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Laurence Simons June 2013 Newsletter

Posted by: Laurence Simons 24/06/13

Lawyer under fire: US judge asks female lawyers to dress appropriately

Some of Rutherford County's female attorneys have been told to put away their cute Donald Duck t-shirts, flip-flops, polka-dot dresses and latex bodysuits after circuit judge Royce Taylor urged female lawyers to dress in a manner more appropriate for a professional setting.

Sadly, the Tennessean does not offer many details about what female attorneys have been wearing to work, meaning it's difficult to tell if this is a slightly sexist and unfair move from someone who hates dresses or a reasonable step to stop women wearing Lady Gaga-style meat dresses in the courtroom.  Some female lawyers, according to many in the local legal community, are appearing in court in 'revealing' blouses, miniskirts and, in at least one instance, sweatpants, the newspaper suggested.

In a newsletter to the court, the judge explained: "I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent. Your personal appearance in court is a reflection upon the entire legal profession."

Attorney Lisa Eischeid dismissed any concerns that Judge Taylor is being unfair to women, recalling one incident where he found a male attorney in contempt of court for appearing without a blazer and made him donate some money to charity.

Presumably the charity was one for ageing judges who often sit in their plush living room at night, glass of whisky in hand and Thelonius Monk on the stereo, watching entertainment news with the volume down and wondering how different their life would have been if they'd gone to fashion school all those years ago.

UK lawyers to take on ‘lads mags’

A letter published in the Guardian has suggested that high street retailers and supermarkets could be putting themselves up for legal action by having 'lads mags' with naked or almost-naked women on the cover in stock.

Kat Banyard, founder of UK Feminista, told the newspaper that supermarkets have "got off the hook" with regards to mucky magazines for too long.

"One woman said to us: 'Those magazines don't do women any favours, they are appalling and demeaning to women, but what can little old me do about it?' Well, employees need to know they don't need to put up with it any more," she declared.

Maxim, FHM, Nuts and Zoo have long been the favourites of maladjusted sociopaths keen to emphasise their masculinity by staring at a shiny picture of a dead-eyed naked lady, but this news could make the magazines far harder to get hold of. While the previous policy of having sweet old ladies man the till in a bid to shame buyers out of their purchase was successful, this could mark an even bigger shift.

Experts from six legal sets, including Matrix Chambers, where members include Cherie Booth QC, suggested that showcasing these publications in the workforce could amount to sexual harassment as staff can be involuntarily exposed to pornographic or demeaning images (not to mention 'hilarious' jokes about football and 'outrageous' anecdotes about lager).

One can only assume that the various celebrity culture magazines that also litter supermarket shelves will be left untouched because of their role in building up the self-esteem of vulnerable women through positive reinforcement and tolerance of all body shapes.



US attorney coach dubious on social media claims

In-house lawyers in the US have been bombarded with reports urging them to utilise social media over the last few years, with a recent report claiming that the use of platforms like these among general counsel is at an all-time high.

Admittedly, this isn't that surprising, as the proliferation of smartphones and adoption patterns in wider society make it likely that a growing number of lawyers are aware of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Wiffle and so on. (one of these is made up, as a test of your social media knowledge).

The Greentarget, Zeughauser Group and Inside Counsel report suggested that blogging could be a good way for in-house lawyers to find new business (as long as they blog about legal matters rather than push their My Little Pony fan-fiction or their budding career as a sensitive singer-songwriter).

However, attorney coach Roy Ginsburg has his doubts. Writing in the Lawyerist, he argued that using Wikipedia and blogs is generally not that social - "To me, they are research and information tools. Blogs are somewhat interactive in the comments portion, I suppose, but most of the substantive blogs that I read have no comments. In short, there is nothing particularly 'social' about them".

He pointed out that fewer lawyers use Facebook or Twitter professionally, adding that the majority of these tools are not particularly useful for lawyers attempting to drum up new business.

Beware web strategists bearing gifts, Mr Ginsburg concluded: "Often, they are not as compelling as many social media enthusiasts would like you to believe."

Consumers 'see UK lawyers as too expensive'

Many of the hoary old stereotypes about professional people have been disregarded in recent years as we realise they were founded on prejudice and unfairness. For instance, mothers no longer avoid leaving their babies alone with accountants for fear they will sell them to the zoo, and the theory that estate agents are all secret Jacobites has been firmly disproven.

However, some of them are just true, and the latest release of data from the Legal Services Consumer Panel's (LSCP) annual tracker survey has suggested that consumers still feel UK lawyers are over-charging for their services.

Across all areas of law, just 57 per cent of consumers thought they received value for money on average, reports Legal Futures.

Adam Sampson, chief legal ombudsman, said: "Costs-related issues still account for a high number of the complaints we see at the Legal Ombudsman. I can't stress enough how important it is for lawyers to be transparent when estimating costs and throughout a case so that consumers don't get a nasty surprise at the end. These figures show that there is still plenty of room for improvement."

While the majority of legal businesses wouldn't dream of deliberately over-charging a customer, problems can arise when they do not explain clearly and precisely their charging processes before taking on new business.

Satisfaction levels are still at 80 per cent, meaning the industry should not worry too much about its relationship with consumers, but there is certainly still room for improvement in how they explain their system.

Only one-fifth of businesses use external lawyers for compliance issues

In-house lawyers are proving important in how companies deal with current piecemeal consumer rights legislation, according to a new report that highlighted how current rules can be confusing and expensive for British firms.

Just one-fifth of the businesses surveyed by research agency IFF used external legal advice in this area, suggesting general counsel are crucial to reducing risk exposure to this type of regulation.

However, this changed with size - 55 per cent of larger businesses worked with external lawyers to ensure they were complying properly with the regulatory environment.

The three most frequently cited topics were drafting terms and conditions (40 per cent), handling complaints about 'fit for purpose' products or services (36 per cent), and complaints about delivery (15 per cent).

Almost 40 per cent of companies employed a staff member to deal with legal compliance issues, underlining the importance of in-house lawyers to businesses in the current climate, with legistlation changing regularly.

Most said legal staff spent less than a day a month or no time at all on consumer rights compliance, but the figure increased in correlation with the size of the business, reports Legal Futures.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, which commissioned the research, took the unexpected move of claiming that their latest reforms to the much-reformed system will reduce red tape and make things easier for businesses. As well as simplifying the current situation, it will mean less time needs to be spent on advice, training and dealing with disputes, and will facilitate faster and lower cost redress.

Global law firms 'enjoying price boom'

Further consolidation in the asset management industry is anticipated by lawyers who are enjoying the proceeds of moving into emerging markets, according to a new report from data provider Dealogic.

More money has been spent on European asset management mergers and acquisitions in the first quarter of this year than in any other quarter since 2007, reports eFinancial News.

Mark Geday, head of the asset management M&A practice at Herbert Smith Freehills, said: "While people issues will always be central, the biggest thing that’s been holding back M&A in this sector has been differences in price expectations."

Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are proving important parts of this shift, with dealmakers from emerging economies hoping to pick up some bargains from European assets that have seen their worth reduced by the eurozone crisis.

With stock market conditions improving across the globe after a major slump and regulatory changes encouraging more merger and acquisition activity, general counsel are anticipating further consolidation in the industry over the coming months.