Ian McEwan: The Children Act

Charles Dickens: Bleak House

CHAPTER I
In Chancery

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Ian McEwan: The Children Act

ONE
London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather. Fiona Maye, a High Court judge, at home on Sunday evening, supine on a chaise longue, staring past her stockinged feet towards the end of the room, towards a partial view of recessed bookshelves by the fireplace and, to one side, by a tall window, a tiny Renoir lithograph of a bather, bought by her thirty years ago for fifty pounds. Probably a fake.

The parallels between Bleak House and The Children Act, Ian McEwan’s new novel, are limited, although the weather theme is pursued, fog in Bleak House being replaced by a long damp spell in the summer of 2012 in The Children Act.

It’s a short novel less about the law than about balancing the judge’s involvement in her work with her personal life. To write it, McEwan had to do a lot of research into law and lawyers. Indeed, one of his advisers was James Wood of Doughty Street Chambers, the second mention of those chambers here in a couple of weeks.

There is an introductory quote from the Children Act of 1989:

When a court determines any question with respect to … the upbringing of a child … the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.

There’s a good summary and review by Carl Gardner at Head of Legal. As he writes, one can criticize it from the legal point of view, but that, as he says, is from a lawyer’s point of view – on the other hand, it’s only because this is a legal blog that I’m mentioning it. For instance, there is a lot of discussion as to whether a boy three months short of his 18th birthday can decide his own medical treatment, and that (referred to as Gillick competence) is scarcely a controversial matter – maybe if he were 15, the opposing sides would exploit the age factor. There’s also the point that a child over 16 and under 18 who refuses medical treatment may be overruled by the courts, but only subject to the child’s paramount interest.

(Gillick competence refers to Mrs Victoria Gillick, who had five sons and five daughters, and in 1983 failed to get a court declaration that the daughters would not get contraceptive advice until they were over 16.)

Another lawyer’s review, by Sarah E Green, in Family Law Week, links to some of the decisions used by McEwan in the novel. The bits I found most interesting in showing how a family law judge has to think were based on Re G, a case concerning the schooling of Jewish children after a divorce:

Application for permission to appeal the making of (1) a specific issue order in relation to the education of five children from the Chareidi community of ultra orthodox Jews; (2) a residence order in favour of the mother. Permission refused in relation to the residence order. Permission granted in relation to the education specific issue order but the appeal dismissed.

Green concludes:

This book has been received by the legal community with much aplomb, although with somewhat less enthusiasm from a handful of critics outside of the legal sphere. It is a must-read for any family lawyer with a passion for literature.

Paragraph 84 of Lord Justice Munby’s judgment is the source of McEwan’s character’s remark that all three barristers, the two solicitors and the CAFCASS officer in the case were women – and yet the father’s religious community would have prevented his daughters from educational opportunities:

8

4. The first focused on educational opportunity. Here the evidence was clear and the choice stark. Whatever may be the practice in relation to education down to the point when children takes GCSEs, it is clear that, even for boys, the educational options narrow drastically thereafter in the Chareidi system and that tertiary education as generally understood hardly features at all. Career opportunities for boys in professions such as medicine and the law are very limited indeed, for girls virtually non-existent. The contrast with the wider community could hardly be greater. It is hard to imagine how either law or medicine could operate today without the women who at every level and in such large numbers enjoy careers which they find fulfilling and from which society as a whole derives so much benefit. Take the law: when I was called to the Bar in 1971 there were 2,714 barristers in practice at the independent bar of whom only 167 (some 6%) were women; by 2011 there were 12,673 of whom 4,106 (some 32%) were women. That is a measure of just how far society has moved in the last 40 years. And that, in my judgment, is the kind of societal reality to which a family judge must have regard in a case such as this. It is, after all, the reality which is daily on display in our family courts. The present case, as it happens, is typical of many: all three counsel who appeared before us were women, so too were the two solicitors, and so too was the CAFCASS officer. Judge Copley, in my judgment, was plainly entitled to conclude, as he did, that:

“the schools to which she wishes to send them will provide infinitely superior opportunities for these children to gain a much fuller and wider education, not only at secondary level but also at tertiary level should they choose that – the father’s own evidence and that of his witnesses bears this out – and thereafter they will have much greater job opportunities”,

just as he was entitled to accept Mrs Adams’ view that it was:

“more likely that the children will achieve greater economic success if they are given aspirations in relation to careers that exist outside the Jewish community.”

The musical recital at the end of the novel reminded me of Alan Rusbridger’s Play It Again, where you also get the contrast between playing the piano and dealing with a hectic work life.

Barbershop barrister quartet

Ben thanks his mother for encouraging him to study at the Open University. He calls in a

Barrister barbershop quartet

to do the honours.

Ben, like most other Open University students, had someone to support him through his studies. His tutors, fellow students and family all encouraged him along his learning journey.
But instead of simply saying ‘thank you’ to Jennifer, his mum, for inspiring and motivating him to study, we helped him to do something a million times better.
“I used to be a removal man. My mother sat me down and told me I was so much better than that and I should use my clever brain. I am now working for an ‘in-house’ legal team whilst on my fourth year of a law degree. Thank you.”

Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor

Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor

Amal is an educated and successful career woman we’ve long admired. The high-flying barrister has notched up many career highs, including representing the controversial WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, and also has multilingual fluency in English, French and Arabic.

Amal attended St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, earning her BA/LLB and receiving the Exhibitioner, Shrigley Award. She also attended New York University School of Law earning her LLM and receiving the Jack J. Katz Memorial Award.

We think this George Clooney fellow has scored big time.

He’s been quoted as saying he was ‘marrying up’… we agree.

Profile at Doughty Street Chambers.

Amal Alamuddin is a barrister specialising in international law, human rights, extradition and criminal law. She has represented clients in cases before the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as in domestic courts in the UK and US.

Amal also provides advice to governments and individuals on international law, and has been appointed to a number of UN commissions including as adviser to Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Syria, and as Counsel to the Inquiry launched by UN human rights rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC into the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations.

Amal is fluent in French and Arabic and has particular expertise in international criminal law and the Middle East region.

Via vowe.net

Silk – Roben aus Seide

I haven’t yet managed to watch a whole episode of the British series Silk, but I would be interested to see the German version. You can buy episodes in the German iTunes store, but that doesn’t work for me. Der Tagesspiegel writes:

Die ehrgeizige Strafverteidigerin möchte unbedingt die Auszeichnung des QC erlangen, des begehrten „Queen’s Counsel“, der zum Tragen einer Robe aus Seide berechtigt sowie dem Träger das Recht einräumt, sich seine Fälle selbst aussuchen und an den höchsten Gerichten vertreten zu können.

Privilegien, begehrt unter britischen Anwälten. „Taking silk“ heißt es dort unter rivalisierenden Anwärtern auf die Kronanwaltschaft, und solche Rivalen befinden sich auch in Shoe Lane.

The barristers’ chambers at Shoe Lane are referred to as a Sozietät and a Kanzlei.

I am told that the details of barristers’ function are a bit mystifying in German. One could have introduced the terms Solicitor and Barrister in German, but instead it looks as if they are Rechtsberater and Prozessanwälte. taz:

Die Serie hat diverse durchlaufende Themen, namentlich die Schwächen des englisch-walisischen Rechtssystems, das aus langer, wenngleich mittlerweile aufgeweichter Tradition zwischen „Solicitors“ und „Barristers“, Rechtsberatern und Prozessanwälten, unterscheidet und so Abhängigkeiten und Machtgefüge schafft. All das wirkt sich auf die Abläufe in der Sozietät aus, wo Billy Lamb schon mal zu unsauberen Methoden greift, aber nicht als einziger intrigiert und manipuliert.

The role of the clerk (der Bürovorsteher) is also mysterious to Germans.

London law firm

lordadvocatesllp

Lord Advocates LLP is an East London immigration law firm near Upton Park station. See video (I don’t know what language they’re speaking, but it is likely to be Urdu, Punjabi or Hindi).

Our expertise covers the whole area of Immigration including applications for British Nationality, British Citizenship, Economic Migration, Further Leave to Remain applications, Settlement, Points Based System applications, Asylum, Human Rights claims, Discretionary Leave applications, Certificates of Abode, Marriage applications, Settlement applications for family members. Registration with the Police, Reporting, Bio-metrics, Legacy and fresh Human Rights applications, passport applications, revocation of leave, applications under the Points Based System such as Students, applications connected to establishing and conducting business in the United Kingdom.

John Flood: What Do Lawyers Do?

John Flood has published a revised version of his book on a Chicago law firm, called Tischmann and Weinstock for the purposes of the book: What Do Lawyers Do? An ethnography of a corporate law firm. You can get the Kindle version, and the paper versions are due shortly.

John Flood has a website and a weblog called John Flood’s Random Academic Thoughts, where there is a post with more information on the book.

I have often wondered what lawyers do myself – the book is about business lawyers rather than litigators, whose role is easier to understand. Just as people who come straight from translation studies can’t usually translate, new lawyers can’t usually act as lawyers, so I never found it out, although the firm in the book sounds very similar to the Jewish law firm where I did my articles in London, down to the arrangement of the offices. The text is rather dry on the surface, a summary of analysis, but amusing between the lines.

The main activity of lawyers is talking on the telephone with persons other than Tischmann lawyers (31.1%). If we add talking with other Tischmann lawyers by telephone the percentage rises to 23.5 percent. The second largest activity is talking face to face with other Tischmann lawyers (12%). Talking with Tischmann lawyers and others takes up 18.1 percent of lawyers’ billable time. If we sum time spent at meetings outside the office (2.6%), office meetings (0.7%), telephoning and talking face to face, we find lawyers spend 53.9 percent of their chargeable time talking. Writing, however, takes up only 20.8 percent (16.3% – drafting; 4.5% – revising). … Research is an activity mainly carried out by associates.

All the office staff are considered.

All the support staff had to log in and out during the day. If they were late, their salaries were docked. Because they perceived their salaries already low, many secretaries left after having their salaries reduced. Much of the office gossip turned on how much of a “bastard” the office manager was, and who was about to suffer his wrath next. Some of the secretaries were aggrieved at how they were treated by the office manager. They felt he conveniently forgot the many occasions when they came in during weekends to help their attorneys, when he decided to dock their pay for some infraction.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest. I think I first read John Flood on barristers’ clerks, a mysterious species – here’s a blog post on them.

Economist on translation and the law

An article in The Economist on the growing demand for legal translation: Translating and the law.

It envisages this as a good prospect for underworked lawyers:

Specialised “e-discovery” software helps lawyers cull the masses of electronic data. But in international deals and lawsuits, such software must be run by cultural and linguistic experts to make sure the correct search terms are used and the right information is ferreted out. Translation is still something that computers do badly much of the time, especially when the topic (a drug patent, say) is a difficult one full of technical details.

The many law students wondering if the rotten legal job market will ever improve should take note. The twin forces of globalisation and technology may put many mediocre lawyers out of business. But those who master languages and computers may find themselves in demand.

There’s nothing wrong with lawyers translating – I am a Germanist who became a solicitor and spent 20 years teaching legal translation, for which there was at the beginning little demand and where I had to teach myself. But I hope those lawyers with language skills get some kind of training on what translation and working with related software involve, and above all have experience.

The article originates in New York and the discovery problems in the USA are particularly great. I think the patent translator Steve Vitek spends a lot of time telling his clients which Japanese patent documentation needs looking at more closely. I tell clients or potential clients what statutes or judgments are available in translation on the Internet and whether I think the translation is reliable. That sort of thing requires experience.

Tweeted by Helen Gibbons, retweeted by Kevin Lossner

Ferdinand von Schirach

Ferdinand von Schirach (grandson of Baldur) is a criminal defence attorney who has now published two books of stories about his clients which have topped the best-seller lists, are being filmed and translated.

The first book was Verbrechen (August 2009). I got it as a birthday present this year. I thought it was wonderful. The stories are based on real cases, but mixed up so the characters can’t be identified. Schirach uses a minimalist style. In a German interview (FAZ), he says that most crime novelists never experience a crime, so they sit in cafés and fill their books with descriptions.

Die meisten Leute, die Krimis schreiben, erleben keine Krimis, sondern sitzen in Prenzlauer Berg bei einem Cappuccino und denken sich die Welt aus. Deswegen müssen sie sehr ausführlich beschreiben, wie jemand mit Messer und Gabel gegessen hat, dass die Tischdecke ausgefranst war, dass der Himmel sich zuzuziehen begann . . . Ich hab’ da einfach Glück. Ich hab’ einfach diese Geschichten und kann die dann auch relativ kurz schreiben.

The second book was Schuld (August 2010), which I borrowed a few weeks ago. This time I was disappointed. The book lender thought these must be the stories which were rejected for the first book. I thought Schirach might be indulging himself following his success on the market.

The first book told the stories in a minimalist style. The second one seemed to me as if someone had taken a haiku and spoilt it with emotions and the author’s opinions.

Denis Scheck said the books are OK but they are not really literature, and their only real appeal is that they appear to reflect ‘reality’ (I quote from memory, and hope I am not distorting it).

Take the end of the first story in Schuld:

Nach der Haftprüfung gingen mein Studienfreund und ich zum Bahnhof. Wir hätten über den Sieg der Verteidigung sprechen können oder über den Rhein neben den Gleisen oder über irgendetwas. Aber wir saßen auf der hölzernen Bank, von der die Farbe abblätterte, und keiner wollte etwas sagen. Wir wussten, dass wir unsere Unschuld verloren hatten und dass das keine Rolle spielte. Wir schwiegen auch noch im Zug in unseren neuen Anzügen neben den kaum benutzten Aktentaschen, und während wir nach Hause fuhren, dachte wir an das Mädchen und die ordentlichen Männer und sahen uns nicht an. Wir waren erwachsen geworden, und als wir ausstiegen, wussten wir, dass die Dinge nie wieder einfach sein würden.

This goes too far for me. There is more of this in this second book, but some in the first too. I reread that, and I still love the story of the two neo-Nazis in the station (Notwehr).

In an interview in New Books in German, Schirach described his technique of mixing stories:

The essence of each story is true. You have to imagine it as one of those beautiful old printers’ typesetting cases. When you have been a Criminal Defence Lawyer your whole life, then you have quite a stock of typesetting cases full of people, events and little episodes. And I then put these together anew for a story. The only thing that I don’t change is the basic tone of a case, the motive, the atmosphere.

Of course, we are spoilt for simple and thought-provoking stories of crime by some German lawyers’ weblogs, such as law blog and Strafprozesse und andere Ungereimtheiten.

Thanks to Katy Derbyshire for the link to New Books in German.

Translating foreign-language litigation documents/Übersetzung für Gerichtsverhandlungen

An article by Erik Sherman at law. com, Don’t Let Litigation Get Lost in Translation
Can language conversion software cut cross-border litigation bills?

discusses the problems for a litigation lawyer of dealing with a huge amount of foreign-language material. One has heard tales of US lawyers being presented with truckloads of papers at the discovery stage (Offenlegung).

The conclusions seem to be:

Use machine translation (MT) to get a rough idea of which documents might be worth translating

The article mentions free software and implies that there are other systems. It doesn’t mention the possibility, if you often work with a particular language, of ‘training’ an in-house MT system to translate certain terms in a certain way, to expect legal terminology rather than general terminology and so on. Nor does it mention the problems of optical character recognition (OCR) if the documents are poor faxes. They may even be handwritten. If documents are not in electronic form, you might need to call in a translator to help you sift them. I remember Steve Vitek‘s stories of helping lawyers sort through Japanese patents.

If you need to keep an eye out for keywords, get a translator to identify them in the foreign language, since if they are inconsistently MTd, you may overlook them in English.

Get important documents translated by a human translator

For languages using a different alphabet or writing system, get a translator to identify possible software problems in advance

If you have to use several human translators, use a computer-aided translation system (CAT – translation memory) or at least a glossary to keep them consistent on the main terminology

Don’t let your lawyers change to a foreign language to discuss sensitive issues in the hope that the other side won’t notice what you’re up to

A law firm’s translation department should know a lot of this already. But maybe there are fewer translation departments in the USA.

The article doesn’t go into detail on what law firms need to know, for instance when it obliquely refers to CAT.

Once down to the critical documents, it’s time for human translation. But even here, translation technology plays an important role. Not only can it help jump-start an experienced translator’s efforts, but it can also enforce important uniformity of translation. “A lot of words are subject to multiple interpretations, so what can happen is that you can have two duplicates that have been translated differently, and it can have consequences,” says Constantine Cannon’s Solow. The more translators working on a matter, the greater the chance for variability in translation. Professional translation tools can “learn” specific translation choices and then present them as preferred options to any translator on the team. The translators then feed refined translations back into the tools, increasing the speed of the entire process. And suddenly, you’re ready for court before you can count un, deux, trois.

Sounds great. I incline more to quatre-vingts-dix myself.

I would add to the above: if you have a good translator who knows about software, don’t underestimate their value to you.

This is a weird statement:

The problem of trusting a translation becomes even more critical when dealing with many Asian languages, in which a single character can represent a complex concept. “One of those characters could have hundreds, maybe even thousands of meanings,” says Duncan McCampbell, president of international business consultancy McCampbell Global and a former litigator. “There are characters in Chinese [for example] that have no equivalent in English.”

(Via MA Translation Studies News)