‘That’ Tram Ride

Yesterday I clicked on a link to the video on You Tube about somebody’s tram ride here in modern day Britain. A piece of mobile footage of a woman allegedly exercising her right to free speech on a busy tram.

Later on in the day news went round Twitter to say that she had been identified and then later on that she had been arrested by BTP. And then, after Twitter had claimed responsibility for tracking down the woman and having her arrested next the expressions of horror that she had been arrested. C’mon Twitter really? What did we all expect was going to happen?

For each of us that clicked on or forwarded the link we took another step to publishing this woman’s identity. I’m actually pleased that BTP have been able to take steps and I sincerely hope that they will be positively done.

When I watched the video I had an initial red burn of anger about her ignorance and her prejudice. How dare she speak on behalf of Britain? In fact I tweeted something stupid in response as a knee-jerk reaction. But then I watched the video again ignoring what she was actually saying and watched what was going on around her.

I’m not a mental health/drugs specialist but something was not ‘normal’ about her. Her constant lip licking, her vacant staring and slurring of words or perhaps just the fact that she would even start a ‘discussion’ like that where she did. What she was saying was more than just ignorance and prejudice.

The child passively sat on her lap entirely unresponsive to the fact that (lets assume) his mother is screeching at a group of people. The picture is not brilliant but he looked fairly well cared for but his calm in the middle of the storm suggests to me that this behaviour is something that he is very much used to.

And then there is the crowd. In the background, half way through the video, a man drops a bag to the floor and his stance becomes aggressive, confrontational. His buttons are being pressed in the same way that mine were when I first watched the video. He starts to move towards her, squaring up but then he backs off. Maybe on realising she has a child on her lap or maybe because he sees that its all being filmed. Maybe he just thinks twice. As the mobile footage scans around the tram peoples faces are a mix of anger, amazement and resignation.

Finally, a woman responds to her and adds to the level of hate and violent language. Her concern about the woman’s words based not on what she was saying but how she was saying it she was “waking her baby” nothing she did or said improved the situation it just escalated it.

So, to get back to her ‘arrest’ (if that is indeed what happened) lets hope that somebody gets to make an assessment of that woman’s mental health and somebody takes an interest in the welfare of the child. I hope he is as well looked after as he looks because, putting aside any mental health or drug issues, he’s going to have to struggle to rise above those maternal values of intolerance, prejudice and hate.

And I leave you with some thoughts: what if the incident hadn’t been filmed? If the baby hadn’t been sat on her lap? If the guy hadn’t backed down for whatever reason? Maybe the worst thing would have been that she was ‘helped’ off the tram at the next stop. Maybe not.

Thank You to The Blue

I’m still trawling my way through Lords Hansard text for the Second Reading of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill armed with my trusty highlighter pen.

For the Police Officers that follow me on Twitter here’s something I came across from Baroness Newlove (column 884):

May I ask noble Lords to join me in conveying a huge thank you and get well soon message to the four brave police officers who were stabbed in the line of duty yesterday in North London?  Our officers get up each morning, kiss their loved ones goodbye and walk into the unknown-a violent and unpredictable world.  There is no guarantee that they will return unharmed, as this latest knive attack reminds us all.  That is why we have to get knives off our streets, to limit the risk to them and us.

Just in case it doesn’t get brought to your attention through other routes I thought you might just like to know.


Fat Cat, Red Headed, Lumpy Chested, Speccy Four Eyed Lawyer

Blimey – Twitter has been on fire this weekend!

The subjects have been the law, lawyers and the police.

I have a vested interest in all three: the first enables me, the second is my job description and the third is the ‘state’ I live in (I am married to the job).

I have however spent an unacceptably high amount of time discussing and pondering on just how inflammatory remarks can be when they are used against a group of people.  If I am part of the group targeted by the word and image and object to the remarks I think its own natural to want to set myself apart from the brush covered in tar; to explain why I may not be part of or linked to that behaviour.  It doesn’t mean, in taking that step, that I am condoning the behaviour of others.

My education and upbringing shapes me.  I was taught that I should be bold enough to refer to myself rather than seek comfort in the ‘we’.  To be accountable for my own behaviour and to avoid standing as a spokesperson unless others have asked me to (I may well regularly fail on that point).  I was also taught that if I want to reference behaviour to a group to be sure that I wanted every member of that group to be covered by my words.  If not, qualify it with a “every *insert employment group etc* that I have dealt with…” or make it clear who or what situation I was talking about.  I try to run to my rules and avoid sweeping statements as they offend and can result in prejudice.

With this background in mind my first reaction to sweeping statements, especially barbed ones, is to try to work out why somebody would use them.  Whats the baseline they are working from?  Whats the benefit to be achieved?  Are they just prejudiced and should be discounted or do they have something worthwhile to say?

And I suppose that is where I got to.  To me, the value of what the individuals may have wanted to say or prove got lost in the manner of publication, the words used or by reference back to their bio.  By attacking a group of individuals the context, if indeed there was one, or impact was lost to many of the readers.  

I really rather dislike all types of name calling or group generalisation maybe its because I was bullied at school or because I am a “fat cat, red headed, lumpy chested, speccy four eyes lawyer” or maybe its that I’ve just started to rather like evidence based discussion and debate.

Computer Says No

Computer Says No

A few weeks ago I had a diary reminder that the business needed to take action as a staff member’s visa would be due to expire in a number of months. Nothing extraordinary about this except it required application for a Sponsorship Licence if we wished to retain non EEA staff employed on post study visas.

Immigration is a serious thing and when I saw the size of the guidance notes I stopped in my tracks. This is the new system? I downed tools and started to read what the business was committing to via my signature. Well, I say signature but actually not. The UKBA is online only; not a paper application form in sight.

I consider myself to be fairly IT savvy – I manage to post these blogs and can handle Internet banking but, other than pay road tax online, I can’t think that I’ve had to make use of a government IT process. Well, now I have and finally I’m out the other end but it isn’t without emotional scars and a less that positive view.

As with most sites as a user I had to set up an account with security issued user name and editable password. The ‘small’ thing that I hadn’t realised is that the UKBA login screens vary and the username/password combo could only be used in one area. What set my login screen apart was the lack of size 8 font in the thin dark blue line underneath the logo. Apparently. So my logic that creating a business user account would always take me through to the business section was my first #fail.

Next I took advantage of the ability to save data as I went along. My wisdom and foresight is frankly amazing except, it appears, that the save functionality is known to be problematic: bye-bye semi completed document; hello head to desk. I thought I would ring the call centre and a 23 minute wait later i’m told I’ve made the wrong selection from the choice of 1 or 2 (‘help – your online application is driving me nuts not being available’) and I’m asked to call back as they can’t actually transfer me to another department. I also could consider calling between 2 and 3 when they are quieter. Call centre staffing #fail.

Calling back within those times and I get through and I’m told to wave goodbye to saved info, to start again and complete start to finish in one hit. But, in the meantime they’ll send links to proformas. Great I say – knowing that will really help me to be prepared.

The information arrives and the link is broken so I go round and round trying to trigger the link until I down tools and give up. The next day I start again and complete it all except for one question for which I click on the ‘help’ button. Until this point I was well ahead of myself feeling confident at my progress yet the wording of the help section perplexed me so much I had to take legal advice! It transpires that leaving a word out of a definition total distorts the value of the help function and is costly too.

So finally I get there. Payment made on line and I fist pump the air. Now to conclude the online process I copy and certify documents and put them in the post…

I’m sure you feel sorry for me (i jest) but there were other thoughts running through my mind as I ‘enjoyed’ the experience. How bad would this experience have been if english weren’t my first language or if I hadn’t (finally) been able to complete the process on my own? Incomplete, wrong or just downright expensive? There are implications for getting things wrong which have human outcomes. At times it did cross my mind that the process was designed to stop applications but what if the ‘too difficult’ light comes on mid-way through? Do people, like me, down tools but then decide not to bother to carry on?

The site clearly contains a lot of information but its not user friendly – I had to wade through a lot of gumpf to get what i needed. @_Millymoo published a blog talking about the journey to access court forms. Much of what Milly said resonated with my recent experience; if something isn’t obvious online it reduces access. And finally the cost: £1025 of your english pounds to employ people lawful.

And that’s the thing about rules: if you care about them and getting it right you’ll do what’s needed. A process or procedure should never be a barrier to entry; it should be an enabler.

Postscript (8/12/2011):  It wouldn’t be fair to leave the post without adding the outcome.  My company is now the proud owner of a Sponsorship Licence and actually, giving credit where credit is due, the process once the forms went in was very smooth.  Now to tackle the Sponsorship Management System (SMS)….

Did Somebody Say Referral Fees?

I’ve been in ‘the industry’ for over 20 years..working as a personal injury lawyer before and after the Access to Justice Act. Early days I represented clients who were introduced by ‘before the event’ insurers where the firm would agree to accept X number of small claims in return for Y number of cost bearing PI claims running the low value claims as ‘loss leaders’. The firms I worked for subsequently became panel members of organisations such as Claims Direct and The Accident Group whilst maintaining the BTE arrangements. They were also running free clinics, CAB workshops and working with charity organisations.

All of this work predated changes in 2004 to the Law Society Referral Code ‘allowing’ the payment of referral fees for the introduction of business to law firms. One way or another those law firms I worked for were ‘paying’ for the acquisition of work long before the change to the Code.

Introduction is a common part of business life – look to the payment of commission to intermediaries such as insurance brokers, car salesman or aggregator sites dealing with energy services. It’s part of a competitive marketplace. Those end providers such as insurers, car manufactures and energy companies sell their services direct to the public as well but they have chosen to spread their ‘routes to market’ across as wider plain as possible – it makes business sense and gives the consumer choice about how they purchase products and services.

I suppose there is a consumer argument that the prices could be cheaper if you approach the producer directly, this may or may not be true. The seller receives less income if an introducer is used because fees are shared or commission is paid. But the seller has to weigh up the fact that when it sells direct the seller has to bring the consumer to their door through some form of advertising. Everywhere there is cost to seller in ‘selling’ their product – introducer fees or own advertising costs.

So, why is it so different for claims management companies who stand as marketeers, introducing business to law firms? Why is their behaviour, and I clearly mean behaviour within the rules and regulations, considered so abhorrent that the government should consider banning it? Within a free market and with law firms governed by their own (extensive) regulation why does the government feel the need to step in? If, dear reader, you say “because of the compensation culture” I may very well weep. This ‘culture’ is a perception of a culture. Please tell me that in 2011 our MP’s are not wasting their time and our money on legislating a perception? An injury sustained without the negligence of another is an accident. Just an accident. No matter what may be thought about the ‘have a go’ culture, its legitimacy or otherwise, this fact remains.

Law firms can operate in exactly the same way as the sellers mentioned above. Their ‘product’ is their legal services and their consumer the potential claimant. They can advertise themselves at cost to the practice, they can link up with trade unions or representative bodies, they can decide to wait for customers to come to their door through reputation without any of these methods or they can decide to use an intermediary/introducer such as a claims management company. In every single example the law firm will have incurred cost although in the zero action scenario the ‘cost’ may be the time creating the reputation.The thing about personal injury claims is that the majority of claims are subject to a fixed costs structure; the personal injury lawyer cannot pass on the increased or variable cost of marketing to another party. They have to cover their marketing costs from the fixed income available to them. If they get their marketing wrong there is no chance to raise fees to recoup the loss.

I anticipate the argument that the ‘referrers’ are not concerned about quality just the money. Let me be honest, of course we need to be sure that our fees are paid; what functioning business doesn’t? I could cover this point at length, as a business making a recommendation of another businesses services I have every interest in ensuring that we work with firms that provide a high level of service; our business has it’s own reputation to hold up. If we wish to maintain our position and not be defeated by complaints about the legal service our lawyers provide we have to care about quality.

Detractors say that CMC’s incite claims and that when somebody else is footing the bill, this is unacceptable behaviour; that it is wrong to profit through another person’s misfortune. But excuse me if I’m misguided but since when has the entitlement to profit been linked with misfortune or otherwise? Undertakers profit from death, counsellors from misery and private healthcare providers from a mix of both! I do not accept that helping legitimate claimants achieve access to legal services and the justice they are entitled to is wrong or that lawyers, as legitimate business people, should be prevented from utilising the benefits of ordinary commerce by letting a marketing company take the risk with an advertising budget.

Insurers are spending millions (that’s 10’s of millions not just plain old millions) to drive business to their companies. I already know that the insurers don’t like the idea of restricting the free-Market, Nick Starling said as much at the I Love Claims conference. Well, that is until you talk about the free Market as it applies to claimant lawyers. Then the ABI are 100% behind the curtailment of marketing activities. Not just the ‘obvious’ push for a ban on referral fees but the heavy push to reduce the fixed cost allowance to remove any profit (they like to call it fat) to prevent advertising however lawyers may wish to do it.

With all the rhetoric about referral fees it is worth remembering that the government is not a disinterested party (it is the defendant in many actions) and insurers have every interest in pushing down the number of claimants or staging an argument to try and bring down the value of fixed fees. In the process of accepting the ban on referral fees as a ‘done deal’ we may be accepting the restriction of access for many consumers and the movement of business around the legal Market. We may also be allowing insurers to stage a coup on the level of fixed fees for RTA cases by looking at them in isolation.

Not So Wicked Stepmother

When I first thought about writing I looked for quotes; somebody else’s words to explain or capture the essence of our relationship. But it’s not so easy when the subject is ‘step mum’, the quotes weren’t really the type of thing I was looking for! There are meant to be over 900 stories written about evil or wicked stepmothers. I haven’t counted myself but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. Go onto the web and you can find all sorts: blogs on wicked step mums, for worn down and weary step mums, attacks, defences and lots and lots of advice about how to cope when you are one (wicked or otherwise). I type in ‘loving stepmother’ and frankly I’m underwhelmed at what I find. So, here are my own words:

Loving stepmother,

For some weeks now time has slowly ticked down as the family have moved in slow circles around you; coming and going from the home in the middle of the countryside all wanting the opportunity to sit by your bed and hold your hand and in some small way to make each moment filled with whatever comfort we could bring. We chatted to you, at you and over you; some days with many, many visitors and some day just a few as we all acclimatised to the heat, shedding layer by layer. Sometimes we’d stay hours, other times just moments as we ‘checked in’ as we passed by as we had to carry on with whatever the day brought for us.

Even though your passing was inevitable and I had made my ‘goodbyes’ the news that you have left is still hard to hear.

You do of course have an official title; you’re my step-mother but I for one have never found that title very rewarding. It’s a bit cold and has never really done justice to the role that you have played in my life. It always feels like mother with a caveat, a little asterisk that says in small words at the bottom ‘not a real mother’.

When I look back over all of the years that I spent with you it is only now, with the benefit of hindsight and the experience of having kids of my own, that I get some idea of what you committed to when you married my Dad. Your 3 boys had long flown the nest and so you were faced with those teenage years all over again and not just once, three times over. If I’m honest, my recall of many of my teenage years post step-daughterhood isn’t great. I suspect I’ve chosen not to remember so many things as I behaved badly, irresponsibly, carelessly and all of those other obligatory ‘teenage’ type stages. I was often confused and lacking direction but you always had an ear to listen.

And it was that blessed skill that stayed to central to our relationship. You gave me your ear; you listened and you never judged. You never imposed and at times you watched from the sidelines as my teenage confusion returned but still you listened and didn’t judge. You’d help me see my way by simple statements and observations, never one to get bogged down with language you’d say it how you saw it!

And so 10 years ago I found myself with the title of step-mother and it was to you that I looked for guidance and I think, with you as a role model, that I’ve done pretty well. I hope I have the same relationship with my gorgeous step-daughter that you had with me, standing off to the side, trying not to impose but always unfailingly there; never trying to be anything other than honestly supportive.

I can’t remember a time when you haven’t been in pain but I know just how much joy your family brought you – and boy, what a family! You were the glue that stuck so many people together and whatever happened between people, whether they stopped, stayed, fought or separated you always remained a comfort to them and present in their lives. Not a bad achievement.

When I had to tell F about your passing he was distraught. Not just because he is only 6 but, as he said, he had trouble putting a picture of you in his head. I know what he means; the last few years have been difficult as all of us came to terms with how your life was changing and how your circumstances were taking you from us. But within moments of talking, we’re all recalling stories; reminding each other of happier, lighter days and the laughter and good times we’ve shared.

So, life starts to return to it’s ‘normal’ pattern as we make our plans to honour your memory and it won’t be difficult – you meant so much to so many people.

For me, I’d like Disney to reconsider it’s stance on step-mothers. You’re my benchmark and I’ll spend my days living to the mark you made and missing your friendship. But most of all I’m thankful that my Dad had the chance to put you in his and our lives.

Dearest Mogsy, sleep well.

B x