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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
Graham Capper

Graham Capper, Director

As the new term starts and public life reluctantly grinds back into gear, some local councillors will be subject to new transparency for the first time. Quietly, during the summer, the Government signed off new regulations which will allow the press and the public to film, tweet and blog from council meetings. For anyone who thought that tweeting and Facebooking were simply a flash in the pan it’s about time to acknowledge just how central social media has become to public relations and marketing. Although social media might have started life as a gossip grapevine or a channel for trolls, it has evolved into an incredibly powerful communications tool that has been taken up across almost every sector without exception.

The law legislation in question is the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, which Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles adopted at the beginning of August, saying: “Local democracy needs local journalists and bloggers to report and scrutinise the work of their council, and increasingly, people read their news via digital media… There is now no excuse for any council not to allow these new rights. Parliament has changed the law, to allow a robust and healthy local democracy. This will change the way people see local government, and allow them to view close up the good work that councillors do.”

The government has promoted the move as one that is designed to ensure that the secrecy that often surrounds the work of public bodies is dispelled, giving the press the opportunity to accurately report on proceedings and giving the public the chance to see what is actually taking place – and then to tweet about it. It comes in the wake of various bans or restrictions on this kind of digital reporting – which have now effectively been quashed – and responds to concerns voiced in the press, and by the public, that new guidance on transparency was not being taken seriously.

The actual rights that are set out in the Regulations mean that the press and the public can now resort to ‘modern technology and communication methods such as filming, audio-recording, blogging and tweeting’ to report on council meetings and those of other local government bodies. The Regulations are an extension of a successful Private Members’ Bill introduced by an ambitious backbencher, Margaret Thatcher in 1960, which allowed for the written reporting of council meetings by the press – in their current form the Regulations have simply updated this for the digital age by incorporating reference to blogging and tweeting.

So, we have now entered an era where digital methods of communication are so widely accepted that they are enshrined in law. They have reached local council chambers, until now never considered the sharp edge of modernity. There is no way anyone could have imagined when Twitter first arrived on the scene that the word ‘tweeting’ would make it into a piece of legislation concerning such a serious issue as government transparency. However, now, it is as much a part of reporting serious constitutional issues as it is gossiping about the latest celebrity scandals. And the message to take from that is? If you’re not using social media to communicate then you’re seriously behind the curve.

Googled your own name lately?

September 1st, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

In March last year, The Law Society published a practice note for solicitors on ‘Protecting Your Online Reputation.’ The note acknowledged not only the importance of the reputation of a firm to its business but also the reputation of affiliated individuals. As channels such as social media have boomed over the past couple of years, much more of our lives is now recorded digitally – even those elements that we might not want to be discoverable by those we interact with in a professional context. Many of us assume that the information, photos and comments that we post online simply disappear into the ether but that often isn’t the case.

When was the last time that you Googled your own name to see what appeared in the search results? Narcissistic as this may sound, it’s the only way to really get perspective on what others can see if they were to search for information on you based on a first meeting. Remember that any information about you is searchable online – for example, your email address. If you used your work email address to register with a website that you might not want your colleagues to know about, it’s still possible that your profile will appear in the search or, if not the profile, then images from that profile that might not be particularly helpful for your business reputation. Some recent stories that turned up in my research for this blog included someone who had Googled an associate’s work email and found their photo on an escort site, as well as another who had Googled a new business contact’s name and found images of them looking blurry eyed and rather sick on a yard of ale challenge without their top on.

Although we are all human and we all have a history, when it comes to reputation it is worth trying to protect this from being unfairly tarnished by elements of ‘civilian life,’ so that the sole focus can remain on your professional behaviour. The Law Society recognised this in its practice note, saying that ‘You/your practice should consider actively monitoring your online reputation – if you do not control your reputation online, others will.’ Actively building a positive online reputation is a great way to counteract any negativity out there – for example, by creating an informative and frequently updated Twitter account that you use to express intelligent opinions and interact with others in your sector. However, it’s also important to continuously monitor the status of your online reputation, as you can never really know where the negativity is likely to come from.

Few of us are high profile enough – or unlucky enough – to be the subject of an active negative smear campaign when it comes to online reputation, but that doesn’t mean that we’re immune to digital reputational damage. Although most of us would like to think our associates and clients are big enough to look beyond the odd character flaw to professional talent, the reality is that we’re often not. If you were faced with the choice of working with one of two equally talented individuals, one of whom had a spotless online reputation and the other whose Google search turned up Facebook photos of them in compromising positions and expressing some fairly borderline racist/sexist/homophobic opinions, who would you pick?

Happy Birthday MD Communications!

August 6th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

MD Communications is four years old today – Happy Birthday to us! We are celebrating this evening aboard HMS President with our clients, supporters and friends, to whom we are extremely grateful because without them today would not have been possible.

I set up the agency back in 2010 with a vision of delivering a holistic approach to meet the needs of the legal sector, at a time of unprecedented change and challenge, with measurable return on investment.

Today, four years after we launched, we are a team of six directors competing against not just the agencies in our sector but also the big boys (and girls) in the international agencies. A very good friend of mine told me that “running your business is like a drug…. if you can’t handle the highs and lows then get a full time job”…. and he was right. There have been highs, such as winning our first Chilean client on the back of the launch of our White Paper on UK Legal Services and Latin America, and there have also been lows, such as making tough decisions in order to restructure in response to changing client demands.

One thing that has never changed during the last four years is the commitment from supporters to help us achieve our vision  -  to have people on the ground in several jurisdictions by 2015. Stephen Denyer, now Head of International and City at the Law Society, previously at A&O, has been instrumental in introducing me to contacts worldwide who have offered speaking opportunities, other introductions and of course the chance to work with them.

Elizabeth Fehnrich at UKTI has helped our international expansion with contacts and experience of overseas markets and never fails to respond to an email or promise to deliver. Our first clients (who we still retain) Gerard McDermott QC, leading cross border barrister in PI and employment and Peters & Peters, leading boutique law firm in white collar crime and commercial litigation have not only been a pleasure to work with but have provided the type of support that only a friend could give; the loyalty between us is second to none. There is nothing in it for the few people I have mentioned, besides the desire to want MD Communications to succeed.

So what point am I trying to make? Relationships. At our two year anniversary party, Keith Oliver, Senior Partner at Peters & Peters, kindly told the attendees that he thought I was better connected than Kofi Anan. I’m not sure how true that is but I can say that the success of a business with clients across several jurisdictions and an enviable team of high level directors, has thrived off the back of strong relationships, people who act as brand ambassadors and who believe that we can add value to the whole sector.

Whether it’s Twitter you’re getting to grips with, connections on Linkedin, attendance at a conference or 1:1 meetings, there is one constant.Your network is as valuable as the product or service you deliver; working hard to get people you admire to trust and believe in you will go a long way to making your business successful.

Thank you to everyone far and wide who has made this possible. Here is to another exciting 12 months.

Speaking up about female genital mutilation

August 4th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

The legal profession is often wary of the word ‘campaign’. Historically, it was perceived as the preserve of those at the (often politically-motivated) margins of the profession.

We routinely advise our law firm clients on how to structure and deliver campaigns across a wide spectrum of issues. One bubbling under the surface currently is female genital mutilation (FGM).

Reports emerged in the media last week that militant group Islamic State (Isis) had issued an order that all women and girls based around the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq should undergo FGM. Estimates indicate that this kind of ‘fatwa’ would affect around four million women and children. Although doubts have since been cast on whether or not the report was actually genuine, it was the UN that initially highlighted what it thought to be a threat, indicating just how much FGM has risen on the agendas of the international community in recent years.

It is thought that worldwide more than 130 million girls and women have undergone this horrific procedure and yet it is something that, even in the UK, it has taken far too much time to try and bring under control. Legislation was first introduced in 1985 outlawing FGM but it took 30 years for the first prosecution to happen. FGM involves the removal of either a part, or all, of the female genitalia, and is justified on the basis that it is supposed to suppress female sexual desire and ‘immoral’ behaviour. It is not a procedure that has been commonly carried out in Iraq, according to UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock. Although it is widely practiced in Africa and a number of Muslim countries, in Iraq it has been mostly limited to isolated areas, such as Kurdistan, which is why this latest report – if true – is alarming.

Earlier this year the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) of the House of Commons released its report on FGM in which the practice was described as an ‘ongoing national scandal.’ Although the government’s July Girl Summit on female genital mutilation and child and forced marriage was convened by the Prime Minister in order to “empower girls by ending harmful cultural practices” many have highlighted that this really doesn’t go far enough. In the UK there are estimated to be 170,000 living with the scars of FGM and a further 65,000 with the threat of it hanging over their heads.

Dexter Dias QC and Charlotte Proudman, two of the co-authors of the Bar Human Rights report to the Parliamentary Inquiry on FGM, recently suggested two important measures to combat FGM in an article in the New Statesman. The first of these was FGM Protection Orders, which would give a civil court the power to intervene to prevent FGM taking place. The second was the establishment of an Anti-FGM Unit, which would provide help, assistance and expertise for young women at risk. Both of these steps would allow action to be taken to protect vulnerable young women, rather than just talking about it.

There’s such a considerable culture of silence surrounding FGM that defeating it requires involvement from just about anyone with a voice. In the legal community there is so much more that lawyers and communications professionals could be doing to help draw the issue to the attention of the those aren’t aware of how big the problem really is, and to help make it a non-issue in the very near future. Social media is a fantastic tool for this – from blogging on the subject to tweeting or even just retweeting others (follow Twitter accounts such as @FORWARDUK, @DaughtersofEve and @ENDFGM_Amnesty to keep up to date). There’s no doubt that a campaign supported and promoted by the legal community adds considerable weight to the issue – which basically comes down to the defence of a crucial human right. Law Society President Andrew Caplen has recognised this and included the fight against FGM as one of his priorities for this year.

For those of us with any voice at all, it’s about time we spoke up.

The perfect match?

July 24th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

The legal world could embrace the ‘specific formula’ approach encouraged by a revolutionary dating app.

Business lessons for law firms can come from surprising places.

You may or may not have heard of the dating app Tinder. Perhaps you’ve even tried it. I certainly have as a 30-something singleton in London and I have also spotted a few familiar faces from within the sector on there too (don’t worry your secret is safe with me).

There has been a lot of talk recently about how Tinder has revolutionised the dating world. The easy-to-use app has taken a completely new approach to linking up singles, identifying the ways in which former dating platforms have fallen short and mercilessly exploiting them.

The result? Well the Tinder CEO claimed in March 2014 that the app had already achieved a billion matches.

The clever thing about Tinder is that it is a truly ‘now’ approach to the world of online dating.

It is mobile-only – in the form of an app – and works using location services to find nearby potential matches. It is dating in its simplest form – a right swipe if you like the look of someone, a left swipe if you don’t – and it has cleverly captured the way millenials like to interact.

The reasons why we might download and start using the Tinder app are plentiful (and probably best not explored in too much depth here) but the principal motivation is basically to make a ‘match’. Essentially, flicking through the photos and brief profile details are all leading to one thing and that’s the user finding a face that they like the look of to see if that attraction is mutual.

It might surprise you to learn that there are some similar systems in the legal market – not for creating love matches but for forging attractive working partnerships.

There are some interesting similarities between spending 10 minutes flicking through profiles on Tinder, based on your current geographical location, and turning the pages of the Legal 500 in the practice area in which you’re looking for your ‘match’.

Okay, so Tinder doesn’t offer rankings (it would presumably open up all sorts of opportunities for controversy if they did…), but the action is similar – a brief judgement based on nothing more than a quick appraisal of potential. So, where do the other parallels lie?

First impressions matter – and if they are wrong can rule you out – but don’t judge a book by its cover. With Tinder it’s often very easy to get drawn in by a pretty or handsome face – that is of course the purpose of the app.

However, we all know that a photo is really just the tip of the iceberg and that alone won’t provide enough information to really determine a genuine match. Similarly, when browsing for law firms, directories are a great way to spot potentials, which then need to be whittled down to ‘the one’ through some actual contact.

Do you have a ‘type’? Whether you’re swiping right on Tinder or a client marking pages in theLegal 500, it’s likely that we all have a specific formula we respond to every time. It could be ‘tall, dark and handsome’ or ‘American, City-based firm with an insurance leaning’. Sometimes, however, it’s worth looking outside that automatic response for a match that brings something new to the table.

Dating around. With such a plentiful supply of potential candidates there’s just no need to settle for the first one that looks like they might fit the bill.

Being wined and dined, networking and spending time with a number of different options and taking the time to get to know a potential choice before making the final decision are all part of making sure that you have a match that could create a lasting relationship – with your lawyers or a potential other half.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect love match or the perfect law match, some similar rules apply.

And remember, if you start to feel after a couple of meets like you’re just not getting the attention you deserve then it might be time to move on – maybe they’re just not that into you after all…

*This post first appeared in The Law Gazette*