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

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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.

LinkedIn: Wider or Deeper?

This is a question I have posed to our LinkedIn group.

As previously recorded in this blog, I have always connected only with people I’ve actually met. If I received a connection request from somebody I hadn’t met, I would invite them to meet up. This tactic always worked extremely well and resulted in a number of new instructions. However, perhaps it’s time to revaluate because more recently, I’ve noticed a significant drop-off in its effectiveness.

A cup of tea.

Fancy a cuppa?

Some of those sending a connection request don’t bother to respond at all. Of those that do, about half say that they were only looking to expand their networks (and so, the implication is, they can’t be bothered to meet face to face – what’s that about? And of the last 5 that have arranged to meet, 3 have not shown up. One I never heard from again, one said there was some diary confusion at their end and this morning I wasted 75 minutes on somebody who told me that I hadn’t confirmed the meeting. This despite a chain of emails in which we’d narrowed the options to one date, time and location.

What is this, a transatlantic flight? Do I have to re-confirm meetings?

So I’m wondering how you use LinkedIn. Do you use it to strengthen ties with people you know? Do you use it to connect with people you don’t? And if the latter, does it bother you whether you have actually met and had a meaningful conversation with that person or not?

Am I the last person to treat LinkedIn as online support for real networking as opposed to a business Facebook? Because it’s really starting to feel that way.

Well, I’m not going to change the way I use LinkedIn. Save for the fact that when I receive connection requests in future, instead of inviting the person out to coffee, I’m simply going to ask them to confirm whether we’ve met and if not, why we should. Maybe it’s a consequence of approaching middle age but really, I just don’t have the time or the patience for this charade anymore.

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…