To be fair, it’s not the first time I’ve been mistaken for an arbitrator. Or a QC. I wasn’t either of those things in 2012 and still am neither of those things. But it’s an easy mistake to make…
Anyway my total lack of skill and experience in arbitration hasn’t stopped me winning an international award for arbitration. Oh no, dearest chums, it has not. And *this* time they aren’t confusing me for the OTHER Lucy Reed (who hails from New York and IS an actual arbitrator). I know this because they emailed to tell me that I had won the award because they were ‘impressed’ with my ‘corporate profile’ (which they helpfully linked to in case I didn’t know how to find it). Those of you who have studied my web profile (as I know many of you are fond of doing) may note the tiny absence of any mention of arbitration at all in my chambers profile. But I like to think such points are merely minor details, and I prefer instead to focus on my effortless achievement of the International Arbitration Law Award in the UK (yes, I even won it for not-arbitrating in a country I don’t have rights to practice in – *waves to Scotland*).
The same email which told me that I had been chosen because of my impressive corporate profile ALSO told me that
International Advisory Experts is a global alliance of well-established and experienced legal, financial, tax and consulting firms and each year we pay tribute to firms who have been successful over the past 12 months and have received exceptional praise from their peers.
Wait – was my corporate profile SO stand-alone impressive that peer praise was not necessary? Or are there other imaginary arbitration experts who have offered imaginary exceptional praise about me? Who can say… who can say…
I had foolishly binned the first email (skeptic that I am). But a few days later the determined Sebastian emailed me again to assure me that there was no financial obligation (at least none unless I wanted to become a member of their esteemed organisation) and to offer me a winners logo and access to their LinkedIn group. Such glorious prizes – almost irresistible. I brushed away doubts, the feeling that there was some sort of dodginess here, that this might be an attempt to make money from gullible lawyers who are suckers for having their egos stroked – sales of paid for advertising space dressed up as a professional association. Usually these bogus emails ask for money up front (for the trophy, of course), but this one was different. Plus it had a website replete with glossy brochures full of smiling lawyers. So it must be legit.
No of course I didn’t think that. I’m not a complete muppet! I did a bit of digging.
They very obviously have NOT received any exceptional (or even ordinary) praise from my peers about my arbitration prowess. And they very obviously haven’t even READ my web profile (and apparently are working on the basis that I haven’t read it either). Because (did I mention this?) I am not an arbitrator or arbitration lawyer!
So. Their website :
- Has no address or company registration details. I can’t even work out which country it is based in (international, innit), although the contact page does have a UK number listed (somewhere in the North East I think).
- The site invites people to ‘nominate now’ and is apparently still open for nominations. For awards that have already been awarded. That’s confusing, no?
- The site has a large number of news items about big firms, all attributed to one author. Those that I checked out by image comparison on google or by searching for particular sentences all seemed to originate from the firm’s own website, and appear to have been scraped or pasted wholesale (the wording in the posts I checked is identical, including in several posts the retention of the word ‘today’, even though there is a gap of several days between the original posting and the identical item on IAE). There is no attribution of the source. Hhhmmmm.
- I took a look on their site for who the members of International Advisory Experts are. I search for arbitration experts in the UK : zero results. I search for members in my actual area of practice in the UK (family) : zero results. There are a couple of pages of lawyers doing corporate-y type law in the UK listed as members, less than 20 in England specifically. This organisation may be large abroad but they are not established here.
Oh, and the site contains an impressive looking list of ‘strategic partners’, with all their lovely logos displayed. Most are foreign law firms. One is the International Bar Association. I emailed the IBA. They confirmed pretty much immediately that :
…the IBA has no connection with this organisation. We will be taking steps to get the IBA’s details removed.
What a surprise that was (alright, not much).
Some might begin to have minor suspicions that these ‘awards’ have nothing at all to do with excellence and aren’t of any value at all. Some *might* begin to think that it would be more efficient and cost effective to just tattoo the word ‘gullible’ on your forehead than pay to be listed on their site. Maybe IAE have a rigorous and well oiled system of ensuring their awards do truly denote excellence and this is an isolated error? Maybe. You will forgive me for being skeptical about that.
But I haven’t told you all of it yet – I mentioned fees. Turns out there ARE fees involved after all… (IKR)
So, apart from checking out their site, I also replied to IAE’s email, and asked for more information about how they had selected me, and for information about the costs and benefits of membership. My correspondent replied promptly, saying that :
I have asked the design team to send you the 2020 winners logo, you will receive it shortly, you can now promote the news to your clients.
which seemed a bit presumptuous, because I had actually just asked for more information, and had not given any indication of whether I wanted to accept the award. He also told me all about the benefits of membership (essentially it would bring lots of referrals from their huge network). I’m unclear about the costs of membership per se, but apart from reiterating that the use of the award winner’s logo was free (woot woot!). he mentioned that an award listing would cost £395 and a full page profile a further £1,000 (distinctly less woot-wooty!).
What Sebastian hadn’t answered at all was my question about the selection process. When I pressed him in a further email for information on how they had chosen me he said :
Firms are nominated through the LinkedIn group and website and are also selected through rankings, you were chosen as your firm is ranked by Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500.
Passing over the pedant’s point that I am not a firm, and I don’t work for or own a firm, and the fact that this is inconsistent with the reason originally given, neither I nor my *cough* chambers is ranked by Chambers & Partners for arbitration (though we are of course ace in many ways and are ranked for lots of other things), and although the chambers’ Legal 500 entry shows the Construction Planning and Environment team as being jolly good at international arbitration, I am not a member of this team (and am not even mediocre at arbitration – I may have mentioned this before). It seems pretty unlikely that anyone in the LinkedIn group has nominated me for an award in an area in which I don’t practice, especially since almost none of the members appears to be based in the jurisdiction in which I practice.
Dudes, listen : I’m not an arbitrator. I’ve never even BEEN to an arbitration. You didn’t find out about my arbitration excellence from my web profile and nobody nominated me and I don’t have any peers in the world of arbitration. You just drew my name from a hat marked ‘suckers’. And I’m no more a sucker than I am an arbitrator. I am afraid I shall have to politely decline this award because I truly am not worthy. Logos and copy might be something you are happy to borrow from another organisation without their consent, but I’m not planning on using an award winner’s logo that suggests I am something I’m not, even if it is for free. I rather think there might be a cost to my reputation if I did.
Anyway, looking on the bright side, I’m hoping that next week will see the exciting announcement that I have unexpectedly been appointed silk, because of my impressive corporate profile….