At large in Peterborough

By | 2nd September 2009

Visiting Peterborough last week to talk to a group of lawyers about Smart e-Discovery,  I found myself walking past the magnificent ancient cathedral in the centre of this otherwise (some would say) unexceptional modern town. With an hour to kill before the presentation, I wandered into the cathedral ..   [and those of you who don’t share my fascination for this subject may skip the next two paragraphs!]

It contains the tomb of Katharine of Aragon. Katharine was the youngest surviving child of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, who unified and created modern Spain in the 15th century. She married firstly Arthur, Prince of Wales, eldest son of King Henry VII, and when he died young she married his brother and became the first of the six wives of Henry VIII. Henry ultimately rejected her when he became infatuated with Anne Boleyn…

.. although Katharine’s only surviving child became Queen Mary after the death of her father and her younger brother (and before Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth).

After her divorce, Katharine lived quietly at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire where she died in 1536. She is said to haunt the castle. She is buried in Peterborough Cathedral which at one time held the distinction of being the resting place of two Queens as Mary, Queen of Scots was also buried there, although her remains were removed to Westminster Abbey later on the orders of James I.  Katharine’s tomb is visible to this day and is often decorated with flowers and sometimes with her heraldic symbol, the pomegranate.

Back to the presentation and in discussions afterwards it was clear that the themes I have previously noted in this blog (interest in the technology coupled with a bewilderment about how to engage with the industry which provides it) resonate here as much as anywhere else.

I have seen a huge number of firms recently and the great majority of lawyers I meet say the same thing. This is along the lines of “We know we need help. It is all very complicated. We prefer to work in the traditional ways using paper where possible but if we could find technology that did not cost an arm and a leg and it was reliable and easy to use, we would be happy to try it.”

Katharine’s dilemma was that though she was desperate to please her king, she could not come up with what he most desired, a son and heir. With a better understanding of human biology, we now know that her great ‘failure’ could most likely be laid at the king’s door.  On a much more mundane level this seemingly inescapable disparity between desire and delivery is precisely what has characterised the divide between legal professionals and technology suppliers ever since the first deadline-stressed lawyer was sold a quill pen and inkwell as the best portable, high speed writing device with instantly accessible off-line ink storage on the market (bar none).

Katharine at least, did not lose her head in the process.