Solicitors From Hell?

I received the following email from an individual named Rick Kordowski today. He is the former proprietor of the lawyer-baiting website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, the premise of which was to extort money from solicitors in return for not publishing tirades of questionable provenance. As far as I was aware, he had been put out of business and the “phoenix” business that has arisen has, according to its home page at www.solicitorsfromhell.net been created to fulfill his “legacy”. However, as you’ll see from this email that Mr Kordowski does still appear to be very much involved.

(By the way, I believe that English is Mr Kordowski’s first language, despite indications to the contrary.)

Hey there at satan’s business,

This is the current editor of the online portal called SolicitorsFromHell.net .

This site principally caters for the disenfranchised legal consumer; in other words, those members of the public who are convinced the official route has not served or will not serve their needs or the justice of their grievance. There are times when the establishment’s complaints handler gets it wrong – for whatever reason: occasionally there are cover-ups with the retort “insufficient evidence” being used to protect the wrongdoer.
We are contacting you with a formal and “needs to be sent heads up” regarding a soon to be published article.

In the last few days we have been in contact with a former client of your law firm. He claims, and in our opinion, it clearly shows that you lack the respect and dedication you claim to show all your clients.

The communication he sent is attached to this message. You can see exactly what we will publish; we did, however, covered all private data, i.e. contact details and transaction details.

As we do not operate as a usual daily newspaper your point of view regarding these accusations is not mandatory.

The article will be showed on our website starting with tomorrow morning.

Rick Kordowski
SolicitorsFromHell.net , former SolicitorsFromHell.co.uk

Well, obviously I couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass unexploited. I dispatched the following email in reply:

Dear Mr Kordowski

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, the attachment containing the promised information was full of gobbledy-gook. I suspect that this is because you assume that as a solicitor, I must be a Microsoft user. I am not.

I see that you allege we claim to show “respect and dedication” to all of our clients. I must record that I don’t ever recall writing such meaningless rubbish, that being the sort of dribble that conventional commercial law firms use in their boardroom brochures. We are not a conventional commercial law firm and never will be.

I should also mention that you refer to “a former client” of my firm. We have no former clients. All of our clients, whether we are currently engaged on their behalf or not, remain precious and valued. I know that the professional conduct rules diluted the rules on conflicts of interest a few years ago to refer to “current clients” but I don’t hold with that. As far as I’m concerned, every business that becomes a client of *particular remains a client for life.

I find it hard to believe that in a practice as small as ours, we could have had, in the three years since our founding, a client so disgruntled as to wish to record his or her dissatisfaction on your site, though I suppose it’s always possible. I write this with some confidence, however, given that most of our work is done in the commercial creative and tech sectors and, I mean no offence by this, I can’t imagine any of them would wish to be associated with your site. This kind of activity would hardly endear them to their investors and customers.

In addition, we like to think we offer market-leading levels of transparency. All of our clients have access to all documentation relating to their files at all times, even after they have been closed. This includes invoices, time sheets, correspondence, documents and everything else. This also includes a complaints policy, which they find in the Records section of the file at opening, and a document that spells out our mission, values and behaviours, to which we ask them to hold us to account.

You can see, therefore, that discouraging you from publishing the dissatisfaction of an irritated client would be totally against the grain for us. Indeed, it would entirely undermine our values. I am sure that you will have taken the trouble to conduct reasonable enquiries to satisfy yourself that the information you intend to publish is accurate and that the facts contained therein are true and not misleading. That being the case, please do proceed. We have, as a firm, yet to receive anything close to a complaint from our clients since we opened our virtual doors but I have, during my long and varied career, always tried to receive every grumble, whether justified or (in my opinion) not, as an opportunity to impress upon those concerned my commitment to client service. I’m sorry that the client concerned didn’t feel that the views s/he has shared with you couldn’t be disclosed to me directly – or maybe they were hinted at but I was too obtuse or focussed upon what I was doing to notice.

So, though it pains me as an atheist to write this, please do “publish and be damned” as the saying goes. I guess that given the name of your website, you will have no shortage of company. I look forward to reading the article tomorrow.

Kind regards and thanks for your interest in our firm,

Matthew Rippon

PS. I see that you remain very much involved with the ‘Solicitors From Hell’ movement but on the homepage of the website, much store is placed upon the new domain as being a part of your “legacy”. You are referred to in the past tense. I wonder whether that has something to do with the various court proceedings to which you were subjected?

Matthew James Rippon
Director
Particular C&L Limited

Sadly, my email appears to have bounced so I have resent it this time to the info@solicitorsfromhell.net address I found on the “Contact Us” page of the website. I can’t wait to see what appears tomorrow. I guess that if nothing else, at least that means somebody considers as serious enough contendors to warrant this kind of attack. If only he knew just how tightly Mrs Mc grips the purse-strings…

*** UPDATE ***
09:45, Tuesday 13 February 2014

Just checked the “latest entries” page on the solicitorsfromhell.net website and was disappointed to find that we are not yet listed. What is the world coming to when you can’t rely on a character like Rick Kordowski to follow through on his declared intention to publish this kind of material? Well, he did say he wasn’t a newspaper. Maybe he’s not an early riser either.

ECJ in Hyperlink Shock Ruling

You’ll all be pleased to know that the European Court of Justice (we’re not allowed to call it the ECJ any more – it’s the Court of Justice and it is an arm of the European Union) has declared that hyperlinks are legal after all and not a potential infringement of the copyright in the material that is the target of the link.

OK, perhaps that’s not a massive surprise, but years and years ago (when some of our clients were still in short trousers, metaphorically speaking), most thought that the practice of “framing” – that’s where the link produces the targeted page apparently within the site providing the link – had been outlawed. The ECJ – oops, the Court of Justice (which happens to be in Europe) – has said that as long as the targeted content wasn’t restricted in some way (in which case, the link would be an unlawful circumvention), it doesn’t matter how the content is presented.

So you can link to publicly available material on another site, present the desired text within your own site (stripped of extraneous branding, advertising, etc) and it seems that you won’t be infringing the copyright owner’s right to control how that content is communicated to the public (because they have already communicated it to the public).  Another hammer blow to the newspaper industry, it would seem – or at least that part of it that relies upon advertising revenue from publicly available content.

Of course, if you find a way to link to content that is restricted in some way (I guess this would usually mean password-protected), then it would be an infringement because the content would NOT have been communicated to the public already.

And if you stick beans in your ears, you’ll probably damage your hearing…

For those with a head for European-ese, the short-ish judgment is available here:
http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=147847&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=106551

… and you can link to it to your heart’s content.

The Price of One Man’s Freedom

IMG_0332

Whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’?

This morning, one man in the north of England will wake up to find himself free.  Two years ago, he was accused by two women of various sexual offences against them.  He was charged and, although it was their word against his, the wheels of justice ground remorselessly forward towards a trial that started on Monday of this week.

Once charged, his name was published.  He faced verbal and physical abuse.  He was hounded out of his home and from his home town.  The women, on the other hand, as victims, properly benefited from anonymity.  It is hard enough to persuade victims of this type of crime to come forward.  If their names were to be made public, that in itself would be too high a hurdle for many of them.

In our legal system, the Prosecution puts its case first.  It is possible, though rare, in the English courts for a Judge to decide at the end of the Prosecution’s case that there is no case for the Defendant to answer.  In that situation, rather than asking the jury to consider its verdict, the Judge will not trouble the Defence but instead the Defendant will be acquitted immediately.  Usually, this happens when the Prosecution’s case is technically flawed in some way.  When it’s a she-said/he-said case like this one, a Judge will let the jury weigh up who’s telling the truth – that’, after all, is what they are there for.  They are the arbiters of truth.

Almost always.

Yesterday, the Judge accepted the argument made by Counsel for the Defence that there was no case to answer.  Why?  Because under cross-examination, the two women were revealed to be conniving liars.  Indeed, so bad was their evidence that they ended up fighting with each other via the witness box.

So the accused was freed.  He was reported as being “distraught” – a strange adjective to use for a man who has, for the last two years, been falsely labelled as a sexual predator facing a long prison term and a lifetime on the sexual offenders register.  But of course, you can’t throw this much excrement at somebody and expect him to walk away without some kind of lingering stench.  He may never be able to return to his home town.  Were you to google his name, you would doubtless come across reports of the charges made against him and perhaps you may never see reports of his acquittal.

For the rest of his life, this sorry case will hang over this man, affecting his reputation, his confidence and his psychological health.

The Defendant’s barrister (for our American friends, his trial attorney), when asked whether the alleged victims would face perjury charges, replied simply “that almost never happens”.  And yet their anonymity is judicially preserved.  To report their names would be a contempt of court and could see the reporter and his or her publishers imprisoned.

Who knows why they did this?  Perhaps it was out of spite, revenge for some perceived wrong they had suffered.  Perhaps he was the village weirdo, an outsider who was asking for trouble.  Perhaps they were just bored and looking for something to spice up their dull and fruitless lives.  Perhaps, just perhaps, there was some tiny kernel of truth to it all, some way in which the lives of the three did intertwine, but which did not result in the commission of a criminal offence.

I am not saying that it is wrong to preserve the anonymity of complainants in cases like this, both before and after the case.  I am not even saying that in this case, withholding the identity of the Defendant would have prevented the unnecessary level of distress and lingering damage that has been caused to him.  What I am saying is that it is time that something was done.  Some combination of measures perhaps involving anonymity for the Defendant may help.  But maybe there should also be a readiness to re-examine, in the context of the acquittal, the basis for the evidence given by the complainants upon which the case was based.

The acquittal of a Defendant does not necessarily mean that he has been found to be innocent.  To be convicted, a jury must conclude that it is beyond reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty.  These days, English Judges tell their juries that they must be sufficiently certain so that they are sure.  So, the fact that a Defendant is acquitted does not mean that those tabling the accusations are necessarily lying.  But there comes a point.  There must be consequences for those willing to destroy the lives of innocent people by misusing the criminal justice system for their own ends.

The victims of this type of crime are the powerless and the meek.  It is incumbent upon all of us to give them as much support as we can to bring their abusers, the perpetrators of these horrible crimes, to justice.  But very, very occasionally, the true victim is not the person you might have expected it to have been at the outset.

I am not an expert in this.  I am a lawyer but I have no knowledge of or experience in criminal law.  But I can see when the system has become unfairly balanced against individuals supposedly innocent until proven guilty.

This post was first published on Medium.

Knuckle Down, Fit In.

About 13 years ago, I had my first appraisal at what was then my new firm: Prettys in Ipswich.  Colourful shirts, floppy hair and a passion for doing things differently, I think it’s fair to say that I was already rubbing my supervising partner up the wrong way.

“You need to knuckle down”, he said.  “You have to fit in.”  I still have the notes I made at the appraisal, which was something of a character assassination.  Those notes contain just four words:

KNUCKLE DOWN

FIT IN

And for a long time I had them pinned to the wall above my desk, as a badge of pride.

I have never “fitted in” to any law firm that I have worked at.  Which is probably why within a year of meeting the right person to partner up with, I had set up my own practice.  We work hard, we love what we do.  But we will never knuckle down.  We will never fit in.

As a result, we will never again get that magical unexpected call from the huge client of which every lawyer dreams.  (It did happen to me once, when I was at Watson Burton, and I ended up handling all the grey trading litigation for Canon UK.)  But that’s OK.  Because what I’ve realised is that even as a lawyer, it’s OK not to fit in, not to knuckle down.  There are enough people out there who like the way we do things that differentiating ourselves on this basis is a good thing.  A great thing.

Two things happened today that made me decide it was time to write this post.  One, we had some wonderful recommendations (one from a client, one about our iTunes podcast, and finally one being a podcast listener coming to our defence when somebody suggested that my post about it wasn’t suitable for a Facebook group about start-ups in London).  All this in the space of an hour and a half.

And two, I read this post by Seth Godin.  Of course, Seth is all about differentiation.  And you’d know that already if you had read Purple Cow.  But what I love about this very short post is that it summarises in just a few words not only why it’s important to be different, but why the reason for that difference is important.  You’ll see when you read it.  And don’t say you haven’t got time.  It’s less than half the length of this one…

Do You Find Lawyers Frustrating? You’re Not Alone.

I just read an interesting assessment of forthcoming changes in European trade mark law.  Rather enthusiastically, it was called “Trademarks: a Hot New Issue“.  I imagine only an IP lawyer could describe changes to trade mark legislation as “hot”, but it was worth a read.

The piece, published on the website of the Law Society Gazette last week, focussed on the proposal to cut the fees for Community Trade Mark applications.  OHIM, the body responsible for administering the system, has been making a sizeable profit despite having  cut its fees substantially a few years ago.  The European Commission, it seems, is not happy about this.

It is generally agreed that Community Trade Mark application fees are too high.  One of the reasons for this is that the basic price for an application gives you the right to cite goods and services in three classes.  If you want to know more about how the classification system works, see my explanation here.  I’m guessing from Mr Goldsmith’s piece above referenced that there are a number of European countries in which this is the standard practice – not being a trade mark attorney this is not something that I have ever needed to know.  However, in the UK it has only ever (so far as I’m aware) been necessary to pay for your application in one class.

The result of this is that although it costs a base price of €900 to file an application for a Community Trade Mark (otherwise referred to as a “CTM”), in the UK it costs just £170.  (By the way, there’s no VAT on either.)  On the other hand, for your €900, you get not just an extra two classes of goods or services in your specification, but you get trade mark protection across the whole of the European Union, which I believe now extends to 30 countries, following the accession of Croatia, and about 300 million people.

This creates a number of problems.  First, the CTM application is unnecessarily complicated and expensive for SMEs who wish to file applications in just one or two classes (which is most of my clients).  Secondly, it makes the comparison between a UK and a CTM application difficult to explain to a client who is open to the latter but a little short of funds (again, most of my clients).  Third, those clients that do opt for a CTM but who are only really interested in one or two classes feel the need to cite all the three that they have been forced to pay for, filling the surplus classes with an unwanted clutter of goods and services that really they have little intention of using.

Excessive specification clutter (yes, that’s the phrase they use) then causes a problem for businesses who bother to check the trade mark registers before selecting a new brand.  If you’ve never heard of a trade mark or its proprietor and the mark itself is yet to be used in public, how do you know that really the owner intends to apply it only to clothing in class 25 and not for industrial oils and greases in class 4 or non-metallic building materials in class 19?

As you can see, this debate, whilst superficially dull, is actually quite relevant to brand owners and would-be brand owners around the world.  Especially those, like you, who are on a restricted budget.

So why is this an example of the frustration that lawyers create?

If you scroll to the bottom of Mr Goldsmith’s well-written article, you will see that he asks for comments from his colleagues.  However, of the four comments posted, only one partially contributes to the debate.  The other three and a half comment upon or castigate the author for his apparent use of the American spelling “trademark” as opposed to the English version “trade mark”. (In truth, I suspect that the spelling was changed in the sub-editing process.)

One of those comments includes the line:

“If we can’t get these things right, what hope is there for the clients?”

Really?

All around us, the profession is crumbling.  We face hitherto unknown financial pressures and competitive threats.  Lawyers have never been less valued by their clients or more disrespected by the public at large.  But of course what prospective clients are really interested in is whether we can spell the word “trade marks”.

If you’ve ever thought the lawyer you regretted consulting sat in an ivory tower unable actually to give you any useful advice, here’s your proof.  Were I not an aetheist, I think I would be seeking divine intervention by now…

A Stolen Bike and Why You Might Need a Lawyer Some Day

Daniel and Keith Lovejoy, picture courtesy and copyright of The Northern Echo

Courtesy of and (c) The Northern Echo

Seventeen year-old Daniel Lovejoy worked through his summer holidays and at the end, he spent £110.00 on an offroad bike.  Sadly for Daniel (but perhaps happily for those living near where he used to ride it) his bike was stolen when thieves broke into his father’s garage.  The next day, the bike was discovered nearby, having been dumped by the thieves.  Hurrah!

If only it was that simple.

The Police wouldn’t allow Daniel and his father Keith to retrieve the bike.  Instead, they recovered the bike and sent it for forensic examination.  Five weeks later, the justice system having apparently exhausted itself in this particular instance, Daniel was informed by letter that he could retrieve the bike if he paid £150.  And that if he failed to do so, the charge would rise by £10 a day for every additional day that it was stored beyond the two weeks he was given to retrieve it.

It’s funny how long it takes ordinary people to realise that so-called civil servants such as the police, health workers and educationalists etc aren’t actually there to look after us.  They aren’t, of course.  They are there to serve the objectives of the Government.  In my case it happened when, on reporting a break-in, I was told by a police officer that they wouldn’t be sending anybody round to have a look at the scene of the crime because there really wasn’t any chance of catching the culprits.  I was disillusioned.  Unsurprisingly in this case, Keith Lovejoy was furious.  He has written to his local councillor and to his MP but fears by now the bike may have been disposed of.

I’m not sure I ought to tell him this for fear that he might explode, but Daniel’s troubles may not be over.  Daniel may be charged an additional £50 for the disposal of the bike that was stolen from him.  And if that weren’t bad enough, since it’s unlikely that the police would recover at the auction of the bike anything like the storage charges that have been levied, the balance could be recovered from Daniel as a debt.

The case hit the local press this week and in a statement responding to Keith’s complaints, a spokesman for the local police force said that the collective hands of Durham Constabulary were tied.  It is a national scheme and the fees are set by the Government under the Removal and Disposal of Vehicles Regulations.

Actually, it’s The Removal, Storage and Disposal of Vehicles (Prescribed Sums and Charges etc.) Regulations 1989.  These regulations apply the fees applicable where the police or a local authority recover a vehicle under The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles Regulations 1986, which is itself brought about by section 99 onwards of The Road Traffic Act 1984.

But, you guessed it, it’s not that simple.

You see under regulation 4 of The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles Regs 1984, vehicles can be removed by the Police:

“where a vehicle… has been permitted to remain at rest on a road or on any land in the open air in such a position or in such condition or in such circumstances as to appear to a constable to have been abandoned without lawful authority.”

Which is interesting, because the concept of “abandonment” is a legal thing and it relates to the rightful owner of something effectively surrendering his title to that thing.  But wait… Daniel hadn’t abandoned his bike.  It had been stolen from him.  Therefore, he hadn’t abandoned it.  Which means the charges imposed by the Contract Vehicle Recovery Scheme don’t apply.

Now consider this.  The failure of which ever grey sector quango or contractor holding Dan’s bike to return it to him when demanded amounts to wrongful interference with goods – what we used to call “conversion”.  This is a “tort” – a civil wrong that could be the subject of action in the County Court.  Dan would be entitled to damages for the failure of the Police or whoever else may have control of his bike to return it to him upon demand.  He would doubtless also obtain a court order requiring the bike’s immediate release and, if the bike has been “disposed of”, he would get damages to the value of the bike.

This is the sort of thing that legal aid lawyers deal with all the time.  And it’s why you should think twice about supporting the Government’s proposals to scrap criminal legal aid and introduce price competitive tendering just because you think you would never be in a position where you’d need a lawyer to protect you and yours.

Join the campaign against PCT and the abolition of legal aid.  And give Dan his bike back.

 

Read more about this story in the pages of the very excellent Northern Echo

“Tell Me Straight Doc, Have I Caught Open Source?”

I have had no less than 3 different enquiries about the relationship between the GPL and proprietary software in the past fortnight, so I thought it about time I had another look at this. It’s an area that I used to be a bit of an expert years ago but haven’t looked at it in probably 7 years.  And that was before v3 of the GPL was even published.

The GNU FAQs are the obvious place to start but they are a bit dry and they focus mostly on the use and distribution of open source software rather than how you night use it within a proprietary software business model. Which is probably what you’d expect.  But it is the last word on the subject and it’s bang up to date, so if this is an issue, you should have a look here first.  And also have a look at the GPL (or the LGPL as appropriate), because after all, they were originally written by programmers, not lawyers, so you should find them less legalesy and more understandable than most American legal documents.

There’s a better explanation that is more on point at a resource called Sitepoint but bear in mind that (1) it’s written by an American lawyer and is based on US law (which is directly relevant on the issue of “derivative works”) and (2) it was written in 2001, which was long before v3 of the GPL was published.

Here’s my reading of it.  If you are linking to GPL modules but they don’t form an integral part of your programme, that’s fine.  You’re free to use the output of those modules to your hearts content.  So if you are building an app that sits on top of a GPL’ed platform like Moodle, then your app can connect to that platform and draw data from it via a plug-in, but as long as the plug-in is a discrete programme in its own right, even if you distribute it alongside your programme, you are free to use a proprietary licence for your software – only the plug-in would have to be subject to the GPL.  However, if you are using libraries that form part of a GPL package and those libraries then form an integral part of your software, your software will have to be released under the GPL – if you choose to release it.  However, many open source libraries are licensed under the Lesser GPL to get around precisely this difficulty, so check what the position is.

The other point to consider is are you actually releasing the software?  If you are merely charging people to use services on a SaaS model but you don’t actually distribute the software, you are not actually releasing the software at all so relax, all will be well.

Apologies for the presumption of some basic knowledge of this stuff – I would have written a more detailed introduction for the beginner but (1) I’m in the midst of a to-do list as long as your arm and (2) somehow I doubt there are many beginners out there that feel the need!