The Labour Party: the legal profession’s new best friend?
Unless you’ve been following a strict no-news exclusion diet – and who could blame you in these troubled, war-torn times? – you cannot fail to have noticed that it’s party conference season.
Last week it was the turn of the Tories at their conference in Manchester, an event whose ‘highlights’ included the announcement of the axing of HS2’s northern leg, one of the worst-kept secrets in recent political history; talk of human compassion being a luxury belief; and my personal highlight, the sight of Priti Patel merrily dancing away with Nigel Farage at a karaoke event – my eyeballs will never be the same again.
And this week in Liverpool, Labour has been setting out its stall as the party that pretty much everyone now assumes will form the next government after 2024’s general election. What’s been very noticeable to me about this year’s conference is the many proposed legal reforms that have been announced – Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is certainly at pains to win friends among those working in the justice system.
Thus the party’s newly minted shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood has vowed to protect the legal profession from the sort of concerted attacks on its integrity that we have witnessed in recent months and years.
She accused the current government of undermining confidence in the rule of law and weakening the justice system during its 13-year tenure, and said that a Labour government would welcome being held to the highest standards by lawyers, adding: “I will never allow the judiciary or the legal profession to be scapegoated for doing their job on which our democracy depends,’ she told a meeting of the Society of Labour Lawyers. It is beneath the dignity of governing and the rule of law when a flailing government attacks [lawyers].”
Those are fine sentiments indeed, but it was telling that Mahmood stopped short of promising any additional funding for the justice system: no talk of more pay for legal aid lawyers, no mention of fixing crumbing court buildings.
But fair play to her for addressing this issue forthrightly, stating that she is “not in a position to make a big commitment” and makes no apologies “for the fact we are in a fiscally constricted environment”. Mahmood continued: “The economic inheritance is going to be really difficult and there is not going to be much money around so we have to act within those constraints”. Hopefully it’s more than a pledge of jam tomorrow.
Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy told the conference of his plans to reform the City by incentivising whistleblowing using a reward scheme. Under his proposed plans, accountants, lawyers and PR executives will be offered £250,000 to inform on sanctioned Russian oligarchs and thereby help track down assets linked to illicit finance.
In his speech announcing what is as yet a bare-bones policy pledge, Lammy said: “Under the Tories, Britain became the money-laundering capital of the world. With Labour, Britain will be the anti-corruption capital of the world.” Them’s fighting words!
His proposed policy would mirror existing schemes used successfully in the US to fight money-laundering: of the $72.6bn recovered between 1986 and 2022 by the US Department of Justice via civil fraud cases involving government funds, 69% came as the result of whistleblower tip-offs.
This policy could therefore have a very significant impact if successfully brought to fruition here in the UK, where vast sums of filthy lucre are laundered in the City each year. To be fair to the current government, however, it must be said that the incumbent lord chancellor has not been sitting on his hands when it comes to restricting sanctioned Russian businesses from accessing funds and legal advice, with further sanctions having been introduced in June.
In the wake of the government’s rape adviser quitting over a “lack of will” for institutions to change (see our coverage below), what really struck me was how vocal Labour have been this week in offering greater protection to women, with shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry promising sweeping reforms to help women being disproportionately mistreated by the justice system.
She confirmed that no lesser an expert than Marina Wheeler KC – an employment specialist who just happens to be Boris Johnson’s ex-wife – would review the country’s laws directly affecting women, such as those on stalking, whistleblowing and cohabitation, in a concerted effort to better protect women under the law.
It’s interesting to see Labour deck the table with such a smorgasbord of proposed legal reform across different sectors and areas of public life. Whether any of it actually gets served up of course depends on the events of the next 12 months or so leading up to the general election, and on the election itself of course. The party may be comfortably ahead in the polls, but accurately predicting election outcomes is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance nowadays.
I don’t think the weary public is exactly awaiting the results of the next GE with bated breath, but it does seem clear to me that there are profound implications for the legal sector, whatever the outcome of what is arguably the most significant election in a generation.
Trust and safety crisis: the MoJ’s rape advisor quits as she “doesn’t feel safe” in Britain
Another week, another damning, and quite frankly unnerving, headline about the faltering justice system.
Emily Hunt, the independent adviser to the Ministry of Justice’s rape review, has quit her role, claiming she no longer feels safe in the UK. And honestly, who can blame her when the very institution built to protect us as civilians seems to be a breeding ground for those who inflict the worst harm?
In the last year, more than 90 police officers have been found guilty of crimes, including sexual offences, violence and murder. Corruption within the police is nothing new, of course, but sexual violence committed by serving officers has been in the public eye more than ever in recent years, following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by ex-police officer Wayne Couzens, and the crimes of serial rapist David Carrick, once regarded an an ‘elite’ member of the Metropolitan police force.
And it seems that this is indicative of a much wider cultural problem. A new pollconducted by The Barrister Group has revealed that almost a third of people have experienced sexually inappropriate behaviour at work, with half of them not feeling comfortable enough to speak up and actually report it. That’s pretty damn shocking.
Arguably the scariest part is not even these horrible crimes, but the sheer lack of justice being served. In the last four years, the backlog of adult rape cases has reached a record number, with 64,709 cases left outstanding in the Crown Court. Horrifying stuff. No wonder the former victims’ commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, recently felt compelled to speak out about the UK’s “broken” criminal justice system, which she says is in “chaos” – as mentioned in a recent previous edition of Si’s Matters, Dame Baird too quit her government position in frustration last year.
Are more government officials going to follow suit? First Dame Baird and now Emily Hunt: how many more resignations need to happen before the Ministry of Justice gets an urgently needed wake-up call?
Work-life balance amid the lingering impacts of Covid-19: the legal sector’s dilemma
We’ve all felt the crushing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but quite how long will this ‘domino effect’ of repercussions last?
The legal sector has taken a direct hit: an article in the Financial Times this week has revealed that due to the current rates of recruitment – which have slowed from entering perpetually uncertain economic times – US lawyers have been informed that spending more time in the office is necessary.
Many UK firms have stipulated that lawyers should work in the office at least three days a week. This comes as part of a prevalent cutback on hiring in the nationwide labour market, which leaves a lingering uncertainty in the air as to the stability of job prospects across the generations.
Interestingly, however, the resounding opinion of lawyers from a survey by The Lawyer UK 200 is that they’re, for the most part (48.9%), not concerned about redundancies over the next 12 months, as some don’t prioritise having a work-life balance. But is there an association with working-from-home conditions and compromising quality, or is this a tenuous link?
As of 2023, figures from the CIPD show that 66% of organisations believe in the importance of offering flexible working when advertising jobs as a means to address skills or labour shortages. Workers opting for hybrid patterns have increased significantly in the last few years following the COVID-19 pandemic, and this flexibility has definitely enabled workers to improve their work-life balance and adapt working schedules around other life commitments.
The recognition of the value of hybrid working in the legal sector is gradually improving worldwide, but a recent blog published by BigHand stated only 37% of North American firms and 36% of UK firms recognise the improvement of work-life balance that comes from hybrid working.
US firms now demanding it is necessary for workers to be in office four days a week for optimised productivity seems to be prohibiting the recognition of the positives of flexible working. Compounded with recent figures revealed in an article by The Times from the ONS showing vacancies falling below one million and unemployment rocketing to 4.3%, this begs the question of whether we will ever truly be able to strike the perfect work-life balance?
The great ‘midlife’ reshuffle
We’ve all heard of the ‘work to live’ vs ‘live to work’ debate, but what happens when the two are intertwined and suddenly a 30-year-incumbency is stripped from you? In a recent article for The Times, former BBC broadcaster Joanna Gosling shared how one of her greatest fears led to unparalleled empowerment and liberation.
Switching up careers at a ‘midlife’ stage not only seems ten times harder than emerging into the world of work as a fresh 20-something-year-old with a shiny new degree and a rigour for learning, but when redundancy is also thrown into the mix it seems virtually impossible. Gosling juggles the trials and tribulations of a single mother with three children, ever-increasing utility bills and a stubborn mortgage, navigating her way out of the world of journalism and into the Pandora’s box of what Gosling deems the “Great Reshuffle”.
The “Great Reshuffle” refers to a shift in lifestyle that many undertook as a result of the COVID-19 aftermath. What was originally dubbed the “Great Resignation’” swiftly evolved into a movement whereby employees sought to switch up their careers in search of more fulfilling and appropriate roles to fit life values and choices. For Joanna, this was a move into mediation, taking on a role at family law firm Irwin Mitchell.
Even within the legal field, internal and external turnovers are something we’re all familiar with. It’s daunting when you think about your own career shift, but the reality is that people are switching careers all the time. Joanna is moving into the world of mediation at a perfect time, with more and more divorce and family lawyers following suit, as the practice of ‘no-fault’ law has grown in popularity amongst those who are separating.
If you’re a manager at a law firm, welcoming personnel from different industry backgrounds can be enriching. Joanna posits that 34% of adults want to change jobs, but are prohibited by their own fear of change, lack of confidence and concerns surrounding skill sets. 43% of people have had at least one career change in their lifetime, with more than half initiating this change after the age of 45. This is relevant, as managers are ultimately responsible for welcoming and nurturing new lawyers, instilling confidence in their abilities to train and succeed.
Having seen Joanna in action on some of the Beeb’s high-profile news programmes over the years, dealing with forceful personalities and getting to the heart of thorny issues, I have no doubt that she’ll be brilliant in her new role.
A done deal? News of the A&O Shearman merger vote imminent
A&O Shearman will almost certainly be announced at the end of the day today as a done deal as the merger voting period comes to an end.
A&O has been to the rodeo before (with O’Melveney & Myers) as needs this deal now as it has sold the US dream to its partners and clients for quite some time.
Shearman has to do the deal now as it’s on its knees having lost so much of its talent and already having a For Sale sign on the business in its Hogan Lovells negotiations.
I’m calling it early. A&O Shearman it is. Today.
When life gives you lemons: turning a trademark battle into a marketing opportunity
You probably think I am only to be found on LinkedIn, shunning all other social media platforms – au contraire, mon frère (or ma soeur)! I also like to keep a weather eye on the world of Instagram, which is where I spotted this amusing and clever vid.
It’s one in a series of brilliantly crafted posts by The Odd Coffee Company, “a tiny company with a big mission to reduce all waste in the coffee industry”. The guys behind this intriguing venture have been threatened with a trademark lawsuit over the company name. But instead of being intimidated, they have used it to their advantage and built a marketing campaign around it with a series of hilarious, zingy videos. It’s well worth checking out the full series, and the rest of their posts, for a masterclass in fairly low-budget but high-impact social media marketing.
It may even raise enough revenue to pay their legal bills.
In other news
Northern law firm’s four-day weeks boosts productivity by nearly a quarter
The owner of Manchester-based law firm IMD Solicitors has revealed that, after switching to a four-day week, productivity at the practice is up by a truly impressive 22%.
Speaking at the Lawshare annual conference in Manchester last Thursday, Marcin Durlak, the firm’s managing partner, said that the last six month’s results have shown that this change initiated late last year is a clear winner among both staff and clients.
Employees still receive full pay and don’t feel overworked, according to Durlak: “It is not about cramming 47 hours into four days, it is about the way we work. In the day [previously] there will be 20% of time that produces no benefit. On top of that you can use AI tools to save time and achieve the same or more in less time.”
Read more here.
Diversity begets diversity
Two hundred people recently gathered to hear Treasury Solicitor Susanna McGibbon in conversation with Law Society president Lubna Shuja as they talked about the snow-ball effect of greater diversity and the transformative power of social mobility.
Bradford-born Shuja, who “fell into the law” and is the first Asian and first Muslim president of the Law Society, talked about the way her own ethnic background resulted in a more diverse clientele for her law firm, where she was the first Asian employee at the time: “When I started working there, they started to get more clients from Asian backgrounds. I can speak Urdu and Punjabi. They could communicate to me in their own language, they knew I understood their culture, their religion, that I could understand how and why they might have got themselves into the situation they got themselves into [because of] cultural influence.”
You can read more about this fascinating-sounding event here.
Cumbrian courthouse takes talk of the collapsing justice system a little too literally
The back of a Grade II-listed courthouse building in Cockermouth, Cumbria, collapsed in the early hours of Sunday. Given the mood in parts of the justice system right now, one could be forgiven for viewing this as an example of the pathetic fallacy. If so, it bodes well that nobody was hurt and the offices of the next-door solicitors’ firm Cartmell Shepherd were unaffected and open for business as usual the next day.
Read more here.
Dates for your diary
- 17th October – KM Legal Europe 2023 – Building on 18 years as a valuable resource for the industry’s knowledge management challenges, join peers from around the world at the premier event for top-notch educational updates, networking, and idea exchange for the knowledge management industry. Unravel a diverse set of perspectives from different law firm cultures and unique approaches to knowledge management at the industry’s #1 knowledge management event. In-person event, London.
- 18 October – Climate risk governance and greenwashing: how do in house leaders manage the challenge? – We are in an age where environmental and social governance issues are rocketing up the corporate agenda and climate crisis is threatening both short and long-term stability. Further, litigation on such claims is on the rise and creating a concern for organisations both in terms of compliance and reputational damage. This event will help you understand the relevant greenwashing legislation/regulation and how to spot such claims; understand the responsibilities companies and boards face in meeting relevant disclosure and reporting standards, as well as promote good climate risk governance; and understand how these issues impact solicitors’ professional duties and standards. Online event.
- 19 October – Future of work conference 2023 – This will be the first year of the Future of work conference which will bring together some of the best legal experts and professionals. This conference has a primary focus towards practitioners in leadership and management positions, members of the Law Society Leadership and Management Section and solicitors working in in-house teams. The conference will explore a wide array of topics, issues and opportunities to assist law firms and organisations including how you can attract the right talent in today’s competitive market, the introduction of AI and Chat GPT, how to champion inclusive recruitment and how you adapt with the new ways of working.