Laurence Eastham looks back at almost 25 years working with SCL
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 trivialities.
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.