The Long Goodbye

November 15, 2018

As this is posted online, I shall be speaking at a dinner in
London and saying my brief thank yous for all the help I have had over my years
working on Computers & Law and on the SCL website. We have to eat so there
will not be time to cover all that I might have liked to cover and there was
not space to thank all who should be thanked in my final Editorial in the
magazine. This is my long goodbye.

I had a phone call in late 1993 from Ruth Baker that gave
rise to all the many positives that have arisen in the 25 years with SCL. She
asked me then if I could help with the production of the magazine and I said
yes. I had no magazine-related experience but had just gone freelance and
reckoned I could bluff for a while and look up what I needed to know. If I had
known then what I later discovered, I wouldn’t have dared bluff Ruth – there
are men out there still weeping when they recollect their failed attempts to do
so from decades ago. But I muddled through with a great deal of help from Jimmy
Mackintosh (the then SCL Chair), Jon Gould, Paul Brennels, Steve Pitts, Alan Brakefield and
Neil Cameron, to name but a few. And, of course, help from Ruth Baker too.

Readers would be rapidly bored if I was to pay adequate
tribute to Ruth’s support over the years. It has been a relationship that has
been full of fun and has left us as real friends. I learned a lot from Ruth,
got a lot of valuable guidance – it’s really great when you get clear guidance
and views, and nobody can accuse Ruth of a lack of clarity in her views.

I also got a lot of tolerance and forgiveness – much needed
over the years. I have a very forgiving memory when it comes to my own misdeeds
so I have almost entirely forgotten about the nudes in the advert that came as
something as a shock to some SCL members, the numerous times I went into hiding
because of other work commitments or sly trips to Spain and the time I
persuaded Ruth to take the later train into London for a meeting, which got
into Paddington just in time for us to go back. The catalogue of mistakes and
oversights is thick with examples but she only ever asked that I did my best to
correct them and frequently dismissed what I saw as fatal errors as mere

Moreover, many of the changes we have made that have
produced real progress in the quality of the content of the magazine and its
appearance were down to urgings from Ruth, very often with Caroline Gould
lending force to the push and making creative suggestions. Left to my own
devices, SCL might still have a black and white magazine with a fixed cover for
each issue (stylish though it was).

I am proud of having always got a magazine out, of helping
with the move to a website driven content model and of widening the range of
authors so that we didn’t have issues where 90% of the authors of articles were
white middle-aged men. (It is hard to believe now but it really was quite an
event when we finally had an issue with three articles by women; I recall that
I was so flushed with that success that I mentioned it to my fiercely feminist
sister – a ‘bantering’ reference to it as the ‘babes’ issue’ was a mistake I
never repeated.)

Somewhat bizarrely, the contribution during my time at SCL
of which I am proudest is largely down to Ruth Baker. I had the good fortune to
hear that Graham Greenleaf from AustLII was to speak at a relatively low-key
event and thought SCL should be involved – so I told Ruth. With her energy
behind it, that meeting rapidly went from low-key to high-profile and Sir Henry
Brooke, Laurie West-Knights, Richard Susskind et al drove the initiative
forward from there until bailii was born. Mine may have been a very slim
contribution to the birth of bailii to justify such pride but bear in mind that
my proudest moments in life have been the birth of my children and we’d best
draw a veil over my contribution there.

Ruth Baker oversaw SCL’s transition from cheerleader for
computing by lawyers to an organisation that specialises in tech law. That
wasn’t easy for me or the magazine’s content. We went from articles that
covered what now seems the most basic computer knowledge (how to use
WordPerfect and the like) to esoteric areas of tech that produce legal
conundrums that could not have been imagined 25 years ago. The great bonus of
working for SCL has been that, just when you thought everything has been said
about tech law, new tech comes round the corner and new issues and exciting
problems arise. We now have AI and machine learning (as well as pretend AI) and
they are truly interesting topics that genuinely engage my interest. I might
argue that that the sole positive aspect of blockchain is that it filled a bit
of a lull between real developments (though, if I had bought bitcoins when I
first thought of doing so, I might see other positive aspects).

Notwithstanding my view that its contribution to the
creation of bailii is the greatest SCL achievement in my time, the latest
developments that have arisen under Caroline Gould’s stewardship are close
rivals. We have seen a widening of SCL’s function, an increased involvement
from students and trainees and a widening of external relations with
sympathetic bodies. Attending the Online Courts Hackathon in 2017 was inspiring
and recent Conferences have had a real buzz. Caroline must get a massive amount
of credit for that.

I deluded myself that Caroline might need the benefit of
avuncular advice and guidance once she took over but it hasn’t been needed. She
too has provided unwavering support, and generous understanding of my failings.
That old cliché ‘there is no “I” in team’ must have been conceived with
Caroline’s management approach in mind – always spreading credit around. Our
weekly catch-up calls occasionally cover matters of great importance but always
involve a good deal of laughter. I really wish I was 20 years younger and could
be involved in all the great things that SCL now has planned going forward.

While I am massively grateful to Ruth and Caroline, I am
equally grateful to all the members of SCL who have made this 25 years such a
pleasure. In all those years working on the magazine and on other aspects of
SCL activity, the variety of activities and ever-changing subject-matter have
ensured that I have never got bored. I am really grateful to SCL and its
members for the education I have received – and for being paid while I learned.
And SCL has introduced me to some wise and wonderful people – and some pretty
wacky ones too. I know enough about the law of defamation to know that it would
be unwise for me to say more.

SCL has let me get on with the job – although there may be
some Chairs of the Media Board/Editorial Advisory Board who allowed that more
in despair than as a strategy. We have had some memorable meetings of that
Board, including a couple where we actually talked about content. I am
especially grateful to all the Chairs of that Board and its members, many of
whom have filled pages of magazines that threatened to be empty. Many of the
trustees and past Chairs of SCL have done the same – Clive Davies, Richard
Stephens, Nigel Miller, Roger Bickerstaff and Neil Brown and so many others.
But the members who have modestly put forward ground-breaking articles and top
tips have never let me down – without the unsolicited manuscripts and the eager
suggestions from them, my job would have been impossible.

I have actually enjoyed reading many of the articles,
although only an extreme masochist would have enjoyed some of them. I should
also mention how much pleasure I had writing blog posts and making acerbic
comments on developments, with a near guarantee that somebody would read what I
said. I have always had fun creating CPD questions, where some of the wrong
answers were entirely designed for my own amusement and where ‘Belgium’ was the
wrong answer at least 5% of the time (no matter what the question).

Rewarding, supportive, fun, engaged and engaging – I have a
lot to thank SCL for.

One final personal thank you. My wife Hazel has offered
concrete support with responses to queries on design, occasional critiques of
things I have written etc but that’s not the real reason for the thank you.
While Ruth and Caroline are paragons and nobody could hope to work with better
people – and while SCL and all involved with it are wonderful in every way –
there may have been times when I haven’t fully appreciated those facts. Times
when I have been driven me from my office to cast curses on all manner of
things associated with SCL, magazines, websites and especially authors.
Listening to my rants and problems, or at least pretending to listen, and
occasionally making constructive suggestions has been her burden. Thank you
Hazel for putting up with 25 years of SCL-induced frustrations.

A number of people have asked me what I intend to do next.
My current inclination is towards doing very little. But I am conscious that
2019 might see me a little at a loose end, so who knows. I am currently
tweeting as @laurenceeastham and may resurrect my personal blog – or may lose
interest in all tech law issues and the like. If you have read this far, do
feel free to keep in touch – my email address remains unchanged.