Accessibility Links

Laurence Simons Newsletter August 2013

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/08/13

Lawyer under fire

An Illinois barrister has been criticised and had her licence to practice suspended for three years after admitting she had not disclosed her past work as a prostitute.

Reema Bajaj appeared before the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) and was accused of making false statements by lying about her previous career working as a call girl, reports the Daily Mail.  The ARDC accused Ms Bajaj of 'committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.'

Between 2005 and 2008, the 28-year-old lawyer posted online advertisements as 'Nikita' on sites such as Adult Friend Finder, according to the complaint, and had sex with two men during this period. While this doesn't sound like a particularly successful spate of prostitution, it was enough for the ARDC to prevent her from working in the legal field for the next three years.

For her part, Ms Bajaj has dissolved her nascent law practice, while filing a suit against former defence lawyer Timothy Johnson and DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell for showing other attorneys nude pictures of her that they had access to as part of the criminal investigation.  In no way maintaining the image of cultivated mid-Western gentlemen the rest of the world might have of Illinois lawyers, the pair apparently spread the images around the courtroom. Stay classy, Chicago.

Ms Bajaj is seeking damages from the pair for their giggling schoolboy-ish behaviour, but will not appeal the ARDC's decision in a story that paints nobody in the legal profession in a particularly good light (not that I've seen the pictures).

General Counsel in US facing 'patent trolls'

The recent debate on how social media and newspaper comments have allowed punters to attack pundits has brought troll back into the lexicon, with countless articles dedicated to debating how we can deal with the spittle-flecked misogyny that pervades much online discourse.

Your tolerance for this conversation may depend on how many newspaper columnists you care about, but for general counsel in the US the concept of trolling has a completely different meaning.

According to a new survey by Consero Group, 75 per cent of counsels in the US are litigating against non-practicing entities, also known as patent trolls, or expect to be doing so in the coming year. These companies or people are organisations purely set up to enforce patent rights against supposed infringers with the hope of collecting licensing fees - they do not manufacture products or offer services based on the patent in question.

All of the survey's respondents said they expect patent litigation to increase or remain steady over the next year, while 91 per cent suggested the US government is not taking the necessary action to prevent or discourage scams of this kind.

"While the rise of patent trolls is a well-documented reality facing counsel worldwide, the extent of patent-troll litigation revealed by our survey was surprising," said Consero Group founder Paul Mandell.

Emerging markets are also becoming an issue with regards to this kind of trolling - all businesses agreed they are still not doing enough to clamp down on it, although 51 per cent are seeing more protection now than they did 12 months ago. Mr Mandell accepted this problem is unavoidable to some degree, describing it as "less surprising [than the US government's lack of action], but still troubling".

Intellectual property protection has become more difficult in general, according to the report, with 43 per cent of respondents agreeing with this suggestion.

Corporate Counsel 'can capitalise on data'

As we move slowly towards our inevitable enslavement by an amorphous mass of information, taking its first tentative steps towards omniscience and casting its tentacles across the global computer network, in-house lawyers have been encouraged to take advantage of big data to gain a competitive advantage in their field.

Writing in the Global Legal Post, Sandeep Sacheti of Wolters Kluwer Corporate Legal Services argued that in-house legal teams are now under as much commercial scrutiny as other parts of an operation, which is undeniably true in the current economic climate. "While legal expertise is still highly valued, legal teams today and, by extension, law firms are experiencing unprecedented pressure, forcing them to evolve quickly from old ways of working," he posted.

Embracing the big data revolution is one way corporate counsel can underline their importance to a business' bottom line, suggested Mr Sacheti (although he failed to add that it will also give lawyers a fighting chance of becoming vassals to the emerging information singularity, rather than simply being summarily destroyed).

There are now "more tools available that allow them to evaluate their spend and keep it in check according to external benchmarks", meaning they can quantify their outgoings more easily and attempt to cut down on unnecessary expenditure.

Becoming more cost-effective and more transparent will help in-house lawyers stand out and provide the best possible service to their company, as well as ensuring that they can offer a more efficient service than law firms taking on out-sourced business from the corporate world.

Although it might be tempting to cast your iPad into the nearest river and run off to the hills where you can form a new egalitarian society around Luddite principles, the reality is there's no escaping the tentacles of big data - so for in-house lawyers, the best tactic is to adopt it as part of your business model before it's too late.

Chinese firm Dacheng opens first Moscow office

For many years the expansion of legal firms has been a largely western phenomenon, with London's Magic Circle and the American biglaw companies doing their best to compete among themselves for whichever parts of the world they felt could be profitable.  This is still largely the case - and given their head-start, the amount of funding they have available and their undeniable expertise in international legal affairs, it is unlikely to change a great deal in the coming years.

However, there have been signs that emergent markets are fighting back with expansionist aims of their own, highlighted by the news that Chinese giant Dacheng has launched its first office in Moscow.  Dacheng's new base is registered as a limited liability company under the name of Dacheng Moscow and headed up by Russian-speaking Chinese lawyer Cai Jiefeng, reports the Lawyer magazine.

It is one of the first Asian firms to open an office in Moscow and is hoping to have around 20 lawyers and staff in the area in the fullness of time.

"We intend to grow the office to a good size and have the capability to provide local law advice and execute transactions and projects on our own," said Mr Jiefeng.

However, mirroring the approach of many western firms, before reaching critical mass the company is to collaborate closely with the local legal company Lidings, which has 25 fee-earners and offices in Moscow and St Petersburg.

As China continues to expand and Asian companies look towards new markets, it is likely we will see more offices opening across the globe from major firms such as Dacheng. Investment in Russia is already strong - Korean firm Yulchon also plans to open a branch office in the country soon, the news provider claimed.

Robin Thicke song 'could face IP claim'

Nominative determinism fan and poor man's Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, has taken steps to avoid being sued by several camps who claim he ripped off some of the music to number one hit Blurred Lines. The 'artists' behind this 'song' - Thicke the Younger, Pharrell, and T.I. - have filed for declaratory judgement in federal court to protect their stake in the song, reports Above the Law.

One party threatening Blurred Lines is the family of Marvin Gaye, who feel the link to Got to Give It Up has overstepped homage to become, well, copying. The other is Bridgeport Music, suing over a possible link between Blurred Lines and a song by Funkadelic.

Admittedly, the latter case is made a little more unlikely by the fact that Funkadelic songwriter and all-round top man George Clinton has dismissed any link between the two works.

As much as it would be nice to see Thicke taken down a peg or two, as anyone who's seen the music video for Blurred Lines will attest, neither connection is likely to be litigious - after all, if pop singers couldn't copy their more talented counterparts there'd only be about four songs in the charts at any one time.

"Unless they can prove substantial similarity in lyric or melody, they're going to be out of luck," Larry Iser, a managing partner at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, told the LA Times.

Lawyers 'need IT security training'

While many lawyers may long for the days when they could get to work by horse-drawn carriage and write all their letters in fountain pen, the sad truth is that calligraphy is a dying art and they need to learn more about information security if firms are to avoid losing important or sensitive data.

Writing in the Law Society Gazette, IT expert Joanna Goodman pointed out that while chief information officers and others have made great strides in developing secure systems, the reality remains that people can make all this effort pointless with just one mistake. Obviously it is important for UK law firms to have good IT security - however, training for all users is crucial if these are to be effective.

Tim Hyman, IT director at Reed Smith, described information security as "the new disruptive technology" because it varies depending on the sector a legal services provider is working with.  Security is often client-driven because much of the data passing between the firm and the company is considered to be private, meaning lawyers need to show evidence they can cope with this if they are not to lose business to more forward-thinking counterparts.

In addition to training, Ms Goodman suggested that more innovation is needed to produce programmes and systems specifically designed for keeping legal information secure from external meddling.

Expansion 'making compliance more difficult'

The nature of multinational companies has always made the role of corporate counsel more difficult, given that each country has a specific way of doing business and certain regulatory burdens to meet. Furthermore, some emergent markets tend to have cultures where bribery is considered de rigeur, despite the fact that it is obviously both illegal and bad for business.

Leigh Dance, president of ELD International, and chief marketing officer of Winston & Strawn, Barbara Sessions, argued that a recent survey from the latter highlights the generic approach major firms are taking to international compliance.

Only 41 per cent of corporate counsel respondents rank their company's particular bribery and corruption risks for each business in each location, meaning they are unsure how to focus their efforts, reports Law magazine.

Justin McClelland, a London partner of Winston & Strawn, said: "It is critical to start with a real understanding of the risks that the organisation faces and then tailor the procedures accordingly."

Measures such as antitrust audits should also be brought about in order to cope with problems before they occur, the pair concluded.