CategoriesInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The DayBusiness

Seven Recent Observations 

  1. On the Budget from Dumb and Dumber

As I highlighted in my penultimate blog, Truss is an ideologue. She doesn’t hide it. Her recent budget was a piece of work: never has a new Prime Minister committed political suicide so quickly. I will, though, defend Truss to some extent.

During the unfathomably and unforgivable leadership campaign, during which we had no functioning Government, despite being mired in crisis, and with Reckless Boris taking two holidays – holidays he could have taken following his jettisoning from office – few people would have noticed that Truss said in an interview that the ideological, swingeing cuts to the State between 2010-2015 carried out by – until this week – the worst Chancellor in British history – George Osbourne – went too far. That is an understatement, but she was right. Those cuts triggered a double-dip recession, a rarity in post-war Britain, because they damaged confidence in the economy (as well as diminishing the State’s massive spending power). I shall award half marks to Truss for understanding half of the lesson from that period and having the guts to say so.

For me, campaigning against those wicked cuts in or around 2010 remains something that I am proud of (though I might have gone too far by making our baby deliver leaflets in the winter).

andrew gray cuts

To her credit, Truss understands that economics – and I studied it – is no science. Truss knows that modern economies, particularly ones built on the service sector and the housing market, react to psychological factors, more than anything else. Hence her misjudged budget of boosterism on steroids.

This was not the time for financial imprudence, as Sunak kept telling the Tory members, but they didn’t listen. Cuts to taxes, particularly to stamp duty, with the hope that this will stimulate our economy, would always be counterproductive if the independent Bank of England had to rapidly increase interest rates to stave-off a run on the pound. This last week has wreaked havoc to the nation’s economic psychology and guarantees an end to Tory rule, with Labour enjoying a massive poll lead, even though they have nothing to say.

Although flawed and damaged goods, at least it was Truss who had to handle the Queen’s passing. My guess is that Reckless Boris’s tenure embarrassed the Queen. It remains fascinating and more than coincidental that she died so quickly after the ejection of Reckless Boris. Classy to the end.

  1. On Dealing With Putins

Having litigated for 17 years, I have learned a thing or two about disputes, particularly about the psychology of a dispute. One memorable and nasty piece of litigation I was involved with, reminds me of the situation facing Ukraine today.

In my case, the Defendant had all the appearances of a smart, sophisticated and logical opponent, but they then made decisions which dumfounded my colleagues and me. As a litigator, we are taught to put ourselves in the position of our opponents, in order to second-guess what moves they will make. In this case, our opponent made illogical and self-defeating moves. Rather than emboldening us, we were left – and still remain – bamboozled. Settlement followed due to the erratic nature of our opponent, despite the weakness of their position. The litigation was hellish but as Robert Louis Stephenson once said: “Compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer.”

Litigation is a form of war – war in a legal context, and with some rules, which are zealously enforced. War, on the contrary, is not really bound by any enforceable law. My view is that the situation for Ukraine is, sadly, unwinnable. The threat of nuclear escalation is real: what might deter a tactical nuclear strike is the prevailing wind. Of course, Russia isn’t going away any time soon and any successor to Putin might be more competent as well as being equally determined to seize Ukrainian land. In international affairs, bullies with nuclear weapons succeed – that is realpolitik.

Absent any new world policeman – which of course is prevented due to the Russian veto on the Security Council – a rapid settlement is urgently needed. Although I have seen not one single report of recent settlement talks, the only signal of a possible settlement is the Truss-Kwarteng budget. If peace is declared, the real – and psychological – world-wide boost, will promote financial growth internationally. In that case, the Truss-Kwartang budget was clever, but premature. (For clarification, absent an immediate ceasefire, the budget was lunacy.)

  1. On Doing Business Deals

From my experience as a lawyer and an entrepreneur, I can tell you that exchanges of emails, or letters, is the worst way of negotiating business deals. If you can, do it in person, when everyone has eaten and had enough sleep. The written word can be poison. The same word spoken always lands more gently and is therefore more conducive to finding agreement.

  1. Thoughts on the Queen

By far the most interesting analysis I have seen on the passing of the Queen was from Professor of Psychology, Jordan Peterson, here. Peterson was delivering a live Q & A when the news of the Queen’s death landed, so he had to think on his feet. To cut a 14-minute monologue short, Peterson’s key point is that the alternative to a constitutional monarchy is an elected Head of State. Peterson said that most people cannot handle the fame of being Head of State, pointing to Donald Trump, who acted like a Tzar. To have one family, albeit a financially hyper-privileged family, carrying the burden of fame and constitutional power, solves many of a nation’s difficulties. I don’t like the idea of a monarchy, but perhaps the alternative is worse.

Peterson’s second point is that there is wisdom baked into our monarchical system. He said that the Queen was able to intimidate the 14 Prime Ministers who served under her – and listening to former PMs talk about her, it seems that Peterson was onto something.

Would I want to live with a President Johnson? No. Would I like to live in a country with an elected President in addition to a Prime Minister? Probably not. Who is the President of Germany? Exactly. On the countless times that this nation was embarrassed internationally by Reckless Boris and now by Truss, at least these two were not our only figureheads.

But would I bow to a Queen or a King? Never. Would you? I should add that I pity the royal family: just imagine having your relative’s funeral televised for billions to see. No thank you very much.

  1. Magic Mushrooms and Philosophy

Someone recently told me of the psychedelic effects of eating the “right” type of mushrooms – mushrooms which grow throughout Yorkshire. For clarity, I don’t support, nor recommend, such actions: it seems dangerous to me, as well as being illegal. The description of the mind-altering “qualities” reminded me of my recent experience of Nietzsche’s key findings (I know this sounds pretentious.)

But I challenge any reader not to be thrown by Nietzsche’s ideas, particularly that of nihilism. Nothing clears my mind better than a batch of Nietzsche – the YouTube videos do a superb job of summarising his work, as his writings are, for me, mostly impenetrable. This quotes sums up his work for me:

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Meditate on that if you will: imagine that there is no right way – no right way, of anything, of being, of thinking! All value structures fall away: now that is mind-altering!

  1. On Onshore Wind

Over the last few months, I have become increasingly interested in onshore wind. With the country facing an energy crisis (years in the making), we must remember that it was Cameron’s Government which made onshore wind virtually impossible, due to their draconian planning regs. This point was hammered home by opposition MPs during the recent House of Commons fracking debate.

But what was most interesting about the debate on fracking is that – not once – did Jacob Rees Mogg let on that anything would change in relation to onshore wind, despite the barracking he was taking. Then, the next morning, without fanfare, his department declared that they would permit onshore wind. You couldn’t make it up. At last, commonsense has prevailed.

  1. On Inflation and Crypto

Where has all this inflation come from, people are asking. Simple: although I have seen wildly different figures, between 40-80% of all dollars in circulation in the world – remembering that dollars are the world’s reserve currency – were printed since Covid. Digest that fact.

This printing of money, deployed by most countries in the world, is the main factor behind inflation. High inflation is no surprise. If there is an iron law in economics, then is it that the printing of money will eventually lead to inflation. And when there is inflation, coupled with low interest rates, there is no point putting money in a bank account, hence why people buy assets, which then inflate prices. High inflation post-Covid was obvious.

As an owner – and an advocate – of crypto currencies, my view is that crypto or other digital currencies soon to be deployed by governments, stand to gain significantly from global high inflation. So far, this hasn’t occurred. On the contrary, crypto is down this last 6 months, due to the strength of the dollar, because, in tough times, people buy dollars. But give crypto time.

If inflation remains a global issue, which I suspect that it will, particularly if Ukraine and Russia settle, my ignorant recommendation is to have a portfolio of crypto assets, if only £10 here and there, just to get a feel for how it works.

CategoriesLegalHealthQuakerismBusiness

Leaving my own law firm after a decade

(Due to poor health, three of my colleagues at Truth Legal are buying my shares in a Management Buy-Out. A few days ago, I gave a speech at our 10th birthday party in Hotel Du Vin, Harrogate. Below, is my speech, though, I have omitted all the personal comments that I made about my wonderful team, as well as removing the never-ending list of “thank-yous”. For posterity, I record here what I said that night. As with other speeches, I write down what I will say, just in case I get lost. Another time, when I have processed it, I will write more about this monumental decision.)

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

10th party truth legal

Welcome, everybody, welcome to the Truth Legal 10th birthday celebration!

 

Somehow, we made it!

 

Wow, I’m honored that you all came here today to celebrate with us. Thank you.

 

I hope that you all have an excellent and useful evening, and that you drink the bar dry.

 

For those who don’t know me, I’m Andrew Gray. I’m the founder of TL and its my job this evening to explain how we got here and to say a gazillion heartfelt thank yous.

 

How did we get here?

I’m going to explain how we did it, and I’m going to introduce you all to our team, most of whom are here today. After all, a law firm is really just a collection of people.

 

When I left my last law firm, Thompsons, where I used to work with Navya, Sarah, Catherine, David and Julie, Hardev, Shabana, Joel and Sarah, I was either going to be at stay at home dad, or was going to set up a law firm.

 

Crazily, I was only four years qualified and my wife and I had two kids under 2, the youngest of whom just didn’t sleep. And still doesn’t sleep. It must have been the option to sleep in an office which made me set up.

 

I shall let you into a secret: as you would imagine, I calculated the costs of setting up a law firm and working out how far we could last on our meagre saving and on Julia’s maternity pay. I then added up all family outgoings. Although it would be a scrape, as Personal Injury law firms aren’t paid for a few years, I thought we’d get by. So, I handed in my notice.

 

A few weeks later, I realized that I had forgotten to take into account our mortgage payments.

 

So, TL only came into being because I can’t budget or count.

 

Why Truth Legal?

 

Because I am a Quaker. If you don’t know Quakers, think of Rowntree, Llloyds, Barclays, Cadburys and Waterhouse, Judi Dench. Essentially, we believe in equality, sustainability, peace, simplicity and Truth – hence Truth Legal.

 

For me, a law firm had to be about something more than just making money. I wanted a law firm that would take a stand. Be unpopular, if needed. Do the right thing.

 

And I believed it then and still today, that there’s no point in living in a democracy if you can’t use the laws enacted by our representatives, because you can’t afford a lawyer.  Access to law should be akin to access to the NHS.

 

(Here came lengthy thank yous to all the staff individually and to our friends, clients and suppliers)

 

Finally, before we talk about what happens next, let me tell you about our MD, Georgina Parkin. When she was a trainee solicitor, she took a new phone enquiry. She said that the caller was a “Secretary” and that the secretary was making the call with “a member”. When I pushed her, she said that the Secretary was a typist who does a variety of rolls in an office. The caller was a “General Secretary” of a Trade Union!!

 

Despite that blip, Georgina has been the safest pair of hands. She qualified quickly; became a director; then perhaps the youngest Law Society President; became our MD; became a mum; and then an equity partner. That’s a meteoric rise and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Georgina.

 

The Future

Initiated by me, because I am not able to work as I once did and I don’t want people generating profit for me, I am pleased to tell you all that we have agreed a Management Buy Out. Georgina, Louis and Navya will be buying my shares and I will become a consultant of the firm.

 

My wife asked me to not to quote Boris Johnson who finished with “Hasta La Vista Baby”.

 

So, I’ll finish with:

 

“In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here”

 

CategoriesPoliticsThought of The Day

Babysitting: In Liz we Trust?

Today, Truss took on Starmer at PMQs. Across both sides of the aisle, the atmosphere was flat. Evidently, Truss lacks the support of the majority of her MPs. Public speaking is not her forte.

Nerdy, seasoned PMQ-watchers, like me, enjoyed the Blair v Major, Blair v Hague and Starmer v Johnson, for it was often rip-roaring stuff. With Starmer v Johnson it was war, with both men despising the other. (Reportedly, Reckless Boris loathed Starmer because Carrie had been the victim of the Black Cab Rapist and, supposedly, Starmer’s CPS performed a poor job of the rapist’s prosecution).

After Johnson’s approach to PMQs of bluster and deceit, today’s sparring was a welcome relief. Opening, Starmer welcomed Truss to the position. In turn, Truss thanked Starmer for his support on Ukraine: it seemed genuine. A far more decent human being is now in power, for Johnson would have gone on the offensive, attacking Starmer for working under Corbyn. Starmer seemed surprised at her civility.

Starmer’s questions were short and sharp, focusing on one theme: why will the Government not levy a windfall tax on the energy companies, leaving working people to pick up the energy price freeze? Because Tories don’t believe in walloping corporations, replied Truss candidly.

Each Starmer question was met with a straight-forward and ideological response. As a result, PMQs was dull, but instructive. Mendacity and ego has been replaced by an ideologue.

Of course, I refused to watch any of the Tory leadership debates and avoided reports of the various spats, for the entire process lays bare our broken constitution, which clever Johnson frequently exploited. Even Putin today commented on our democratic deficit. With Truss’s break with Johnson’s policies on National Insurance and on Corporation Tax, the fact that 99.5% of the British people had no say in her elevation, any competent Leader of the Opposition would have proposed a new constitutional settlement: but Starmer has nothing of note to offer.

Truss has crystal clear Tory orthodoxy as her North Star. Starmer’s North Star – that of not being Reckless Boris – has left him directionless, hamstrung, lost. He needs some ideas.

In his autobiography Tony Blair wrote about his “country test” to see if a country was any good: if people are fleeing a country, then that is a bad country; if people want to come to a country, then the target country is a good one.

For Prime Ministers, I propose the babysitting test, which admittedly is a rather low bar: would you leave your children for the night with [insert name of possible Prime Minister]? For me, it is a resounding “yes” for both Starmer and Truss as babysitters. No sensible parent would have left their kids with Boris – not for any sinister reasons – but because he couldn’t be trusted to ensure that the children would be in the house by the end of the night. Although Reckless Boris had some positive policy positions, I am relieved that the most morally unfit MP no longer occupies Number Ten.

 

CategoriesInternational AffairsTravelThought of The DayBusiness

Duolingo and the Future of Geopolitics 

For those who don’t know, Duolingo is an awesome app which helps you to learn a language. Each day, for the last 112 days (as Duolingo tells me), I have studied Spanish on this app. Averaging 20 minutes per day on this app – bolstered by weekly online Spanish lessons with a real tutor – I now comprehend quite a lot of Spanish. At school, I despised language learning.

Duolingo gamifies language learning and uses the latest research to enhance the tutee’s time on the platform. Me encanta Duolingo! When I look at the apps assembled on my phone, there are only a few which bring me joy; most are there for functional reasons. Duolingo is good for me. Opening the snazzy app each morning brings me great pleasure.

Duolingo’s methodology of cajoling tutees to stay engaged ought to be copied by all learning establishments, because it works. Over 1.5m people have used the app each day for over one year. Using Duolingo’s simple user interface is a pleasure. I recommend that everyone has a play with this app: 97% of users don’t pay to use it. With half a billion users, Duolingo has improved the planet and made a massive profit.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast interview with the co-founder of Duolingo, Luis von Ahn. Nice guy. For me, there were two important takeaways from the wide-ranging conversation. First, Duolingo’s mission to – for free – educate hundreds of millions of people motors most of the platform’s staff to keep improving the tech in order to educate more people. The platform’s commitment to its mission is the reason for its success. It is a potent example that the best businesses have a mission over and above profit-making. In fact, without their missionary zeal, their wild profits would not have materialised. My own experience is that colleagues working in a mission-driven business go above and beyond.

The second key learning point for me is a cultural one, which I believe will shape geopolitics for decades to come. The co-founder explained that, broadly speaking, of the half a billion users, there are two distinct groups of learners, roughly in two equal camps. Half of users are people learning English language because they need to for financial reasons: to get on at work; to get into a better university etc. The other half are, like me, learning for fun, and usually opt for languages such as Spanish and French.

Surprisingly, given that the top echelons of society are forcing their children to learn Mandarin, only around 1% of the tutees are choosing to learn Mandarin. In fact, possibly more people are learning Korean than Chinese, because of the brilliance of South Korean movies. People are voting with their fingers and eschewing Mandarin. Before hearing these stats, I would have guessed that around one-third of tutees would have been learning Mandarin.

With the meteoric rise of China as an economic and military force there is much talk that this century will be China’s. This is what I assumed would happen, but given that hundreds of millions of people are still choosing to learn English, my interpretation of these stats is that there is significant and worldwide hostility to Chinese influence. And with hundreds of millions of people voluntarily choosing to learn English it seems to me, that culturally at least, the West – primarily the English-speaking West – will remain dominant, even if economically its superiority has been neutered. English remains the lingua franca.

Certainly, part of the reason why people don’t learn Mandarin is due to its inherent complexity, but having travelled in China – albeit twenty-ish years ago – it is not a country that I am eager to return to. When I reflect on my time in China, I do not do so with any warmth. Seemingly, hundreds of millions of people have a similar antipathy towards China. My estimation is that the vast “soft power” provided by the English language and, to a lesser degree, its culture, ought to mean that although Chinese economic and military power will continue to rise, Chinese cultural dominance will not occur this century.

 

 

CategoriesLegalBusiness

Here Comes The Immigration Lawyers Organisation       

Eighteen months after I first concocted the idea of the Immigration Lawyers Organisation (ILO), the new website is finally live here. What do you think? (But for my ropey health, I would have launched this project eons ago).

The purpose of ILO is to become the international quasi-regulator of immigration lawyers. A bold ambition, if ever there was one. Naturally, regulatory powers are normally bequeathed by governments. Here, I am using online reviews coupled with my own investigatory prowess to perform the semi-regulatory function.

Although I am no immigration lawyer, over the years I have sued some dreadful immigration lawyers for their negligent advice, and I remain appalled by what my clients experienced. Lawyers frequently makes errors, and thankfully only some of those errors cause “damage” for our clients. When errors occur, a lawyer is obligated to explain their mistakes to their client and to recommend that their client seeks alternative independent legal advice, which is code for: sue me, for I have done you wrong.

In the immigration legal field, the impact of negligent legal advice could lead to the deportation of someone and, possibly, a death sentence. And once deported, a client, from afar, will struggle to bring a claim against their negligent law firm. Therefore, many errors in the immigration field go unpunished.

The negligent advice experienced by my clients, with the dreadful ramifications for those individuals, lead me to found the ILO. At the ILO, we have created a charter, which the law firms and lawyers must adhere to before they can become verified members. Verified members can show their certification to their clients. My secondary ambition – though allied to my first goal – is that I can drive quality enquiries to the very best immigration lawyers, so that their practices thrive. Through negative online reviews on the platform, the worst lawyers will rightfully be penalised.

When choosing an immigration lawyer, a client is usually in a vulnerable position and could even be choosing their lawyer from their home country, with no personal recommendations upon which to base their decisions. Bringing online reviews – so common in the UK, but less in other countries – to the world at large, should ensure quality.

And it would be remiss of me not to point out that, as with some personal injury law, immigration law can have its dark side. I have done my best to run an ethical personal injury department. ILO is my attempt at improving the quality immigration legal advice.

Currently, we have around 1,000 unverified lawyers on the platform, in 150 countries. My hope is that, over time, the platform becomes the go-to place for people looking for the very best immigration lawyers. Perhaps, in time, clients will be able to instruct quality immigration lawyers via the platform…..

Will this platform make the world a better place? I hope so!

If you know any immigration lawyers who want to engage with the platform, please send them my details.

CategoriesHealth

Good Pills, Bad Pills

(Warning: another boring health post, recorded here in the hope that it might be of use to others)

 

Of all the numerous and weird symptoms that I have endured these last few years, none has had a greater impact on my quality of life than the chronic fatigue. When doctors ask me which one symptom that I would prioritise them curing, then fatigue would be it.

 

The neurologist who diagnosed my poisoning by strong antibiotics – the fluoroquinolone antibiotics – explained to me that the fluoroquinolones permanently damaged the mitochondria in each cell.

 

Simply put, the mitochondria is the “powerhouse of each cell” in the body. You certainly don’t want that damaging. What befuddles me is that there seems to be very little research on the mitochondria despite its central role throughout the body. Why is this? So much remains unknown about the body. My guess is that over the next decade the mitochondria will become follow the gut as the area of medicine that the everyday person will become far more aware of. I may stand to benefit from this likely zeitgesit.

 

Fortunately for me, I have been working with an excellent nutritional therapist, Jessica Barfield of Enjoy Nutrition. After extensive research, Jessica recommended that I try some new (and very expensive) supplements aimed at enhancing the damaged element of the mitochondria. The pills are https://www.researchednutritionals.com/product/atp-fuel-optimized-energy-for-serious-mitochondrial-needs-gmo-free/.

 

Frankly, as with all other supplements I have taken – and there’s been dozens – I didn’t expect any improvement. However, within a week the fatigue was reduced by 80%. Of course, I wonder if this is simply the placebo effect in operation, or perhaps just coincidence. I’ll never know, but I will keep taking them. Good pills!

 

And as is all too common to chronic illness sufferers, the ups are usually followed by a down. And so it was for me again.

 

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Recently, with another delightful but low-level infection rumbling away, on advice from the consultant, the GP prescribed me with light-touch antibiotics for 6 weeks – trimethoprim. I’ve had lots of this antibiotic before without any dramas.

 

With no expectation of side-effects, I commenced the course. Within one day – so after only two tablets – my family noticed that I developed three round, red blotches on my face. Immediately, I stopped taking them, and reported the impact to the GP. I then filed a Yellow Card – which is a report about the side effects of a given medication. Another set of bad pills?

 

(Incidentally, the nobody-can-believe-she-made-the-Cabinet, Nadine-Dorries, answered a question about Yellow Card reports in relation to fluoroquinolone antibiotics here.)

 

What this means is that there’s even fewer antibiotics I can turn to when – as will inevitably happen – another infection strikes. And with so few antibiotics to turn to, there must be the risk that I develop resistance to these. Such is life.

 

CategoriesThought of The Day

On BBC World Service today!

After one lengthy, in-person interview, dozens of phone calls and countless emails – to’ing and fro’ing – finally the BBC World Service programme featuring my work promoting Polis in Harrogate went live this morning.

I still haven’t plucked up the courage to listen to it!

As I said to the wonderful, fact-checking journalist today when she called, her finicky and details-demanding approach restored some of my faith in journalism. Always professional and friendly, the BBC journalist ensured that the full facts were known. No stone left unturned. No nasty surprises for the BBC post-release.

I’m indebted to the BBC for helping to spread this good news story of tech playing a positive role in our democracy. Taiwan and Harrogate in the same show – I bet nobody saw that one coming

Here it is! 

CategoriesThought of The Day

Can you help the BBC World Service?

Over the last few months I have had the great pleasure of liaising with an outstanding journalist who works for the BBC World Service. The journalist works on the People Fixing the World series. Exciting news: the program is coming to Harrogate this weekend to interview me about my work with the political tech tool – Polis.

In particular, the BBC is interested in this Polis conversation which I have been running on The Harrogate District Consensus website about whether Rotary Wood (planted by children twenty years ago) should be bulldozed in order to expand the Harrogate Spring Water plant. In return, the plant – now owned by Danone PLC – pledge to plant far more trees than they destroy. They say that at least 30 jobs will be created.

This Polis conversation has attracted over 14,000 votes from 467 people. Not bad. It is too early to say whether there is consensus. I do wonder whether the consensus will be that the people of Harrogate will consent to the demolition if the company plants 100 trees for each one removed.

So far, on the platform we have facilitated over 100,000 votes on circa 25 questions. In addition – and quite innovatively (if I may say so myself) – we profiled every candidate in May’s local elections, asking the candidates their positions on one of our conversations about a possible default 20mph in Harrogate. This is our attempt to connect people to power.

We have only closed two conversations – one on The Station Gateway and the other about a possible default 20mph zone in Harrogate – releasing the data to the world. The remaining conversations are still open – so still time to vote, folks! Or you can even suggest a conversation for us to run.

The BBC have asked me to promote the below. If readers of this blog have adapted their positions because of Polis technology, can you get in touch with them?

“Hello, People Fixing the World, which broadcasts on BBC World Service radio is exploring the use of the Polis platform and how it can be used to find voices and opinions on all sides of a debate, eventually throwing up areas of common understanding. If you’ve found Polis useful for seeing different opinions in any debate and/or made changes to your starting point to come to a form of consensus, please get in touch with shiroma.silva@bbc.co.uk or call on 07879 626887 as soon as possible. Ideally, we’d like to hear from you by Friday 1st July.”

CategoriesLegalHarrogateThought of The Day

A Career in Law?

This is my presentation to the 6th formers at St Aidan’s and St John Fisher’s schools, Harrogate, in June 2022.

(When giving a presentation, I usually write a transcript, then depart from it as I go. What follows is my notes – not what I precisely said)

 

Hello, I’m Andrew Gray. I’m a solicitor and the founder of Truth Legal solicitors of Harrogate and Leeds. I set up Truth Legal ten years ago, when I was 32.

Truth Legal is, primarily, a David v Goliath law firm – i.e. we tend to act for the little people who are enforcing their legal rights against a stronger opponent.

I also run a non-profit political tech project called The Harrogate District Consensus, as well as two other companies. And I host The Harrogate Podcast and I also blog.

I’m married to a lawyer and we have two kids.

And I have a confession for you budding law students: when I grow up, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.

So, if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, don’t worry. You’re in good company. Remember: life is about the journey, not about the destination.

…………………………..

This talk is collection of true stories, interspersed with questions for you. These stories shaped my life and my career.

In one of my stories, I will explain why I am sitting down to deliver this talk and why I have pre-recorded it.

I’ll take a Q and A at the end. You can ask all the cheeky questions, if you wish, such as: how much do lawyers earn?

……………………………………….

My first story.

Let me take you to Monday 15th August 2005: this was my first day at work as a trainee solicitor. I had secured a good training contract – which is 2 years of working as a trainee solicitor – with a large Manchester law firm.

My first day had gone well, though of course I had been quite nervous about it. That evening, I drove to Manchester Piccadilly Train Station to collect my girlfriend (now my wife). I parked opposite the station, leaving my border collie dog in the car. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, so it’s fair to say I didn’t look much like a lawyer.

I jogged across the road, heading towards the station entrance. As I did so, a car pulled up, and a big guy got out. Instead of walking towards the entrance, he walked straight towards me. I got the sense that he meant trouble.

As our paths crossed, he slammed me to the floor and put his fist in my face. It was like a scene from a movie. “You’re under arrest,” he said.

Stunned, heart pounding and mind reeling, I spluttered: “What for? Where’s your ID? Where’s your ID?”

He didn’t reply.

“I’m going to put you in a van,” he said. Menacingly, he kept looking up and down the street.

Now, I came to the only sensible conclusion: I was being kidnapped. I offered him my wallet, my phone, my car keys, but he wasn’t interested. I was definitely being kidnapped.

I had no choice. I had to escape. After all, my dog was in the car watching me take a beating!

I still don’t know how I did it, but — somehow — I managed to wrestle my attacker off me. In the process, I lost my shoes, wallet, phone, keys. Barefoot, I ran as fast as I could, screaming, “Help! Call the police!” Unfortunately, the streets of Manchester at 11pm on a Monday night are pretty empty.

I took a left, under a long bridge, running as fast as I could. Then, I hid in a nook, where the bridge melded into another bridge. When the coast was clear, I started running again until I found two Royal Mail workers who were cleaning vans. Covered in blood and barefoot, I asked that they call the police.

Almost immediately, two police officers arrived in an unmarked car. I told them my story and they put me in the back of their car – once I had seen their IDs! They agreed with me: they thought that I had thwarted a kidnapping. So, they radioed headquarters to report the incident and we returned to the location of the incident, to hunt for my attacker.

Scouring the streets, we came across two police officers who had arrested a 20-something-year-old bloke: he was a similar age and build as me, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. My two police officers got out to find out what had happened. When they returned, they explained that there had been an armed robbery in the area and that the man who had assaulted me was in fact an off-duty British Transport Police officer, who was trying to make an arrest. The off-duty officer thought that I – Andrew Gray – was the armed robber! It was all a case of mistaken identity. Hahaha!

Turning midnight, I demanded that my attacker – the police officer – return to the station to explain himself. When the errant officer returned, he shook my hand and apologised. He explained that he thought that I had a gun or a knife. His senior officer hosted the meeting.

When I asked the officer why he didn’t show me his ID — hence why I fought him off and fled! — he had the gall to deny that I had asked him for his ID! Why else did I offer him my belongings, I argued? Not the actions of your typical armed robber.

After only a few hours’ sleep, bloodied and battered and dazed, I started my second day as a lawyer.

Budding law student, I have some questions for you:

  1. If you were me, would you have sued the police? I didn’t sue.
  2. Would you have represented me in a case for compensation against the police force?
  3. If the police officer was charged with assault, would you have represented him in a Magistrates’ Court?
  4. If the police officer lost his job for his actions, would you have represented him, as his lawyer, in an Employment Tribunal?

That awful experience gave me 3 key insights.

First, people in power lie – think Boris Johnson over Partygate. In my case, the Police Officer did not have his ID with him, otherwise I would not have resisted arrest.

Second, witnesses – as I was – have false memories. When I recounted, to my assailant’s senior officer, what I remembered, I explained that my attacker got out of a green coupe car. But this was not so: the car wasn’t green, and it wasn’t a coupe. I wasn’t lying. The lesson: even honest witnesses have false memories.

Third, as a lawyer who has represented hundreds of injured people, I understand that the psychological/mental distress of an incident is often more debilitating than the physical effects. I know, because I developed an anxiety disorder which led me to move away from the city, here to Harrogate.

………….

Re-winding somewhat, I bet you will want to know what grades I got for GCSEs: they were above average but not outstanding. For A-levels, I took Geography, Classics and Business Studies. My grades were sound, but not spectacular.

For my degree, I studied my passion, which was, and remains: politics. More precisely, my degree was PPE: Politics, Philosophy and Economics. I don’t have a proper law degree.

For university, I went to my first choice which was Manchester University: it was the best one closest to where I lived. I got a 2:1, only just.

Another true story, which shaped my life and career:

………………………………

In 2001, one week before I was due to graduate from university, my best mate, whom I had lived with for three years, was crossing a street at night with his mates. Unbeknown to him, some kids, with criminal records as long as your arm, stole a car, took a load of drugs, and then drove as fast as they could, determined to knock someone over.

They murdered my best mate: driving at 65mph in a 30pmh. He died instantly. A few days later, I went to the murder scene. Next to a shrine of flowers, police forensics officers had painted white circles on the road to show where they had found various parts of my friend and his possessions.

Mercifully, the brilliant police officers eventually caught the three killers. I attended the trial. Each of the three killers had their own solicitor and their own barrister: 6 lawyers defending them, all paid for by the taxpayer. My friend’s family was, in simple terms, represented by the Crown Prosecution Service’s lawyers.

The jury convicted the three of Death by Dangerous Driving (not murder), and they were sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Budding law students, I have some questions for you:

  1. Each of three defendants, needed two lawyers. Would you have defended them, even in the knowledge that they were guilty? Would you shake their hands when you meet them in the cells?
  2. Do you believe that every person deserves access to the best legal advice?
  3. Would you have derived any professional satisfaction from representing the victim’s family to secure a conviction?

……………………………………………………….

After my politics degree, and particularly after that horrid death, I went travelling and then set up a political organisation, always guided by my passion for politics. I worked as a Classroom Assistant for a time to see if I wanted to become a teacher: no way! Teaching was tough, with more stress than law.

In a moment of honest introspection, I realised I had a number of personal flaws which I needed to correct, if I wanted to get into politics. First, I was far too shy, incapable of giving a presentation like this. Second, I was intellectually disorganised.

I knew that some of the best politicians had been lawyers. Therefore, law was my answer! Lawyers help people: politicians try to help more people.

Budding law students: I want you to name some famous lawyer politicians.

Ghandi, Mandela, Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Tony Blair, Dominic Raab.

But why has law created so many politicians? That’s worth your consideration. There are 5 reasons:

  1. Intellectually capability.
  2. Exceptional communication skills – both written and oral.
  3. They usually want to make the world a better place, by helping people.
  4. Ambitious and competitive.
  5. Work hard.
  6. Our work gives us a deep insight into human nature: we go face to face with the best and worst of humanity.

Some of you might, secretly, think that any person who could represent murderers must be capable of deception and therefore be perfectly suited for politics, but that has not been my experience of lawyers.

…………

Therefore, with my head, more than my heart, set on law, I undertook the Post-Graduate Diploma in Law at York Law School. It was the toughest intellectual year of my life: cramming three years of a law degree into one year! People call this the “law conversion course”.

On that course, I mixed with fascinating people; people with degrees in a range of eclectic subjects, united with the desire to become a lawyer.

After that year, with – essentially – a law degree under my belt, I had to decide whether I wanted to become a solicitor or a barrister. I opted for the solicitor route, and I don’t regret it.

Let’s set out the difference between a solicitor and a barrister.

There are far more solicitors than there are barristers. There are around 135,000 solicitors, but only 15,000 barristers. In simple terms, barristers tend to most of the work in courts, standing up, making their arguments and cross-examining witnesses, as you might have seen in the Johnny Depp trial. Solicitors tend to have the in-depth, long-lasting relationships with clients. Solicitors instruct barristers when things get complicated, or when the matter goes to court. Solicitors tend to have more paperwork to do!

Barristers, I reckon, tend to be more intellectual, more flamboyant. Barristers tend to be self-employed, working in groups called “Chambers”. Solicitors tend to work at law firms, otherwise known as a solicitor’s practices.

Judges – who are the most senior of lawyers – tend to come from the barrister side of law, rather than from the ranks of solicitors.

In law, other than the barrister or solicitor route, there are other divisions which you ought to know about:

  1. Lawyers tend to practice Criminal Law or Civil Law.
  2. Lawyers tend to practice Litigation or Transactional Work.
  3. Lawyers tend to act for Individuals or for Businesses.

The number of areas of law is too long to list, because there are lawyers for every area of human interaction. Some examples of the variety of area of law:

Human rights, church law, charity, military law, international law, environmental law, immigration, banking law, crypto law, defamation law and many, many others.

Lawyers do tend to specialise in one of two areas of law.

…………………………………………………

Another true story:

After qualifying as a solicitor in Manchester, I moved to Leeds. I worked for a law firm which acted for large businesses. I hated the experience, but I am grateful for it. I was a commercial litigator – which means that I was, in simple terms, suing people who owed my business clients, money.

Vividly, one day I recall evicting a young family from where they lived. They owed a lot of money to my business client. Just as the bailiffs were knocking on the door to evict the family, the mother rang me up and begged me to call off the bailiffs. I couldn’t.

I cried, possibly the only time in my career.

Question for you budding lawyers:

Question: could you act for a business to evict a family from a property when they owe your client lots of money?

Or would you rather defend the family?

……………………………………………

Back to my journey.

After working for a massive law firm, which acted for trade unions, including teachers, when I still a very junior lawyer, I set up my own law firm. In fact, I was one of the most junior lawyers to ever set up a law firm.

It was the best decision.

Why is “Truth Legal” the name? Well, I am a Quaker, which is a religious group. Famous Quakers you might have heard of, include: Lloyds, from Lloyds Bank; Barclays, from Barclays Bank; Cadburys, of chocolate fame; and many others.

Quakers believe in five main ideas: pacifism, environmentalism, equality, simplicity and Truth i.e. speaking the Truth. Hence Truth Legal. I wanted my law firm to embody my values. My advice to you, whether you choose law or not, is that you should let your values – and not your parents’ values – guide you.

……………

And why am I sitting down to deliver this important presentation and pre-recording it? Because I have been quite poorly this last year or so, which has a legal element connected to it. I have gone from running marathons to becoming disabled, as defined in law under the Equality Act 2010.

Why? Because, over my lifetime, I have had to take some very strong antibiotics, which saved my life. Unbeknown to me and unbeknown to doctors in the UK, the big pharmaceutical companies who manufactured these antibiotics, were getting heavily sued in the United States because of the nasty side effects. Yet these potent drugs were still being sold in the UK.

Eventually, these antibiotics were mostly banned in the UK, but by that time, the damage to me was done.

Some questions for you, budding lawyers:

  1. Would you represent someone like me in a claim for compensation against the massive pharmaceutical companies and their legions and expensive lawyers who caused me, and lots of people like me, injury?
  2. And could you see yourself as the “expensive lawyer”, acting for the big pharmaceutical company defending claims from people like me? After all, antibiotics save far more lives than they damage, and every business and person should be allowed legal representation.

…………………………

Let me finish with some general advice to people considering a career in law.

  1. Ask yourself whether you can truly excel at something if you are not passionate about it. I would be inclined to follow always your passions.
  2. Law is a very tough job, with a great deal of stress. If you want an easy life, don’t be a lawyer. (But teaching, other professions and most jobs are tough too.)
  3. If you like helping people, law could be for you. Law and politics are similar to me because it is all about helping people. Lawyers help people and organisations often through the most awful situations. Politicians create those law.
  4. I recommend that you let your life speak. Realise that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The police officer who attacked me gave me a gift: my law firm now specialises in assault cases. My friend who was murdered on the road: we deal with road traffic accidents. If you cry at your desk because you’ve just helped a business to evict a tenant, you know that area of law isn’t for you.
  5. Be familiar with technology: law and most other careers, are going to be radically changed by tech. So, be prepared to keep reinventing yourself. Lawtech will bring access to justice to millions of people: whereas one lawyer can only help one client at a time.
CategoriesHealthPoliticsHarrogateThought of The Day

UFOs, Covid deaths and Poverty

Partygate, the despot-like re-writing of the Ministerial Code, Russian aggression and energy price hikes, all dominate the British news. Remember Covid? Well, Covid news has been – thankfully – consigned to the dustbin of history. But what ought to be on everyone’s lips is the US Congressional Hearing into UFOs.

Only 90 minutes of the hearing was held in public, but during this time, those of us who bothered to engage with it learned that, in simple terms, the US Government believes that UFOs are real. Sure, the Pentagon officials under questioning did not categorically say “UFOs exist”, however, they could not say what else the numerous UFO sightings could be. These officials stated that US pilots have been reluctant to make reports of UFOs for fear of looking foolish. Just imagine if all pilots, not just in the US military, felt able to make such reports – then how many incidents would need investigation.

In a rational world, the confirmation of UFOs ought to be a cause for great intellectual debate, but it isn’t. Social media, coffee shops, workplaces and anywhere else where conversation takes place, would, in a world populated by rational humans, be awash with talk about UFOs. For a start, all religious belief and history would be in need of reappraisal.

It seems to me that, we, as a species, cannot countenance the admission of something which, in its acceptance, would mean that we have to reconfigure of all our hitherto-held views. We are unable to process this information. So, we shut our minds to the facts. Ignorance is bliss. Let’s hope that aliens do not share the human desire to colonise others.

…………………………………………………………………………….

But, what do UFOs have to do with Covid? Let me explain.

Only political nerds like me follow Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Several months ago, one such request – not made by me, I should add – piqued my interest. A wily individual asked Harrogate Borough Council to set out the number of deaths, each year, from 2015 to 2021, split between cremations and burials.

Now before you scroll down, I challenge you to affix, in your head, answers to the following questions. I have asked the below questions to a number of intelligent people, none of whom came even remotely close to accurately guessing the answer to question 3.

  1. In Harrogate, do you think that deaths are broadly even for the years before Covid – 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019?
  2. What, if any, impact did Covid have to deaths in 2020? Up or down, and by what percentage?
  3. Then, with those guesses fixed, ask yourself: what happened to deaths in Harrogate in 2021?

The following is the data provided by Harrogate Borough Council.

Year               Cremation                                 Burial

2015 1580 171
2016 1581 137
2017 1609 184
2018 1640 145
2019 1543 175
2020 1890 155
2021 512 47

 

Is that what you expected, particularly for 2021? I very much doubt it.

If, like me, and like everyone I have previously asked this question to, you didn’t foresee that the average deaths fell in 2021 by 68% from pre-Covid levels of an average of 1,753 people per year to just 559, then why were we all so wrong? At the time of writing, circa 75% of the population have had Covid. If Covid was so potent (which it was in 2020), why are more people alive today in Harrogate than there ought to be, given the number of people who have had it? Covid is still here: a number of my colleagues have recently had it and it was nasty and long-lasting.

Evidently, Covid was a massive threat in 2020, increasing the number of deaths in Harrogate by 14% (an extra 300 deaths). But, astonishingly, deaths then fell by 1,194 in 2021, which means – bizarrely – that Covid has saved lives in Harrogate. I struggled to write the previous sentence, but I must be led by the evidence.

The reasons behind these surprising stats must be multifactorial and should be forensically interrogated. What did Harrogate do right? Or was this just a case of wealthier, greener areas faring better than other places?

Most people confronted with this evidence usually retort, with: “The reduction in deaths must be down to the reduction in road traffic accidents.” Not an unreasonable suggestion, but an inaccurate assertion predicated on a miscalculation of the number of road traffic deaths per year. Pre-covid, circa 1800 people were killed on the roads in the UK, each year. Covid reduced these deaths by around 11%. By my estimations, Covid might have saved the lives of circa 6 people in the Harrogate area who, in normal times, would have died on the roads. This does not explain why more people are alive in Harrogate thanks to Covid.

Frequent readers of my blog will know that I was and remain fiercely critical of the Government for its slow response to the pandemic. As Dominic Cummings has stated, our Government’s clear and obvious early errors killed thousands of people. But deaths from Covid, based on Harrogate data, appears to have petered out much before vaccines were rolled out. Certainly, Covid is frequently a very unpleasant illness, with Long Covid having many similarities with my maladies. However, unless you broadly guessed the death figures for 2021, you must admit that you have been hoodwinked, when considering the Harrogate case.

Given that nobody I had spoken to was aware of these facts, I sent the story to two local news outlets. One editor published the story and the second did not. The second editor thought that this data – and its concomitant questions it raises – wasn’t newsworthy, much to my disbelief. The first editor, who ran the story, subsequently told me that this was one of the least read stories that the publication had had!

Like with UFOs, perhaps people don’t want to face facts. We simply cannot countenance re-evaluating everything that we thought we were sure of. But as Karl Marx once replied, when asked what his favourite maxim was, he said, “Question everything”.

……………………………………………………………

 

So shocked I was by Harrogate’s figures that I decided to FOI Blackburn and Salford councils, given my connection to the areas and given that their populations significantly differ from Harrogate – ethnically, socially and economically. Here are their figures:

Blackburn

 

Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Cremations 1217 1250 1238 1298 1,260
Burials 382 387 396 536 511

 

Pre-Covid, Blackburn saw an average of 1,623 deaths per year. The first year of Covid saw – similar to Harrogate – an increase of deaths by 13% (Harrogate was at 14%). However, unlike in Harrogate, deaths in 2021 were 9% above pre-Covid levels: a significantly different direction of travel to that of Harrogate. Covid has been lethal in Blackburn.

 

Salford

 

Cremations

Number

2017 1824
2018 1746
2019 1742
2020 2183
2021 1800

 

Full Burials
2017 276
2018 285
2019 261
2020 325
2021 278

 

Pre-Covid, Salford saw an average of 2,045 deaths per year. In 2020, deaths increased by a whopping 22.7%, with an additional 463 deaths. Undeniably, Covid was very dangerous to the population of Salford in 2020.

In 2021, there was an increase in deaths on pre-Covid levels of 22 poor souls, up 1.6% on pre-Covid levels. As with Salford, the pattern in Blackburn was markedly different from the Harrogate experience.

My thesis is that these figures speak to the general lower life expectancies in poorer areas. Nothing new in that analysis, of course. Assuming that we as a country find these stark differences unacceptable, surely to even-up life expectancies (including between men and women, with women living on average 4 years more) ought to be central to our national conversation, but it isn’t. Rational aliens have nothing to fear from us.