Legal Cheek - News, commentary and law careers advice
Legal Cheek was founded in 2011. It has grown to become the UK’s leading news source for junior lawyers and law students, and has been described by The Sunday Times as “Popbitch for lawyers” and The Telegraph as an “irreverent, must-read tabloid law website”.
The Justice Committee has written to the Legal Services Board (LSB), who are in the process of deciding whether to approve or reject the solicitor super-exam, requesting they delay their decision for another six months.
Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) plans to introduce a centralised solicitors exam were formally passed over to the LSB in January. Since, the LSB has twice asked for more time to make its decision, and we’re now anticipating an outcome by mid-April.
But, if the LSB takes note of a Justice Committee letter recently sent to it, it could be autumn, not spring, when a decision is reached. The letter, signed by Justice Committee chair and ex-criminal barrister Bob Neill, asks the LSB to defer its decision for six months, “to enable the SRA’s application to be given more careful scrutiny”.
As you might imagine given Neill’s ‘delay your decision’ mantra, the letter is hardly bursting with praise for the SRA’s proposed Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
On non-law graduates being able to take the super-exam, it reads:
“[T]here are fears that the SQE framework in its current form would lead to England and Wales becoming the only jurisdiction that does not require substantive academic study of law as a precursor to qualifying as a lawyer.”
It adds: “We believe that the SQE model raises important public policy issues, in that if it does not contain sufficient safeguards, it may risk damaging the reputation of our legal profession and, ultimately, of the UK as a legal jurisdiction of choice.”
A spokesperson for the SRA describes the super-exam as “a significant change” that “it has spent several years working with the profession and others on”, so: “of course it needs time for proper review”. They continue:
“We look forward to the LSB announcing its decision in due course.”
The SRA’s intentions to replace traditional routes to qualification — i.e. the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) — with the SQE are anticipated to come to fruition by September 2020. LSB delay, and now Neill’s recommendations, are beginning to cast doubt on this proposed start date.
A solicitor who sent a string of offensive messages to a colleague has been handed a lifeline by a tribunal after it found that a reduction in the medication he was on led to the misconduct.
Robert Ashurst was working as a paralegal at the General Medical Council (GMC) when he bombarded another paralegal with messages containing offensive comments about Jews, the Irish, Asians, Muslims and gay people. Many messages were also sexist. The messages were sent between January and May 2016, according to a recently published judgment.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard how his messages included comments about “sweaty Jew[s]”, the actions of gay people being “disgusting”, and that Irish people are “Potato famine cunts”. Another message said: “there is no such thing as rape from a husband.”
Unhappy with Ashurst’s relentless messaging, his colleague (referred to only as “Mr X” in the judgment) told the tribunal how he “bascially stopped talking to him”. Unfortunately, the avoidance tactic didn’t work. Mr X said:
[H]e kept contacting me… I tried to ignore these comments but he would continue. If I ignored him, the comments would get worse until I responded.”
It was only when the 34-year-old’s behaviour came to the attention of others at the GMC that the messages eventually stopped. A disciplinary investigation was launched and Ashurst resigned soon after.
In mitigation, the SDT was presented with medical evidence showing Ashurst had been diagnosed with a medical condition in 2013 and was “undergoing a trial of considerably reducing his medication”. The details of his medical condition were disclosed in private to the tribunal. The judgment cites medical evidence which states it’s “likely” the messages were attributable to his medical condition.
The SDT further noted that Ashurst “did not recall” sending the messages, had apologised to Mr X and had since “taken steps to resume suitable medication”.
Concluding, the SDT found that Ashurst’s “conduct was due to his ill health and as a result he had no direct control over it”. Accordingly, Ashurst was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,000. He must also provide regulator medical updates to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for the next three years. Ashurst — who is now in “a much better place” — is currently working in a small solicitors’ firm.
Legal Cheek founder Alex Aldridge kicks off the 2018 Awards.
The legal profession has celebrated the top trainee-rated law firms and chambers in an extravaganza at London’s iconic Cheesegrater building.
This year’s Legal Cheek Awards ceremony, sponsored by BARBRI, took place on Wednesday evening in Landing Forty Two of the tapering City of London tower officially known as the Leadenhall Building. Floor-to-ceiling glass panel windows offered amazing panoramic views across London’s night skyline.
Looking down from on high: Yeah, that’s the Walkie Talkie down there (Image credit: @TheICLR)
The ceremony, hosted by Legal Cheek founder Alex Aldridge, was attended by nearly 300 people from the UK’s leading corporate law firms and barristers’ chambers. There were also a host of representatives from universities and legal education providers, including BARBRI President Mike Sims who had flown over from the US to attend. The awards were presented by Legal Cheek campus ambassadors and a handful of sponsors.
A magician circulated the crowd, enthralling the night’s attendees, while upbeat tunes blasted by the DJ created a raucous atmosphere. The drinks were in free-flow, and after devouring the succulent canapés in plentiful supply, it was time to hit the dance floor and celebrate this year’s achievements.
Most importantly, though, were the Awards. Who won what? We have all the results below…
Best Law Firm for Training 2018: Osborne Clarke
UCL student Alice Pearce announces the first award
DWF’s head honcho under fire over unpaid shares claim
A medical start-up which is headed by the chairman of DWF has been sued by its former chief financial officer and director. The company denies the claim, and a hearing date has been set for 8 October 2018.
According to court papers seen by Legal Cheek, accountant Kenneth McEnery has issued proceedings against BioSure Limited, a company at which he worked for about nine months. The chairman of BioSure — a company that claims its HIV self-test is at least 99.7% accurate — is Sir Nigel Knowles, who is also the chairman of DWF and the former head of DLA Piper.
According to the medical testing company’s website, Knowles works alongside the BioSure team “to set the strategy and direction, and advises on how best to scale up the business internationally quickly and effectively”. Knowles doesn’t seem shy of a start-up: he is also the chairman of The Link, an app “designed to help law firms improve client communication” that was founded by solicitor and The Apprentice contestant Lauren Riley.
The claimant, McEnery, is suing BioSure for the alleged non-issue of shares, which he says he was contracted to receive in lieu of a salary. He is being represented by Ashley Cukier, Littleton Chambers, and solicitors at Solomon Taylor & Shaw.
Court papers, filed with the High Court (Chancery Division), state that “at various points between April and November 2016, the claimant raised the matter of non-issuance of his shares with the company directors”, Knowles included, “explaining that until he had the issued shares he feared he was, effectively, working for a company (whose long-term prospects remained uncertain) for nothing”. Another company director named in the court papers is Mel Sims, a former partner at DLA Piper who provides legal counsel at BioSure.
At a board meeting in December 2016, attended by Knowles and at DLA Piper’s office, “it was resolved that [BioSure] would allot 60 shares (amounting to 5% of the share capital of the company) to the claimant”, court papers say.
The defendant, represented by Peter Webster at Essex Court Chambers, will defend this claim. A spokesperson tells Legal Cheek:
“The company denies the claim. The company does not comment on matters which are subject to legal proceedings.”
A defence prepared by Alexandra Carn, a partner at Edwin Coe, says:
“It was unanimously decided [at the meeting] that no allocation of shares be made to the claimant… It was decided that no allotments would be made at the meeting pending further discussions with the claimant. Allotments would definitely be made to Mr Sims and Sir Nigel Knowles.”
The court documents later state BioSure “made clear” to McEnery that it had “no intention of allotting shares to the claimant and instead offered the claimant £50,000 ‘when the company has the cash'”.
McEnery claims that after he rejected the offer, he received an email from Sims just before Christmas stating: “No need to come in during January.” On this, the defendant says: “[I]t is denied that Mr Sims’ email of 23 December 2016 confirmed the defendant’s decision to bring the claimant’s role to an end pursuant to the contract. The claimant had decided to leave his role.”
He is now suing the company for alleged breach of contract, saying BioSure “failed to issue [him] with the shares to which he was entitled”. He is seeking a specific performance remedy because, his claim maintains, “damages are plainly inadequate”.
Human rights body faces cash crisis after clash with Russia [The Guardian]
A barrister on Twitter is debating the legal issues around some your favourite song lyrics [Yahoo News]
Trump’s lawyers ‘intimidate and threatened a judge’ after she ruled against them in dispute over stripping president’s name from Panama hotel [Mail Online]
Plaintiff in lawsuit against Disney and Marvel wants to destroy DVDs of Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Beauty and the Beast [Above The Law]
Job alert: Caseworkers sought for top immigration law firm’s Birmingham office [Legal Cheek Hub]
“The false imprisonment thing, if true, is bad but does not wash out the fact that her breach of contract case is absolutely shoddy. She’s been watching too many legal dramas probably” [Legal Cheek comments]
An Anglia Ruskin graduate suing her university for a host of “injustices” she says she experienced on her business course went on to study law to fight the case, Legal Cheek can reveal. The university is “robustly defending” the legal action.
Pok Wong, who also goes by Fiona, began studying international business at the Cambridge-based university in 2011, graduating with a first in 2013. Since then, she’s launched legal action against her university on multiple grounds detailed below, yet felt “frustrated at [her] inability to bring the case properly”, she tells us. Wong adds:
“What I experienced was so awful but I didn’t have the skills, and I hated myself for not having the skills.”
Though she had no interest in studying law nor becoming a lawyer when she enrolled on her undergraduate degree, Wong cites the “injustice” she experienced at university as her “motivation” to study law. Legal Cheek understands Wong is hoping to be awarded in excess of £65,000.
Wong studied both the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at BPP University in prep for the case, which she “really liked”. She also studied a paralegal course online in between.
Contract law is one topic covered on these courses, and it’s breach of contract Wong is suing her university for (and other grounds). Court papers contain a long list of alleged breaches, including that on one module the lecturer:
“Routinely arrived late by 15-20 minutes and finished early; during scheduled teaching time sent students to the library; spent much of the remaining teaching time merely going through multiple choice questions rather than actually reaching the subject matter; thus [Wong] estimates that only 20 or 30% of the scheduled teaching time was actually spent teaching.”
Also, she claims the university made false statements about the course, court papers stating: “[The university] was not a renowned centre of excellence for business and management”, nor did its careers advice department “have strong links with employers or access to a wide range of graduate opportunities”.
Despite reports to the contrary, Wong stresses to Legal Cheek she is not suing the university because she couldn’t find a job. “I never said the university had a duty to find me a job”, she says and, in fact, she has a job: as a paralegal.
Her third ground, perhaps the most interesting, is false imprisonment.
Court papers, prepared by Stephen Innes of 4 New Square, state Wong began a protest about Anglia Ruskin’s “poor standards” during her graduation ceremony, and: “The defendant’s security staff, for who the defendant was and is vicariously liable, escorted the claimant from the hall and placed her in a locked room.” She says she cannot remember exactly how long she was left in the room, but that she was released only after the ceremony had finished.
Anglia Ruskin’s statement, in full, reads:
“We are well aware of the claims made by this former student, who was recruited in 2010 and awarded in 2013, and we are robustly defending the current litigation. Her complaints have been through the full Office of the Independent Adjudicator process. She then made a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office which was rejected after a thorough investigation. Subsequently she has launched legal action against us and has been required to pay our costs at an earlier hearing.”
“As this case is before the court we will not be saying anything further at this stage.”
Wong hopes to secure a training contract in the future, though is willing to pursue other career paths. But: “One thing I am not flexible on is that I need a judgment on this case. I must have a full stop.”
A hearing date has not been set, and Wong is currently waiting for Anglia Ruskin to put forward its defence.
Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal, has announced it is shutting down. The directors of the beleaguered Panamanian outfit cited the “reputational” damage caused by its role in a global tax evasion scandal for its closure.
In 2016, Mossack Fonseca — founded in 1977 by the German lawyer Jürgen Mossack — received worldwide media attention when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published leaked information about its rich and powerful clients’ financial dealings. On its shutdown, the firm said:
“The reputational deterioration, the media campaign, the financial circus and the unusual actions by certain Panamanian authorities, have occasioned an irreversible damage that necessitates the obligatory ceasing of public operations at the end of the current month.”
Mossack Fonseca confirmed a skeleton staff would remain in place to ensure it could still comply with requests from authorities and other public and private groups. In spite of its imminent closure, the firm stressed it would continue “fighting for justice”.
At the time of the leak, Legal Cheek reported that all five magic circle firms were named in documents published by the ICIJ. The online database now contains details of more than 785,000 offshore companies, foundations and trusts, from a number of investigations including, but not only, the Panama Papers. To be clear, the database’s website says that individuals or companies named have not necessarily “broken the law or otherwise acted improperly”.
There were lighter sides to the Mossack saga. We reported that the firm’s newfound (unwanted) fame inspired an unofficial clothing range. The fashionable garments (pictured below) featured the firm’s branding alongside the line: “Because taxes are for poor people.” (Legal Cheek would like to stress that this is not the firm’s actual strapline.)
The news of Mossack’s impending closure comes just months after Appleby, one of the world’s largest providers of offshore legal services, suffered a similar mass data leak — this dubbed the ‘Paradise Papers’. Reports at the time suggested that over 13 million files containing the offshore financial dealings of celebrities, politicians and businesses fell into the hands of investigative journalists.
Bar funnyman Wigapedia returns to Legal Cheek to answer an age-old question…
Lawyers, it’s said, are problem-solvers, often faced with tricky legal questions that require expert skill and attention to consider and ultimately answer. But perhaps the biggest question of all is: how many barristers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Stumped? Thankfully, funnyman Wigapedia has asked a swathe of fellow barristers for their two cents on the matter, and here’s what they think:
The personal injury barrister
The personal injury barrister says absolutely none: in the absence of a full risk assessment, method statement, personal protective equipment review and work-equipment maintenance log for the stepladder and well as a definite history of lightbulb-related accidents going back at least three years.
The claims management company
But of course, the claims management company would say three. One to change the bulb, the second to kick away the ladder and the third to sue the lightbulb manufacturer for causing, permitting or suffering the creation of a trap or danger.
The property barrister would only do so having considered the under-leases and covenants from 1882 onwards regarding the respective obligations of all parties for the provision of tallow candles.
The family barrister would consult the agreed schedule of dates and times where lightbulb responsibilities are handed over as between spouses, cohabitees and ex-spouses which breaks down when a lightbulb actually needs changing and requires a five-day trial to resolve the issue.
Human rights barrister
The human rights barrister would say only one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change.
The commercial barrister would say that it requires four partners, a team of junior solicitors and a larger team of associates and trainees, alongside two silks and four juniors to draft the lightbulb change request and the lightbulb acquisition contract.
Professional negligence barrister
The professional negligence barrister would say two. One to change the bulb and another to sue the bulb-changer for doing it negligently.
The Chancery barrister would say that it’s such number as may be deemed necessary to perform the stated task in a timely and efficient manner within the strictures of the Light Bulb (Change) Illumination Act 1912 (as amended) and the detailed judicial guidance laid down thereafter.
Intellectual property barrister
The IP barrister would assert that the concept, idea, execution and property in a lightbulb is within the exclusive ownership of their client and any attempt the change the lightbulb would represent an interference with a proprietary right and accordingly here’s an injunction to stop you doing it.
The construction barrister says that lightbulbs have not been incorporated into the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) Agreement or the 327 annexes, and therefore they can definitely state there are no lightbulbs to change.
Public law barrister
The public law barrister says that they’d love to change the lightbulb, but cuts to legal aid have resulted in their not being able to afford luxuries such as ‘lightbulbs’ and ‘electricity’, and so they are launching a judicial review of darkness.
But the real answer is: “How many can you afford?”
Rising law school fees and low salaries are preventing young legal aid lawyer hopefuls from entering the profession, new social mobility research suggests.
The findings show high course costs for law school staples including the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) mean many aspiring legal aid lawyers graduate with high levels of debt. This, coupled with traditionally low legal aid salaries, acts as “a significant barrier” to the profession, according to a new report produced by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) group.
The research, Social Mobility in a Time of Austerity, reveals that almost three quarters (72%) of respondents have left or will leave law schools with debts in excess of £15,000. That’s a 7% increase on the last report’s findings, in 2013. Twenty-seven percent will have over £35,000, an increase of 11.5% since 2013.
YLAL received 200 responses from its 3,500-strong membership. Over three quarters (78%) of the participants are female, indicating “an over-representation of women working in the sector”, according to the report. All of those who participated in the research are less than ten-years post-qualified.
In terms of remuneration, over half of respondents (53%) said they earn less than £25,000. By way of comparison, Legal Cheek’s Firms Most List shows that a rookie at a top commercial outfit can receive (before tax) a salary in excess of £100,000. One respondent described the comparison as “extremely disheartening”, while another told the YLAL:
“I work as hard or harder as my friends in the commercial sector but for far less money. It is tempting to leave the legal aid profession for the commercial legal sector.”
Elsewhere but still on the subject of remuneration, the report says unpaid work experience continues to “represent a barrier to social mobility”. Three quarters of respondents said they had completed unpaid work experience. One YLAL member said:
“The industry simply has TOO many graduates fighting for too few paid positions — within the LA [legal aid] sector.”
It’s not just entry to the profession which is a concern for YLAL, but retention of lawyers once they get there. The report cites “stress” and “lack of support” as reasons for why many lawyers ditch publicly-funded work. It says: “The combination of feeling underpaid, undervalued, working long hours, and a lack of training and support meant that many felt meeting a basic standard of care to clients represented a significant burden.”
Commenting on their stint at the legal aid coalface, one former criminal barrister told researchers:
“Unfortunately, I no longer work in legal aid. The junior criminal bar became too much; the financial anxiety was overwhelming. Working ten-hour days when you didn’t know if you were going to be paid or not became too much.”
Rounding off its extensive report, the YLAL makes a number of recommendations, including: greater regulation over law school fees, new robust profession-backed guidance on work experience, and greater welfare support for those working within the legal aid sector.
Crocs loses EU court battle over patent claim [The Guardian]
Job alert: Caseworkers sought for top immigration law firm’s Birmingham office [Legal Cheek Hub]
“Correct me if wrong, but back in the ‘good old days’ didn’t sets just take on hordes of pupils as unpaid labour and then end up giving none of them tenancies? Tenancy being the real major sift point, as opposed to pupillage sounds like literally the worst thing imaginable.” [Legal Cheek comments]