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04/11/22-The stories behind the legal sector news

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Lawyers are Ukraine’s great hope

In an address to the International Bar Association (IBA) last week, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky told his audience that the law and its practitioners can bring the closure his country’s people will so desperately need once the conflict with Russia finally ends.

Speaking at the IBA’s annual conference in Miami Beach via video link on Sunday, President Zelenksy stated that every war crime perpetrated by Russian forces would be investigated and the guilty parties brought to justice:

“I would like to draw attention to the fact that lawyers will put an end to this war after the military, after the politicians […] Lawyers will ensure that all those guilty of terror are brought to justice and that all damages caused by Russia are compensated at the expense of the assets of the aggressor state itself. It is this kind of justice that should be the end of the evil that Russia has brought.”

President Zelensky also praised the efforts of the international community in this endeavour, which have been stepped up recently. He said that his country is already working with law enforcement in the US and the International Criminal Court to bring suspected war criminals to justice. Ukraine has also set up the Special Compensation Mechanism, which will confiscate Russian assets and use the proceeds of their sale to compensate the Ukrainian people for the losses they have suffered as a result of the war.

“This is a chance for all of us to establish the force of international law,” the president added.

The war has displaced millions of people in Ukraine, and Russian missiles and bomb attacks have devastated several of the country’s cities and critical parts of its infrastructure, including several power stations. There have been widespread reports of rape and sexual violence, and several mass graves have been discovered in the country after Ukrainian forces managed to repel the invading Russian Army, including a burial site containing 440 bodies in Izyum.

During a separate IBA conference event on how Ukraine might be rebuilt after the war, the audience heard from the IBA’s executive director and international criminal expert Mark Elliss, who stated that more than 30,000 incidents of alleged war crimes have been documented and recorded to date.

He spoke of the unprecedented focus on accountability for the events in Ukraine, but went on to outline his belief that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should not play a major role in any future prosecutions, describing the ICC as merely a complement to domestic legal communities. Instead, he feels that those accused of war crimes in the Ukraine should also stand trial in that country.

The prospect of any prosecutions still feels very distant as the war rages on. But as the saying goes, hope springs eternal.

Chambers scratch their heads over their barristers’ money laundering status

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has issued a warning after its annual money-laundering report highlighted significant confusion amongst chambers as to their barristers’ money-laundering status – not a great look at a time of heightened public awareness of Russian oligarchs’ filthy lucre sloshing around in the country’s capital city.

According to the BSB report, a substantial number of chambers are uncertain whether or not their barristers have declared themselves subject to the money-laundering regulations (MLRs) – even though this information is important to chambers so that clerks have “appropriate controls in place when engaging with clients, particularly in relation to conducting customer due diligence”.

The BSB’s money-laundering report is based on 247 chambers, of which only 27 declared that they did work that fell under the MLRs. Yet 11 of these chambers “did not have oversight of the declarations their barristers were making” about money laundering when completing their authorisation to practise forms. And amongst those chambers that declared they did no work that fell under the MLRs, there was a “common theme” that this position was “inconsistent with the declarations” made by their barristers. Uh-oh.

Overall, the BSB report highlights a general sense of confusion and the need for more training in chambers regarding the MLRs, with the regulator reporting that “barristers have not always been clear about when the MLRs apply to their work, resulting in a large number declaring that they do work under the MLRs when they do not”.

Concerns over money-laundering have been particularly acute since February in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the UK government’s sanctions on Russia. Yet this issue of the corrupting influence of potentially illegally and immorally obtained money is by no means new, as Mark Neale, director general of the BSB, notes in his foreword to the report: “There has been a consistent focus by successive governments on the threat that illicit finance poses to society and to the reputation of the UK as an attractive place for global business, and we expect that to continue.”

Neale describes the “scale of the agenda” as significant, and states that the Bar expects the Government to play its part. However, ensuring that barristers actually know, understand and follow the existing rules would seem like a good place to start.

What’s the verdict?

The influential House of Commons justice select committee has told the Government that it needs to improve access to court judgments for lawyers and journalists. In a series of suggested reforms included in its recent report, the committee recommends overhauling the way that judgments are stored and published so that they can be accessed without having to pay large sums of money for this information.

Although the Government tasked the National Archives with setting up the Find Case Law service – the first comprehensive and free online repository of court judgments from England and Wales – last year, the committee felt this did not go far enough.

The panel of MPs welcomed the service, but stated that: [This] “should represent the first step in improving the public accessibility of judgments. HMCTS should reform the way that judgments are collected, stored and published so that there is less reliance on commercial legal publishers. The judgments of courts are the product of a publicly funded justice system and the public, the media and the legal sector should not have to pay significant sums for access.”

One of the main  recommendations made in the report is the creation of a digital portal modelled on the US-based Public Access to Court Electronic Records model. This would provide access to court documents including court lists via a streamlined process.

Other recommendations in the report include an AI-driven transcription service to reduce the cost of transcripts, the on-demand recording and transcribing of magistrates’ sentencing remarks, and a review of existing contracts to make transcripts more accessible to journalists and the public.

The report’s findings and recommendations were welcomed by Dr Natalie Byrom, head of the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice Lab and a member of the Ministry of Justice’s senior data governance panel, who called the existing arrangements for accessing court data and information “archaic, expensive and opaque”.

As Government departments brace themselves for the announcement of further cuts to their budgets later this month, we can’t help but wonder if the proposed reforms – which all seem eminently sensible – will be acted on any time soon. We’re certainly not holding our breath.

How green was my ESG?

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) wants to introduce restrictions on how terms such as ‘ESG’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ can be used in the marketing of investment products, as part of a proposed raft of measures to crack down on greenwashing.

Aimed at increasing consumer protection, the FCA’s other suggested changes include sustainable investment product labelling to give consumers the confidence to choose the right products for them; consumer-facing disclosures to help consumers understand the key sustainability-related features of an investment product; and requirements for distributors of products, such as investment platforms, to ensure that the labels and consumer-facing disclosures are accessible and clear to consumers.

The clamp-down is a reaction to the recent proliferation in investment products marketed as being particularly green or sustainable – claims which are often exaggerated and misleading, thereby undermining consumer trust and confidence. As Sacha Sadan, the FCA’s Director of Environment Social and Governance, states in the organisation’s press release:

“Greenwashing misleads consumers and erodes trust in all ESG products. Consumers must be confident when products claim to be sustainable that they actually are. Our proposed rules will help consumers and firms build trust in this sector. This supports investment in solutions to some of the world’s biggest ESG challenges.”

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, anything that gives a weary, wary public good cause to feel slightly less cynical and jaded can only be welcomed – as long as the FCA’s measures have sharp enough teeth with which to bite repeat offenders, of course.

Lawyers are going to need to be mindful that this is likely to be coming their way through their own regulator, as well as being in an excellent position to advise their clients on the FCA’s requirements with regards greenwashing.

Boies Schiller flashes the cash in its recruitment drive

Boies Schiller Flexner is to offer its UK associates the option of either partner-style “formula compensation” or standard, market-competitive salaries in a bid to recruit and retain new talent.

Time will tell whether this incentive proves a strong enough draw to restore the fortunes of the US firm’s London arm: what started as a steady trickle of departing partners in 2020 turned into a mass exodus in January this year when virtually the entire office departed.

So what happened? The attorneys who departed in 2020 apparently cited concerns over transparency, culture and the health of the firm as their reasons for leaving. But what seems to really have devastated Boies Schiller’s London operations is the departure of its former London managing partner Natasha Harrison, who left to set up her own boutique law firm, Pallas Partners LLP.

And guess who hired most of those departed partners, associates and staff? That’s right, Pallas Partners, which continues to go from strength to strength. Natasha is obviously doing something right.

Google reviews of law firms – the good, the bad and the ugly

Here at TBD, we are card-carrying data geeks. Which is why we recently decided to crunch some data on Google reviews of law firms, to see what insights we can glean. In the process, we came across some pretty interesting – and, at times, downright amusing – reviews, a sample of which we have shared with you below:

“If Carlsberg made lawyers… Just saying…” – review of Ashurt, average Google review rating 4.4

“God is watching” – review of BDB Pitmans, average Google review rating 4.4

“Fruit salad sweets on reception. Would have preferred a Black Jack.” – review of Kingsley Napley, average Google review rating 3.8

“Took 28 phone calls and being on hold for 45 mins several times to get to talk to someone. But very helpful when I spoke to someone” – review of TLT, average Google review rating 3

If you are interested in seeing some of our data and our findings on Google reviews, please get in touch. One thing we can share with you here: it is important to respond to each review, no matter how outrageous the reviewer’s claims or how bland or anodyne your response – otherwise, it creates the impression that you cannot be bothered, which in turn increases the veracity of the original complaint in the reader’s mind. Oh, and do be sure to put out a selection of sweets at reception.

Dates for your diary

  • 4 November 22 (today) – The King will host a reception at Buckingham Palace ahead of the Cop27 Summit in Egypt. This will hopefully make up for Downing Street putting its foot down and ‘requesting’ that the monarch not attend the summit himself. The reception will bring together over 200 international business leaders, decision makers and NGOs to mark the end of the United Kingdom’s presidency of Cop26 and look ahead to the Cop27 Summit.
  • 6 November 22 – The Cop27 Summit will get under way in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt. The event marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. According to the Cop27 mission statement, the summit’s aim is to “seek to accelerate global climate action through emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts and enhanced flows of appropriate finance.”
  • 6 November 22 – Tickets go on sale for Glastonbury Festival. The virtual box office for general admission tickets, priced at £335 plus a £5 booking fee, opens at 6 pm.
  • 6 November 22 – All good things come in threes: 6 November also happens to be when the first episode of I’m a Celebrity 2022 airs on ITV at 9 pm. This year’s series will feature everyone’s favourite disgraced former health secretary, Matt ‘Handsy’ Hancock, who has forfeited the Conservative Party whip so he can travel to the jungle in order to eat kangaroo penis (or will it be ostrich anus?) and thereby “deliver important messages to the masses”. Oh, and pocket a purported £350k fee. Let’s just hope he doesn’t share his blinding political insights with the benighted viewers while his mouth is still full…
  • 7 November 22 – The Grenfell Tower Inquiry resumes after a three-month hiatus with closing statements from lawyers.
  • 10 November – The Westminster and Holborn Law Society’s Annual Dinner 2022 will be held at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall Place, London. The black-tie event will give attendees the opportunity to meet other members and guests of Westminster & Holborn Law Society at all stages of their legal careers and enjoy a champagne reception and three-course dinner with wine in the splendour of the National Liberal Club’s beautiful rooms.

Thanks, as always for reading this edition. We hope that you liked it – encourage your friends and contacts to subscribe.

Si Marshall

Legal marketing expert – I love lawyers, their stories and how they help clients | Marketing | PR | Digital Marketing | Business Development | LinkedIn training | Directories | Awards | Research | #SimonSays

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