Archive for August 27th, 2008

So…. the plan now is to give a whole raft of officials powers to give out fines and marshall us into some Beijing Olympic cadre style of civil obedience and responsibility. The Evening Standard reported today that Town Hall staff are to be given power to hand out fines.  This is a rather worrying plan being developed by The Home Office.  On the assumption, and I cannot be sure, that civil servants have not taken over during the Summer, this must be the product of the febrile mind of our Home Secretary.

The idea – called “The Community Safety Accreditation Scheme” – is that a third tier level of ‘unaccountable policing’ will be brought into play.  I quote from The Evening Standard article:

“More than 1600 civilians ranging from shop security guards, park wardens, housing officers, charity workers, dog wardens and football match stewards have been made part of the ‘extended police family’ under the legislation.”

Footpath fouling, cycling on pavements, dropping litter etc etc are to be clamped down on. It was bad enough when the government brought in a group of people, not trained to full police standards (and not paid police rates) to shamble about in grey shirts and police kit, including antistab vests – and not get involved in anything likely to cause danger to themselves or, presumably, the public.   I’m sure those employed as PCSOs mean well, and know the way to the local Tesco, but as a front line force to deter crime – it really is pretty laughable.  I recall seeing, in West London, three PCSOs pop into a high street cafe for buns and tea.  I happened to be at the cafe at the time. They drank the tea and ate their buns with exemplary efficiency, paid and shambled off to wander down the High Street looking for Lex Luther, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and The Joker. They looked like amateurs and I just could not see even a pre-hoodie potential knife carrier of five being even vaguely concerned by their presence.

Now we’ve got the next load of worthies, no doubt to be given Dad’s Army style armbands or bright yellow Hi-Viz jackets (possibly even with “USELESS” written in blue lettering on the back),  drifting about dishing out fines to swell the coffers of government and local government alike.  More real Police?  Is that so difficult? – or too expensive?

Now that the bloviators and hyperventilators of the press, television and other media have gorged themselves on Team GB and told us how marvellously China did in producing the games, how the world must open its arms to China and how Britain will go on to produce an even better games in 2012, it was reassuring to read a bit of critical analysis.

Lest anyone think that as I rioja (*) my way through what life there is remaining in the egg-timer of my life and have turned into a grumpy old git, nothing could be further from the truth.  Team GB did well. It was a tremendous achievement and I very much hope that the athletes get some credit of practical benefit, other than geegaws, baubles and knighthoods, to assist them with their sport and their lives.  When one reads, courtesy of the tabloids, that an olympic athlete on average earns £25k and internationally renowned shopaholic fuckwits who can’t even qualify  for (let alone win) the European football fest earn millions one begins to wander about sporting interest and value for money. It seems, also,  to my jaded eye, that hordes of worthies, journalists and politicians are lining up to bask in the glory while the athletes modestly accept the plaudits, don’t let it go to their heads and get back to doing what they enjoy most in life – sport at a high level. Lords Coe and Moynihan appear like Shakespearean witches, stirring the bubbling cauldron of success,  to demand your money… and, quite possibly, lots of it. Would “Spuggers” be the right word for extorting sports cash?

As Will Self (In The Standard) and Martin Samuel (The Times) have pointed out – China drew on vast human resources used to complying with government edict – they even bussed hordes of people around to fill empty seats – and there was a very real human cost in terms of mounting and paying for the games.  The press did not get entirely free and open access.  77 requests were made, according to Samuels, for designated protest events and these were all declined and, it is highly likely that the regimented politically controlled society of China will return to normal fairly shortly.  One civil rights activist of my acquaintance, who shall remain nameless until he decides to express his views in print himself, mused that where once great sporting records were broken, lives would be broken by the execution of criminals and other state undesirables.  the Bird’s Nest stadium may yet hear the sound of loaded gunfire and the roar of a different crowd as executed criminals fall to the grass where once javelins landed.  To be fair…. it is believed that China is now beginning to use mobile lethal injection units rather than firing squads – but executions will, no doubt, be resumed in the not too distant future for the terminal education of those who dissent.

Meanwhile, we are encouraged to look forward to 2012.  I just can’t summon the energy to do so….. and that logo is just bizarre.  Talk about a broken society metaphor?

Well… I haven’t had a decent rant or ‘expression of irritation’ for some time…. but there we are.  I can now relapse back to normal.

Footnote: (*) If the BBC can drone on and on about ‘medalling’ during the Olympics and turn nouns into verbs, I can talk about ‘riojaing’ – and I don’t charge a licence fee.

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And just a little bit more Family Law….

Do your own divorce?…. If you want a divorce (or are involved in a divorce) but you are neither eligible for legal aid nor able to afford to instruct a solicitor, what do you do?  Well – buy John Bolch’s excellent book on “Do Your Own Divorce” which he is promoting on his Family Lore blog – available online. This is a good example of a practising lawyer turning into an author and self publisher.  I have read most of the book now and while I am not contemplating marriage to give the book a try, I found it readable, informative, clear and, most important – practical.

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The harbingers of doom gather as the credit-crunch brings into focus the rising/falling fortunes of lawyers and law firms. There does seem to be a spate of articles appearing contrasting the fabulous earnings of some lawyers, yet hinting at dark times to come. Perhaps, as the season changes from summer to the early suggestion of autumn, the pundits, the journalists and commentators are turning their attention away from sightings of great white sharks off the coast of Britain, away from the Olympics and David Cameron’s interest in Gavin and Stacey, to more serious matters.

By way of illustration… in The Times today there are two articles.  The first has the headline “Lawyers make billions but the good times are ending” by Alex Spence and, the second, also written by Alex Spence,  ” Law firms feel pinch as companies slash legal spending”

We learn from the first Alex Spence article that: “The top 100 commercial law firms earned combined revenues of £13.96 billion in the past financial year, according to a report published today, an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year. Collectively they made £4.35 billion in profits, an average of £473,000 for each equity partner”

And then…. Spence tells us that “According to Legal Business magazine, the highest paid partners at Slaughter and May, one of the City’s oldest and most prestigious firms, earned £2.4 million each last year”

There is a bit of comparative mumbo jumbo with other magic circle firms… but Slaughter & May enjoys the focus with Spence noting that S&M is ‘notoriously reticent about its earnings..fiercely protective about reputation and heritage’ – a rather interesting footnote about the fact that S&M partners lunch together ‘every day’ in the partner’s dining room and then…. a bit to highlight the contrast in fortunes between the large and small… a note that equity partners at leading personal injury specialists Thompsons are only trousering £83,000.  I do seem to recall reading in one of the tabloids, it may have been The Sun, that the average wage in credit-crunched Britain is £23,000.  The Spence article notes that law firms take longer to feel the impact of economic downturn…. ‘but the impact was starting to be felt’.

Spence ends with the portent of doom “Law firms are beginning to look at one of their costliest overheads — their staff — and ask questions.”

Alex Spence then goes on to excite us by writing a second article bearing the same date of publication in which he states “Law firms are feeling the pinch as Britain’s top companies, under pressure from the economic downturn, slash their spending on outside legal advice”  Spence goes on to say that companies are finding it cheaper to hire their own in-house lawyers rather than give work to external law firms.

It seems that  in-house lawyers, according to The Times, “earn less than their counterparts in private practice, with a junior lawyer likely to earn between £65,000 and £120,000 a year plus benefits and bonus.”

Spence notes that companies have been finding it difficult to hire lawyers.  This is hardly surprising given the yawning chasm in the earnings of in-house lawyers compared to those in private practice… but… this may well change as law firms start asking questions and firing expensive staff overhead.

We shall see if these portents of doom are realised. It may well be time for some to have a Damascus moment and talk of work-life balance, to talk of opportunity to practice law at the sharp end of corporate enterprise, rather than remotely through the offices of a law factory, to talk of a long held wish, after building up expertise in a top law firm, to use their skills more directly for the good of Great Britain PLC…. that there is a wider agenda for the modern lawyer of today etc etc etc.  It may well be that these thoughts are music to the ears of company HR departments and the managing partners of law firms alike.  Time will tell.

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