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Blog Name: Matthew @ RoF's blog

Supreme Court Appeal this Friday - 36 years on Death Row
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19 April 2016
The US Supreme Court will hear an appeal this Friday against the execution of Bobby James Moore, a prisoner who has spent nearly 36 years on death row in Texas.

The facts are depressingly familiar. Moore was convicted after his gun went off in a hold-up that went wrong. A man died instantly. Moore is poor, black, from a broken home. As a kid he was regularly beaten by his father when he tried to protect his mother from his father’s abuse and lived on the streets from the age of 14. He has an IQ of less than 75.

The murder was back in 1980. Moore has been on death row ever since. The last 15 years have been in solitary confinement. He spends at least 22.5 hours a day in his cell and has been allowed no physical human contact for 15 years. Food is pushed through a slot in the door. He speaks to visitors via telephone from an isolation unit. 15 years of not being able to touch someone? It's the sort of punishment the ancient Romans would have devised. The State has twice signed his death warrant and set a date for execution. One warrant was stayed five days before execution was scheduled, the other just 24 hours.
  
    Moore 36 years ago 

Skadden Arps, Linklaters and arbitration specialist Three Crowns are acting pro bono for Moore and amici curiae (friends of the court). This Friday the Supreme Court will hear their application that the almost unbelievable length of incarceration together with the solitary confinement endured by him amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. 

Such is the prevalence of executions in the States that this case has barely merited any coverage in the press. It should have, not only because it is such an egregious example of a civilised nation behaving in such an uncivilised way, but because America finds itself at a crossroads.

When I was a kid everyone had the stars and stripes on their wall, converse trainers on their feet and Bruce Springsteen on their mix tapes. America was the most loved country in the world. The wholesale abandonment of basic human rights by George Dubya after 9/11 turned it into the most hated country in the world almost overnight. Obama, with the closing of Guantanamo, the outlawing of torture and the introduction of universal healthcare, has swung it back again. This could all be lost in a hearbeat. Trump has already said that in his opinion "torture works" and he'll bring back "a lot worse than waterboarding".

The Supreme Court has a chance to show the world that despite the inflamatory public rhetoric over the past few weeks, America is at heart a civilised, first world country. One that is no longer hidebound by a vocal minority who believe only in the judgment of a vengeful, Old Testament God. The whole world will benefit if it takes that chance.


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An IP lawyer's childhood dream - communist Lego
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04 April 2016
I took one of my kids to a fourth birthday party last weekend. It was absolutely cracking. And on our departure she was given a sumptuous going home bag containing no end of delights, including a small Lego kit.

Only on closer examination it's not Lego. It's a knock-off made by a Chinese company called Peizhi:

     

Peizhi has clearly tapped the brains at Disney for its marketing strategy. What a powerful message:

     

And no doubt George Lucas himself happily licensed the finished product:

     

     



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Margaret Mannell
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21 March 2016
Margaret Mannell, one of the best known figures in legal London and my dear friend, died on Saturday morning.

I met Margaret some 15 years ago when she was running what was then Taylor Joynson Garrett. She showed me to an enormous boardroom, apologising for the scale but explaining that it was the only room in the building where one was allowed to smoke. As she inhaled her way through a packet of cigarettes it became clear that she knew more about me than I knew myself. I said that she had clearly done her research. “I haven’t researched you. I’m too busy. I’ve got someone else to research you for me. I’m not wasting an hour on you without knowing whether you’re worth meeting.” So I was judged and clearly found acceptable.

Over the years an increasingly strong bond developed between us, although it took a while for acquaintance to turn into friendship. Margaret was the most private person I have ever met. There is still much about her life that I do not know. Her ferocious intellect was obvious: she oversaw the merger with Wessing and mastered German in order to facilitate it. There were rumours that she had a doctorate in Chemistry from Oxford, something she would neither confirm nor deny. Her effortless elegance, ramrod straight posture and dowager-like demeanour hinted at an aristocratic background. Her ownership of a castle in Scotland would have confirmed it, although she always maintained that it was a wreck and she allowed a shepherd to doss down in it.

Margaret was as tough as anything. She used to be a superb eventer, and several years ago fell from her horse and broke her neck. She had to learn how to walk, talk, use a knife and fork again, yet she was back at Taylor Wessing in a matter of weeks. She then moved to Morrison & Foerster where she worked with huge satisfaction for the rest of her life.
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We saw each other all the time. When I was going through difficult times Margaret would be the first person I would call upon. She had an innate understanding of how people worked, massive empathy and a bottomless well of kindness. She mentored me, members of my team, my friends, my partner. Everyone who knew her loved her. As soon as she’d walk into a room you knew you were going to have a fantastic time. Every lunch or dinner was littered with profound advice, hilarity and astute market commentary. And, of course, her constant drip of gin and tonic. Always Tanqueray, lots of ice, keep them coming. She was not a young woman (although age was clearly never discussed), yet despite her Calvinist work ethic she seemed to have no stop button. I remember being on the dancefloor at Annabel’s with her in the small hours of the morning when she decided to get up on stage and play the drums.

She told me a year ago that she had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. It was inoperable and had proved resistant to all forms of treatment. Yet despite the protestations of her partners she continued to work every hour she could. She recruited her own replacement – she never saw this as macabre, simply as pragmatic. She was persuaded by her colleagues, who surely loved her as much as I, to summon the strength to go to the partners’ conference in the USA. She did so, as her swan song, to say her farewells.

Margaret and I continued to meet for lunch every month. I said that I was superstitious, that she couldn’t die while we still had a date in the diary. We would meet at the Ivy or at Locatelli’s. She would be, as ever, head to toe in Chanel, blue eye shadow, Theo Fennell jewellery. She’d order pasta with lobster because of its wonderful scent but couldn’t eat more than a mouthful. After two hours of putting the world to rights and hearing about how she would try to make one last trip to her favourite restaurant in Paris or to the casino in Monte Carlo she would suddenly look close to collapse. Her driver would take her home to sleep.

She was in and out of hospital on almost a weekly basis. Eventually came the time where she had to postpone our lunches and then, ultimately, cancel them. My friend Howard Morris, also one of the kindest people I know, had the office next door to her. As he emailed me last September, “you know that we are being privileged to see, up close, courage and humility, dignity and graciousness.”

Over Christmas she suffered from double pneumonia but still managed to find the strength to pull through. Even in the ICU she was emailing her secretary and asking for work to be sent to her. As soon as she felt well enough she was back at the office and she and I met there, for the last time, four weeks ago. How she had the strength even to stand up I do not know. She eased into a chair with extreme difficulty and apologised. She had so wanted to catch up but her voice would give up after ten minutes and she couldn’t have a glass of water. She wanted to talk about me, the family, my work, anything other than her condition. After ten minutes she excused herself. We hugged. Her specialists were meeting the following day to discuss if there was anything they might be able to do. She would let me know as soon as they had got in touch with her. She was hopeful. “I am just so sick of feeling so sick, Matthew.” And she hadn’t had a drink in months. “I so hope we can manage to have one more lunch. I’d kill for a martini.”

Of course the specialists couldn't do anything and we didn’t have that lunch. Paul Friedman, MoFo’s European Managing Partner, called me Saturday morning. He sounded more cut up than I was. Howard emailed me. He was on holiday and now just wanted to come back. Trevor James emailed too. Everyone had expected this, but everyone was in shock.

Margaret and I shared a love of Schubert. We discussed Winterreise and she said that her favourite lied was Der Wegweiser, the signpost. I asked her how she could ever choose one song when every one was a masterpiece, and she replied that it was because it was a treatise on how to live your life. To find your own way, to shun the easy paths that others take. Margaret always walked her own path, and she was a signpost to me as to how to live my own life. If she has touched me in that way then she must have touched the lives of countless others. I already miss her dreadfully. I pour this out as a stream of consciousness because I know that so many RollOnFriday readers will miss her too.   

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Law firm reduced to accepting payment in old jewellery
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17 March 2016
Spotted on Fleet Street yesterday. A pawn broker has clearly gone out of business, a law firm has moved in to its premises and slightly more care might have been taken about the signage:

     

Here's a close up taken from the middle of the street, which nearly got me run down by a moped:

     

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Slaughter and May makes up ten new partners
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16 March 2016
Slaughter and May announced today that it would promote ten new partners in May. This from a firm that normally makes up only two or three.

It is the largest round of promotions since 2000 and all ten are in London. It puts Freshfields' most recent promotions in the shade. Although unlike Freshfields, only one of the ten is a woman.

Senior Partner Chris Saul told me that when he qualified in 1986 he was one of ten, but accepted that this was an unusally high number of partners to promote. That said, there was an unusually high number of fantastic candidates. He said that the shameful paucity of women in the round was entirely accidental: last year the split was 50/50, over the last five years (including this) 30% of new partners have been women and as of 10th May four of the firm's practice heads will be women.

All ten will see their pay jump to over a million a year overnight. Whatever happens in today's budget is unlikely to cause them much concern.

     

Read more on Friday.


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Fight! Fight! Fight!
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10 March 2016
We went out to a local Italian yesterday evening. It's opposite a pub, the Prince Alfred, which has just reopened after the combination of a collapsed ceiling and the vagaries of English Heritage conspired to close it for a year. It’s more of a “ten types of gin and pressed belly of pork” pub than a “fags, Frazzles and Tenants Super” pub. So I was surprised to see an irate punter standing in the doorway screaming blue murder at the landlady.

And he was really, really screaming at her, every swear word under the sun, a couple of inches away from her face. People had stopped in the street to gawp. I was one of them. It transpired that the landlady had refused to serve him. He had taken umbrage at this. She couldn’t get him out of the doorway.

I am the mother of all lightweights when it comes to this sort of thing. I've never hit anyone in my life. If a car backfires I put my hands up. But this guy was getting into his stride and clearly going nowhere. And besides, he was a fair bit shorter and older than I, he spoke with a strong French accent, and he wore a stupid Breton cap. Surely even a lanky streak of piss like me could have him.

So I went up, put my arm between them and told him that was enough, he clearly wasn’t going to be allowed in and please would he step away? And of course he went batshit mental. He pushed me into the street and fronted up to me:

What f*cking business is it of yours you f*ck? I am going to f*ck you up so badly. I’m in the street now, I can do what I like to you. I am going to teach you such a f*cking lesson.”

No, you’re not, you’re going to go home right now and stop making such an idiot of yourself.”

F*ck you, you f*ck. I’ll f*cking kill you.”

He screamed and raved at me for more than five minutes, his spit flecking my face, repeatedly shoving me. I kept an eye on his hands, ready to give him a swift kick in the groin if they moved to his pockets and a possible weapon.

    How it might have looked

The landlady was speaking to the police on the phone. I looked around. The City boy parked up in his new Audi, maybe four feet from us, sitting stock still in the driver’s seat and staring in front of him. A small crowd had gathered. A cabbie pulled up and got out of his taxi, a motorcyclist dismounted. Ah, I thought, these chaps will surely jump in and help me send this lunatic packing. And they...

..they all took out their mobile phones and recorded it. They stood at a safe distance, watching this deranged pisshead flail and scream at me, moving their phones around as they tried to find the optimum angle.

Eventually he wore himself out and with a few departing threats wandered off. The cabbie gave me a thumbs up. “You OK mate?” Yes, no thanks to you.

The landlady thanked me. She knew this guy, she’d had trouble with him before. The police were on their way. They’d be there in a few minutes and had said they’d want to take a statement from me.

The police didn’t come. The audience dispersed. The foul-mouthed Frenchman no doubt pulled the same routine at another pub round the corner. And I’m probably on a clip on YouTube looking like ten types of dick. O tempora. O mores.


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China destroys human rights lawyer for "picking quarrels"
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11 January 2016
Pu Zhinqiang, one of China's most prominent human rights lawyers, has been banned from practising law after being found guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".

Mr Pu had previously represented Ai Wei Wei and a number of dissidents, and had recently criticised the government for its violent crackdown on Uighurs. The government's reaction was to bang him up without trial for 19 months in the Beijing Number One Detention Centre. Which sounds like a pastiche of a movie with Maggie Smith and Judie Dench.

Mr Pu was given a three-year suspended sentence just before Christmas. For picking quarrels. Seriously. Has China gone back to the middle ages? Are they going to parade him round the street in a scold's bridle? Has Beijing ordered a consignment of ducking stools? Apparently the charge is used to silence anyone to whom the Communist Party takes a dislike. Last year this included a group of women who were protesting against being groped on public transport.

     

The conviction means that Mr Pu can no longer represent his clients. It sends a clear message that not only will the government go after dissidents, it will also go after their lawyers.

I'm not quite sure where this leaves the likes of Dentons and KWM, firms which employ thousands of Chinese lawyers, all of whom have to swear allegiance to the Communist Party. And in a week when trading was suspended because of the collapse in the Chinese stock market, and the country's chubby, boiler-suited neighbour announced he had tested an H-bomb, you'd think the government would have bigger problems on its hands than one principled lawyer.

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Wiggin staff to cycle the world
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06 January 2016
Staff at media / tech firm Wiggin are circumnavigating the globe on bikes to raise £100,000 for charity.

Well, sort of. They're actually cycling 18,310 miles on static bikes based in the firm's offices, so they'll avoid the tribulations of storms, dysentery, pirates, unwary lorry drivers etc. that would afflict more intrepid fundraisers. But it's a fair old distance, they only have 180 days in which to cover it and it's all for a good cause. The money will be shared evenly between four chosen charities: Maggie's Cheltenham Centre and Great Ormond Street Hospital, which are local to the firm's offices, and Alzheimer's Society and Autistica as their chosen national charities.

     

The "wheelie big challenge" (see what they did there?) kicks off on Monday. Anyone wanting to chip in can go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/wigginswheeliebigchallenge


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Out of office of the week
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05 January 2016
Thanks to the reader who sent in this out of office from a lawyer in New Zealand:

     

For some reason I immediately thought of this:

     

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Disembowelled by a boar at Gymkhana
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05 November 2015
Gymkhana is one of my favourite restaurants. It's everyone's favourite restaurant. Restaurant magazine rated it the top spot in the country last year, which means it's impossible to get a table unless you're Heston Blumenthal or a Bollywood star. Everyone else has to beg and pray for cancellations.

I had been taken there to lunch by Eversheds' Lee Ranson, and to Lee's embarrassment and amusement I badgered the poor lady on reception until she relented and gave me an evening table. So I found myself there last night, squinting in the sepulchral gloom of the crowded and rather odd room, all dark panelling and nick nacks and bad prints of colonial India, a cross between a county pub and a high street curry house.

The slightly shonky decor is irrelevant. The food is some of the best I've eaten anywhere in the world, and the smell of it has you salivating as soon as you step through the door. There's lots of game - muntjac biryani, venison chops, wild board vindaloo. I'd eaten pretty much all of it on previous visits with the exception of the vindaloo, which the manager had warned me was unbelievably hot. I looked up at the stuffed and mounted head of a boar on the wall next to me. It was surely a sign. At least it seemed like one at the end of a very large and very dirty martini. I ordered it, along with a mint and pomegranate raita to try and take out a bit of the sting.

Plate after plate arrived, each more delicious than the last. Huge tiger prawns seared in the tandoor, minced goat with chilli and onion, perfumed butter chicken. Then the vindaloo, chocolate brown and glistening.The animal on the wall gave me an imperious look as I fell on his relation's hind quarters. It was just incredible. Extremely hot, as advertised, but so rich and subtle and complex as to defy proper description. At least to a palate as untutored as mine.

I departed imploring the staff for a rematch, writing down dates and handing over business cards, and slept the sleep of the stuffed and slightly pissed. Until 4am, when the boar decided to wreak its revenge from beyond the grave and rose, Lazarus-like, in my stomach to gore me for the next three hours.

 

I lay doubled up in agony, sweating like a horse until my infant daughter greeted me with a beatific smile and luxuriantly full nappy. As I changed her I wanted only death. As I then visited the smallest room I thought my wish was about to be granted. I write this mid afternoon and have only just recovered.

But it was that staggeringly good I'll be ordering it again. Even if I've got more chance of seeing Jeremy Corbyn singing Land Of Hope And Glory than of bagging a table this side of 2016.
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