• A reputation for professional excellence with integrity

    A reputation for professional excellence with integrity

  • Accurate understanding and technical analysis

    Accurate understanding and technical analysis

  • National and International Experience

    National and International Experience

  • 34 years in private legal practice

    34 years in private legal practice

  • A focus on events and consequences, not gossip

    A focus on events and consequences, not gossip

  • Helping lawyers, brokers, accountants, surveyors and other professions

    Helping lawyers, brokers, accountants, surveyors and other professions

  • There when you need him

    There when you need him

Words to the Wise

Thoughts for November

“Causes…are not to be decided by natural reason but by the artificial reason and judgement of law, which law is an act which requires long study and experience, before that a man can attain to the cognisance of it..”

Edward Coke [1552 – 1634]
Chief Justice,The Case of Prohibitions [1607]

Digital intelligence is progressing usefully, but it can’t displace a good human judge. The truths that exercise of ‘artificial reason’ requires people of practiced experience, and that the pool of qualifying talent from which Judges are selectable is rarefied, both remain demonstrable.  Progressive objectives to enlarge the pool to include more non-barristers deserve support, but not at the price of reduced quality; and to diminish judges’ pay and pensions, and the resources made available to them, is reckless and must end in tears.

Thought for October

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which… is the great highroad to his reason, and… you will find but little trouble in convincing him of the justice of your cause, if that cause is really a good one.”  Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

Attainments or maintenance of justice are rarely achieved without attaining and maintaining a relationship that’s respectful if not amical. Coercions or inducements between hostiles rarely if ever produce outcomes which either could honestly accept to be just.

Thought for September

“A professional is one who does his best work when he feels the least like working.”   Frank Lloyd Wright (1869 - 1959)

…Or put another way, an unprofessional service is one which is a sterile product of unthinking systems, clocks, and maintenance of habits; or done with half a mind because the other half is elsewhere.

Thought for August

“There are referees who haven't a clue what they are doing." Jack Burnell (Disqualified 2016 Olympic distance swimmer)

There have been plenty of examples in Rio this month of inadequate training, equipment or infrastructure for reliable adjudicating – without even starting to explore the policing issues. Ahead even of the qualities of the performers, the key to good judging in all contexts, especially legal process, is elitism … minus cronyism, of course...

Thought for July

“People use thought only to justify their wrongdoings, and speech only to conceal their thoughts.” Voltaire 1694 - 1778

… Which is why skilled advocates and draftsmen will always be needed, and in times when their value is under- appreciated, as it seems to be in Turkey, society takes a tumble.

Thought for June

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hoffman (1880 – 1966; abstract expressionist painter)

Shade and shadow are often indispensable to contextual understanding; but it is the lawyer’s craft to present positions without prolixity, and to minimise the risks which arise from unnecessary obfuscations. Both the Remain and Leave campaigns have demonstrated that politicians’ art is the opposite.

Thought for May

“The very essence of instinct is that it's followed independently of reason.” Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)

When trouble looms, reasoned reactions are often secondary, or at least subservient, to instinctive ones, such as to hide, run, retaliate or abuse; and the suppression of these imposters is the first role of any professional adviser.

Thought for April

“It takes courage to send off one of the star players of the champions-elect, especially when most of the country is willing them to win the title.” Howard Webb (b 1971; former football referee)

It is the role of all arbiters, Judges and sports referees included, to exercise Justice. Whether in the process Justice is accomplished is neither relevant nor, save in the clearest situations, possible to say.

Thought for March

“Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.” Milton Friedman (1912 - 2006)

Administrators and clerical overseers of all kinds are no different to all other forces of nature. They require respect and due account; to be worked with, not against or around, and rarely if ever expected to yield to defiance.

Thought for February

“Duty is ours, results are God's” John Quincy Adams (1767 - 1848)

Making laws and regulations, and complying with them, are what must be expected of people. Assessments of disciplinary transgressions, or impositions of sanctions, which are driven by consequential outcomes or victims’ hurts sometimes trespasses too far into God’s territory. 

Thought for January

“Our disputants put me in mind of the skuttle fish, that when he is unable to extricate himself, blackens all the water about him, till he becomes invisible” Joseph Addison [1672-1719]

Obfuscation, like procrastination, can have its tactical uses for ducking or limiting threats and exposures. But it is a dangerous tool, often dependent upon the opponent’s limits of inclination or resources to penetrate the clouds of vagueness or distractions; and once pierced by a resolute adversary, the protagonist is then more at his mercy.

Thought for December

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.”  Charles Lamb [1775-1834]

This is the time of year for children and childish things, and useful occasion to remember the value of avoiding unnecessary convolutions; and that the consequences of bad laws or lawyering can persist for generations. 

Thought for November

“Occasionally a lawyer sends you a legal document covered in kisses, and you really think you are getting somewhere - until he tells you he only wants you to sign it in three places.” Jilly Cooper [ageless]

The best lawyers always try to empathise with their client, but not too closely…

Thought for October

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” Ayn Rand (1905 - 1982)

Many may say that the effects of the Information revolution are a consummate erosion of privacy as one of the lynchpins of civilisation. It is the role of lawyers to maintain it, harnessing technology without being driven or overwhelmed by it to protect the rights which distinguish and safeguard every person from the impositions and trespasses of other people, or governments.

Thought for September

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.” Eugene Ionesco (1909 - 1994)

Serving objectives and real distress is the stuff of legal practice; but sallies into ideologies, whether religious political or social (eg Ms Proudman’s gender agenda), though sometimes necessary to build connections, are rarely compatible with sensible lawyering and the risks should be reckoned cautiously before they are run.

Thought for August

“A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.”  Samuel Goldwyn (1882 - 1974)

Every commitment made by a professional representative which transitions a value, by or for himself or his client, is no different to writing a bank cheque. It requires to be evidenced and to be subject to scrutiny; and writing, in ink or digital, is still the most reliable sort of evidence.

Thought for July

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.” Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)

The Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has been widely disparaged for trying to encourage Justice Department civil servants to be grammatically accurate. Accuracy, however, is the stuff of all lawyering, and without it Justice is ungoverned. Please proceed, Mr Gove.

Thought for June

“Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.”  Edmund Burke (1729 -1797)

Most laws are products of committees and compromises, so there are plenty of bad ones. I won’t contrive a league table, but the Legal Services Act 2007, which was importantly progressive but has damaged the balances between Executive and Judiciary, and between wealth and rights, has to be up there. 

Thought for May

“Law is mind without reason.”  Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)

Reason and reasonableness are like beauty - subjective. There are objective legal standards, and tests for what is reasonable, but the Law is what it is: one of the geographical dimensions of our lives and users have to work with it and within it, often without look-in for fairness or Justice. 

Thought for April

“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct”. Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Accuracy is indispensable to good preparation of any legal case. It rarely serves to deploy it selectively, or to overload it with tautologies; but it is always wasteful, usually costly, and often wrongful, to say things that are not right. 

Thought for March

Don’t get mad, get even” attrib: Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969).

… and the best way to do that is with good preparation, good evidence and good presentation of a current imbalance caused by wrongdoings, and of the necessary costs and work to redress it.

Keeping Focus

“You think focusing is about saying "Yes." No. Focusing is about saying "No." And when you say "No," you piss off people.” Steve Jobs, Apple WWDC Closing Keynote, 1997

There’s a common tendency among professional advisers to add braces, suspenders, garters, binder-twine and duct tape to the belt of their argument. This is usually for fear that some protagonist might find reasons to distinguish their message from the matter in issue, rather than because they can charge more for verbosity; but often it’s needless or counterproductive. .Sometimes losses result from a lot of events in combination, or it isn’t clear which, so they all need investigation; but more often, there’s no doubt about the real cause, and all the others, and the costs of exploring them, are waste. 

 

Respect your Insurer as you would the taxman:

The modern insurance industry is for many of its purposes a privatised taxation system, raising and deploying the money required to redress accidents and misfortune which would otherwise be picked up by the public purse. So treat your insurer as you would your tax inspector:... Ask them nicely; treat them respectfully; tell them everything they are entitled to know, and know what they are entitled to be told. Never forget their power and size, and the damage their disaffection can do to your business; and the frequent inability of those in one part of its operations to know what is happening in others.

 

Should we sue?

Suing on unpaid invoices is always risky, because litigation is uncertain, and a counterclaim can often result in hassle and distraction, and potential outlay amply in excess of the bad debt.

It’s always wise to review a file properly and assess carefully the risks and hazards, and realistic prospects of recovery net of costs and management time. Know, don’t guess, the strength of your own glass house before you throw the stones.

 

Regulators are the Guvnor; Don’t jeopardise their Confidence:

Ask them nicely; treat them respectfully; tell them everything they are entitled to know, and know what they are entitled to be told. Never forget their power and size, and the damage their disaffection can do to your business. These days, what matters most to regulators is the scale and impact of the problem in the social and political context at the time the problem emerges, not at the time of the occurrence. The fairness and justice of your case, the apparent imperatives for your conduct, and the reasonableness of your actions or decisions at the time they were taken, are all subservient.

 

Make History kind:

"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it myself.” – Winston Churchill

Whenever there is a story to be told which defends, or contributes to a defence of an exposure, make sure that it is told properly, as you would wish to see it written. Adopt a style and content that most effectively manages the Evil Beast of corruptive hindsight, whose menace tends to visit even the most scrupulous of judges and objective investigators. Avoid asserting facts for which the evidence is not indisputable; and if in doubt, hedge or couch your source or recollections with cautious, but not concessionary, language.

 

Do as You Would be Done By

Some litigation practices nurse their reputations for effectiveness by habitually aggressive correspondence and opportunist tactical posturing, frequently without useful progression of the matter and at the risk of substantially added costs for both sides. It’s a legitimate approach, and it sometimes works, though in the overall scheme of things, it is they rather than their clients who consistently end up richer. The other drawback is that it raises the stakes and risks of adverse costs awards, paring of damages, or resolve of the opposition, with counter-productive results. So it’s best not to play by those rules unless you can take it as well as dish it out.

 

Procrastination is not always bad

Procrastination isn't the problem, it's the solution. So procrastinate now, don't put it off. – Ellen DeGeneres

Where professional risks or reputations are at stake, it often pays to sit tight and wait to see what transpires. But the inaction must be deliberate, and should never fail to follow upon a proportionately thorough initial investigation and appraisal of a problem.

 

Responsibility is always collective

It takes a whole village to raise a child… Italian proverb.

Circumstances where an exposure arises exclusively from the actions or derelictions of one person are rare. It’s the lawyer’s skill to identify the dominant cause for it and to place or apportion blame accordingly; but it is the role of the client firm’s managers to encourage transparency between colleagues and to recognise and adjust for the myriad circumstances under which the problem was allowed to arise, rather than confining their efforts to exacting retribution on individuals.

Professional Risk Expertise

Mike Willis has worked with a diverse range of professions including...

The FMWL Approach …

  • Accurate understanding and technical analysis;
  • Focus on duty, causal event(s) and consequences; not gossip…
  • Sensitive but objective empathy;
  • Overarching commerciality; and
  • Clear aims, with vision where necessary to explore indirect routes to solutions.