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

The 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 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 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.

What The Legal Sector Might Learn From Fashion Week

September 19th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

Tuesday this week was the last day of London Fashion Week, the annual sartorial circus that sees the capital become a honey pot for a global crowd of fashionistas that extends from US Vogue head Anna Wintour to front row blow up doll Pandemonia. As the bandwagon moves on to the Milan shows, London is left to contemplate what is likely to be big next season, where the most popular trends are going to come from and what the fashion pack is going to embrace the most wholeheartedly. From the SS15 shows just passed it looks like technology is going to be one of the biggest trends in the fashion world in the coming years – in many different ways.

Of course wearable fashion tech was flung firmly into the spotlight with the recent launch of the new Apple Watch (perfectly timed to coincide with the start of the fashion weeks) but this isn’t the only way that technology has begun to work wonders for fashion. In 2010, London was the first of all the fashion weeks to start live streaming catwalk shows and whilst this might sound like a fairly non-earth shattering event to anyone outside the industry, in fact it blew it right open. You see, previously it was only those in possession of a coveted show invitation – which usually meant being either a celeb, working for a big glossy mag, or having a personalrelationship with the designer – who could attend a fashion show, see the trends emerging and report back on them to the rest of the hungry fashionistas of the world.Now, we can all see it for ourselves.

Social media is another tech trend fully embraced by the fashion industry – fashion journalism is now almost completely extinct in the face of the myriad of fashion blogs that have sprung up, some of which have become such viable businesses that the bloggers are celebrities in their own right. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook mean images from shows and FROWs (the front row..) are instantly transmitted around the world, triggering comment, analysis and predictions from those who previously simply wouldn’t have been informed enough to have an opinion. The fashion house Burberry went one step further this season and launched a Twitter tie up during its show where a ‘Buy Now’ button allowed customers to instantly purchase whatever item was the subject of the tweet without users being directed to another page. And it seems that technology is likely to remain firmly on the agenda for the fashion community, with the British Fashion Council announcing tech as akey priority through the launch of the Innovation and Digital Pillar.

Although there are clearly differences between the fashion and legal sectors in many ways the recentbroadening of the legal market and the way fashion has become a much more open book are very similar. If there are any lessons to be learned from the fashion crowd it must surely be that those who embrace and innovate technology to their advantage will be the at the cutting edge while those who don’t will find themselves left behind like last season’s boots.

Felipe Alviar-Baquero

For the last eight years of my career as a solicitor in the City I have been trying to understand why Latin America is not a key strategic target for law firms in London.

Some Latin American countries have the fastest and most stable economies in the world. Businesses are growing and there are sectors, such as infrastructure and mining that require the knowledge and capabilities of these London firms. However, it is difficult to find a firm in the City that has a dedicated Latin American team or has Latin American companies as a target for growth.

It is true that due to language, geographical distance and currency exchange issues London never has been the preferred legal market for Latin American countries but these should not be a barrier.
The real barrier for creating business seems to be the fact that very few Latin Americans lawyers study or undertake exchange professional programmes within the UK. Furthermore, very few English lawyers have any experience working in Latin America.

Latin American lawyers tend to go to the U.S. to do their masters and post-graduate professional studies. They also are offered the opportunities to obtain work experience in U.S. law firms and there are continuous exchange programmes between U.S. lawyers and Latin American lawyers. These opportunities not only allow knowledge transfer but also create life-long relationships, which create business opportunities.

Such business opportunities do not exist in the UK because there are no professional exchange programmes. Although, there are a high number of Latin American undertaking legal studies in the UK when their studies finish the work experience opportunities do not exist because there is no continuous and structured exchange programme between law firms in the City and law firms in Latin America.

Long term business opportunities for City law firms in Latin America are great. But law firms in the City need to work together with Latin American law firms to create structured exchange programmes to build the links for future business and create networks that will break down barriers and forge these life-long links.

Don’t fall behind in Latin America

September 15th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)

This blog first appeared in the Law Society Gazette on 12th September 2014.

Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

If you know your Spanish corporate law firms, it won’t seem surprising that Uría Menéndez is the firm behind Latin America’s first cross-border law firm – which takes the name Philippi, Prietocarrizosa & Uría, as reported earlier this week.

Commercial interest in Latin American economies is keen, and assumption has long been that interested foreign businesses should go via firms in the Iberian Peninsula, or the US.

But the next tie-ups or associations to make headlines could – should, I’d argue – involve UK law firms, who need to be less defeatist about their ability to access Latin America as a legal market.

Researching a business development White Paper last year, the lawyers I spoke to acknowledged that UK law firms were behind on building Latin America links, but not fatally so.

Co-writing the foreword, Peters & Peters’ managing partner Keith Oliver, and Alejandro Huneeus, from Chile’s Morales y Besa, said: ‘The potential to tap into Latin America’s economic growth is being underexploited by UK law firms.’

Latin American lawyers and clients acknowledged legal excellence in London, they continued, but concluded: ‘Translating that expertise and experience into more instructions sometimes requires creative thinking from UK LLP.’

A roundtable discussion on the White Paper, held at the fringes of the American Bar Association conference in London, covered by the Gazette, was standing room only – reflecting the potential here – but attendees from UK, US and Latin American firms concluded ‘UK law firms are 15 to 20 years behind where they need to be to take advantage of the economic growth and investment potential of South America’.

UK firms tended to be put off by barriers of language, culture and contacts – obstacles that many of the firms there knew to be surmountable.

Professionals from countries like China and Japan are being less reticent, it emerged, and competition from them and their clients is very real in Latin America. Ambitious UK firms need not lose out – but they do need to make a start.

Lawyers – from eight-partner Peters & Peters to international giant Latham & Watkins – identified some tips.

First, to think properly about the full list of instructions that could flow from economic activity in Latin America – not all were big projects, but plenty were ancillary areas from creating trusts and corporate structures, to advice on regulatory investigations, use of the high court, private client work and immigration.

Secondly, they had to invest time in making personal contacts – efforts that bridged the cultural divide, and some help with any linguistic gap. Anglo-Saxon dealmaking styles can seem unsettling brusque by Latin American corporate standards.

Thirdly, they had to think about explaining cost. UK lawyers, the Latin American professionals noted, spent too much time demonstrating their world-beating excellence in contact they had with them. Instead they had to realise that with accepted excellence came the expectation of a Rolls-Royce price tag.

On this last point, when the stress was on value and transparency, the price-perception barrier to business got lower.

Doable, then, but UK firms need to recognise that progress here won’t just happen to them – they need to get active and engaged.

Social media prenups

September 11th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

By now we’re all fairly aware that social media has become an inescapable reality for businesses in most sectors, as well as for individuals in their private lives. With the increasing exposure we’re all starting to get online comes a greater risk of over-exposure – literally. Whether or not you’re one of the millions to have sent a rather risqué shot of yourself in a state of undress via an app like Whatsapp, Snapchat or simply through text message or email, you will appreciate that it has fast become very common behaviour. And of course, any image that you package up and send off as a transferable file can of course also be posted on any social media page… (as celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence recently found out).

And so we are seeing yet another twist in the way that the digital age is working its way into our lives on every level, with the development of the ‘social media prenup’. The last year has seen an unprecedented rise in prenuptial-type agreements (i.e. the document that sets out what happens to assets should a marriage come to an end). Although they are not strictly enforceable in the UK, there’s now a rebuttable presumption that a prenup will be upheld in court unless it’s unfair to do so, and old attitudes towards this type of agreement have been completely swept away. As the prenup has become a more acceptable ‘thing’, it has also begun to evolve to take account of other threats to the breakdown of a marriage, not just the potential for assets to end up unfairly distributed – i.e. the social media threat.

Whilst social media can be a great marketing tool, a fantastic opportunity for promotion and an easy channel through which to keep up with events and news, a rather more disturbing function is the increased use of social media for exes to take revenge by posting those rather risqué photos of their former partner online for all to see. So common has this now become that prenups are being written to include a clause that specifically prevents the posting online of any material personal to the couple in question. The penalty for breaking the clause is financial – in New York, it has not been unheard of for couples to pay up to $50,000 for every clause breached. That’s the kind of sum that could act as a significant deterrent to even the most vengeful ex.

As social media continues to invade all areas of our lives, from dating to breakups, recruitment to customer service it’s always worth bearing in mind the consequences of having a public profile – or a digital footprint of any description. Although most firms have developed a social media use policy for employees to ensure that everyone knows exactly where the boundaries lie, now the equivalent of the social media prenup clause in an employment contract is on the table, both as a deterrent and a way of dealing with anyone who takes to social media to vent frustrations after a souring of relations.Given the effect that a trending topic can have on a reputation, it’s certainly not the kind of threat that any business can really afford to ignore.