April 24, 2013

This is a strong issue. In normal circumstances, I would be pleased with the fact that we have so many excellent reviews of recent IT law cases, two outstanding pieces on big data and related issues and provocative pieces on the very intriguing issues that arise from bots and drones. It is so strong that I have had to leave some excellent material until a later issue, even an article by the SCL President, Richard Susskind OBE, and (more surprising still) one by me.

But what is for me the most important article does not make me happy. This issue has for the last few months been Ruth Baker’s farewell issue and thus her article, ‘Now Is the Time to Say Goodbye’, dominates. Ruth is retiring after 25 years with SCL.

I have inserted just some of the tributes to Ruth’s work that I have seen recently in that article and there seems little for me to add to the words there. But having worked with Ruth for 20 years, I think I am especially well placed to assess her valuable contribution to the magazine and web site. And that contribution goes well beyond the masterstroke of recruiting me to work on the magazine!

The truth is that most innovation in magazine style and appearance, lots of the good ideas for articles and nearly all the contacts that drive a magazine like this one, and a web site like www.scl.org, came from Ruth. If you add in many of the things that have arisen from her questioning of the status quo with apparent (but often faux) naivety, the debt to her becomes enormous. Even with a strong issue like this one, it is not hard to spot a contribution from her.

Having worked with Ruth for 20 years, I can certainly say that she is not always an easy person to work for. The penny dropped for me quite early in our relationship when I had occasion to attend an SCL workshop in Birmingham. The hotel facilities stubbornly refused to display speakers’ slides and the hotel representative came across to where Ruth and I were sitting to explain how this was unfortunate and scarcely their fault. The response from Ruth made the high explosive demolition of a block of flats look tame. I resolved then to make sure I always did my best to deliver for fear of suffering a similar fate. But great respect soon replaced that fear – it was not easy to meet her standards because they are high, but it was worthwhile – and I soon understood that Ruth is in fact very forgiving of mistakes so long as they are admitted and every reasonable effort is made to correct them. I have learned a great deal from Ruth over the years. I came to happily exchange ideas and thoughts and admire her astonishing energy and persistence. Above all, I came to appreciate her unwavering support. It cannot always have been easy to maintain that support when, under pressure of deadlines (so I claim), the magazine included an unexpected nude or carefully agreed running orders were re-arranged, nor to have kept patience with the provision of (on a rough count) 27 incorrect invoices.

SCL without Ruth Baker will be hard to imagine. She has carefully guarded its image and, a much trickier task, never lost sight of its true aims. The confidence I feel in SCL’s future without her influence arises very largely from the tremendous work she has done in the last 25 years – the creation of structures and procedures that should ensure that SCL prospers in future years. That is a terrific compliment to her.

I want to thank her for all that she has contributed to the magazine and web site and express my heartfelt personal gratitude to her too. And of course I want to wish her a happy retirement. Ruth being Ruth will no doubt have prepared herself very thoroughly for retirement and will be entirely ready for it. Whether retirement is ready for Ruth is another matter I feel that I should wish it luck.