Posts

Showing posts from 2014

Christmas Update

Image
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…

Pringle Criminal

Image
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 b…

Wine Fraud: An Escalating Problem

Image
Guest Post
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 c…

Billing is killing

Image
Literally. From 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.  Belie…

Passive aggressive lawyer tactics

Image
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 y…

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

Image
On their websites, that is.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, b…

Law firm abandons desk phones…

Image
The end of the world will follow shortly after.
A solicitor speaking to a client in a soon-to-be-realised dystopiaFrom 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 …

How to use commas

Image
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 liabilit…

Know the Risks of Cheap Cosmetic Surgery while Travelling Abroad

Image
Guest PostSo 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, t…

Why have Microsoft removed numbered comments from Word 2013?

Image
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 wi…

The Windows Store is unspeakably bad

Image
Oh – and it’s also riddled with rogue apps.All 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 appsMicrosoft[…] [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.…

Young lawyers’ written communication skills

Image
… aren’t up to much – apparently.

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 sur…

You can’t get anything done with lawyers around

Image
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. 
Bernie – looking suitably smug having settled his trial

Sweating like a pig

Image
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?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.  Hand fans?!?  Sold by PC World Business?  Are you shitting me?How many offi…

Have Payday Loan Companies Pushed the Law Too Far?

Image
Guest PostWonga 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, ma…

Some thoughts on Sky’s F1 coverage

Image
Sky’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 …

Words and phrases to make you vomit

Image
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 e…

I’ve never been in an Apple store

Image
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:Of course they are.You can read the full story here.

Let’s not get hung-up on commercial awareness

Image
A 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…

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

Image
Guest PostThe 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 DeedsMore 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 …

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

Image
Guest PostAlthough 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. I…

A couple of thoughts on England

Image
That is – the England football team.

The 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?

Why Touchscreen Tech isn’t all that

Image
New tech really doesn’t grab me

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 grappl…

Overriding Objections

Image
From 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 Mitchellprinciples 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’.

Your rights if you’re injured in a public place

Image
Guest PostThe 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 ins…

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

Image
(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.Judging 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. :pIt’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 ca…

How Can You Protect Your Intellectual Property?

Image
Guest PostAre 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 u…