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Laurence Simons Newsletter July 2013

Posted by: Laurence Simons 24/07/13

Lawyer under fire

An American attorney has been disbarred for writing a scathing book divulging the confidences of his former client, once an aide for Republican politician Karl Rove who now appears regularly on Fox to 'discuss' the 'news'.

Dee Dee Benkie has also served as chair of the National Young Republicans, where many of the party's bright young things are groomed for success, reports Above the Law.

However, her attorney Joseph Stork Smith claimed in his expose that the rising star is a Machiavellian, unscrupulous operator with no moral compass - naturally rendering her completely useless in the world of American politics.

Despite the fact that two people with names like that should obviously run a small detective agency together rather than argue in the courts, Stork Smith's out-of-print book (entitled Rove-Ing Her Way to the White House: Machiavelli's Sexy Twin Sister) has landed him in hot water.

Someone should have told the attorney that when it comes to titles, less is more. They should also have told him that publicly revealing confidential statements for profit, making false claims and representing Dee Dee despite his clear conflict of interest is a one-way route to getting disbarred.

Although Benkie was keen for Storky to write a book - "That is a great idea! Write a book and make me famous!", she allegedly wittered - it's obvious she wasn't expecting the critical mauling carried out by her former friend and lawyer.

The Indiana Supreme Court was unanimous in its criticism of Mr Smith, although there's no denying that Dee Dee (who can be seen on Fox calling the president unAmerican, lying about voter fraud, and so on) does not come out smelling of roses either.

Anyway, it probably won't be the last time we hear about these two crazy kids - although hopefully the next time we do they'll be running a family-friendly restaurant chain called Stork and Benkie's.



London's hottest barristers named

The generally solemn world of London's prestigious bar has been the subject of much mirth this month after a Tumblr was launched naming some of the capital's hottest barristers.

It began circulating around the Inns of Court earlier in July, sparking both amusement and a keen sense of competition as the most eligible lawyers vied for a place in the rankings.

Fresh-faced charmer Patrick Hennessey of 39 Essex Street topped the list. He was only called to the bar in 2010, perhaps explaining why the pressures of the legal world have not yet left him slumped and defeated like a wilted rose.

According to the blog, he is "the kind of guy you dream about meeting when you're an 18-year-old girl fresh off your gap yah and going up to Oxford. You’d lock eyes during freshers' week, and have a shy courtship culminating in a torrid midnight make out sesh in a college cloisters".

Leaving aside the fact that this purple prose was presumably written by someone in a position of some power in the legal world and not my little sister, Hennessey's sparkling appeal is undeniable.

He told the Lawyer magazine that he was uncharacteristically lost for words, before admitting he was glad to see he had the option of a new career if the legal world continues to endure such a torrid time.

Other contenders for the top spot included 4 Paper Buildings' Justin Ageros and South Square’s Adam Al-Attar, who apparently possesses "a soulful, elegant quality that reminds us of the young Marcel Proust before he took to his bed to write Swann's Way". Phwoar!


CC to push global efficiency measures

Magic circle law firm Clifford Chance has announced plans to improve efficiency across its international operation, bringing in three external coaches to help lawyers identify ways they can carry out work more smoothly - and, of course, cheaply.

The advisers are known as efficiency 'black-belts', offering us the pleasing image of wizened, cryptic elders kicking smart-suited lawyers in the throat for daring to have a coffee before their allocated break time or nipping outside to play with the squirrels.

Presumably the process is somewhat less painful than that, but the circumlocutory way in which efficiency measures are discussed make it almost impossible for even seasoned readers of business-chat to understand.

Apparently, it will involve training top legal workers with a scheme adapted from 'lean' and 'Six Sigma' techniques (more often seen in the manufacturing industry), allowing them to improve their own efficiency without too much input from external sources.

CC's global chief operating officer Amanda Burton told Legal Week: "We have made a significant investment in the Continuous Improvement resource ... the course empowers our lawyers to use a subset of Continuous Improvement tools to analyse their processes and design more effective approaches themselves."

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, give a man a subset of Continuous Improvement tools and he'll soon learn how to create a memory-map of fishing techniques aimed at driving stronger improvement ratios in his team's river-related performance diametrics. 

Or he'll learn how to tick a few boxes that keep the efficiency aficionados off his back. We'll see.



Freshfields highlights M&A activity in Africa

The continued efforts by international businesses to find new markets for investment have been given further urgency by the economic problems seen in more developed areas over the last five years.

Like a jilted groom responding to his fiancee's last-minute escape by proposing to a bridesmaid, global companies are casting their eyes towards fresh regions in which to trade.

This could be good news for in-house lawyers looking for new positions abroad, with a recent report from law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer highlighting the large number of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) taking place across the vast continent of Africa.

While the sheer scale of the region means many variations exist on a national level, the Freshfields report does give a sense into how perceptions of the continent as a place to do business have changed in recent years.

The value of African inward investment has tripled in the last decade, with companies from the UK, France and China the biggest players in this time scale.

Quicker than you can say soft colonialism, countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt have seen industries such as the natural resources sector expand through external investment.

Given the complex regulatory environment in the continent and the lack of legal infrastructure in many areas, general counsel working for multinational businesses could well see Africa becoming a major part of their remit over the coming years.



General counsel 'need law firms to change'

Although they're perhaps not up there with Batman and Superman, Morrissey and Marr, Doherty and Barat or Sheringham and Cole for famously productive yet unerringly problematic partnerships, general counsel and private practice lawyers enjoy a close relationship that can become difficult under certain circumstances.

According to a recent report from the Huron Consulting Group, in-house lawyers in the US are calling for a change to how law firms operate when it comes to pricing models, suggesting they need to create new systems that balance their need to make a profit with the increasing client demand for efficiency.

In the current economy, businesses are determined to cut costs in any way possible. This can mean asking employees to take turns to peddle a bike that produces electricity for the office, or encouraging executives to only use own-brand smoked salmon at their weekly Nyotaimori parties.

However, it can also mean encouraging general counsel to extract better deals out of external legal advisers.

This could require a major shift in how law firms think of themselves and their work - "from subject matter experts who must do everything possible to address the legal issue presented, to service providers who must give the clients what they actually want".

A similar theme has evolved recently in the UK, where the emergence of corporate brands such as Eddie Stobart in the law market has led to suggestions that legal companies need to look to branding and marketing to solidify their position.

One general counsel recently told a group of Huron Legal consultants that when he hires outside counsel, he looks at it as a business-to business transaction rather than one which involves bringing in the 'best' or most prestigious lawyer.



ACC opens Singapore office

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), a major American-based organisation set up to serve the professional and business interests of in-house lawyers and keep the true hiding place of the Grail a secret from any seekers until the prophecy is fulfilled, has launched an office in Singapore.

With more than 30,000 members in over 75 countries, the ACC is the world's biggest group of its kind, but this is its first major foray into the Asian market - highlighting how the balance of power is shifting.

Veta Richardson, ACC's president and chief executive officer, pointed out that Asia's increasing importance to global business means many in-house lawyers are working on the continent, especially in urban hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore.

"We heard that Asia was definitely at the top in terms of what our members were seeking, and we started then, perhaps a year ago, to work with our members who were on the ground in different locations," she added.

The new chapter will help the association reach out to its members in the area to provide resources, legal education programs, and networking opportunities, hopefully generating more cohesion among in-house lawyers in the area.

Jo Anne Schwendinger, regional general counsel for Asia-Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa for John Deere, is to take on the role of president.

She stressed the importance of networking for industry professionals in the region, pointing out that forming these kind of links can make it far easier for firms to do business together at some point in the future.



Google could be affected by EU privacy rulings

The EU's increasingly draconian attitude to data protection regulation could start to affect US firms such as Google and Facebook as their 'safe harbour' status (as companies based outside the eurozone) is called into question.

This is because the EU Commission has just announced a review of the existing provision. At the moment it allows companies to sign up to a set of provisions regarding their handling of personal data, reports the Financial Times.

However, after some deep thinking, decision-makers at the European governing body have come to believe that allowing businesses with a huge financial investment in the mining of personal data to set up some of their own rules about how this information could be used is a little like asking two small children to make a bar of chocolate last them the whole car journey.

To continue the simile, it's possible new regulations will see the EU keep some of the chocolate bar in the glove box, occasionally portioning it out to the rowdy companies when they start to get tearful.

How they will avoid the dreaded problem of the chocolate melting and getting all up on the gear stick has not yet been discussed.