Regulating nanotechnology & the quality of corporate legal advice

An interview with

Dr Steven Vaughan


Steven Vaughan researches the legal profession, corporate finance and environmental law. He spent a decade as a solicitor in the City of London, before becoming a legal academic. He has advised the European Parliament and worked with the British Standards Institute to develop the world’s first publicly accredited standard for companies on the regulation of nanotechnologies. He is currently an ESRC Future Research Leader, working on a funded 3 year project that explores the nature and extent of advice provided by corporate lawyers.

TheLawMap: From being a City solicitor to an academic, what drew you to legal academia and research?

I got my training contract at the end of the second year of my law degree. I loved university and had always wanted to do a PhD. I did my training, qualified and then moved law firms. I so enjoyed being a solicitor - the pace of transactions, my deals being in the papers, my wonderful colleagues (and the fantastic salary...) - but after a while I wanted a change. So I started my PhD and carried on working as a solicitor part time for my firm. After a few years, I had to make the decision: either stay in academia full time, or go back to practice, as trying to do both was killing me. I chose academia and love the freedom that I have to pursue my own research interests and to inculcate in students the same sense of wonder about the law and society that was given to me when I was a student.

TheLawMap: Why was there a requirement for a publicly accredited standard for companies on the regulation of nanotechnologies?

Nanotech is the ability to engineer on the scale of the tiny (at billionths of a metre). It's a field of exciting possibilities. However, the law is often slow to keep up with scientific progress. For large companies with their own in-house lawyers, or with the money to pay for external law firms, knowing how the law applies to their products, designs, employees etc is one thing. For small companies, for start-ups, it's quite another. The publicly accredited standard, published by the British Standards Institute, is a free-to-use guide on how the law in England & Wales applies to nano, where the gaps are and what might be the challenges as regards compliance. I was lucky enough to be part of the team that helped to write the standard, led by my colleague Professor Robert Lee and working with Dr Elen Stokes of Cardiff University.

TheLawMap: Would you elaborate on the aims and objectives of your ongoing research exploring the nature, and extent of advice provided by corporate lawyers?
For the last 20 years, there has been academic interest in exactly what it is that corporate lawyers do: do they just give clients legal advice, or is there something more? If, as many people claim, there is not much law in corporate legal practice, what is so special about corporate lawyers? In a post financial crisis world, I am also interested in how corporate lawyers and corporate clients perceive the lawyer-client relationship. Do clients want or expect their lawyers to advise them, say, on risk? Do corporate lawyers feel responsibility for the actions their clients take? These are the sorts of questions my project seeks to answer.

TheLawMap: What are the principal challenges in maintaining a high standard of legal ethics in an increasingly diversified legal profession?

We know, from empirical legal research, that context is one of the most important factors as regards legal ethics. So, where you work, who you work for, how your organisation pays you and gives you bonuses, the attitudes of the senior management team etc etc - all these things matter. The profession has diversified significantly and challenges include an increasingly globalised legal services market (where norms in Country A may be very different to norms in Country B) and increased competition for legal services. The size of the profession also poses a challenge to the legal regulators who are, I think, understaffed and under resourced.

TheLawMap: In global terms, what concerns you the most in relation to environmental laws?

Environmental law is a hodge podge of different, overlapping legal regimes. And much of it is reactive, rather than proactive. We also spend far too long on the politics and lobbying of causes.

TheLawMap: If you could change something within the legal profession what would that be?
Two words: legal aid. The Coalition Government is denying access to justice to some of those most in need. This has to stop.

With special thanks to Dr Steven Vaughan for his valuable time. He can be followed on Twitter and interacted with via Linkedin. In 2012, Steven gave a talk at the Hay Festival on controlling risks to the public from nanotechologies. A recording of his talk can be heard here on the Hay Festival website and downloaded as a podcast.


'A discourse on the first principle of regulation for lawyers'

An interview with

Iain Miller

Commercial Dispute Resolution Partner

Iain Miller is at the height of his profession. He was recognised by The Lawyer magazine in its 'Hot 100 list for 2013'. He has been ranked as a Star Individual in the 'Chambers & Partners Guide to the UK' in the field of professional discipline and as a leading individual in the Legal 500 in the field of professional discipline. He has acted for the Solicitors Regulation Authority and its predecessors since 1994, and had also acted for the Bar Standard Board, the Architects Registration Board, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman. His publications include the Alternative Business Structures, A Compliance Guide.   

TheLawMap: What are the required qualities to be a successful commercial dispute resolution lawyer?

The great thing about litigation is that it requires so many different skill sets.  Technical knowledge of the law and procedure is a given.  I think what distinguishes those that are really good is the ability to think creatively about how best to solve the dispute in their client's best interest.  That normally does not involve attempting to pummel the other side into submission by taking every point.  The best cases are those where all the parties work together to narrow the issues and try to find a satisfactory outcome.  However, those cases are depressingly rare and there is therefore  clearly a need to be level headed as adversarial litigation does involve some annoying and difficult moments.  Finally, as with everything else in life a sense of humour is invaluable.

TheLawMap: Lumsdon & Ors [2014] EWHC 28, unsuccessfully challenged Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (‘QASA’). What are the main challenges to QASA?

QASA seeks to address the quality of advocacy in the criminal courts.  Whilst most advocates are of a high quality there seems to be a widespread concern that some are not.  Few things are more important than ensuring competent representation in a criminal trial.  The scheme of QASA is to assess advocates as competent at 4 different levels which reflect the complexity of the trial.  To be assessed as competent at a particular level an advocate needs to nominate up to 3 hearings and the judge will complete an assessment form which will be sent to the advocate's regulator.  The scheme was developed jointly by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and Ilex Professional Services and approved by the overarching regulator, the Legal Services Board.   The judicial review challenge raised a number of grounds.  These primarily centred on whether the role of the judge in completing the assessment affected the fairness of the trial process because, for example, the advocate may be inhibited in taking points on behalf of his or her client that offended the judge.  Issues were also raised as to whether the scheme complied with the Provision of Services Regulations and whether the appeal process from an assessment was fair.  The application was dismissed in both the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal.  The Claimants have now sought permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.  My firm acts for the Bar Standards Board in the case.

TheLawMap: Legal Services Act 2007 created Legal Service Board (LSB) an independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales. You have represented regulatory bodies SRA, BSB and others, do you think LSB is breaking down regulatory barriers to competition?
The biggest impact of the LSB is that it started from an assumption that legal regulation was no different from other areas of regulation and that many of the principles of market regulation could be equally applied in the context of law.  The main strand of work by the LSB has been directed at removing barriers to competition.  This is based on the principal that if competition increases then the accessibility of legal services will increase and their cost will go down.  It has been fascinating to witness this thinking becoming reflected in the approach of the front line regulators.  However, the changes driven by the LSB have also exposed the structural limitations of the statutory scheme set up by the Legal Services Act.  The general consensus is that the scheme needs to be amended but this will involve primary legislation which may be difficult in the near future.
TheLawMap: You are the coauthor of the Alternative Business Structures published by the Law Society publications. Since October 2011, 350+ licences have been issued by the SRA and the CLC. Early this month EY (the third of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms) was granted an ABS licence by the SRA. In your opinion, what would be the principal benefit of ABS to the legal profession in the long term?

The introduction of external legal ownership of those who provided regulated legal services will radically change the market.  It means that it is no longer necessary to go to a law firm to get legal services.  The big 4 accountancy firms understand this and although they seem to have different approaches, they realise that legal services can be bolted onto the business services they already provide.  Similar things are happening in the personal injury market where insurers are integrating legal services with their other businesses.  My view is that within 10 years most legal services will be delivered as part of another service.  For law firms this means that they need to think about how they need to adapt to this change.  There will always be a place for specialist legal advice by law firms or by the bar but the remaining firms are likely to be less highly leveraged and more specialist.

TheLawMap: Who or what inspired you to be a lawyer?

I would like to say that I was inspired by a particular episode of Petrocelli (if you are under 45 you may need to look it up!) but the sad reality is that doing a law degree seemed a useful thing to do and that just led me on to becoming a solicitor.  However, I have been very lucky to work with a number of brilliant people during my career who have inspired me and shown me what excellence looks like.  These include John Fordham at Stephenson Harwood, Geoff Prevett at Eversheds, Nick Wright at Wright Son & Pepper and Tim Dutton QC at Fountain Court.  I am also very fortunate that I now work with a team of solicitors who are way more talented than I am.  It is always better to be lucky than good.

TheLawMap: If you could change something within the legal profession, what would it be?

I think we confuse words for value.  Skeleton arguments, witness statements and pleading seem to be getting longer and longer.  The ability to make the complicated simple is what every lawyer should aspire to.

With special thanks to Iain Miller for his valuable time. He can be followed on Twitter and interacted with via Linkedin.


'We must not make a scarecrow of the law'

An interview with

Kevin Maguire

Rule of Law Development Advisor

The 'Rule of Law' as a concept is fundamental to governance in a civil society. Yet, there are great differences at times in how the process of justice is implemented. In this wide-ranging interview Kevin Maguire takes us on a fascinating journey through his experience in legal development work in some of the most challenging conflict and post-conflict regions of the world. He talks about the historical importance of alternative dispute resolution in some societies as well as the need for greater support from legal professionals of the developed world towards the developing world.

Kevin Maguire is a lawyer from Melbourne, Australia. He practised law at the Melbourne Bar and Legal Aid before focusing on international development work in the field of 'rule of law' in the late 1990s. He has worked in a number of countries in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean in his rule of law work including in Cambodia, Fiji Islands, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Bangladesh. His international development work has been in conjunction with international organisations such as the United Nations, AusAID, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (War Crimes Tribunal). 

TheLawMap: Having worked in Cambodia, Fiji, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bangladesh and many other countries, are there noticeable similarities in the goal and focus of the legal profession across these nations?

In my work as a rule of law development adviser I worked mainly with the courts and the judiciary but necessarily became involved with the lawyers in these jurisdictions. The problems they face in these countries are significant. All these countries have at times been disrupted by conflict from the genocide in Cambodia to the series of coups in the Fiji Islands. Many of those who suffered as a result of these conflicts have been lawyers, for example, it is believed that no lawyers survived the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

In these circumstances the legal profession has faced considerable problems in trying to re-establish itself. Often the lawyers have been poorly trained and lack the skills necessary to be competent lawyers, and there has also been a serious shortage of lawyers in some of these countries.

In this environment of political upheaval resultant from conflicts, it has led to significant levels of corruption and the legal profession have not been immune from that. In the courts in many of these countries it is corruption that will decide the outcome of a court case. Unfortunately lawyers play a significant role in this process. I recall a discussion I had with the head of the Human Rights Commission in one of these countries who was also a law professor at the law school. He told me he came across a former student at the courts who was in tears and he asked what was causing him so much distress. The lawyer told his old law professor that his principal had sent him to court with money to pay a judge a bribe, and this was completely contrary to what he was taught by his law professor. The challenges these lawyers face are significant.

A particular challenge the legal profession faces in many of these countries is the lack of discipline of the lawyers. In some cases Bar or Law Societies do not exist, or if they do, they are ineffective and unable to control and discipline their lawyers. In some cases they are not able to ensure that the lawyers are in fact legally qualified. This is important as in one of these countries private “law schools” have emerged where it is generally accepted that students pay for a degree without even attending courses.

It is important to note however that there have been a number of committed and highly competent lawyers I have met in my work in these very same countries, who are aware of the problems and doing what they can in very difficult circumstances to perform as a lawyer and to develop the legal profession in their country.

I think it is important that lawyers from developed and disciplined legal professions should do what they can to assist these lawyers in their difficult task of developing their professions and ultimately the rule of law in their countries.

TheLawMap: Following on from the question above, does the legal process as a means to resolving conflict have exactly the same meaning everywhere in the world?

One of the most interesting features of my work has been identifying and examining different means of resolving disputes in the countries I have worked in. It should be remembered that the formal justice system as we know it is a relatively new process, and based upon dispute resolution systems that have been developed over many centuries.

A good example is Sudan and the region of Darfur. Dispute resolution systems have been developed over many years in the region and extend to deal with regional as well as individual disputes. At the regional level they have a system that deals with disputes amongst the regions of Darfur. At the tribal level they also have systems that deal with tribal disputes, and finally at the local level they have systems that deal with disputes within the tribes and amongst individuals.

This has all been severely fractured by the war that remains ongoing, but it does offer a good example that societies do draw on established dispute resolution systems without relying on the formal justice system as we know it. It is also interesting to note that the senior leaders in Darfur had told Kofi Annan in his report on the Darfur war, that they believed many of the problems could be solved by using these established dispute resolution systems.

Another interesting system of dispute resolution is the one I came across in Zambia where they have set up “local courts” which are informal dispute resolution hearing where three person panels conduct hearings without the presence of lawyers. They therefore combine elements of the formal justice system and more traditional dispute resolution. I am told that over 70 percent of the cases that come before the legal system in Zambia are resolved by these courts.

These are just two examples where dispute resolution is not dealt with by the formal justice system as we know it, but by more traditional means or a combination of the old and the new. I believe that countries like Sudan and Zambia do have a comparative advantage where they are able to draw upon traditional means of dispute resolution, whereas we in developed countries do not have that advantage. We could learn a lot from these countries and their manner of dispute resolution.

TheLawMap: What does your present role as a rule of law development adviser entail?
The question that is posed is a good one and the answer has only become apparent to me over time. I recall when I first started my work on an AusAID justice project in Cambodia I had little or no knowledge of what was required of me as an adviser. Yes, there were project documents and outcomes and activities and all the paraphernalia that comes with documented development work, but I really didn’t understand that ultimately it was about assisting what my counterparts wanted to achieve. That was assisting them to develop the rule of law in their country, which would ultimately lead to opportunity for all their citizens to resolve disputes in a fair legal system.

The countries I have worked in all have had different needs from the very basic issues that arise in a country like Cambodia to a well-established justice system like the Fiji Islands which needed just a little modernising in things such as case management.

My work is mainly with the courts, and as such the work has been with the judiciary and court staff. By necessity it also involves work with the police, prisons, legal profession and legal NGOs which all form part of the legal system in any country. This work could be anything from developing training departments so that my counterparts can develop and deliver effective training programmes for the judiciary and court staff, to providing some form of material support.

It has also involved an informal mentoring role. I have noticed over time that once my counterparts have become comfortable with me and trust me, they will come and seek advice on matters from court process to how I would approach a particular legal issue. I have also noted that once I have established trust with my counterparts that I have been able to achieve a great deal more in my development work.

Beyond the training, material support and mentoring/advice, I believe that my presence, and the presence of other advisers, has made it easier for the courts to do their work. I believe that the presence of advisers from other countries makes them feel that they have support in environments where it is very difficult to remain impartial and support the rule of law. I recall a conversation with a judge in Cambodia who told me that his work was a lot easier when I was around because he did not get as much interference in his work from those that tried to influence the outcomes of his cases.

So my work is much more than what is documented in project documents, it is as much about advice and support for the courts in the countries I have worked in. Ultimately, as I have already expressed, it is all about developing the rule of law to a point where all citizens whether wealthy or poor, weak or powerful, have a fair opportunity to have their disputes resolved according to law.
TheLawMap: If you could change something within the legal profession what would that be?

I am not sure that there is any major change to the legal profession I would advocate, but I do believe that we as a profession need to remind ourselves of our responsibilities as lawyers. I recall when I first began practising law one of our High Court justices, Harry Gibbs, expressed concern about the profession becoming a business, and reminding lawyers that it is a profession. Those words have remained with me as I see much of the work being done by many lawyers is regarded as “business”.
I also recall when I was doing the Bar Readers course in Melbourne, one of the participants said that as far as he was concerned his practice was a “business” and that is the way he intended to conduct himself.
It is of course not a “business” it is a profession, and lawyers need to be reminded of this. Being part of a profession comes responsibilities, for example to act as an officer of the court and not to engage in practices that undermine the integrity of the court system. As a profession I believe that we should also take a wider look at our practice to ensure that people do have access to the legal system, and have the advice that those who can afford legal advice have become used to.
This of course raises the on-going issue of legal aid and what role lawyers should take in its provision. Do we as lawyers volunteer our skills to ensure that all have access to competent legal advice? By volunteering our services do we enhance the rule of law and access to justice?
I don’t want to appear to be lecturing, but I believe lawyers should always be asking themselves these questions, and when it comes time to “hang up the wig and gown” will we be able to look back at our practice of the law and say, yes I contributed to access to justice and ultimately to the rule of law, and fulfilled my responsibility as a lawyer and officer of the court.

TheLawMap: Is there a personality from the past or present within the ranks of the legal profession or the judiciary who you admire the most?

There has not been any individual that I have particularly admired, but having said that, I was impressed with a lawyer from London by the name of Desmond de Silva QC (now Sir Desmond) who I worked with at the Special Court for Sierra Leone where I was the legal adviser to the Registrar. Desmond was the deputy prosecutor when I arrived and went on to become the Prosecutor when David Crane, the original prosecutor, left the court to return home to the USA. What impressed me in particular was Desmond’s commitment to seeing that justice was done for the people of Sierra Leone, and in doing so, sacrificed his practice as a senior barrister in London and the financial returns that came with that.
Desmond was particularly focused on ensuring that he did everything within his power to ensure that Charles Taylor was arrested and brought before the court to be tried. He travelled extensively and lobbied many, including political figures, to ensure that Taylor was arrested, which he ultimately was. There were many people who willingly (and not so willingly) contributed to the arrest of Taylor, but Desmond to my mind was instrumental in that process.
Desmond is now back in the UK and has resumed his practice, and to his credit, he continues to contribute to the rule of law at the international level having done work for the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate Israel’s interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla, as well as more recently chairing an inquiry into the torture and execution of detainees in Syria.
I think we as lawyers would like to be able to say that we contributed to the development of the rule of law, whether nationally or internationally, at least in part, compared to the contributions that Desmond has made.

With special thanks to Kevin Maguire for his valuable time. He can be followed on Twitter and interacted with via Linkedin. The title of this interview is a line from William Shakespeare's play 'Measure for measure'.


Authority & jurisprudence in the land of our fathers 

An interview with

Leanne Wood AM

The Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 were parliamentary measures by which Wales became a part of the Kingdom of England, thereby the legal system of England was extended to Wales. Prior to this and since the final conquest of Wales by the English King Edward I, from 1284 AD the Statute of Rhuddlan had provided a constitutional basis of law, which had replaced the original codified system of Welsh law Cyfraith Hywel (Laws of Hywel Dda) dating back to the reign of King Hywel Dda (AD 880-950). 

Leanne Wood is a passionate believer in a devolved justice system for Wales. Before becoming the first female leader of Plaid Cymru, she had worked as a probation officer including serving as the co-Chair of the National Association of Probation Officers between 1998-2000. She had also lectured on Social Policy at Cardiff University until her election to the National Assembly for Wales in 2003. 

TheLawMap: What would be the principal benefits of a devolved criminal justice system for the people of Wales?

I have long been an advocate of devolving the criminal justice system to Wales. This is not just for devolution’s sake but so that we can craft a criminal justice system that works better for Wales. The advantages of such a system are fully outlined in our policy paper Making Our Communities Safer which is available through the Plaid Cymru website.

The thrust of the paper is to show that the criminal justice system is not working as well as it can for Wales. Re-offending rates are too high, we have an overcrowded prison population and levels of suicide and substance misuse are also too high. With more emphasis on treating the causes of crime rather than the symptoms, we could develop a system here that is much better for society.

TheLawMap: What makes you believe that the legal fraternity in Wales would support efforts to establish a devolved jurisdiction?

Why would they not? The criminal justice system has already been devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland so there is clear precedent for this. It is in everybody’s interest to have a system that works smarter and delivers better outcomes for offenders and communities. Evidence show a majority of the Welsh public are in favour of the devolution of the criminal justice system as well as further powers in general and it makes sense now that the Assembly has primary law making powers.

TheLawMap: You have an extensive knowledge of the probation service. Latest reports are suggesting that our prisons are in crisis due to staff shortages, violence, bullying, self-harm and suicides soaring, and many young prisoners in particular laying idle behind their locked doors during the working day. Is there an easy fix? 
As the policy paper Making Our Communities Safer argues, much of these problems have stemmed from successive Westminster Governments seeking to treat the symptoms, rather than the causes of crime. There are no quick and easy answers to remedying decades of bad policy in the criminal justice system that has delivered an overcrowded prison population and unacceptable re-offending rates.

The privatisation of the probation service is the latest example of ideologically driven policy that pays little or no attention to the views of professionals on the ground or to what works in terms of reducing offending rates.  Many of the solutions are long-term ones such as Plaid Cymru's proposals for a 20 year substance misuse strategy that concentrates on harm reduction. We have also advocated a generational strategy to tackle hate or power-based crime which would be part of a child’s primary school education.

These should be a policy goal to reduce the overall prison population.  Too many mentally ill people are incarcerated.  And the overcrowded prisons tend to be the ones where the bullying, self-harm, violence and suicides are more prevalent. The high prison population plays is key in creating these conditions.
TheLawMap: Recently, there was a UK government consultation on domestic violence which reads as “at present, there is no specific offence of domestic abuse outlining that coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate relationships is criminal. These behaviours are captured in stalking and harassment legislation, but this does not explicitly apply to intimate relationships. Some experts have argued that this means the law is ambiguous and perpetrators of domestic abuse are committing criminal acts but not being brought to justice. Does the current law sufficiently capture the Government’s non-statutory definition of domestic abuse? Additionally, as a former support worker for Cwm Cynon Women's Aid, do you feel that the current law on domestic abuse needs to be strengthened to offer better protection to victims?

Plaid Cymru believes the law needs tightening to ensure coercive and controlling behaviour can be prosecuted. My party colleague Elfyn Llwyd MP has carried out some sterling work to try and tighten up the law and has recently met with the Home Secretary on this very subject.  He intends to table amendments to the Serious Crime Bill, which if implemented and enforced properly, should result in a sharp rise in reporting, prosecutions and convictions of these offences. It will usher in a degree of protection for victims of domestic abuse that are currently vulnerable.

From my experience in the field, I'd say that this strengthening of the law is long overdue. I can recall numerous cases where this law would have made a difference to the lives of women and their children that have been marred by domestic abuse.

With special thanks to Leanne Wood AM for her valuable time. She can be followed on Twitter and recently held a Facebook questions and answer session. 


Happiness is just a thing called law

An interview with

Mentor to Lawyers

The daily grind of law can be exciting yet challenging, having a profound impact upon the practitioner's well-being. In truth, the environment in which lawyers operate appears at times to have been tailored to elicit feelings of stress. Martin Cole was called to the Bar in 1994 and worked in independent practice and in-house in the UK until 2008 when he moved to Australia. He works with lawyers as a coach and mentor helping them to develop and sustain successful careers and flourishing lives.

TheLawMap: What made you switch from the practice of law to being a mentor and coach to lawyers?

I studied law in the first place because I wanted to understand how systems of control external to myself governed my life. I wanted to know about things like rights, duties, power and accountability and I wanted to help other people make some sense of the law when they needed to.

After about 6 years practice at the bar, I went in-house and I soon found that most of the satisfaction I was getting from my work came from people focused activities such as training, coaching and mentoring, rather from the operational activities.
This development, coupled with some big personal challenges, meant that in recent years I’ve become more interested in understanding how systems within my own mind affect my life. Now my focus lies on how people operate, rather than how the external world operates. What interests me is why we behave in certain ways, why we think the way we do and how we can change ourselves for the better.

So, this led to my interest in moving into coaching, training and mentoring. However, the transition is not complete. It is not easy to shift career direction completely when you have significant family responsibilities, so I am still working managing a team of regulatory compliance professionals whilst building my client portfolio on the side.

TheLawMap: Could coaching potentially benefit lawyers of all levels of experience?

If you’re successful, flying high and fully satisfied with the way things are going for you, then coaching probably can’t do much for you. But if you are not in that happy position, coaching can benefit you whatever your level of experience.

Coaching is a reflective process aimed at helping the participant to reach full potential, maximise performance and bring about sustained change. It can help with issues such as career direction and transitions, performance, leadership and work-life balance or integration.

What matters is that you want to make some kind of change or improvement. You may not even know what you need to change, let alone how to go about it, but if you are willing to commit to the process or at least approach it with an open mind, coaching is likely to be able to help you.

From my own experience of being coached, I would say that that the real power in coaching arises in three ways. Firstly, coaching gives you the opportunity to really sustain your focus on the problem you are trying to solve. This is something we are rarely able to do in everyday life. Secondly, the input from the coach often forces you to think about things in a different way or from a different perspective. This enables you to break through your habitual ways of thinking, which are very often what is holding you back. Thirdly, the coach brings no agenda to the encounter other than (hopefully) a desire to help you. This is rare as however well-meaning your friends, family, or colleagues are, they almost have some kind of stake in any significant changes you might want to make and they may not always be best placed to challenge your thinking or provide dispassionate feedback.

One caveat is that you need to find a coach you can connect with. We’ve all met people who seem to be a on a different wavelength to us, and whilst you want your coach to bring something different to the encounter, somebody who doesn’t get you at all is not going to be the right coach for you. It is therefore always best to have an introductory conversation for half an hour or so to check whether a particular coach is likely to suit you.

TheLawMap: It is commonly known that a lack of work life balance leads to stress, however, some of us feel that we work better under pressure. What are the conditions that may lead to a stressful life for a lawyer and in career terms, what could be the long term implications of leading a stressful life?

Without some level of demand being placed upon us our lives would not be worth living. We gain satisfaction in life by meeting challenges, mastering skills and delivering on the obligations we have towards others. This exerts pressure on us, but when the goals we are pursuing are attainable, albeit with effort and application, they provide us with a sense of motivation, hope and engagement. This is good stress and is what makes you feel that you work better under pressure.

Bad stress arises when we perceive circumstances as a threat rather than a challenge. Then we experience the fight or flight response that we and other mammals evolved originally to help us survive life-threatening situations. In modern life, this response tends to arise not only when we are faced with genuine threats to our survival, but also when we sense that we don’t have the resources to cope with what is required of us, or when we are thwarted by circumstances outside our control. Thus we experience stress when transport delays make us late for court, when we don’t have time to complete important work before a deadline or when family difficulties arise.

The real problems arise with repeated exposure to this kind of stress, in large part because it leads to a strengthening of the synaptic connections in the part of the brain, that handles our emotional responses - the amygdala. This strengthening sets up a vicious cycle, whereby the amygdala becomes more sensitive and more reactive to circumstances that may be perceived as threatening. We then spend increasing amounts of our time in the unnatural, heightened state brought about by the stress response.Such chronic stress reactions can lead in the long-term anxiety and depression and contribute to physical changes such as increased blood pressure, clogged arteries and even obesity.

It seems to me that there are many aspects of legal practice that inherently mean that stress is a real problem for lawyers. These include workloads, billing systems, time constraints, financial constraints, the high expectations of clients and the high stakes riding on the outcomes of much of what we do. Although there are practical steps lawyers can take to change some of these external factors (for example with managing workloads and expectations), on the whole there is little that can be done to change the reality of legal practice.

I therefore think that that lawyers have to combat stress from within, by self-management. This means focusing on your internal resources, changing your perception of circumstances as they arise, managing your responses to perceived threats and taking active steps to dampen down stress responses as they occur, interrupting the cycle of stress reactivity. There are plenty of ways to do this – such as mindfulness practices, relaxation techniques and working on emotional intelligence.

As somebody who has personally suffered the consequences of chronic stress, I can testify to the fact that this kind of self-management works. It requires effort and usually some guidance, but it can change your life.
TheLawMap: Based on your extremely interesting and diverse path in life before deciding to study law at the age of 29, from a coaching perspective, do you have any advice for aspiring lawyers about what they could do as students to better prepare for a career in the legal profession?
I’ve thought a lot about this - I’ve even written an e-book about it which is available from my website. On the whole I don’t think legal education and training equip lawyers with all of the various attributes they need in order to thrive in their careers.

Of course, if you are reasonably bright and you do the work, you’ll gain the technical knowledge and practical skills you need. But, lawyers also need the capacity to be able to apply their technical skills effectively, consistently and sustainably over the long term - what I think of as ‘contextual capabilities’. They need to know how to work collaboratively, how to be persuasive and how to provide practical, workable solutions to their clients’ problems. They need self-awareness, empathy and relationship management skills. And, as discussed above, they need to know how to survive in the face of the pressures that are inherent in the way that law is practiced. So my advice to aspiring lawyers is that they should try to develop these contextual capabilities alongside their technical capabilities.

Secondly, and this is again related to self-awareness – I think aspiring lawyers need a clear sense of their strengths, their values and their interests and should then plan how they want their career to unfold based on those three things.  It is when you lose sight of these fundamentals that your career can drift into places that you don’t really want to be in. It can then be hard to set yourself back on course.

TheLawMap: If you could change one thing about the legal profession what would it be?

I’d change the culture that, in some areas of the profession, makes it hard for lawyers to display any signs of ordinary human frailty. It needs to be okay to admit that you are feeling the pressure, that you need a break or that you need more time to take care of your family. I’d also like to see more emphasis on educating lawyers on how to take care of themselves and their careers.

TheLawMap: Is there a personality from the past or present within the ranks of the legal profession or the judiciary who you admire the most?

I had a lot of help when I got started from other members of my chambers at Lamb Building in the Temple. But there are no well-known legal personalities that I would necessarily point to.

These days my greatest admiration is reserved for the ranks of lawyers dealing with public funded criminal, family, housing, immigration cases and the like. They turn up day in and day out to help people who would otherwise not be able to help themselves, even though their own jobs and living standards are constantly being undermined.



Martin Cole is the author of Good Practice – the 10 essential elements of a modern legal career, in which he develops some of the ideas referred to in this interview. 

He moved to Australia from UK with his Australian born wife in 2008. He has two daughters and now lives in the bushy northern suburbs of Sydney. For someone who grew up in Croydon, in South London, the sight of wallabies grazing on his back lawn in the mornings still makes him think he’s entered some kind of parallel universe.  He follows Crystal Palace FC and these days listens mostly to jazz, blues and soul music as well as whichever Disney power ballad his 6 year old daughter currently favours. His twitter handle is @Lexecoach.

The first six words to the title for this interview is the title of a song by Harold Arlen called 'Happiness is just a thing called Joe'.    


Motifs of law in the Victorian press & its precious e-shadow

An interview with


Craig Newbery-Jones is fascinated with the depiction of the lawyer in the 19th century legal press and how the debates on regulation bear resemblance to the undertones of contemporary debates on regulation of the legal profession. Future employability is the principal concern for most of today's law students and in this wide ranging interview the discussion also includes the importance of e-learning as well as embedding employability skills to the law degree curriculum.  

TheLawMap: Your PhD thesis, ‘Constructing a Popular Image: The Press Representation of the Bar in Nineteenth Century England', sounds absolutely fascinating. What are the most interesting aspects of 19th century legal history that may draw parallel with today's legal profession?

Thank you! I obviously think it’s fascinating, but I also truly believe that engagement with historical representations of the law and lawyers in sources of popular culture can greatly assist in our understanding of contemporary legal culture. Professional legal issues of the past can, and should, inform contemporary legal problems.

I will just give a brief premise of my research. I explore the representation of the barrister in the press of nineteenth century and its far-reaching effects on themes and motifs found in modern popular culture. The overall aim is to determine whether the press of the nineteenth century is considered to have created a popular public image of the bar, while investigating the nature of this image and the reasons behind its formation. Finally, it analyses the significance of this historical public image in the development of motifs of the lawyer in contemporary popular culture.

One of the most interesting aspects of my research has been examining how the problems facing the bar of nineteenth century England are markedly similar to issues being discussed and debated in relation to the modern profession. The press of the nineteenth century widely reported the bar’s regulatory matters and educational systems, and questioned their suitability to function in the rapidly changing society of Victorian England. At times, the debates are nearly identical to those being undertaken in contemporary society, especially the suitability of legal education and the transparency (or lack thereof) of self-regulation. It is incredibly thought-provoking to analyse how the bar responded to these criticisms in order to examine the legacy of these criticisms today.

Furthermore, it is interesting to see how these criticisms have perpetuated themes and motifs in historical and contemporary popular culture. Criticisms around self-regulation and deficient education have clearly encouraged concepts of the lawyer as greedy, as unethical and as a betrayer of trust, a legacy that we still can’t shake. Sources of popular culture can provide us with a medium through which to explore these ethical issues, interrogate problems in legal practice and examine societal perceptions of the law and lawyers, in order to address problems within the legal profession.

TheLawMap: Has the internet age led to a greater appreciation of legal issues across the globe?

I think that the internet age has led to a greater proliferation of sources depicting and discussing pertinent legal issues. I also think that social media and the internet have encouraged a more widespread public awareness of legal issues. Specifically, the digital age has shed light on many fundamental global legal issues and has stimulated dialogue across jurisdictional boundaries. The world has become a much smaller place, and has allowed legal practitioners and scholars to collaborate and explore global legal issues in ways not even envisaged just over a decade ago. Your blog is a testament to this.

However, I don’t believe that this has necessarily led to an increased appreciation or increased interest in legal affairs. The public has always been interested in the law, legal process and lawyers. Throughout modern history, there has always been widespread engagement with the law, specifically criminal law. From the age of public executions to more recent trials by media, the public has always been interested in legal processes and this has never abated. I believe it is the media that has changed, not the interest of the public.

As far as a greater appreciation of legal issues goes, I think the internet has done little to encourage this amongst the general public. I think the recent debates around legal aid exemplify this. While the bar was rightly campaigning against the proposed cuts in order to ensure access to justice and the right to legal representation, a wider public (and press) view was that it was about ensuring financial remuneration. This was simply wrong and is indicative of more general lack of appreciation of legal issues in society. This is something that needs to be addressed. Last week, the TES (Times Educational Supplement, UK) reported how the Church of England had encouraged education ministers to consider teaching Christian commandments as part of the proposed ‘British Values’ curriculum. I believe that it would be more judicious to teach legal rights and legal systems to school pupils. This would encourage a greater appreciation of the law, the legal system and the role of lawyers in society, while engaging the next generation of citizens in this fundamental state institution.

TheLawMap: You are passionate about 'embedding employability skills in the undergraduate curriculum'? What are the key challenges?

I am a passionate advocate of experiential learning and embedding employability skills in the legal curriculum. The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) outlined certain deficiencies in undergraduate education but, more importantly, it has encouraged legal education providers an opportunity to evaluate the sufficiency of their programmes. While there are a number of challenges currently facing legal education in England and Wales, I truly believe that embedding employability skills in the undergraduate curriculum is vital in beginning to surmount these.

One of the greatest challenges in modern legal education is actually defining employability skills, and ascertaining how this can compliment legal education. In a forthcoming article, I outline a revised definition for legal employability skills and advocate how we can provide better education to students for legal and non-legal employment, while also encouraging students to consider more critically the role of the lawyer in society. I believe that there needs to be a clear paradigm through which to develop a comprehensive curriculum of employability in order to allow students to acquire a full ‘employability toolkit.’ We must seriously think about what students need in the twenty-first century workplace and develop tailored employability programmes. This can be difficult to do without clearly defining employability.

Another challenge is finding a place for experiential learning, which includes substantial opportunity for reflection, in legal education. English undergraduate legal education has a strong tradition based around acquiring core substantive knowledge. We need to compliment this by providing experiential learning opportunities that include substantial reflective processes. This may seem difficult but experiential learning must have a place in the law school of the future and must contain reflective components. Reflection is something that is prevalent in all spheres of employment and should be actively encouraged in legal education. Reflection can also ensure that students are able to develop their own skills and isolate their own weaknesses. This process of reflection can also explicitly demonstrate to students the skills they have acquired and developed.

The existing debates around education provide the legal academy an opportunity to holistically consider how law schools can embed general employability skills, legal skills and collective values and attitudes with curricular to better prepare our students for twenty-first century practise.

TheLawMap: Please tell us about your work on the development of the VBR (virtual board room), the collaborative environment that gives students the opportunity to work together and prepare caseload work by researching tasks using specific legal resources.
The VBR is something I’m extremely proud of. During my lectureship at the University of Exeter, I acted as the law school’s e-learning and digital resource coordinator. In this capacity, I was responsible for a number of curriculum innovations and educational improvements.

One of the most notable projects I was involved in was the first year restructuring project management team. This project completely redesigned the delivery of the first year law degree and created a vehicle for placing employability, experiential learning, problem solving and professional practice at the heart of the law degree. For me personally, one of the most important aims of this project was to ensure that our students could appropriately develop their digital literacy and demonstrate collaborative working skills in order to compete in the contemporary legal marketplace.

To achieve this, I conceptualised the ‘virtual boardroom.’ The VBR was an online collaborative platform that sought to assist students in managing their casework and facilitate more efficient group working. While researching potential software platforms, it was obvious that many existing collaborative sites were not suitable for undergraduate students due to their complexity. In conjunction with Mike Jeffries-Harris (University of Exeter CSSIS e-learning coordinator), we agreed upon an ELGG platform. This allowed us to create a ‘bridge’ between social media platforms and professional collaborative software to encourage engagement and simplify the user experience. Due to his skills and experience, the platform was constructed by Mike and hosted on the law school’s website. This platform included numerous features that were related to employability and collaborative working, a feature of modern employment. These features included:

  • Discussion - Within each Firm page there was a discussion tool where students could continue conversations they may have started face-to-face and work remotely using an Adobe Connect Room to videoconference.
  • Messages – Allowed students to communicate directly, one to one, or to all the firm members.
  • File Upload and Editor – Students were able to upload and share important documents and resources. All the firm’s members could also edit these online.
  • Bookmarks – Allowed students to share bookmarks and relevant materials with their firm.
  • Twitter and RSS Feeds – Appeared on the students individual dashboards to assist in them remaining up-to-date with news and social media.
  • The Wire – Student were able to keep friends and colleagues up-to-date with what they were working on.
  • Blog – Students could complete their own personal blog or learning journal space.
  • Answers - Students could post questions to the whole Boardroom and receive answers.
  • Links to Team Match Software - Students could identify their skills and maximise their roles within the firm.
I am currently piloting a similar project at Plymouth University as part of our ‘Dispute Resolution Skills’ module. Instead of an ELGG platform, we are using the SANSspaceplatform to focus more specifically on constructing and organising case files. Our students work through a case file, from first contact with the client to advocating at trial, to give them experience in all aspects of professional legal skills. I have also developed a specific reflective component to the assessment, in order to encourage the students to evaluate their own development and signpost the skills they should have developed upon completion of the course. This reflection will utilise SANSspace video recording facilities.

TheLawMap: Is there a personality from the past or present within the ranks of the legal profession, legal academia or the judiciary who you admire the most?

That is such a difficult question as I have had the pleasure of working with some phenomenal legal scholars during my career and it would be unfair to isolate just one. This might read like a bit of a roll of honour but I admire them all. Professor David Sugarman (Lancaster University), Professor Chantal Stebbings (University of Exeter), Professor Kim Stevenson (Plymouth University) have all had a profound impact on my career, and Dr Mitchell Travis (University of Exeter) is a brilliant colleague, whose academic scholarship has been an immense inspiration on my current research. Finally, Associate Professor Sue Prince (University of Exeter) has been a phenomenal mentor and a real inspiration. Sue encouraged and guided many of my early ideas when appraising legal education, and I can still rely on her feedback on any ideas I have. I really admire her dedication to education, her commitment to pro bono legal services, and her loyalty to her students. 

Craig is a lecturer in law at Plymouth University Law School. This role involves contributing effectively to the delivery of the LLB programme, teaching on the core Introduction to Law, Legal Systems and Skills, Dispute Resolution and Contract Law modules. This includes module administration, lecturing, workshop tutoring and examination responsibilities. Craig has also been responsible for the development and leadership of a number of other legal modules including Introduction to Law for Law Minors, Effective Legal Problem Solving, Contemporary Legal Issues, and Contract Law for the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law).

With special thanks to Craig Newbery-Jones for his valuable time. He maintains an active social media presence through Twitter. When is not engaged in lecturing or research, he has a keen interest in music and plays bass in a band based in Exeter. He owns a VW camper van and spends many weekends travelling Devon and Cornwall's beautiful countryside.  

The title of this piece is a reference to the interviewee's passion for Victorian law as well as e-learning for today's students.