There are people you hardly ever see but with whom you nevertheless feel connected. I “knew” Charles Christian for about 30 years but we met only a handful of times, usually at events where there was no time for conversation. We bumped into each other in London, in Prague, and at US events, and once, randomly, in a London cafe. We trod different parts of the same field for all those years without being particularly close. Now he is dead, and I feel strangely bereft. Perhaps part of that is that feeling one gets as one’s contemporaries start dropping off the tree.
Charles Christian chairing a legal technology conference in Prague in 2012
Charles was one of the first to leave the law and turn to technology, and specifically technology applied to legal practice. His regular magazine, quickly known as “the Orange Rag” became essential reading for would-be buyers of legal technology as well as for rivals seeking information about an industry which grew quickly from nothing to a worldwide multi-billion turnover business. It was specialist journalism of the highest order, and remains so in the hands of Caroline Hill who became Editor-in-Chief some time ago. It was her tweeted article Rest in peace Charles Christian, the godfather of legal technology which broke the news of Charles’s death.
We were both involved in the organisation of a conference in Prague in 2012, but I had little other professional connection with him. Our link was through Twitter, which he joined a few weeks before me in 2009. We were all then feeling our way through the possible uses for this medium, originally (for me, anyway), as a means of business promotion. Lawyers’ use of Twitter was very stilted then, consisting mainly of solicitors’ marketing departments nervously trying to use it as no more than a new outlet for links to their websites and articles (it wasn’t until barristers came in that legal Twitter really took off).
Charles used Twitter in a much less formal way, mixing the periodic launches of the current Orange Rag with chat about life in Norfolk, horses, old dogs and the garden. I did the same about non-work things, originally because I reckoned that it could draw in new clients if they felt they knew something about me beyond my website. Both of us came to use Twitter less for work (as the business world descended into the abyss of LinkedIn) and more for idle chatter – which is how we remained sporadically in touch.
I have seen others say, as I did on hearing of Charles’s death, that he paved the way for them and the rest of us. Legal technology was new, and its intended market not remotely interested in it. Charles Christian became more than a reporter of what others were doing and was a catalyst, encouraging lawyers to take their first steps, and emboldening suppliers to rise to new challenges.
I thought his greatest achievement was to hand over the running of the business while still young enough to pursue his other interests, mainly folklore and legends. He wrote books, gave broadcasts, and told stories – his Urban Fantasist website gives clues as to the breadth of his interests and talents in worlds beyond legal technology.
His last post on his website was dated 23 September. His last tweet was sent from an ambulance three days later. We exchanged a tweet or two. If I didn’t get to say goodbye, I was at least in touch at the end.
As well as Caroline Hill’s article, there is a fine tribute from Greg Bufithis here, focussing mainly on Charles’s skill as an editor. He will be missed.