Accessibility Links

Laurence Simons Newsletter May 2015

Posted by: Laurence Simons 05/05/15
Lawyer under fire: Gene Schaerr and his 900,000 abortions
Female talent is a firm choice
EU doubles judge headcount
Door to the Middle East ajar
Reaching new Shanghai-ghts
One out, all out
Welcome to the machine – technology and the legal profession


Lawyer under fire: Gene Schaerr and his 900,000 abortions

After last year’s monumental failure to defend Utah’s ban on same-sex marriages, attorney Gene Schaerr has decided that the hole he had fairly successfully dug himself into isn’t quite large enough, and so has reached for a bigger spade – in the form of a news-grabbing series of comments linking gay marriage and abortions.

According to Gene, it (il)logically follows that allowing same-sex unions would cause “an increase in the percentage of women who are unmarried and who, according to all available data, have much higher abortion rates than married women.” This apparently will mean an extra 900,000 abortions over the next 30 years.

Ironically, yet almost totally predictably, it appears that abortion rates have actually been dropping, including during the entire time period that  same-sex unions have been legal. Perhaps people are comforted by the thought that their child might always be adopted by a loving same-sex home. It’s impossible to tell, but back to the issue at hand.

So what would these abortion rates mean for America? And for the world? Well, to quell our anxious minds, Schaerr has generously provided us with a source of enlightenment. He can tell you, with confidence, that it would mean effectively wiping out numbers equal to “the entire population of the cities of Sacramento and Atlanta combined.”

Bad news for California and Atlanta then. Who needs nuclear weapons when Gene is around?


 

Female talent is a firm choice

In other news, CMS has appointed 39 partners across Europe and the Middle East, 49% – or 18 – of which are women. You would have had to have been hiding under a pretty impressively big rock for an inordinately long amount of time – perhaps watching every series of 24 by holding each frame up to a candle light – in order to not have heard discussions on whether females in law firms can potentially face “glass ceilings” when it comes to rising up the ranks. So this move has effectively highlighted the active progression organisations are making in matters of gender equality.

Ultimately, firms are making themselves more attractive to international female talent through examples such as these of fair promotion and unbiased practice ethics. So when it comes to the war for the top female candidates, they are one step ahead as applicants are reassured that they will not be overlooked, as they might have been in the past.

It’s pretty safe to say that women don’t want to be promoted as part of a quota, or to make up numbers as a PR exercise, but on their own merits and achievements – of which there are many. Can true equality even exist if there is a quota in place? Highly doubtful. But law firms that are seen to be offering this kind of professional recognition are naturally going to become the top choices for female lawyers comparing vacancies. And for women already working within organisations, promotions such as these are an excellent means of ensuring staff retention.

So it’s necessary to ask yourself – are you doing enough to attract and retain the top female talent?


 

EU doubles judge headcount

A controversial bid to double the headcount of judges appointed to the European Court of Justice is to be voted on by European ministers on 19th May.

In an attempt to streamline the court’s processes and make them more efficient, there is likely to be an increase in the number of judges from 28 to 56 – so that one can be assigned to every country. With salaries reaching over $220,000 a year, this influx of fresh talent would cost the EU roughly $20m per annum – pretty hefty.

The original plan to increase the numbers by 12 made little progress as countries bartered, protested and put extra effort into their Eurovision entries to decide who should have more than one representative sitting in the court. As no conclusion has been reached, the plan has been rewritten in a more diplomatic fashion so as not to exclude any country. 

But in the present climate of caution over public spending, the move has garnered fairly little support, with even the court’s president, Marc Jaeger, commenting: “There are more appropriate, more effective and less onerous means by which to strengthen the general court and to achieve better and even faster outcome for the litigants”.

To be continued in May…

 


 

Door to the Middle East ajar

As the number of international law firms operating in the Middle East rises, and countries all over the world chomp at the bit to be part of the action, we recently saw representatives from Croatia descend on Doha where they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with officials from Qatar, aimed at strengthening their respective legal markets through co-operation.

This document, signed by the Minister of Justice, Dr Hassan Lahdan Saqr al-Mohannadi, and the Croatian Minister of Justice, Orsat Miljenic, encourages both countries to hold joint conferences and training opportunities, and to exchange publications and research in order to develop their own legal sectors.

Is this perhaps an indication that the lucrative Middle East market is no longer going to be the exclusive province of firms from the US, the UK, or even Western Europe? Maybe these established players could do with a healthy dose of positive paranoia as international competition hots up.

 


 

Reaching new Shanghai-ghts

In a landmark move, Baker & McKenzie has become the first western law firm licenced to advise on local law in Shanghai. FenXun, a local corporate specialist practice, has entered into an agreement to collaborate on client matters, although the two firms will legally continue as separate entities.

This is a particularly big step as although a number of Western law firms have previously opened offices in both Beijing and Shanghai, they have so far only been able to advise on matters of their home country or international law. So this new merger represents a leap forward in the globalisation of a vastly lucrative legal market.

There are predictions that players from New York and London will be hot off the mark in placing applications as they try to establish themselves in the newly-accessible Chinese domestic market. But where will the frontline lawyers to service the work come from? There is already a dramatic skills shortage across APAC, particularly affecting China, and it’s doubtful that enough lawyers from other countries of origin will have the language skills, cultural understanding and intricate knowledge of Chinese law necessary to fill an entire firm.

So what will the West do? Will Western firms have to adopt drastic measures to tackle the looming talent crisis? Some years ago, the mining firm Rio Tinto was offered the biggest mining contract in the world in Mongolia on the condition it gave a high proportion of the necessary engineering jobs to locals. The problem was that only about two relevant candidates were available. Rio Tinto consequentially hoovered up Mongolians from all around the world, trained them at the best mining school in the US and sent them home to guaranteed jobs. Could the legal profession learn something from this radical solution?

 


 

One out, all out

Striking and lawyers just don’t seem to go together do they? Ok, in the UK solicitors and barristers focused on criminal work came out on strike (even though many shied away from actually using the word) last year in protest to cuts to the legal aid budget. But otherwise the legal profession around the world hasn’t really leapt at the chance to down tools and take to the streets to voice its grievances.

 Unless, of course, you happen to be in India. Delhi, for example, is currently in the middle of an eight day strike by lawyers in all six of its district courts over delays to a bill dealing with their financial jurisdiction. Although this might sound like a rather dry and dusty issue from the outside it certainly seems to be annoying the local representative body, which has stated that its members are suffering “agony and discomfort’ because of it. Around 150 lawyers have been detained by police so far following a protest march and there has been severe disruption to court cases, most of which are being deferred. So tensions are running high, and the committee chairman, R K Wadhwa, has insisted that until the bill is passed, the lawyers will remain on strike.

And this isn’t even the first time this year that India’s lawyers have taken strike action. Back in March lawyers in Uttar Pradesh came out after one of their number was shot dead outside a courthouse by a rogue policeman. We can’t help but feel this makes lawyers in other jurisdictions around the world just a little timid in comparison.


Welcome to the machine – technology and the legal profession

What place does technology have in law? A big one, by anyone’s standards. But the question on the tip of many tongues is whether artificial intelligence could be beneficial to the sector or whether the future is decidedly tech-free.

There are people on both sides of the fence with strong arguments. For instance, points have been raised that computers will imitate logic rather than creativity, and that they will not be able to mimic processes which occur in the right-hand side of the brain. Great news for women then, who are apparently typically more  ‘right-brained’ than their male counterparts. But where some suggest that this will mean women will be more valued, and that gender diversity will become more balanced, others worry that technology could  reduce the overall number of positions available and the resulting competition could actually make the profession less diverse.

One major firm, Pinsent Masons, has already begun to incorporate artificial intelligence technologies into its processes. Analysing data from previous cases is helping its lawyers to predict the outcomes of cases that arise with similar circumstances. Publicly very positive about this innovation, the firm is going some way in proving that this technology might have a real place in the future of law.
But will technological processes such as these enhance the sector, and the lives of those working in it, or will they simply end up dominating it?