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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

Doughty Street in the Spotlight

October 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

If you’ve picked up a paper in the last couple of days then you might have found it difficult to miss one beautifully attired Amal Alamuddin marrying a certain Hollywood heartthrob with the surname Clooney. The glamorous Venice wedding, complete with a celebrity guest list that knocks most others out of the water, has certainly been one of the most papped celebrity events of the year. Among all the interest in the dress, the age gap and predictions about whether or not the union is the fact that Amal Alamuddin is a human rights barrister at London’s Doughty Street Chambers.

Alamuddin joined Doughty Street Chambers in 2010 and has since worked on numerous high-profile matters, including advising Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and representing Julian Assange, head of WikiLeaks, in extradition proceedings. However, with the announcement of the wedding earlier this year it was suddenly Alamuddin herself who was in the spotlight – and consequently the chambers too. According to Robin Jackson, chief executive of Doughty Street Chambers, the increase in interest in one of their own has been almost too much for the chambers’ online presence to take. In a great example of just how an association with one of the most famous men in Hollywood can catapult a person onto the international media scene, Jackson said that Doughty Street has not only been forced to cope with all the reporters and camera crews suddenly arriving at the chambers but also to upgrade the website to deal with the enormous spike in interest that caused it to crash when the engagement was first announced.

Of course all the interest in Alamuddin has made members of the set prime targets for doorstepping by the nation’s media, as ever looking for a juicy quote or piece of gossip to use about someone who is something of an unknown figure as far as the gossip press is concerned. When the engagement was announced in April joint head of chambers, Geoffrey Robertson QC was quoted in the Telegraph saying that, “Amal Alamuddin is a brilliant and passionate defender of human rights who has put in the enormously hard work necessary to improving them. She is respected and admired by all her colleagues.” Although the press were probably looking for something a little more scandalous than that, so far the team at Doughty Street has managed to stay admirably out of the reach of even the most persistent of tabloids, no doubt despite numerous attempts.

In terms of what this might mean for the chambers the increased interest in its work is most likely a positive factor. Given that the set is used to dealing with high-profile clients perhaps some of that media training has been shared with other members to help everyone deal with the current circumstances. However, given the importance of the work Amal Alamuddin and Doughty Street do on a daily basis the hope is no doubt that they’re allowed to get back to normal sooner rather than later.

Camila Reed

Camila Reed, Digital Media Director

The UK Law Society and the Mexican Chamber of Commerce – GB (MexCC) will join forces again on Friday to host the second Lex Mex event explaining why Mexico matters to UK law firms and their clients – will you be there?

Mexico has prised open its centralist approach with major constitutional reforms and the opening up of its energy market to foreign investors. But while primary and secondary legislation is underway, specific regulations are very much a work in progress, says Dr Arturo Valenzuela, diplomat, scholar and senior advisor Latin America for US law firm Covington & Burling LLP.
“There’s plenty of pushback in the Mexican legal system against some of these reforms… and how do you empower governance in Mexico? … So you have to be sanguine and smart,” says Dr Valenzuela at the 2014 Canning conference.

Given the shifting Mexican legal landscape and the opportunities it presents, senior partners and general counsel will discuss the importance of the Mexican legal services market to UK investors.
“The historic, tangible and transformational reforms undertaken in Mexico have attracted tremendous attention, they require legal expertise and solutions to complex and yet unknown challenges,” says managing partner of Mexican law firm, Nader, Hayaux & Goebel, Yves Hayaux du Tilly.
There will be competition to access these new opportunities and the US is unlikely to be slow to capitalise on its strong trade links or the network of connections which already exist. Every minute Mexico trades over $1 million with the US.

“I wish that London recovers its pre-eminence as the preferred financial centre for Latin America, and the legal services industry has an important role to play in this,” says Hayaux du Tilly, a driving force behind Lex Mex.

The joint event will focus on how to make the most of Mexico — an economy forecast by some to overtake Brazil in the next 10 years. Foreign trade represents 64% of GDP.
Issues remain over the rule of law and, “It is yet to be seen how we will resolve the challenge posed by delivering a better system for the administration of justice and to resolve conflicts,” says Hayaux du Tilly.

So why not join the discussion and ride the Mexican wave?
Lex Mex will be held at the Law Society between 0830 and 1130 on Friday 3 October. To register click http://bit.ly/10liSOB

Will the hashtag become a new weapon of terror?

September 30th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

In the last couple of months the media has been full of coverage of the activities of the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS). Although the most high profile content released by the group has made it onto major news networks what many people don’t realise is that there are more than 1,000 pieces of content being digitally distributed by the group every week, much of which (thankfully) doesn’t reach the majority of the public. ISIS surprised many people when it started using social media sites like YouTube and Twitter to spread its propaganda but this has not been going unchecked and these organisations are now locked into an ongoing battle with ISIS to prevent the majority of the content that the group would like to post getting the desired reach – and the focus of the new battleground? The hashtag.

The strategy so far has been to block the offensive content and then to delete it. This could be anything from photos of murder, torture and suicide missions to spoken propaganda like the ‘Lend Me Your Ears’ video of British photojournalist John Cantlie. However, ISIS appears to have a fairly technology savvy approach and this means that the likes of Twitter and YouTube are having to go one step further in terms of strategy to defeat this ongoing onslaught of content. This is because, unlike most others before it, ISIS clearly understands the fact that the only way it can successfully distribute the content far and wide is to deliver it quickly to a large number of people i.e. before Twitter or YouTube spot the content, shut the account down and delete all the posts.

In order to do this the group has been using random Twitter accounts and little known sites that allow anonymous uploading of images and videos – of which there are plenty. However, although these are doorways for getting the content online it’s been the recent distribution strategy that has surprised many. For example, during the recent vote on Scottish independence ISIS began piggybacking on the hashtags #andymurray, #scotland, #scotlandindependence, #VoteNo and #VoteYes. The propaganda operative Abdulrahman al-Hami – whose account has now been suspended – advised followers and supporters to jump on hashtags as soon as they became popular and also to make use of the accounts of famous celebrities with millions of followers.

Britain’s counter-terrorism internet referral unit is asking members of the public to flag up any extremist content that they come across online as soon as possible in order to try and prevent it from spreading but this new approach of jumping on trending topics could be hard to police. This is particularly the case given that the group isn’t just using the hashtags randomly but is attempting to make them relevant to the content they’re posting, presumably to make it less obvious that the content doesn’t directly relate to the hashtag to prevent it being spotted more quickly.

We all know that the versatility of social media opens it up to this kind of abuse but the hijacking of hashtags in this way is something few of us could have predicted. The hope is that the brains at Twitter and YouTube, in cooperation with the authorities, will be able to find a new way to defeat this kind of digital propaganda and perhaps even begin to beat groups like ISIS at their own game, without compromising wider rights to free speech in the process.

Kanye West and #Wheelchairgate

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

Melissa Davis

Rapper Kanye West is certainly no stranger to controversy. Who could forget his interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards or his appearance on a 2006 Rolling Stone cover in a crown of thorns. However, since the arrival of baby North and the nuptials to reality starlet Kim Kardashian, many people assumed that Kanye might have set aside his wooden spoon, taken his foot firmly out of his mouth and started walking a more careful line with the press and the public. Well, if you were one of those people then you’re probably feeling a little foolish right now as in the most recent of his so-very-public blunders West has managed to insult someone in a wheelchair and in doing so has once again become a trending topic on Twitter.

The rapper is currently on tour in Australia and the incident took place during a gig in Sydney when West allegedly stopped the entire show and demanded that two concertgoers who were not standing get to their feet. After some rather tense waiting, it was confirmed to West that actually the two people he was demanding stand up physically couldn’t do so and so the show went on with the two fans still in their seats (and presumably rather traumatised). The incident has now been dubbed ‘wheelchair-gate’ and, thanks to going viral on Twitter, has been reported in just about every gossip rag around the globe as well as some of the more cerebral media publications. However, there is some uncertainty as to what was actually said and perhaps a hint that the media might have just run with a story taken from tweets that isn’t entirely accurate. The source of this uncertainty is West’s wife who posted on her Instagram account that “Kanye never asked anyone in a wheel chair to stand up & the audience videos show that. He asked for everyone to stand up & dance UNLESS they were in a wheel chair.”

Whatever really occurred, in a rather painful lesson in the power of social media, by the time the story had made its way off Twitter it was already set in the public mindset as West’s wheelchair rant and denials are proving pretty ineffective in the wake of the wave of retweets and the #WheelchairGate hashtag (which is still going). Kanye West could donate all of his fortune to a disabled charity at this point and he probably still wouldn’t be able to undo the damage those few words did on stage in Australia thanks to the Chinese Whispers effect of Twitter and the power of the smartphone.

Although most of us don’t have access to the kind of public forum that Kanye West does – and are hopefully cautious enough to avoid the level of snafus that he regularly makes – this is a perfect illustration of the power of social media sharing. It’s also a warning how in this age of smartphone technology, if you’re getting up on a stage (or even sometimes if you’re not), then anyone can record you, share that recording or tweet about what you’re doing. Something to bear in mind if you don’t want to become the subject of a hashtag.

The MADE.com Approach to a PR Crisis

September 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

As the results of the Scottish referendum were coming in last Friday there was a real sense of excitement all across the country. Whatever happened, history was about to be made and all of us wanted to feel like we were a part of it. However, unfortunately for one business, being a part of such a big public event turned into a rather embarrassing PR fail. Online furniture retailer Made.com managed to make a rather public error on Friday morning when one of their trigger happy team accidentally sent the wrong email to every single one of their customers. The email that went out celebrated Scottish independence, announced a Scottish Made.com store and offered products in the colours of the Saltire, as well as a Scottish-specific discount code. Oops…

Although the company clearly would rather have avoided making such an obvious error, the way that they dealt with it was a pretty good example of how to turn a PR disaster into a much more positive experience. Rather than trying to ignore or cover up what had happened, an email was immediately sent out to customers acknowledging the mistake with an ‘Oops please ignore that last email.’ In plain English, Made simply said ‘We accidentally hit send on an email we’d prepared in case of a YES vote for Scottish independence.’ Although the people behind the screen/keyboard might well have felt a little silly for sending the email out in the first place, they managed to avoid appearing foolish to the public thanks to their simple and honest approach.

What often happens when a business accidentally shoots itself in the foot PR-wise, is that there is an attempt to shift the blame, to pretend what happened didn’t happen or to imply it was all part of some grand plan. What many people without PR experience miss is the diffusing effect of simply admitting that a mistake has been made and that mistake was theirs. Instead, businesses often try to make the consumer feel stupid for thinking a mistake had been made in the first place – which is very bad PR.

Another element of PR crisis management that is perfectly illustrated by this incident is the importance of speed of response. Made had sent out their new email within a matter of minutes of the one sent in error, almost so quickly that many customers would simply receive both and probably delete the first one without reading it. Leaving the error hanging in the air really would have made the company look stupid but taking immediate, strong decisive action was a great way to instantly get back on track. Made also used a clever diversion tactic – offering a new discount code in the second email for people to shop Union Jack products and colourful images of those products included in the body of the email itself. As a result, the focus instantly shifted to the new proposition – whether there might be any Union Jack products that the customer would want to purchase with the discount code.

These are some pretty basic lessons in how to manage a PR crisis that has come from within your own organisation. There are of course many variables and different situations might require more tailored solutions but the Made approach of honesty, speed and diversion is certainly a good place to start.