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Laurence Simons Newsletter June 2015

Posted by: Laurence Simons 09/06/15

Lawyer under fire: Matthew Olaleye lowers the bar

In an inexplicable mix of concerning yet hilarious news, 34 year old Matthew Olaleye has been arrested mid-trial in Lagos for masquerading as a lawyer.

Initially attracting attention from a magistrate during a previous court hearing where he sat as counsel, his unusual appearance and manner of speech aroused suspicion. Other lawyers soon picked up on his various fishy practices and quicker than you can say “learning on the job”, Matthew was toast. It is believed that the NBA – or Nigerian Bar Association – had been trailing him since these incidents began to crop up on their radar more and more frequently, and so had compiled an official report of his misdemeanours which ultimately lead to his dramatic arrest within a local court premises.

Although he admitted to police that he was not, in fact, a qualified representative of the law, he offered no other explanation of either the events or his actions. And unfortunately for us, it is still unclear whether he won or lost the previous cases he undertook. But with a “career” spanning several years, it is likely that he was involved in many.

We can only wonder what contribution he made to his own trial.

Is scrapping the UK’s Human Rights Act just taking liberties?

With the dust from the election in the UK barely settled, plans to replace Labour’s landmark Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights if EU law does not change have been met with predictable new waves of controversy and outrage.

The argument Prime Minister David Cameron continues to put forward is a fairly clear one, namely that criminals from overseas are not prevented by law from staying in the country once they have been convicted. This is a sanction that has historically ended up creating some cases of horrifying activity which could essentially have been prevented (if only from happening in the UK). Of course, other voices are speaking up to condemn the suggestion of scrapping such an important set of laws and to question what the implications would be for our relationship with the EU.

But what does this mean for the legal sector? Well, a lot. The Conservative manifesto itself reads: “this will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK”, which is a seismic shift in the way operations are usually undertaken. But even if the government’s plan does not come to fruition, it may have exposed some flaws in our international judicial systems.

New initiative to boost legal profession in Africa

Exciting plans have recently been put in place for a new African Business Law Firms Association (ABLFA) to promote the development of the legal profession across the continent. Facilitated by the African Development Bank (ADB), its inaugural meeting will be held in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, where its structure and membership will be formalised.

The initiative will attempt to encourage cooperation between independent African firms, and to take an active stance in monitoring business and economic law issues – and if necessary, refer these to the government for consideration. As the continent experiences economic growth, prominent lawyers are calling on the ADB to help promote and support business law firms in their fledgling phases. This mobilisation of continent-wide legal professionals is an important step forward for the sector, as the support network will enhance an already-growing regional discipline.

Although there are other existing legal networks, for example the Africa Legal Network and Lex Africa, the ABLFA will not model itself as an alternative, but will endeavour to encourage its members to work more closely than previous systems have. It is believed that members of the ABLFA will have to have already been admitted by an African bar, and will be invited to join at the association’s discretion.

Considering broadening your practice?

Stop where you are, put down your world map and cease your chanting of “eeny-meeny-miny-moe”. Two of the top global legal markets are suffering a terrible hardship; an excess of lawyers. 

A recent survey of 320 US law firms by Altman Weil, a legal management consultancy organisation spanning the US and EU, has found that market demand for lawyers has returned to pre-recession levels in only 32% of firms. Because of this, and a general acceptance that over-capacity can drastically drain profitability, firms are reluctant to make too many new hires. These findings are supported by the two thirds of firms surveyed who saw an increase in gross revenue since 2014 despite cutbacks on numbers.

Singapore is facing similar troubles with an excess of law graduates; there are now more new starters than training places. However, for firms, this is great news! The recruitment arena has returned to an employer’s market, and there is no shortage of top quality candidates. But is there a darker side to this? A reduction in the number of British university students who will be accepted for legal practice in Singapore to 11 from the previous quota of 19 could be a first step in limiting the diversity of intakes.

So a call to legal services firms or even global players contemplating rooting new practices – with a multitude of fresh talent ready to go, what are you waiting for?

Ireland re-emerges in European market

This year, A&L Goodbody became the first Irish firm to win The Lawyer’s European Law Firm of the Year award. Citing the propensity for innovation as a key factor in its success, this is one organisation that is heavily contributing to Ireland’s growing reputation as an up-and-coming legal hotspot.

Those of us with long enough memories can recall the Celtic tiger of the 90s, a booming economy with no way to go but up. However, following the worldwide economic downturn of the early 2000s, Ireland quickly became a ghost town, with many businesses upping sticks and relocating overseas. So what happened next? Well with with firms such as A&L Goodbody now setting up shop, the economy is making a fast recovery, and Ireland is once again emerging as a top destination for both firms and individual lawyers.

A&L Goodbody is just one demonstration of the way these big international organisations are putting Ireland back on the legal map. There is a buzz around its city centres, with office rents rising and increasing numbers of commercial buildings being commissioned as firms compete for space. And with much investment placed into transport, cities such as Dublin are becoming viable options for organisations looking to root branches overseas, bringing in even more competition from abroad.

So have you booked your flight yet?

Compliance? Don’t bank on it

Compliance professionals, cover your ears. A survey completed this year on behalf of US law firm Labaton Sucharow, has revealed that over a fifth of US and UK bankers admit to having observed or had first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.

This trend appears to be more prevalent in the UK, where 32% of British professionals claim that they would be privy to insider trading to make $10m if there was no risk of getting caught. This figure is only 24% in the US. But we can probably assume, ironically, that in the face of no risk, these low-level stats do an even better job in exposing dishonesty than higher results would.

In more devastating news, a third of industry heads questioned did not believe that the introduction of fines and penalties had morally revitalised the sector. In fact, the survey authors – the University of Notre Dame – even noted a “marked decline in ethics” since research they undertook in 2012.

Their results also revealed that one fifth of financial service professionals taking part – one whole fifth –believed it would be “sometimes necessary” to resort to illegal or unethical practice to succeed, with some citing hefty bonuses as incentive to do so.

So, compliance, your move.

Need a lawyer? There’s an app for that

As the digital world grows more and more all-encompassing, and even threatens an internet of things operating through the cloud (not that we are confident we fully understand the cloud yet), we are often left fumbling through our app store wondering what Fruit Ninja is and why we’ve never thought of recording the duration of our REM sleep before.

But across the legal sector, intelligent minds are coming up with ways of harnessing the power of remote access to firms’ services. Take, for example, SalduzWeb. This Belgian app grants a suspect access to a lawyer with two hours of being charged –using GPS. An automatic regional search is started once a client applies for a lawyer who, when found, can “accept” your case – much like a LinkedIn request. Once accepted, they can go on to read more about the case digitally before setting up a meeting/call with the client.

Another app, this time hailing from Devon in the UK, has made its way into the running for the inaugural Legal Innovation Awards 2015. The “My Lawyer” programme allows clients to “view documents, keep up to date with costs, pay bills online, diarise key dates and contact their lawyer” and has been heralded as an innovative approach to client management.

So what next? Perhaps one day we will be shouted at for not being on our phone in meetings.