Ruth: Hello Paul, can you start by explaining what do you do and for which types of clients in your current role?
Paul: As a partner in the litigation team at Payne Hicks Beach, I primarily act for clients in disputes and regulatory investigations connected with financial services, financial crime, and fraud.
Ruth: So what kind of problems do you solve and where does your work come from?
Paul: Problem solving is at the heart of most of my work. While clients frequently seek us out for assistance with resolving disputes through the courts, we’re often (and wisely) engaged much earlier. The courts are usually the last resort for most clients, with good reason, and we’re increasingly instructed to assist with designing and implementing preventative measures. For example over the years I’ve been instructed to help clients design and implement complaints handling processes, work with professional and industry bodies and parliamentary select committees on law reform projects important to our clients’ businesses, and of course to assist clients to resolve disputes through informal and private dispute resolution processes. All clients wish to resolve disputes as quickly and efficiently as possible; early engagement, creativity and planning are key to achieving those aims.
The causes are as many and varied as humanity itself, but as often as not they’ll emerge from some connected friction in the financial markets or poorly implemented regulatory reform. Frequently disputes will emerge from the misdeeds of individuals seeking to line their pockets, leaving others to pick up the pieces, which in some cases can take years.
Ruth: How has technology changed the types of financial crime that you come across?
Paul: Technology has opened many doors for deception, that’s been a clear and established trend for several years. Fraud is old hat, but the volume and sophistication of the methods deployed to deceive others has really expanded, particularly over the last 18 months with so many of us working from home. Authorised push payment fraud, that is where an individual is persuaded to authorise bank transfers to a fraudulent third party, has expanded at an alarming rate. Financial technology firms and banks are often caught in the middle and are rightly taking their responsibilities very seriously indeed.
Ruth: You must come across some very complex cases. What has been the most interesting one you have worked on in the last two years?
Paul: Undoubtedly it was assisting a client recover funds misappropriated through a very sophisticated CEO fraud. At its heart CEO fraud is a request, often by email, which purports to come from a senior person in the organisation, in this instance the CEO, usually to the finance department requesting payment to a third party. Often emails which purport to be from establish market names (accountants, law firms, other intermediaries) are sent to embellish and add credibility to the request. The recipient is often informed that the transaction is confidential and time-sensitive in order to discourage verification. We secured urgent injunctive relief for our client and managed to recover a very large proportion of the money (which ran to tens of millions) that had been transferred to multiple accounts across several Hong Kong banks and through numerous international payments providers. It was very satisfying.
Ruth: If there was one thing you would change about the law in this area, what would it be and why?
Paul: I’d simplify and reduce as much of the law as possible to concise and clear statutory and regulatory instruments. There’s a great deal of needless complexity, duplication, and imprecision at the consumer end of financial services in particular.
Ruth: Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Paul: If there’s such a thing as a typical day it invariably begins with the Today programme and the sound of children engaged in their daily battle to dress and leave the house. I’m undecided as to which is more informative and entertaining. Once fed (porridge, I’m a creature of habit) watered (tea, earl grey with milk if you’re making) I’ll tend to check my calendar and emails before settling into whatever tasks I have planned for that day. I’ve divided my week – as many have – between home and office. I’ve found a happy balance with two days at home and three in the office, all subject to client needs and the noise generated by my children. The FT and Bloomberg are invaluable daily reads, but you can’t beat conversations with clients.
Ruth: What do you find the most challenging aspects of your work?
Paul: Managing time and information; there’s never enough of the former and often too much of the wrong kind of the latter. You’ve got to move quickly to keep your options open and you need the right information to assess the options you have.
Ruth: Other experts must be important. Who do you depend on?
We rely heavily on forensic accountants, valuers and financial modellers, and those with detailed knowledge of the financial markets. We work with them both as advisors to assist our clients to build their case or respond to those advanced by others and as expert witnesses at trial. All of these relationships are easier with people you know and have worked with before. As I mentioned earlier, being able to move quickly gives you opportunities, and it is always easier to move quickly and assess opportunities with experts you already know and trust.
Ruth: What’s the most memorable thing a client has ever said or done?
Paul: My very first trial was a ten day High Court fraud trial. I was junior counsel. Our clients were former directors of a company they’d sold to an American multi-national. They were alleged to have fraudulently inflated the accounts receivable and therefore the sale price. We proved they didn’t and prevailed at trial and on appeal. It was immensely satisfying, but I shall always remember receiving a visit from one of them, years later, to give me a trout he’d caught, as a gesture of thanks. Mercifully he’d kept the fish on ice.
Ruth: You’ve spent much of your career abroad, what prompted your move (back) to the UK ?
Paul: I was born in the UK and raised in New Zealand, my wife is from London, and our children were born in Hong Kong. The legal systems in each of NZ, HK, and the UK are essentially the same and client’s needs aren’t too different. So in a professional sense life is more or less unchanged. As a family we’ve lived on a few rain soaked islands (none wetter than Hong Kong) but chose this one to return to – London is a terrific city with outstanding opportunities and we’re delighted to be back.
Ruth: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Paul: Nothing is certain to kill a dinner party conversation faster than announcing an interest in Test cricket. I’ve been a long suffering supporter of Test cricket, specifically the English and New Zealand teams. I play occasionally, frequently very poorly, for a wandering team, the Fleet Street Strollers, when time permits.
Ruth: Can you tell us what your favourite film, book or tv show is and why?
Paul: Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh. A complex man and a very fine and funny author.
Ruth: And lastly, do you have any advice to share which might help any young solicitors starting out on their career?
Paul: Keep an open mind. Good lawyers are always learning.