Celebrating 40 years of SCL at the House of Commons

December 10, 2013

On the evening of 5 December 2013, 176 people gathered at the House of Commons for the sold-out SCL 40th Anniversary Dinner.  The dinner took place in the Members’ Dining Room, thanks to the sponsorship of the Rt Hon the Lord Hunt of Wirral, an exciting and elegant venue and one that was both familiar and new to me.  I had not visited the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) before and it was fascinating to see the inside of the building with the original Westminster Hall, started in 1097 by William Rufus, and the rest of the building that was rebuilt in the nineteenth century after a devastating fire in 1834 which destroyed the medieval Palace.

The Houses were busy with several events and it was entertaining trying to celebrity/politician-spot while we were waiting (we saw Nick Robinson recording his section for the BBC news on the Autumn Statement) and chatting about such diverse topics as previous law firms we had worked for, running, parking at railway stations and previous and future SCL events.  The drinks reception took place in the Strangers Dinning Room, adjacent to the Members’ Dining Room with spectacular wallpaper. Guests arrived slowly due to long security queues but gradually the room filled up with the buzz of old friends meeting again, or making new ones.  Some guests brought spouses and partners, many of whom, as non-lawyers, brought a new perspective to the evening.

Roger Bickerstaff, SCL Chair, welcomed everyone to the dinner with a brief summary of the history of SCL and a reminder that technology lawyers work at the heart of society.  His welcome was followed by Professor Richard Susskind, SCL President, saying the Selkirk Grace attributed to Robbie Burns:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

After that we tucked into dinner, with a starter of Gressingham duck, a main course of Scottish salmon and a dessert of Queen of Puddings. 

Once coffee had been served, Richard Susskind introduced Sir Brian Neill and presented him with an award for his distinguished contribution to SCL.  Sir Brian succeeded Lord Scarman as the President of SCL and continued in that post until 1993. He reminded everybody how difficult it was to persuade people of the importance of computers in the context of the law at that time (and when SCL was founded).  Sir Brian also gave the Loyal Toast and a toast to SCL.

Richard Susskind went on to discuss Moore’s Law (that is, is the rule that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years) and driverless cars, both topical subjects, as well as discussing Big Data, and Professor Chris Reed, a former Chair of SCL, entertained us by playing his ukulele, see this video whilst giving a very enjoyable after-dinner speech on the past, present and future of SCL.

As well as being a fitting celebration of the Society’s 40th anniversary in a memorable venue, the dinner was a fantastic networking opportunity and it was a pity to have to leave.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the organisation of the event, including LexisNexis for its sponsorship. 

Linda and I are so glad we made the effort to attend the dinner and were touched by the very friendly welcome we received.  The key message for me from the evening was the staggering pace of progress in IT which has taken place since the Society was founded.  In 1973 our ambitions were, as I recall, largely focussed on what the emerging world of computers could do to assist lawyers manage their businesses.  The achievements, both by industry and the professions, since then has been enormous and the predictions for the future, set out by Richard Susskind in his usual blue sky style, are similarly impressive.  One disappointment is that the era of the paperless office seems further away than ever, even if a greater proportion of text is now held electronically.

Bill Aitken, SCL Founder member

As a Web Scientist, I’m not the standard profile of an SCL member but have always been made to feel welcome. This was especially true at the 40th Anniversary dinner in the House of Commons Members’ Dining Room, a truly amazing venue. I was delighted to hear in Chris Reed’ keynote that his vision for SCL is to look to the future and a data driven world. He directed members to collaborate with technologists like myself to ensure we meet the challenges of our data driven future. It was also the first ever keynote I’d heard being prefaced by Chris singing and playing on the ukelele, one of the 7 his wife knows about!  Legal events dull, think again. Not if they are SCL events.

Jacqui Taylor
Founder, CEO, FlyingBinary