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Laurence Simons Newsletter September 2013

Posted by: Laurence Simons 25/09/13

Lawyer Under Fire

A prominent right-wing federal judge known for his intemperate views on, well, everything, has been caught with has pants down by an investigation from journalism blog Legal Schnauzer.

William Holcombe Pryor Jr of the Eleventh Circuit, who also serves on the US Sentencing Commission, once called the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history", which gives you some idea of where he's coming from.

If the evidence gathered by Legal Schnauzer is accurate, however, Mr Pryor could be joining the long list of American Republicans who do not conform to the stringent standards they appear to expect of the rest of the world.

The blog has uncovered a cache of nude images of the judge as a young man, initially published on gay smut website BadPuppy in the 1990s.

While Mr Pryor has (of course) denied the existence of the images, they certainly look a lot like him, and have done the round on a number of US legal news aggregators over the last few days as the scandal begins to snowball.

The legal expert rose to national prominence in Republican circles on the basis of a staunchly conservative record, voting against abortion, for compulsory prayer time in schools, and - you guessed it - against gay rights. A buttoned-down, staunchly conservative public figure who might have some unresolved personal issues relating to their sexuality? Pull the other one.

"Federal nominees typically are asked during the confirmation process about potentially embarrassing or compromising information in their backgrounds," explained Roger Shuler of the Legal Schnauzer blog.

If Mr Pryor did not do this before taking on the role, the emergence of the candid snaps could be cause for a major Senate investigation likely to prove embarrassing for the prominent Republican judge.

Insane Clown Posse subject of new lawsuit

In some of the least surprising news of the year, the Insane Clown Posse - a hip-hop group known for their violent and misogynistic lyrics, dressing up like terrifying nightmare clowns, and their Juggalo fanbase - are being sued by a former assistant.

Andrea Pellegrini, who was a publicist and attorney for ICP record label Psychopathic Records, is bringing a case against the rappers, the president of the company and several other employees.

She has raised a vast number of offences in a 17-page lawsuit which names Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope as defendants, alongside William Dale, Robert Bruce, and Dan Diamond.

I would expect it from William Dale and Robert Bruce, but I'm horrified to see Violent J get involved in these kind of shenanigans.

From the suit: "Plaintiff was even asked to do illegal and/or unethical things at her job, including Defendants asking her to obtain automatic tommy–guns for a photo shoot."

Tommy-guns! I didn't think you could even get those any more. In addition to this, Ms Pellegrini was subjected to sexual harassment from other employees of the controversial organisation, who presumably aren't known for their forward-thinking benefits packages or commitment to employee rights.

Her attorney, Jonathan Marko, told the Detroit News: "We're asking for a substantial amount of money to compensate her for what she's gone through and is continuing to go through."

Anyone who's spent more than few moments listening to an ICP record will understand what he means.

E-billing 'could save cash for GCs'

In-house lawyers who consider their laptop to purely be a tool for word processing and playing solitaire should look away now, because a new tranche of experts have urged general counsel (GC) to embrace the possibilities offered by new technology.

At a networking event hosted by the Law Society's in-house division, consultants from global business intelligence giant Thomson Reuters suggested that technology can help in-house lawyers boost their importance to their organisation and cut down on costs, helping to create more space in their budgets.

Ros Innes, Thomson Reuters' head of strategy for in-house, pointed to e-billing as one area that could be particularly useful.

According to Ms Innes, adopting this could see GC trim between five and ten per cent off their budget, improving the efficiency of their operations.

However, an on-the-spot poll of attendees found that only a handful of the 60 or so in-house lawyers in the crowd have considered the possibilities offered by this kind of technology, highlighting that there is some aversion to this kind of progression within the British legal world.

"GCs in the US are leading the way in this area, though it is likely to become an imperative for domestic in-housers," argued Ms Innes.

Her colleague and fellow tech expert Des Brady, head of government at Thomson Reuters, suggested that software allowing lawyers to analyse big data is likely to emerge over the coming years.

"As GCs move more into the governance of the business, they will need to add to their arsenal the ability to understand the potential of technology for their function," he added, silently dreaming of the day when lawyers will be fully-automated and downloadable onto your smartphone.

LSB: Market needs more lawyers

Anyone worried that we are currently suffering from a surfeit of lawyers, bumping into people in the street, taking up space at the bar, hiding in the bushes and generally making a nuisance of themselves, can set their minds at rest.

According to the Legal Services Board (LSB), there is currently an under-supply of legal service providers - indeed, the LSB has called for "fewer restrictions to the way that people are able to qualify".

While this may raise concerns that anyone with a suit and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses will now be able to take to the courtroom as long as they can thump the desk loudly enough, it is apparently a necessary step because of the liberalisation of the market seen over the last few years.

In a consultation published on proposed statutory guidance for implementing the recommendations of the Legal Education and Training Review, the LSB expressed its concern at the number of graduates failing to get training contracts following on from their degree.

"It is very difficult to accept the argument that there are too many lawyers," said the super-regulator, presumably never having listened to three divorced men getting drunk in a pub on a Tuesday afternoon and bemoaning the efforts of the legal system to 'take their kids away'.

However, not everyone agrees with the LSB's stance on legal training, tied in as it is with the emergence of businesses such as the Cooperative as rivals to more traditional law firms and neo-liberal plans to open up the law markets to more competition.

John Wotton, chair of the Law Society's education and training board, described the LSB's proposal as "inappropriate and misguided".

He added that making decisions in this area is not part of the organisation's remit and urged it to focus on more pressing concerns to do with the legal market.

Emergent markets 'need more due diligence'

For several years now lawyers have been urged to set out for the exciting terrain of emerging markets such as West Africa and Asia, where economic expansion has continued apace despite the slump in more developed markets.

However, the latest Legal Week Intelligence Benchmarker survey, published in association with Kroll, has indicated that the big profits available in these regions are matched with serious problems with regards to diligence and intellectual property theft.

Kroll managing director Zoe Newman said: "A lot of corporates do a 'box ticking' exercise on public records. But in emerging markets, public records can be inherently unreliable and what is in the media can be what people have paid to put there."

This can become a major headache for in-house lawyers, forced to deal with unreliable information and a lack of coherent regulation in the sector they work in.

Although some 44 per cent of respondents said they customise their due diligence on a country-by-country basis to comply with local anti-bribery and corruption legislation, a third still use a standardised process for all markets globally.

Furthermore, a quarter of respondents did not know if their company had suffered fraud, highlighting the lack of awareness around these issues in some emergent markets.

The report advised in-house lawyers to keep particular track of their organisation's links with external advisers, as well as brushing up on their cyber-security networks to ensure that any information being sent from place to place is kept safe.

Female attorneys 'still earning less'

Despite the fact that in-house is generally considered a fairer area in terms of gender diversity, it seems that female general counsel in the US are still earning less than their male counterparts.

ALM Legal Intelligence and Corporate Counsel recently released the 2013 Law Department Compensation Benchmarking Survey, which gathered compensation information from 4,851 attorneys across the corporate law world in the States.

While it found that in-house compensation is on the up in general, a pay gap still exists between men and women beyond the managing attorney level.

Deborah Froling, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), told Corporate Counsel that the results are disappointing but not surprising.

"We see the same thing in the NAWL survey with respect to law firm partners," she declared, suggesting that this problem is not solely confined to the corporate world.

Many initiatives have been launched over the last few years in an attempt to bridge the pay gap, but little progress has been made, if reports like this one are to be taken on face value.

Ms Froling argued that more needs to be done not only to increase the number of women in the law department pipeline, but to drive top-down action by getting more female lawyers to the pinnacle of their profession.

Departments headed up by women tend to be more equitable when it comes to compensatory issues, she concluded.

Tensions abound in Singapore legal market

Singapore has been lauded as a hub for legal firms trying to gain a foothold in the lucrative Asian market, with its status as a former colony making it especially welcoming for Magic Circle firms hoping to diversify their practice areas.

However, this development has not come about without any tension.

The country's business-friendly reputation, lack of corruption and proximity to countries such as China make it a haven for lawyers hoping to get some of that emerging market action, with some 600 financial institutions also based in the country, reports the Legal Gazette.

Its legal services market expanded by a quarter in the four years between 2008 and 2012, according to the Singapore Ministry of Law.

The introduction of Qualifying Foreign Law Practice licences (first granted to the likes of Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills and Norton Rose) was intended to anchor prestigious international firms in Singapore and ensure they can work in Singaporean fields rather than solely with global companies.

But the pace of liberalisation has slowed in recent years, to the consternation of many.
Ken Cheung, a partner in BLP's Singapore office, said: "We were looking forward to receiving a licence, but naturally when only four were awarded we were disappointed. The market has not opened up as fast as we had expected."

Nankunda Katangaza, Law Society head of international policy, argued that the law ministry is going through a period of reflection to assess which firms offer the most to the country's economy.

For the legal services organisations themselves, of course, the question of what they can do for Singapore is not of pressing importance when it comes to making more money before global warming destroys the world.

New groups launched to support general counsel

The financial crisis has obviously had many negative effects across the global business world, but it has also seen some positive changes take place. A new focus on regulation and sensible practice has developed; hand-in-hand with this, general counsel have seen their importance to companies grow.

One sign of this is the emergence of international groups promoting in-house issues such as In-house Counsel Worldwide, a collective incorporating the Commerce & Industry Group.

For years the C&I Group was simply an offshoot of the Law Society, but its decision to strike out on its own reflects the growing profile enjoyed by general counsel across the UK, reports the Lawyer.

New chairman Mark Harvey, head of legal at charity Age UK and co-chair of the In-house Charities Lawyers Group, suggested the organisation is now going to have more of a focus on training up staff in new areas.

"In-house counsel are increasingly having to take on a wider brief. Many are being asked to advise on strategy and methodology.

"Many businesses are asking whether it's a better use of their money to have a bigger and more competent in-house team than to instruct so many external firms," he added.

Given the furore seen recently over the sharp billing practices of some legal service providers, it is understandable that businesses are preferring to turn to their own lawyers in a bid to cut down on costs.

The support of groups such as C&I in up-skilling general counsel will be crucial if they are to fully embrace their new role. They'll probably offer free tea and biscuits as well, and maybe some juice. Go on, you might make a new friend.