Duane Morris Celebrates Black History Month

Last year, Duane Morris had the honor of hosting civil rights icon Fred Gray, who shared inspiring stories of being the attorney who represented Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others in some of the most consequential cases in the civil rights movement.

Growing up in the segregated South, Gray made a commitment to himself that he would “finish Alabama State, take the bar exam and destroy everything segregated I could find.”

Only months after being admitted to the bar, Gray’s first case was representing Claudette Colvin, who was arrested on March 2, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to forfeit her seat for a white rider while on her way to school. While unsurprisingly losing that case (young Colvin was put on unsupervised probation), Gray kept all of the court documents, knowing that another opportunity would come.

After much discussion and strategising in the community, Gray’s friend Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat to a white rider on December 1, 1955. Parks, only his second client, was arrested on a Thursday and the case was quickly slated for the following Monday. Gray prepared the case over the weekend, while the activists in the community simultaneously prepared for the Montgomery bus boycott. Realising the boycott needed a spokesperson, they enlisted the help of Dr. King, who until that time had not been active in the civil rights movement. Gray argued the case for the next year, until finally achieving legal victory in federal court, ending the boycott after 382 days.

The attention drawn by Dr. King during the boycott prompted state authorities to charge King, who had left Alabama, for perjury in connection with filing a false tax return, of which he was acquitted. Of the achievement, Gray said, “We had a good team together and were able to get an all-white jury in the middle of the sit-in demonstrations in the spring of 1960 to end up finding that Dr. King was innocent of perjury.” Gray went on to explain, “I think that was one of the most important cases because he was now protesting the Vietnam War. If it had come out that, while he was leading this new civil rights organisation and at the same time he’s cheating and wouldn’t pay his taxes, it would have been devastating.”

In the decades that followed, Gray’s legal work in the 1960s included paving the way for redistricting and reapportioning legislative bodies across the nation with the “one man, one vote” concept; getting court-ordered protection for marchers as they walked from Selma to Montgomery to present grievances as a result of being unable to vote; one of the first civil rights actions brought to remedy systematic exclusion of blacks from jury service; and integrating all state institutions of higher learning in Alabama under the control of the state Board of Education, as well as most elementary and secondary school systems. In the 1970s, Gray served as counsel to preserve and protect the rights of those involved in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study and has been the moving force in the establishment of the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center.

Legacy in Law

George Boyer Vashon was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1824. His father was an abolitionist who was a well-respected leader in the black community and the abolitionist movement. As a teenager, Vashon co-founded the Pittsburgh Anti-Slavery Society in 1838. He was the first African-American to graduate from Oberlin College in Ohio, where he was class valedictorian. Vashon apprenticed for the law in Pittsburgh under Judge Walter Forward, who was later U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

Despite of his qualifications and academic achievements, Vashon was not allowed to sit for the Pennsylvania bar exam due to his race.

Instead, Vashon moved to New York and became the first licensed African-American attorney in that state. He then taught in Haiti; practiced law in Syracuse, New York; was a professor at New York Central College; and later returned to Pittsburgh, where he became a principal at African-American public schools and served as president of Avery College. He again petitioned to sit for the Pennsylvania bar exam, 20 years after his first attempt, and was again denied. Vashon moved to Washington, D.C., where he was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1867, he became the first black professor at Howard University. Vashon became a professor of ancient and modern languages at Alcorn University in 1873.

More than a century and a half after being denied admission to the bar in Pennsylvania because of the color of his skin, Vashon’s great-grandson Nolan N. Atkinson Jr., his firm Duane Morris and others set out to right this historical wrong, finally winning official recognition from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and getting Vashon admitted to the state bar in an official ceremony in 2010.

When the Minority Corporate Counsel Association awarded Duane Morris with its prestigious Innovator Award in 2012, the MCCA renamed the award after Vashon. Duane Morris has also gone on to keep the pioneer’s legacy going by hosting the annual George B. Vashon lecture series, which has seen academic leaders, federal judges, legislators and others speak on civil rights and social justice issues.

History of Firsts

During Nolan Atkinson’s nearly 25 years at Duane Morris, his focus on his thriving commercial litigation practice never prevented him from making sure he used that position to continue the work of people like Vashon. Atkinson, a participant in the 1963 March on Washington, was instrumental in the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group, Inc., a consortium of law firms and corporations committed to increasing ethnic and racial diversity in Philadelphia’s larger law firms. He was a tireless contributor to the Conference of Minority Partners in Majority Corporate Law Firms, a constituent entity of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession of the ABA and numerous other groups focused on diversity. He was the first Chief Diversity Officer at Duane Morris and served in that role for eight years.

Fittingly, when the City of Philadelphia wanted to establish the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Mayor Jim Kenney turned to Atkinson. Since 2016, Atkinson has brought his energy to knocking down the barriers that had historically kept the city’s large workforce racially and economically divided and creating a culture that attracts talented, diverse leaders to Philadelphia government.

Diversity & Inclusion

Helmed by Joseph K. West, who succeeded Atkinson in 2016 as Duane Morris’ Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, the firm’s diversity and inclusion program is managed with the objective of utilising the best talent worldwide in solving legal problems. The firm recruits a diverse pool of lawyers that collectively possess an awareness of cutting-edge 21st century issues—legal, social and economic—for which clients require solutions. West has stated, “We see our robust approach to diversity and inclusion not just as a critical part of the DNA of the firm and essential to our business, but also as central to our every interaction with each of our clients. It allows us to engage with existing and prospective clients, with existing and prospective employees and with every aspect of our public engagement where we consistently emphasise that diversity and inclusion is part of the fabric of our firm and that it informs every aspect of our internal and external relationships.”

West, in addition to being an active litigator representing domestic and global companies, is a nationally recognised subject matter authority in the field of diversity and inclusion, and leader of the firm’s unique Diversity and Inclusion Consulting Group which focuses on crafting sustainable diversity and inclusion programs and solutions for corporate entities. Earlier in his career, West successfully leveraged his role as Head of Global Outside Counsel Management at Walmart to establish and meet diversity and inclusion goals through its outside counsel spend, for which he is recognised as being at the forefront of building the business case for diversity. He also facilitated the company’s role as an initial signatory to the Inclusion Initiative with the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms. West went on to spend five years as President and CEO of MCCA, tripling membership in the national advocacy group for corporate diversity and inclusion issues. In 2019, West was the recipient of the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award: Diversity & Equality from Chambers and Partners.

Dentons Boekel migrates name and brand to Dentons

The partners of Dentons Boekel have decided to transition the name to Dentons, with effect from January 1, 2020. Dutch law firm Boekel combined with Dentons in 2017.

“Dentons Boekel has had a rich legacy of serving clients for more than 60 years in the Dutch market. We are delighted to have benefited from the brand and goodwill and are excited about Dentons’ next chapter in the Netherlands,” said Elliott Portnoy, Global Chief Executive Officer of Dentons.

“Connecting our new talent to colleagues and clients around the world is a key element of our global strategy,” said Joe Andrew, Global Chair of Dentons. “As the partners of Dentons Boekel have decided to transition from Dentons Boekel to Dentons, we are remarkably pleased with the success of the combination in the Netherlands, which is just one example of the uptick we are experiencing across so many of our markets around the world.”

Since joining Dentons in May 2017, the Amsterdam office has doubled in revenue growth. It has grown from 16 to 29 partners, adding new teams, and/or significantly enhancing capabilities in Banking and Finance, Corporate and M&A, Energy, Private Equity, Intellectual Property and Technology, Tax and Real Estate.

Wendela Raas, Managing Partner in Amsterdam said: “We are delighted by the way this combination has played out, which is one of the reasons we decided to transition the name to Dentons at this time. We are fully committed to Dentons’ vision to always be the law firm of the future and look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues around the world under the Dentons brand.”

“The last two years have been transformative for our Amsterdam office,” said Marien Glerum, Benelux Managing Officer at Dentons. “Not only have we attracted top talent and strengthened our service offering, but we have also gained numerous new client relationships. At the same time, our existing clients have benefitted from the unmatched global coverage of the world’s largest law firm.”

Dentons has more than 100 lawyers in the Netherlands, and employs more than 10,000 lawyers in 181 locations and 73 countries around the world.

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DLA Piper boosts trainee salaries to £77k, as pay rises continue

DLA Piper has upped the salaries of its trainees and newly qualified (NQ) solicitors, as City law firms continue to chuck extra cash at their rookie ranks.

The global titan has confirmed that first years will now receive a salary of £45,000, up 2% from £44,000, while those in year two of their TCs will earn £50,000, again a rise of £1,000 or 2%. There’s extra cash for DLA’s NQs, too. The firm’s new associates will now receive £77,000, an extra £2,000 or 3%, putting them on the same remuneration levels as their peers at Baker McKenzie and Norton Rose Fulbright.

The firm, which offers around 70 training contracts each year, has also bumped pay across its offices outside London. First year trainees in the English regions and Scotland now earn £28,000, while those a year ahead will now receive a salary of £31,000 — an extra £1,000 across the board. Regional and Scottish NQ pay now sits at £44,000, up from a previous figure of £42,000.

News of the uplifts come just weeks after it emerged that DLA Piper had ditched a policy which ensured its London and regional trainees were paid the same while completing secondments overseas. Speaking at the time, a spokesperson for the firm said the “adjustment to the secondment policy for our UK regional offices” was part of a “new international graduate programme”.

A host of City firms have confirmed salary rises in recent weeks. A full breakdown of what they pay (and much, much more) can be found on the 2018 edition of our Firms Most List.

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6 insights on being an agile advisor

If you or your firm are engaged in advisory services, staying relevant to clients by being adaptable and agile should be the key focus for high performing advisors.

1. Stop wasting time on coffee meetings during the sales process

It’s tempting to talk to anyone who’s interested in your services, but focusing on ‘quality rather than quantity’ can prevent days of wasted time each month. Russell Cummings, business advisor from Shifft Consulting recommends:

  • Pre-qualifying leads with a 20-minute call to understand their barriers.
  • Discover if they’re the type of client you want to work with and if you can provide the value they are seeking.
  • Following up successful calls with an email covering your background, evidence of capability and setting up a one-hour meeting (only if required) to gain verbal agreement.
  • Discussing price, value, deliverables and time commitments at the meeting to avoid writing ‘cold’ proposals.
  • Only at this point send a document or email confirming the next steps to doing business together.

2. Build capacity for success

There are many ways you can build capacity for greater leverage, from simply arming yourself with the right tools, to engaging a virtual or executive assistant. Whilst a virtual or executive assistant is a great idea, most don’t understand the economics – if you cannot generate at least twice your executive assistant’s cost in additional fees, then you can’t justify one.

If having an executive assistant is right for you, make sure they do value-added tasks, not just secretarial work – researching prospects and clients, running your contact program, writing blog articles and social posts, creating presentations and client onboarding will all work towards creation of additional revenue.

At a more fundamental level, build yourself a high-performance toolkit for client meetings. Consider what you need in a toolkit if you’re out on the road; tablet, pens for flipcharts, adapters for presentations, printed templates and so on. If you’re running most of your meetings internally, ensure the meeting rooms help you facilitate – use walls that also act as a whiteboard or an interactive screen to capture notes.

Can you log client actions and strategies throughout the meeting in your software? An agile advisor leaves workshops with very little work to do or responses to write. Do you use meeting software such as Zoom with clients?

What other software would be in your high-performance toolkit to allow you to work seamlessly from anywhere in the world to solve any issue? Embrace online coaching to create greater leverage.

3. Facilitate rather than consult

It’s rare to get through a client meeting without straying from the agenda to discuss a ‘hot’ issue. A great facilitator has the confidence to tackle these left-field issues ‘head-on’ by drawing on structured tools and techniques. What’s the key to be a great facilitator in a one-on-one meeting or group workshop?

  • Preparation and planning: Ensure you invest time to prepare well regardless of whether in a larger workshop or one-on-one meeting, interview key stakeholders prior if applicable, note timings on workshop materials and review historic client notes.
  • Orientation: focus on client outcomes in the time available, it’s not about you.
  • Framing: set a clear purpose at the outset, outline the agenda, make sure pre-reading is done, set expectations of roles in the meeting.
  • Structure: ensure your message gets through with the EAS (Expose, Activity, Summary) technique. You could also use ‘Now, Where, How’ to structure your workshops.
  • Delivery: adapt to the time allocated and use a mix of mediums (whiteboard, flip chart, PowerPoint presentation, group work) to keep energy levels high.
  • Interaction: gather regular feedback and ask open-ended questions throughout the workshops, 70 percent of the time spent should be attendees doing the talking or in exercises.
  • Summary and next steps: create a good outline of key points, be clear on the next steps and who does what. Keep the momentum going by booking the next meeting and setting expectations about topics to be covered.

4. Focus your model on achieving profitable growth

Keep your business advisory model focused on services leading to profitable growth, your model should be simple enough for clients to clearly understand the value you can deliver through your service offerings. Too often advisors over-complicate their models, attracting the wrong target market or slowing down sales cycles.

Once you have a clear model you can build your capability and capacity to deliver these offerings flawlessly. Having the capability to facilitate using a broad range of problem solving and strategy tools will save you time in preparation and ensure you can solve any client problem efficiently.

5. Put yourself in the right mindset for success

Probably the most important of all the tips to be a more agile advisor is to be self-aware about the capabilities you need for success, ensuring you’re continually staying ahead of the game in the understanding that best practice is about continuous improvement.

6. 80 percent online, 20 percent face-to-face

Client issues don’t appear conveniently and predictably ‘every second Tuesday of the month at 1pm until 3pm’ when you have a client review meeting. These issues can be random, often occurring a few times a week and then nothing for a month or two. Agile advisors need the ability to be just-in-time for clients, allowing them the flexibility to access the support, training and insights required to address their issues 24/7 in this fast-paced world.

Evolving your client contact cadence by embracing online coaching is key. High performers manage the expectations of clients so that 80 percent of contact is online via Zoom or other web-based meetings, coaching posts, viewing tools and completing online courses and only 20 percent face-to-face for re-setting of plans and work-shopping matters.

Inevitably there’ll be objections from some not wanting to move from the traditional face-to-face only model but point out that it’s going to be more expensive and ‘banking up’ issues and hoping to fix them in a 2-hour quarterly catch up is not feasible. Plant the seed of fixing issues between meetings, keeping up momentum and using face-to-face as an opportunity to reset plans.

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Intestacy and DNA testing of children on the death of a father

The decision of the High Court following the death of Colin Wilson Birtles (who died leaving two daughters and without a will) highlights the importance of having a will.

In this case, the first daughter obtained a Grant of Representation so that they could administer the estate of their father. The second daughter applied to the court for an order to have the Grant set aside and sought a declaration that the first daughter was not Mr Birtles’ biological daughter (the first daughter would therefore not be entitled to administer the estate or receive anything from Mr Birtles’ estate under the rules of intestacy).

The first daughter argued that her mother and Mr Birtles were married at the date she was born and that Mr Birtles was named on her birth certificate; therefore “there was a common law presumption that [Mr Birtles] was the [daughter’s] father, rebuttable on the balance of probabilities.”

The court decided in the circumstances of the case that the first daughter should be compelled to give a saliva sample for the purposes of a DNA test. If the first daughter refused, the court said that it would draw adverse inferences against her.

In this case both of the daughters were adults, but what if there was doubt as to paternity (and therefore right to inherit on the death of a father) and one or more of the children had been a minor? As second families become more commonplace there is a likelihood of this happening more often. A minor child cannot consent to a DNA test and it can be imagined that a child’s mother may not wish to consent especially if there is a chance that the paternity of the child is in doubt.

If the person with parental responsibility of a minor child refuses to consent to their child having a DNA test then an order of the court may be sought allowing a sample to be taken “if the court considers that it would be in [the child’s] best interests”.

In the case of Mr Birtles, the court considered submissions on the human rights implications of ordering the test, particularly the right to respect for family and private life. The judge balanced this against the “public interest in the accurate resolution of inheritance disputes” and considered that ordering a DNA test would be proportionate in the circumstances.

The judge also considered the emotional toil that a negative DNA result might have but held that upset had already been caused by the dispute and the DNA testing would not compound this unnecessarily.

It cannot be known what Mr Birtles would have wanted in the case that one of his daughters had turned out not to be his biological child. It is very possible that he would have wanted both daughters to be treated equally; he had never challenged either daughter’s paternity.

All of the upset and costs involved in the sad case of Mr Birtles and his daughters (and many other similar cases which do not end up in the court) can be avoided where a carefully prepared will is in place. Don’t leave it to chance; when emotions are high following a death; cracks can appear in even the most seemingly amicable family relationships.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further advice, please contact Ruth Pyatt or another member of Birketts’ Private Client Advisory Team.

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Is outside ownership of law firms picking up steam?

One of the least interesting ways to end a conversation about legal innovation is also one of the most frequent. It goes something like this: “That change would require amendments to professional regulations.” Often, the regulation being discussed is the ban on nonlawyer ownership of law firms.

It’s a good way to end a conversation because, as Yale Law School professor John Morley puts it, it is “astonishing how little happens” on the issue of nonlawyer ownership in the United States.

But things are happening that are finally worth talking about. The State Bar of California voted in July to form a task force to study, among other things, allowing outside investors in law firms. Meanwhile, litigation finance giant Burford Capital Ltd. recently began discussing with law firms a financial structure that the company says would allow investors to own portions of today’s firms, with no regulatory changes required.

Commenting on the California task force, legal marketing executive Heather Morse asked if the news meant that a “game changer” for the law was “finally here.” The answer to that question is a resounding no. The task force won’t finish its work until 2020, so nothing has arrived yet. But the fact that a state bar association is studying the issue has, at least, generated a real discussion about an often taboo topic for the first time since 2016.

Legal innovators hope California’s task force comes to a much different conclusion than the efforts in 2016 of the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. That commission followed shortly on the heels of the ABA House of Delegates issuing a stamp of approval for professional Rule 5.4—the official ban on outside investors in law firms. A March resolution that year adopted “model regulatory objectives for the provision of legal services,” and noted that “nothing in this resolution abrogates in any manner existing ABA policy prohibiting nonlawyer ownership of law firms.”

Some of the harshest critics of the commission’s work exploring the concept were bar associations themselves. State bar leaders from Illinois, Missouri, New York, New Jersey and Texas wrote to oppose the idea of nonlawyer ownership.

“There is no need for non-attorneys to acquire ownership interests in firms, or any evidence that firms are in danger of losing access to complementary professional services if an ownership interest is not made available,” wrote Miles Winder III, then-president of the New Jersey State Bar Association. “The NJSBA urges the commission to not rehash settled concepts.”

William Henderson, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who wrote a study that spurred California’s task force, says the issue is anything but settled. The rise of technology has put law firms on an uneven plane with new companies that are looking to enter the legal services market. Without the ability to co-invest in law firms, he says, people with the types of skills needed for today’s market—such as technologists, data analysts and others—will not be attracted to law firms.

“What we have is consumer protection for those who can afford legal services, but the ethics rules really limit the ones who can enter the market,” Henderson says.

Those ethics rules won’t be amended without a fight. Jordan Furlong, a consultant on the legal business based in Canada, points out that no bar association has voluntarily vanquished the prohibition on outside owners in law firms. In both Australia and the U.K., direct government intervention was the basis for allowing so-called “alternative business structures.”

Still, recent reforms to California’s bar association may work in reformists’ favour. Last year, the State Bar of California split into two parts: one contains the voluntary trade association activities, while another focuses on regulation and discipline.

That separation, along with a rule that put six nonlawyers on the bar’s 13-member board, limits what legal consultant Mark Cohen says is an incentive for bar associations to bow to pressure from their members to protect lawyers’ revenue streams.

As evidence of this incentive, Cohen points to a doomed pilot program, ABA Law Connect, that used Rocket Lawyer’s technology to provide consumers access to lawyers for as little as $4.95. The pilot was scrapped in early 2016 after bar leaders from Illinois, Pennsylvania and elsewhere wrote a letter decrying the program for what they perceived as a “blue-plate-special mentality.”

“The ABA Law Connect program is not in the best interest of the public, the legal profession or small businesses that operate in our states,” the bar leaders wrote.

Cohen disagrees.

“This is not really about protecting the public. How can they say that when roughly 85 percent of Americans who need legal services can’t afford them at the present rates?” he says. “I think this is just lawyer protectionism.”

Cohen and others believe that nonlawyer ownership in law firms would allow them to harness increasingly important technologies and professional skills to provide new and less-expensive types of legal services.

One example of that is the U.K.’s Gateley plc, one of the few law firms to list its shares publicly following bar regulation reform. The firm increased last year its number of employees by 8.8 percent, to 757 people, many of whom the firm’s chairman, Nigel Payne, says were drawn to the firm by the opportunity to own equity. More than 55 percent of the employees participate in a stock-option program, Gateley said in its most recent annual report in July.

“Being able to offer something different as an employer has helped us not only retain staff since the IPO, but also attract a wide pool of new talent,” Gateley wrote.

For those who are not inclined to wait out a decision from the California bar—or who operate elsewhere in the United States—there may be a near-term way to offer something different to employees.

Burford Capital, the litigation financier that wrote in support of the ABA’s 2016 commission on nonlawyer ownership, says it can finance new ventures that would provide corporate-like equity in today’s law firms. Burford hasn’t publicly shared all the specifics of the plan, but its co-founder, Jonathan Molot, who is also a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, says it would involve spinning off the nonlegal functions of a law firm into a separate company. That company would receive investment from Burford or others. The firm’s partners would also be investors, allowing them to own a piece of what they helped build long after they stop billing hours.

“I think liberalising the ethics rules is a good idea,” Molot says. “But, that being said, because you’re not looking to move the entire profit center of a law firm into a permanent structure, only a slice of it, I think that can all be done now without any change.”

Change or not, it is a good time for talk.