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Peninsulawyer has moved

28/01/2010

Peninsulawyer has moved to a shiny new site and a new home at http://www.peninsulawyer.com.

If you subscribe via RSS then the feed has been updated and should continue to work just the same.

If not, then please update your bookmarks!

Any comments or feedback on the new site would be appreciated.

Does journalism exist?

26/01/2010

Last night I read the text of Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger’s lecture entitled “Does Journalism Exist?“.

This was circulated on Rusbridger’s Twitter account and sparked quite a bit of interest and comment on Twitter.

The text is quite long, but in my opinion is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the future of journalism. His remarks on the different business models being adopted and the role of the BBC in all of this are particularly fascinating.

However, the article has a wider relevance and makes very interesting reading for lawyers too. James Dunning blogged about the similiarities between law firms and newspapers last year (Law Firms and Newspapers, the same or different) and suggested that:-

“what the newspapers are suffering heavily from now is what many smaller law firms are beginning to suffer from and will undoubtedly suffer heavily from in the future – their primary product being available for free on the web…”

In this context it is worth looking at Rusbridger’s comparison between the closed, paywall, model and the open model with journalists “bouncing off each other, linking to each other… linking out… allowing response – harnessing the best qualities of text, print, data, sound and visual media.” 

This may not sound so relevant to lawyers (although it certainly is to law bloggers). However, the final words of the paragraph are striking:-  

“If ever there was a route to building audience, trust and relevance, it is by embracing all the capabilities of this new world, not walling yourself away from them.”

If  “building audience, trust and relevance” isn’t relevant to law firm marketing then I don’t really know what is. The comments at the beginning of the piece about Search Engine Optimisation are also very relevant to law firms.

If you are a lawyer or interested in internet marketing for law firms read this article now – I can guarantee you will see some parallels to your own business.

Social Media – Out of control?

19/01/2010

Articles written by UK solicitors about social media tend to catch my attention.

Sometimes this is because they are perceptive, entertaining and cutting edge… but more often it is because it is obvious that their authors (presumably intelligent and informed lawyers) don’t seem to “get” the basics of social media and web 2.0.

Solicitors still seem to advise an outright ban on access to social networking sites (as advised by Halliwells LLP) or the introduction of a policy limiting use of the company’s networks to access them (as recommended by Rob Coward’s recent post on the Legal Week blog on cutting the cost of social networking.

Yet another recent article by Cobbetts Solicitors on social networking in the workplace recommends that “if these sites are not banned by the employer, it should consider guidelines as to appropriate use.”

I don’t mean to single out these particular articles as many solicitors seem to view social networking as a threat to business. The language used in these three articles:- “time wasting”, “costing the economy”, “crack down” is mirrored in many other articles and updates.

I have commented before on this blog about why I think social media can be a positive thing for business (including law firms) and I re-stated these views in my comments on Rob Coward’s blog post.

Rather than repeat myself, I want to focus on one particular point that many of the commentators don’t seem to grasp:- social media is already “out of control”.

It doesn’t need the beige box sitting under your employees’ desks.

Mobile clients for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and other social networks are available for the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry (the list goes on).

These mobile clients aren’t just a fallback – social networking comes alive (and in the case of FourSquare depends) on mobile platforms.

Block whatever you want and beef up the internet policy in your staff handbook, but some of your employees will still be tweeting. Even if you force a ban at work, can you restrict their access to social media at evenings and weekends?

A meaningful social media policy isn’t an extension of your internet policy, it can’t be enforced by blocking sites and it can’t really be about “control”.

It needs to be independent of platforms and networks. It needs to recognise that your employees will use social media and that they will discuss their work and your business.

It needs to acknowledge that there are serious risks (as well as benefits) to social media, but unless you want to lose out on the benefits it needs to empower your staff to use their social networks for the benefit of your business.

The best, and most elegant, approach I have seen yet is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s social media guidelines:-

• Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.

• Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.

• Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.

• Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

This may not win many fans amongst employment lawyers, but it is obviously drafted by an employer who “gets” social media and recognises its benefits for their business.

I’m not sure if lawyers or in-house counsel were involved in drafting it, but if so I would be willing to bet that they too understood blogging and Twitter and how important they are for their client’s business.

Solicitors would probably argue that it isn’t necessary to use social media in order to advise on its legal implications.

My response is that whilst there is nothing technically difficult about using social media, it is very hard to understand its benefits and how it works without experimenting with it (as any number of media commentators have proved). It is a state of mind more than a skill-set.

To advise clients who are immersed in social media and talk intelligently to them about it you do need to understand it yourself. Personally I think this requires a certain amount of first-hand experience at using it in a business context (having a personal Facebook page doesn’t really cut it).

At the moment the majority of articles I see by solicitors are focused on the risks of social media to the exclusion of the benefits and based on an outdated understanding of the technology and platforms.

With clients becoming more and more social media savvy perhaps commercial law firms should be encouraging their solicitors to use social media in a business context?

Let me know what you think.

Finally, I have used song lyrics to title a few Peninsulawyer posts, but I am probably plumbing new depths with the title of a Girls Aloud album… I can promise those of a nervous disposition that it won’t be a recurring theme!

Working from home today

13/01/2010

As Lawyer1Point9 noted in his recent Divorce Day Cup post there are few bandwagons upon which a lawyer will not jump in search of website or press release copy.

The Divorce Day Cup focuses on the everpresent “divorce rates rocket after Christmas” press release and I await the winner with interest. However, the recent snopocalypse in the UK seems to have received a similar treatment.

Before the first flake settled, HR consultancies and law firms alike had waded in with primers on the legal position of snowed-in employees and disgruntled employers. The BBC even took a break from its 24-hour coverage of the “big freeze” to publish an FAQ on the legal implications of the snowfall.

In fact, a quick Google search revealed at least 10 law firm press releases or articles on the subject and countless HR updates.

However, when my RSS reader threw out a link to Jason Plant’s latest blog post entitled “I’m going to be late.  Yeah, because of the snow” I guessed that it might be something more interesting.

Rather than dwelling on gritting and docking employee’s pay, he asks “So will this cold snap finally kick start a new wave of forward thinking employers that shift to a flexible working model, not just in terms of working hours but also in working location?”

Please read the whole post on the No Option for Lawyers blog, but I think Jason’s analysis is spot on. There is a tendency to think that fee earners can work from home, but not support staff… but actually digital dictation and remote working mean that pretty much any member of staff should be able to work from home.

The post and DX may need to be sent out, but how much of this material actually needs to go in hard copy? In any event, if conditions are so bad that your staff struggle to get to work, is it likely that the post and DX will be reliable anyway?

I’m sure the bad weather has tested a few firms’ business continuity plans, but maybe it can also provide some wider lessons about working arrangements.

The snow throws into sharp relief the distance that many of us have to travel to work. However, even on a normal day, traffic congestion, climate change and carbon footprints would all benefit from more home working.

If the technology is there (apart from the Apple iSlate of course!) then why aren’t we using it to give ourselves more flexibility and freedom?

Unfortunately, for today at least, I can’t practice what I preach as I have meetings in the office. The snow is falling past the window as I type and the concept of flexible working location is looking even more tempting (anyone know a nice hotel in the Canary Islands with good wifi?!)

Statements of Capital

11/01/2010

How has the Companies Act 2006 (finally implemented on 1 October last year) affected day to day company administration?

Company secretaries, accountants and lawyers have had to get used to a new set of forms, but these are largely self-explanatory.

It is disappointing that four sides of paper are now required to deal with resignation as director and secretary of a company (rather than the single side which was previously needed) but this is hardly likely to cause any sleepless nights. More and more companies are using the Companies House web filing service in any event, which makes the majority of paper forms irrelevant.

However, there is one requirement which seems to have caused some confusion (including at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills) – the infamous “Statement of Capital”.

The Statement of Capital is a new concept introduced by the 2006 Act. In principle it is fairly simple – a statement of the issued share capital of the company which must be delivered to Companies House when various events take place (for example the incorporation of a company, an allotment of shares or filing of an annual return).

In practice the Statement of Capital is (in most cases) incorporated in the forms which need to be delivered to Companies House rather than requiring a separate document.

The core of the Statement of Capital is a simple statement of the total number of shares in the company and the aggregate nominal value of these shares. An example can be found on the Companies House website here.

For each class of shares the Statement of Capital must show:-

  • Prescribed particulars of the rights attaching to the shares (see below)
  • The total number of shares of that class
  • The aggregate nominal value of shares in the class; and
  • The amount paid up and unpaid on those shares (including any share premium).

The last requirement can be difficult for companies with complex share structures and BIS are currently consulting with various “stakeholders” about how these companies will deal with producing Statements of Capital. For the time being the advice is basically for them to take their best shot as Companies House will reject forms if this information is left blank in the Statement of Capital.

The prescribed particulars of the rights attaching to the shares comprise:-

  • Voting rights (including those which only arise in certain circumstances – e.g. swamping rights)
  • Rights to receive a dividend
  • Rights to receive a capital contribution on a winding-up
  • Whether the shares are redeemable at the option of the company or the shareholder

These rights will be set out in the articles of association of the company (together with any supplemental shareholder resolutions which may have been passed in order to vary those rights).

For a straightforward company with a single class of ordinary shares, the Statement of Capital will be easy to complete. The Companies House guidance note on Statements of Capital even has some standard wording (see section 13) which can be used for these types of companies if they have adopted articles based on the model articles contained in the Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008.

However, the same guidance makes it clear that particulars of the rights attaching to the shares need to be set out in full.

Statements such as “the rights are set out in the articles of association” or “the shares rank pari passu with the existing shares in the company” will result in the form being rejected.

For companies with a complex share structure, this can make completing the Statement of Capital quite a technical exercise. Indeed, the Companies House guidance recognises that companies may need to seek professional advice to assist with this.

It is less than helpful for new filing requirements to put companies in a position where they may have to incur professional fees in order to complete standard forms. However, if you do need help with this what is the best way to keep costs to a minimum?

Firstly, you will need to make sure that the copy of your company’s articles of association filed at Companies House is up to date (which of course it should be) and that any resolutions creating or amending share rights have also been duly filed.

Secondly, agree a fixed price with your solicitor for reviewing the company’s articles  and any relevant resolutions and producing a pro-forma Statement of Capital for you to use.

Once you have this it should be easy to keep track of any new share issues or changes to share rights in the future.

The paperless office (by Apple?)

07/01/2010

Not since the Loch Ness monster has so much effort been spent writing about something which may not even exist.

Even the traditional media now seem fairly convinced that Apple will be unveiling a new Tablet device in January for shipping in March 2010. See for example this recent Times Online article and this slightly less complimentary piece on the Guardian Website on what may or may not be called the iSlate (as and when it is or is not released).

These tablet rumors have been around seemingly for ever (this MacRumours.com tablet post from 2007 being one of very, very many examples).

However, the rumors seem fairly solid this time around so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes out of Cupertino on 26 January.

Readers of this blog will realise that I am a bit of an Apple fanboy. In this case though I am more excited about the opportunity which an iSlate, iTablet, iBrick (or whatever) could present than the prospect of another shiny Apple gadget itself. Although, to be honest, I am pretty excited about that too!

When I refer to an opportunity, what I mean is that I believe that we have pretty much everything right now that is required for a lawyer to run a paperless office. Certainly the scanning technology, document management systems and even electronic signature protocols are readily available.

The missing link for me is a decent way to read and markup legal documents. I do most of my work on screen now, but when it comes to reviewing a first draft of a chunky share purchase agreement there isn’t really a substitute for hitting the print key.

Reviewing the document on a laptop (or even a nice big monitor) just doesn’t work the same. For starters it is hard on the eyes, but more importantly the ability to flick backwards and forwards, compare pages side by side and scribble notes just isn’t there for me.

The Ebook readers which are around at the moment (the Kindle 2 or the Sony Reader for example) are aimed at Ebooks rather than document review. It has been pointed out to me since the first draft of this post that the Kindle 2 can accept uploads of PDF documents – however, so far as I am aware there is no editing capability and it is limited to black and white display. If any lawyers do use these for document review though it would be interesting to hear how it works out.

The Law Society Gazette review of the current digital reader technology such as the iRex concluded that the basic technology was promising, but that “a much more user-friendly interface” was needed amongst other things for it to be truly useable.

It seems to me that an Apple tablet could be the perfect product to fill this gap. Decent sized touchscreen display? The very basis of the device. User friendly interface? For an Apple product this should really be a given.

With these building blocks in place it isn’t hard to see an application being developed for the iSlate which would allow documents to be reviewed and annotated in much the same way as hard copy (and using the multi-touch screen to flick pages backwards and forwards Coverflow style, zoom in and out and scroll). I have seen suggestions that handwriting or stylus entry could be on the cards – again, great for document review and annotation.

Add internet access via Wifi (or maybe even 3G – tethered via an iPhone) and the ability to work with Exchange servers (which is already featured in the iPhone and Snow Leopard) and this could be pretty much all a lawyer needs to work remotely. Bearing in mind how the iPhone has moved toward a enterprise offering with the ongoing OS iterations I would expect the iSlate to build on this (rather than being a pure consumer product).

Since my first version of this post, Microsoft have also unveiled their “iSlate killer” at the Consumer Electronics Show as reported by the BBC and many others. The HP consumer notebook slate could fill the same gap as an iSlate, but commentators seem to be largely underwhelmed – it seems like a solid product, but not really a game changer in the way which the iPhone (for example) was. However, it could well be a driver towards tablet computing if it takes off.

I may be wrong… and there may not even be an iSlate in the offing. If there is though, and if it is anything like an iPhone style leap forward in useability, then it could be a huge step toward a true “paperless office” for lawyers at the geekier end of the spectrum.

Now I just need to work out how to persuade the firm to buy me one!

Social… without the media?

05/01/2010

I was driving home the other day listening to Eddie Mair on PM on Radio 4.

I usually catch the “Up Shares Down Shares” slot (which for anyone who doesn’t listen is what PM have named the stock market report since talk of the recession started).

It occurred to me that this is actually a great example of mixing up a format a little to create engagement with your customers (or listeners in this case). Basically, PM have used the theme music from the old TV show Upstairs Downstairs and invited listeners to send in their versions of the theme music played on various different instruments.

Before Christmas there was a version played by the full BBC philharmonic orchestra, but I have also heard versions played on the xylophone, the pan pipes and in the style of the Adams Family (amongst others).

The point is that the stock market report still gives the same basic information, but the PM crew have found a way to liven it up and, crucially, to invite their audience to engage with and contribute to the feature.

There is no real technology or social media angle, but it is certainly engaging with the listeners in a “social” way and I can’t help thinking that Twitter would be a great platform for this type of initiative.

I have yet to figure out how a law firm could apply this type of approach as most of us don’t have theme tunes, but maybe it is worth thinking about how we could engage this level of enthusiasm from clients without devaluing our professional image?

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