The Legal Compliance Association, gangland shootings and last meals

The challenge facing COLPs and COFAs in UK law firms is fairly obvious: how do you get staff to take compliance seriously?

Last Thursday I attended the launch of the Legal Compliance Association(LCA), the first dedicated association for legal compliance professionals whose goal is to promote year-round networking, expertise and learning.

Attending the event were delegates from many high-profile law firms including Weightmans, Plexus Law, Pinsent Masons and Kingsley Napley.

Leah Darbyshire, the community manager of the LCA, opened the evening by saying: “We know that compliance is quite a lonely job. At various times you’re a policeman, a whistle blower and a business interruption unit. It is hard to keep pushing the compliance message out when the fee earners just want to go and do business. We want you to feel supported, to bring you together and have the chance to discuss similar issues that you all face.”

The evening’s keynote speaker was Keith Read, the former group director of compliance and ethics at BT. He began by listing some of the challenges he once faced at the telecoms giant: “One hundred and seventy-six countries, 20 million customers, 150,000 employees and contractors. But what that 150,000 figure hides is the fact that there were 50,000 contractors. Employee turnover was 4 per cent. Contractor turnover was 30 per cent. That makes a huge difference to how you deal with training and education because that means one third of your workforce leave every year.”

Despite this, in his eight and a half years at BT, Read only saw the inside of a courtroom on a compliance issue once. “You might wonder how a compliance director with years of experience ends up in court over a gangland shooting,” said Read. “A guy got murdered. His killer was found, arrested and sent to prison. Normally, that might be the end of it, but unfortunately in this case the friends of the guy who was murdered decided they would go after the killer’s parents.

“These parents had threats made to them and were offered witness protection. But they were in their 70s and they did not want to cut themselves off from their friends and family so they decided that they would buy a house in Lincolnshire, go into hiding and hope it would go away. Unfortunately, two BT employees, one was bribed and one was leant on, revealed the address of the new property. Both the mother and father got a bullet in the back of the head.”

If Read had been unable to demonstrate to the court the lengths BT went to train all 150,000 of its employees about data disclosure the company would have been in serious trouble. Instead, the court was “very happy” with what Read had done.

While this case was perhaps not the run-of-the-mill compliance issue many solicitors may expect to face, it does show the extreme dangers of failing to take compliance seriously and the importance of compliance officers within businesses of all sizes.

After last week’s event, I expect the LCA will be very influential in helping compliance and risk management professionals get their message out loud and clear.

Death Row Dinners

According to a new Hoxton-based pop-up eatery, anyone who loves food will at some point in their life have discussed an age-old question: “What would your last meal be?” Well, Death Row Dinners is attempting to answer just that.

In return for £50 of their hard-earned cash (plus booking fee), diners can join 80 fellow “inmates” and experience a night behind the bars of one of London’s toughest “high-security restaurants” where prison chefs serve a five-course feast based on some of death row’s most popular last dinners.

The ritual of the last meal remains in only a few countries: India, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and the United States. Although, in the good old US of A, each state has their own take on death row meal etiquette.

For example, until 2003 the Texas prison system listed the last meals of each of its prisoners on its official death row website. The website documented 313 meals until officials decided to close it having received complaints from members of the public who found it offensive. In 2011, Texas stopped serving last meals altogether after a state senator complained about an inmate request he considered “excessive”. Meanwhile, other states have limits on how much they will spend on a death row meal. And it is often a lot less than the £50 expected by this new London pop-up.

Death Row Dinners’ plans for culinary fame have met with a huge backlash online, just as Texas’ death row meal website did in the lone star state.

A statement on the pop-up restaurant’s website now reads: “We’re shocked and saddened by the response to Death Row Dinners and are genuinely very sorry for any offence caused. The pop-up is intended to explore the concept of last meals; anyone who has ever been to a dinner party has probably had this conversation – what would they love their last meal to be. In light of the response to the idea we are considering our next steps and will update everyone with our decision.”

Is this another example of ‘PC culture’ gone mad? Well, no, not really. While the Secret Cinema phenomenon has become popular in recent years (the Shawshank Redemption being noteworthy for praise), the idea that members of the public could take some sort of perverse pleasure from eating the meals of those who have previously been executed strikes me as being in rather poor taste.

I’m sure some to the extreme right of the political spectrum may relish the idea, and some might even suggest hanging current inmates from the rafters of the East London eatery as after-dinner entertainment. But you wouldn’t expect any members of the legal profession to be caught dead there… would you?

This blog was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 17 September 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.