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Archive for September, 2009

Rebel yell….

I am, as you know, a fan of US blogs and I have met many amusing and interesting US lawyers (and non-lawyers) through blogging, my podcasts  and Twitter.  I am delighted to say that I have been invited by Molly McDonough, Assistant Managing Editor/Online for the ABA Journal, to write a piece for the ABA Journal Legal Rebels project which is due to run shortly….

US lawyers are, of course, familiar with the legal concept Volenti non fit injuria (“to a willing person, no injury is done” for post-Woolfians) and Molly is fully aware of the nonsense I write…. so may, safely, be taken to be Volens on the matter.  The word limit is 300-500.  Monsieur Prolix is my alter ego so I have obtained special dispensation to ignore the word limit.  I have, however, promised that it will not be 48 feet long like one of the Blawg Reviews I wrote earlier in the year.

I plan to contribute a stirring (as in stirring up) piece on legal education – because one of the things that is wrong with the profession and which will help the future of the profession is legal education. I shall explain my views, cover themes in Uk and US legal education, light the blue touch paper and then I shall deport myself. I am looking forward to writing it and I shall, of course, let you know when it goes out.  I am in distinguished company. All the other contributors have a photograph.  As I am a figment of my own imagination (and I am writing qua Charon QC) I shall provide a cartoon image.

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Let me introduce you to @Little_Lawyer…

@Little_lawyer is an enthusiastic user of twitter.  I am always keen to encourage new UK bloggers to get blogging so it is my pleasure to have Little_Lawyer as a guest blogger today!

Here is the first post on Little_Lawyer’s blog (Do have a look at the blog as well and put it on your blogroll?)

***

Have I introduced you to….?
By Little_Lawyer

So here I am, newly unemployed.  Times are tough out there, and when I finished my training contract (just like in firms up and down the country) there wasn’t any room at the inn.  There was however, room for my fellow trainee, in the department I always anchored my preference for and in which fellow trainee hadn’t contemplated before it became obvious that if there was to be any vacancy, it would be there.

The best trainee won?  Maybe.  But I don’t think its entirely irrelevant that fellow trainee’s father is also a partner at my training firm.  Bitter?  Maybe a little, even if it is understandable in the current economic climate.

But is it?  Is it ok for nepotism to exist in a larger than high street law firm when faced with two, equally qualified and competent candidates?  Part of me thinks it is even if it is contrary to my personal interests.

Hugely successful businesses have been built on familial connections and I think clients like it.  In fact, one can even extend the definition (if I may be so bold as to rewrite the dictionary), to giving a leg up to friends, or family of friends.  Isn’t it what we all do?  Isn’t it the point of networking?  Most of us wouldn’t think twice using personal contacts, or shmoosing about a common interest to open doors – and it is what networking sites like LinkedIn are all about.

Research by Transparancy International (discussed in an article in the FT found here suggests it is one of the reasons for corporate corruption.  I wouldn’t go that far.  I mean, wouldn’t a person with a familial tie want the family business to be a success?  Wouldn’t a person who got his/her job at a friend of his father’s accountancy firm want to prove that he/she deserved the role, by working harder than may be necessary?  Although the latter suggests that someone else would not be so hardworking.  If such an accusation was to be pointed in my direction, I would be mightily offended, since I’m annoyingly conscientious and need to know that I have earned every penny I am (or rather was) paid.

The fashionable and wider issue, is the effect nepotism has on the diversity of the legal profession.  I was going to quote some wonderfully wise words from the Master of the Rolls, but came across a rather entertaining examination of the class ceiling which appears to exist in the legal field, written by student Aryan Sharahi and edited and produced by ThePurpleRobot found here

Times are tough out there, so whatever gives us the edge is fair play, and I value loyalty to family and friends.  Would I have an issue with nepotism if my uncle Bob was the owner of Uncle Bob LLP, or my father golfed with the Chief Exec of Commercial Ltd?  I’m not sure.  What I
can be certain of, is that from the moment I began my (self funded) studies, to getting and completing my training contract, it was achieved with my personal charm (yep, even the checkout job at Tesco) and qualifications (ditto the Tesco job).  Granted, this gives me an enormous sense of self satisfaction, but there is a problem.  One can’t live (financially, emotionally and professionally) on self satisfaction alone.

Little_Lawyer’s blog: Fill My Days in Legal London

@Little_Lawyer on Twitter

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RollonFriday reported the story that BPP Law School is asking students to defer taking the Bar course until next year (and providing an incentive of a £2000 reduction on the fee to do so) because they have taken on too many students.  I felt that the RollonFriday story, although designed to be cutting, was pregnant with a number of unstated possibilities.

We are not dealing with airlines overbooking, or holiday companies selling more holidays than they have – we are dealing with a fairly serious and important matter of legal education and the hopes and aspirations of prospective members of the Bar. In the interests of getting the story straight I contacted BPP Law School and the Bar Standards Board.

In my emails to BPP (below) and the Bar Standards Board I took the following line:

The issue is a simple one.  Did BPP exceed the number of authorised places or not?.   I would be surprised if this is the case – but if it is, then it should be made clear.  If you did not exceed your authorised accreditation numbers why is the BSB asking you to reduce your intake? If BPP did not exceed the number they are authorised to take the BSB is acting inconsistently with its own stated policy of not placing a cap on numbers applying.

When I telephoned Peter Crisp, CEO and Dean of BPP Law School, this morning he told me that the BPP response was in a Press Release:

“Following a marked increase in demand for this year’s Bar Vocational Course (BVC), we have been working with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to explore the possibility of students deferring their place until 2010.

All students with places on the BVC were notified of this on Thursday 17th September, and those who would consider deferring have been invited to contact the Director of BVC Programmes to discuss.

BPP has emphasised that any decision to defer needs to be carefully thought through, and that any deferrals will be guaranteed a place on the Bar Professional Training Course (which replaces the BVC from 2010) as well as eligibility for a loyalty discount of 15% on next year’s fees.

As discussions are currently taking place, we are unable to tell how many will take up the offer at this stage.

The demand for places this year demonstrates the quality of our provision as well as our reputation and standing in the legal profession”.


The Bar Standards Board statement received following my telephone call to the BSB late this afternoon:

The BSB is committed to the highest standards of education and training.  The BSB has not recommended to BPP that their students should defer for a year on the basis of the current job market. The BSB are currently in dialogue with the BPP about the number of students recruited on their BVC course this year.

BPP Law School is a leading provider of high quality vocational law courses and, most recently, has been accredited to award their own degrees by the Privy Council.  This provides BPP, now owned by US education firm Apollo,  with many advantages and opportunities – but with rights go responsibilities – the responsibility of complying with authorised numbers, the responsibility of ensuring that students are properly advised and taught to the very high standards they themselves set and which are set by the Bar Standards Board.

BPP Law School has developed in a very short time to deserve their  place in the top tier of vocational legal education and I have no doubt the school will soon earn respect and validity for their law degree offerings.  I have said this before.

***

I have not, as yet,  had a direct answer to my very simple question:  – Did BPP exceed the number of authorised places or not?

I’ll leave the question on the table and it may be answered at any time. As soon as I receive an answer from BPP I will publish their response.

In the meantime – there are only two possible constructions:

(a) BPP  have broken the terms of their Bar Vocational Course validation as to maximum numbers – deliberately or inadvertently

(b) BPP have not broken the terms of their validation  and they are asking students to defer for some other unspecified and non-contentious reason – but not because of the current job market,  as the BSB makes clear in their statement (above).  The original BSB statement issued to Legal Week and others last week made no mention of the point about the BSB not recommending to BPP that their students should defer for a year on the basis of the current job market. This has been inserted, one assumes, to counter rumours circulating to that effect in the market.

I raise a number of points which I believe, in the circumstances, are fair to raise.  They may be answered very simply with a response from BPP

1. It is worth noting that all fees received over and above the maximum validated number go straight to the bottom line and it is pure profit, it being unlikely that an institution would recruit additional lecturers and take on additional space and resources to service the extra students taken on.

Institutions are validated to take a specific number of students on – based on the BSB assessment of resources, space and lecturer-student ratios available or projected at the time of the validation.  This is why institutions are not permitted to exceed the validated number of places. This, when fees are at the £14800 mark, could be a very substantial profit. How many students are BPP oversubscribed by on the Bar course?

I am assuming that there may have been a fairly significant over subscription to have attracted the need to reduce the numbers.  It is, I suspect, unlikely the BSB would be concerned by an overbooking of one or two students.  De minimis?

2. If BPP has broken the terms of their accreditation to run the Bar course –  this does not reflect well on an institution recently validated by the Privy Council to award degrees.

3. If BPP has broken the terms of their authorisation –  this should be (and I assume will be)  investigated and dealt with by the Bar Standards Board. The BSB is in dialogue with BPP about “the number of students recruited on their BVC course this year.” and will, one assumes, make public this dialogue, in time,  given the publicity t this story has attracted on RollonFriday,  Legal Week and  elsewhere?

4. If BPP has not broken the terms of BVC validation and  If students are happy to accept deferment until next year and take the 15% reduction in fees (£2000) next year – all well and good.

5. On the other hand, if BPP has broken the terms of their validation and are required to reduce numbers and students are required to defer – subject to a duty to mitigate loss –  they will have an action for breach of contract.

6. If a student has deferred and taken BPP’s offer,  it is not unreasonable to speculate on what information was provided to the student by BPP underpinning the request.  If it  transpires that BPP has broken the terms of the validation and did not make this clear to deferring students then contractual issues may arise in relation to the deferral agreement.

There may be no story at all here and if that is the case well and good.  It is, I hope, fair to raise these issues and get the story onto the table fully – given… and I use BPP’s quote from their press release…” the quality of (their) provision as well as (their) reputation and standing in the legal profession”.

I have In the meantime left the two possible outcomes on the table.  As ever, you may use the comments section to comment. If BPP responds to my emails and phonecalls earlier  I will, of course, publish their response in full.

UPDATE

Wednesday 30th September 10.30 am

I have received an email from Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP law School:

As the BSB has stated, it has not recommended to BPP that students defer due to the current job market.

Our statement clearly says that “we have been working with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to explore the possibility of students deferring their place until 2010”.  Our discussions with the BSB have been as a result of an increase in demand for this year’s course, and are a confidential matter between the two parties.  There is no question of students being “forced off the course”.

The story was (rightly or wrongly) covered in the legal trade press last week, and there is nothing further that I can add at this stage.


It is important to understand that all law schools invest heavily in providing good infrastructure and on a course like the BVC, where numbers are smaller than for the LPC in most institutions,  judging the number of applicants to maximum validated numbers can be a very key issue in terms of viability. I know from personal experience that it is not easy.  Some students given offers drop out and have to have fees refunded, others don’t meet the grade requirements set by the Institution and do not get a place (if applicable). It is important for all institutions offering the BVC, an expensive course to run, that they ensure viability.   The BSB has confirmed that the issue is being discussed and that it is not a significant problem.  The BSB also confirmed that no student will be prejudiced by being forced to defer.

POSTSCRIPT

Of course… it is always possible that other BVC providers have exceeded their numbers and in the interests of fairness and objectivity I am asking each of the providers.  If any institution admits to having a possible over subscription I will indicate this in a postscript below.

Thus far I have had confirmations from:

Nottingham Law School, Kaplan,  The College of Law, and Manchester Metropolitan confirm that they have no over-subscription issues.  I have left messages with other providers – but with the beginning of term it is inevitable that the Course Leaders are involved with students/teaching so it may take time to get a full report on this out.

Northumbria University

I have spoken to Deveral Capps, the course director for the BVC.  Deveral Capps was very open with me on the telephone when he told me that Northumbria did have a minor over subscription problem and that they had dealt with it last week to the Bar Standard Board’s satisfaction last week.  The over subscription is on the fullt-ime course but their part-time course is under subscribed by 44%.  There are, therefore, no issues of resource, space, pressures on the lecturing team and resources can be re-deployed.  The quality of provision is being maintained. Deveral Capps did make the point – and I agree with him – that over-subscription this year to the BVC has come about – because of a marked increase in students applying for the BVC before the Bar Professional Training Course kicks in next year.  The BPTC is going to be a more demanding course.  I recall the same increase in BVC applications arising when the Bar had deferral of call plans some years back.

University of The West of England

I have spoken to the administrator at UWE.  They do not have an over subscription issue.

Cardiff University Law School

I have spoken to the Course Leader for the BVC.  She confirms that while they were two oversubscribed earlier in the summer,  two students have had to withdraw (for personal reasons) and they are spot on the number permitted.  The course director did make the perfectly valid point that it is  a difficult judgement call to get the numbers spot on because most institutions will make slightly more offers than places to ensure that if people do withdraw (and they do) they are not left in a situation where they have less than the permitted number and fall below their budget expectations.

City Law School (Formerly The Inns of Court School of Law)

I have spoken to the Course Director for the BVC – They do not have an over subscription issue.

I have now heard from all the providers – The providers  were more than happy to discuss the position with me.

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Insite law FREE resource project: European Union Law

Carl Gardner, ex-government lawyer for 10 years, author of the Head of Legal blog is the author of our new free resource (text, lectures, case analyses) on European Union. The project is being built from scratch and Chapter 1 – Introduction is now up.

We are on target to put 12 free books/resources up by Friday and the project is now growing rapidly and will be updated weekly from 1st October.

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Comment du Jour: A tragic suicide….

The Guardian reports on a truly tragic case: “Police errors and inaction were partly responsible for driving a vulnerable single mother to kill herself and her severely disabled daughter after years of abuse from youths, an inquest found today.

Returning a verdict of suicide on Fiona Pilkington, 38, and unlawful killing for her 18-year-old daughter, Francecca, whose bodies were found in a blazing car on a layby in October 2007, the jury decided that the police action “contributed” to the deaths, notably the failure of officers to connect dozens of separate calls for assistance.

The jury heard Pilkington contacted police on no fewer than 33 occasions in seven years in which youths throwing stones and shouting abuse had kept her a virtual prisoner in her home in Barwell, near Hinckley in Leicestershire. Asked how police were responsible, the jury said: “Calls were not linked or prioritised.” Guardian

I felt a sense of rare anger when I read about this some weeks ago and again today. It is all very well setting up investigations, commissions, inquiries to determine what went wrong – but yet again, despite increased resources going into policing in this country, we have a systemic failure which led to what I suspect was a horrible and very lonely death by suicide for Fiona Pilkington and her severely disabled daughter.  I cannot even begin to comprehend what must have been going through that Mother’s mind when she killed herself and her daughter.

These women were bullied by carrion and scum, mindless thugs from an estate in the Midlands – yet the Police did nothing, the parents of these yobs did nothing, the people who lived on the estate, and who must have known what was happening, did nothing.  I find it very difficult to understand how young boys can be so cruel as to hound a woman and her disabled daughter, how people can stand by and pretend it is not happening – but that, sadly, is often the way in Britain.  We prefer not to get involved.  No screaming here, We’re British. British bulldog spirit, support the underdog?  You have to be joking on this one….The British of today in some parts of our country are more likely to support a fucking dancing dog on Britain’s Got Talent than concern themselves with the misery their children and yobs are causing to others.

Two women lived a miserable life in fear for seven years and  died, the Mother unable to take any more,  because of the vile behaviour of scum and the cowardice of others. The Police did nothing – most probably through sheer inefficiency – but it is quite possible that this Police force was more interested in crime clear up rates for minor offences and the revenue generated from speeding tickets. Who knows?  We shall see what the ‘Investigation’ throws up. The report may well be in stock already.

And just to ram the point home…. it appears that no-one was convicted of a crime.  I find this rather shocking.  The scum responsible for hounding this poor woman and her daughter with a mental age of four are still out there – their parents quite  possibly living on benefit at the tax payer’s expense.  Welcome to post modern Britain in part of our sceptred British bulldog spirit isle. The people who did this should be investigated thoroughly, if necessary by another Police force,  and prosecuted to the full extent permitted by law.

IronicallyGordon Brown, at the Labour Conference, wants a crackdown on bad parents. Well… that is a start but, sadly, too late for Fiona Pilkinton and her daughter Francecca.

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The folly of men of advancing years…

I have passed the pleasure of writing this story over to my far more acerbic (and rather dull, pompous and academically flatulent) brother, Professor RD Charon.

A view from Academe on the issue of Lust.
Professor RD Charon

I write from the perspective of many years in academe and not once was I touched by the desire to flirt with a female student or, it has to be said,  be the recipient of flirtatious behaviour on the part of a female student.  Should such an event have occurred, where I was called upon to exercise my academic judgement in favour of an attractive female to her advantage, against my natural and better judgement, I would have had her rusticated.

To have my attention drawn to a salacious piece in a law blogger’s website, a website called Law Actually, by my asinine brother who wastes his days on Twitter, writing incomprehensible nonsense on here and getting drunk with lawyers in the capital City is bad enough;  but to find that the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, an otherwise most sensible man by the name of Terence Kealey,vice-chancellor of that most esteemed establishment, and the author of Sex, Science and Profits (2008) has been giving intemperate advice,  has made me most dyspeptic.

I quote from the passage written by ‘The Michael”, as I believe this blogger refers to himself, from his electronic Tractatus, Law Actually.

In an article for the Times Higher Education magazine on lust, part of a feature on the seven deadly sins of universities, Kealey wrote: “Normal girls – more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos – will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays.

What to do?  “Enjoy her! She’s a perk.”

Flashing a few literary allusions, he continued: “She doesn’t yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.”

De-constructing the piece, I can find no hint of hidden allusion, nor even the illusion of great writing – all I see is delusion; the delusion common to many men – my asinine brother is so afflicted – that they are still young.

***

As you have gathered, my academically dessicated brother and I do not get on…. it was ever thus.  He is, however, to me…. an amuse bouche, and I do like to poke the odd academic occasionally, if you forgive the expression (in the circumstances) –  so I like to draw him in when opportunity allows. I suspect that Kealey was having a laugh – but even I would not have ventured into that territory.  It is quite possible that my fellow blogger Geeklawyer would have been happy to do so – but I must not encourage him any further in his ‘depravity’ – Geeklawyer’s that is, not the VC’s!
Charon.

***

To be serious – the whole article in The Times Higher Education about the Seven Deadly Sins was, in fact, rather good and worth a read… and I am quite sure Terence Kealy intended no moral outrage or slight on women… it did, however, come across as being a bit ‘creepy’! and… it is his problem, not mine!

Good effort, Michael  of Law Actually for picking this story up.

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Blawg Review # 231: Hosted from VEGAS!

Blawg Review #231 is up and it is from Vegas., by Legally UnBound….

Legally Unbound writes…. “I live here. Other than that, though Sin City is not known for its verbosity, it is known for its short catchy phrases, its buffet sign deals and its staged antics, in and out of the casinos. What you may or may not know about Las Vegas is that our persona is much larger than our history, our population, our sq. miles (km) and certainly our legal prowess. In fact, I’d say that Las Vegas has an incredibly narcissistic ego that is only surpassed by this persona which generates the appetite for its own cannibalistic, self-indulgence. In other words, Las Vegas can’t get enough of itself.”

It is a great Blawg Review, amusing, incisive, covers the blogs and I enjoyed it immensely.  I’ve not been to Las Vegas… but after reading this BR it is certainly somewhere I would enjoy visiting.  Go and feel the sin….

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