia is right (my research is impeccable, no?) there are over 156 million blogs.

Williams didn't stop there. Believing small is beautiful--a Schumacherian--he went on to invent Twitter.

"We now have the entire world in one hundred & forty characters. What more do we need? So I shall just say, Happy Birthday my blog, have fun!"

See? 140 characters!


Monday, May 07, 2012

Law Tech Camp London 2012

(thanks to

Be ready to experience something different in the legal world on June 29 when Law Tech Camp London 2012 opens.

What is a Law Tech Camp?
lawTechCamp is a BarCamp-style community UnConference for new media and technology enthusiasts and legal professionals including bloggers, twitters, legal-technology lawyers, social networkers, and those curious about new media and the law. Anyone with an interest in technology, law, and innovation--especially in the wake of UK deregulation--will want to attend.
lawTechCamp is not just for lawyers. It is also for students and the public. For example, students from the Michigan State Law - Westminster Law 21st Century Law Practice Summer Program will be in attendance.
You can see more of the Toronto Law Tech Camp here.

This is a new venture for London
Building off the strength of LawTechCamp Toronto - LawTechCamp London will be the first such event held outside of North America.

lawTechCamp is not just for lawyers.  If you are interested in the intersection of law and technology, such as legal issues facing startups, access to justice issues, or someone just interested in technology or law, then please join us – and please tell a friend or colleague to register today.

Attendance is free, but registration is required.  Space is limited – so please register today!

This event is brought to you by the following organizers:
 So we look forward to seeing you real life or virtually!


Sunday, May 06, 2012

What to Do When You Feel the Need to Let Off Steam!

You whip a tornado ball around very fast and very hard.....

With thanks to @katytrainer at @londonfieldsfit.