New blogging platform

To all of you who have landed on this page and are wondering why no new content appears here, please note that I have now started a new blogging platform called the ‘Jonathan Lea Network’ (I struggled to think of anything more original but at least the name is authentic!), which you can find, read, follow, subscribe to etc here:

 

http://www.jonathanlea.net/

The Jonathan Lea Network is an international business content platform and community which is very much a work in progress. Due to my professional background and the fact that I continue to practice as a corporate and commercial lawyer, a lot of the site will be law orientated, but this will be mixed with more general business commentary and political views.

The site also acts as an open blogging platform (please contact me if you are interested in posting) and business services agency (whatever is listed, law or otherwise, my network will fix it!), while it is the intention to grow the free resources section, principally in the form of law related document downloads and discussion forums.

The Fundsmith Equity Fund’s Investment Strategy

On Wednesday night I was invited to a presentation on the Fundsmith Equity Fund, delivered by the founder and CEO Terry Smith at their 33 Cavendish Square office to a small group of attendees selected from Fundsmith’s own proprietary database (still not sure how i got on the list!). I was happy to turn up and find out more, particularly as I’ve followed Terry’s business career and also read his blog for a while.  

Fundsmith, although not revolutionary, is a different type of fund management company, whereby the partnership of nine members own the whole business, there are no outside interests and Terry himself invests his own money through the fund – as they say in the tech community, he “eats his own dog food”.  The fund was set up in 2010 and already has over £600 million under management.

The genesis for Fundsmith came following Terry and Collins Stewart’s takeover of Tullett Prebon in 2003 when they inherited a poorly performing pension fund and then from 2004 to 2011 massively grew the scheme’s assets and outperformed the market through making the right investments, on a long ‘buy and hold’ only basis, in a portfolio of just 20 carefully selected companies.

Terry and his team believe that most other funds have become closet index trackers, are too diversified, trade too much and charge performance fees and initial fees that punish investors. Despite popular perception, the payment of performance fees doesn’t mean that the interests of the asset manager and the investors are aligned, principally because the fund manager never has any liability for losses. Such an absence of accountability incentivises wild risk taking and has the net effect of poor performance.

In 2011 apparently 81% of active large cap equity managers underperformed the S&P 500 market. Terry cites that he sees the main reason for this being the frequent trading carried out by most funds where information can’t be properly analysed in such short spaces of time, leading to weak decisions being made. Terry likens this to the invisible gorilla concept whereby humans are overloaded with inputs and a person’s attention can’t be focused on everything such that they suffer from ‘inattentional blindness’ as a result.

The Fundsmith strategy is therefore very simple, at any one time the fund only holds shares in between twenty and thirty well established and durable companies on a buy and hold basis, they charge just an annual 1% management fee, have no performance fees and align the interests of the fund managers with their clients. They look for companies which produce high returns on operating capital, whose shares are liquid and traded frequently, whose growth is derived from the reinvestment of their own cash flows at high rates of return after covering fixed charges, that have no significant leverage, that are priced sensibly, that are resilient to change and disruptive technological innovation (patents like Gillette’s ones for razor blades are good) and are focused on products (particularly consumer ones) that are not negatively impacted by economic downturns.  A good example is pet food – last year Americans bought $10 billion worth of diet pet food alone and people will feed their pets before their children!

Fundsmith like to invest in companies operating in sectors with intangible advantages like brands, established distribution networks, installed base and franchise business models (where capital is supplied by the franchisees, great for investors in the franchisor).  The fund also sees the regular payment of dividends as a significant part of the return, in addition to capital gains, expected from the companies in their portfolio.  In addition, Fundsmith will not hedge anything, will not short anything, will not react when the markets fall or go in for the latest investment fad and will not invest in some sectors at all (such as banks, real estate, insurance, people businesses, utilities and airlines). They invest in carefully selected companies then do nothing, no tinkering, just sit on their hands (sounds like a pretty good job to have!).

Finally, Terry describes Fundsmith as the ‘Groucho Marx of the investment world’ in that like Groucho Marx’s saying that he would never join a club that would have him as a member, Fundsmith would never invest in a company that needs the fund’s money.

My view on the naked Prince Harry photos debacle

Now the dust has settled a little I thought I’d contribute a few of my thoughts in respect of Prince Harry being photographed unwinding in Las Vegas playing ‘strip billiards’ after a stressful few weeks watching the Olympics and then being entertained on Richard Branson’s Caribbean island.

Privacy laws

If you are a public figure who lives off publicity and sharing their life with the masses you can’t be expected to freely expose all the good things about you, but then as soon as your reputation might be threatened by something you’ve done that might be seen as negative then try and rely on your ‘right to privacy’ and ‘any publication not being in the public interest’.

The fact that the Royal Family threatened the UK press by spuriously stating that any re-publication of Harry’s photos on the web would not be in the public interest and would infringe Harry’s privacy makes them as grubby and deceitful as Ryan Giggs trying to protect his reputation last year by abusing the ever evolving pernicious UK privacy laws. The more people try to rely on their ‘right to privacy’ the more the courts will continue to set precedents and pass more and more restrictive case law that will threaten our freedom and rights to information and expression.  Indeed, the Royal Family has form when it comes to their distaste and lack of respect for freedom of information laws.  They have previously been granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in controversial legal reforms designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William.

In any case, the fact that over 135 million (and counting) googled ‘Prince Harry naked’ shows that there was a lot of public interest in the photos!!  No authority should be able to determine what information is or isn’t in someone else’s interest to consume. Even if you use privacy laws to judge whether Harry’s photos were in the public interest to publish, then as Louise Mensch, who recently announced her resignation as an MP, said “there is a clear, demonstrable public interest” – the Royal Family receives money from the civil list and Prince Harry in inviting so many people to his room and acting in the way he did raised serious questions in respect of his judgment as well as national security issues.

The UK must have a free press whatever that prat of a judge Lord Leveson says.  The Education Secretary Michael Gove previously referred to there being a “chilling atmosphere towards freedom of expression which emanates from the debate around Leveson”.  In obsessing with newspapers and failing to grapple with the issues presented by the internet, the Leveson Inquiry seems to be even more of an absolute farce and extreme waste of public money.  Anyway, that’s for another post I think.

Prince Harry’s reputation

The gullible British public largely bought the line spun out from Clarence House public relations people and distributed through the pliant mainstream media that “Harry’s due back in Afghanistan, he’s on the lash, give the guy a break”.

In recent years a positive public image of Prince Harry has been carefully manufactured, regardless of what he really might be like in private.  However, over the years Harry has previously been recorded using racist and derogatory language in referring to arabs as ‘ragheads’ and an army cadet as “our little paki friend”, pictured dressing up as a Nazi for a fancy dress party and also shown snorting vodka and licking nipples at a party, all of which suggest that he might not be as likeable as he is otherwise portrayed to be.

His behaviour in Las Vegas was immature and loutish and not befitting of someone who has the privilege of being a national figurehead.  He was recorded as calling other punters at the casino “muppets” and joked to the dealer that he would “kick his head in” if he didn’t win.  These comments, even if made in jest and after several drinks, show Harry to be arrogant, disrespectful and rude.  Remember not only is this guy meant to represent the UK, as there is no separation of church and state in the UK, if he ever becomes king he would be head of the Church of England, as if the Church of England could get any more ridiculous.  He also showed no respect for his British subjects by wasting taxpayer monies on his security team for such a trip and abusing his position to take advantage of staying for free at some of the world’s most expensive hotels.

How to respond to a redundancy announcement?

As I’m not an employment law specialist, I thought I’d circulate this employment law conundrum to a few relevant experts I know and see if the online crowd are able to give me and my client some good pointers!

 

The Background

 

A client sold his previously successful business a couple of years ago to a large US group with interests in the same industry.  The deal involved my client staying on as an employee to manage the now US owned UK business.  The US group turned out to be fantastically mismanaged and helped run the UK division into the ground along with the rest of their business.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the other day the US HQ sent the redundancy announcement below (in italics) to my client, although it still came as quite a shock to receive it. 

 

However, for a while leading up to the redundancy announcement my client has made it very clear to the US group that he would like to leave his employment with the US group and set up on his own to run the UK business under a licence arrangement (with the US group retaining ownership of the UK business trade mark/brand) which would enable my client the freedom to make his own decisions and grow the business again.  A few weeks ago my client put a detailed proposal to the US group’s senior management which they were interested in discussing further.

 

However, now that my client has received the redundancy announcement the US management say they cannot discuss the licence proposal as UK law forces them to follow a redundancy process which cannot be circumvented by discussing the licence proposal. Especially in light of the fact that the UK business just consists of my client and his PA and all my client wants is a frank discussion, is it correct that a CEO cannot circumvent the redundancy process?  Taking into account the facts above and the announcement below how would you advise my client should respond?

 

Redundancy Announcement XX July 2012

Given the continued challenges of a struggling global economy and an overall decline in sales in 2012 versus 2011 and 2010, the XXXXXXX Group has struggled to return to sufficient profits to satisfy our bank covenants.  We have been reviewing and addressing all areas in our business, on a global scale, particularly those that have consistently been running loses.

Even with the transition of our fulfillment operations from XXXXXX to Amsterdam, and the subsequent closing of the XXXXXXX facility, our European business continues to lose money. We have had to look into ways that we can mitigate these losses.

The Group has been and continues to explore various options to reduce our losses in our UK division as well in the Group overall. These options include the negotiated reduction of costs of the European fulfillment centers and unfortunately the potential reduction in staff in the UK sales office and the ultimate closing of the office.  

If there is no alternative but to reduce staff here in the UK office, the part time roles of office assistant and the full time role of manager would be at risk of redundancy. The company would like to avoid having to make compulsory redundancies and therefore would like to consider any volunteers for redundancy. Anyone interested in applying for voluntary redundancy should apply in writing to XXXXXXX by no later than

3 August, 2012.

Anyone may obtain details of what their voluntary redundancy payment would be (
without commitment) from XXXXXXXX prior to 3 August, 2012.

We are looking at ways to avoid redundancies by trying to identify alternative employment within the Group for those at risk.  

While we explore our various options, we welcome any ideas or suggestions you may have to avoid the need for redundancies and to return this operation to profitability.  We will allow you a reasonable amount of time off during working hours to seek alternative employment and we will endeavor to keep all employees informed throughout the process.

In due course we will be writing to all affected employees to arrange a meeting to consult with each person individually.

We realize this is a very difficult time for you all and thank you sincerely for all your extraordinary efforts as we work through the continued challenges the Group faces.

A British entrepreneur???s view of doing business in South Africa

The following in italics represents the frank views of a client of mine who after selling his interest in a company he founded relocated to South Africa a while ago to try his luck in starting businesses there.  We caught up in an email exchange the other day in which he detailed some of the frustrations he finds in operating in South Africa.  Many of his annoyances seem to echo a lot of what seems to be wrong with the UK and indeed many other countries!  In any case, I thought it would be interesting to air these thoughts and see if there is anyone out there who has any other supporting or alternative views of working in the country to add to this post.

“What we would consider seed capital seems to be considered VC money here and the market is very thin on the ground with people taking chances.

The way that business works here is totally different to what I am used to:

  • Firstly the racism – I could never get anything from government because I am both foreign and white.

  • Secondly the business rules – It’s much more about who you know and impress rather than how good your product is.

  • Thirdly the speed – Everything is soooooo sloooooow… mostly due to leaders/managers not being hired for their experience, education and ability.

I am adapting well to this slowly but surely, however, it does make for interesting times when we have to decide which race of our team has to go to which meeting based on the prejudice and working styles. Then how to write a presentation/specification document for a company/government as they will want to use it as their RFI/tender spec… because your business connections have already agreed you have won the contract in advance. However, nobody in the whole decision chain really knows what they want and you have to tell them that too.

Sometimes it surprises me that things ever get done here with this business ethic, however, it seems to be working and those that can adapt to the very strange methods can do very well indeed.

I also didn’t mention the blinkered and outdated corporate side of the country that also seems to be a small percentage of elites earning excessive amounts, even in comparison to their international counterparts. Chatting with quite a few of them, they have outdated business model acumen from 10-20 years ago and are scared shitless that international businesses are going to come over here and show them how it’s done.

Wallmart have been trying to properly get in here for 4 years now and behind the scenes even the businessmen are fighting them, as well as the government. They think it will be the start of their demise and they realise that they are living on borrowed time… although I think that Vodafone (Vodacom) recently appointing a Spanish CEO is the start of the slippery slope of acknowledged failure of the business systems here.

Change is coming, just that everyone is fighting it tooth and nail.  Mix it with the badly run, racist and corrupt government and you do have quite a barrier to entry. Although once you’re in then everything gets a lot easier.

It took me 9 months and 3 interviews to get my visa here and a hell of a lot of hassle. Whereas lots of the people I met and befriended in the 4 hours queues at Home Affairs had no education, money, experience or hope. It took them just 30 days and not one of them were asked why they want to come here.”

Why President Obama is a Marxist

In response to Barack Obama’s assertion in a speech on Sunday that that the US government is responsible for everyone’s success and (wealthy) people should be thankful by paying more tax I called him out for what he truly seems to be – a Marxist psychopath.  It seems that Obama has never heard of, or rather is completely clueless about, the American Dream.  Perhaps this is to be expected from someone who has spent the majority of their career in the public sector.  

Anyway, some small town lawyer in the US picked up on my view of Obama’s speech and decided to challenge me on it.  Here is our exchange of views below:

US lawyer:

This is what the president said:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

_____________________

No one on earth can disagree with this.  It is the least controversial thing ever said.

My response:

Of course everyone gets help to build a business and the state plays a role in helping to develop key infrastructure, but at the end of the day it is individual entrepreneurs who make things happen, cut through bureaucracy, build business communities and create markets.  Have you not heard of the American Dream?!  My issue is that Obama is making the argument for a bigger, more monolithic state and the resultant decline of personal freedom and responsibility.  In case you didn’t realise this is otherwise called socialism, marxism or communism and hasn’t served countries too well that adopted this ideology.

US lawyer:

Fine.  Then make that point.  But you point here appears to be, “Obama wore a pink tie yesterday.  He must be a socialist.”   You are attacking what he said here because it reminds you that you don’t like him, not that you disagree with it because it is so manifestly obvious.

Point is: Obama could say or do anything and since you don’t like him, you find it objectionable.

My response:

You couldn’t be more wrong.  You clearly are unable to analyse the meaning of his words above.  I spent a considerable about of time supporting him (online and offline) in the run up to his election because he seemed such a refreshing change to Bush.  But everything he has done since shows he doesn’t understand (like you) the importance of free markets, self-reliance and entrepreneurialism – the essence of America – and would rather build a bigger more oppressive state and support state reliant corrupt corporate elites and the military-industrial complex than foster and support a much needed spirit of entrepreneurialism in US society.

Why Obama is a communist

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
_____________________
No one on earth can disagree with this.  It is the least controversial thing ever said.

Collapse this comment

Jonathan Lea9:49 PMEdit
Of course everyone gets help to build a business and the state plays a role in helping to develop key infrastructure, but at the end of the day it is individual entrepreneurs who make things happen, cut through bureaucracy, build business communities and create markets.  Have you not heard of the American Dream?!  My issue is that Obama is making the argument for a bigger, more monolithic state and the resultant decline of personal freedom and responsibility.  In case you didn’t realise this is otherwise called socialism, marxism or communism and hasn’t served countries too well that adopted this ideology.

Early stage startup investors in London

After having come across me on the internet, last week I received an email from an analyst at a leading investment bank asking if I was able to recommend any venture capital firms or angel investors that specialise in backing London’s early stage tech startups.

At some stage I plan to compile and publish a more comprehensive list and resource, but for the moment here are a few of the main equity investment options for startups that spring to mind:

Crowdfunding portals

While they don’t invest directly themselves, these platforms use technology and new business practices to significantly simplify the process of raising funds for startups and allow anyone from ‘armchair dragons’ to experienced angel investors to back companies at the click of a mouse.  Crowdcube (based in Exeter, Devon) became the world’s first equity crowdfunding portal to launch and trade and has been followed by Seedrs in London.  There are a number of other similar equity crowdfunding platforms being developed and because of the advantages of raising finance this way, not least the ability to build a powerful community as a result, these portals will soon become commonplace and the favoured way to fund startups.

There are some other names mentioned in this Nesta report on crowdfunding, not least Scottish beer brand Brew Dog that crowdfunded equity finance on their own website.

SEIS funds

The government recently announced the new Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme which offers startup investors significant tax breaks.  I know of two organisations (Ascension Ventures and Jenson Solutions) that have put together SEIS funds to bring individual investors together to back the right opportunities.

Venture capital firms

In no particular order, here are some of the small venture capital firms that are focused on London’s tech scene: Passion Capital (backed by the UK government), #1 Seed, EC1 Capital, Octopus Ventures, DFJ Esprit, Lean Investments, Balderton Capital, Index Ventures, Accel Partners and Media Ventura.

Angel investors

Probably the best known individual who invests in startups is Hussein Kanji, otherwise, this list that appeared in The Telegraph is a good guide, although many of the names will be involved with VC firms.

Incubators

There are also organisations like Springboard and Seedcamp that run mentor-led accelerator programs for startups and provide seed capital as part of such schemes.  A similar outfit is White Bear Yard which works closely with Passion Capital.

If anyone knows of any other seed finance providers that ought to be included in this post then please let me know and I can include them in my new business portal that I’m developing.

My advice to law students about their future careers

The other day I received an email from a recent law graduate asking for advice on whether they should continue to pursue a career in law.  Like many, the person in question has previously studied the LPC (a ridiculously expensive but completely unnecessary one year course required by the Law Society’s pen pushers before you can join a law firm) but has since struggled to obtain a training contract, while only managing to gain experience from a few temporary legal positions so far.  

I thought I would write my response in this blog post and hopefully open up the discussion on the web and get some more contributions to this thread.

Academic background

Unless you have a fantastic CV including relevant experience and a 1st or 2:1 from Oxbridge or another highly rated university, my view is that it is not worth studying law if your aim is to join one of the top 200 UK firms of solicitors (and you can also forget about joining a barristers’ chambers).  

Although there are so many other things that determine whether someone will be a successful lawyer, almost every law firm discriminates on the basis of academic history because grades are the easiest objective measurement to rely on and every firm receives so many good graduates that they are prepared to let the odd ‘rough diamond’ slip through their net because of such categorisation.  Sure, there are a few people who don’t fit the aforementioned criteria but they will become increasingly rare.

Sponsorship and experience

Further, I would also suggest that students should not do the LPC without being sponsored by a law firm, or having secured a TC beforehand, unless they can somehow afford the course fees and living expenses, rather than risk incurring a crippling debt in return for a qualification of questionable value.  Otherwise, If you are prepared to incur the substantial debt involved in taking the LPC, only do so if you have already made the effort to build up a good portfolio of legal work experience and have received positive feedback from legal employers and mentors about your suitability for a career in law.

If you have completed the LPC and have not received a training contract you should start to seriously consider alternative careers.  There is a constant new stream of very well qualified law graduates coming through the system all the time, while training contract opportunities will continue to decline.  Law students should keep in mind that the prospect of gaining employment in the industry to which your degree relates is one of the worst (if not the worst) out of all degree subjects.

A rapidly evolving legal market: the state of play

We are about to see a wave of disruptive business models in law that will impact heavily on the traditional way that legal services are currently provided and lead to a dramatic decline in the number of qualified practitioners.  From stripped down and low cost new ABSs that will employ mostly non-legally trained staff supervised by solicitors, to free open and crowd sourced intelligent legal solutions online like Docracy (a US startup with plans to cover every jurisdiction), a plethora of new market entrants will become ever more popular and at the same time will drive down the cost of legal services and leave traditional non-innovative partnerships looking ever more unattractive to clients.

I recently got to deliver a presentation at Law Tech Camp London where the headline speaker was the legal soothsayer Richard Susskind.  Susskind predicted that big law firms will continue to become leaner and reduce their headcount accordingly in response to clients’ reducing legal budgets as economic stagnation continues to bite.  At the same time the
rapid evolution of technology and business practices will mean that clients of all sizes will find smarter and more cost-effective ways to minimise their legal spend.

As a result, look out for new market entrants who are well financed and adopt a more modern approach like Co-op Legal Services and Riverview Law.  There are also an increasing number of virtual forms of law firms like Setfords, Lawyers on Demand, Axiom Law and Cubism Law where lawyers work on a self-employed basis through a central administrative and regulated hub, although none of these models seem to involve developing graduates through a training contract programme.

Corporations will also continue to concentrate their legal work within their own in-house departments and increasingly resist outsourcing work to law firms.  Some of these in-house law departments will offer training contracts, but opportunities will not be as plentiful or as well paid as in the past.

Another relatively new trend that communications technology helps facilitate is the outsourcing of legal work to cheaper countries.  Most of the time incurred by lawyers and billed to clients has historically been on completing due diligence exercises on deals and going through the document intensive disclosure (‘discovery’ in the US) exercise for litigation work.  Both of these types of work are increasingly being done by teams of contract lawyers (usually paralegals paid by the hour) or outsourced completely to low cost legal teams in jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland, South Africa and India (you’ll see I’m involved with SKJ).

Technology itself will also start to impact on the currently time intensive processes of due diligence and disclosure.  It will eventually become commonplace for disclosure to be run by artificial intelligence computer programmes, while the success of Crowdcube (which will soon be followed by many other online equity crowdfunding platforms) demonstrates how due diligence will be done in a more open, crowdsourced way in the future, negating the need for individual lawyers or law firms to be expensively retained to pore over documents and write reports.

At the same time as the market for legal services is being shaken up, the twin parasites of the insurance industry and the regulators (principally the Law Society and SRA) increasingly bedevil traditional law firms.  Over-regulation and extortionate professional indemnity insurance premiums lead to disproportionate overheads and an overly cautious and non-client focused approach to the business of practising law which all help drive clients away from traditional legal practices.

Non-wired ‘old school’ lawyers make up most of the partnership at big law firms and are strongly resistant to any change in the way that their firms are run, not least because they are principally only interested in maximising returns in the short term before they retire.  To significantly restructure their law firm to survive in the long run would not only drastically impact profits initially, but would also be seen as too much of an obstacle to overcome in their years left in the business, especially when partnerships like to make decisions by mutual consent.  In any case, most partners and law firm leaders are non-digital natives who are proud to be pre-modern analogue luddites and are therefore generally clueless about disruptive technology and what the future holds.

Many of the managing partners of law firm live in a world where the internet is still a relatively unknown and exotic thing which young people seem to be very good with, but they can’t possibly see how it might benefit a lawyer, while if they aren’t typing the odd email with their two forefingers then th
ey’ll be dictating to secretaries, marking up documents by hand, getting secretaries to retype their amendments (following a lengthy review of their handwritten changes to work out what they mean) and then getting trainees or paralegals to again study their messy handwriting and compare it to the new version of the document the secretary has produced to see if it is accurate. This sounds absolutely crazy, but a lot of the time billed at some firms will be down to such incredibly inefficient working practices.

In short, the prognosis for big law firms doesn’t look good.  Successful businesses, now more than ever, need to be nimble and able to read the tea leaves. However, most law firms will continue to ignore disruptive technologies and remain unable to innovate in any meaningful way.

Career pivot

So, if trying to start and build a career as a lawyer now doesn’t sound like such an appealing prospect, what should a law graduate do?

Most law graduates, wherever they have studied, are very capable and ambitious individuals who would likely thrive with their skills set if they pursued careers which offered them more potential, not least if they take the step to self-employment and entrepreneurialism.  My view is that most of these talented people are wasting their time bothering with a declining legal sector in a state of flux and would be better off performing a career pivot and spending their time building a career in more relevant growing industries where there will be fewer obstacles to becoming a successful and fulfilled individual.  Although not otherwise advocated, it may be that, as far as a legal career goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, just give up’ is very good advice.

The skills gained from a law degree are very valuable for a lot of other areas of business.  Constructing well developed arguments, managing people and heavy paperwork and being able to communicate clearly, concisely and in an articulate manner are all critical for any business.  

Entrepreneurialism

As legal journalist Alex Aldridge recently wrote, if you can’t get a training contract law graduates should seriously consider becoming an entrepreneur.

Generally, law graduates should build their network and online profile and see where it takes them.  Whatever industry sector or business you are interested in, at the click of a mouse you can now follow the top people in that particular market wherever they may be in the world and gain access to leading insight and information from their blogs and online conversations. Further, with a bit of social savvy-ness and over time, you can build relationships with interesting and experienced entrepreneurs and other useful people online which one way or another will lead to you being offered exciting opportunities in the future.

Self-employed law graduates could use the skills they’ve developed to offer services in legal and general research, administrative and business concierge tasks, social media assistance, copywriting, events management and any number of other possibilities, including building their own blogs and web portals with multiple revenue streams around something they’re interested in.  

As the internet becomes ever more important every brand and their dog are getting into content marketing in a serious way.  A guy I know, when aged 19 and with no journalism experience, started his own content agency writing posts for small companies’ web properties in Cornwall.  The service was very popular and he made some great connections as a result.  Two years later he is an established journalist in London writing for the Independent, as well as building his own PR business.

I think many young law students would be better off retraining themselves with modern software programming, graphic design and online marketing skills.  As leading silicon valley figure Marc Andreessen wrote in his piece on ‘why software is eating the world’‘, I think these skills are absolutely critical to everyone if they want to find their way in the modern business world.

Forget University

I have touched before on the increasing irrelevance of a university education (here and here).  The inept and out-of-date university education system increasingly wastes students’ time and rips them off.  Despite not having evolved since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press (non-interactive lectures in a physical room still being the favoured pedagogical approach) and all knowledge being readily and freely available on the web, the cost of a university education has gone up astronomically to absurd levels that for most students will not enhance their prospects but will leave them with a crippling debt (just google ‘university debt bubble’).  

The traditional education system just does not deal with the skills needed to survive and thrive in a digital age.  You can learn about anything on the internet and the majority of entrepreneurs and developers working in the tech startup scene in Shoreditch are completely self-taught.  People can now access courses from Harvard and other leading universities for free on the internet, while free websites like Udacity and Coursera offer better, more useful and more relevant online courses than any traditional university.

There is also a growing scene of tech and digital classes, such as those run by the likes of General Assembly and Decoded, in Shoreditch and Clerkenwell, as well as any number of independently organised meetup groups such as my own one, that people pay to go to in order to develop their skill set, partly as a result of the failure of traditional education.

From my own experience, I feel comfortable with the assertion that the knowledge and connections gained from using Twitter over the last few years have been far more beneficial in respect of my personal development than the three years I spent at Bristol University or the two subsequent years endured at law school.  Yes, the piece of paper I received from Bristol had the tangible effect of helping me get jobs I would not have otherwise got, but over the long term I believe my use of Twitter and other social media tools will be of much greater benefit.

How can England win more football matches?

In light of last night’s loss against a half decent Italian side in Kiev, I believe the solution is quite simple.  England should just copy the Barcelona team of the last few years (or any other consistently successful team like Liverpool in late 70s/early 80s) and:

- keep the ball as if their life depended on it, it doesn’t matter whether they pass it backwards, forwards or sideways, just keep it (e.g. Barcelona’s Xavi regularly has a pass completion rate of over 90% in each match);     

- at the same time as the team retains possession, every other player should keep moving (a lot) to find space and give options for passes; and

- when the team loses possession, desperately hunt the ball down (in packs if necessary) and pressurise the opponents until it has been retrieved.

England are pretty rubbish at all three of these things.  Particularly the third one – Italian playmaker Andreas Pirlo was given so much space and time last night he might as well have strolled around the pitch with a cigar in one hand.

However, I do admit that it would help if England were able to select a player like Messi, or even Xavi.

Now give me the England job!