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“I have been hugely impressed by Melissa. She has a wealth of experience and contacts and this, together with her proactive approach, enables her to achieve first class results.” Jonathan Hand, Barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

Tommy Hill British Superbike Champion opens the offices of Fletchers, leading bike injury solicitors firm

Does anyone really care if you lie?

October 7th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

I’m at the IBA in Vienna this week networking with over 5000 lawyers and I have had numerous conversation about the fate of Volkswagen’s brand.

To answer this I’ve started by asking a few questions.

Do you own a diesel engine Volkswagen? How does it appear to you when you open the garage door, or approach the pavement where you parallel parked? Do you feel different? Cheated? Like you hardly know it?

Unlikely. Even fervent fans of Top Gear are not actually in a relationship with their cars, and your VW doesn’t drive any differently on the school run, a drive to the beach, or on a hairpin bend driving up to Chamonix.

I don’t want to ruin the end of the blog but VW will likely weather the storm.

The brand’s ‘product’ – as associated with precision German engineering – has taken a bit of a hit. It’s now been labeled a ‘diesel dupe’, and will have to deploy candour and science to rebuild trust.

The bigger hit has been taken by VW as a ‘corporate’ brand. It has been forced to set aside billions of pounds to cover the costs of an escalating scandal, as well as firing some pretty key employees.

It’s the corporate suits that lied to you – not your car. But unless the corporate side can find ways to re-establish and broadcast trust, then this will start to affect your affection for the product side.

Put simply, would you buy an unused car from these people?

No room for error
The scandal has come as a serious shock to many people as the facts suggest that this simply couldn’t be an error or misunderstanding. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some Volkswagen cars with diesel engines were being sold in America fitted with a device that would detect when they were being emissions tested. As soon as that happened then performance could be changed so as to manipulate the results of the test. The cars that were the subject of the Agency’s findings include the Audi A3, and the VW brands Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat. However, it’s now thought that vehicles in Europe are likely to be affected too and Volkswagen has admitted that there could be around 11 million cars with the devices globally. “We’ve totally screwed up,” said VW America boss Michael Horn. Yes, just a bit.

Sorry, not sorry
We’re all aware of the ways in which businesses seek to ‘work with’ laws that might impede them from making money and reaching a broader market but it’s not that often that you come across something that is such a flagrant and intentional act.

There’s no mistaking why that device was in there – to help those cars pass emissions tests that they should not have passed.

Under the circumstances, the company has really taken the only approach that it could have and held its hands up to everything. It almost makes you feel sorry for them – which is why it was such a good move. But let’s not get the violins out just yet as this is a business that reported a 19% rise in net profit in 2014, bringing its figures in at €10.85 billion. And yes it’s sad when someone has to resign but Departing VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn could get more than £20 million as a result.

Scandals galore
Of course Volkswagen isn’t the first business to have been in this kind of situation, facing a dire PR crisis as a result of deception.

Enron is probably one of the most famous corporate scandals of all time, keeping huge debts off its balance sheets and costing its shareholders tens of millions.

In 2008, Lehman Brothers’ attempt to disguise more than $50 billion in loans as sales created a PR disaster of epic proportions and there has been scandal after scandal involving the food industry, from horse meat to exploding watermelons and fake eggs.

While it remains to be seen whether Volkswagen will ever return as a trusted brand, the latest reports indicate that it’s not the only car maker to have used this kind of device.

This could be the start of a much broader PR crisis for the auto industry and not the end of it. For many car makers – like VW – in their favour is the fact people like their cars. But unless they can find a way to be and seem trustworthy as an organisation, they will find affection for their products fading.

Because let’s face it no-one likes to be lied to.

The UK Judiciary – a new way?

September 28th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

I can’t lie, it was slightly disappointing to see comments in the press last week from Lord Sumption implying that there was no rush to introduce gender equality into the judicial profession. Given that only around 25% of judges are women and a rather woeful 21 out of 106 high court positions go to the fairer sex there have been plenty of voices speaking up (sometimes shouting) that actually there is a need for some sort of urgency here, or even just action of some degree. And not just with respect to women but also minorities who make up an even smaller proportion of the judiciary.

It’s not difficult to see that positive discrimination doesn’t have the greatest reputation, whether in the legal profession or beyond. But an interesting point that I read in one of the many responses to Lord Sumption’s public comments was that, while we balk at the idea of it now, it has actually served men extremely well for centuries. This is an interesting point. We don’t consider the status quo to have been the result of positive discrimination just the ‘natural order’ of things but the reality is that the imbalance in the judiciary – as well as across many boardrooms and meeting rooms – is the result of years and years of choosing the best candidate from a pool of mostly males.

Whatever your view on that, there is certainly a need for a new approach to the way that we recruit judges. Lord Sumption attributed the gender imbalance mainly to ‘lifestyle choices’ made by women within the profession, “The bar and the solicitors’ profession are incredibly demanding in the hours of work and the working conditions are frankly appalling. There are more women than men who are not prepared to put up with that. As a lifestyle choice, it’s very hard to quarrel with it, but you have to face the consequence, which is that the top of the legal profession has fewer women in it than the profession overall does.” It should be noted here that his representative did say that his comments had been taken out of context and he never intended to reduce the issue to one of lifestyle choice. However, that has done little to dampen down the furious responses to these comments, which do seem to imply that women can’t hack it.

It’s certainly a difficult question – and one that tends to incite highly emotional reactions on both sides. Regardless of whether Lord Sumption meant to say what he was quoted as saying there are some serious questions for the judiciary and the wider legal profession as to how to better accommodate women. Not just in terms of recruitment but adapting on a day to day basis to the very different demands faced specifically by a gender that makes up around half of the UK workforce and looking for ways to make this work. Although positive discrimination is always heavily resisted and elicits groans and moans, what if having more women in the judiciary actually improved matters? What if the status quo – the ‘frankly appalling’ working conditions Lord Sumption mentions – aren’t either the only, or the most effective way? Just saying…

Can you control naming and shaming online?

September 11th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

It’s an unfortunate reality that most women experience casual sexism as an everyday occurrence. A yell from a white van man as she walks to work, or a presumption she will undertake the lion’s share of household chores; women in modern Britain are wearily accustomed to being the subject of preconceived ideas based solely on their gender. Many of us rally against the prejudice, but is the good fight against everyday sexism best served by knee-jerk outrage and a Twitter account?

This week, the media is going to town on the story featuring a female barrister, who received a pretty sleazy and flirty email on professional networking site LinkedIn, from a considerably older, married senior lawyer, who was clearly taken with the counsel half his age.

It’s depressing, but inappropriate flirting and sleaze from men in positions of power in major industries- legal, financial, medical…(we could go on all day), are not news. Throw a stick down the square mile in London and you’ll hit ten of them before you get to Bank. Go to any watering hole in the City after trading closes and you can pretty much guarantee the beery breath of a designer-suited number cruncher will get uncomfortably close to your neck as you try and go about your business of ordering a decent passion fruit martini. So what happened here to send this story of weak sleaze around the world?

When the 57-year old senior lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk accepted the LinkedIn request sent by 27-year-old human rights lawyer Charlotte Proudman he also replied with a LinkedIn message complimenting her on her ‘stunning picture’. An enraged Charlotte hit back with a scathing response, which she shared with the world on her Twitter account.

So what kicked this all off? After writing a private message that he was ‘delighted to connect’ with the young barrister he then stepped over the line and added “I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!!”

“You definitely win the prize for the best Linkedin picture I have ever seen”

“Always interest [sic] to understant [sic] people’s skills and how we might work together”.

Charlotte replied with: “I am on linked-in for business purposes not to be approached about my physical appearance or to be objectified by sexist men.

“The eroticisation of women’s physical appearance is a way of exercising power over women. It silences women’s professional attributes as their physical appearance becomes the subject

“Unacceptable and misogynistic behaviour. Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message.”

If his spelling doesn’t make you want to hide under a pile of cushions, his pathetic attempts to flatter the younger woman will. He knew he was stepping over the line but he still went ahead anyway – ignoring the risk that anything put down in writing – and especially on social media – carries the risk of being made public.

I don’t think the question here is whether or not the message was as ‘offensive’ as Charlotte claims or whether it is sexual harassment…it’s much more around whether she achieved the aims she had when she went so very public. When deciding to use social media to air her grievance did she contemplate whether she would be able, within important bounds, to control the way this has developed? I’m not sure she thought that through when she shared what was a private message on an open social network before giving him anytime at all to respond or taking another route to complain?

I have been asked by other lawyers what I would have done if I was representing Carter-Silk, a partner at Brown Rudnick, specialising in…err reputation management…at this point. I would have advised that it wasn’t time to go into hiding but instead make a public statement and say he was sorry for causing offence, his flirting was inappropriate and he was misguided in thinking he was offering a harmless compliment. Carter-Silk instead made a statement claiming he was referring to the high quality of her profile photo, and this explanation is rather hard to swallow given his original message.

Charlotte has received praise from many corners for highlighting the correspondence, but equally, she has been slammed by men AND women for what is perceived as a massive overreaction to a pretty pathetic attempt to flatter her from a man who really ought to know better.

Women are right to call out objectification in their professional experience, but this man was not a colleague of hers. While it is not appropriate to make the kind of comments Carter-Silk did, it’s a stretch to deem it sexual harassment and worthy of such public shaming.

Yes, he was leery and creepy, but his message was not lewd or sexually offensive. Charlotte was right to challenge him, it is entirely her right to deem the message offensive, but she took a wrong turn by sharing the message on social media, which feels uncomfortably like a witch-hunt.

Another point – missed by many – was whether they knew each other at all before she sent the LinkedIn request…did both of them break one of the most well-known rules of LinkedIn and connect with someone they didn’t know?

Neither of them have come out of this looking particularly good. And LinkedIn? It’s a fantastic resource for b2b connections- but for anything more biblical, maybe try Tinder.

Oh and I had a few emails yesterday asking why I hadn’t blogged on this already…I replied to say I wanted to take a little time to think about it before I wrote my thoughts and took action. See what I did there?

Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris – a case study

September 4th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Not that long ago I blogged about Taylor Swift’s pretty immaculate record when it comes to well played moves in Twitter spats. Well, it seems I was tempting fate as the Internet has been buzzing with Swift’s name this week, linked to all sorts of online arguments. However, it’s not the lady herself who has been engaging in this conflict but her boyfriend, DJ Calvin Harris. The Scot – who recently bared all in just his pants for Calvin Klein – seems to have much less of a barrier than his queen of pop lady friend when it comes to letting rip – and they provide a nice little case study in terms of contrasting approaches to people who irritate you online. So, what has been occurring?

Former One Directioner Zayn Malik seems to be going a bit off the rails after quitting both his band and his relationship in as many months and now he’s taking pot shots at other celebs on Twitter. The tweet that started it all was a retweet from @femaletexts , which compared Taylor Swift to Miley Cyrus where one (Swift) was talking about withdrawing her music from Spotify and the other (Cyrus) saying that it was all cool if no one paid for her music as she had made her money. Malik then wrote “G statement”, apparently agreeing in the negative against Swift. Now, I can’t decide whether this falls under the categories I mentioned in my last blog of ‘publicity seeking from another celebrity’ or ‘celebrities who just don’t care.’ Either way, Swift maintained the kind of dignified silence we have come to expect but boyfriend Calvin Harris certainly did not. Cue a selection of very angry tweets directed at Malik as follows:

“If u don’t get what it means when a successful artist uses their celebrity to benefit every other musician and songwriter in the industry…”

“While u kids are refresh voting teen choice awards there’s some poor f*cker in a basement making your new favorite record trying to survive”

To which Malik posted a few choice responses, such as “so I suggest you calm your knickers before them dentures fall out” and a couple of others so littered with swear words I’m not going to repeat them here. Harris later attempted to reconcile but there was no graceful ending as we saw when Nicki Minaj and Taylor made up online over their VMAs misunderstanding (although interestingly, Minaj actually favourited one of Malik’s tweets in the above bitter exchange…).

This isn’t the first time that Calvin Harris has engaged in uncompromising feuding on Twitter. In fact he’s had quite a few ‘incidents’ and he certainly doesn’t seem to mind getting into a situation with some of the more high profile names in showbiz, including Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Given that Harris is the highest paid DJ in the world it’s hard to imagine that he’s doing it for publicity purposes so we can only assume these are genuine beefs. However, he might want to take a few lessons from his Twitter-perfect girlfriend before one of these escalates and blows up into something that even he can’t contain.

Is Justin Gatlin’s decision to boycott the media right?

September 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

When it comes to the media, most celebrities tend to take a cautious, even fearful approach. There’s no doubt that we have seen some horrible invasions of privacy by (mostly tabloid) journalists and some pretty devastating stories about high profile figures, some of which have even turned out to have no basis.

So, it’s no surprise that people in the public eye don’t really want to fall out with the media, which is why we always sit up and take notice when a celebrity refuses to play ball.

Justin Gatlin is an American sprinter (and world 100m silver medalist) who has been taking part in the World Athletics Championships in Beijing and making headlines, not for his abilities on the track, but for his comments off it.

He has announced that he is going to boycott the British media, not just the more controversial outfits but the likes of the BBC too, as a result of comments that were made about doping accusations.

The comments relate specifically to the battle between Gatlin and super-sprinter Usain Bolt in the 100 metres in which Bolt beat the American. As he crossed the line, BBC commentator Steve Cram said of Bolt “He’s saved his title, he’s saved his reputation – he may have even saved his sport,” implying that the sport might be saved by a non-doping accused athlete winning the race.

Gatlin is a “twice-banned doper,” a term he believes is unfair as he says the first ban was the result of legitimate medication that he was taking.

He has taken exception to the comments made about the 100 metres, as he feels that the race with Bolt was set up as a battle between good and evil and he has been unfairly vilified.

Although Gatlin himself hasn’t made a comment – as part of his media boycott – his agent has said: “Justin, as well as I, feel that the British media and journalists have been extremely unkind to him. There’s been nothing positive said about him now for some time. Every characterisation is solely about doping and vilifying him.”

Although it’s easy to dismiss Gatlin’s comments as those of a sore loser, perhaps he has a point. Shouldn’t the sports coverage be more about the race being run – the actual sport – than what might have happened historically – and where a penalty has been paid?

There’s no doubt that the media does take wrong turns and sometimes ends up behaving in a less than fair fashion but the question in this case is do actions like Gatlin’s really make a difference?

After his comeback in 2010, Gatlin has not had it easy – he’s had comments like this to deal with ever since and was even booed by the crowd at the London Olympics in 2012.

His agent said that Gatlin believes the BBC in particular should report without lacing their comments and reporting with biased views and that as human beings we should be “better than that”.

But the modern media is so geared up for scandal and gossip that I’m not sure whether anything can rise above that, whether it’s the royal family or sports. It will be interesting to see whether other athletes stand up to support Gatlin or even take a similar approach – if they do, it’ll be a revolution of sorts.