A Bad Smell in the Legal Sector

I felt there was a really nasty niff about the way big commercial firm DWF (who acquired Crutes on Tyneside) pulled out of acquiring Cobbetts, a big Manchester/Leeds practice, preferring to let that firm go under so as to purchase the rump from the administrators than to bail it out. Cobbetts’ creditors will recover tuppence in the pound. It turns out that I wasn’t alone.

Now there was nothing unlawful in what DWF did.  ‘Pre-pack’ deals suck as far as unsecured creditors are concerned, they are intended to keep businesses going and prevent redundancies (although how sustainable such business models might be and how safe those employees feel is open to question).  And you might like the idea of using a firm that operates like this.  I mean, they’re sly, sharp, ruthless, perhaps everything you want out of your solicitor.  Unless, of course, you are one of the creditors of the Cobbetts insolvency.

If you think that the way DWF behaved is exactly what you want from a law firm acting on your behalf, relax.  It’s OK.  That’s your choice.  DWF may not be Wolfram & Hart.  Not yet, anyway.  But you will never be happy as a client of *particular.  We believe that there is something more to being a lawyer than just short term calculations in pounds and pence.  DWF’s actions have secured it a significant turnover boost at a bargain price, but the long term cost is the effect of their purchase on their values.

We believe that law is a business yes, but it’s still a profession.  Thank goodness that after all, we are not the only ones thinking this way.

The Importance of Being There

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am a regular listener to @BBCr4today.  I find that shouting at arrogant politicians and numbskulled bureaucrats whilst standing before the shaving mirror is a good way to start my day, one of my favourite triggers being “we can’t comment on individual cases”.  Why they let these people get away with that as a justification for avoiding a difficult question I just don’t know.

Over the years, I have picked up on a few things that will lend advantage to anyone participating in a radio debate or interview on a live show such as the Today programme.  In fact, by the time I myself was interviewed by John Humphries on the show back in 2001, I was already a seasoned veteran when it came to listening, having started back in the 80s as a teenager.  And I saw a very good illustration of one of these tactics last week.

On Tuesday 29 January, Today programme grandee Jim Naughtie conducted a debate between Stephen Bell, a cartoonist for The Guardian, and Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle.  The debate took place after the 8am news, prime listening time.  The event that prompted the debate was the publication by Sunday Time of a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe on Sunday 27th January.  That cartoon was, in turn, prompted by the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu in his country’s general election and depicted Mr Netanyahu building a wall constructed from the blood and bones of Palestinians.  The paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, immediately apologised for the offence caused.  Mr Scarfe regretted the timing of the publication, which coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The purpose of this post is not to continue that debate.  For myself, I do not believe that criticism of Israeli policy in the occupied territories is equivalent to anti-semitism.  I have long thought that to be Jewish and to be Israeli are two different things.  And indeed there is a sizeable minority in Israel who are critical of the policies of their government.  Obviously, that does not make them anti-semitic.  But, strong as our support for the principle of freedom of expression must be, we must aware also of the context within which statements are made.  Mr Scarfe’s cartoon brought to mind the activities of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz.  I am sure that this was unintended, but it was the first thing that popped into my head.  As if that was not enough, for the publication to take place on the day that the world remembered the millions of victims of Nazi persecution was beyond insensitive.

But that’s my view.  What distinguished (if that’s the right word) the debate between the Stephens Pollard and Bell was the way in which attention turned to a cartoon drawn by Bell that Pollard referred to as “the puppet master”.  This cartoon was published in the Guardian earlier in the month and showed Mr Netanyahu on a Likud election plinth with a glove puppet on each hand, one bearing a likeness to William Hague and the other I can only assume from the smile to be Tony Blair.  The quality of the drawing was fine, but the sentiment I found to be somewhat clumsy.  And again, the context must be borne in mind, which is that for centuries, Jewish folk have been regarded as pulling the levers of power, operating in the shadows.  A stereotype that ignores the undeniable fact that for most of the last millennium, the Jewish people have been poor and downtrodden with few friends and fewer rights.  However, the Bell cartoon was intended as a criticism of Israeli policy, not a depiction of the Jewish character, if there can be such a thing.

It was at this point that the debate degenerated into a slanging match, with poor James Naughtie caught in the middle trying to marshall the contestants.  Bell clearly saw the interview as an opportunity to respond to criticism of the ‘puppet master’ cartoon in Pollard’s publication.  Pollard sought to justify that criticism by referencing the old Shakespearian stereotypes.  But Bell held one key advantage.  Whilst Pollard was speaking from a telephone line, Bell was live in the studio.  This meant that Jim found it difficult to control Bell for technical reasons, with Bell railing against Pollard time after time, interrupting Pollard’s responses.

Frankly, I came away from the debate with less sympathy for Bell, finding it ironic that somebody who makes his living from freedom of expression was so unwilling to let his opponent take his turn.  But there was no denying that if you are live in the studio, it is much more difficult for the interviewer to take control.  Even if your mic is turned down, you can still be heard on the presenter’s mic, especially in local radio, where the studios tend to be more compact.  On the other hand, the narrower, tinnier sound that the phone line produces is easily swamped by the fuller sound and greater bass produced by the studio.  And on radio, when two people speak at the same time, it is almost impossible to hear what either are saying.  This meant that time after time, Bell was able to drown out Pollard’s comments.

The debate is still available here for the time being, but whether you get the chance to listen to it or not, the next time you hear a contentious discussion on talk radio with participants joining from different sources (phone, ISDN, studio, etc), have a careful listen to the advantages or disadvantages that those technicalities present.  Participation by phone must always be your last resort.  With a decent broadband connection, even Skype tends to be preferable.  At least then, if you don’t like the way things are going, you can simulate a connection problem thereby giving you a blameless exit from the debate.  The presenter is then under a duty to present your argument for you.

If you can’t get to the studio, get to a local studio so they can connect you by ISDN.  If you can’t get to another studio, see if there is a radio car in your area.  Just do everything you can to avoid the phone.  You’ll thank me for it, as will your listeners, because being there in the heart of the debate is the most important technical advantage you can give yourself.

Networking Vs. Sales (or Trouble With Brian) – UPDATED

STOP PRESS – Scroll down for the latest…

A year or so ago, I wrote a blogpost describing the rule I have for accepting (or sending) connection requests on LinkedIn.  You probably missed it, but you can still read it here – it’s not a long one so it won’t take you long.

Over the weekend, I received a number of bog-standard LinkedIn connection invitations, as I usually do.  One of these invitations was from somebody that I’ll call Brian (though his name is actually Gary T. O’Neill of Nationwide Van Centre).

I replied to Brian in the usual form, explaining that I only connect with folks I have actually met or with whom I have developed a relationship even though we may never have met in person, blah blah.  If you are one of the people that I now count as a connection even though we first made contact via LinkedIn, you’ll be familiar with the words.  I always indicate that I would be delighted to meet, though in some circumstances, when I check the profile of the person sending the invitation, I can’t see just what I could do to help them with their business or they with mine.  Such was the case with Brian, so I concluded my reply with the following:

“Having looked at your profile, I’m not sure there’s a great deal I can do to help you with your business, but if you’d like to meet properly, I’d be very happy to have a chat over a cuppa and will gladly accept your invitation thereafter. “

After all, I don’t think a pointless meeting does anybody any good – and that’s coming from someone who subscribes to the chaos theory of networking.

Mostly, people then recognise the value in a meeting and often good things come from those meetings.  Occasionally, somebody ‘fesses up to a spam invitation, apologises and we move on.  But on a couple of occasions, somebody tries to justify what they are doing as “networking”.  About 6 months ago, for example, I had this from a woman at an office supplies place:

“No we haven’t met but I thought that was the point of linkedin to get your company known to other members. You never know if you wanted more space or need a room separated we could do that for you of if you were to relocate or wanted glass partitions with your logo on. So as I said never say never.”

No, that’s not the point of LinkedIn.  That’s the point of advertising.

AND this was after I had mentioned to her that my firm is office-less, secretary-less and paperless.  So it wasn’t really very likely that we would need logo-printed glass partitions.

But last night I received this from Brian:

“Hi Matthew, 

I asked my sales administrator to look at some law firms on here for some advise. 

We are launching a new asset finance side to the business.He probably just added them instead of doing his homework. 

I know some people dont use this for networking or recriprocal business. 

Sorry to have bothered you. 

Regards Brian” 

“Some people don’t use this for networking or reciprocal business.”  Well, that’s EXACTLY what I use it for.  But what Brian was doing was using the banner of networking to camouflage a spam campaign.  He hadn’t even looked at my profile.  He couldn’t possibly know whether I would have anything in common with him or not.  If he had, he would see that my business would have absolutely no need of asset finance and that in all likelihood, his business would not fit our typical client profile.

I came as close as I have ever come to clicking the “report for spam” link after “ignore“.  What I did instead was take him up on his networking and reciprocal business point and then I clicked “I don’t know Gary“. Er, Brian.

Building networks is not about making sales to the person next to you.  It’s about learning about what that person does, what s/he needs and then trying to help them remedy those needs either from yourself or from someone else within your network.  And if you’re lucky, they may be able to do the same for you.  The process can take years to come to fruition.

Networking is not spamming lots of people you don’t know in the hope that someone will see what it is you do just when they’ve realised they have a need for that particular thing.

That is called “sales”.

***

Well, it seems Brian didn’t take kindly to my suggestion that he rethinks his strategy for the use of LinkedIn.  This was his reply:

“As I said I asked my sales admin to find me a firm for legal advise. They added you by mistake. 

Also the networking definition is 
The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business !!! 

To be frank your clearly being a little bit touchy over this issue. 
Keep yourself secret and good luck 
If your really that bothered report me for Spam. I could not care less 
To be honest I have found a law firm that’s interested in my business.

l am taking my ball away to play with someone else,your giving me a headache.”

Now, it could be argued that a man struggling with grammer to this extent would be well-advised to leave the management of his social media to another.  But that, I think, would be to miss the point, which is that networking is the connecting of entities and in the case of LinkedIn, those entities are individual people, not organisations.

Here was my reply:

“Well OK… except, of course, that I did offer to meet with you, as I do with everybody that sends me an invitation. So the pretext of looking for a law firm seems a bit thin. 

And I don’t believe that the dictionary definition you proffer justifies the strategy you have adopted. Having a sales assistant blindly send invitations to every law firm s/he can find on LinkedIn hardly counts as “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” 

#justsaying”

As to Brian’s new law firm, I say good luck to them.  We love our clients and our clients love us.  I don’t think I could love Brian…

Tears to the Eyes

Web 2.0 is a powerful thing.  Veet for Men demonstrates what happens when  you fail to manage your brand’s exposure online in a series of lovingly crafted reviews that prove that the next generation of satirical writers are to be found on the ‘net:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B000KKNQBK

Of course, what’s even more remarkable than the story of woe brought by this product to its loyal users, is the fact that the reviews are still on show six months or more after they were posted.  I must admit, I wasn’t able to read more than halfway through the second before, with the theme clearly emergent, the grotesque descriptions became just too much to bear.

For my wife and her friends, the tears in the eyes are ones of laughter.  For myself, it’s empathy.  But for the owners of the Veet brand, they must be caused by panic.  If, that is, they are even aware of what is going on…