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.