Blog of blogs
By supporting each other we raise the profile of us all
This is the first edition of the UK Lawyers Blog of Blogs and has nothing to do with the esteemed Blawg Review from across the pond. Originally I planned to produce this blog carnival for the end of October, but got rather busy at work and home and the timescale slipped somewhat. So, what was planned to be an Autumn review of the blogging scene has become a New Year review instead. That’s no bad thing because the Christmas period has brought out some cracking posts and I finally have the time to do some serious blogging. Unfortunately, sitting in front of the laptop isn’t helping my Resolution to lose weight by becoming more active and only increases my calory intake. Like Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything but temptation and there’s always room for one more mince pie, after that last turkey sandwich, when doing some serious surfing of the UK legal scene. Reader, how I have suffered researching and writing this.
This Christmas’s vital statistics
Turkey sandwiches consumed since Dec 26th: 14
Mince Pies to date since Christmas Eve: 554 (approximated)
Extra helpings of Christmas Pudding: 5
Litres of alcohol: not recorded
Gallons of tea: 38
Christmas presents unwrapped, including childrens’: lost count
I had been thinking about producing a more Anglo-centric blawg review for a while and I first raised it, when life was a bit quieter during the summer, on the UK Lawyers forum on Ning set up by Tessa Shepperson of Landlord Law and Solicitors Online Blog fame. Tessa set up UK Lawyers to raise the profile of lawyers based in the UK who use social media to promote their practices. There are currently 11 members of the forum (nine of whom blog) and membership is by invitation only, so I was honoured to be asked to join. It seems to me that solicitors (and barristers) in the UK have not embraced social media nearly as much as their American counterparts. Over the last eighteen months/two years the number of lawyers blogging in the UK seems to have increased dramatically, but there are still nowhere near as many UK law blawgers as in the USA. One English solicitor redressing the balance is Tessa Shepperson – more on her later on. There are of course bloggers like Charon QC, Carl Gardner at Head of Legal, the infamous Geeklawyer and John Bolch of Family Lore fame; all three are practically blogging royalty and John is also a member of this forum. They have all hosted Blawg Review. Other bloggers I enjoy following include Usefully Employed, Nearly Legal and Naked Law. Nearly Legal’s post rounding up their year shows how successful a blog it has become; their readership stats are impressive and have me reaching for another large one as I write this. I enjoyed Usefully Employed’s analysis of the law relating to overweight bus drivers back in October. Whether obesity can be considered a disability and thus qualify the larger sized employee for protection under the Disability Discrimination Act is an issue that landed on my desk earlier this year and I agree with Usefully Employed that protection may well apply. I hit upon Naked Law in the hope of finding something a bit racier than employment law and was duly rewarded, albeit not in the way I initially envisaged. Their post on website disclaimers was particularly useful.
Moving outside my usual sphere of legal blogs Delia Venables’ Legal Resources in the UK and Ireland is the obvious place to start for an overview of the UK legal blogging scene. She lists over 90 blogs in the UK, and more for Ireland. Bloody Relations must be drawing good traffic at this time of year: I remember from my (thankfully) long ago days practising family law ( andI emphasise practising here) that the New Year always produced a rush of new instructions from couples that could no longer stand the sight of each other. Often after a couple of meetings and a few telephone calls I was sympathising with the unseen other half. Aside from that blog there are all sorts of legal subjects that law bloggers blog about: IT and technology, agriculture, crime, discrimination, mediation (see Human Law Mediation by Justin Patten, to whom I owe many thanks for all his helpful comments since I started blogging), legal news, IP and, of course, employment law. Delia’s list only covers the main blogs – there are many more out there as can be seen by looking at Charon QC’s links pages.
Property law is also a popular topic on which to blog about, which brings me back to Tessa Shepperson. She is a sole practitioner based in Norwich and acts for both landlords and tenants in what can be an unsung area of practice and is a well-known figure in the legal e-world. Professor Richard Susskind also gave her a name-check in his book “The End of Lawyers?” and suggested that the way her practice is structured is an example of how practitioners may face up to the challenges ahead posed by the Legal Services Act and, more so, by the ever increasing use of IT. Instead of being run as a “traditional” legal practice, which requires clients to pay for “bespoke” legal advice (aka the “one-one” model) she has developed a website, solely devoted to landlord and tenant issues, which provides some free advice, but also offers the option to join as a member for varying periods of time (and price) to access more detailed advice and to participate in a lively forum with other users to ask questions and seek answers to issues. Tessa uses her blog to promote new initiatives, case law developments, and newsworthy items. Her practice is founded on the integrated use of IT, rather than most firms where IT is “bolted on” to improve the service (e.g wordprocessors rather than typewriters, email rather than snail mail, websites to tell you where the office is, etc). Anyone wanting 1-1 advice can email Tessa with their problem, pay a fixed fee of £85 and receive the advice by email a couple of days later.
Tessa writes two blogs – Landlord Law and Solicitors Online, in addition to running her legal practice. A good example of the issues she writes about on her blog is given here http://landlordlaw.blogspot.com/2009/09/dps-tenant-with-ccj-unable-to-claim.html (when her blog was at Blogspot – she has now moved it to WordPress). This was a post that Tessa wrote back in September around the time we discussed creating this blog carnival and discusses a problem that a tenant had when trying to recover their deposit from a difficult landlord. The tenant had to issue court proceedings because the landlors wouldn’t co-operate with the arbitration scheme that landlordand tenants are now supposed to use when they get into a dispute. Deposits are now held by third party companies and, in this case, DPS, the company holding the deposit wouldn’t release the monies to the tenant despite her having obtained a County Court judgment against the landlord because they weren’t specifically mentioned in the final Order and that was said to breach their terms and conditions. A useful debate then followed in the comments on the post, including a representative from the company concerned. The thread ends with the company refusing to release the funds which seems, in all the circumstances (including that their interpretation of the relevant legislation comes in for a pasting from some correspondents) unnecessarily obstructive. We’re not told whether the landlord is an individual or a business but, if the latter, presumably the DPS’s terms and conditions could be challenged under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 as the tenant must be dealing as a consumer? In reality it would not be financially viable for tenants to make that challenge.
Another good example of Tessa’s writing is her “Look Back at 2009″, which covers all the main activity on LandlordLaw last year (see the link above). I am slightly in awe of how she manages to find the time to write all that she does and still find time to run a legal practice. Her Solicitors Online Blog is also an interesting read and covers issues such as blogging, online networking and the odd moan about the SRA and practising certificates. However, I particularly enjoyed her post on getting to grips with IT . Good sensible advice.
Tantrums thrown over Christmas presents: 5
Tantrums thrown by kids over Christmas presents: 0
The UK Lawyers group contains other well known members of the UK social media circle. As well as Tessa there is John Bolch of Family Lore fame. John has also hosted Blawg Review in the past and has just created Family Law focus, which is a round up of family law news in the news, recent cases and his podcasts. He blogs together with his confidant Muhammad, a rather splendid looking and well travelled black cat who spent Thanksgiving in the USA and writes letters home to his master. Clever cat. He wrote to John giving some interesting background on the Tiger Woods story and also related how someone in Ohio was convicted of being drunk in charge of a motorised bar stool. Staying with the American theme, apparently adultery is still a crime in some states in the US, although the severity of the offence seems to vary on the state. If you must put asunder that what God has brought together (Matthew 19:6), it’s probably better to do it in Maryland where the maximum sentence is $10 as opposed to Michigan where you could get a life sentence of a very different nature. I can almost understand where they’re coming from in Michigan, if the state really has to interfere in private citizens’ lives at least do it properly. But $10? Does this indicate that state legislators in Maryland really don’t value marriage as an institution that highly? I’d be interested to know what fine I’d get for dropping litter or walking on the cracks in the pavement – 5 years hard labour? John reports that us modern and enlightened Limeys abolished adultery (as a crime) in 1857. Cue unpleasant sense of smug superiority.
I recommend a read of John’s review of 2009 and, perhaps more importantly, Old John’s Almanac for 2010. His prediction that Tesco will start offering divorces by May has been trumped by the news (also on Family Lore) that Wikivorce (“the world’s largest online support community”) has launched DivorceSupermarket.com . The site will allow people to compare the cost of divorce services from a no-frills DIY service costing £69 up to a full “solicitor managed divorce” at £249.00. As any divorce lawyer will tell you, it is not the divorce element of marital breakdown that takes the time or costs the money, it is arguing over the division of assets and/or the children that causes the real pain. My prediction is that someone will launch a website, along the lines of TripAdvisor, not restricted to divorce law, comparing solicitors and covering all types of “private client” law within the year.
Miles cycled to/from Waitrose: 6
Minutes spent queuing in Waitrose: 240
Chargeable time wasted queuing in Waitrose: not recorded
Brian Inkster of Inksters Solicitors in Glasgow is also a member. He blogs and tweets on property law, but also has a blog devoted to raising funds for charity, called InkstersGive. The festive season, or what is left of it, is a good time to review Brian’s blog and to remember those less fortunate. In November Brian and his wife went to Argentina to do something real and helped build houses for families living in poverty, as part of the Habitat for Humanity programme. He blogged on the work they did in the 22nd de Enero neighbourhood, which is 24kms from the centre of Buenos Aires, but three hours (!) travel. He got involved in serious building work, like building a wall, and more mundane stuff like painting walls. I was inspired by the personal commitment he and his wife made in pursuing a very challenging project. This also included learning Spanish (although Brian is still struggling with English grammar apparently and as a filthy sassenach I daren’t make any further comment) as well as leaving their own comfort zones well and truly behind.
Brian is a keen user of Twitter and used it to raise money for the Argentine challenge. Have a read of this post if in any doubt about the usefulness of Twitter. His was the first Scottish firm to post a tweet and now they have several channels devoted to different aspects of their practice and to differentiate between the firm and individual members of it. Brian recently reviewed Adrian Dayton’s new book Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter edition on how Lawyers can use Twitter to promote their business. His review was very timely as I had been thinking about buying the book but was put off by the steep price.
Percentage increase of newspapers actually read over the holiday versus newspapers purchased and then left untouched in rucksack during the working week: 95
Number of bricks laid over Christmas, seasonally varied: 0
Number of paths covered in snow and then cleared: 2
Moving on through snow and frosty weather, I can’t think of a better place to visit than Clutton Cox Solicitors, who describe themselves as
“a small but perfectly formed law firm located in downtown Chipping Sodbury, near Yate, South Gloucestershire, at the southern edge of the Cotswolds.”
It sounds like an idyllic sort of place – five pubs, a “magnificent sausage shop”, a bakers and the best value greengrocers on the planet. Stacey Sady at the Beauty Clinic will help you plan your attack – on whom or what is not revealed and probably for good reason. Cluttons don’t do criminal work. Their principal is Paul Hajek whose ambition in life is to outlive the DFS sale and see Spurs win the Premiership in the next 80 years. I think the first is highly unlikely and, as an Arsenal fan, the second highly undesirable. A tall order in both respects, I think.
Cluttons’ blog covers areas of practice relevant to them and I liked their post on the case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce. Will disputes are on the rise apparently, but the courts are becoming readier to depart from the black and white of the Testator’s intentions in order to achieve the right solution. The post refers to the daughter who cared for her parents for 30 years, only for them to leave their valuable farm to the RSPCA after the mother died. The daughter won her claim to overturn her mother’s will at first instance, although the RSPCA are appealing. I’ll await the eventual verdict with interest.
The William Flack blog, news from the front line of social welfare law, thankfully highlights that not all lawyers are like Mr Tulkinghorn of Bleak House fame. Two short YouTube videos featuring Maureen’s and Sandra and Robert’s stories relate how lawyers working in Law centres provide an invaluable service to many people without means. Surely the central challenge for lawyers in private practice over the next ten years is to find a way to provide a service to clients in these areas of law whilst making a living? Once upon a time there was a way and it was called legal aid … In another post, William tells the story of one woman who needed legally aided immigration law advice in London - she couldn’t find anyone. Will Tesco Law be any better at servicing these clients needs?
Number of visits made to Tescos this Christmas: 0
Francis Davey is a barrister specialising in IT, media and internet law. In his last post before Christmas he wrote about the dangers posed by section 11 of the Digital Economy Bill, a piece of legislation that potentially gives the government power to restrict people from accessing the internet and could be used to prevent wikileaks “and squeeze web tv”. The Digital Economy Bill is aimed at peer-to-peer file sharing, but Francis highlights that if this provision is passed unamended the Secretary of State will acquire a very wide-ranging power over accessing the internet.
Peninsula Lawyer, subtitled Law, Social Media and legal IT from the Wirral, is written by Jon Bloor. On December 18 he got properly into the festive spirit by attending his son’s Baby Sensory party, which involved thirty babies bouncing on inflatable horses. The experience clearly traumatised the poor man so much that he started musing on the benefits of thinking positively. He isn’t going to take an inflatable bouncy horse into his office though. My guess, having just spent the last week and a bit off since Christmas Eve, is that all attempts at positive thought will have evaporated by lunchtime on the 4th January, or perhaps I’m just a miserable pessimistic sod. The one thing that I will cling to is the thought that at least I don’t have to look after thirty babies on inflatable horses or any other contraption all day every day: that would be truly stressful and I have no idea how the ladies at my daughter’s nursery do such a good job with such good humour. I like Jon’s blog and I found his post on hourly rates – hourly billing drive quality? – really thought-provoking. The writing is on the wall for hourly rates, in my view and Jon’s article sets out succinctly why that is the case.
Number of kids’ parties attended since December 10th: 3
Number of visits to Santa’s many and various grottoes: 3
Number of visits from Santa: 2
Number of gifts received from Santa at parties that were subsequently lost: 2
Average time between child receiving gift and losing vital component thereof: 32 minutes
A recent newcomer to the forum is Chris Sherliker of London law firm Silverman Sherliker. On 21st December he hosted Blawg Review #243 and took “Fighting Back” as his theme. Very inspirational it was too once you got beyond the opening remarks;
“The Physical Universe tends towards chaos and dissolution …the Moral Universe towards injustice and despair ….the Legal Universe, for surely such a dimension does exist, towards obfuscation, misdirection and delay”
There is, however, Light in the Darkness and Chris then gets unapologetically Churchillian urging;
”Let us, as lawyers, on the eve of the proximate festivities, at the threshold of another year, and as the destructive tide of the 2009 Recession begins to turn, celebrate and magnify all those amongst our number who, in the practice and profession of The Law, … FIGHT BACK! … We will fight. We will fight back. We are fighters to the core. We have no choice. We must oppose to overcome. We will keep alive the intermittment spark of hope. Whatever the cost. However long and hard the fight may be.”
For many lawyers in private practice the new decade promises many, many fights but thankfully none as dreadful as those faced by the troops on D-Day. The challenge posed by Tesco Law looms ever larger – ABS’s become a reality next year. Will it be a Big Bang or a damp squib? (or should that be damp squid? Is a dry squid better? Does anyone care?). My money is on … well, the meeting was cancelled because of frost.
Number of shirts not lost on horse racing: 1
So, that ends this first, long-delayed, blog carnival for the UK Lawyers forum. What has been apparent is that the profession remains cursed by the old Chinese proverb about living in “interesting times”. The seemingly eternal debates about quality of service, cost, value for money and access to justice rattle on. The last ten years has seen the basis for funding legal services radically shifting and the market being squeezed by the entry of third parties (like claims farmers); some reputable, others not. The next ten years promise further and harsher upheaval, but with threat comes opportunity and practitioners like Tessa Shepperson and Brian Inkster are demonstrating a way forward for success. Developing a sense of community, whether in the real world (as Cluttons’ blog does) or in the ether as Tessa and Brian do will be crucial to developing and retaining business. Hopefully new ways of working and fresh business models can be found via social media forums like UK Lawyers. What is clear is that the UK legal blogging community is not only thriving but expanding rapidly, and there is much high quality material out there.
I do hope someone else will pick up the baton for a second edition and I welcome all comments, positive or otherwise. I will remain calm and maintain positive thoughts throughout the year, or at least until the first query on TUPE and pre-packs lands on my desk. If you’re stuck for New Year Resolutions, listen to this song from YouTube,
Happy New Year and Happy Blogging!