Data Centre Alliance talks to Ian Timlin

We have completed a series of three briefings with the DCA

In the second in our webinar series, Ian Timlin focuses on dispute resolution and the valuable role that mediation plays

 

 

Data Centre Alliance talks to Ed Cooke

We have completed a series of three briefings with the DCA.

In this first webinar, Steve Hone from the Data Centre Alliance speaks to Ed Cooke and looks at the value of relationship contracting.

 

 

Boilerplate Clauses – The Devil is in the Detail

Conexus Law, the specialist advisory firm that provides legal and commercial advice to clients who work in sectors where the built environment, technology, engineering and people converge, is warning companies to check the boilerplate clauses on all existing and future contracts in the light of the impact of Covid-19. The firm is warning that failure to do so could be costly and disruptive.

Ian Timlin, at Conexus Law, explains:

Boilerplate clauses, also known as standard, miscellaneous or general clauses, are generally found towards the end of most contracts or commercial agreements. They are normally standard commercial terms that do not vary much from one transaction to another. Boilerplate clauses are often not typically heavily negotiated, but they are important. They often regulate the operation of the contract (i.e. its duration, interpretation, transferability, and enforceability) and many contract disputes depend on the drafting of boilerplate clauses such as termination, force majeure, and entire agreement clauses.

Understandably when people are using an existing contract, for example a supplier agreement, they concentrate on the operative terms and conditions of the agreement and pay less attention to these standard provisions at the end of an agreement. However, many contract disputes depend on the drafting of boilerplate clauses such as termination, force majeure, and entire agreement clauses. This is particularly important during Covid-19 for organisations who are struggling to deliver a contractual service as a force majeure clause might allow for the suspension of performance as a result, for example, of quarantine or other employee restrictions.

(Of course if you now entering into new contracts it is worth considering adding a clause that specifies a pandemic, epidemic, outbreaks of infectious disease or any other public health crisis restrictions as an event of force majeure.)
In addition, most boilerplate clauses clarify the relationship between the contracting parties. Generally, subject to statutory restrictions and illegality, the parties to an English law contract are free to define their contractual relationship between each other which can provide certainty if terms in the contract are ever disputed.
This is especially important given the strain that Covid-19 has put on relationships throughout the supply chain, with many businesses now looking at their financial and logistical obligations to third parties to prepare and protect their operations and staff.

As a result, it is also worth noting that boilerplate clauses are also changing. In a limited supply marketplace, it is always worth considering having a standard clause that forces your counterparties to a contract to mediate before court proceedings can be instigated by one party against another which can save time and money. It can also help salvage a business relationship before parties become entrenched in their positions as a result of court proceedings.
However, just re-hashing clauses and omitting properly thought out boilerplate clauses may create uncertainty and expose certain elements of the relationship or agreement between parties open to interpretation in a court of law, which is often an expensive and unpredictable exercise.

Finally, it is worth checking these clauses for another reason. They may assist you in your commercial aspirations – you may be pleasantly surprised by what is hidden there!

HOW CAN CONEXUS LAW HELP?

Businesses and individuals will need legal advice to help them understand the risks they may face and the options that may be open to them.

We are available to assist in reviewing the laws in many jurisdictions across the world, and to review specific contracts. We are also available to provide practical, business-orientated advice on how to best protect yourself from the ongoing commercial effects of Covid-19.

Contact

For further advice on renegotiating your contractual obligations or pursing your contractual rights, please contact Ian Timlin.

T: +44 (0)20 7390 0280
M: : +44 (0)7767 427 332
E: ian@conexuslaw.com

Ed Cooke, Founder of Conexus Law took part in Andy Davis’ Inside Data Centre Podcast

Ed discusses why he established his own specialist legal practise, what the main legal challenges are in the sector, what impact the pandemic has had on the industry, and his views on the future of the industry.

Listen here

International business faces post Brexit data threat warns legal expert

From 1 January 2021 the United Kingdom will lose its automatic status as a safe destination for EU data when it falls outside of the EU’s legal jurisdiction. This will affect all EU data to be transferred to the UK (or any ‘third country’ that is not an EEA member.)

According to Phil Brown, a specialist lawyer at Conexus Law, it is doubtful that transfers from the EU to the UK will be compliant with GDPR following court case in October which held UK law incompatible with EU law – and similarly no transfers to the US would be compliant following a judgement in July 2020 which rendered Privacy Shield invalid.

“This clearly poses a huge threat to international business and it is hard to see that it will be allowed to continue, although equally the contrasting views of Europe and the US as to data protection mean it is a difficult one to see resolved without wholesale legislative changes to either the European or US regimes. The UK is clearly more aligned with the rest of Europe, and so one would hope that the differences can be resolved swiftly and effectively but given the political implications of Brexit across Europe there remains a distinct lack of clarity,” comment Phil.

Phil has created a guidance paper on the subject which outlines the possible options for businesses and likely outcomes.

HOW CAN CONEXUS LAW HELP?

Businesses and individuals will need legal advice to help them understand the risks they may face and the options that may be open to them.
We are available to assist in reviewing the laws in many jurisdictions across the world, and to review specific contracts. We are also available to provide practical, business-orientated advice on how to best protect yourself from the ongoing commercial effects of Covid-19.

Contact

For further advice on GDPR or pursing your contractual rights, please contact Philip Brown.

T: +44 (0)20 7390 0289
M: +44 (0)7887 538308
E: philip@conexuslaw.com

 

Conexus Law – One year on

Time is a funny thing. Sometimes it drags, and sometimes it flies by. I think many of us have experienced a bit of a time warp over the past few months of Zoom calls (“How can it be Friday already?”). And now, Conexus Law is a whole year old, so it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on what has been a very odd, but for me a very exciting and reaffirming, year.

Little did I know that, in addition to the normal challenges of a start-up – just six months in we would be confronted by a global pandemic. Honestly, that had not been on my list of things to worry about.

I decided to set up Conexus Law with a belief that we could create a law firm fit for the 21st century, and a determination to do just that.

I have spent most of my career at two global law firms and had made partner at an early age. Over time I came to realise that the world had moved on, the aspirations of my team were not what they had been, the demands of our clients had changed, but the traditional law firms I was working in were not innovating quickly enough to respond. I set myself four priorities for Conexus Law.

Team. Of course, my first priority was people – law firms are nothing without a premier league team. I’ve seen an exodus of people from the profession – talented lawyers who had left because of the pressures of work and the difficulties of managing a personal life alongside their careers. So, even before WFH recently became the norm, we had created a distributed law firm. Our team works from home, our office or a client’s office – whatever works best to get the job done.

We also offer flexible career paths. If they wish to, our lawyers can start out as consultants, then become employees or partners, and at any point they can take a side-step to being a consultant again, if their life demands require them to. By providing this flexibility we can tackle the lack of diversity in our profession which is critical in enabling us to see our clients’ issues from all perspectives. I’m proud to say we have the most diverse team of people I have ever worked with. Throughout the pandemic lockdown, whilst other law firms are announcing redundancy rounds, we have grown from 2 to 12 – and we are actively recruiting.

Clients. We’re delighted that our clients have continued to put their faith in us to deliver. We’ve a fantastic group of clients who are at the forefront of their sectors, making huge investment and constantly innovating. Helping them to overcome challenges truly makes our jobs worthwhile.

As a result of Covid-19, we found many of the projects our lawyers had previously worked on immediately landed back on our desks – force majeure, supply chain issues, lockdowns, contract renegotiations. The immediate aftermath was a very busy time for us, which to be honest we were not quite prepared for. I’m glad to say that most of the issues that could have become very tricky seem to have been resolved in a cooperative, non-adversarial way. August and September were, in all honesty, a bit slow whilst our clients took a well needed break, regrouped, and worked out what to do with their future investment plans. I know others felt the same challenge and for us, like them, everything is back to full speed again this month. In addition to Covid-19 related work, we’re busy on massive new projects in India, Japan, across Europe and in the UK.

We know clients hate hourly rates. But here’s the secret – lawyers hate them too. They are a blunt instrument and rarely reflect the value of work delivered. So, we are working to create a firm where the focus of billing and performance management is upon output (value delivered) rather than input (hours worked). We’re in active discussions with a number of clients now on how we can deliver legal services in that way. That excites me.

Expertise. I also wanted Conexus Law to be really focussed as traditional law firms have a “fear of missing out” and so they try to be all things to all people. Conexus Law takes a confident stand. We focus on four sectors – Built Environment, Technology Infrastructure, Digital Business and Emerging Technology. We are passionate and inquisitive about those sectors. That means we can deliver creative legal advice informed by a real contextual understanding of the markets our clients operate in.

Innovation. Being a young law firm means we are not constrained by past investments in legacy technology. We’ve been very lucky to find partners like Hyperscale and Inspire-365 who have expertly guided us in surveying the whole market for best in breed technology solutions. As a result, we have moved away from proprietary products, and have implemented systems that will give us rich data and insights, and that will integrate across the whole of our digital environment.

Our first year has been more successful then I hoped for, on every metric. We’ve learnt huge amounts, been extremely resilient to forced change, and grown despite economic uncertainty. I want to thank our team and everyone who has helped us to build something really special – we’re looking forward to developing long term relationships with you all.

Lawyer warns construction companies of the challenges of ‘virtual mediation’ as a result of Covid-19

Organisations that are looking to use mediation as a way to resolve a dispute without the need for costly litigation need to be aware of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the process in the coming months, and the potential pitfalls and challenges.

This is according to Ian Timlin, a specialist dispute resolution and commercial litigation lawyer at Conexus Law, who cautions that the new process may not be as effective and is also less secure unless certain measures are put in place.

Ian explains: “From a practical point of view it has been relatively straightforward to bring mediation online with Zoom for example being used as the facility for secure separate breakout rooms for separate parties and for bringing the parties together in a plenary session. The mediator can then speak to each party separately or with the parties together, virtually switching online from room to room.

“However, this does mean that things are not necessarily as secure as in a physical situation. As a result, we are advising that there is an online mediation protocol in the mediation agreement to be signed by the parties which governs the terms of how the virtual mediation progresses and the rules that are to be adhered to. It should cover areas such as not recording the sessions or sharing of the mediation meeting ID other than to participants involved to ensure no one ‘sits in’ unannounced.

“Also each party should agree that if for any technical reason, including error on the mediator’s part in moving parties correctly to the breakout rooms, they can see and/ or hear a private conversation between the mediator and/ or any other party, they must terminate the session at once and call or text the mediator.”

However, Ian goes on to say that the biggest challenge remains the fact that it is much more difficult to establish a genuine rapport across a screen with the mediator and other parties and this is key in mediation to gain a parties’ trust and confidence.

“Before people are willing to settle, they must feel that their interests are truly understood, and only then can a mediator reframe problems and float creative solutions. Eye contact with the other side can be difficult if they are sitting well back from their screens and not in the same room and therefore it is vital that participants show their faces and do not hide behind their name on a black screen or stock photo of themselves. That way each party and the mediator can see how they are reacting to the points being made,” he explains.

Ian also points out that whilst online mediation is new to many organisations, Ebay is a big user and it is estimated that an incredible 50+ million disagreements amongst traders on eBay are resolved every year using online dispute resolution.

“There is no doubt that virtual mediation is here to stay and is certainly appropriate for low value disputes. However, where considerable sums are in dispute or complex issues arise, serious consideration should be given to the traditional form of mediation even in the current circumstances,” concludes Ian.

For more information, Ian has created a guidance sheet, Mediations in the time of Covid, alongside another fact sheet, Renegotiation – An art not a science.

Law firm warns of Post Brexit GDPR impact

Conexus Law, the specialist advisory firm that provides legal and commercial advice to clients who work in sectors where the built environment, technology, engineering and people converge, is urging companies to prepare for the strong possibility that the EU will fail to agree that the UK has an “adequate data protection regime” after the transition period at the end of the year. This will mean that businesses will face barriers transferring personal data to and from the UK to EU countries under GDPR. The warning comes on the back of the ruling by the European Court of Justice at the beginning of July that reversed the prior adequacy decision of the EU for the USA – rendering its Privacy Shield ineffective.

Ed Cooke, Founder at Conexus Law said: “The UK’s use of mass surveillance techniques, our Investigatory Powers Act, and our membership of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community has raised particular concerns with the EU – especially in relation to the sharing of data with the US, and even more so given the recent Schrems II decision on the Privacy Shield scheme. What is clear is that once a decision has been made then companies will need to move quickly to ensure they are not severely impacted.”

Failure to reach an agreement would mean that companies will need to look at alternatives such as Standard Contractual Clauses and binding corporate rules. Ed reiterates that merely relying on consent is not really an option for most businesses.

“Each of these options has its challenges with consent generally viewed to be unworkable as it can be revoked at any time. Standard Contractual Clauses were upheld in the ECJ in its judgment on Privacy Shield, but the judges did cast some doubt on whether or not these offer suitable protection in all cases without businesses adopting further practical measures such as encryption, to ensure the protection of personal data,” explains Ed.

Conexus Law is advising companies to start preparing now. Companies should already have a full audit of what personal data they collect and where it is stored and transferred to, including back-ups that may be held by cloud-based providers with datacentres all over the world. This audit needs to include all suppliers and partners that data is shared with. The next stage is to look at standard contractual clauses and decide whether further measures are required based on the specific data being transferred. If not, consideration should be given additional methods such as encryption.

“It seems that an adequacy ruling under GDPR is being used as a BREXIT bargaining chip in relation to other unrelated diplomatic negotiations taking place. Unfortunately, businesses may end up bearing the brunt of this and I would highly recommend that they start to prepare now,” concludes Ed.

Fact Sheet: Mediations in the time of Covid-19

In our factsheet Renegotiation – An art not a science, we touched upon resolving disputes using the process of mediation.

Mediation is:

  • Voluntary, private and non-binding negotiation until the parties distil any negotiation/ settlement to a new written settlement agreement.
  • It is most often the appointment of a qualified professional third party mediator (from a professional mediation body such as CEDR or Independent Mediators in the UK) who shuttles between the parties, undertaking confidential discussions with the parties, with a view to brokering a negotiation/ settlement between them.

In the past, mediation has usually been undertaken across, at least, three rooms at a neutral venue with the mediator shuttling between the opposing parties’ rooms having confidential decisions with each party to try to narrow the dispute and gap between them, and ultimately try to get them to reach a settlement.

At the start of such a mediation, there was usually a plenary session where the mediator sits at one end of the table and the parties and their lawyers speak to each other across it.

With Covid-19, mediation has now moved online and they are taking place by various platforms using live screen video. In particular, Zoom is being used as the facility for secure separate breakout rooms for separate parties and for bringing the parties together in a plenary session.

So how is it operating virtually? The mediator places each party and its lawyers into its own virtual room, even if representatives from party are at different locations. The mediator can then speak to each party separately or with the parties together. Instead of actual shuttle diplomacy between actual rooms, the mediator does the same virtually by switching online from room to room.

But what are the matters and potential pitfalls that need to considered for a virtual mediation:

Check that there is an online mediation protocol in the mediation agreement to be signed by the parties which governs the terms of how the virtual mediation progresses and the rules to be adhered to. It should contain at least the following:

  • The parties should agree that no recording of the mediation takes place (it’s a confidential process), no photo images are taken and that there is no sharing of the mediation meeting ID other than to participants at it.
  • If for any technical reason, including error on the mediator’s part in moving parties correctly to the breakout rooms, a participant finds itself able to see and/or hear a private conversation between the mediator and/or any other party, the participant should terminate the online mediation session at once and call or text the mediator on the number provided by it.
  • Steps to be taken if technology fails to operate properly or the mediation session does not start on time or is interrupted.

In the case of the cross border mediations, pre-mediation checks should be undertaken to ensure that no national firewalls prevent parties in one jurisdiction from using Zoom or the technology platform to be used for the mediation.

A pre-mediation call from the mediator to all participants from a party and the testing of the technology platform to be used by all representatives of party for the mediation is paramount. A good and secure internet connection and both the parties and the mediator understanding the technology/platform are very important to a successful mediation.

As to the virtual mediation itself, the following points should be borne in mind:

  • A headset with microphone or earphones with microphone is very helpful.
  • Mute microphones and don’t talk over people.
  • A professional background and decent lighting will assist the process. Representatives of a party should show their faces and not hid behind their name on a black screen or stock photo of themselves so that each party and the mediator can see how they are reacting to points being made.
  • An interruption free day is very important for participants. That is more easily achieved in an in-person mediation rather than representatives from a party being in different locations and often at their homes. The use of phones and checking emails on the computer that a party is using to participate in the virtual mediation should try to be avoided.
  • Across a screen, it is going to be more difficult to establish rapport. To gain a parties’ trust and confidence, rapport must be genuine. Before people are willing to settle, they must feel that their interests are truly understood. Only then can a mediator reframe problems and float creative solutions. Relationship building is more difficult online. Eye contact with the other side can be difficult if they are sitting well back from their screens and not in the same room.

Virtual mediation is still relatively new for all clients, litigators and mediators. In our experience of having undertaken virtual or live screen mediations, it’s the best bet in circumstances where parties genuinely cannot all be present at the same premises (even on a socially distanced basis), but it is simply not as effective as a live mediation with all the parties at the same venue, cooped up in their respect rooms for most of a day and with the mediator being able to shuttle between them in the flesh.

Perhaps one of the most well recognised users of online dispute resolution is Ebay. It is estimated that an incredible +50 million disagreements amongst traders on eBay, are resolved every year using online dispute resolution.

Virtual mediation is here to stay and is no doubt appropriate for low value disputes but where considerable sums are in dispute, serious consideration should be given to the traditional form of mediation even in the current circumstances.

For further advice on mediating, please contact Ian Timlin via his contact details below. Ian has been a CEDR accredited mediator since 2000.

Ian Timlin
Main: +44 (0)20 7390 0280
Mobile: +44 (0)77 6742 7332
ian@conexuslaw.com

This factsheet is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The law is open to, and may have changed since this was written, and it cannot be relied upon as advice in respect of your particular situation. 05/08/2020

Fact Sheet: Employment matters to consider as we prepare to emerge from lockdown

The government has set out plans to take the UK out of lockdown and allow the economy to restart safely while continuing to minimise the spread of the coronavirus. It has issued and continues to issue guidance and mandate actions that businesses and individuals must take to support this effort.

We have no reason to believe that restrictions on how businesses operate will be lifted in the near future, and employers should plan now to meet their obligations in this regard.

As the government winds down the coronavirus job retention scheme, it is anticipated that a significant proportion of employers will face difficult economic choices regarding their workforce in the absence of government assistance. Employers should urgently consider what working arrangements, including working hours, shift patterns and rates of pay they will provide to their staff when flexible furlough is introduced on July 1st, and as government assistance under the job retention scheme is withdrawn.

This note provides some valuable, practical steps for businesses in relation to their employees and working practices as we cautiously resume ‘normal’ working patterns.