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July 2015 Newsletter

Posted by: Laurence Simons 01/07/15

 


Lawyer under fire: Near misses for Indiana Mrs

In Noblesville, Indiana, a story that would make The Jerry Springer show seem normal is taking shape. Renee Perillo and son Richard have been on the run, although recently apprehended, after a botched plot to murder her new boyfriend’s divorce attorney went sour. The divorce attorney, Rebecca Eimerman, was pursuing unpaid settlement money from Perillo's boyfriend, Dr. Arnaldo Trabucco, on behalf of his ex-wife.

Discovered in the back of the lawyer’s SUV by her husband after hours of hiding, the pair were found with a syringe containing a lethal dose of anaesthesia and pretty bad cramp. Although they claimed to the police who came to arrest them that they were homeless, they were in possession of a number of the lawyer’s credit cards and had pictures of her, her house and her car on their phones.

In an even weirder twist, a stolen car with the Perillos’ identification inside it was found soon after containing a number of strange items:

  • Tranquilizer gun with four darts
  • Box of ammunition
  • Two machetes
  • Long-handled shovel with fresh dirt on the blade
  • Blond coloured long-hair wig
  • Roll of duct tape
  • Alcohol prep pads and antibacterial wipes
  • Glock .40 calibre magazine fully loaded
  • Commando saw
  • Hammer
  • Multiple pairs of gloves
  • Hypodermic needles
  • Brown walking cane, two men’s hats, shirt with a white collar such as would be worn by a priest or clergyman
  • Silicone mask designed to cover the entire head, depicting an elderly man’s face/head

No further questions.


Australia: a novel approach to investing in graduates

Adelaide’s Adlawgroup has announced plans to charge newly qualified law graduates $22,000 for the (usually free of charge) supervision they need in their first year of traineeship to gain a full practising certificate. This amount, which equates to roughly half of what would be their first year’s salary, is termed by the practice as an “investment into the future” – amusingly similar to what they must have been told throughout the four years of learning they’ve already invested in at university.

But with all this investing, and with roughly thirty incoming graduates spread over the current year, the practice looks set to benefit hugely – unsurprisingly. The president of the Law Society of South Australia, Rocky Perrotta, has added that the three local law schools are “pumping out” keen, newly qualified lawyers and interestingly, although predictably, the area is renowned for its shortage of graduate legal posts. The perfect climate to gain from those lowest in the legal food chain, then.

But instead of boosting local employment levels by recruiting hundreds of local jobseekers to stand outside the office doors shouting, “It’s a trap!” at any graduate within a pre-defined radius, it seems this grad scheme will commence unchallenged.


China dips toe into international waters

Following an exciting merger between FenXun Partners and Baker & McKenzie earlier this year, the news of YangTze Law rooting a new branch in London has caused a stir, particularly as China has traditionally been shy about expanding internationally in this way.

Steve Ng, the founder of the YangTzejiang Legal Network, a group of 40 law firms with 3,000 lawyers across China which will source the predominant Chinese client base for the new firm, has commented that, “We see our target market as Chinese businesses who have no representation abroad. We are not here to step on anyone's toes but to expand Chinese participation in the UK market”.

Malcom Dickinson, managing partner at UK law firm Michelmores, will be appointed to lead the venture. Of this partnership, Ng has said, “'Malcom is my friend and we have trust so I feel comfortable to work with him. They offer excellent support to the launch of YangTze Law. This is the kind of friendship I would like to demonstrate to the local lawyers, I will be referring most of my cases out so I will be referring to lawyers who I trust. I wish to have more friendships in the local community.”

It’s unlikely he’ll be short of friends for very long.


Compliance is a risky business

A top US regulator has recently called for a comprehensive clarification of exactly what the roles and responsibilities of compliance staff are to prevent them from being held accountable for others’ wrongdoing.

The US’ Security and Exchange Commission’s ruling of strict liability has caused the sector incomprehensible grief. Take the example of Eugene Mason, chief compliance officer of SFX, who was fined $25,000 for failures after president of the company, Brian Ourand, stole $670,000 from client accounts. This seems to be undermining the entire practice of compliance. Sure, when someone is in the wrong, it is only just that they are punished – or fined – but what about when people aren’t, and they just happen to be on the front line?

Jay Baris, chairman of law firm Morrison & Foster’s investment management practice, commented that, “Compliance officers often feel they have a giant target painted on their backs, fearing the SEC even when they act in good faith.”

So what, ultimately, will this do to the profession if it is not clarified? Either we will have a band of officers who never make a mistake, or we could risk losing future talent to other less risky financial practices.


Unpaid legal aid

Whilst UK justice secretary Michael Gove appears to be reviewing and altering much of the structure of the legal sector, the recent announcement of the UK government’s decision to enforce an 8.75% reduction to the legal aid budget has been met with disdain by lawyers. Minsters maintain that the budget is double per capita than that of nations with similar legal systems such as Canada and Ireland, and so these cuts will not impact the sector dramatically.

The criticism of this and the reduction in solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations is rife. But claims that these measures are already causing redundancies and that new burdensome workloads could ultimately amount to miscarriages of justice appear to be falling on deaf ears. Instead, Gove has suggested that in order to tackle “the indefensible inequalities in the judicial system,” the responsibility lies with wealthy lawyers who should be prepared to donate unpaid time to the clients who can afford their services least, rather than reap benefits from higher cuts of tax from those on minimum wage.

Interestingly, the shadow justice secretary has commented that, “People will be bemused by the sight of the justice secretary complaining of a two-nation justice system. Since the Tories took office, access to justice has been all but dismantled for the poorest in our society”.

The debate continues.


Malta diversifies

Maltese firms are currently experiencing a growth trend across all areas of practice but are struggling to keep up with the mounting regulatory burden.

However, relief is on its way in the form of the incoming Legal Services Act. This legislation, permitting some multi-disciplinary dimensions to develop within the legal sector, is reminiscent of the UK’s introduction of Alternative Business Structures. The implementation of these allowed professionals from other sectors to own or invest in law firms, raising equity and encouraging diversity of practice areas.

With growing regulatory and compliance demands on Maltese organisations, the ability for some of these service lines to be carried out by lawyers supported by non-legal employees is a very welcome development. The new statute will assist with regulating the legal profession and is set to make a profound impact on the future structure of the sector.

With a rapidly expanding property market and both overseas investment and foreign residency on the rise, Malta is attracting much international attention in the global legal sphere. Louis De Gabriele, partner at Camilleri Preziosi, predicts that the legal market will eventually enter a process of consolidation in the future, although does not believe it will happen within this year.


What’s the opposite of a happy lawyer?

A litigation lawyer, apparently.

Jeena Choo, the author of forthcoming book, “The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Happier, Saner Law Practice Using Meditation”, has recently travelled the US interviewing legal professionals and advising on how to run happy and functional law practices.

One trend she has found is that amongst litigation lawyers, or those who work closely with them, is that there is a “sentiment that litigation is a lose-lose proposition.” One lawyer even commented that “litigation takes a negative toll on the people involved, regardless of outcome.”

So, what’s going wrong here? One reason many describe as a catalyst for this trope is that there is immense pressure on these professionals to guard against making mistakes. Because unlike other high-risk disciplines like knife-throwing or brain surgery, your client can make a complaint or claim if something goes wrong.

Contrary to what many may think, days in court can often be more exhausting – and rarely as cleansing – than clients expect. In fact, as one litigation lawyer even commented that you can often leave “feeling dirty, regardless of the outcome.”

It must be tough, and it seems we understand why. But that hasn’t stopped the influx of commentary on these professionals’ glumness – and looks unlikely to. So until then, we can only assume Choo’s advice is just, “put the litigation lawyers in the corner”.