From Clearwell in Cornhill to Millnet on Millbank via Memory Lane

I went to Millnet’s 15th birthday party on Friday and, in consequence, wound up with very sore feet. That is not the non-sequitur which it may appear to be. The day began with an e-disclosure talk and ended with an e-disclosure party, but included a long walk and took in some recollections of the past and ruminations on newly-admitted solicitors, Apples (and other fruit and veg), the right to take photographs in public, and other things touching on my wider interests.

The e-disclosure element came with a meeting with Clearwell’s UK team, where my purpose was to bolster their roles as allies in the spread of understanding about electronic disclosure. Relatively few lawyers seem to know the rules, including many of those who rail against the new practice direction and the alleged burden of its questionnaire without apparently having read either of them. There are also many who assert that the technology for handling electronic documents is expensive, without either suggesting alternative methods (just ignoring them does not count) or making a telephone call or two to find out what the cost might actually be. More subtle, and harder to grasp in some ways, is the very close relationship between what the rules require and the range of technology solutions which exist. If the lawyers need to understand this inter-relationship, then so do the solution providers, which is why I am always happy to talk to them.

My broad theme is that there is a higher discretionary element in the rules than people realise, and that there is more to the technology than a bare recital of functions and benefits may suggest. There is a close match between the obligations of transparency and cooperation required by the rules and the ability of he technology to help the lawyers to assess the relationship between value and cost – the components of proportionality. Proper use of the right technology allows the lawyers, for example, to test the effect of adding or removing keywords from the list being discussed with opponents. If the technology can show that the inclusion of a particular keyword will add 50,000 documents to the disclosure set without any obvious benefit in terms of the evidence, then there is money to be saved – an obvious example of technology as a facilitator of informed discussion.

The meeting ended with insufficient time to do anything useful, but far too early for Millnet’s party down at Millbank. I did not particularly plan to walk from Cornhill to Millbank, but set off on foot in that direction anyway. In route-planning, as with e-disclosure, intuition is no substitute for hard fact. My instinct, without looking at a map, was simply to walk westwards and slightly south. The shortest route, by over a mile, is in fact to cross the river and cut off the corner by going through Southwark and Lambeth. My ambition was to have a walk rather than to get mugged, so I took the long route.

First stop was at the Law Society in Chancery Lane, where a new batch of baby solicitors was attending an admissions ceremony. My own admission certificate, signed by the great Lord Denning, then Master of the Rolls, is dated 16 June 1980, and the profession then was recognisably the same as it was when my father was admitted 30 years before that. Denning himself served in the Great War, one of those links which shortens time-lines a little. Looking at all those eager, fresh-faced young things with their proud parents, I wondered how it will look 30 years hence, and tried to think back to my own ambitions when I sat in the same room all those years ago. Nothing as interesting as what I actually do now, certainly.

You get a similar sense of time and change in Covent Garden, which was my next stop. Until 1973 (that is, only seven years before my admission as a solicitor) this was London’s fruit and vegetable market. I recall it as almost identical to the way it is portrayed in the film My Fair Lady, set in 1912 – porters with barrows, dim light cast over brightly-coloured piles of food, dirt and rubbish underfoot and vendors shouting. Then it was apples and pears; now it is just Apple, for Covent Garden is home to the newly-opened largest Apple store in the world. I am newly an Apple convert, with an iMac on my desk and an iPad in my bag, hooked on the potential presentational power which I first saw at the hands of Allen & Overy’s senior partner, David Morley, at ILTA Insight earlier this year. I stress the word “potential” – I have got no further so far than moving my PC slides to the iPad.

Walking on, I realise to my shame that I have become wary of carrying my camera overtly in London, as I do everywhere else. This is partly because our streets are no longer policed properly, and partly because there are too many policemen. That may sound paradoxical. The chances of a mugger being apprehended are pretty well zero; they know, as we do, that the nearest one gets to a policeman if you are a victim of theft is a crime number to pass to your insurers and the offer of victim support – useful, no doubt, but no substitute for pre-emptive action (see footnote). According to many reports, the best way to find yourself surrounded by policemen is to take a photograph of, say, St Paul’s Cathedral; a large man or woman in uniform will often appear as if by magic and demand your name and address and the purpose of your suspicious activity. He or she will want to rifle through your bag and will perhaps demand that you delete your pictures.

The right to do any of this is in fact predicated on the reasonable suspicion that you are a terrorist or that your actions are “designed to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”, but Sergeant Thick and PC Plank seem to have developed a knee-jerk assumption that the taking of photographs is inevitably a precursor to an attack – “some terrorists take photographs, he is taking a photograph, he must be a terrorist”, the thinking seems to go. It is allied with a politically-correct approach to sampling which dictates that they must interrogate one elderly white woman for every Eastern-looking youth. It has not happened to me yet, and I am wholly confident that I would hold my own in any debate about my right to take photographs versus their right to stop me. I am fortified in this view by this advice from the Metropolitan Police, which I carry with me so that Thick and Plank can get someone to read it to them.

I am less confident than I used to be, however, that the merits of our respective positions would take the form of a polite debate. No amount of well-articulated argument helps you in the face of a police culture which seems to favour more direct action: have a look at the pictures of by-stander Ian Tomlinson being pushed to the ground by a unformed thug minutes before he died (I put it this way because there has been no prosecution and so no judicial examination of the nexus between the thuggery and the demise); read about the senior barrister who was handcuffed within the RCJ by police called to deal with a protest – as the article says “If they can do this to a senior member of the Bar at a court, one wonders what the police are getting up to in less public circumstances”; or about the retired woman injured when her mask was wrenched from her head by a female police officer despite the fact that there had been no attempt to conceal her identity. I will risk a certain amount to exercise my right to take some photographs but I draw the line at being beaten up for it.

I took a few, but I keep my camera in my bag and get it out occasionally, which is more than a little inhibiting. I ought, of course, to have the courage of my conviction that I am in the right, and it is that which I am ashamed of.

Thames at Westminster by night

The end of my four mile walk took me past the Houses of Parliament and along the river to Millbank and Millnet’s party. Millnet opened for business 15 years ago specialising in printing financial documents. The legal support and digital document services came later, but if you go to their web site now, it is the latter which dominate (with a picture of Nuix’s relationships map to show you where the priorities lie). Nuix is not my only connection there – I suspect that Millnet’s Charles Holloway, a former litigation solicitor like me, also has Tom Denning’s signature on his practising certificate – an apt symbol of the cross-over between ancient principles of evidence and modern ways of handling it.

The party, attended by 500 or so (pretty impressive for a Friday night), was at the top of Millbank Tower, whence we had a fine view across Westminster to the City, with champagne, speeches and long service awards before the fireworks began below. I left before they got under way, which is why it was my feet, rather than my head, which felt the effect on the following day.

PS: as I am on the point of publishing this, news comes through that a judge has been appointed to oversee the Inquest into Tomlinson’s death.

PPS: Edited to replace a supplementary reference to Victim Support after a complaint by http://www.victimsupport.org.uk with a plea for more pre-emptive action. It was wrong to suggest that victim support has no value. If the police spent less time harassing tourists with cameras (see here and here) they might have more resources for dealing with everyday street crime and regain some of the public support which I was brought up to have, and which they have thrown away.

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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 Clearwell, Discovery, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure, Litigation Support, Millnet. Bookmark the permalink.

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