Archive for August 1st, 2006

Diversity in law firms… excellent idea!

I do not spend my time scouring the DCA website looking for speeches to read (well, not that often) but I could not resist reading a speech by Bridget Prentice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitituional Affairs. You may read her speech in full here.

After an auspicious start where she thanked The Lawyer for inviting her to address the herd (I have decided that a ‘herd’ of lawyers is an appropriate collective noun – I may change my mind tomorrow) Ms Prentice MP went on to say that her address should not be seen as dictation but more as a bit of ‘constructive help’.

“Quite rightly the legal profession is independent of Government and it would not be right for ‘us’ to tell ‘you’ how to recruit, retain and promote your staff.”

Just in case any member of the audience was even mildly sceptical, Ms Prentice re-assured them by saying why diversity was important – with a delightful little ‘come on’ at the end on financial benefits to get attention should any particularly greedy members of the profession be present. “Why is this important? Because almost everyone will use legal services at some point in their lives. And I believe it’s essential that the legal profession should be, and should be seen to be representative of the people it serves. Consumer confidence will increase. There are also potential financial benefits for you too. It seems that clients may increasingly choose to purchase legal services from firms who are able to demonstrate their commitment to their staff’s diversity and equality of opportunity.”

She then informed the herd that only 19 firms out of the top 100 had bothered to respond initially – citing possible postal dificulties – and that a further 34 had responded after being prompted. That makes 53 / 100. Good stuff. The profession is clearly regarding this issue as a top priority. Ms Prentice remarked “But only 19 firms had published their data by the date asked for. My speech says that is “disappointing”. I think it’s quite appalling.”

[I have to say, I was a bit puzzled by the ‘my speech says’ and “I think” bit. Didn’t she write the speech? ]
With just a hint of Darth Vader menace….Ms Prentice went on – possibly smiling as she does in her website pic above : It would be tempting now to list those firms who’ve yet to respond! But perhaps I’ll get some more replies following today’s event! I certainly hope so. And anyway, past experience has not stopped us writing to a further 100 firms asking them to publish similar information by the 4 August.”

I liked that bit of her speech better than the rest of it. Subtle menace is always a good thing. Perhaps I could ask for this information under the Freedom of Information Act – from Ms Prentice? She then bangs on about promises she received from law firms to update websites (She will hold them to that promise. This is, clearly, an MP on a mission.

The speech actually makes some very good points and I have no desire to analyse each and every part of it. Instead, I wish to focus on one aspect of it. It is best summed up in Ms Prentice’s own words:

“Take entry into the profession for example. There is evidence that a lot of firms still only recruit from a limited number of universities and that it is not always clear to trainees or those involved in the recruitment process what skills and attributes a firm is looking for. The recruitment process itself is not always as transparent as it could be.”

This really is the crux of the matter. We need to improve education for all sectors of society so that those from poorer or less advantaged backgrounds have a fair chance of getting into one of the top universities. Top law firms are in a position to recruit from the top universities. Why should they not do so? We need to reduce the cost of legal education. Students, mostly from middle class backgrounds, entering a top law firm will not have to worry about LPC fees. The firm pays the fees. It is students from all backgrounds who join firms who do not or who cannot afford to pay LPC fees for trainees that we need to help. It isn’t cheap to do an LPC. At least 20k is need for fees and subsistence, possibly more – and that is just for the LPC year. Loans are available – but what a burden. The truth is – some students are put off because of the high costs of qualifying.

The position of the young barrister is even worse. The Bar is and always has been a very competitive branch of the profession. Are there too many BVC places for too few tenancies, let alone pupillages? Is the Bar that diverse these days? Things are improving – but isn’t there still a sense in both branches of the profession that Law is, essentially, still, a middle class profession ?

Ms Prentice is right to push diversity. The more difficult matter is – how do we achieve it?

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Fox hunting… a test case

Imagine a situation… I go for a walk (that, in itself requires imagination) and find a fox being hunted by men stalking behind a tank – flushing the fox out to be shot at by the tank. Would this be lawful – assuming that appropriate permits were obtained for a tank to be on private land firing ammunition? I know little about fox hunting. I know even less about the law relating to hunting.

There is, however, a test case going through the courts at the moment – reported, today, in the Guardian.

The Guardian article makes fascinating reading, not least because it describes a scene of a man in a scarlet coat, a man on a quad bike with a rifle slung over his shoulder, a hunt follower who raises his thumb and says “1-0” (implying a fox had been killed) and observers armed with video cameras and a GPS unit (accurate to ten metres). Helpfully, the article also describes the current law so I am, now at least, better informed.

I have little taste for killing animals for sport. I saw grown men in Africa standing triumphantly over lion and leopard, shot dead with high velocity rifles, accurate to 1500 metres. I can see no bravery or particular skill in shooting an animal with a high technology rifle fitted with a night vision scope and see no pleasure to be gained from seeing a fox harried to death by hounds and then torn to shreds. If they are vermin – shoot them humanely? Fox hunting seems to divide emotion, more viciously than any other ‘sporting’ activity. Since the hunting ban came into force – the sport seems to have become more popular.

I shall continue to watch one of the most vicious games on earth for my more visceral pleasures – CRICKET. Twenty-two men, pitting their wits against each other. A heavy cricket ball hurled venomously at nearly 100 mph against a batsman, but 22 yards away. Fielders, standing a few yards away, in danger of being hit by a cricket ball. The subtlety of spin, the subtlety of light, weather, anxiety, gamesmanship, tactics – the Chess of the sporting world.

What do you think of hunting? Is the pleasure from killing the fox? If not, why not just hunt a human who lays a trail? Same horses, same dogs, same countryside, same followers – but would it be the same pleasure?

As a postscript – we have quite a few foxes in Chiswick. Should I find myself walking home at 3.00 in the morning on a Saturday – it is rare for me not to see a fox. I like the idea that there are foxes wandering around late at night in West London.

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So… how much evidence do you need?

So..in front of a judge, solicitors, barristers, prison officers, police and assorted court personnel, a burglar escapes from court and goes on the run. Unfortunately, because no-one took witness statements for this ‘extraordinary rendition by the burglar of himself’ – the burglar escaped conviction for escaping because of lack of evidence.

The Mirror reports: “Derbyshire Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman Lisa Garnham said of Wilson’s escape: “There obviously were witnesses to the incident, but there was insufficient evidence to proceed.”

Local MP Patrick McLoughlin was not impressed. He said: “It doesn’t exactly send a very firm message to anyone else who is appearing in court. It is bizarre that he was not charged in relation to evading justice after all the extra costs in this case.”

The Keystone cops are investigating.

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