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December Newsletter

Posted by: Laurence Simons 14/12/12

Lawyer under fire

It's Christmas party season, and if generic sitcoms and the banal routines of lazy stand-up comedians have taught us anything, these events are ripe for all manner of shenanigans as donnish mid-ranking executives work their way through half a bottle of Jameson and decide to tell their boss what they really think of them.

Although the reality of the festive work bash is probably more staid, one lawyer with DLA Piper decided to liven things up at the company's litigation and regulatory department drinks earlier in the month.

That does sound quite dull, so you can see where he was coming from, but probably where he went wrong was when - rather than, for instance, suggesting a nice game of pass the legal document - he took the bold decision to punch a colleague in the face, smashing his glasses. Well, someone had to get the party started!

RollonFriday reports that the two legal bruisers in question were Duncan Gillespie (the puncher) and Nick Marsh (the punchee).

The brawling lawyer has been suspended while an investigation into his behaviour is conducted, with judges expected to award him a narrow points victory.

Judge reprimanded for 'courage' comment

In some of the month's least surprising news, crown court judge Peter Bower has been reprimanded for suggesting that burglars need 'a huge amount of courage' to, you know, break into people's homes and steal their things.

While Mr Bower has yet to offer his opinion on the strong hand-eye coordination required for successful drink-driving or the impressive degree of technological know-how involved in card phishing schemes, he has still been told in no uncertain terms to refrain from admiring the attributes of convicted criminals.

The Office for Judicial Complaints said: "The lord chancellor and the lord chief justice considered his comments to have damaged public confidence in the judicial process," reports the Guardian.

No further action will be taken against the crown court judge for his comments, which (to be fair) were made in the context of a larger statement commending defendant Richard Rochford for his efforts to change his life and deal with his addiction to heroin.

The judge spared the 26-year-old serial burglar from an immediate custodial sentence in favour of a two-year supervision order and a driving ban, suggesting that sending him to prison would not be wise given his ongoing attempt to reform.

Apple and Samsung case rumbles on

December's 'huge multinational company objects to potentially making slightly less money' news involves Apple and Samsung, who are currently fighting it out in court over a copyright infringement case.

Apple wants to block the importation and sale of Samsung phones and tablet computers, which bear a suspicious resemblance to discontinued models of their iPhone and iPad.

While it could be argued that smartphones all tend to look faintly similar, following the sleek, Star Trek-ish design style currently in vogue for all personal technology, there is no doubt that the specific Apple image has become iconic in the eyes of many consumers.

Morrison & Foerster partner Michael Jacobs used a motoring comparison to emphasise the situation, to wit - if Chevrolet came out with a car today that looked exactly like the 1965 Ford Mustang, would that be acceptable because Ford doesn't make that car anymore?

Despite this convincing argument, Law magazine reports that US district judge Lucy Koh appears to be becoming frustrated with the case, which has been going on for some time with no sign of a resolution between the two parties.

"I'm more than prepared to issue orders. You'll take this up on appeal, and we'll see what happens. But if there's anyway this court can facilitate some kind of resolution, I'd like to do that," she said.

IBM vice-president: General counsel have seat at table

In-house lawyers are increasingly being allowed to sit at the top table when it comes to decision-making on legal and corporate matters, according to IBM vice-president Robert C Weber.

He told Forbes India that this is partly because the globalised and multinational world of many corporations means they have a more complicated mesh of regulations to deal with, making general counsel central to many of their business decisions.

"In-house lawyers are full players in a company's strategy, and also trusted advisors to the chief executive officer, board and chairman. There's clearly been an evolution of law departments in large companies," he added.

Mr Weber's comments follow a deluge of reports indicating that in-house legal positions are becoming better paid as they begin to involve a wider range of roles, ensuring they can rival their private practice counterparts in terms of both influence and income.

A report from legal researcher Acritas recently suggested that people with in-house legal jobs are keen to join law firms that have a reputation for international savvy, as emerging economies become a central target for businesses disappointed by low rates of growth across Europe and the US.

NAYJ attempts to raise age of criminal responsibility

Think back to when you were a small child, an innocent scamp with little knowledge of property law or Italian opera. Perhaps you got into some scrapes - stealing your aunt's newly-baked cakes as they cooled on a convenient window-ledge, shooting a friend with your home-made catapult. Halcyon days!

Not so, however, for the 2,000 primary school children who felt the long arm of the law last year and were arrested for heinous crimes such as throwing sticks at a chestnut tree.

The National Association for Youth Justice (NAYJ) has responded to these figures by writing a letter to the Guardian suggesting that the age of criminal responsibility should be increased, describing the current limit of ten as "a clear breach of international children's rights standards".

Experts in law, psychiatry, justice, and other disciplines all signed their names to the missive, which was also sent to justice secretary Chris Grayling.

The letter argues that children in the UK cannot buy a pet until they are 12, do a paper round until they are 13, consent to sex until they are 16 or drive until they are 17, and as such should not be able to pick up a criminal record at the tender age of ten.

While there is some concern that allowing naughty and boisterous children to roam the streets rather than putting them in front of a judge will lead to a serious breakdown in law and order across the UK, the NAYJ also seems to make a salient point.

Given the fact that many studies have suggested full culpability cannot be established in ten- year olds, allowing them to face criminal proceedings is unreasonable, the group concluded.

Imperial Tobacco's legal challenge rejected

Shops in Scotland are to be banned from displaying cigarettes after a legal challenge by Imperial Tobacco - one of the largest firms of its kind in the UK - was rejected by the country's supreme court following a period of consultation.

Unfortunately the tobacco manufacturer did not take the exciting new tack of suggesting that its products have a palliative effect, or claiming that they encourage healthy levels of growth in small children, but instead argued that the Scottish parliament does not have the constitutional powers to introduce any new laws which control the sale and supply of goods, as that power is held by its counterpart in the UK.

As a devolved power created in 1998, there are certain decisions that the Edinburgh-based executive is indeed unable to make; however, the court ruled that this is not one of them.

The judgement indicated that the legislative body is simply trying to protect the health of the Scottish populace, although it failed to touch upon the devastation being wreaked across the Highlands by deep-fried chocolate bars.

Scottish public health minister Michael Matheson said the parliament will seek to recover its legal costs from the company.

"We know that reducing the number of people that smoke will have wide benefits for Scotland's health and these bans will play a crucial role in preventing young people from taking up smoking," he added.

Law firms 'must change to attract women'

Top US law firms are still not doing enough to allow women to reach the top and need to introduce a number of measures to make it easier for this to happen, according to a new report.

The 50 Best Law Firms for Women named the businesses doing the best when it comes to this issue, but partner group Flex-Time Lawyers' president Deborah Epstein Henry warned that a change in mentality is needed if this issue is ever to be sorted out once and for all.

This is not because the predominantly male nature of law firm boardrooms isn't something that occurs because women don't go to the weekly five-a-side game or pee standing up, but instead a structural problem that sees female lawyers leave firms before they get enough experience to reach the top ranks, according to Ms Henry.

"Advancing more women and supporting work-life initiatives at the same time requires careful planning on the part of law firm and corporate leaders. Safeguards are needed to ensure that the power message is not diluted and women do not lose credibility," she added.

While most top firms in the US and the UK generally consider law a job where working long hours is crucial, it seems clear that the days of picking up two hours of sleep at your desk with beef chow mein on your tie and half a bottle of whisky in the desk drawer are over.

Authorities such as the Confederation of British Industry have stressed the importance of flexible working with regards to economic growth, and the need to ensure mothers can succeed in top legal careers is another driver when it comes to improving practices across the industry.

Law firm websites 'lagging behind'

Leading law companies are lagging behind their rivals in other businesses when it comes to website design, a new report has claimed, indicating that they could learn a great deal from other sectors.

While nobody is suggesting that patrician firms like Freshfields, Slaughter and May, Clifford Chance and Linklaters need to advertise their services using an array of flash graphics or a small mini-game involving a heroic lawyer, the nature of modern business does mean a strong web presence is vital.

Of the 30 law firms examined by Last Exit, a digital strategy agency which benchmarks websites in different business areas, 18 had sites rated as mediocre, reports the Law Society Gazette.

Kent Valentine, Last Exit's engagement director, said: "It's a confusing experience trying to navigate masses of information that is not clearly signposted."

He added that the sector is in danger of looking out of touch and overly introspective if it does not improve its online image, just stopping short of suggesting that it stops wearing a bow-tie all the time and maybe thinks about doing something with its hair.

City firm Berwin Leighton Paisner and international firm DLA Piper finished joint-top of the survey, with Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy coming in at second.