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Laurence Simons Newsletter October 2015

Posted by: Laurence Simons 15/10/15

Lawyer under fire: Modern lawyer gets with the programme
Is Abu Dhabi losing its appeal?
The beginning of the end for unpaid Australian internships?
 Cameroon attracts its first international players
Insurance sector opens its doors to compliance
The future of the general counsel
Fitness tests for India’s courtrooms

Lawyer under fire: Modern lawyer gets with the programme

This month, we may have stumbled upon the perfect ingredients for a great “lawyer under fire”.

Take two grieving parents who suspected that their daughter’s death may have been at the hands of their insurance pay out-seeking son-in-law.

Add one Tennessee lawyer, Yarboro Sallee.

Subtract $85,000 in fees.

And then divide Sallee from her law firm with a suspension.

So what happened? Well the bill in question was actually for extensive “research” carried out by the family’s lawyer into previous spousal homicides. Sounds legitimate – but wait. It transpired that the source of her investigation was less than conventional – it was a true crime show on television.

The Supreme Court of Tennessee, whilst judging her case, ruled that: ‘At every turn in these proceedings, faced with findings at every level that her conduct breached numerous ethical rules, attorney Sallee has been doggedly unrepentant. Indeed, her consistent response has bordered on righteous indignation.”

We don’t find this hard to believe as it has now been revealed that Ms Sallee even billed the client twice for watching certain episodes for a second time.

A one year suspension has been ordered – we wonder how she will fill her time.




Is Abu Dhabi losing its appeal?

Joining the ranks of Latham & Watkins and Baker Botts, Herbert Smith Freehills becomes the most recent firm to pull its lawyers out of Abu Dhabi.

A growing trend is seeing offices being relocated to Dubai and other immediate areas in an apparent bid to save costs after the fall in the Middle East property market – although all three firms have denied this. Latham has denied an attempt to cut costs and argued that all of its 35 Abu Dhabi lawyers are keeping their jobs and just relocating. Herbert Smith Freehills merely commented that circumstances have changed and it is no longer necessary to have a physical presence in the city to continue to carry out work there.

In fact, the head of the firm’s Middle Eastern practice, Zubair Mir, commented: “We are confident that we can continue to provide the quality and breadth of service to our clients in Abu Dhabi from our offices in Dubai and Doha and our global network across the UK/US, Europe and Asia Pacific.”

However, one partner with a western law firm in Abu Dhabi mused, “The reality is that there is less work to go around here than in Dubai, and the firms that already have relationships with Abu Dhabi government and corporate entities work very hard to preserve them. Added to that is the pressure to establish an office in ADGM Square, where rents are about double what you would pay in a premium location like Etihad Towers.”

Who to believe?


The beginning of the end for unpaid Australian internships?

Following the news a few months ago that Adelaide’s Adlawgroup billed newly qualified law graduates $22,000 for the (usually free of charge) supervision they need in their first year of traineeship to gain a full practising certificate, Australia has been in the news again.

This time, the Australian Law Students Association (ALSA) has accused large firms of utilising “slave labour” in the form of unpaid internships. Apart from segregating the less wealthy graduates from those who can afford to take on unpaid work – often for months on end – and therefore actually preventing the diversification of the sector, ALSA has also accused the firms of exploiting those who are “desperate and vulnerable”.

There is a huge over-supply of law graduates currently searching for work in Australia. It is because of this that certain firms have taken advantage of the situation and offered work with little to no remuneration, or even charging them to work within their organisations.

It is clear that something has to change for the good of the sector, and perhaps this report from ALSA, submitted to the Productivity Commission, will be the first steps towards fairer employment opportunities for Australian graduates.

Cameroon attracts its first international players

Thanks, in part, to a resurgent oil and gas industry, Cameroon is celebrating the incoming of its first international law firm. Centurion Law Group is continuing its pan-African expansion with its newest office in Douala.

But why here? Well, Douala is both the largest city in Cameroon and the wealthiest business hub in Central Africa. After years of declining systemic production, and because of an increase in gas production, reserves have become available for investments in electricity generation and industrialisation. New gas laws implemented in 2014 have generated major interest from foreign players, and so now is a natural time for an international legal player to enter the market.

Centurion operates in a number of practice areas, including arbitration, commercial litigation, corporate and finance law, labour and employment, and oil and gas. Eight lawyers from Cameroon – with academic and professional credentials from North America, the UK, France, Nigeria and Cameroon – will be based here.

This follows a vast expansion of the African legal sector in the last twelve months, and it is highly likely that the move will set a new precedent for other firms looking to settle in desirable locations across the continent.

Insurance sector opens its doors to compliance

There is a growing feeling amongst those within the UK – and global – insurance sectors that compliance is slowly rising up the agenda. Because of an international clampdown on banks by regulators, many organisations are having to start taking issues of compliance much more seriously.

An underwriter working across European markets (who wished to stay anonymous) told Global Legal Post: ‘There is a massive concern about being compliant now. I’ve never seen so many people in compliance departments. I’ve never seen so many requests on compliance. Underwriters in the City of London are used to having a fairly free hand in the way that they agree deals with brokers. Agreements were regularly made on scraps of paper in the pub and firmed up afterwards. And if a broker wanted to locate a policy in Luxembourg, for instance, in order to save on insurance taxes, then few questions would have been asked - even if it seemed unlikely that the insured could justify the arrangement on purely commercial grounds.’

Having recently been asked by a broker to provide cover on this kind of basis, he says: ‘Years ago a lot of underwriters would have done that deal for him. This time I said to him: “You would be breaking the law. This is called tax avoidance”.’

So, for compliance officers looking to expand into this sector, it’s likely that your ending will be a happy one.

The future of the general counsel

On the 9th November, the first General Counsel Futures Summit will be held in London and attended by over 150 General Counsel (GC) and business leaders. The main theme of the event will be a focus on the “legal department of the future” and just how the general counsel can shape a company’s strategy.

There are many questions existing around the future role of a GC – and with many breaking through the glass ceiling, thought leaders are increasingly considering what traits are needed and which steps must be taken to reach the top. The role of the GC within modern business has changed immeasurably since the global financial crisis of 2008. Nowadays, there seems to be a blurred line – it is not enough to be a lawyer, you must also possess business advisory skills.

Subsequently, business transformation has become a hot topic on the lips of GCs. But what role should external advisors play in it? How much should the general counsel contribute to the C-suite? And what challenges and risks are faced by legal departments?

With these questions and more on the agenda to be discussed, the summit promises to be very interesting.



Fitness tests for India’s courtrooms

In top news for the Indian legal sector this week, it has been announced by the Supreme Court that all lawyers will have to face mental and physical fitness tests to ensure that they are eligible to conduct trials. This move will seek to ensure that they are fully capable and that their client will not suffer at the hand of any lack of diligence, in order to promote a more thorough national justice system.

The debate was initially sparked by the Uber rape case in which a plea was made to recall all of the witnesses as the defendant argued that their lawyer was incompetent.

The court then commented that: "Perhaps the time has come to review the Advocates Act and the relevant rules to examine the continued fitness of an advocate to conduct a criminal trial on account of advanced age or other mental or physical infirmity, to avoid grievance that an advocate who conducted trial was unfit or incompetent. This is an aspect which needs to be looked into by the concerned authorities including the Law Commission and the Bar Council of India.”

"The interests of justice may suffer if the counsel conducting the trial is physically or mentally unfit on account of any disability. The interest of society is paramount and instead of trials being conducted again on account of unfitness of the counsel, reform may appear to be necessary so that such a situation does not arise."