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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

Take Out and Tax Lawyers

October 29th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

The internet’ can seem like a vast and overwhelming sea of voices that is amorphous and rather anonymous but when you’re providing a service to consumers you have to be prepared for some of that comment to be coming your way. And by being prepared I mean you need to be listening, checking what is being said about you online and, if necessary, responding. The power of the digital sphere means that you can very easily find yourself with a reputation that your business neither merits nor wants but once that mud is thrown then it can very often stick. This is why monitoring what people are saying about you – and how they are saying it – can be instrumental in heading off a PR crisis before it has begun. You can not only answer your critics but also prevent a negative thread from becoming a bandwagon that any old troll will jump on just for the hell of it.

A prime example of the value of digital listening comes from a restaurant in New York, which found itself the target of a very negative review from a very annoyed customer. You might think that this is par for the course with restaurant reviews – and in most circumstances it is as you simply can’t please all the people all of the time. However, in this case, the review was based on something of an unfair assumption – the customer wanted the restaurant to provide ‘take out’ for a meeting they were having just across the street. The restaurant refused. It was quite clear from all its listings and advertising that it didn’t provide take out. Nevertheless the customer became angry, demanding that take out be provided and highlighting that the restaurant offered customers doggy bags for uneaten food and, as a result, should also be able to use the same containers to provide the take out food it so wanted. The review gave the restaurant just one star and went as far as branding the staff at the restaurant rude and ‘too good for its customers.’ If you read the review as a standalone piece of information you would have avoided said restaurant like the plague.

However, the restaurant, monitoring online for comments, picked up this review and replied. With the reply it was able to clarify that its policy was not to offer take out, that this was made abundantly clear across all of the restaurant’s online presences, because it felt that its food should be plated in a certain way. Yes, doggy bags were offered but that was not how the food was served – to anyone. The review also dealt with slurs against its character but pointing out that in fact the customer had been the first to get irate.

It then provided a clever analogy of itself (i.e. a restaurant that does not do take out) and another establishment (i.e. a restaurant that does do take out). This took the form of an imagined discussion concerning lawyers – as the customer had apparently repeated his status as a lawyer many times during the conversation when demanding take out. The restaurant asked the customer to compare being a non take out restaurant faced with a request to provide take out, to being a tax lawyer asked to manage a divorce and to consider the implications for reputation of a customer demanding a service that isn’t actually available.

Although the restaurant didn’t exactly hold back it managed to remain professional, to clear up misunderstandings and also to introduce an element of smart humour, all of which recommend it far more to potential customers than either leaving the comment without response or replying with equal ire. It was a smart strategy that is applicable to just about any service based industry.

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.

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