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Blog Name: Matthew's blog

Exclusive: 45 redundancies at Shakespeare Martineau
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0
27 August 2015
45 redundancies are in the offing at newly merged Shakespeare Martineau.

Despite the puff ("Spirit, talent and enterprise are what the market can expect from Shakespeare Martineau"), staff at the firm have been far from gruntled since last June's merger. Earlier this month RollOnFriday reported that staff from legacy Martineau were being paid 15% more than their colleagues who had been at Shakespeares. They now have bigger problems on their hands. A spokeswoman said that the firm needed to reduce the size of some of its teams and "45 jobs" had been identified as surplus to requirements in both the London and Birmingham offices.

    Spare a groat for a cup of mead?

The consultation started today . Lawyers and non-fee earners will all be hit, although the firm wouldn't give a breakdown.


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Comedy genius from my grandmother
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3
27 August 2015
I had dinner with my 91-year-old grandmother recently, and she shared this gem. I thought it deserved a wider audience.


Samuel Cohen, having reached an enormous age, is on his deathbed. He holds the hand of his beloved wife Rachel.

"Rachel, my darling. You were with me when we were in the ghetto back in Russia?"

"Yes Samuel, my love."

"And when they sacked the ghetto and we had to flee to Germany, you were with me then?"

"Yes darling."

"And when the Nazis came for us and we left for England, you were with me then too?"

"Of course."

"And when the blackshirts came and set fire to our shop in the East End, you were with me then?"

"Yes darling."

"And now, as I am near my final breath, you are here by my side?"

"Yes Samuel."

"You're a fucking jinx."
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Exclusive: students lose training contracts after failing BPP course
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2
14 August 2015
RollOnFriday has been told that seven students have failed this year's Accelerated LPC.

A source says that two of them failed BLP, one failed BLP and Drafting and four failed Drafting. He adds that "some lost their training contracts and a debate must be had, engaging the SRA, whether this amounts to fair treatment by law firms".

Hmm. Clearly this is a massive kick in the collective nuts of the unfortunate students whose glittering careers at smart City firms have now disappeared before they've even started.

     

And one would hope that the firms would have a change of heart before consigning them to years of paraweasling or starting all over again in another sector. But presumably their offers made it clear that the students had to pass at their first attempt. Law is an intellectually rigorous profession, it's not an unreasonable requirement, and the students agreed to it. It's hard to see what the SRA should be wading in on this.

No one at BPP was available for comment. More on this next week once we've spoken to them.


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The joy of oligarchs on holiday
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4
30 July 2015
I've just been in Malta for my holiday. It is lovely. If you haven't been you should go. Valletta, the smallest European capital, is an exquisite UNESCO world heritage site, all fortifications, palaces, limestone, churches and Caravaggio. The Maltese love the British. After the beasting they took in WWII they were collectively awarded the George Cross and promptly put it on their national flag. There are prehistoric ruins and a shoreline that is like an aquarium.

Most of my time was spent by the sea, where it is always interesting to see how national stereotypes play out. When I was younger the English abroad were a source of collective shame. Beer guts and fish and chips and English pubs. They may still be, although there was no evidence of that where we were staying. The Brits were largely identified by their acute sunburn, Cath Kidston beach bags and constantly shushing their children. The Americans were universally gregarious, bounding up to everyone and anyone in the pool and banging on about how they loved the place. There were large groups of Scandinavians, all in disgustingly good shape. Germans in Vilebrequin trunks reading improving books and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. And there were the Russian oligarchs.

Ah, Russia. It is an easy target at the moment: a pariah nation with a lunatic president, endemic homophobia, bombers flying over the English coast, agents poisoning people in London hotels and soldiers shooting down civilian jets. But the stereotypes rang so depressingly true.

The handful of Russians who clearly worked for a living were exactly the same as everyone else. There was one slightly spare fellow in boat shoes, rimless glasses and smart shorts who drank lots of tea and read the FT in English every day. The oligarchs were not. I'm guessing "morbidly" is a word in common use in Moscow. Dozens of enormous bodies, some clad in Borat-esque mankinis or singlets, congregated like some great walrus colony:

     

     

Others sprawled on loungers, delighting guests by ventilating their genitalia:

     

They all shouted at each other, chain smoked stupid, long, thin cigarettes and got bladdered on vodka before chucking the bottles into the Med. Here's one I fished out earlier.

     

Even their kids didn't have a chance.

     

And where there are oligarchs, there is security. One thug turned up in the evening at the hotel terrace with special forces tattoos, the build of a brick shit house, a green army canvas bag which he constantly stroked and a demonic look for anyone who caught his eye. He shuffled uneasily on his feet for about 20 minutes, staring everyone down and looking like he was about to pull out an armalite.

Families started taking their kids indoors. I imagined the reports in the next day's papers, which would start with the words "lone wolf" and end with "and then he turned the gun on himself". Nervous hotel staff radioed each other to try and work out who he was and whether they should call the police. Eventually the manager confirmed he was part of a guest's security detail. He appreciated that he looked absolutely terrifying but if his boss was paying to put him up then what could he do?

He eventually disappeared into the hotel, only to emerge the next day to prowl around the jetty with his even bigger colleague, preventing anyone from getting remotely close to his corpulent, bull-necked employer who was taking a dip.

     

You can imagine how they were employed.

"I have appropriated a factory from a Jew, so I am now a target of Mossad. I need protection."

"Certainly sir. Here is Vladimir. He is impeccably trained in close protection and incredibly discreet. He wears a dark suit and an Hermes tie. You can tell that he knows what he's doing by his earpiece."

"He looks expensive. Now that the factory is no longer being run by Jews business is not so good. Do you have anything cheaper?"

"Of course. Meet Sergei and Dmitri. They were trained in the country's top neo-nazi groups and on the football terraces. You can tell that they know what they're doing by their crew cuts, massive bulk and tattoos. You don't even need to pay them. Just give them enough steroids to choke a horse and a few Chechens to beat up at weekends and they'll be happy as anything."

"Perfect! Now everyone who sees me will think I am strong like bear! As well as fat like pig, hairy like badger and bent like hind leg of dog."

I've been to Moscow. I learnt Russian (albeit badly) when I was younger. I am at a loss to understand how the nation that gave us Tolstoy, Gogol, Marx, Solzhenitsyn and the Hermitage now has these porcine jokers to fly its flag.

A friend of mine who is an expert in the region explains to me that Russia is like Britain was a few hundred years ago. A handful of ruthless bullies control pretty much everything and could not give two cents about what anyone else in the world thinks of them. This will all change with the development of Russia's economy and the emergence of a prosperous middle class. If my experience over the last couple of weeks is anything to go by, that is a depressingly long way away.

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11 QCs vote against allowing women to join the Garrick
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3
09 July 2015
Members of the Garrick, London's club for lawyers and actors, voted this week to continue to exclude women.

Although 50.5% of members voted to allow women to join, this was well short of the required 66% to force the change. The Guardian says that 11 QCs said they would vote to keep the club entirely male.

I've been to the Garrick several times. My father is a member, he takes me there to lunch a couple of times a year. I don't know how he voted, although in the past he's always said that he'd be happy for women to join. After a drink in the morning room he insists we lunch on what is depressingly known as "the bad boys table", a long table in the centre of the dining room where you must sit next to whoever is already there. Half the members you meet are interesting, accomplished people. Half are sad old bores with soup stains on their pink and green ties and wandering hands for any guest who might be younger than the average club age of 116.

At some stage over lunch the conversation always goes thus:

"Matthew, you seem like a nice young chap, I'd be delighted to sign your form".

"Thank you, but I'm not on the list to join."

"Why ever not?"

"I won't join a club that doesn't have women members. I see no difference in refusing to have black or gay members."

The reaction is generally as if I had jumped on the table and defecated on their roast beef. Women are welcome to attend as guests. As long as they confine themselves to certain rooms, A-line skirts and use of the main staircase when there's an R in the month. It would change the whole nature of the club. Men can't behave themselves when women are around. A chap needs a sanctuary of other chaps. All the members' wives would join and they are just ghastly.

     

A couple of members have sighed in agreement with me and urged me to join and try and change things from within. At over £1,000 a year I have better things to do with my time and money.

It will happen eventually. The old tedes will die off, younger members will replace them, for the first time over half the club voted in favour of women and this will surely rise. Nor can the members enjoy the opprobrium heaped upon them for being sad misgynists. The Knickerbocker Club in New York has already terminated its reciprocal relationship with the Garrick for this reason. Others will surely follow.

In the meantime the surprise is not how many senior, male lawyers want to keep the club as it is, but that any successful female lawyer would ever want to join.


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Death in Venice, camp as Christmas
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8
07 July 2015
I saw Britten's late masterpiece Death in Venice at Garsington Opera on Saturday.

Garsington has been evicted from the eponymous manor house and is now held at Getty's place, Wormsley. It is everything you would expect from the English country estate of one of the world's hyper-rich. An exquisite house in countless acres, only 45 minutes from London but rolling hills as far as the eye can see. We parked in a field where a polite young man loaded up a golf buggy with our picnic and table and chairs and drove our party of four over to the lake. We set up stall under the disdainful, collective eye of a herd of deer. There is a cricket pitch that is widely held to be the most beautiful in the country. The house has one of the finest private libraries in the world, containing Anne Boleyn's psalter and a 7th century document laying claim to be the oldest English manuscript. Everything is disgustingly restrained and elegant. It was enough to turn me into an anarchist.

The outstanding reviews of the performance suggested that the opera would match the setting. The music is sublime. It was conducted by Steuart Bedford who conducted the first ever performance of Death in Venice over forty years ago. The set was lovely. The singing and orchestra were faultless. And yet it was risible.

Gustav von Aschenbach, a celebrated author of advancing years, visits Venice in a bid to lift his writer's block. He stays at a hotel on the Lido where he is besotted with a young Polish boy, Tadzio. He spies on him cavorting on the beach with other young men and his young sisters. Lust turns to love, he follows Tadzio around Venice obsessively and refuses to leave even when the city is gripped by cholera, to which Aschenbach finally succumbs.

Clearly homosexuality - or at least Aschenbach's struggle with his own sexuality - is a central theme of the work. As is paedophilia. Tadzio is a boy, and very clearly so in this production where, in the rare moments he was clothed, he was dressed in a sailor suit. This is a tricky theme, particularly so in these times of Operation Yewtree. And it was probably not best addressed by the massive amount of campness, buggery and frotting that filled much of a production that looked like it had been guest directed by Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served?

There were lots of sailors playing with each other. The male dancers were moonlighting Abercrombie and Fitch models with perfect pecs and biceps, their lunchboxes barely concealed under the most modest amount of spandex as they flicked towels at each other's arses. Tadzio's own arse (distractingly round and fleshy, rather like a girl's) found itself stripped off and fondled by said dancers. For no apparent reason. Maybe the obsession with him belonged to the director rather than Aschenbach.

"Is it really necessary to strip Tadzio naked?"

"Yes, yes, it's all part of the ancient Greek theme of the work."

"Why is he having his buttocks fondled?"

"There must be fondling. Lots of fondling. It's an allegory."

By the end of the performance a plainly uncomfortable audience was treated to simulated oral and anal sex. The exquisite music was somewhat overshaddowed by the vigorous bumming of Tadzio that accompanied it.

     

The Director wasn't Mr Humphries, he was Paul Curran. He's incredibly talented and famous and has directed acclaimed productions all over the world. God knows what he was doing coming up with this 1970s pastiche. I'm all up for experimental opera. My guests were trendy kiwis who are heavily into cutting edge music. None of us was particularly offended by this, we just thought it an overwhelming distraction from an otherwise wonderful production.

A recent Covent Garden production of William Tell that featured a woman being gang raped on stage received boos from the audience and ridicule in the press. I can't quite see how this has escaped a similar fate. The combination of Britten and Bedford is breathtaking, but even they couldn't polish this particular turd.


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Lunch with a futurologist
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-1
16 June 2015
I had lunch with the futurologist Richard Watson yesterday. He lectures at London Business School, has written a number of books and advises governments, large corporations etc. on what is likely to happen to the world over the coming years. He's a phenomenon, and very charming. And I bought lunch, so in return he told me what should be worrying young lawyers.

The answer is pretty much everything.

Absolutely everyone should be worried about the economy. The global systems are all too complicated and interlinked, if a couple of them fail there's a real possibility of the whole thing crashing. If Greece defaults there's a risk of a chain reaction across a number of countries that could plunge the world into chaos. Richard's advice was to get a New Zealand passport, buy agricultural land with a decent fresh water supply and stock up on expensive wine. Because if all else fails at least you can drink it.

We should all be very worried about Russia, more so than China. Nations tend to be identified by specific characteristics, Russia's is loss of empire. Putin's trying to get it back and the West isn't doing enough to stop him.

Assuming the global powers manage to keep a lid on the above and the world doesn't disappear up its fundament, then we need to be worried about the rise of artificial intelligence. A few centuries ago unskilled workers found themselves replaced by technology. Then semi-skilled workers started to be hit, from the spinning jenny through to voice recognition software. Human intelligence has probably reached its peak, and advances in technology will now impact on skilled workers. At the moment legions of young lawyers earn their corn by trawling through documents to identify potential issues. This will be done by a computer program. Lawyers will still be needed but far fewer of them.

The result of this will be widespread unemployment and an impossible burden on the state. We are already seeing it in some countries. Spain has around 25% unemployment, rising to 50% amongst young people. It copes with this without civil unrest because it is Catholic and Southern European - families are sufficiently close that if a young person is struggling there's generally a mother or grandmother in the mix who can provide a roof, food, help. That's not the same in the UK.

     

On the upside, a whole generation of younger people are not particularly interested in material wealth and are yearning for greater altruism, less of a disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and something that might fix this sorry mess. Hurrah! Although the things which make us happy tend not to be very good for GDP. Boo.

In short, volatility will pose the greatest problems in the future, and agility is the answer. I'm off down to the New Zealand High Commission.


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Former bouncer banned from court after calling lawyer a "lying slag"
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0
05 June 2015
A former nightclub bouncer has been barred from appearing in court after unleashing a volley of abuse on lawyers and court officers.

Nigel Baggaley, who has served time for a variety of offences, has gone by a number of names including Nigel Quinlan and Fukula (which he explained stood for "fuck you local authority"). He has now stopped working the doors in favour of being a professional McKenzie Friend - a non-lawyer who assists litigants in person. He has an unusual approach to litigation, which has variously included:

  • asking a legal executive "who the fuck do you think you are?" and calling her a "fucking lying slag";
  • refering to her receptionist as a "fucking lying bitch";
  • Facing up to a barrister in a court corridor; and
  • Calling the chairman of the bench "pathetic".

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, held that Baggaley's behaviour had been sufficiently disgraceful to warrant an order prohibiting him from appearing as a McKenzie Friend indefinitely. He added that the "court corridor is not the entrance to a nightclub".


 
  That cross examination looks casual, you nonce

When the Gazette broke this story, someone purporting to be Baggaley went on to the site to claim that he was delighted with the publicity, he had enjoyed his time in court, he despises lawyers and he is considerably richer than you.


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Best. Judgment. Ever.
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1
29 May 2015
Huge thanks to the Canadian reader who sent in an absolute peach of a tribunal decision.

A lawyer is appealing the revocation of his licence for unbecoming conduct and is seeking a massive amount of costs. He is obviously at the end of his wick. But calling the Law Society of Upper Canada an accessory to murder and sending it a video of a cat playing dead is a bit steep. And his has a particularly fine turn of phrase in his correspondence:

     

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DWF lawyer in the running to win Britain's Got Talent
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1
28 May 2015
An assistant in DWF's Birmingham office has reached the semi-finals of Britain's Got Talent.

By day James Neale is an insurance lawyer. By night he is a quarter of popular music ensemble The Neales, along with his two brothers and his dad.

I know as much about popular culture as the next man. Providing the next man is David Cameron. I had heard of the show but never watched it, until directed to The Neales' audition. They make a fantastic sound. They are in tonight's live semi-final and will be hoping for a place in the Grand Final on Sunday in front of the Royal Family.

    James does his thing

The audience can ring in and vote for them. I really hope they do, even at the cost of having to support Simon Cowell's awful, mawkish, money-making vehicle. The soaring strings that accompany the story of the journey that has led to this day, the tears in the audience, the cheeky Geordie chappies introducing the act, little homilies from the likes of Amanda Holden. "Things happen in life to make you live life better". A more streetwise colleague tells me that she probably said that to Les Dennis.

But I digress. The show may be a car crash but the act is superb. Up until now the closest the legal profession has ever come to victory in this competition is Susan Boyle, who does a fair impression of Mark Stephens in drag:

    You never see them in the same room

So do your bit for and get voting. If only to prevent it being won by a dog that clears up its own poo or whatever is currently delighting the great British public.


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