Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Update

Christmas 2014
I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging recently and there’s no point pretending I’ve not enjoyed it. That said, one of the things my unexpected hiatus has shown is that I’m not finished with Law Actually – at least not yet.

While I might be at a different stage of my blogging adventure than, say, four years ago, I’m certainly not ready to pack away the keyboard and retire. So you’re stuck with me, I’m afraid.

Away from blogging, over the last few weeks I’ve been grappling with and trying to understand why Christmas seems such an unwelcome struggle and half-hearted affair this time round. And it’s not so much me this time – honest!  While I’m often a bit of a festive grouch, it’s everyone else that seems to be struggling to generate much enthusiasm for this whole Christmas business in 2014.

Is it the fact the country’s coming out of the economic doldrums, the unseasonably mild autumn or the fact we’re just all so Christmassed-out, having to celebrate the wretched thing once every twelve months is just too much for us now?  I’ll keep pondering. 

Being unable to break with tradition, Law Actually’s got its Christmas-themed header in place – despite it being a bit of a token gesture low key design this year.

I’m hoping to pick my blogging pace back up over the Christmas break and, you know, actually publish some stuff.  It’s been kind of quiet around here recently and it’s about time that changed.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Pringle Criminal

pringle criminal

From BBC News 07/11/14:

A man has been ordered to pay almost £500 in fines and costs for dropping a snack lid on the ground in Bristol.

Gareth Daniel, 31, of Humberstan Walk, was seen by a PCSO dropping a Pringles lid in Lawrence Weston, in April.

Bristol magistrates heard he failed to pay a £75 fixed penalty notice, so a final warning was sent. He was taken to court and the fine was raised to £200.

Mr Daniel must also pay costs totalling £298.75. The council said it "would not tolerate littering on any scale".

Well said that man. Littering is a slippery slope towards certain ruin and it represents so much of what’s wrong with modern society.

Incidentally, don’t you think I’ve done well to avoid any references to ‘popping and stopping’? I suspect Pringles have got a more twenty first century slogan now – probably with a wretched smartphone app to boot.

And talking of litter, whatever happened to the humble litter pick? As a primary school kid in 1990s, I remember them being all the rage – a term rarely went by when we weren’t picking up empty crisp packets from the surrounding hedgerows or the nearby beach.

I’m not sure quite what we learnt by wandering around with bin liners, but to this day, I know that if I ever see a spent hypodermic needle on the ground, I must leave it alone and tell a teacher.

Not an entirely wasted exercise then.

And I’m sure clearing up the mess of others did wonders for our moral fibre. It was good preparation for life as a lawyer too.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Wine Fraud: An Escalating Problem

Guest Post Wine Fraud
Wine fraud has been a problem for about as long as wine has been produced and enjoyed. Even Pliny the Elder, the Ancient Roman philosopher, complained about it – there was so much fraudulent wine that even the nobles couldn’t be sure what they were drinking. And the problem has only got worse as time has gone by. But what exactly is wine fraud, and can it be combatted?

What Is Wine Fraud?

There are a few different varieties of wine fraud, but they all involve the same outcome: the customer ends up paying well over the odds for a wine of a much poorer quality than they’d expected.

Sometimes, the wine is adulterated – cheap products like fruit juices, chemicals and sweeteners can be added to the wine to help improve the substandard colour or flavour. Some instances of wine fraud are even simpler than that: the label of a cheap wine will be steamed off, and replaced with the label of a much more expensive variety.

There have even been a few cases in which an entire auction consignment of rare fine wines has turned out to be entirely fraudulent, costing people a massive amount of money for a few bottles of a wine that’s barely worth drinking. Wine Spectator magazine estimates that more than 5% of auctioned wine is counterfeit.

Notable Cases of Wine Fraud

Just this year, there have been two massive wine fraud cases. In September, a probe into an elaborate fraud operation uncovered well over 200,000 bottles’ worth of fake Brunello di Montalcino. A wine connoisseur had obtained fake labels of the Tuscan wine and managed to falsify certification in the area’s wine database, and was selling low-quality wine to local producers, passing it off as the coveted Brunello.

Luca Albertario, the chief of Siena police, stated that it was “the biggest fraud ever carried out in the food sector.” 220,000 bottles of poor wine was confiscated before it could go on the market; it wine would have sold for around £4m. The US – the world’s biggest importer of Brunello – stopped all imports of the wine until they were satisfied that good quality controls were in place.

In August, Rudy Kurniawan – one of the world’s top oenologists – was jailed for ten years and ordered to pay almost $30m in restitution. Kurniawan had sold more than $20m of fake wine over a decade or so, most of which was to just seven clients.

His deception was discovered in 2012, when a consignment of his (worth $3m) was rejected by the wine inspector at Hart Davis Hart auction house. Allan Frischman noticed some inaccuracies on the labels, and Kurniawan’s lies came to light. He had been blending cheap recent wines with substandard vintages, and passing them off as more prestigious varieties. For more on this, an authoritative independent wine merchant, Yapp Brothers provided more details of this within their ‘what is a fair sentence for wine fraud?’ post.

What Can Be Done to Combat Wine Fraud?

There are a number of ways to tell whether a wine is the genuine article or not, without having to open the bottle. Most of these methods involve looking for inconsistencies – the wrong kind of glass, a foil capsule instead of a wax one, labels using an incorrect font – but there are other ways being developed.

For wines currently being produced, some producers have started engraving serial numbers on the glass, or tightening the reins on their distribution processes. For older varieties, stable isotope analysis is being employed.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Billing is killing

Literally. overworked lawyerFrom Roll on Friday 03/10/14:

A report by the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) has revealed the key causes of stress and mental illness prevalent amongst lawyers are their working conditions, in particular, intolerable billing targets or working 80-hour-weeks.

Oh, you do surprise me.

The work, work, work culture that seems to have crept in to so many areas of legal practice today is stupidly short-sighted and symptomatic of so much that’s wrong with modern life and society as a whole. Work is important, clients’ needs are important, but none of it is worth making yourself ill over. But, when you’re trapped working in a firm which doesn’t take that view, life isn’t that simple.

I consider myself incredibly lucky that I’m in a firm which recognises there’s more to life that work. But by taking a more reasonable and a pragmatic approach, I think the firm gets more out of us. Let’s face it: fee earners working 80 hour weeks aren’t exactly going to be on sparkling form.  Believe it or not, lawyers are human – not billing machines.

The head of the LIV, Geoff Bowyer, said that many cases go untreated because lawyers fear stress or trauma will be interpreted as a sign of weakness which would impact on their career progression. He told Lawyers Weekly, “we need to ensure that by proper education and awareness it’s OK to put a call out there for help as opposed to just trying to soldier on”.

The findings coincide with an earlier report by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute in 2009 which revealed that more than 50% of lawyers have depression during their working-life.

The other 50% didn’t want to admit to it then.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Passive aggressive lawyer tactics

passive aggressive lawyers

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed some really super passive aggressive tricks commonly used by lawyers in communications with ‘the other side’. Used in the right way, these tricks can send the blood pressure of your fellow professionals sky high. Better still, the recipient might be sufficiently provoked to come back with a return serve of barely-disguised nastiness. Those kind of ‘back-and-forths’ can be looked back on fondly in the autumn of your career, or, if you’ve got a real corker, printed, framed and proudly displayed on your office wall.

Here are some of my favourites:

Snarky and patronising comment balloons. Yeah, I know we’re all guilty of those from time to time. Prefacing comments with the words “of course”, “obviously” or “clearly” are particularly prone to enrage. However, just because I complain about it, doesn’t mean to say I’m not also guilty. Ahem.

Eschewing email attachments and insist on sending a hard-copy travelling draft.  Heck, why let technology help you out when you can struggle along the old fashioned way?

Being overly formal in an email. “I refer to our previous correspondence in this matter and look forward to hearing from you thereon.” Lovely. I guess they missed the lesson on using plain English wherever possible in modern legal practice.

Deliberately downsampling documents so they’re borderline illegible (and insist on being unable to obtain clearer copies). I’ve also had a solicitor tell me his client can only send a photograph of the document. I countered this by sending him photo negatives of our client’s document. (Just kidding.)

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Law firms should use more videos and less text (apparently)

On their websites, that is.

law firm video

From the Solicitors Journal 13/10/14:

Websites of the UK's top 200 law firms are forgetting the 'user experience'

The country's top firms are ignoring the significant power of video to attract clients, a new report has suggested.

According to mmadigital, only 28 per cent of content is read on an average web page, compared to video which typically holds the attention of a viewer for two minutes.

Hmmm. Are potential clients really going to sit and watch a video on a law firm’s website and be swayed by that? That’s not a rhetorical question – I really don’t know. Maybe they are. But it seems a trifle strange to me.

Unsophisticated would-be clients will just use Google to find a law firm in their area (or a national centre churning out legal services factory style) and be principally concerned with obtaining the lowest price – ringing around if necessary. Medium sized businesses looking to instruct a firm may do a bit of their own research, but tend to be heavily swayed by past experience and the recommendations of others. Large, corporate clients aren’t going to choose to instruct a firm by looking at a firm’s website. Those kind of gigs are won through nepotism, networking and a lot of schmoozing (and sometimes a mixture of all three). So who is likely to choose a solicitor by watching videos on the web?

It’s a mystery.

Firms with video on their websites are 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of Google.

Oh cripes. Time to get embedding those videos folks!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Law firm abandons desk phones…

The end of the world will follow shortly after.

lawyer headsetA solicitor speaking to a client in a soon-to-be-realised dystopia

From Roll On Friday 28/09/14:

“CMS Cameron McKenna is getting rid of landlines in its London office.

Next year the firm's City staff are moving to new premises on Cannon Street, where they will use a mobile phone and a headset to connect to a Microsoft product called Lync, freeing themselves from the tyranny of wires.”

Oh let the good Lord help us.  A law firm embracing technology.  That never ends well.

Ok - now I’ve got that customary knee-jerk reaction out of the way, I accept that this isn’t exactly ground-breaking news.  However, it does make me nervous about the encroachment of technology into the work-life balance of people generally, but particularly lawyers.

Granted - getting rid of a desk phone isn’t going to kill anyone.  I can’t imagine there are many lawyers who don’t currently have a work-issued mobile phone either.  But what scares me is that tying a person to a mobile phone might be just one step away from senior partners and clients daring to think that fee earners are on round-the-clock call for them personally.  

Oh wait - they already think that, don’t they?

By the by, I’ve never really got on with phone headsets.  The nearest I got to embracing one was a short stint using a Bluetooth ear thing about three or four years ago.  I quickly abandoned it after a couple of days’ use.  I’m not sure which influenced that decision more: finding the thing hard to operate, or the fact it risked making me feel like a taxi driver!

Maybe what also alarms me about this story is that I hate the thought of lawyers sat at their desks with headsets on, clucking away like a warehouse full of battery hens. It’s bad enough when colleagues choose to pace about in the office talking on their mobile (apparently pacing helps some people to think).  I don’t like having to contend with any kind of phone at work, quite frankly, but having a deskphone with a receiver you can slam down occasionally works wonders for stress management.  Whipping your headset off and lobbing it at your nearest colleague the wall just isn’t the same thing.  

As I see it, lawyers shouldn’t be relegated to legally trained call centre operatives - even in a world where clients are ‘users of legal services’ and solicitors are just an increasingly unpopular grade of fee earner.

Ditching the deskphone could be a slippery slope, folks.  And that scares me.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

How to use commas

 How to use commas

I was reading recently about an interesting US case which concerned, amongst other things, the use of a comma in a contract.  It formed part of the volcano of litigation that has erupted following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Although the case concerned US law, the principle that punctuation can have a material bearing on the interpretation of legal documents applies as readily in England and Wales as it does on t’other side of the pond.

The case turned on whether a comma was missing from a clause in the contract. The clause had a markedly different meaning with the comma missing compared to when the comma was added.

With the comma missing, the clause read:

“[…] as additional insureds in each of [Transocean's] policies, except Worker's Compensation for liabilities assumed by [Transocean] under the terms of this Contract."

With it added, the clause read:

“[…] as additional insureds in each of [Transocean's] policies, except Worker's Compensation, for liabilities assumed by [Transocean] under the terms of this Contract."

It’s a great illustration of the fact that, sometimes, use of punctuation can be absolutely critical. In this case, it was critical to the tune of $750,000,000!

That got me thinking even further (it does happen occasionally!). My recent post on the written communication skills of young lawyers focused on, amongst other things, poor sentence structure in the writing of lawyers to be. A big part of that poor sentence structure is the misuse of commas.

So how difficult is it to educate yourself about how to use commas correctly?  Not very difficult, as it turns out.

Two seconds on Google turned up a very useful guide produced by the University of Bristol.

Here are a few excerpts from their guide on commas.

The comma is a much misused and often over used piece of punctuation.

Here, here!

1. To separate the elements in a list of three or more items

The potion included peanuts, pop-tarts, bran flakes and coleslaw.

There appears to be some debate about whether or not to include a comma to separate the last two items in the series. [Use of a comma in this situation is known as an Oxford comma. Conventionally, it is normal] to omit the comma before the final 'and' unless there is a danger that the last two items in the series will merge and become indistinguishable without the comma.

His favourite puddings were black forest gateau, apple strudel, and jelly and ice cream.

Using an Oxford comma after the word ‘strudel’ is the sentence above is advisable so as to indicate that the jelly and ice cream is a single item.

2. Before certain conjunctions

A comma should be used before these conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so to separate two independent clauses. They are called co-ordinating conjunctions.

She was a fantastic cook, but she would never be as good as her mother-in-law.

He hated his neighbours, so he never invited them round.

A common mistake is to put the comma after the conjunction.

3. To separate introductory elements in a sentence

Use a comma to separate introductory elements in a sentence from the main part of that sentence.

Given the appalling weather conditions, Jonny was lucky to make it home alive.

As the night drew to a close, the revellers wandered home.

4. To separate parenthetical elements in a sentence (i.e. to serve as brackets)

A comma is used to set off parenthetical elements in a sentence. The parenthetical element is part of the sentence that can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.

Sarah, the most intelligent pupil in the class, was always late for school.

The pyramids, one of the wonders of the ancient world, lie just outside Cairo.

If you are using a comma to do this, it is important that the aside is opened and closed with a comma. A common mistake is to omit the second comma.

Eagled-eyed readers will have no doubt noticed that the case of the missing comma, mentioned above, concerns a comma used in just this situation. (The use of commas in my previous sentence is another example of it, of course.) Permission to roll your eyes: granted.

Be right back

Paul Rylance, in the excellent Writing and Drafting in Legal Practice, provides another example of the pitfalls of poor comma use:

“A counter-notice must be given to the landlord, who may, or may not, be the immediate landlord who served notice terminating the tenancy and must be given within two months of the landlord’s notice.”

So, is it the “immediate landlord who served the notice” or just the “immediate landlord”?  It should have been the latter.

A better handling of it would have been to use brackets – as shown below:

“A counter-notice must be given to the landlord (who may, or may not, be the immediate landlord) who served notice terminating the tenancy and must be given within two months of the landlord’s notice.”

Personally, I’m not sure you really need the commas within the brackets after “may” and “not”, but I’ll defer to Paul’s better judgement on this one.

5. To separate direct speech or quoted elements from the rest of the sentence

Commas are used to separate direct speech or quoted elements from the rest of a sentence. Use a comma to separate the quoted material from the rest of the sentence.

"That house there," he whispered, "is where I grew up."

6. Commas are used to separate elements in a sentence that express contrast

He was first attracted by her charming personality, not her stunning looks.

She is intelligent, not pretty.

He thought the building was enormous, but ugly.

I think commas used in this situation are ripe for abuse. Providing both clauses of the sentence are very short and it’s genuine contrast that’s being expressed, I think it’s fine. However, it doesn’t take much for these situations to slip firmly into semi-colon territory.

7. Commas are used for typographical reasons to separate dates and years, towns and counties etc.

His home was in Streatham, East London.

My father was born on March 13, 1949.

8. Commas are used to separate several adjectives

The old, ramshackle, dilapidated house had a charm of its own.

That rather dull-looking, badly-dressed, clumsy man is actually a university professor.

Rylance identifies some other instances where commas should be used:

[9.] In reported speech, to mark a person addressed. For instance, “thank you, your honour”.

[10.]  Usually after a phrase that begins with a present participle (-ing). For instance, “standing to address the court, he began his speech”.
[11.]  To mark off words and phrases such as “therefore”, “however”, “of course” and “for instance”. Depending on where in the sentence the comma appears, use of a comma in these circumstances can be very similar to a pair of parenthesises or to separate an introductory phrase from the rest of the sentence.

I believe that the comma is probably the most abused piece of punctuation in English and it’s a problem which seems to be getting worse, not better.

The comma can be a particularly difficult piece of punctuation to get to grips with. I think there are a number of reasons for this.

First, there are a multitude of ways in which commas can be correctly used (with some similarity between those categories in certain instances).

Secondly, there’s a degree of discretion as to where commas can be used correctly. Rylance notes the existence of a ‘catch-all’ category for using commas:

“[…] to insert a pause into a sentence so as to break it up into articulate phrases or clauses. The test […] is to read the whole sentence, noting where the voice naturally pauses.”

For the record, that absolutely shouldn’t be taken as carte blanche for whacking in commas hither and thither, just because your voice might pause naturally there.

Thirdly, there are a number of conflicting authorities on correct comma usage. Those authorities are probably best treated as guides rather than absolute rules; providing you don’t stray too far from them, you should be fine.

I think most people’s writing can benefit from some careful consideration of proper punctuation from time to time (mine included).  And you might just find that reflecting on your use of commas when you’re at a loss in the office on a quiet afternoon is time very well spent.  It’s just a pity you can’t get CPD points for it!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Know the Risks of Cheap Cosmetic Surgery while Travelling Abroad

Guest Post

cosmetic surgerySo you’ve decided you want cosmetic surgery, or are at least seriously considering it. We imagine you’ve also heard about the op-and-holiday packages that companies promise across the world. It’s true that you can potentially undergo cosmetic surgery at a lower price abroad, but like most things, you often get what you pay for.

Of course, there are highly-skilled plastic surgeons wherever you are in the world, but if you’re looking for cheap deals, it’s likely that you’ll go under the knife in a country where the rules and guidelines aren’t very strict.

Safer in the UK?
Although not every surgical operation is going to be entirely risk-free, if complications arise in the UK, the surgeon is bound by a duty of care to provide follow-up treatments. However, abroad, sometimes what you get is what you get. In the UK, clinics won’t often have a representative that you can go to. However, as documented by this Wrexham based solicitor, in an incident regarding a crooked nose, they said that ‘you may gain compensation if it is possible to reveal that the doctor did something wrong which a competent doctor would have done.’

Beware of the holiday sell. Often, people are suckered into deals where they never meet the surgeon and receive professional advice before the op. You should want to see some of his or her previous work. Cosmetic surgery is a very serious business and should be treated as such. Bear in mind that you may be able to have a holiday before your surgery, but after, you won’t be allowed to drink, lie in the sun, or partake in energetic activities (and you probably won’t want to either).

It’s so important that you can have a follow-up appointment and extra treatment. You need to have all this worked out before you leave the country because it’s unlikely that you’ll receive the attention you need, when you’re back home. If there is a serious problem, you might have to travel back to have it fixed! Or cough up for a UK plastic surgeon. After all that expenditure, you might have saved money by getting cosmetic surgery in the UK to begin with!

Minimise The Risks
This isn’t something you should do on a whim. Research the procedure for a very long time before you consider doing it. You have to meet your surgeon and make sure that he or she is the right one for you. Make sure they are fully registered and highly recommended.

Find out how cosmetic surgery is regulated in the country you plan to visit and ascertain how well these standards are enforced. Really, your surgeon should be able to speak English well, so you can understand their advice and they can respond to your concerns and questions.

Think Of The Worst
Things may go very wrong! This is something you have to face up to and you must consider the risks involved. What kind of insurance arrangements does the clinic have? Will your travel insurance cover any of this? It really is worth getting some straight advice legally and medically in this country, before you consider going abroad for cosmetic surgery.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Why have Microsoft removed numbered comments from Word 2013?

Word 2013 Splash Screen

On the whole, I’m quite fan of the latest version of Microsoft Office – Office 365. There are some features which are genuinely useful and which represent a significant improvement to those found in earlier versions of office.

One such feature is the ‘Simple Markup’ view in tracked changes. This can make navigating a document littered with countless tracked changes much easier and is a nice halfway house between the previous view options of essentially all or nothing.

Sometimes, though, Microsoft makes crazy retrogressive steps by removing useful functionality. I don’t know whether this is in a bid to simplify a complicated product, that they’ve got sick of a particular bit of code or whether it stems from some misguided focus group reporting it should be removed on the grounds of obsolescence.

A prime example of this is the removal of self-numbering comment balloons from Word 2013. Oh yes. With previous versions of Word, inserting a comment balloon would automatically prefix it with the author’s initials, followed by a number (starting, funnily enough, at one).

Word 2007 Comment
How things used to be…

In the latest version of Word, however, only the author’s name appears.  That makes referring to specific comments made by the same author rather tricky.

For lawyers, self-numbering comments were really useful and saved heaps of time when referring back to specific comments within a document. Yes, it’s true that you can use the numbering function to insert numbers manually, but it’s a poor substitute.  And having to waste time adding the numbers manually really grates on me.

So, please, Microsoft… bring back self-numbering comments to Word.

Pretty please….?

Or should I dust off that copy of WordPerfect again?

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Windows Store is unspeakably bad

Oh – and it’s also riddled with rogue apps.

Hopeless Windows StoreAll and sundry in the tech world have reported that Microsoft is finally doing the honourable thing and having a clean out of their much maligned Windows Store.

Paul Thurrott picks up the story in his inimitable style as part of this week’s WinInfo Short Takes:

Microsoft finally cracks down on deceptive Windows Store apps

Microsoft[…] [has a] policy of "store stuffing," in which for four years now it has approved virtually any app a developer—professional or otherwise—has thrown at the Windows Phone Store or Windows Store, resulting in mountains of crap. […] Microsoft is promoting these stores as safe, safer than downloading desktop applications from unknown sources on the web. But when the supposedly curated Microsoft stores include bogus and even scam apps of all kinds, why would anyone trust these stores, or trust Microsoft when it says it's going to fix things now? Microsoft. This started happening FOUR YEARS AGO. Shame on you.

That’s a good point well made and all that, but it’s kind of assuming that there are at least some decent apps in the Windows Store to begin with. And I’m not sure there are.

I appreciate I might be biased here. I’ve realised for a while now that I’m an old school PC user who will be forever tied to the Windows desktop and I’m proud to eschew modern style (read: Fisher Price) apps that treat you like a five year old in favour of the more conventional, full-featured applications.

I’ve used a Surface 2 for eight months or so now. It’s ‘all-right-to-quite-good’ (yes, that is an adjective) for watching stuff while commuting, comes with a full version of Microsoft Office and, if you pay extra, a physical keyboard which doubles up as a protective cover – perfect for getting that occasional bit of work done when travelling home. (Actually, the cover bit is absolute crap; unless you’re happy to let that thing get battered to death, you’re going to need a dedicated cover or sleeve.)

Actually, while I’m in the mood for engaging in full and frank disclosure, I might as well admit that whenever I have my laptop with me on the train, I’ll always crack that out to get work done, rather than trying to cope with the rather cramped Surface 2 Typecover keyboard.

But I digress.

One thing that has always shocked me with the Surface (and Windows 8 generally) is just how spectacularly full of crap the Windows Store is. Like all Surface users, I inevitably tinkered with the Fresh Paint app on a couple of occasions in the early days, thought ‘well, that’s something I suppose, but I’m not much of an artist’ and then never opened it up again.

I’ve gone back and looked at the Windows Store quite frequently over the last few months, but I’ve never found any remotely tempting apps (free or otherwise) lurking in there. Ultimately, I guess I’d much rather use services through a web browser than downloading a one-trick-pony app.

Even worse, when you need to find something specific in the Windows Store, say a half decent media player which doesn’t screw you over with excessive ads, needless functionality or require a permanent internet connection, you’re out of luck.

(I had to go through this painful experience recently when Microsoft updated their ‘Metro’ Video app such that it will only now play content if you’re connected to the internet. That’s a bit of a pisser when you’re stuck on the train and rely on your Surface to watch videos. After trying a bizarre mixture of media player apps from the Windows Store, which ranged between ridiculous and unusable, I’m using the built-in ‘Photos’ app to play movies now.)

Here’s the clincher. When I got my Surface, it came with a £25 voucher from Microsoft which I could spend on paid apps of my choice in the Windows Store. After eight months of nosing around in there and finding nothing, I finally got sick of seeing that damn voucher kicking about, so I tossed it out with the recycling – unopened and unredeemed.

I think that tells you all you need to know.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Young lawyers’ written communication skills

… aren’t up to much – apparently.

Young lawyer drafting a note of advice
From Young Lawyer 30/07/14:

The number of training contracts available has risen, yet the calibre of candidates is unremarkable [.]

The number of LPC registrations has dropped for a second year running, while the number of training contracts on offer has risen. You may think that candidates can now afford to be more optimistic. However, speaking with law firm recruiters, it seems that many candidates still have a way to go before catching the golden training contract snitch.

I don’t know why I’m so uncomfortable with the word “snitch” but I am. It’s always made me slightly nauseous and involuntarily pull a ‘I’m-eating-raw-lemon’ face. Strange.

One aspect still of great concern to a number of firms during the recruitment process is poor written expression. A recruiter in one City law firm said: “It makes me so sad to read these applications. Their academics are very good, but they use text speak and can’t structure sentences properly.”

That doesn’t surprise me. By no means do I hold myself out as a paragon when it comes to the correct use of English, but even I’m shocked at the sentence structure that some of my younger colleagues trot out. I’ve seen large block paragraphs of text punctuated only by a string of commas presented proudly as ‘finished work’.  Besides being awkward and embarrassing for the reader, it makes the author look downright incompetent.

I remember from my schooldays being taught about good sentence structure and having lessons focused on using different types of punctuation correctly, but I know a lot of others my age who claim their English lessons never strayed into those topics (perhaps they were off sick those days!). 

I think the general standard of English usage in the UK is clear proof that proper sentence structure needs to be actively taught in schools, rather than assuming that pupils will pick it up naturally at some point.

For me, it’s clear the time has arrived to go back to first principles and teach the mechanics of basic English to kids and to only focus on exploring those less-used nuances (iambic pentameter anyone?) once those basics have been mastered.

As Paul Rylance notes in his excellent book, Writing and Drafting in Legal Practice, “good writing is clear thinking on paper”.  If the lawyers of tomorrow aren’t properly equipped to practise that, I dread to think of the standard of written legal advice that’ll be churned out in the years to come.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, a one day elective module on the professional skills course focused on ‘effective written communication’ or whatever won’t cure 15 years’ worth of bad habits, I’m afraid. This stuff should start at the earliest stages of primary school and it needs to get itself firmly back on the curriculum ASAP.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

You can’t get anything done with lawyers around

Bernie Ecclestone provided a wonderful one liner when he spoke about settling his bribery trial in Germany earlier this week:

When you're trying to run businesses it's not easy trying to resolve things when you're dealing with lawyers.

Bloomin’ charming.

Still, we’re not known as the ‘business prevention department’ for nothing.  Eye rolling smile

Bernie - Suitably Smug
Bernie – looking suitably smug having settled his trial

Friday, 25 July 2014

Sweating like a pig

Actually, I’m not.  I like the heat.  I seem to run at a fairly low temperature all year which makes the winters utter misery for me.

But it’s also a curse in the summer – all courtesy of a little piece of hell called air con.

Why is it that offices insist on cranking it up to the highest of high?  Perhaps office managers imagine lawyers do their best work when their icy lairs are kept desperately chilly.

I certainly don’t.  I have to keep taking breaks to run up and down the stairs to get some heat back into my limbs.

Never mind.

Talking of heat, I was amused by an email from PC World Business that plopped into my inbox yesterday.  Anything for a sale, eh?

PC World Business - Fans

But what really did it for me was the selection of fans available when you  clicked ‘view range’.

After the rather predictable array of desk and pedestal fans, including some bizarre and extortionately priced Dyson things, came these couple of brarmers:

Hand fans - are you shittin' me

Hand fans.  Hand fans?!?  Sold by PC World Business?  Are you shitting me?

How many office workers do they think are going to sit at their desks waving a hand fan to and fro in front of them, dicing with death as the rotating blades come perilously close to their lips?

I’ve really seen it all now.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Have Payday Loan Companies Pushed the Law Too Far?

Guest Postclip_image002

Wonga has been receiving bad press recently, after it transpired that it had sent threatening letters to customers from fictitious law firms. As a result, it has paid out £2.6 million in compensation fees and has allegedly fired everyone involved with this illegal practice. This money has gone out to more than 45,000 customers, which works out at roughly £50 per person in damages. We’re not sure how effective this will be for all the people it has jettisoned into deep debt.

Even religious leaders have been getting involved in the payday loan debate. The archbishop of Canterbury has publically denounced payday lenders for pushing vulnerable members of society into what he calls ‘a crippling spiral of debt’. To regulate this industry, The Financial Conduct Authority has decided to impose price caps for those who take out a loan, as well as affordability checks.

You Might Be Surprised At Your Options
As Wonga allocated more than £10 million a year to their marketing budget, many of the more affordable competitors are unknown. With a demand for £6bn for loans, which are denied by traditional banks, there’s definitely scope to take advantage of those in need of borrowing money.

Credit Unions are one alternative that has its borrowing capped at 3% a month. However, Credit Unions have to be more selective about how they choose who they lend to. Usually, they will only grant you the loan if they are certain you’ll be able to pay it back.

Community development finance institutions (CDFIs) are social enterprises that lend money to those who struggle to acquire a bank loan – they are closer to Wonga in their principles, as they are not as restricted as Credit Unions and can charge higher rates of interest. They still work out a lot cheaper than Wonga, however. Wonga’s average loan is £180 for 17 days, which costs £37. Fair Finance, a London CDFI would charge you £5 for the same loan.

Reviewing Criminal Action
The police had previously ruled out taking criminal action against Wonga, but they have reassessed the case and are now considering further penalisation.

The Law Society has thrown around its weight, stating that Wonga has committed an offence under the Solicitors Act and they say Wonga used deception and blackmail to terrorise their customers. Wonga may yet have to answer to greater restrictions and penalisation, after their exploitative behaviour. Customers should bear in mind that there are alternative options to Wonga, if they find themselves in a tight financial spot. Soliciting Wonga’s help is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

Some thoughts on Sky’s F1 coverage

Sky F1 presentersSky’s F1 presenters are a mixed bag.  But at least they show all races live.

Sky’s F1 presenters.  Is it me, or are their voices starting to get a bit croaky?

Martin Brundle has sounded decidedly hoarse while commentating on various Grands Prix this year.  Then, during last weekend’s German Grand Prix, lead presenter Simon Lazenby sounded like he had a toad, snake and lizard in this throat – along with the obvious frog.

They don’t normally sound like that, do they?

I'm sure Martin wasn’t as croaky when he was at ITV or the Beeb.  Maybe the years of commentating have caught up with him. Or maybe laryngitis is to blame. Sky’s dodgy microphones?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound great.

Croakiness aside, the technical insight Martin provides in his commentary is as brilliant as ever. Still, I can’t help but feel that he and ‘Crofty’ don’t make a great commentating pair; for much of the time they sound more like a couple of middle-aged blokes chatting casually while a motor race is going on in the background. They also have an annoying habit of making statements which are actually questions (you can't move for the "isn't its?" and "aren't theys?" that fly about in that commentary box!) That and Crofty’s overuse of the word “squirrely” really begins to grate.

Martin used to sound much more fired-up alongside his previous sidekicks - be it the great Murray Walker, James Allen, David Coulthard or even Jonathan Leggard (although in the latter case, it was usually just irritation on Martin’s part over his co-commentator).

One thing's for sure - I miss the fire and occasional hard-edge that Martin’s commentary used to have. I hope it comes back. Crofty’s commentary style seems more apt for the pipe and slippers brigade.

As for the rest of the Sky team, it’s a very mixed bag.

Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert are true assets and make some worthwhile contributions. They’re articulate to boot, which is always a bonus for a presenter.

Less so, pint sized Anthony ‘Ant’ Davidson whose best tricks seem to be trite observations at inopportune times and flicking about with that humongous touchscreen TV that Sky love to install in the paddock. If ever there were an illustration of technology for technology’s sake – that’s it.

[The following paragraph has been edited since the original posting. On reflection, I was overly harsh on Ted who, for the most part, does a great job in a very challenging working environment.  I think my ‘thing’ with Ted is that when he needs to think on his feet, his articulateness goes out of the window.  And that’s not great in a pit lane reporter.  My comments concerning Allan ahem McNish stand in their original form.]

Be right back

Ted Kravitz is still doing his ‘bumbling older brother’ routine which is interesting – if only for comedic effect. Say what you like about Ted, he’s still infinitely better than the Beeb’s Allan McNish who seems about as talented at sports punditry as he was driving that damned Toyota in 2002.

For what it’s worth, I’d love to see Martin team back up with James Allen in the commentary box. I really can’t believe I’m saying this, given my early thoughts on their being paired, but they made a great duo.

The reason I've started sampling Sky's coverage of F1 is simply because I’ve got to the point where I can’t tolerate the Beeb’s ‘highlights’ packages any longer (blink and the programme’s over). It’s strange – when the BBC bid for the F1 broadcast rights in 2008 and won them back from ITV, the deal was that they’d show everything. Live.

Eye rolling smile

Still, the Beeb wouldn’t be the Beeb if they didn’t shaft the licence-paying public every now and then, would they?

It’s going to take me a long time to forgive and forget that one.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Words and phrases to make you vomit

office fool

There’s been an interesting discussion going on over at Roll on Friday’s forums – “Words that irrationally irritate you”. They’re not necessarily peculiar to the legal profession, but there are certainly some lawyers who are guilty of uttering them.

Here are some of the good ones:

"at the end of the day" -- I want to smash this phrase up with a big hammer.

"and she turned around to me", "so I turned around to her" – yep - typically used by loud-mouthed morons talking on mobiles when travelling by train.

“I was like...” -- kill all users of this phrase. And make it a slow, painful death.

“People who use itch and scratch / borrow and lend incorrectly.” -- Yep. Utter dickheads.

“People who say "in respect of" instead of "of", "about", or other short words that are presumably too pedestrian for such a clever and important person to use” -- hehe… good one.

“Alot” -- yep. Microsoft Word even autocorrects this now FFS.

“Lush” -- I’ve only ever heard 13 year olds use this. Don’t tell me it’s more commonly used than that.

“myself” and “yourself” -- Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always said I hate abuse of reflexive pronouns.

“Agree “myself and yourself” - drives me mad - particularly popular with call handlers at call centres for some reason. “Generally indicates a lack of confidence, especially a reluctance to address somebody directly as" you -- Good point.

"I'm not being funny..." or “I’m not being rude…” -- which invariably precedes something which is meant to be offensive or rude.

"oh my god!" As in:
"there are free cakes? oh my god!" 
"this report needs to be done by tomorrow? oh my god!" 
"you fell over? oh my god!" 
"your entire family was eaten by rabid tuberculic badgers? oh my god!"

-- Every office up and down the country has at least one person like this.

"turning a document" - what does this involve, rotating it through 180 degrees? -- hehe… I’d not heard of this.

“Literally” and “Basically” – Too painful to even comment on. Probably closely followed by “peruse and revert”.

“Not a problem” (as a ‘filler’ for a phone conversation) – Oh great. Nice to know. I didn’t expect it to be a problem, but still.

Friday, 11 July 2014

I’ve never been in an Apple store

No, really – it’s true.

Not once.

Of course, I’ve glanced in whilst walking past, but I’ve never been inclined to venture over the threshold.  Apple stores always look too busy,  too full of blue t-shirted sycophants and scores of sugar-fuelled brats mauling every device they can, well, maul.  Call me odd, but that’s not an enticing environment.

Who knows – perhaps I’ll venture in some day and become another fly round the turd bee round the honeypot.

Still, this story comes as absolutely no surprise to me:

Apple store

Apple Store Headline

Of course they are.

You can read the full story here.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Let’s not get hung-up on commercial awareness

commercial awarenessA group of people who clearly have commercial awareness.  Ahem.

Is it commercial awareness month at the moment? If it is, nobody thought to tell me.

I think it must be, as there have been a flurry of articles published in the last few weeks which have piled in on the increasingly tired topic of commercial awareness. You know, it’s that precious skill which all commercial lawyers must demonstrate to be able to justify their existence and the thing which all law students want a transplant of to kick start their careers.

These articles of which I speak were dedicated in the most part to musing over what commercial awareness might or might not be. One article in particular, which was in the most recent ‘Junior Lawyers’ e-magazine, (yes, I still have a butchers at it from time to time – someone has to) questioned whether this mystical commercial awareness business should be taught as a separate skill on the LPC.

No, really.

Since ‘commercial awareness’ become such a buzzword for current and would-be lawyers, there’s been an awful lot written about what it actually is. Strangely, few seem to be able to pin its meaning down with any degree of precision. That still surprises me.

For me, commercial awareness isn’t really that tough a concept to grasp. What I think it boils down to is this.

It’s essentially the ability of a lawyer to use common sense and a bit of perspective and to tailor legal advice in a way which takes into account the commercial context in which the client operates (or will operate) when he or she is dishing out legal advice. Put another way, it’s the context-sensitive application of relevant commercial issues that a lawyer should exercise when advising a client. Having sufficient knowledge of those issues and deciding which are and which aren’t relevant is the tricky bit.

Commercial awareness isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. I’ve seen some rather misguided careers advice which more or less suggested that reading the Financial Times was a sure-fire way to obtain the requisite level of commercial awareness needed for a career as a solicitor. That’s not just ridiculously silly – it’s plain wrong.

If a small start-up business came to a lawyer for advice on a commercial lease, for instance, it’s not going to matter a whole lot to the client whether the solicitor in question has a firm grasp of what the FTSE 500 is doing at the moment. But their being au fait with the current and likely trends of the local leasehold property market might be very relevant.

Commercial awareness has been talked-up and over-complicated over the last few years to the point where its true meaning has largely been lost. Depending on the circumstances, any number of factors could combine to make up commercial awareness, but that doesn’t mean that it, as a concept, is inherently difficult to grasp. Those factors might vary from things like a client’s financial position, to the common trends in the commercial sector they’re operating in, to how much time, money and other resources they can devote to the issue in question. But most of these issues are ones which are inherently part and parcel of giving legal advice in a commercial context. A lawyer would still need to take them into account to give good quality legal advice across a broad range of practice areas, even if the term ‘commercial awareness’ had never been coined.

I think virtually every solicitor practising in an area which has some commercial connection already has ‘commercial awareness’ and that they are adept at applying that knowledge as a routine part of giving legal advice. If they didn’t have a decent dollop of commercial awareness, they wouldn’t be in the job very long. In other words, it goes with the territory of being a solicitor and everyone (current and prospective lawyers included) should probably ignore this silly commercial awareness label and simply concern themselves with giving good quality legal advice.

Any solicitor worth their salt should have a healthy desire to develop and maintain a working knowledge of the various non-legal factors which might shape or feed into good quality legal advice in their practice area – such as recent developments in the relevant sector. This might be very general, such as the ease with which small businesses are obtaining credit or how much luck start-ups are having attracting private equity finance. Knowing your clients, their problems (current and potential) and helping them manage those problems is at the heart of being ‘commercially aware’.

In a sense, then, commercial awareness is about thinking laterally – or rather, usefully applying lateral knowledge when preparing legal advice. Because of that, developing commercial awareness comes naturally as part of practising law in a commercial area. It doesn’t need to be taught as a separate skill on the LPC – it’s far too inherent and pervasive in the relevant black letter law and in the skill of interviewing and advising clients to be separated out.

To students who are concerned about developing commercial awareness, I’d say you really shouldn’t worry. Thinking practically about factors likely to affect your (hypothetical) clients and tailoring your advice to suit will necessarily mean you’re commercially aware. And while it’s something that will develop with experience, having a sensible head on your shoulders from day one is half the battle won. I guess what I’m saying is that demonstrating commercial awareness as a student is perfectly possible. Being able to point to a previous job, which could be anything from investment banking to having a paper round, will go a long way towards demonstrating commercial awareness if you can show you had an appreciation of the commercial pressures your employer was under. At its crudest, that might be as simple as showing an acknowledgement that money doesn’t grow on trees.

Everything is relative. But the chances are, you’re more commercially aware than you thought.

So let’s stop worrying about what is little more than a silly label.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How the changes to the Scottish Trust Deed could be beneficial for you

Guest PostTrust DeedThe Scottish Government recently revealed major changes to the system for Scottish Trust Deeds, focussing on getting more value for money both for the people in debt, and for their creditors.

The current system had issues with trustees charging high fees for administration and hourly rates, often swallowing up a large proportion of the debtor’s contribution before it ever reached the creditors. In a number of cases, in fact more than 30 per cent, the debtor’s contributions were completely wiped out by fees and charges, meaning the creditors never received any payment at all.

Some of the changes are going to bring about some benefits for people entering into a Scottish Trust Deed. Here are the main changes that we see as being good news for our clients.

Benefits of the changes to Scottish Trust Deeds

  • More time to pay: Under the new rules, a Trust Deed can be arranged over up to 48 months instead of the previous 36. This means, with a longer time to pay, your payments could be reduced and the total amount you pay may increase. This is a great benefit to those who were worried about how they would afford to make the Trust Deed payments.
  • No social security benefits can be used: In a number of Trust Deed agreements in the past, debtor’s benefits have been taken into account as part of their income. This has often meant that part of the repayment to the Trust Deed has had to be made from their benefit income. The changes now mean your benefits will be safe, and it is only any money you earn over and above that amount that can be used to repay your Trust Deed agreement.
  • More value from your Trustee: In the past, trustees have been allowed to charge hourly rates for the work they do in managing your Deed. On top of this they may have charged various administrative fees, fact finding costs and more. This often meant that only a small proportion of the money you pay into the Deed actually reached your creditors. With the changes in November, trustees will be required to work on a fixed fee which is agreed with creditors before the Trust Deed starts.
  • Lower entry point: The minimum debt level has been reduced from £10,000 to £5,000, meaning a broader range of people can get help through a Protected Trust Deed than would previously have been eligible.
  • More money for your creditors: People entering into a Trust Deed are in serious problems with debts. This does not mean they do not want to pay back the money they owe. With a longer payment period available, and more of the money they pay going to their creditors, this means people in debt are able to repay more of the money they borrowed before having the final amounts written off.

The changes to the Trust Deed agreements will not affect you if you already have a Trust Deed in place. For people taking out a new Trust Deed, any agreement signed on or after November 30th 2013 will be subjected to these new policies.

If you are unsure of whether you will be affected by the changes to the Trust Deeds, or if you are worried about unmanageable levels of debt, call one of our professional advisors for a confidential chat about your circumstances.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Are Social Media Companies Left Open to Litigation By a Lack of Legal Safeguards?

Guest Post

social media litigationAlthough social media is less than ten years old, its influence on not just the online world, but all forms of communication, has been immense. The influence of social media has spread beyond the online world to affect a great amount of culture.

Perhaps the scale and importance of social media is best represented in numbers. A total of 1.2 billion people have Facebook accounts, with hundreds of millions logging in to the website each day to check messages, view photos and interact with friends.

Other, ‘smaller’ social networks like Twitter have attracted more than 230 million active users. The userbase of Twitter sends out over 500 million collective tweets every single day – certainly not a small amount by anyone’s count.

The risk of defamation in social media

With the massive size of the social media world comes a considerable risk. Since the technology used in social media is almost completely instant, users can publish any message at any time, directed at almost any user.

In addition to this, permanent deletion is far from straightforward. Although users can easily delete individual tweets and status updates from their accounts, many of their messages remain on the servers of social media companies permanently.

One of the key legal issues of defamation in social media is determining whether the social media companies are responsible for the content their users produce. Does a Twitter user represent Twitter, or are they simply using the website to publish their own thoughts and opinions?

The legal question is complicated by the importance of freedom of expression, one of the most fundamental human rights. The second issue is the international nature of social media, where the user bases of social media services are international and law is not.

In countries governed both by local laws and EU laws, for example, there is already a tension between the two sets of laws. As of now, litigation is only possible when the message and dispute originate in the country in which libel litigation is pursued.

While their audiences are truly international, most social networks are based in the United States. Interestingly, there is little case law in the United States regarding the issue of social media libel – in fact, limited social media case law exists worldwide.

In January 2014, the first libel case related to postings on Twitter reached court. The case concerned a well-known celebrity – Courtney Love – who defended her tweet by claiming it was opinion, rather than defamation.

A 2013 defamation case regarding information published using Twitter – McAlpine v Bercow 2013 – resulted in a guilty verdict, although Twitter avoided being a party to the litigation itself.

Google, another provider of social media services, have been named as a defendant in a defamation case. The California-based company was part of the Tamiz v Google Inc 2013 case in England and Wales. Its defence was upheld – that it “did not know and had no reason to believe” it had contributed to the publication of the material.

There have been numerous smaller cases involving defamatory or libellous content posted on social media. Most have been averted by social media providers through the removal of offending content within a short amount of time.

The responsibility of individuals
In short, the short history of libel and defamation cases involving social networks and social media companies indicate that individuals are responsible for what they post online; not the companies that host their published opinions.

As social media companies act only as platforms for users to use to publish their thoughts and opinions, they appear to be adequately safeguarded from liability.

This article was provided on behalf of Vannin Capital, one of the UK’s leading specialist litigation funding providers.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

A couple of thoughts on England

That is – the England football team.

England - success at failureThe England squad: excelling at failure since oooh – at least the 1990s

Quite unsurprisingly, over the last few days, there’s been a ridonkulous amount of supposed analysis over England’s rather dismal performance in the 2014 World Cup.  Almost exclusively, that analysis has taken the form of trite observations from lazy columnists and rent-a-quote ‘has been’ pundits.

I’ve had a couple of thoughts that I’ve not seen anywhere else as to why the England squad seem to fall consistently flat.

Could it be down to the rather uninspiring nature of the country’s national anthem, failing to get them pumped-up before a game?

Or is it that, as a nation, we’re just not very good at football?

Have I hit the nail on the head?

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Why Touchscreen Tech isn’t all that

New tech really doesn’t grab me

Touchscreen Tech
I’ve been musing over the world’s obsession with small-form-factor technology recently - particularly touchscreen devices - and struggling to understand why I haven’t been swept along with it. The simple fact is, while owning smartphones and tablets, I don’t particularly like using them and feel that the scope of their usefulness is an awful lot less than most other people seem to think. I’m really curious why that is.

I have two smartphones kicking around (one personal – one work) and I try to avoid using either wherever possible. Quite often, a week will go by where I’ve not touched them. One of them stays on my desk at home (go figure) and the other remains secreted in my bag. I might check it during the week or I might not. I figure people can either email me or call the office. Quite often they do both. Bastards.

I feel slightly warmer over tablets. But only slightly. I have a first-gen Nexus 7 and a Surface 2 with a typecover. As I have to grapple with a significant commute to work four times a week, I’ve found tablets to be an excellent way to take entertainment with me while not significantly weighing me down.

But my use of tablets stops there. I barely ever touched (ahem) my Nexus 7 when I wasn’t commuting and, despite going overboard trying to embrace my Surface 2 in the early months of this year, I finally admitted defeat a while ago and acknowledged that if the option is available, I’d much rather use a regular PC every time.

I’ve found that the Surface 2, with a typecover, gives you the option to type on something which vaguely resembles a physical keyboard (as opposed to the on-board touchy-feely keyboards which, for me, are about as painful in use as a tin-tack in a jockstrap). But the typecover is a bit cramped, a bit prone to bending and the semi-furry surface of the touchpad section really doesn’t make for a dazzling experience. I’ve tried marking up draft contracts with it and doing other work ‘stuff’ which has proven fine in a cramped-this-isn’t-ideal-but-I’m-coping kind of way. But technology is meant to make things easier, not harder, so why struggle?

The full extent of my frustration with touchscreens hit me the other day while on a short train journey. I received a personal email on my phone (one of the few occasions I had it with me) and wanted to acknowledge it quickly with a few words in response. I started writing, only to be struck by just how Goddamn painful it was. I quickly gave up, figuring I would far rather wait and type it on a proper keyboard once I got home.

I think that tells you everything you need to know.

Lately I’ve been increasingly pondering as to why I find touch technology so disappointing. I haven’t come up with an answer. What I do know is that I find the novelty of touchscreen devices wears off awfully quickly. To me, they’re gimmicky and far nicer as a concept than in real-world use. I’m always amused by the dogged business commuters you find on trains who are hell-bent on proving they can ‘get work done’ on an iPad. I’m sure that, deep down, they all know they’re kidding themselves. And, please, ladies – the incessant tap of long nails typing on a touchscreen display is hugely annoying. You’d be far better getting your laptop out. Your manicurist might thank you for it too.

And just to be clear, I’m not on some kind of anti-technology vendetta here in which I pan everything with a microchip or circuit board. I use regular PCs more than ever – and I’ve virtually finished my personal SSD upgrade ‘programme’ in which I whack an SSD in any device I own that’ll take one. As I’ve often said, the biggest problem with SDDs is they make going back to a regular hard disk so damn painful.

On refection, I suppose my issue with touchscreen tech is a simple one – their limitations. The world seems to be on an endless hunt to find the everything-in-one device. I don’t think it exists (or ever will – at least in the near future). Let’s stop pretending these touchscreen mobile devices are something they aren’t. They’re well suited to consuming content – reading, watching movies and all the rest. But as soon as the need arises for even a little bit of typing (OK, I’ll say it – content creation), I think they’re utterly hopeless.

Is it me? Is anybody else struck by the severe limitations of touchscreen tech? Or am I needlessly stuck in the 1990s with my mouse and keyboard?

I ask because everyone else it seems – lawyers included – seem to be as happy as pigs in the smelly stuff to be tapping away on touchscreens. In a business context, I really don’t get that - touch technology on regular desktops and laptops strikes me as frankly ridiculous. It’s more than just gimmicky – it gets in the way of getting work done. Please tell me that touchscreen monitors won’t be making a mainstream appearance in legal practice anytime soon. Please tell me that! The day we start to create documents by reaching out with our grubby mitts and fumbling all over a touch-sensitive desktop display, is the day I’ll retire.

And I’ve got to do a bit more topping up of my pension before we’re at that point, thank you.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Overriding Objections

overriding objectiveFrom PI Brief Update email sent 12/06/14:

Last month's practitioner's section reported the case of Kaneria v Kaneria [2014] EWHC 1165 (Ch), in which it was held that Mitchell principles do not apply to in time applications for an extension of time. It was held that these applications should be decided by reference to the overriding objection [sic].

Hehe. That’s super. In my experience, litigation gives rise to a lot of ‘overriding objections’.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Your rights if you’re injured in a public place

Guest Postpublic liabilityThe owner, manager or proprietor of a public place is legally obliged to ensure that the place, when it is accessible by the public, is safe and free from risk. This duty of care requires there to be a certain level of cleanliness, tidiness and warning of potential hazards.

What is defined as a public place?
Supermarkets, parks, pubs, schools, etc. all are designated public places. Essentially, any person that allows members of the public onto their premises has a duty of care to take reasonable responsibility for their safety whilst on their premises.

Even public footpaths and roads are considered public places, as they are owned, managed and maintained by the council. Hence, if an accident is the fault of a poorly maintained footpath, it is the council’s responsibility, or lack of duty of care.

All owners or management of public places are expected to have public liability insurance. If compensation is sought, much like a car insurance policy, funds are paid from the insurer to the victim.

The thin line between liability
It is often difficult to know whether you’re in a public place. Is that footpath council owned, or is it a private property? Is the car park part of the supermarket or are they only liable when shopping inside the store, and what about the entrances and doorways? Plenty of accidents take place on escalators, at doors, emergency exits or on stairwells, so is the manager liable?

In the legal sense of the term, a public place is anywhere which is privately or publically owned, and, either by direct, expressed or implied invitation is accessible by the public. On the other hand, places which are used exclusively by individuals or groups for personal purposes are not defined as public places.

The importance of signs
Hazards in public places are unavoidable; people will always spill things, move items and generally cause dangerous situations for other visitors. However, it is how the management deals with such a situation which can cause more of an issue. We’ve all noticed ‘caution wet floor’ signs and similar warnings when out and about, but these are vital to ensure the management is safe from liability should an accident happen. Any spillage should be cleaned and warned of, similar with debris being removed promptly and all hazards being addressed. That way, the general public is aware of, and will avoid, possible accidents.

Many accident claims are down to the fact that the management of a public space has not taken sufficient steps to warn the public of a hazard.

Your right to make a claim
If you were harmed in a public place, in an accident which was no fault of your own, you’re entitled to make a claim for compensation. An owner’s public liability insurance is in place to deal with such claims. A good solicitor will help you to decide whether it was a public place and whether you’re eligible to claim, so after an injury it helps to detail as much information as possible.

A court case, and any financial settlement received by the victim, will help to address the serious issues poor health and safety in a public place can cause. Often, slips, trips and falls cause terrible injuries and further implications for an individual, for example, being unable to work for a long time, extensive rehabilitation or having to rely on family and carers to support the home and family. Compensation will help considerably to cover these costs, leaving a victim free to recover at their own pace.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Car tax – is it an offence to fail to display a valid tax disc?

(As distinct from paying the relevant rate of tax for the vehicle in question.)

***UPDATE***  The law concerning the display of tax discs in vehicles in England and Wales changed on 1 October 2014.  The summary of the legal position in the post below is as the law was in June 2014.

Car TaxJudging from my site stats, there seem to be a lot of drivers out there who are curious on this subject. So I thought a specific post might be in order. I’m helpful like that. :p

It’s generally well known that motorists who use a car (or leave it parked) on a public road must have paid the car tax that applies to their car and display the tax disc on the windscreen. Failing to do so is a criminal offence. I say this because there are numerous comments left on motoring and self-righteous (ahem) self-help forums on the web, confidently asserting that drivers will ‘get done’ for not displaying a valid tax disc for their vehicle when on public roads.

Lovely. But where is this set out?

The relevant law relating to car tax (or vehicle excise duty as it’s formally known) is principally set out under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 (“VERA”).

Section 29 of VERA provides:

29 Penalty for using or keeping unlicensed vehicle.

(1) If a person uses, or keeps, a vehicle which is unlicensed he is guilty of an offence.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) a vehicle is unlicensed if no vehicle licence or trade licence is in force for or in respect of the vehicle.

Section 33 (1) of VERA provides:

A person is guilty of an offence if—

(a) he uses, or keeps, on a public road a vehicle in respect of which vehicle excise duty is chargeable, and

(b) there is not fixed to and exhibited on the vehicle in the manner prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State a licence for, or in respect of, the vehicle which is for the time being in force.

Good show. And those regulations are the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002 (“RVRs”)

Regulation 6 (4) of the RVRs states:

The licence shall be exhibited on the vehicle—

(c) in the case of any vehicle fitted with a glass windscreen in front of the driver extending across the vehicle to its near side, on or adjacent to the near side of the windscreen [.]

Regulation 6 (5) states:

In each case referred to in paragraph (4), the licence shall be so exhibited that all the particulars on the licence are clearly visible in daylight from the near side of the road.

So there you go.

In summary: not having tax for a car which is used or parked on a public road is an offence – as is not displaying the tax disc.

Note: there are certain exceptions to the offence of being the registered keeper of an unlicensed vehicle (such as the ‘grace period’ between licences), but I’m not getting into that now. If you’re interested, look at section 31B of VERA.

Enforcement of car tax is typically carried out by HMRC (by means of third party enforcement agencies) and the police - almost invariably by the relevant agency cross-checking the vehicle’s registration plate against the relevant national computer. The days of the wooden-topped bobby peering over at the vehicle’s tax disc are largely gone – hence the government’s decision last year to abolish the concept of tax discs and move the vehicle tax regime into the 21st century.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How Can You Protect Your Intellectual Property?

Guest PostIP GraphicAre you designing a new product? Have you written a book or produced a musical album? Without protection, your intellectual property could be used by others and exploited for commercial gain. The experts at Vannin Capital spoke to us recently to share the following advice;

In the UK, intellectual property – whether it’s the plans for a new technology, a film script or a computer game – is protected against unauthorised use, modification or theft by trademarks, design rights, patents and copyright.

While these four categories of intellectual property protection may seem similar to each other, they each serve a different purpose. Copyright protects creative works like music, literature or visual art from piracy and imitation.

Patents, on the other hand, protect new technologies and inventions from copycats to protect their original inventors. Images and phrases that represent brands can be  protected through trademarks, while unique designs are protected by design rights.

If you understand the differences between these categories and forms of protection, you may have noticed a question: What happens to intellectual property that’s both creative and technological, or a unique design that’s also a trademark?

Not all ideas and inventions fall into multiple categories, but some do. Whether you wish to protect a unique creative work or a new technology, the first step towards a form of intellectual property protection should be a conversation with a lawyer.

The most popular form of intellectual property protection is copyright. This form of protection covers creative works like visual art, literature and music. Although you may have heard that copyright needs to be ‘registered’, most art gains copyright as soon as it’s created and identified as the unique work of the original artist.

In order for an artist to identify themselves as the creator of their work – whether it’s a novel or a painting – they need to visually identify it using their name and its creation date. In the UK, this provides 70 years of protection against unauthorised use or imitation for the original artist or rights holder.

When the period of copyright protection ends, works enter the public domain. You may have seen famous compositions or films on public domain websites. For music, it’s often just the score that enters the public domain – new performances of a piece of classical music, for example, are still protected by copyright.

Inventions and designs are protected against unauthorized use or imitation through a different process. Inventions, for example, are protected by patents. In order for an invention to be protected by a patent, it needs to be completely original and able to be created and implemented in a viable form.

This means that modifications of an existing technology can’t be protected using a patent. Likewise, patents are only issues for usable technologies. A mathematical formula, for example, can’t be patented because it’s a concept that can be used but not created.

Not all inventions are physical. Numerous patents have been awarded for unique ideas for software or computer security, neither of which are physical objects. For any invention to be patented, it needs to be able to be created and used by people and/or machines.

Visual identifiers like the Nike logo or Mickey Mouse graphic aren’t protected by copyright, but by trademark law. Any visual design that’s used to identify a brand, product or business is protected from imitation or unauthorised use a trademark.

Finally, designs for specific products such as the form factor of a device generally aren’t able to be patented. Visual designs and schematics are protected by design rights, which allow designers to control the use of their creative designs.

The average consumer product may be protected by several forms of intellectual property protection. An iPhone, for example, may be protected by all four: it uses patented technology, contains copyrighted software, uses a protected design and comes in packaging adorned with trademarked graphics.