March 8, 2024
In only two months, 2024 has been booming with commercial affairs and updates on ongoing headline news, including major tech deals, mass strikes, soaring fraud rates and more. This blog will give you an insight into possible commercial awareness avenues to explore ahead of your interviews this year.

Microsoft Partners with French Start-up Mistral

Recently, it was announced that Microsoft has struck a deal with French intelligence start-up, Mistral. This is part of the tech giant’s plan to ‘broaden its involvement in the fast-growing industry beyond Open AI’. Open AI is an artificial intelligence company that produces services, such as GPT. 

Microsoft has primarily worked with Open AI, investing approximately $13bn in the startup. This helped establish them as a ‘significant new competitor in the technology industry’. Whilst Microsoft claims that the companies operate independently, this has made Microsoft the subject of antitrust concerns.

The financial details have not yet been disclosed, but it is understood that Microsoft will invest in Mistral to help the 10-month-old company bring its AI models to the market. More specifically, the partnership will include a collaboration to build applications for governments across Europe, ‘addressing public sector-specific needs’.


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National Minimum Wage and Living Wage Increases & Employers’ Commitments in the UK

From April, millions of workers across the UK will start receiving increased pay following the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW) going up.

The NMW is the legal minimum amount of pay a worker is entitled to per hour. The rate varies based on the age of the employer.

From 1 April, the National Minimum Wage will apply to younger employees between the school leaving age (16) and 20.

  • If you are 16 -17, the NMW will be £6.40 an hour
  • If you are 18 -20, the NMW will be £8.60
  • If you are 21-22, the NMW will be £11.44
  • If you are 23 and over, the NMW will be £11.44

The NLW is the only UK wage rate based on the cost of living and is overseen by the Living Wage Foundation. It is voluntarily paid by over 14,000 businesses who ‘believe their staff deserve a wage which meets everyday needs’.

It is not a legal requirement and is aimed at UK workers over the age of 18. Reportedly, from these 14, 000 business 460,000 employees currently receive the RLW, which is £13.15 in London and £12 outside of the capital.

A few days ago, supermarket giant, M&S, announced pay rises for staff from April, in a bid to keep their employees – something supermarkets are currently struggling to do. M&S will increase the minimum pay for workers in London to £13.15 and outside of London to £12 per hour.

This increase means workers will be paid the Voluntary Real Living Wage, which is higher than the compulsory NLW.

With these changes, Employment Lawyers can expect to see new/more work involving these changes. For example, clients may need to transform their financial plans/business models to finance these new wage increases or need support with committing to paying their employees the NLW.

Clifford Chance Expands Its Generative AI Territory for Employees, Globally

In Clifford Chance’s latest announcement, the firm is deploying Copilot for Microsoft 365 and Viva Suite for its employees globally. Clifford Chance is one of a handful of law firms to engage in a pilot of Copilot and one of the first organisations globally to deploy both.

Copilot and Viva Suite automate a variety of daily tasks such as meeting and task management, drafting emails, inbox management and access to continuous learning and insights with Viva Insights and Viva Learning.

Paul Greenwood, Chief Technology Officer at the firm says that ‘harnessing digital innovation […] has always been at the heart of our successful growth strategy’ and the firm continues to prove that.

Clifford Chance was also one the first law firms globally to build its own private and secured AI tool, Clifford Chance Assist. We can expect to see the firm’s competitors launch major projects this year to stay ahead in the generative AI race.

Fraud Cases More Than Doubled to £2.3bn in the UK

2023 became the ‘second-biggest year for scams in the last two decades’, after it was discovered that the amount of fraud committed in the UK more than doubled to £2.3bn.

According to Barclays, a renowned UK bank, more than 70% of scams took place via social media, online marketplaces and dating apps. The number of high-value cases over £50m increased by 60% in 2023, with half of them being over £200m.

Some major cases last year:

  • Entain, the owner of Ladbrokes and Coral betting chains, reached a £585 settlement with HM Revenue & Customs over alleged bribery
  • Former Formula One boss, Bernie Ecclestone, pleaded guilty to fraud after reportedly failing to declare more than £400m of overseas assets to the UK government 

Also, following the cost of living crisis, ‘harmless’ fraud like people cheating on their council tax has reportedly soared.

In light of this, clients may start seeking more legal guidance from financial and white-collar crime and IT lawyers to ensure their practises are compliant and protected against digital fraud attacks. This also creates exciting opportunities for lawyers to invest in stronger and innovative technology security for their clients.

Thousands of Farmers Protest in Cardiff

Since the last week of February, thousands of farmers have gathered in Cardiff Bay to protest against the Welsh government’s new environmental subsidy plans. In an effort to help soak in planet-warming carbon emissions, the Welsh government has created a proposal that would require farms to commit 20% of their land to trees and wildlife habitat.

One of the main concerns from these farmers is that the proposal will essentially mean they have to ‘give up’ a fifth of their land. Moreover, farming leaders claim the scheme could result in 5,5000 job losses.

Some farmers feel that with these proposals, there is a disconnect between their livelihood and the decisions being made. The Welsh government are still receiving consultation about these proposals and invites the opinions of the Welsh farming and wider community.


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