Monday, 10 February 2014

A Life’s Lesson From Flappy Birds

I found a bit too much time to think through the perfect recipe to doing well in the very addictive and popular mobile phone app. I concluded that there are various factors involved:-

1. The perfect start – The line up of the first set of pipes that you will (or more often, “will not”) glide through has an effect on your nerves. If the pipes are too low or too high, you find you are setting off on the back foot, which sets up perfectly for an early demise.

2. The circumstances – Your first set of pipes could be perfect, and the run could be going well until.. DUN DUN DUN.. you suddenly hit a low set of pipes forcing you to drop the bird nose-first then save it before it hits the ground and a close shave through the pipes but PHEWW…. You navigated your way out of that one (narrowly), your heart beat slows but OH NO.. what’s that? A high set of pipes? Nervously, you hold the screen and send your bird off into space. Oh dear, it was going so well.

3. External circumstances – Lastly, there is how you, the player, is feeling, where you are sat, if you are comfortable. Lying flat on your back in bed is a recipe for disaster but crouching over it in a corner strains the neck and during what feels like your third attempt that day (when in actual fact its your 62nd attempt), you creek your neck to the left, then to the right, and oh dear.. your bird is dead again. Then there are distractions. Someone comes into the room just as you are reaching over your 4th set of pipes, calls your name.. “WHAT?” - *bird dies*

4. The colour of the bird - I am not entirely sure if this is just me, but the colour of the bird seems to have an effect on how well I do on one of my runs. I know, as I start with the blue bird, that I am destined for an early nose dive crash landing. I seem to do better with the yellow bird. I am not seeking to prove that there is somehow some scientific explanation for this but there you have it.

5. The more you play the better you get – You can see a marked improvement in the way you play now to when you first downloaded the app. You are getting 15s, 16s, and maybe even 20s now. But even still, there’s still that odd time, you fall at the first hurdle.

To have the perfect game of Flappy Birds, you are then relying on the perfect start following by a steady gradient of pipes, not dropping too low or reaching too high that sends you into panic mode. You are hoping for no distractions sitting in a quiet room in a comfy seat. You are in a good mood, having had no recent irritations or guilt in having something better or more important to be doing. You need the right colour of bird that you, the player, can connect to. With this set of circumstances – how can you fail? You still can, apparently.

It’s a bit like an interview isn’t it? Most argue that first impressions are incredibly important. You go in and greet your interviewer with a smile but you have some spinach stuck in your teeth, the interviewer has a distinct hatred for spinach (maybe even for people with hygiene issues) and already you are off to a bad start. The first question is the next step. If it’s a good answer you are off to a good start and anything you say thereafter won’t be given that bad a light. But say something weak or offensive, the interviewer will see anything you say thereafter as poor.

It was also important how you felt that day. If you had a good night’s sleep, if you had a particularly stressful time getting into the place of the interview. Maybe it was raining and your perfectly gelled or straightened hair resembles an electrocuted Flamingo. Maybe it wasn’t you at all. Maybe the interviewer had a terrible morning, had four people in before you that spoke of the weather and you were their final straw.

You wore black and grey because they are neutral colours. They are smart colours and you can’t really go wrong. The interviewer was at a funeral the week before where everyone was dressed in black below a grey sky that poured on the mourners all day. You’ve reminded them of a low point, no matter how hard you try, you may never be able to be their high point.

And lastly, you’ve done a thousand interviews. This in the one. You know what to expect, you have all your competencies down to a clever clean mind map in your head. You had the perfect start, the perfect circumstances, the perfect external circumstances and you wore the interviewer’s favourite colour. Then you say something good. Something impressive. You leave feeling hopeful almost quietly convinced this was the one, it had to be, you’ve waited so long, you’ve worked so hard. But one other person, spoke with a French accent. The interviewer’s brother lives in France, instant common ground. You’ve fallen again. Just like the bird. It wasn't your fault, though, the pipes were too steep, you couldn't possibly get through them. You didn't have a brother. And if you did, he probably wouldn't be in France. 

It’s depressing isn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be.

We all chase that perfect job or even that perfect goal – maybe your only goal is to beat your friend’s high score at this game (in which case, seek help, immediately). I know I am no different (to the former, and sometimes the latter). We set our hopes high and those who’ve been at it a while, will know what to expect and prepare to an inch of their lives. An important thing to remember is that we cannot possibly control everything. It’s not to mean we do not try at all but it is to mean if it doesn’t go your way, there is no use getting down about it. There will be other opportunities, just like being able to press “play” after you fall on the game, you can get back up again, send your CV off again and await your result. One day, you will cross the line of your previous high score. You will get the perfect combination of factors to carry out the perfect recipe for success and maybe that will be enough…until you press “play” again. 

Maybe, it doesn't need to be on this game at all, maybe press "play" on a different game?

Monday, 11 February 2013

Law Firms - Prepare for Change

How have law firms coped with the change in economic times and the introduction of new legislation set to completely restructure the legal field? I will give an overview of some of the steps law firms have taken in order to deal with these then I will go on to highlight some of the changes I see having an impact in the early stages of my legal career.

One of the biggest methods of combating the recent climate and regulatory changes has been mergers. It is heavily evident UK wide. Last year saw a huge increase in mergers with at least a quarter of all law firms in the UK top 100 merged with another law firm. In comparison, there were 21 law firm mergers in 2011 involving firms in the top 100.

Catalysts for these mergers I would say has been a search for growth driving law firms to enter new markets along with sustaining markets in areas that are set to be in great competition with the likes of Alternative Business Structures. It may be a bid to create a big name, maybe even a brand name that can then cope with the likes of the Co-operative. This merging activity is expected to continue as predicted by Tony Williams:

 “We expect this trend to continue in 2013 because the strategic logic behind such deals is only growing stronger.” Tony Williams, the former managing partner of Clifford Chance

The logic in which he refers may be attributed to the law firms that were originally pessimistic of ABSs, however, upon seeing huge firms merge, have had a change of heart and feel the need to merge in order to sustain providing legal services in such a competitive market.

Some of the mergers that have taken place recently involving Scottish firms include Burness and Paul and Williamsons, DWF and Biggart Baillie, Ledingham Chalmers and Esslemont Cameson and Gauld and McGrigors and Pinsent Masons.

However, mergers have repercussions. Pincent Masons confirmed in June 2012 it was consulting with 40 support staff in a bid to eradicate duplicated roles as a result of its merger with McGrigors.
This leads me on to the second step that law firms have used in order to deal with the climate and change: redundancies. The reason for these recent job cuts in law firms is that the firms have too many lawyers and staff in practice areas that, because of the economic climate and the changing legal serviced market are not making money like they used to.

It will always be difficult to gauge just how many people were made redundant in the last few years. According to figures in The Lawyer, redundancies were expected to have hit more than 2500 at UK law firms in 2009.

This led to two risk categories: underperformers and those in a practice where the demand has evaporated somewhat. The former category will or maybe even has had an interesting impact on recruitment within law firms. There is a new level of excellence that has to be satisfied in order to in order to obtain employment security. Previously, “Underperformance was hidden by a bull market where everybody was busy...” - Tony Williams This may be a good thing as it ensures that our clients are being provided with an even higher standard of services and the high performers are finally being recognised for their hard efforts and being awarded security.

However, the statistics for these redundancies are pretty scary for not only the up and coming lawyer but also lawyers in practice today.

The redundancies in varying numbers can be seen in many well known law firms:
Maclay, Murray and Spens confirmed in June 2012 that it was making two lawyers and four support staff redundant in its Glasgow Private Client team alone so it could focus on services more closely aligned to client needs.

With a similar mentality, Dundas and Wilson axed 30 staff after reviewing the “nature and level of demand for its services” in April 2012.

With less staff in employment in each of these firms, there has been less need to keep certain offices open for those firms with more than one office. This brings me to my third step which is the closing of offices and along with that the closing or consolidating of practice areas within law firms
The most recent and prominent example of this is DLA Piper’s office closure in Glasgow where it had 10 partners, 25 fee earners and 50 support staff. Along with that, 10 jobs in the document production unit in Edinburgh faced redundancy.

In terms of consolidation, DLA Piper has also been no stranger to this. Their entire document production team of 116 people across eight offices is being consolidated into one centre in Leeds with only a small presence being kept in each office. Also, DLA are selling its defendant insurance practice, which has 31 lawyers and 19 support staff. Should that fail, it will close the practice. 

With redundancies being made left, right and centre and offices being closed down, the effect has extended to trainee intake across the UK.

The Law Society of Scotland statistics provide little optimism in this regard.

2007 saw the most traineeships registered with 629 and this has decreased slowly over the years to only 488 being registered in 2011. This was 39 traineeships less than in the year 2010. Last year saw a further decrease down to 472 traineeships being registered. There has been some improvement across the border with an 11.6% increase from 2009/10 to 2010/11. Although positive this figure still falls short of the number of traineeships recorded before the financial crisis. Additionally, there is a huge shortfall from the amount of people doing the LPC to the amount of trainee contracts being registered.  Therefore the future of law looks set to be even more challenging and some of the changes which I think are set to make an impact in the coming years include the Independence Referendum to take place next year in which it will be decided whether The Scottish Parliament should be responsible for “all laws, taxes and duties in Scotland”. Some legislation which governs both Scotland and England will need to be reconsidered and in all it may have an effect on the relationships between Scottish and English firms especially in light of the mergers I spoke about earlier. Alternatively, after the initial legislation problems are considered, revised and solved, there may be little obstacle in the way of business. Andrew Black of BBC News sums up the impact well:

“It’s hard to say exactly how things would happen, given this would be new territory, but it’s likely  the timescale from a “Yes” vote to full independence would be lengthy, given the huge number of issues which would need to be resolved” – 15 October 2012.

Secondly, access to justice in criminal summary proceedings is very much under threat with the recent legal aid cuts. The Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill seeks to introduce legal aid contributions towards legal expenses to be made by accused persons and that the responsibility for collecting these contributions will lie with individual firms of solicitors. Concerns lie with the failure rate currently of clients paying law firms being 80% in England. The Scottish government estimates 30% of defendants will fail to pay on time. This will leave criminal practice work even more unprofitable than it already is leading to many firms going out of business or refusing to do legal aid work altogether. There is also a concern that the cuts may spread to civil legal aid.

Lastly, in Scotland, we will finally feel the impact of Alternative Business Structures after only hearing of it in England and Wales. It will see a creation of a lot of jobs with the Co Operative revealing that it will be hiring 3000 solicitors to carry out its numerous legal services. That is an enormous amount that will easily out compete the majority of high street firms. You can see the scale of it in comparison to some of the biggest law firms in the UK. DLA Piper, has a lawyer base of 4200. Linklaters has only 2300. Law firms have reacted in different ways to this new structure. The likes of Irwin Mitchell were the first to apply to be an ABS but Freshfields and Slaughter and May amongst others have ruled out the possibility. So in the coming years, it will be interesting to see how it will impact the Scottish firms, the mergers, and the UK wide firms that had originally said no to the conversion.

Other changes set to make an impact include the closing of sheriff courts this year which will undoubtedly see a rise in the number of cases dealt within the remaining sheriff courts and how this will affect the efficiency of the court system; also the Law Society of Scotland has announced that all trainees only need to be paid the national minimum wage instead of the recommended rates – it is yet to be seen if law firms are inclined to pay the minimum wage in order to deal with the economic climate and if it will encourage more firms to take on trainees. (which from 1 June 2012 will be £16,200 (up from £15,965) for the first year and £19,400 (up from £19,107) for the second year) and lastly funding for the diploma has attracted much criticism for their current system of a £3,400 loan from SAAS as it has been argued it does not provide a fair access to the Scottish legal profession. However, I spoke to a partner of a firm at the TANQ Society Christmas Social who used to be on the board for allocating the 300 funded places and he said that he rather it was the way it was now as everyone has the same level of access if they so wish.

It’s not going to get any easier in the legal field so it’s time to embrace the change or at the very least be prepared for it. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Stacking Shelves vs Saving Lives

There is this common perception, no matter how much some of us may try to fight it that one job is better than another; that somehow the way in which someone chooses to earn their honest living is subject to some sort of hierarchy of respectfulness. It’s all around us and sometimes in the most subtle of contexts. 

I contend this is utter crap.

Our society is full of snobbery and hypocrisy. Not only do we sit and watch X Factor judges commend their contestants and how they will never have to go back to “shelf stacking in Tesco” but simultaneously we judge those that sit on their back sides all day claiming benefits.

Though the job market is poor, it should only highlight the importance of showcasing all types of employment on an equal footing. This will remove the superiority complexes earned by no one and encourage more people into jobs.

Many are depressed in their jobs; they are unhappy that they are working in McDonalds; they are unhappy they didn’t secure that record deal, get that traineeship or get that place in medical school.

But, why? A job is a job. I concede that some level of satisfaction is required within a job but why be upset that you have a job? In this economic climate, be proud. Be proud that you have beaten the crisis and still earning a living. Be proud you are choosing not to live on benefits. Be proud that you haven’t given up on yourself or those around you. Be proud that you are putting your snobbery and hypocrisy aside in favour of this honest living. And aside from the economic climate – still be proud.

We can’t all be lawyers, dentists, doctors and frankly the world would be boring as hell if it was and we can’t all be interested in that either. As clich├ęd as it sounds – we need the little screws that hold the desk together. That’s not to “belittle” these jobs in any way. You’ll find the little screws are the least substantial element of the desk but the most integral part as well. This is directly applicable to our society today.

In the end of the day, job is a means by which you can then enjoy the more important parts of your life. Like meeting friends down in the pub; taking your better half out to dinner; buying your kid that extra special Christmas present. When your job becomes the most important part of your life; you might be losing sight of what truly matters.

We all half heartedly admit that the people that collect our rubbish or serve us in bars make the world go around but do we act on it? Do we actually believe this popularly said concept? When someone tells you they left school at 16 and are working in Tesco – do you automatically assume they are a failure?

Maybe you don’t to this extreme extent but even subtle comments can verify this deep seated perception. We like to believe that we cover it up with clever sayings but the real challenge is to believe it.

So I challenge you. Dump the perception in favour of the things that really matter. There is no need for it and frankly no room.

And let's face it, we all know the person giving us a BigMac in McDonald makes us happier than the Doctor that tells us we have crabs or the Lawyer that charges us £2000 to write a letter.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Cheques in “full and final” settlement – take the money?

An increasing number of cases deal with the attempts of debtors to avoid or decrease debts through use of these types of cheques. There is a dilemma, especially if the dispute has been ongoing for a considerable period of time, to cash the cheque and pursue, anyway, for the remaining amount. But the trouble is by cashing the cheque, are you then binding yourself to the agreement that the cheque provided is for full and final settlement and therefore barring yourself from further claim?

The case law certainly suggests, that like all things in law that: “it depends”. It depends, very much, on the circumstances, background and the intentions of each party. In other words, the courts have been fairly reluctant to put into place any concrete rules.

The major difference in treatment in these cases or at least probably the only one worth mentioning is when a debt is disputed or undisputed.

The debt was undisputed in the case of D and C Builders v Rees, where the plaintiff was entitled to recover the balance of the sum owed as the cheque offered in “settlement” was nothing other than a means by which the claimant sought to avoid the price of the works carried out because they had been carried out with no complaints.

Another factor in determining whether cashing such a cheque can be binding is time. In Bracken and Another v Billinghurst, the time taken for the creditors to indicate their non acceptance of the cheque as full and final settlement proved a deciding factor. The courts felt that too long a period of time had lapsed without having informed the defendants of their intentions and therefore deemed the acceptance of the cheque in full settlement.

In a disputed debt claim, reliance is placed on the case of Day v McLea, whereby an agreement to accept a cheque in full and final settlement will be heavily based upon the conduct of the creditor. So in Inland Revenue Commissioners v Fry, where the creditors had no idea that the cheque they received was in consideration of full and final settlement were entitled to pursue for the remaining balance.

There are two options for the creditor with the main lesson to be learned from case law is clarity. If you are explicitly clear (when banking the cheque) with your intentions of non acceptance, don’t dilly or dally, do nothing that could be construed as acceptance and notify the debtor straight away of your disagreement to the lesser amount - do this and the courts will likely look upon this favourably on the basis that there has been no consensus in idem to constitute a binding agreement. At the very least immediately write to the other party that you are rejecting the cheque as full and final settlement but will be cashing the cheque as part payment. Be sure to keep a copy of this letter and send by reliable source to the correct address. The temptation is, understandably, high to bank the cheque and pursue for the remaining balance but alongside the requirement of clarity; it may be that the best solution would be to reject the cheque altogether and advise the debtor that full payment is to be made within a short period of time, failing which will result in court proceedings. This way, the debtor has no claim against you.

The Land Registration Act 2012

The Land Registration etc Bill introduced by John Swinney MSP on the 1st December 2011 and receiving Royal Assent on the 10 July 2012 has sought to reform and restate the current law on registration of rights to land, therefore full enactment will cause the replacement and repeal of the Land Registration Act 1979. Although asserted by the Scottish Law Commission that the changes to be introduced were evolutionary; conveyancers have regarded it revolutionary with the proposals set to make a big improvement to the ease of land registration. The main objective of this new legislation is namely to make conveyancing transactions a lot simpler.

Modernising Conveyancing

The Act will seek to bring conveyancing in line with the 21st century in two ways.

First of all, with amendments to the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995, the position will enable property transactions to be negotiated, signed an registered electronically making it easier, quicker and therefore cheaper to carry out overall.

Secondly, the Act will seek to recognise one Land Register. Presently, only around 60% of property titles are registered in the land register. Recognising one register means the title and a plan of its boundaries will be available to view online making it easier and quicker for purchasers to research prospective properties. This is a huge improvement as large parts of rural Scotland still rely on written descriptions of the property require an extra degree of diligence making the process lengthier and thereby more expensive. This was one of the primary goals of the legislation and its enactment will see to the closure of the Register of Sasines, rendering a recording on or after the prescribed day as ineffective - section 48 of the new act. In addition to this the law will also recognise a single title map of the whole of Scotland namely Cadastral.

Race to the Register

Many will complain of the unfairness, uncertainty and inadequacies attached to this famous "race to the register" concept in Scotland. The Act will revolutionise this area by bringing it in line with England. Presently, in Scotland to register a title, it is to be lodged with the land register therefore it is not an impossibility that a party could lose his or her title if someone else manages to register a competing title first. However, in England, the position is more certain. There, parties have a "priority period" which is a period of time that can be reserved in advance during which no one else may register a competing title. Similarly, Scottish Law Commission's proposed solution to this problem is to introduce "advance notices" which will have a 35 day effective period. Sections 56-64 deal with this area (part 4). This will afford buyers better protection.

Rectifying Inaccuracies

The Scottish Law Commission recognised that the current law placed "obstacles" in the way of rectifying the Register even if the mistake is of a relatively minor value. S.9 of the old Act makes it overly complicated to rectify inaccuracies with rules on the circumstances in which the Keeper is able to rectify (s.9(3)). Section 9(2) implies that the Lands Tribunal is required to make such an order in respect of rectification. Part 8 of the new Act, however, seeks to do away with such complexities and deals with inaccuracies in two ways. First of all, the definition of "inaccuracy" has been tightened in section 65 to mean when something is misstated in law or in fact; omits anything required, by or under an enactment, to be included in it; or includes anything which is not permitted by or under enactment therefore sieving out any minor deficiencies and section 80 makes provision for only "manifest" inaccuracies and the procedure only involves including in the archive record a copy of any document which discloses, or contributes to disclosing, the inaccuracy and give notice to any person that might be materially affected. Inaccuracies in provisional registration are dealt with simply in s.81 where the Keeper may rectify the register if all those affected consent. Again, what can be evidently drawn from this is the Scottish Law Commission's desire to promote efficiency within these types of transactions; a desire undoubtedly shared.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Heartbreak of the Recession

I don't think anything can prepare you.

I think the majority of us have sat from our cushioned lives and only heard on the news or through friend's of friends about the effects of the recession. We probably routinely or robotically exclaimed "that's a shame"; some of us probably even meant it.

There will also be many of us who will have felt the effects first hand - have been made redundant once or twice or had to give up their homes; have witnessed or suffered the pains of it all.

I was in court listening in on some procedural hearings once again. Although aware of the detrimental impact the recession has had; I naively thought that I could look at the hearing as a "case file" and ignore the emotional attachments behind it. That's all fair and well in the office but step out from behind your desk and march on down to court and face the person you are extracting from their homes. Their homes that they could once, very easily, afford to pay for. As each month passes with them still unable to find other means of income; the interest builds, leaving them worse and worse off. It's like a never ending cycle of debt; each time you go around, the debt increasing.

At the office we complain of the people behind the late payments; behind the several excuses; behind the impossibilities of getting a hold of them on the phone - we sighed and huffed and puffed at their pathetic excuses; their laziness at not getting another job and their rudeness at not getting back in touch. So we threaten them with court action and we see it through - we take them to court; armed and ready to blast them for their incapabilities.

But face to face in the court in front of the Sheriff, you cannot help but feel a lump in your throat and  and a tug on the heart string as you see respectable people nervously face the Sheriff with their excuses. Perfectly good excuses. Excuses like, "I was made redundant; found another job but was made redundant again"; "I have a wife and three kids, we had other stuff to pay for this month"; "I just can't afford it anymore; I can't find a job".

Once faced with the reality of what you are doing - you can't help but hate yourself at least a little bit. I don't blame the job; I don't even blame reality. I blame our mentality; mine as well and it was a solid reminder to me that there are people taking the recession perhaps a lot harder than I am. Let it be a reminder to you all as well. Be grateful for what you have.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Lawyers - Have we neglected our purpose?

Presently, I am doing a summer placement with a firm in Glasgow and I took the opportunity to accompany the senior trainee to court this morning for some procedural hearings. Upon her case being called, a nervous but gutsy woman stood tall and walked to the desk. With a clear but shakey voice  she asked for a continuation on the basis that she could not find legal representation because her case was not worthy of legal aid and she could not afford to appoint a solicitor herself. She had approached 8 different firms that had all turned her down.

Although aware that the firms themselves cannot be blamed for this injustice, we have to question our ability, as ambassadors of the law, if we are doing the right thing by only protecting the insanely rich or those that are set to make an insane claim. My opinion is clear: law is a mechanism whereby we assert a certain standard of behaviour across our country. When that behaviour is not adhered to, there is, more likely than not, an injustice. As ambassadors, our job is to make right that injustice no matter how small or big the case is or how rich or poor the person is. The Sheriff somewhat remorsefully advised the woman that if she could not find representation by the next court date that she would have to represent herself. If she wants to see her injustice put right; she has no choice in the matter. Where is the justice in that? This will clearly have some sort of detrimental impact on her chances of being successful.

I know very little of her circumstances and it may very well be that her claim is vexatious but from what I heard the message was evident and disturbing. An injured person can walk into hospital and expect to be treated. No matter if that person is a terrorist/murderer/rapist/child/mother/ned or otherwise. Likewise, a person wronged should be able to walk into court with legal representation. Doctors can do their jobs – why can’t we?