New *particular People

After the ups and downs of 2016, I’m delighted to announce the arrival of new people at *particular, all of whom you may have seen around and about at Campus North (where you’ll find our office upstairs at the far end of the lounge) had you been here over the last couple of months.

Asif Malik joined us as an Associate Solicitor in January. Having qualified nearly 3 years ago, Asif had worked in the early part of his career as a claimant personal injury lawyer. However, he is dual-qualified, having had a previous career as an accountant, so he’s as at home with cap tables and balance sheets as he is with tax and corporate law. Which makes him perfect for corporate finance work and that’s what we’ve hired him to do.

Before accountancy, Asif ran his own businesses and worked for a while as a taxi driver in Newcastle. As a result of which he knows everyone and everywhere in the toon. In fact, he seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city’s commercial landlords. If he looks a bit tired and haggard, that’s not down to the fact that he’s on a second career and therefore a little more, er, mature than your typical junior lawyer. It’s because his wife recently gave birth to their second child.

Barry Arkle also joined us as an Associate in January. Barry is a Chartered Legal Executive who specialises in dispute resolution – what used to be called ‘litigation’, which, if you’re wondering, is what Harvey on ‘Suits’ does. Most people seem to be familiar with Harvey. Fortunately for us, although he has less hair, Barry is far more friendly than Harvey and doesn’t shout at all.

Barry worked for a number of years in insolvency and so is well placed to assist should you want to close a business before starting another. Or if you have a client who is pleading poverty. For the last few years, Barry has nurtured a specialism in IP, having joined us from Sintons, where he worked alongside Pippa Aitken, our chum who leads the IP team there. Since joining us, Barry has been doing some commercial IP work too, much as I did when joining Watson Burton, all those many years ago. Since Deb’s departure last year, I have been keenly aware that I have been the only, shall we say, ‘seasoned’ member of the team. Fortunately, that has changed with Barry’s arrival, which makes me very happy indeed. Despite this, whilst I get out of breath at the sight of a staircase, Barry can be seen everyday swapping his flat cap for a cycling helmet.

Matthew ‘Dodge’ Donnelly joined us in January as a Trainee Solicitor, having previously worked for us as a Paralegal. He is the first solicitor that we have employed not to have studied at Northumbria University, having graduated from Hull University, a distinction of which he is insufferably proud. He is also a dedicated follower both of pop culture and of sport and, sadly for him, is now the only Mackam in the office.

As a trainee, Matt will be doing a little bit of everything (he has already proven himself quite comfortable with cap tables and the like) and, being adept with this sort of thing, he has been able to persuade the Law Society to knock a couple of months of his training contract (which would otherwise have been 2 years), meaning he now qualifies in October 2018. This because of the amount of time he spent working as a paralegal whilst not travelling around the world. That again being something that he tells us of incessantly. Although most of his stories seem to involve working with Italians on a farm in Australia or drinking unspeakable concoctions in Vietnam.

Amy Gatenby joins us officially on 8 May, although she has been doing unpaid work with us as a work experience person for a while now. She is coming to the end of her studies at Northumbria University, graduating this summer with an “LLM” – that’s a Masters in Law. So like Nick before her, she will actually be more qualified than me, though being the boss, I choose not to put my faith in such things. Amy is working initially as a Paralegal and will be handling our admin as well as more straightforward legal tasks. In November, she will transform magnificently into our next trainee solicitor.

Amy hails from the Teesside Riviera (otherwise known as Redcar) but has chosen to make Newcastle her home. Notwithstanding both of these things, she is a dedicated follower of fashion (and, I hope, fashtech) and writes a fashion-blog that has frankly, far more followers than Deb and I ever managed to attract to particular.pro. Given the subject matter (and Amy’s ability to bring it to life), perhaps that’s not surprising.

I’m Doing the Best I Can

I often find myself having to apologise to clients for delivering work slightly later than I planned. I feel really guilty about it. But I want to give you some insight into a typical day.

As at 9am yesterday, my Thursday was completely clear.  Then a client I was supposed to do a telecon with asked if we could re-arrange for Thursday, so that went in at 2:30.  Yesterday evening, my business partner copied me into an email suggesting a telecon with our of our retainer clients, which I’m guessing she needs me in and which sounds urgent.  So that’s floating for today.  This morning, as I’m dunking soldiers in my eggs, I read emails from 2 clients wanting to have a “quick call” to discuss something urgent.  I have two more emails from clients wanting a quick response on something.  I have a telecon that was booked for yesterday afternoon but postponed because of the absence of Skype facilities at their end that is floating for some time this morning, I know not when.  It’s urgent because I’ve just had to advise them that they can’t have the brand identity that they had already adopted for their start-up.

My wife just left for the day, not to return until about 11pm and asked me not to go out until a delivery she needs urgently had arrived. She doesn’t know when that will be. So that means an errand I was to run this afternoon may have to wait for another day.  Oh, and I sent Child 2 to school today dressed as Paddington Bear for World Book Day (in fairness, the costume was entirely my wife’s work but I had to take the pictures).

I’m not complaining.  I love my work. If I won the lottery on Saturday, you all know I’d be back at work on the Monday.  When I came up with the idea for our retainer system, a schedule like this is precisely what I was hoping for.  So I’m delighted it’s been the success that it has.  I could never work a conventional 9-to-5.

But I just wanted to explain why it is that you might just have to poke my memory into action about a conversation we had three weeks ago or why I might have to apologise because the privacy policy I had promised you for last Friday is four days late.

I’m doing the best I can.  Isn’t that as much as we can ever expect of anybody?

(First published on LinkedIn, 3 March 2016)

Beware of the “Connected”

Another of our clients has been stung by someone they hired because of a promise to “open doors” and introduce them to connections in high places.

Here’s the thing. If someone approaches you claiming to be highly connected and promises to introduce your business to those connections, they aren’t and they won’t. They aren’t highly connected (no matter how many LinkedIn connections they have) because anyone that is well-networked would never make that claim. Who wants to be connected to someone who insists on repeatedly introducing them to any old tat just because there’s a fee in it? And that’s why they won’t successfully introduce you to anyone. They might try, but it’s very unlikely that you will build any meaningful relationships.

Let’s just call these people what they are: sales agents. There’s nothing wrong in that. For the right business model, a good sales person is worth her weight in gold. But giving a slice of equity away because somebody claims to be well-networked is a nonsense. Put them on a commission, train them up and let them get on with it.

Anybody that is well-networked would NEVER claim to be. Because that defeats the point of being well-networked. Any successful networker knows that the value in her network is the value derived by both parties that are the subject of an introduction.

Think deeper, people. Not wider…

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.

Julie Meyer On the Mistakes That Entrepreneurs Make

Adopted Brit VC and ex-California girl Julie Meyer is a big favourite of ours at *particular (although I didn’t rate her book “Welcome to Entrepreneur Country” especially). Yesterday’s Good Morning Silicon Valley led with an interview with her in which she describes the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make. There are a number of gems there, but the one that really strikes a chord is something that drives my business partner, corporate finance specialist Deb McGargle crazy. So-called “loyalty” or “reward” equity:

Julie Meyer, CEO of Ariadne Capital

Julie Meyer, CEO of Ariadne Capital

“There are many [mistakes] I’ve seen in the 15 years I’ve been doing this. These are some that can be deadly:

“Making all your friends co-founders with founding equity, when only two of you are doing the work. Once you’ve given the founding equity away, you can’t get it back.”

She also mentions another that is of relevance to us:

“Not reading the investment documents thoroughly. I once had to break the bad news to a (not stupid) guy who hadn’t realized when he signed with his Series A investors that if he missed some milestones, a massive amount of his firm was going to be transferred to the venture capitalists.”

Last year, we were asked to put together a series of videos to take the teams participating in Searchcamp through their invest. Unfortunately they were never used, but we had made similar suggestions to both Rivers Capital Partners and North Star (both of whom have invested in many of our clients) and were rebuffed.

The other mistake that she mentions that jumps out at me is this:

“Outsourcing the development of the product to an agency of some sort. If the product is not built in-house, don’t invest.”

Advice to investors as much as entrepreneurs perhaps, but proof (were it needed) that the old ONE North East funded investment model has no place in the real world.  It’s not the role of an equity investor to fund a third party’s profit margin on the creation of the key asset.  If you can’t develop the product in-house, you either have to bootstrap or raise debt finance.  Or find a fund that is based on public money and that doesn’t really care so much about where the money goes…

Read the whole piece here:
http://www.siliconbeat.com/2014/03/17/elevator-pitch-julie-meyer-of-ariadne-capital-on-how-to-crush-it-in-europe/

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.

Unfortunate Subject Matter

Every morning, I open the Mail app on my iPad and browse through the circulars and blog posts that have landed in my mailboxes overnight.  Every week day, I get a digest from the folks at the generally excellent BQ magazine and the title of their email is shortened by the app to read “BQ Breakfast – Insight, news and anal“.

Now, I’m pretty liberal-minded.  I’ll admit it.  But the thought of a dose of hard-core pornography at that time of the morning (or at any time, come to that) is enough to put me off my corn flakes.

It does make me smile every time I see it.  I mean, I know that BQ magazine isn’t offering me a diet of dodgy materials.  I laugh partly because it’s funny and partly because you’d think they’d have checked these things or that perhaps somebody would have noticed.  Eventually.

Room 501, the publishers of BQ, were clients of ours before they were acquired by BE Group.  Bryan Hoare, one of the directors of Room 501, was a colleague of mine at BHP.  Nonetheless, every morning I consider the same quandary.  Should I tell him?  Or should I just keep laughing…?

 

If I haven’t put you off, you can sign up for a morning helping of insight, news and anal here: http://www.bq-magazine.co.uk

 

The Gettysburg Address (and what you might learn from it)

150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.  Just ten sentences and 273 words, it stands as perhaps the greatest example of the power of simplicity, of quality over quantity and of how brevity will always triumph over verbosity.

The Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg – over 51,000 Union and Confederate troops died at Gettysburg.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln took just 2 minutes to deliver his address.  He spoke after Edward Everett, one of the great speakers of the day, had finished his two-hour “oration”.  Everett’s words are little-remembered.  Lincoln’s will never be forgotten.

It seems more than a little crass to associate such an important event as The Gettysburg Address with business, but if Nancy Duarte can do it with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, I don’t see why I can’t stress the point again. The best way to get people to remember your words is to use as few of them as you can and to maximise the impact of each and every one.

(There was an excellent piece by Jim Naughtie on the Today Programme this morning about Gettysburg.  You can catch it here.)

 

We Must Be Mad…

“I’ve just had a text from Lucas’ mum” said my wife as she examined her phone, “he can come”.

A pause.

“Oh and I’ve had a text from Joel’s dad” she continued, “he questions our sanity but says Joel will come.”

Our number two and four of his seven-year-old friends for a birthday sleepover.  I think Joel’s dad may have a point.

“Er, you know that I won’t be here?”, I say.  A look of mild panic creeps across Amanda’s face.

“What?  Why?  Where will you be?”

“I haven’t decided that yet” I reply, “but not here.”

Well, it was worth a try.

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.