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September 2015 Newsletter

Posted by: Laurence Simons 14/09/15

Lawyer under fire: Judge loses it

A stunning display from Mr Justice Peter Smith, a British High Court judge, saw him forced to step away from a case involving British Airways as it was deemed that there was a “real risk of bias”.

So what happened?

Well, Smith intervened in the multibillion-pound case a spectacular 33 times…to complain about his own lost luggage.

In his own words:

“Right, Mr Turner, here is a question for you. What happened to [the] luggage?

“I am asking you: what happened to the luggage. It has been two weeks…now.

“BA as a group, as a company in a group, clearly know what happened to the luggage because…they cannot have accidentally left the whole of the flight’s luggage off the plane, can they? I mean, I am intrigued. It might be for some reason they only had three gallons of fuel on the plane, it would run out unless they took everything off, which is a bit difficult because the plane was actually being refuelled when we got there. But equally, it is impossible to believe that the pilot, who has to sign the documentation as to what is the weight and composition of the weight in the plane, did now know that his hold was empty; and it is equally impossible for the ground staff not to know that the luggage was not there. These are things which, I accept, I am struggling to find a rational explanation for.”

Perhaps he was particularly attached to the plethora of keyrings he bought in the gift shop or maybe he has sacrificed his luckiest pair of swimming trunks. Either that or he’s utterly unable to forgive the loss of a giant Toblerone – I suppose we’ll never know.

The never-ending story of China’s legal growth

Unsurprisingly, China has been in the news for having a truly huge number of lawyers working within its walls. This number, expected to reach a colossal 300,000 by the end of 2015, has grown by 20,000 this year alone.

These figures, released in a government statement in late August, reflect the numbers of licensed lawyers practicing in the country. They were also described as an integral part of both the economy and of social development.

Dealing with roughly a quarter of the 8.5 million civil and commercial cases each year in more than 20,000 law firms in China, lawyers comprise a large part of society – but the government is complaining that present levels of professionalism within the legal market are not high enough.

For example, although China has slowly been crafting a professional judiciary since legal reform began in 1979, the Judges Law 2000 and the unified State Judicial Examination introduced in 2002 have only aided basic requirements and legal knowledge of those seeking to become a judge. However, the Chinese government hears the voices saying that they should professionalise its courts and the judiciary further, and the Supreme People's Court has prioritised this motion in its second five year reform plan announced in October 2005.

US embraces compliance

Recent data from Cipperman Compliance Services (CCS) has revealed that asset managers, services professionals and many other firms in the USA are finally recognising compliance as a core function of business, with many now spending equal amounts on this as they do their legal counsel.

The study, named the “C-Suite Survey”, and based on the responses from 180 leaders who deal with compliance in the financial services industry, has brought a number of revelations to light:

• Only 18% exceed the industry-benchmark of 5% of revenue to compliance
• 70% report that potential clients now ask to review compliance policy or even request to interview personnel
• Many report that demonstrating a strong programme is a key factor to winning asset management business
• Only 53% spend between 0% and 5% of their total revenues on the function
• 88% (up from 67% in 2014) have undertaken a compliance review in the last year
• 57% choose to outsource some or all of their compliance work – up from 24% in 2014
• 63% have a committee resident at their firm, an increase from 2014’s 48%

So, good news for compliance professionals in the US – it seems the discipline is gaining even more ground in business stakes. It is likely this will lead to an increasingly booming sector – have you booked your flight yet?

The dying art of holidays

There has long been widespread support of the business case for holidays; not only does a rest allow lawyers to return with a new, fresh perspective, but also the health benefits of relaxation are undeniable.

Whether you prefer to lie back with a book on a hot beach, wear in your shoes exploring a foreign city, sip crisp wine in a villa in the sun or just catch up on Netflix for a week, the break from the office allows you to mentally realign yourself for the next wave of working.

However, due to certain factors such as the competitive nature of the sector and the relative ease of working remotely, it is debatable whether lawyers are actually “switching off”. Numerous cases are arising of those “on holiday” still responding to emails, making calls and checking in with the office.

This comes after news that some Australian law firms are trying to discourage their lawyers from working part-time or flexibly by refusing to allow them to participate in the most difficult – or challenging – cases. Other than presenting huge disadvantages for those who want to gain promotions, it has also been noted that it is the tough jobs that have the biggest impact on the careers of lawyers, and are the largest source of skill improvements.

Perhaps it might be time to consider moving into the office.

Oh, to be a lawyer in India

Since the Amarchand Mangaldas split earlier this year, India’s legal sector is experiencing a huge wave of competitive spirit – and as the tide is rising, so is the pay.

The un-amicable split, caused by a dispute between the two brothers who owned the firm, has left a ferocious rivalry which is manifesting itself in the poaching of talent, and initiatives such as pay rises and large bonuses to attract and retain talent. Not only this, but one Delhi-based firm is buying cars for its partners, and various top Mumbai practices are giving low or no interest loans for buying houses – even to relatively junior lawyers.

Sources suggest that promotions are happening faster than ever within both firms, and pay rises for all staff have climbed to 12% - 25% in many other practices. Yet this is not limited to the biggest players, large and even mid-sized firms are also being forced to compete in order to not lose out.

So what does this mean for lawyers? Well, not only are they presumably reclining in chairs made of solid gold, holidaying in Bora Bora and ordering their new butler to dig their way through the mountain of job offers stacked up outside their doors when they wish to leave their house, they are also reaping the benefits of quick career progression.

It’s a hard life for some.

Female lawyers succeed in Saudi Arabia

The 12 month anniversary of female lawyers being allowed to practice in Saudi Arabia has been marked by the chair of the Council of Saudi Chambers praising the women as being “excellent”.

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Falaj has further commented that they are, “hard-working and diligent” – positive praise indeed. Despite most of the country’s 3,000 lawyers being men, a small number of females are now working within firms and advising on local law.

However, there is one pitfall; their presence seems to have stoked the – already two year old – fires of arguments about whether or not court lawyers should wear uniforms. These would be in order to distinguish them from other members of court staff – of which, presumably, there are also women. Some, however, argue that it would be much simpler to use an ID card system to identify each individual person.

Abdulaziz al-Ossaimi, another lawyer, has commented that the dress code will help with visibility because people will recognize them and seek their services. He muses that, “in all countries of the world the lawyers have special dress that is easily distinguishable.”

It is unclear whether this uniform would differ between men and women, but the Council has promised to meet with the University of Dar Al-Hekma soon to discuss both the initiative’s introduction and the potential designs.

Vietnam emerging as legal hotspot

Over in Vietnam, a new band of local law firms have got together and created the LawTeam Alliance. A first for the country, the initiative is comprised of five legal practices, but expects to announce more of the other “major law firms” becoming members of the group in the future.

Boasting 200 lawyers, the top firms include Rajah & Tann LCT - the Vietnamese arm of one of the most famous practices in Asia - plus Brass & Partners, LuatViet, Phnoc & Partners and VLT Layers.

Although the individual firms will continue operating independently as usual, the alliance will work “solely on a goodwill basis built on fair competition.” This will ensure that further development of their legal sector will be permitted, and it is likely that the market will grow as a result.

But how will members help each other? The plan is that firms will pool some of their internal resources and partake in collective team building activities and training sessions which will encourage members’ core strengths. The official statement also added that “further tie-ins with other major local law firms are in the works.” How effective this is remains to be seen, but it is a step in the right direction of putting Vietnam firmly on the international legal map.