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Laurence Simons Newsletter December 2015

Posted by: Laurence Simons 01/12/15

I prescribe a large dose of International Love your Lawyer Day
Lawyers’ biggest grievances revealed
Government plans to “rank” Chinese lawyers prove unpopular
Lawyer under fire: Texas lawyer makes his own bed – and lies about it
The lawyer who never was
The oldest UK law practice still in operation is commended
Could robots take your job?


I prescribe a large dose of International Love your Lawyer Day

The inaugural International Love your Lawyer Day, as coined by the American Lawyers Public Image Association (ALPIA), passed – relatively unnoticed by the outside world – this month. But what is this glorious day? Well, Nader Anise, executive director of ALPIA, explains that it is a marked occasion to “call your attorney and say, “Happy Lawyer's Day!” or, “thanks for a doing a great job”, or even send a gift, flowers or a card.”

Perhaps as a direct result of expectantly waiting all day for a congratulatory message on the end of a silent phone, this month saw a sharp increase in the number of lawyers seeking Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for anxiety disorders and alcohol problems. Some CBT specialists, particularly in London, are now finding that up to a third of their entire client base is from the legal profession – most commonly trainees and partners.

This propensity to drink is usually put down to a lethal cocktail of confrontational work environments, a dash of intense competition from other practices, a twist of an unrelenting workload and a small umbrella to finish.

So perhaps it is time to ramp up International Love your Lawyer Day advertising – it sounds like we could all do with a bit of fuss.




Lawyers’ biggest grievances revealed


What really grinds your legal gears? Well, according to the Lawyers Weekly, an online source of legal news and data, the top three biggest grievances for lawyers are unreasonable clients, resistance to change and inadequate technology.

Their Legal Market Update survey data, in conjunction with the Australian legal Practice Management Association, also went on to reveal that one large bugbear of the sector is the impact technology is having – but not on their practices, oh no. What is making lawyers question their sanity is the frequency of clients who, because of Google, think they are practically attorneys themselves. In fact, one of the hardest parts of the job, according to one respondent, is “managing client expectations in an age when everyone thinks they are an expert in law.”

There is also an underlying feeling that there can be a reluctance to embrace change. One particularly irked yet astute entry complained of “the inability or unwillingness of staff to grasp the need to step up and embrace change, or they will not have a job in the legal industry” as their biggest grumble.

So what’s your chief legal sector grievance? And don’t you say this newsletter.




Government plans to “rank” Chinese lawyers prove unpopular


Chinese lawyers and legal schools have voiced their concerns over government plans to rank mainland lawyers by their seniority, and confine important cases to those who fall within the circle of sufficient qualification.

Beijing-based lawyer, Yang Xuelin, has commented that the initiative will “ruin the legal industry”. He explains that, “the proposal is not to defend the rights of our clients, nor to make the best use of the lawyers’ talent. It’s to exclude lawyers the authorities don’t like. The justice bureaus like the lawyers who don’t cause trouble and don’t oppose court rulings. But the most popular lawyers among clients happen to be the opposite.”

Xu Xin, a law professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, also pointed out that government intervention in the justice system is dangerous and can lead to widespread problems. On a social media account, he commented that: “They assume that good lawyers should be rated by administrative means … that the authorities should guide the people to decide who are good lawyers … [It assumes] clients are too stupid to choose good lawyers.”

One thing is certain, changes to the regulation of lawyers are likely to affect the sector as a whole, and could influence China’s international legal standing.




Lawyer under fire: Texas lawyer makes his own bed – and lies about it


This month saw the arrest of a 46-year old lawyer from San Antonio, Texas. Mark Benavides was accused by three former clients, with whom he had swapped his legal services and advice for other, erm, services.

We’re sure you can put the pieces together without any more help from us. As well as this, there are also allegations of Benavides taping the encounters which, for a criminal lawyer, is rather careless, don’t you think?

It does not seem as though Benavides was even considering that he may have been rumbled as, according to his Facebook account, he is currently a candidate for the 175th District Criminal Court in Bexar County. Yet, ironically, it was the tattoo of scales on his back – of justice, rather than a more apt resemblance of a snake – that proved to be his Achilles Heel. An alleged victim was able to identify him by this defining feature and, charmingly, it was also described by a prostitute involved in the investigation.

Despite the evidence, Benavides claimed that the woman was, “making up a bunch of lies about me” – perhaps not the wisest thing to say to a client who has just received a 15-year sentence for manslaughter.




The lawyer who never was


Because we at Laurence Simons enjoy celebrating the achievements of all of you, we thought we would include a “memorable lawyer” section in this month’s newsletter to highlight some inspirational international work.

Our scene is set in Zimbabwe, where James Maridadi is angrily defending himself against a man armed with a freshly written parking ticket, wet ink still catching the sunlight. But instead of gracefully accepting his fate of a $1 penalty, he grabs the rest of the ticket book – street value $2.50 – and speeds off into the distance.

Fast forward time to the morning of his trial where he is about to face his charge of unlawful borrowing. Unfortunately, Maridadi’s lawyer has not turned up, and as he frantically redials her number on his phone, a single bead of sweat falls down and lands on its screen.

The prosecutor, ironically named Patience Chimusaru, unimpressed by the proceedings, insists that the trial should start immediately as the state is ready.

Despite this, he is given some time to reach her. He disgruntledly comments: “I have forgotten her name and I have been trying to reach her since 8am to no avail.” It transpires that she has switched her mobile phone off.

Congratulations, unknown lady, you are this month’s memorable lawyer.




The oldest UK law practice still in operation is commended


Thomson Snell & Passmore, an English legal firm based in the towns of Dartford and Tunbridge Wells, has recently received the accolade of “oldest law firm still in operation” from the Guinness Book of Records.

Founded in 1570, the middle of the Elizabethan period, the firm has remained largely the same despite a name change in 1968. Much of the work done is broadly similar, with the original founder describing himself as a “scrivener and drafter of documents – or working in wills and property bonds. Now, there are also large commercial and corporate departments which many of the firm’s 215 employees and 37 partners are a part of.

Before he died in 1954, Frederick Alfred Snell, an ancestor of the practice’s founder, himself became part of the record books. He was acknowledged as the oldest practising solicitor in England at the grand age of 96.

Simon Slater, chief executive of the firm today, commented: “This is an acknowledgement of the firm's unique longevity and a testament to our resilience as a law firm. This recognition underpins our promise to our clients that we will always be here to provide legal support.”

Congratulations Thomson Snell & Passmore!




Could robots take your job?


Long have we heard tell of the impending Robo-pocalypse, and not just in Will Smith films, because even  Steven Hawking is now  getting in on the action - with predictions that uncontrolled artificial intelligence could overthrow humans in just 100 years. And we all trust him, right?

We know we may be getting ahead of ourselves. Yet although robots will not be standing up in court to defend a client any time soon, our artificial friends are now beginning to threaten skilled jobs. And as a result, routine aspects of legal work, such as conveyancing, drawing up employment contracts and preparing wills are increasingly likely to be taken over by them in the future, according to Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist.

There is already a universal use of pre-prepared templates in the sector, which cut down on human labour and working time. Yet predictions are that this will be taken one step further with the introduction of intelligent machines. We can picture them now, sitting in the office next to you and cursing as they realise the oil in their coffee mug has left a circular stain on their paper. Or is this an outdated view?

I don’t know, let’s ask Siri.