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Laurence Simons Newsletter September 2014

Posted by: Laurence Simons 01/09/14

Lawyer under fire
The Accountants are coming! (Well, in Asia-Pacific at least)
Legal profession warned over data breaches
Keep your travel limited, says tech-savvy lawyer
Red Rojo? Maybe not if the lawyers have anything to do with it
Bowe Bergdahl lawyer warns against leaping to conclusions
Lawyer joy after Modi passport revocation ruled illegal


Lawyer under fire

There are many ways lawyers can come under fire: A crass public comment about a case, perhaps; poor service; or misdemeanours that see them struck off a register for criminal behaviour. But few can earn a good old fashioned tabloid kicking more easily than one who invokes a bit of health and safety when the Daily Mail is about.

The lawyer in question, a specialist in the topic, is Radd Sieger, who lives in Banbury. Safety on the beach may not be his day job in landlocked Oxfordshire, but he was until recently a regular visitor during his holidays to Polzeath Beach in Cornwall.

He had been going for over ten years and noticed a huge increase in the number of surfers and bodyboarders there. One of the latter hit Mr Sieger and his teenage daughter while they were in the water and this has led to him calling for limits to be set on visitor numbers on safety grounds.

"The council need to get people there for the economy so they are encouraging people into the water, but no-one is grasping the nettle and saying 'if we put too many people in the water something bad is going to happen'," he remarked.

Of course, this sort of thing goes down like a lead balloon with your average Mail reader and, let's be fair, many other folk too. A number of people used the paper's Facebook page to vent their spleen at Mr Sieger's 'nanny state' arguments. One said: "People have been using the sea for years! Why is it this nation needs babysitting! If they ain't falling off of the cliffs they're getting into difficulties in the sea. People need to take care of their own actions!"

Quite apart from the inability of some people to use a question mark where appropriate, it can also be deduced that there are some battles even lawyers just can't win. Indeed, this lawyer under fire - or is it under water? - has perhaps realised he has got in too deep and has decided to go somewhere less crowded from now on for his sun, sea and sand.

 



The Accountants are coming! (Well, in Asia-Pacific at least)

One of the Big 4 accountancy firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), has launched a local legal services arm in Australia. Former King & Wood Mallesons Partners, Tony O’Malley and Tim Blue have joined PwC to start this venture.

PwC’s current legal business, PwC Legal which has operation in 80 countries and employs over 2,000 people, will be targeting annual turnover of A$100m (£56m) from its Australian business. This Australian set up will also focus on the Asia Pacific region.

Tony O’Malley commented “Our sights will initially be set on the Australian market and on supporting the development of complementary legal practices in key regional markets. We’ll work closely with the broader PwC network in achieving this ambition.”

This is all part of PwC’s wider goal of transforming PwC into a top 20 global player by 2019; Asia and Africa are seen as key regions to contribute towards their target. Since the beginning of ABS, PwC has been building its legal services in the UK, along with accountancy firms EY and powerhouse KPMG.

Will they succeed in becoming a big player or are the Magic Circle firms far too established? As they say, only time will tell. Either way, the legal landscape may soon be about to change.


Legal profession warned over data breaches

The legal profession in England and Wales is at risk of breaking the law itself by failing to maintain sufficient security when dealing with personal data.

It has been warned by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) that firms could be fined up to £500,00 for a serious breach of the data protection act, as it delivered a shot across the bows of the profession in the wake of a number of transgressions. Indeed, the last three months alone have seen 15 complaints referred to the ICO.

The information commissioner Christopher Graham remarked: "The number of breaches reported by barristers and solicitors may not seem that high, but given the sensitive information they handle, and the fact that it is often held in paper files rather than secured by any sort of encryption, that number is troubling.

"It is important that we sound the alarm at an early stage to make sure this problem is addressed before a barrister or solicitor is left counting the financial and reputational damage of a serious data breach."

Top tips issued by the ICO include not leaving papers in a car overnight, only carrying data that is required at any particular time to reduce risk, using encryption or password protection for sensitive emails, encrypting anything kept on a memory stick and ensuring data is disposed of when it is no longer needed - including when an old computer is thrown out.

These sorts of practices are routinely carried out by security-conscious staff in other organisations where sensitive data may be held - such as NHS bodies or local councils - and they are equally prone to being hit with major fines by the ICO if they get it wrong. Suffice to say, barristers and solicitors would do well to take the advice given.


Keep your travel limited, says tech-savvy lawyer

 Less travel and more Skyping is the way for a London-based lawyer who has been shortlisted for an award.

Michael Ellis of Abercrombie and Kent told The Lawyer that his job involves a fair bit of travelling as his clients include hotel firms while he acts as general counsel for them. Far from being sun-kissed and glamorous, however, it can be a hard grind and remote communication is his preferred modus operandi.

Explaining his approach, South African Mr Ellis said: "We have lots of technology such as Skype and video conferencing so I try to work as much as possible from London and travel only when I absolutely have to sit across a table from somebody. Sometimes, you have to be on the ground for the communication to be right."

He has been shortlisted for the In House Lawyer of the Year Awards, which is rather appropriate as it seems that is exactly where he likes to be.

Still, there can be no doubt he has had to work very hard to earn his corn, both for his actual legal work and the job of explaining to friends exactly what business he is involved in.

"When I told friends about my move - or even now when I attend conferences - I had to explain that the company is in the luxury travel business, not selling jeans and t-shirts to teenagers," he remarked.


Red Rojo? Maybe not if the lawyers have anything to do with it

The involvement of the law in sport can often be murky - and that may also be so for Argentine footballer Marcos Rojo.

Currently a Sporting Lisbon player, the defender is a transfer target for Manchester United. However, their £16 million bid falls short of the £24 million release clause in the player's contract.

What complicates matters further is that Sporting are not set to cash in to the full value of the fee. A South American management company called Doyen 'owns' 75 per cent of the player and would thus pocket the majority of the fee. Indeed, the club has accused Doyen of encouraging the player to seek an exit to Old Trafford. In turn, Doyen is threatening legal action if Sporting refuse to hand over most of the fee paid by the English club. This could end up being resolved by the lawyers instead of the coaches.

The move would have to end the ownership of Rojo by Doyen, as it is forbidden under Premier League rules. Indeed, this caused major ructions when another Argentine, Carlos Tevez, signed for West Ham in 2006. His continued part ownership by a South American company meant he was technically ineligible, which led to the club being heavily fined, but not docked the points that would have relegated them.

Despite this, Sheffield United - the team who would have stayed up had West Ham gone down - eventually decided against legal action for the financial damages the loss of their Premiership status caused. Even so, the warning was heeded and Manchester United carefully made sure they complied with the rules when they signed Tevez. Their own lawyers may have much to do if Rojo is to sign.


Bowe Bergdahl lawyer warns against leaping to conclusions

Few legal cases can have split public opinion more than that of the Bowe Bergdahl case, although in this case much of the split is a manifestation of fickleness. At first he was the American soldier cruelly caged by the Taliban who President Obama managed to negotiate the release of. Then, as he flew home, it emerged that he was under suspicion of deserting his post. From a hero/victim, suddenly he was assumed to be a villain.

All that has left his lawyer to remind people of his democratic and constitutional right to be given a fair trial, in which the evidence must be clearly heard and analysed, rather than the mob rushing to judgement.
Speaking to Associated Press Television News, his attorney and military law expert Eugene Fidell said: "There are people who have vilified Sergeant Bergdahl, there are people who attempted to turn him into a kind of pinata. "On the other hand, there are people of goodwill who have communicated with me their sympathy for the experience he has had to undergo, the ordeal, really."

He said it is important for everyone to stand back and "Let the facts unfold a little bit." Of course, there will be some who are not willing to do so from a public opinion perspective. However, while Sergeant Bergdahl tries to reintegrate into the US military with a desk job in Texas, he will certainly be relieved if the hearing can pass and he be absolved. After all, he has already done plenty of time in captivity at the hand of some extremely scary jailers.

Mr Fidell agrees. He added: "I hope that the matter can be resolved sooner rather than later so that Sgt Bergdahl can become plain old Bowe Bergdahl and return to private life and get on with his life."
For those pursuing a legal career in the UK, it may of course be another reason to be relieved that such debates over whether someone is guilty or not would fall foul of contempt of court rules once they made it onto the airwaves or into print.


Lawyer joy after Modi passport revocation ruled illegal

Cricket is many things in south Asia - including, it seems, a source of heavy lawyer workloads. A sport that is almost a religion, it has a huge profile, involves vast amounts of money and is, alas, also subject to plenty of corruption, as power games, bribery and cheating have at times taken their toll.

All that means the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), however rich it is and influential internationally, is not in any position to be dealing purely internally with such matters.

One man who has been on the receiving end of more allegations than most is Lalit Modi, the former chairman of the BCCI, including over alleged corruption that involves claims he breached the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) by misappropriating large amounts of cash during the 2009 Indian Premier League.

Not only was he banned for life by the BCCI, but he also faced various criminal charges and even had his passport revoked by the government while he was in London, which has now been his "temporary" home for the last four years.

However, this week that measure was reversed by the Delhi High Court - a move his lawyer Mehmood Abdi was delighted about. Speaking to cricket website ESPN cricinfo. he said: "We are very, very happy (that) our stand has been vindicated by the Delhi High Court. For long, we've been saying that his passport was essentially revoked on erroneous and illegal grounds which could not be sustained by the department (that made the order)."

He added that as he has also managed to get all criminal allegations against Mr Modi dismissed, that only leaves the FEMA issue, which is a civil offence, not a criminal one.
All that could leave Mr Modi, whose BCCI ban and UK exile did not stop him getting elected as chairman of the Rajasthan Cricket Council, in a position to go home and try to mount a comeback.