Thursday June 4 2020 Lunchtime edition
Diary news, commentary, insights, appointments and arts from the legal world
SHORT THOUGHT[s] OF THE WEEK – THE POLICING CRISIS AND THE LAW
“In these very uncertain times, lawyers have a duty to advance and protect the cause of human dignity,” says David Pressman, the former US Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and now a partner with Jenner & Block who chairs the International Bar Association’s Committee on Human Rights Law. “ Filing lawsuits will not solve the fundamental problems [the US] is grappling with. Those will come, and they should. But lawyers must serve their communities and the cause of justice holistically. Our very character as a society is being challenged, and lawyers can and must play a role in standing up for the most vulnerable amongst us.”
Meanwhile Gresham College, London’s oldest higher education Institution, announced today the appointment of Leslie Thomas QC as its Gresham Professor of Law, the first time that the post has gone to a person of colour.
“If George Floyd’s brutal and racist death teaches us anything it is what the Black Community have strongly suspected and complained about for decades,” said Professor Thomas, “namely that for all the lip service society pays to the cold legal concept such as ‘the right to a fair trial’, this is rendered utterly meaningless and sterile if you are black but never get to trial because you are killed by law enforcement agencies. The focus is wrong. The debate shouldn’t be solely about ‘due process’, it has got to start with a fundamental respect for the ‘right to life’. I intend to shine a spotlight on the deficiencies in the system and what I believe we need to do to ensure that ‘Black Lives matter’ equal to other lives.”
OUR CONTENT OF THE WEEK
+ LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
+ APPOINTMENT OF THE WEEK – TOM SNELLING AT SIGNATURE LITIGATION
+ CSR INITIATIVE OF THE WEEK
+ ARTWORK OF THE WEEK – SIMMONS & SIMMONS
+ THE LAW BUSINESS: PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE OF THE WEEK –
+ LEXWeb of the Week – Clyde & Co on Covid-19
LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
The ‘Law and Crisis Management’ webinar set up yesterday afternoon by the Center on the Legal Profession’ Harvard Law School in conjunction with Africa.com attracted a large turn-out from UK and US law firms including Dentons, Norton Rose Fulbright, Weil Gotshal, Clifford Chance, White & Case and many others along with the American Bar Association and the Law Society.
What drew them in was the theme of how lawyers could work with business and government in dealing with the challenges of Covid-19 especially in the African context. Inevitably though the first remarks of keynote speaker Eric Holder, the US Attorney General under President Obama and the first person of colour to hold that role, were directed at the crisis aroused by the George Floyd murder.
Speaking movingly about ‘using the rule of law to improve the human condition’ he reminded the audience of the obligation on lawyers ‘never to allow our moral compass to waver’. Now based in Covington & Burling and helping Africa build its legal infrastructure Holder’s implied question was how much ‘Big Law’ should be doing to support equitable development worldwide. Time to take the knee, maybe – but then step up to the plate?
THE FUTURE’S IP
One of the key points made at the Law and Crisis Management webinar by Prof. Ruth Okediji of Harvard Law School was that large parts of Africa lack the laws and the legal infrastructure to protect IP. This is a major drawback given the fact that there is plenty of innovation taking place across the continent in developing treatments for disease including Covid-19. But, in the absence of a robust IP regulatory framework, international businesses are reluctant to invest in supporting development at scale.
Maybe this is a cue for a law firm such as ‘Am Law 100’ firm Polsinelli to get involved along with its new legal services company partner UnitedLex. The two outfits have just come together this week to combine the patent experience of a traditional law firm with the cutting-edge of legal tech.
“Intellectual Property represents a strong investment vehicle during times of economic instability,” said Polsinelli Intellectual Property Department Chair, Patrick. C. Woolley. “IP should be considered a ‘real’ asset with many advantages compared to traditional real assets. Our goal is to enable companies to protect and develop new assets while establishing a new way of leveraging valuable IP assets for years to come.” Just what Africa needs right now.
GROWING GULF IN LAW
China? The USA? Is anywhere safe these days? Radha Stirling, founder and CEO of Due Process International and Detained in Doha is highlighting what she claims is the growing number of British citizens suffering ‘unjust treatment and wrongful convictions in Qatar’.
“Many people are not aware of just how pervasive Qatar’s presence is in the United Kingdom,” she says. “This is quite concerning given the severity of Doha’s treatment of British citizens in their country. We cannot help but wonder if the extent of these financial interests may be compromising Britain’s willingness to support and intervene on behalf of our citizens.”
As an example, Stirling cites businessman Ranald Crook who has been found ‘Not Guilty’ of bouncing cheques and yet remains stuck in Qatar under a travel ban. “The British government could easily intervene and resolve the situation with a few simple phone calls to the Interior Ministry – but it seems reluctant to take any action.”
Stirling suggests Qatar’s economic clout in the UK might explain why the inaction. “Qatar’s investments in the UK have been strategic, and, frankly, that is dangerous for British expats in Qatar.”
YOU COULDN’T MAKE IT UP
In a deal which would set the pulse racing of any fan of great literature Travers Smith LLP has been instrumental in the acquisition of twelve literary estates from one of the longest-established literary and talent agencies in the UK, Peters, Fraser + Dunlop by newcomer to the business International Literary Properties (ILP).
Merely to run through the authors’ names is to savour a smorgasbord of extraordinary talent and diverse styles – Georges Simenon, Eric Ambler, Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin, Dennis Wheatley, Robert Bolt, Richard Hull, George Bellairs, Nicolas Freeling, John Creasey, Michael Innes and Evelyn Waugh.
Wow! What a collection. Indeed how the seven-strong Travers Smith team led by IP, Technology & Data Partner Louisa Chambers got the job done at all is extraordinary. The Legaldiarist would have just hidden away re-reading some of those great books – especially as it was almost all done in lockdown.
“I am truly excited by the opportunity to nurture these twelve wonderful estates and to find new and exciting ways of telling the great stories that lie within them,” said Hilary Strong, CEO for ILP UK. I bet she is.
999: RING AND RUN?
Given what’s been going on in the USA it is no surprise that the performance of the British police has also come under scrutiny over the past week with accusations of excessive force being used against BAME young men featuring on news programmes. So it will be interesting to see the public’s response to the 999Run, the latest Covid-19 charity appeal, in support of the Blue Light Symphony Orchestra, the UK’s only orchestra for all emergency services personnel including the police.
The charity event is being organised by Sebastian Valentine, a detective constable in the Surrey Police Safeguarding Investigation Unit based in Guildford.“Our emergency services are working tirelessly to keep us safe, protected and healthy every day, but more so now during this coronavirus pandemic,” he says. “It is only right that we give back and help them regain some sort of normality and happiness in these difficult times.”
For more information on the charity run go to www.999run.co.uk
APPOINTMENT OF THE WEEK – TOM SNELLING AT SIGNATURE LITIGATION
When Tom Snelling started at Signature Litigation this week it made a major splash in the legal media. As former Head of the Commercial Disputes Group at Freshfields he was a big name at a leading firm with an enviable record of managing high value, complex, commercial disputes across many business sectors. With experience before the UK’s most senior appellate courts, arbitral tribunals and the CJEU he was a big catch. And although, in these crazy times, he can only meet many of his new colleagues and clients remotely, he has already hit the ground running.
Not surprising really because although Signature might be a new name to some its lawyers are old hands in the litigation business. The partnership includes a number of people like Snelling with glittering CVs who, for one reason or another, want to work in a new kind of set-up which offers high quality disputes-only work without the client-conflict issues of some big City firms. “That was one of the things that attracted me,” says Snelling.
Founded in 2012 by Graham Huntley, formerly a Group head with Hogan Lovells, the firm is constituted as a co-operative (as well as being an LLP) with an inclusive culture which enables all members of the workforce to contribute to decision-making. Even pre-lockdown there was only one meeting a month, attended by all staff and which lasted a maximum of just one hour!
That intense focus on what really matters allows lawyers to get on with the job of doing their best for clients and is ideally suited to this new post-Covid19 era of lean operations which emphasise product rather than process.
Meanwhile the prospects ahead for litigation look explosive, observes Snelling. “Over the past few months we’ve seen some legal ‘nudge theory’ going on,” he says. “Basically the UK Government has been encouraging everyone to try to be reasonable and patient with each other. But there is now an appetite for litigation building up and some clients are going to feel that they need to protect their interests even harder than before in order to get through the torrid times ahead.”
Added to that there is Brexit. Assuming the UK quits the EU, deal or no deal, in December that is likely to give rise to immense volumes of litigation. As a former member of the Brexit Law Committee which the Lord Chancellor, established to help ensure the continuing use of English law and Courts by the international business community post-Brexit, Tom Snelling is deeply familiar with both the threats and the opportunities. He is likely to be very busy.
CSR INITIATIVE OF THE WEEK – THERIUM ACCESS
In a rare glint of light for the otherwise bleak social justice scene right now Therium Access, the not-for-profit arm of global litigation funder Therium, has announced that it is contributing £100,000 to support social welfare law advice agencies during the coronavirus pandemic with the launch of the Community Justice Fund. Also involved in supporting the project are a number of law firms including Linklaters and Allen & Overy and five grant giving organisations
The aim of the Fund is to support social justice during the COVID-19 pandemic and lay the foundations for longer-term renewal of the advice sector. The fund now totals £7million and the first awards amounting to £600,000 have been made to 10 charities.
Therium Access’ Grant Programme Director, Jeunesse Mensier, is on the Project Management Group and Grant Assessment Panel at the Community Justice Fund and is part of the team awarding grants. “This is an incredibly difficult time for all those that provide free specialist legal advice, and I am proud of Therium Access’ role in supporting those during this crisis,” she said. “I look forward to working with our partners to create better access to justice for all.”
For more go to www.theriumaccess.org
ARTWORK OF THE WEEK – SIMMONS & SIMMONS
It is over thirty years since STUART EVANS, as a partner at Simmons & Simmons, started building an art collection for the firm. “I’m still working on it with enthusiasm,” he says as he talks about a recent acquisition.
“In September 2018 my son John and I attended the art fair viennacontemporary. We had been asked to take part in a conversation about collecting contemporary art.
At the fair we got to know Maksla XO gallery from Riga. They had a solo show of work by the Latvian artist Paulis Liepa (b 1978) who makes distressed printed surfaces using basic graphic techniques such as stencilling and collography . The aesthetics of Liepa’s works come from influences of the modernist graphic culture of the 1960s and 70s: design, architecture and engineering blueprints.
To amplify the effect of “oldness”, Liepa exposes his work to direct environmental influences – coagulated layers of glue, cardboard pieces scratched with a knife, layers of paint, one over another, creating a sense that the pictures have been abandoned somewhere and forgotten and rediscovered today.
Liepa’s work reflects on a wide range of philosophical and current events including everyday items from the artist’s diary. His pictures of “Rooms” reoccur. From time to time, Liepa will decide that he should move in a new direction. He makes an artwork to express this resolution graphically. Room 19 contains a wine glass, a hand gun and a cleaver.
This is the picture we bought for the Simmons & Simmons Collection. It spent eighteen months in our Citypoint London headquarters and is now installed in our Madrid office.
THE LAW BUSINESS: PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE OF THE WEEK
To open our new series of ‘Personal Perspectives’ on the Law Business CHRIS MULLEN Managing Partner ARC PENSIONS LAW reflects on the strengths of the specialist law firm
As the co-founders of Arc Pensions Law, a specialist pensions law firm, Anna Rogers, former head of Mayer Brown International’s pensions department, and I, the former head of Pinsent Masons LLP’s pensions team and then the international firm’s senior partner for a decade, first conceived of Arc back in Spring 2015.
Now celebrating our fifth anniversary and twice the winner of the British Legal Awards’ “Boutique Law Firm of the Year” the reasons for establishing a new dedicated pensions law firm seemed, for us, to be incredibly strong.
First, being able to focus exclusively on one market and dedicate all our efforts on servicing the clients in that market. What an advantage not to have to try and understand multiple types of clients across many different sectors and jurisdictions!
Second, the simplicity of the operation and the agility that comes with that: attributes that have really helped in this current Pandemic. Adjusting to rapidly fluctuating demand is no longer turning a super-tanker but pointing a speedboat on a new heading.
And finally, working with people who really understand what we’re trying to do and the clients we serve. At Arc, with the exception of our three marvellous PAs, we’re all pensions lawyers. A firm run by pensions lawyers, staffed by pensions lawyers. Communication is easy, understanding comes rapidly. The joys of having everyone pulling in the same direction!
So I’m a cheerleader for the specialist law firm. With around twenty people at Arc, we may be small, but we pride ourselves on being able to service our clients’ needs as well, if not better, than firms fifty times our size. Dedication to a market you understand well, a coherent and clear strategy and unity around that strategy – the Holy Trinity of successful law firm management. Little wonder that in so many specialist areas – IP, tech, employment, private client, tax, planning, environmental, insurance – the list is long and growing – experienced partners are leaving the larger firms and instead finding fulfilment and enjoying life, in a specialist law firm.
LEXWeb of the Week – Clyde & Co on Covid-19
Clyde & Co is running one of the most comprehensive information hubs on Covid-19 and is addressing the issue from all the possible angles. Recently it has put up an on-demand webinar on the disease and its impact on the mental health of employees. Chaired by Michael Tooma, Managing Partner of Clyde & Co Australia and author of ‘Michael Tooma on Mental Health’ the four-way discussion considers employers’ duties of care with regard to mental health and then addresses the evolving challenge of a return to work – something which is now likely to impact on many more industries.
Definitely worth a look (although the pace could be a bit quicker – everyone’s WFH so it occasionally feels as if they’ve all just dropped in for a leisurely chat).