An articled clerk in Gray’s Inn in the 1970s

An old name used by a web searcher stirs memories of typewritten lists of documents of long ago.

I keep a close eye on the web statistics from my web site and blog. They tell me, amongst other things, what people are putting into their search engines which find my pages, and that in turn tells me what to write about.

Most of the terms are modern ones. Today’s, for example, include document retention policy, outlook message metadata and tiff image in litigation as well as the names of people and products I have mentioned – and the terms I see are necessarily those which exist somewhere on my sites.

I had one yesterday which looked as out of place in my web stats as a coach and four on a motorway. It was Taylor Humbert solicitors.

Taylor & Humbert was the firm which I joined on 6 March 1978 to serve the second year of my articles of clerkship at the rate of £2,500 per annum plus luncheon vouchers. It was in Raymond Buildings in Gray’s Inn. The room I shared with the litigation partner overlooked the gardens. Both the salary and view seemed pretty heavenly, as did the job.

The litigation partner was himself a fairly recent addition to the practice. Until he came, litigation was done by the managing clerk, as was the norm then in such firms, under the supervision of the client partner and with, I suppose, heavy reliance on counsel. His favourite barrister was an up and coming chap called Harry Woolf, then a year away from appointment as a High Court Judge. The basement room which the managing clerk had occupied had been turned into a stationery cupboard.

Through the filter of retrospect, life seemed to involve constant tumbling across Holborn and through Lincoln’s Inn to attend summonses for directions or more important things before fierce Masters – Master Warren or Master Bickford-Smith – in rooms off grim, badly-lit corridors.

It wasn’t all fun. We had documents to list, laboriously shuffling them into order before dictating them – the IBM Golfball typewriters could do minor corrections, but they certainly could not reshuffle wrongly ordered entries. A secretary’s time was at least as valuable as ours was, so we had to minimise retyping. The descriptions were precise and literate – one of the reasons why my generation found it difficult to move to the utilitarian entries of computer-generated lists of documents.

The list would be typed on stiff, heavy paper and sewn up with ribbon – you had to plead to get the secretaries to do it for you. Shortly afterwards, you went off to someone else’s basement to inspect their files and folders and mark up a list of those you wanted copied. Some firms still work more or less like that now.

In due course, I was asked to join the Commercial Department, but said I wanted to do litigation instead. I don’t think they really needed a litigation assistant, and a serious attempt was made to put me off. The litigation partner opened the White Book at random and laid it on his desk. “It may seem interesting now” he said “but do you still want to be ploughing through rules like this in ten years time?” I persisted, and was taken on.

Nearly 30 years later, the rules – or at least one small corner of them – still occupy much of my time. I was debating their scope with a room-full of judges a couple of weeks ago, addressing lawyers about them last week, and writing about the proposed new Commercial Court Rules today. Lists of documents are data, and exchange and inspection take place electronically.

It doesn’t sound very exciting really, that the Rules of the Supreme Court and their successor, the CPR, should provide a link back to the past stirred by that off-beat web search. Fortunately, it is not the only link.

One day, the Senior Partner announced that he had engaged a new cook for the partners’ dining room. We were, I have to say, somewhat miffed that this had been done without any consultation with the rest of us but had no choice but to accept the fait accompli. That was 24 years ago. She has just cooked my supper, and very good it was too.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Court Rules, Courts, CPR, Discovery, eDisclosure, Litigation Support. Bookmark the permalink.

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