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21/10/22-The stories behind the legal sector news

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Do law-firm partnerships have a diversity problem?

new study has found that just 90 of more than 13,000 partners at major law firms in England and Wales are black. The 1% Study, named after the approximate proportion of black partners at law firms with more than 10 partners, said that the legal sector had much to learn from the endeavours made in other industries to attract, retain, develop and promote diverse talent into senior positions.

extense, a specialist legal sector inclusion consultancy, conducted interviews with 65 black partners at major firms for the 21-month-long study, which is endorsed by the Law Society and the Black Solicitors Network and sponsored by major law firms. Amongst other things, participants stated that they felt like “outsiders” and under more intense scrutiny than their white peers, as well as experiencing pressure to assimilate.

The report identifies five key actions it says law firms are not currently taking: linking executive compensation to diversity and inclusion outcomes, training for supervisors in managing diverse teams, support for the “nuanced needs and challenges acutely faced by black talent”, sponsorship programmes to target underrepresented talent and delegating work and career development opportunities equitably, including through the use of algorithmic technology.

This damning report provides data-based evidence of the fact that, despite talking a good game around Diversity & Inclusion, many firms really have to start putting their money where their mouth is and make tangible, real-world progress to bring more diversity to their partnerships.

Burgess Mee commended for The Happy Co-Parent in the FT Innovative Lawyers report

The team at Burgess Mee, a firm specialising in family law, have been commended in the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers report for their pioneering The Happy Co-Parent website.

The site provides a wealth of information and helpful tips on co-parenting. This includes co-parenting scenes (video clips of common co-parenting scenarios, re-enacted by professional actors with analysis by Antonia Mee, partner at Burgess Mee), a video series with experts on different issues, and a section called “Ask Sheila”, where expert family mediator and therapist Sheila Turner answers letters from the public asking for advice on their co-parenting conundrums.

We applaud Burgess Mee for creating such a useful free resource for people navigating their way through the minefield of co-parenting and congratulate them on being recognised by the FT for their endeavours.

Trust in lawyers is hard to come by amongst young offenders

Last week, we reported on the shaky truce between the Ministry of Justice and the Criminal Bar Association following months of industrial action by the CBA over the parlous state of the legal aid system. Now a damning report into the lack of trust between young defendants and their lawyers highlights the corrosive effects of a chronically overburdened and underfunded criminal justice system.

In a recent article published in the Law Society Gazette, journalist Monidipa Fouzder reports on the results of a survey conducted by Fair Trials, which campaigns for fair and equal criminal justice systems across the globe. According to the organisation’s report, young defendants lack trust and confidence in their lawyers, often feeling poorly advised by them The young respondents highlighted a lack of care and perceived incompetence and impartiality, which led them to make poorly informed choices with far-reaching consequences.

Many of the young people surveyed spoke of rushed conversations with their lawyers in which they were pressured to plead guilty and made to feel they were a burden. The respondents also strongly assumed that duty solicitors and legal aid lawyers lacked financial incentives to secure the best possible result.

This assumption was underpinned by an awareness that the criminal justice system is under severe strain and that the current legal aid system makes it impossible for defence lawyers to put in the necessary time and effort into their clients’ cases.

The Fair Trials report is based on survey responses from 27 young adults serving prison sentences in England and Wales, and on group discussions with 12 people who were processed through the criminal justice system as young adults.

Fair Trials acknowledges that participants who volunteered to take part in the study might have had strong feelings about their experiences, but that organisation has “no reasons to suspect that the opinions expressed by people who took part in this research were in any way exceptional or unusual.”

A Law Society spokesperson commented on the findings of the Fair Trials survey: “[…] the report is a reminder of the potential loss of trust in the criminal justice system that may arise if defence lawyers are not paid sufficiently to spend time building their client’s confidence in them and in the system.

“Solicitors are the backbone of our criminal justice system but will continue to leave the profession in their droves unless they are fairly remunerated for the crucial work they do.”

Given that Jeremy Hunt – the fourth chancellor in as many months – has hinted at further belt-tightening in public spending following the disaster that was the mini-budget, it seems unlikely that criminal barristers will see any further improvement in the MoJ deal they voted to accept last week. Or that the criminal justice system will make a miraculous recovery anytime soon.

More female expert witnesses needed

When it comes to complex legal disputes, both sides often rely on the testimony of expert witnesses to help explain technical details to a judge, jury and/or arbitrator. Such witnesses are well-respected professionals in their field, which can be anything from medicine, law and accountancy to forensic pathology, cybercrime and DNA fingerprinting.

Despite there being almost an infinite variety of specialist topics to give expert testimony on, there is one thing that many expert witnesses have in common: being male. In fact, the overwhelming majority of expert witnesses used in court proceedings are men, as a recent article in the Financial Times reports.

There is little data on the exact proportion of women acting as expert witnesses. However, one recent study by PwC and Queen Mary University showed that, of the expert witnesses used in arbitral proceedings by the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and New York between 2014 and 2018, 89% were men. And just 16% of the experts listed in the Who’s Who Legal expert witnesses directory are female.

An initiative has now been launched to widen the pool of female expert witnesses and improve the visibility of women testifying in courtrooms. The Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses campaign is the brainchild of Kathryn Britten, a chartered accountant and managing director at global consulting firm AlixPartners, and Isabel Santos Kunsman, a US-based colleague of Britten’s at the same firm. Britten is a senior forensic accountant who has acted as an expert witness in commercial disputes for 30 years.

The campaign aims to encourage more women to put themselves forward, and more parties to appoint them, as well as to support their mentoring. So far, 496 signatories, including more than 70 organisations such as law firms, have signed up to the cause.

Britten strongly encourages female professionals to consider serving as expert witnesses, not least for the opportunities it offers: “It has gone from something that people did as an extra to something that people are doing as a full-time job,” she says. “One of the benefits of doing it is it’s a fantastic career, every day is different, and you are continually challenged intellectually and personally.”

Boris Johnson is not the only one to rue the herd instinct this year

Here at Si’s Matters, we have reported on the pay war and its fallout more than once in recent weeks: law firms have been engaged in a frenetic competition to attract top junior talent with the lure of ever-bigger salaries, bonuses and other perks. It is now gradually becoming apparent that indulging in a mad spending spree in the face of an ever-worsening economic outlook is what we might charitably call ill-advised.

As’s Christine Simmons reports, a plethora of law firms have been left dangerously overextended by this glut in spending, their expenses now massively increased just as IPO and SPAC work has significantly slowed and overall M&A deal work has plummeted. That’s not to mention skyrocketing inflation and interest rates.

So who’s to blame for the perilous situation these firms now find themselves in? Well, as is so often the case, the buck will probably stop with the respective CEO. But surely there must also be some collective responsibility-taking here? As Simmons writes, these top law firms “followed the leader to this risky economic position. […] Will firms decide for themselves how to dig out? Any upcoming economic downturn will test the industry’s approach to watching and matching their peers.”

In other words, the lemmings that have not yet tumbled over the cliff edge may want to look up from their blind charge and take in what’s happening up ahead. And for those that have already tumbled to the bottom? If their fall has not left them too broken, they may want to avoid running up to the precipice with their comrades in future. That’s if they ever manage to claw their way back to the top.

OC loses an OG

Osborne Clarke’s Managing Partner Ray Berg has announced that he is standing down. The news comes mere weeks after Berg won Management Partner of the Year at the Legal Business Awards.

The firm’s partnership has elected to replace Berg with corporate partner Conrad Davies, who joined OC from Jones Day over 17 years ago and was made a partner in 2011. He has vowed to continue Berg’s legacy of an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion, though has said that he will lead and connect with people in his own style.

Berg’s time at the helm should certainly be counted as a great success: he played a key role in developing and leading OC’s five-year 2025 strategy investing in clients, people, ESG and business, and last year oversaw a 20% jump in UK-only turnover from £166.4m to £199.1m.

The balance of a corporate / real estate partner as Managing Partner and a litigation partner as Senior Partner seems right for the firm.

Clifford Chance looks set for City return

Twenty years after exiting its 200 Aldersgate offices for Canary Wharf, CC looks set to return to the City later this decade. The firm is in later negotiations to move to 2 Aldermanbury Square, just a stone’s throw from its former City offices.

CC often defines the trends in the legal sector: moving to be next to the banks being one prime example, but the firm was also ahead of its time with its Anglo-German mergers and subsequent (troubled) US forays. This move feels the same: a return to the old stomping ground, a downsizing in light of how working patterns have changed, and a move towards the broader corporates and financial institutions which drive revenues in the 2020s rather than the fewer banks which did 20 years ago.

Given the firm’s ESG commitments, it’s no surprise to hear that the proposed new HQ is quite so low carbon and energy efficient.

The TBD Digital 100 ranking is here

Not to blow our own trumpet, but we’ve come up with something pretty nifty that we think you’ll like – our Digital 100 ranking of law firms with the strongest LinkedIn networks.

We use a proxy score – dividing the number of followers a firm has on its LinkedIn account by the number of its employees to give us a Followers Per Employee score. Then we rank firms from 1 to 100.

To see the top 10 for this quarter, check out this LinkedIn post.

For a subscription to the rest of the results, please drop Simon Marshall a line.

Dates for your diary 

  • 21 October (today) – HMRC will publish the latest monthly property transactions statistics. Will the debacle of the mini-budget have a significant impact on this month’s stats?
  • 31 October – Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is to set out his medium-term fiscal plan – effectively a full Budget – alongside Office for Budget Responsibility predictions. Let’s see if he’s still chancellor by then, given the revolving door at 11 Downing Street and Liz Truss’ resignation yesterday.
  • 1 November – The 19th annual General Counsel Summit will examine how GCs can drive strategic objectives to deliver business resilience and success. In recent years the intensity and speed of change has been both unprecedented and unpredictable. General Counsel are called on to scan for threats, whether legal, political, technological or social, while connecting different teams and proactively driving strategy to deliver holistic success for the business. The event will be held at etc. venues in St. Pauls, London.
  • 14 November – Financial Regulatory and Disputes Summit 2022 – This event will be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Broad Sanctuary, London.

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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