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Laurence Simons newsletter February 2014

Posted by: Laurence Simons 20/02/14

Lawyer under fire
Irish lawyers 'benefit from US connections'
Legal sector 'positive for 2014'
Taiwan 'is high-tech hub'
KPMG warns of cyber crime threat
Should lawyers turn to crowdsourcing?
Middle East firms 'learning about sport'

Lawyer under fire

The public perception of lawyers casts them as relatively sober, judicious people - all those years among the library stacks, reading old journal articles in dusty tomes, is thought to produce a soporific, calming effect.

Of course, that isn't true at all, as the existence of this very column attests to. Indeed, the long hours and high stakes involved in many legal jobs can turn some lawyers into ravening maniacs with hair-trigger tempers and a host of unresolved psychological issues.

Take, for example, Twin Cities-based personal injury attorney Michael Riehm, who is facing a felony assault charge for allegedly stabbing a man with a steak knife at the W Hotel on New Year's Day.

Mr Riehm's attack took place (unsurprisingly) at bar closing time, reports Minneapolis City Pages.

Authorities say it began when Heather Griego, identified in the criminal complaint as Riehm's wife, complimented the appearance of the victim's girlfriend at a hotel bar. The soon-to-be stab-ee explained that his partner 'was already taken', which seems like a fairly innocuous statement.

However, it upset the couple. "The victim reported a shoving match ensued between himself and [Riehm] but the altercation was broken up by bar security," the complaint reads.

Unwilling to leave it there, the enterprising lawyer returned later in the evening to stab the victim with a steak knife he had purloined from the serving counter. After the police arrived, Riehm showed his legal nous by attempting to forcefully remove the weapon from the officers investigating the scene.

This isn't the first time the personal attorney has come under fire - in 2012, he was sued by TSR Law for using underhand methods to poach clients, which poses the question of whether or not wounding someone with a steak knife is simply an unconventional form of viral marketing. Probably not, though.

Irish lawyers 'benefit from US connections'

Ireland and the US have a long-held sense of connection, one that is largely maintained by Americans coming to Dublin and boring everyone by telling them about how their great-grandmother used to live in a cottage in the mountains of Wicklow, and, on the other hand, by Irish students going to American cities on gap years and throwing up over as many buildings as possible.

There are other factors in this relationship, though, and I obviously don't mean the fact that Barack Obama (O'Bama?) has some kind of Irish heritage in his ancestry.

Inward investment to Ireland increased over the course of 2013 as the country's economy recovered from a difficult few years, with many of the firms involved hailing from the US. For in-house lawyers and private practice workers, this means a welcome up-tick in business, particularly given the country's status as a European base for many North American companies.

Mason Hayes & Curran commercial head Philip Nolan told the Lawyer magazine that Ireland is increasingly a legal hub for firms from the US and beyond.

"We're starting to see Dublin take on more of a leading role in cross-border advisory and transactional work. Ireland is the gateway to Europe and a natural bridge between east and west," he declared.

The links between Irish and US firms mean that many legal organisations have offices in both regions, with investment occurring in both directions. Furthermore, the difficulties faced by the Irish economy have now be surmounted to some extent, meaning the soil is fertile for future growth.

According to the Lawyer, bailout has helped Ireland's biggest law firms grow (although smaller companies have fallen behind, as has been the case on a global level). Headcount has increased steadily at most and rapidly at some - only Mason Hayes provides any sort of financial figures, but anecdotally consistent turnover rises are also the norm.

Legal sector 'positive for 2014'

The new year can often bring an influx of positivity with it. As people undertake dry January in an attempt to quell their urge to drink three gin-and-tonics at lunchtime or make resolutions (I will stop writing erotic short stories about my co-workers, etc), they look forward to a blank slate and a fresh start in 2014.

This positivity is reflected in the UK's legal sector, which is hoping to shake off the dust of a disappointing few years and enjoy increased levels of expansion and growth over the coming 12 months.

Smith & Williamson's annual survey of the market found that confidence is as high as it has been since 2007, with 82 per cent of respondents feeling good about their position for the year - up from 61 per cent in 2013.

With 102 of the UK's top 250 law firms taking part in the report, this offers a pleasing snapshot of conditions at the high end of the sector. The UK's macroeconomic improvement (you may have heard George Osborne mention it in passing) is a major factor in the confidence seen across the board, according to the report.

However, the business climate remains somewhat tricky, with the legal environment becoming more competitive and exploring new markets considered to be crucial.

"Many firms (39 per cent) have set up a new service line in the last year, while 24 per cent expect to do so in the next 12 months. This, in addition to the high number of lateral hires, suggests a focus on cross-selling services to existing clients, rather than on winning new business. It also indicates a need for an increasing level of diversification that law firms have traditionally struggled to achieve," said the report.

So, while legal companies may be feeling good about 2014, it's clear that they too need to make some big resolutions if they are to enjoy the positive year they're looking forward to.

Taiwan 'is high-tech hub'

The east Asian state of Taiwan is increasingly playing host to many international law firms, with companies from across the globe keen to get involved in the high-tech market offered by the region.

Although it underwent political turmoil for much of the 20th century, the area has started to develop economically at great pace, and now has a number of well-established electronic manufacturing brands with contacts across the globe.

In addition to businesses such as HTC, Asus and Acer, many Taiwanese companies are also equipment and parts suppliers for global companies, meaning there is plenty of merger and acquisition work available for legal firms.

Winston & Strawn, a prestigious Chicago legal services provider, is planning to open an office in Taipei soon. John Alison, resident managing partner of DC IP firm Finnegan's Taipei office for a decade, will head up this new team.

He told the Lawyer: "Taiwan has a robust technology sector and an innovative culture - it's a major intellectual property hub."

With cross-border transactions between Taiwanese companies and their counterparts elsewhere in Asia on the up, legal organisations will find plenty to keep them occupied, particularly as the Chinese economy continues to dwarf many other international heavy-hitters.

Taiwan has recently signed free trade agreements with Japan, Singapore and New Zealand in an attempt to cement its position on the continent, meaning business levels look likely to improve even further over the coming years.

KPMG warns of cyber crime threat

UK businesses are losing the fight against cyber crime and could be made to pay for this in the future if they do not shape up, according to a new report from audit specialist KPMG.

The organisation's Audit Committee Institute found that the quality of information recorded about data security is becoming increasingly poor, with the majority of shareholders calling for more insight into how to protect their company from online threats.

Stephen Bonner, partner at KPMG, said: "Given the rapidly growing public, political and media profile of the cyber threat, it is very worrying that audit committee members feel more concerned now about the issue than they did a year ago."

Unfortunately, it tends to take many executives "out of their comfort zone", hence much of the uncertainty and dilly-dallying around the issue. (Although he didn't say dilly-dallying; one doesn't rise to the top of the pile at KPMG by enjoying the creative use of language).

Why should I care, you might say, as you eat your Tesco's sandwich and prepare yourself for an afternoon of thinking really important legal thoughts. Well, in-house lawyers are increasingly having to step up to the plate when it comes to cyber crime.

According to a Financial Times/ICSA Boardroom Bellwether survey from last year, only 21 per cent of firms have identified their key information assets and taken steps to mitigate the risks of an attack by malicious hackers.

This vastly increases the risk of being affected by cyber crime, and the onus is on general counsel to reduce the possibility that a company will find itself in this position.

Although lawyers may not have the technical expertise to deal with the issue themselves, they need to link up with experienced IT staff to decide how best to combat the threat, particularly in industries such as healthcare where a great deal of personal, sensitive data is on file.

In the age of big data and bring-your-own-device policies, businesses that find themselves in hot water because of poor cyber planning have only themselves to blame.

Should lawyers turn to crowdsourcing?

The 21st century has seen us embrace the concept of the wisdom of crowds unquestioningly. We check things on Wikipedia, even though it's just written by people who may or may not be experts, simply because of its volunteer-run system of checks and balances. We buy books based on their Amazon rating, even though 90 per cent of the people who leave reviews on the site are borderline-illiterate sociopathic mouthbreathers who wouldn't know a good novel if you dropped it on their heads.

And anyone who has taken the time to read a few reviews on TripAdvisor will never again complain about the cushy job enjoyed by food critics, because there's a reason only a select few get paid to write about restaurants.

But should the legal industry also be utilising the dubious power of crowdsourcing? Some experts think so - Adam Ziegler, a former litigator in Boston who has started a new web platform for lawyers, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that this is likely to be a major trend in the coming years.

His site, Mootus, is an online platform for legal argument and insight that sees lawyers hone their debating skills with one another.

And while Mr Ziegler's enthusiasm may be shot through with the zeal of the start-up owner, he isn't the only lawyer to point to crowdsourcing as the way forward.

Jake Heller, a former litigator with Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, said: "Lawyers are already producing a lot of information for free - literally thousands of summary analyses. What [motivates] them to write for free, under certain circumstances, is that it helps them build their brand and establish expertise."

Middle East firms 'learning about sport'

Like the awkward colleague who tries to make office small talk about the football despite never having watched a game and secretly preferring the colourful, horse-based world of dressage, regional law firms in the Middle East are planning to learn more about sport.

With the region witnessing a surge of interest in events such as football and tennis, local legal service providers are beginning to see the dollar signs in front of their eyes.

Al Tamimi & Company, one of the United Arab Emirates' leading law firms, has launched a dedicated sports law practice - and other companies look set to follow in its wake, reports the National.

Steven Bainbridge, the Doha-based lawyer who heads up the sport specialism in the region, told the newspaper: "We’ve had a critical mass of client queries about sports law, and we anticipate it being a productive long-run part of our business."

Statistics recently produced by PwC show that Europe, the Middle East and Africa is the second biggest earner in a global market for sport, with the sector growing faster than global GDP.

And if there's one thing we can rely on, it's that as cities crumble and the oceans heat up, as the world descends into socio-political chaos, there will still be plenty of people who enjoy watching some men or women chase a ball around a small field.