Ruth Baker looks back on her time as SCL’s kingpin as she retires after 25 years with the Society. See the end of the article for a selection from some of the tributes paid to Ruth’s work for SCL. A pdf of the version of this article which appears in the April/May issue of Computers & Law can be downloaded from the panel opposite.
A chance meeting with Colin Campbell (now Sir Colin Campbell, DL, FRSA) at Heathrow Airport in October 1987 alerted me to the fact that the Society for Computers and Law was in the process of recruiting a new Administrative Secretary and I duly applied for the job. Although I was already known to some of the Executive and Council from when, as Ruth Messer, I had served as General Manager of the National Law Library (1980-1981) or Conference Officer of the International Bar Association (1976 to 1980), I was an unknown quantity to the then Chairman of SCL (Bradley Brown) and Hon Secretary (David Kidd) who conducted a gruelling interview in Bradley's offices. A few days later I received a letter from Bradley Brown appointing me as Administrative Secretary of SCL for a trial period of six months, although it was made very clear to me that the contract was one of services and not a contract of employment!
The Society had been going through a very difficult time. At the AGM in March 1987, Bradley had concluded his review of the year by saying 'He felt that he should sound a warning note. For the past two years, the Society's membership had been dropping and the future of the Society was uncertain.'
I have always relished a challenge and turning the Society round was certainly going to be one. Economies had to be made wherever possible. The first task was to move all the SCL material from its previous home in Didcot to its new home in Bristol. I was very grateful that my previous employers lent me a van and a driver, so one dismal December day we drove to Didcot and physically moved everything to Bristol.
The priority was to collect membership subscriptions (the Society had so little money by its year-end that the then Hon Treasurer, the late and much loved Alan Brakefield, paid me by personal cheque) and so I set to work at creating an electronic database using 'Rapidfile' from the previous Kardex system. Slowly we rebuilt the membership and the Council introduced new initiatives to encourage more people to be actively involved in the work of the Society. I was delighted when, in June 1988, I received a letter from Keith James, the new Chairman of SCL, confirming my permanent appointment.
The Northern Group was the first regional group to be established. Others followed in London, Scotland, Liverpool and the South West. Working Parties were established to cover new aspects of technology. When a group or working party had served its purpose, it closed - and new ones were established as appropriate.
In those far-off days when the only form of communication with our members was by the DX or post, members had to opt to join a specific group and only received notification about that group's activities. Many group meetings were free of charge, but the drop-out rate was untenable and so it was decided to introduce attendance fees which had the immediate effect of increasing attendance rates.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, SCL was primarily concerned in assisting the profession to embrace the new technology rather than IT Law. Many law firm partners were personally involved with choosing the technology and installing it in their offices – until the introduction of the Managing Partner, who decreed that lawyers should be fee earning and specialist information technology managers became a feature of large law firms. The first conference I organised on behalf of the Society was therefore entitled: 'Meeting the Challenge of Management – How IT Can help' in Bournemouth in November 1988.
In the early 1990s the Society organised a series of 'Information Technology for Lawyers Exhibitions' throughout the UK. SCL had the innovative idea to include workshops at these events. SCL has always been fortunate in the generosity of its members in sharing their expertise and these workshops were addressed by SCL members who were the leaders in the field. Having put the ball in motion, commercial organisations then started to include workshops at their exhibitions which meant that SCL could focus on different types of events.
SCL has been involved with so many different initiatives over the past 25 years. It has been an extraordinary experience to look back at old conference programmes and minutes from meetings to see how much has been achieved. The desire to survive and meet the changing needs of SCL members has been paramount. In 1993 it was felt that changes needed to be made to the magazine and that it was time to recruit a Managing Editor and I was delighted when Richard Hudson of Jordans recommended Laurence Eastham to me and the Executive confirmed his appointment – the rest – as they say – is history.
SCL has always striven to keep in touch with its individual members and so in 1994, when moving jobs by members of the legal profession became the norm rather than the exception, Council made the decision to abolish corporate membership.
At the heart of this organisation is its members. It is amazing how many of you have travelled with SCL through its metamorphosis from an organisation primarily involved with IT for lawyers to its present focus on IT Law. In addition to the debt of gratitude I owe to the many officers and committee members of SCL who have given their time tirelessly to the Society, I would like to thank Microsoft for their seed financial assistance in building the SCL membership and its linked Events' databases and Stuart Barr for generously providing SCL with HighQ which the Trustees and committee members are using for secure, cloud-based collaboration and publishing. Caroline Gould has worked for me since 1991 and Priti Magudia since 2002 and from 1 May they will be employed directly by SCL.
Twenty-five years is a long time to have been involved with one organisation. There have been many highs, and the occasional lows during this time but most memorable were the International Artificial Intelligence Conference held in Oxford in June 1991, the International Federation of Computer Law Associations Conference held in Bath in June 1994 (after which Jimmy Mackintosh, then Chairman of SCL said 'This conference has, I feel, put the Society on the map, from the computer law point of view, and will, I hope, prove to be the launch pad for a major raising of the computer law profile in the Society, and indeed in the UK in general'); the Free the Law meeting held in London in November 1999 which led to the launch of BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute); the 25th Anniversary Dinner at the House of Commons in December 1998 and the highly successful annual conference on 'IT Law Hot Topics 2012' held in London in October 2012 which was sold out. There have been four changes of logo, two changes of articles of association and three changes of websites.
In the year ending 31 March 2012, 53% of our membership attended at least one SCL event, and in the year ending 31 March 2013, 55% attended at least one event. This is an achievement of which SCL can be justly proud. In an era when electronic communication is seen to be the norm, when every minute of the day (and night!) has to be recorded, it is gratifying to know that our members, many of whom are leaders in the field of IT law, still feel the desire to meet in person and exchange ideas and it is indeed a tribute to all of you who have been responsible for designing or participating in SCL's events that this is the case.
This year SCL is celebrating its 40th anniversary and there was a great temptation for me to stay for the whole of the year, but having had my 'Road to Damascus' moment in December, I knew that it would have been unfair not to inform the Trustees of my decision to retire as soon as I returned from the Christmas break and to give as my retirement date 30 April. I am delighted to be leaving SCL in such a sound financial position. It has already been confirmed that this year's annual conference will be held on 15 October 2013 and that the 40th Anniversary Dinner will be held at the House of Commons on 5 December 2013. SCL's first non-UK meeting will be held in Dublin on 1 May and in addition there are already an impressive number of events in place for the rest of the year.
Never one to take hostages, and a lousy poker player - I know that now is the time to go. I am more than ready to enjoy a carefree summer (although I am sorely tempted to become involved with the local NHS Trust).
I wish the Society well. During the last few months I have assisted in forging links with The Information Technologists' Company and I am sure that, working with them, will help increase SCL's profile with all IT companies in the UK. I also hope that working with them SCL will be able to extend its links to the academic community. SCL is an educational charity and it is important that our resource of valuable IT Law material is not only made available to the UK student and academic community but is known to be available. I am convinced that the work of the Privacy and Data Protection Group will continue to attract new members from different areas of the profession to join the Society. I am sure that SCL will continue to develop the expertise of its members by constantly seeking to lead the legal profession in the latest areas of the law associated with information technology, which does and will continue to encroach on so many different aspects of our lives.
The present SCL logo is an excellent representation of SCL – SCL being the centre but not the circumference of the IT Law Community.
Goodbye and thank you. I am honoured to have been able to serve SCL for these past 25 years.
Ruth Baker retires from SCL on 30 April.
Richard Susskind OBE, President and former Chair, of SCL
No-one in its 40 years has worked harder and achieved more for SCL than Ruth Baker. On arrival, in 1988, she set about transforming the Society. In her inimitable style, she imposed order and injected professionalism. And, with great determination, she laid the foundations for the quarter century of success that followed. Above all, she motivated innumerable people over the years to contribute to SCL and to help realize her vision of what we have today - an active and thriving community. I know I speak for all members in thanking Ruth, from our hearts, for her profound contribution.
Clive Davies, Senior counsel Fujitsu and recent SCL Chair
I had the pleasure of working as the chair of the trustees with Ruth for three years ending in 2012 and as a trustee for much longer than that. I and SCL are greatly indebted to Ruth's passion and commitment to the Society which have helped us to continually evolve and provide an even better service to our members and in fulfilment of our objectives. I personally, and SCL as a whole, will greatly miss Ruth and her enthusiasm and dedication and I wish her all the best in the future.
Lord Saville of Newdigate, former President of SCL
It is difficult to overstate the contribution that Ruth Baker has made to the SCL over many years. It was a great pleasure to work with her during my time as President, and I benefited greatly from her calm and wise advice. I have nothing but admiration for her unfailing efficiency and her ability to get things done. Ruth will be sorely missed by the Society.
Sir Henry Brooke, former SCL President and former Lord Justice of Appeal
SCL was phenomenally lucky to have Ruth at the helm for all these years. She combines great charm with steely efficiency, and in the process made SCL events both very enjoyable and very worthwhile. We will all miss her a lot.
Dinant T. L. Oosterbaan, Co-Founder of IFCLA in 1986; President: 1992-1994 and 2004-2006
To me Ruth represented to an important extent SCL. She was very efficient and at the same time kind and personal. In addition, her organizational talents and attention to detail laid the foundation for the financial well-being of IFCLA.
Shanthini Satyendra, Senior Lawyer with Accenture's Global Outsourcing Sales Legal Group, SCL Fellow and former Trustee
I recall first speaking to Ruth nearly 20 years ago, when I had first joined SCL – I was a young trainee in Cambridge thinking about setting up the East Anglian group. She was originally unsure about the whole idea (who can blame her – she had no idea if I could make it work – truth be told nor did I). However in typical 'Ruth fashion', she saw the opportunity to expand SCL and she got behind the idea to make it work. With her help, that goal was achieved in fairly short order, with Richard Susskind speaking at our inaugural meeting. Many years of successful meetings followed in that region.
Since then, I've worked with Ruth and had the benefit of seeing her operate from various vantage points within SCL – from the time when I chaired the SCL London group, was Convener of the SCL In-House Lawyer group and then become a Fellow and Trustee of SCL. Throughout, I have been impressed by her dedication and sheer determination to get things done. She really does go the extra mile.
On a personal level, I've always found her to be very warm and I've enjoyed talking to her about 'life' not just SCL (don't tell her I said it but she is a bit of a 'softie'). We've also shared many a laugh over the years – a few admittedly have been about the challenges of organizing SCL meetings!
So, it is with regret but also with a sense of excitement for her new future that I'd like to take this opportunity to thank her for all she has done. Ruth - all the best for a fabulous next phase hopefully filled with plenty of opportunity to spoil yourself and your husband.
Steve Pitts, Partner at Thursfields and long-serving SCL Council member
I first met Ruth Baker when Keith James suggested we ask her, on behalf of the Birmingham Law Society, to organise the second IT Conference jointly between the Birmingham Law Society and the SCL. A third such conference followed a couple of years later. This was in the 1980s. I then joined the SCL Council as the Midlands Representative and then from 1994 to 2002 I was able to serve as the last National Honorary Secretary of the SCL.
Throughout that period, and before and ever since, Ruth has been the glue that has kept SCL on track, going in the right direction. The work of the Society has changed as IT and IT law have evolved. How we can use IT now is just so different. Ruth has the ability to keep a calm perspective and great organisational and people skills and SCL has always been the better for having the use of those many talents. To many of us who have had the privilege of working closely with Ruth she was also a great friend and colleague. It will be a hard act for anyone to follow to take the SCL forward.
Thank you Ruth for all your many, many efforts for the SCL - you will be missed.