Thursday July 30 2020 Lunchtime publication Edition 19
Diary news, commentary, insights, appointments and arts from the legal world
SHORT THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
Witnessing WILLS remotely – who would have ever believed it possible? Let alone legal? After all, who had even heard of Zoom six months ago? So, even though the social rules of engagement keep shifting, the constant is that people, the law and lawyers in particular can keep adjusting and adapting to make things work.
That should apply also, to the social make-up of the profession. As our story today about The Legal Apprentice (see Legal Diary) demonstrates, there are imaginative ways to innovate and make significant change. It really does just depend on the WILL.
In this edition
– The Legal Diary of the week
– Firms must lead action on racial inequality says Trevor Sterling
– Have Lawyer, will zoom
– Blogs from Forsters
– Podcasts from Dechert
– Images of legal London at the RCJ
– The Blank Canvass – legal art works needed
LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
HIGH STAKES IN SAUDI INVESTIGATION
Today’s news that the Serious Fraud Office has decided to bring charges in connection with possible corruption at GPT Special Project Management (a subsidiary of Airbus) by paying bribes in Saudi Arabia has brought immediate comment from white collar crime lawyers.
First out of the traps this morning was Aziz Rahman, Rahman Ravelli’s Senior Partner, who said, “The bringing of these charges could be viewed as a brave move when the possible political and economic effects on relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia are considered.
“In 2006, the Tony Blair government called off a three-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into alleged bribery by British Aerospace in relation to Saudi defence contracts, citing economic and political reasons. This case could possibly have gone the same way.
“This is a case that has taken eight years to reach the stage where charges are brought. It did certainly seem as if successive governments were simply kicking the can down the road and avoiding making a decision.
“The SFO submitted a formal request to the then Attorney General to launch a prosecution at least two years ago. The length of time for a decision to be taken was being viewed in some quarters as a sign of just how willing – or unwilling – the UK was to take a tough approach on tackling bribery when it could be politically sensitive to do so.
But we now have a decision made by the current Attorney General. While the eventual outcome obviously remains to be seen, it is to this government’s credit that it has grasped the nettle on this one.’
ANALYSE DATA, BEHAVE LEGALLY
There seems to be a growing trend of combining legal expertise with other complementary skills to carve out a unique niche in the market. Presumably it’s the attraction of offering intersectionality – where it’s better to get a combined service rather than two disjointed ones – which is the big sell.
Well, Ropes & Gray have now joined the club with its launch of an innovative new consulting service which is claimed to be unprecedented in scope: R&G Insights Lab is said to be the legal industry’s first-ever offering to focus on ‘analytics and behavioral science’. The lab will combine the legal team of Ropes & Gray with experts in analytics, behavioral science, and strategic consulting. Looks potentially very interesting. Worth viewing the video
KINGSLEY NAPLEY BACKS ‘THE LEGAL APPRENTICE’
The Legaldiarist is delighted to see that Kingsley Napley has been undeterred by the dreaded C-virus and has pushed ahead with its excellent ‘Legal Apprentice’ competition for schools.
Now in its second year – it was originally developed in conjunction with the Law Page of The Times – ‘The Legal Apprentice’ aims to give school pupils an insight into the knowledge that solicitors need and the interpersonal, communication and problem-solving skills that they apply in their day to day jobs.
Having been slogging away through a series of rounds for several months now the four successful schools – from a total of 700 teams which entered – have been announced for the big final event in September. These includeBurnley College in Lancashire, Fort Pitt Grammar School in Kent, Varndean College in Brighton, and Shenley Brook End School in Buckinghamshire. Unlike last year , however, when the final was hosted by the Times this year’s final will be virtual in form – but then isn’t most lawyersing these days?
“As a firm, we wanted to do something positive to increase social mobility within the legal profession” said Stephen Parkinson,senior partner at Kingsley Napley. “The Legal Apprentice competition helps to dispel many of the misconceptions pupils might have about a career in the law, demonstrating that it can be accessible, fun and rewarding.”
In the run up to the final showdown the four schools will be mentored by Kingsley Napley lawyers – a prize in itself. But there are generous financial rewards awaiting as well as the prospect of a Legal Apprenticeship with Kingsley Napley – a truly outstanding and life-changing outcome possible for someone.
There is just over six weeks available to make your nominations for the The Inspirational Women in Law Awards which are organised by the ‘First Hundred years’ project.
Now in their fifth year The Inspirational Women in Law Awards seek to ‘identify the trailblazers of the profession who are promoting equality in the legal industry’. Whether they are going to be affected by the ‘trans’ debate remains to be seen – lots of potential issues there – but as things stand the judges will be deciding on the winners in the following categories:
◘ Inspirational Woman of the Year, Under 35 Lawyer of the Year
◘ Inspirational Woman of the Year, In-House Lawyer of the Year
◘ Inspirational Woman of the Year, Solicitor of the Year
◘ Inspirational Woman of the Year, Barrister of the Year
◘ Inspirational Women Awards Champion of the Year (Any gender, any field, making a contribution to equality)
The nominations are open until midnight on 14th September 2020, For more details go to
CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK (Or maybe the decade)
Firms must lead action on racial inequality
says TREVOR STERLING
Is the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign going to change things for ever? Or will it lose momentum amidst a Covid recession and mounting unemployment – including in the legal sector? Come what may this is no time to stop conversations on racial inequality, declares TREVOR STERLING, Partner at Moore Barlow and UK Diversity Legal Awards’ current Lawyer of the Year. But the big question is ‘Are law firms doing enough to create safe spaces for this to happen?’
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA in May, it has been heartening to see lawyers sharing and speaking out about their experiences of racial inequality. The Black Lives Matter movement put the issue of racial equality firmly on the national agenda in the UK, and yet within the legal profession conversations around race have remained light touch.
The statistics from the Solicitors Regulation Authority give an insight into why – only three percent of lawyers are black. Change cannot therefore be driven through by those suffering racial equality, given they themselves are in the minority. Senior management, irrespective of race, need to act. In a profession that prides itself on fairness and equal treatment, we must ask ourselves whether our barriers to entry are too prohibitive to provide a solution to the problem of racial inequality.
I understand that talking about race can be uncomfortable. For people with a rudimentary understanding of racial issues, there is an understandable fear of exposing ignorance and unintentionally causing offence. For individuals who want to champion diversity and inclusion, it is can be tiring and frightening to speak out and risk exposing yourself. However, if a conversation is uncomfortable, it is likely worth having.
The expectation is now on firms to create, and senior management in particular to encourage, safe environments for open discussion and action. I do not think the profession fully understands the importance of building these safe spaces yet, but encouraging people to ask questions and share personal experiences must happen for us to achieve systemic change and build a more diverse workforce.
From my personal experience, I welcomed Moore Barlow’s Managing Partner, Ed Whittington, sending a vlog to all staff raising the issue of systemic inequality and opening the conversation in May. The firm is taking more action, introducing Leadership Development training with a core component looking to address how leaders can create a culture of psychological safety for everyone at the firm.
Firms must continue the conversation so we can achieve real change – it is time to put action into words.
DEBATE OF THE WEEK
HAVE LAWYER< WILL ZOOM
There’s been an immense amount of comment about the proposals to permit the witnessing of wills by zoom etc. – some for, some against. The precedent-setting Dr NICHOLAS BEVAN, Solicitors Title LLP is very much a supporter.
Within two weeks of joining Solicitors Title LLP, I was presented with an interesting challenge. A client wanted to make a will; but was ensconced 150 miles away in self-isolation due to the onset of the coronavirus lockdown.
The legal profession has been uniform in asserting that section 9 of the Wills Act 1837, which prescribes the formalities for a valid will, insists on the physical presence of a witness. However, when I researched the point, I discovered that nowhere in any of its statutory iterations, which date back to the Statute of Frauds 1677, nor in the extensive body of judicial rulings interpreting them, was this ever stipulated. What the law actually requires is a clear ‘line of sight’: one that enables a witness to attest to the fact that the testator signed or acknowledge the will.
I duly executed the client’s will on 1 May 2020, employing live-streaming video technology to manage and witness the whole procedure remotely from my office. The client didn’t touch or sign a single document. In doing so, I inadvertently set a legal precedent.
I shared my research with the Government in a detailed report, and received a gracious and encouraging reply. However, given that the Law Commission and many others were trenchantly insisting on the need for a physical presence, the government informed me that it had decided to provide legislative clarification.
The government’s press statement last Friday goes some way to clearing the log jam caused by this increasingly polemical issue, confirming ‘video-witnessing’ is capable of constituting a valid ‘presence’ if certain protocols, matching my own, are adhered to and sanctions ‘video witnessed’ Wills made after 31 January 2020. A somewhat bewildering two year time limit follows – surely either video wills are valid under the existing law or they are not!
P.S. But not everyone agrees Philip Collins, Head of Winckworth Sherwood’s Contested Estates comments: “We are very concerned about any watering down of the current requirements. The risk of undue influence is clear – professionals and witnesses cannot be sure who else is in the room when a testator is giving instructions or signing their will. The lack of face-to-face contact makes it that much harder to assess someone’s health and their capacity to make a will. We suspect this will just add to the increasing number of disputed wills and estates in the future.”
On the other hand according to Daniel Watson of Hunters Law: While the strictness of the existing Will-signing requirements acts as a safeguard against fraud and undue influence, the law relating to the witnessing of Wills has nevertheless been slow to adapt to reflect changes in technology and society (in contrast with areas of law such as contract law, where the use of technology to facilitate the signing of documents has been much more readily incorporated).
BLOGS OF THE WEEK
– FORSTERS ON REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENTS
In this funny old Summer it is difficult to gauge who is on holiday, who is working flat out and who is just twiddling their thumbs waiting for something to happen.
Fortunately for lawyers in the real estate business the Government and the Law Commission have been busy proposing and making real changes which should stir up in interest – and then activity – among the clients.
The main proposals cover leaseholders. Although changes to leaseholders’ rights came in a few years ago they did not make much impact. Now reforms to leasehold enfranchisement and commonhold look set to give bite to leaseholders who feel that they are still getting a bad deal. To help galvanise reaction Forsters has seized on the announcements to issue in the past few days a series of blogs which scope out the changes and indicate the issues that people need to think about to take advantage of them.
The blogs now available are
- Reform to leasehold Enfranchisement, The Law Commission’s final report by Property Litigation Associate, James Carpenter [See https://www.forsters.co.uk/news/blog/reform-leasehold-enfranchisement-law-commission-final-report ]
- Exercising the Right to Manage, The Law Commission’s final report by Property Litigation Senior Associate, Emma Gosling [ See https://www.forsters.co.uk/news/blog/exercising-the-right-to-manage-law-commissions-final-report ]
- Commonhold, The Law Commission’s final report by Property Litigation Senior Associate, Lucy Zaremba. [See https://www.forsters.co.uk/news/blog/commonhold-law-commissions-final-report ]
Meanwhile, the government’s attempts to perk up the High Street through changing the use classes orders from September are described in Changes to the Use Classes Order in England by Planning Senior Associate, Laura Parrish [Go to https://www.forsters.co.uk/news/blog/changes-use-classes-order-england-planning-permission-development-rights ]
Blog-power – showing the world you know!
PODCAST OF THE WEEK
– DECHERT ON COMPLIANCE
Dechert is continuing with its regular Coffee Break Compliance Broadcast Series. Episode Four on Due Diligence came out last week. “This series provides insight on several issues, including how to instill corporate values, ensure maximum engagement from remote training, revisit risk assessments and due diligence processes, monitor financial controls and leverage technology,” says the firm. Each broadcast runs approximately 10 minutes.
LEGAL LONDON SHOTS OF THE WEEK
– THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE
We continue with our occasional series with some snaps and snappy comment on the RCJ by Dan Dodman, Partner at GOODMAN DERRICK LLP
The Royal Courts of Justice are the most recognisable legal building in the city and seem to sum up the elegance and mystic associated with the profession as a whole. I certainly remember the dread of attempting to pay Court fees to have a claim issued shortly before 4pm on a Friday and having to negotiate the labyrinthine corridors to numerous offices without any real idea where I was going. How much easier do young trainees have it in the Rolls building?!
The building was allocated £1,453,000 of public money in 1865 for purchase and building. Initially expected to take six years, construction dragged on for a further two as a result of employment wrangles (stonemasons on strike), bad weather and financial distress. Queen Victoria herself opened the building in 1882, but the architect, G.E. Street, had already died during the build – it is said down to the stress of the project itself. The RCJ’s 35 million bricks and three miles of corridors represent his legacy in many ways.
It is said that there are over 1,000 clocks in the building and there is a gentleman who comes in twice a week to wind them and keep them on time. How else to work out whether you have missed that key 4pm deadline or not?
ARTWORK OF THE WEEK – THE BLANK CANVASS
These is a gap on our ‘wall’ this week where a terrific art work from a law firm should be on display.
For next week – and the weeks to follow – we should love to hear from firms who would like to present an image and some comment on their favourite in-house painting, sculpture or photos. We are very grateful to those firms who have contributed some of their key works over the past five months but we are keen to throw a wider net. Please get in contact if you have art on your walls – probably unseen at this time and which you would like to share.