Going the way of Ozymandias

By | 29th September 2009

On reading Chris Dale’s recent post (Who needs a bridge when the river goes away? Sept 17th ) and marvelling at its wonderful pictures of the splendid arches standing serenely redundant in a field while the river flows elsewhere, I was reminded of one of my favourite sonnets, Ozymandias by Shelley. You all know the one I mean:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias is said to be a reference to the rather better known Egyptian Pharoah Ramses 11 but whether the reference is to Ramses or not, the poem neatly encapsulates the concept that however high the status, however important the life, however mighty the works, however outstanding the achievements, everything is ultimately brought low by the passage of time.

The poem conjures up in my mind the same kind of wonderful dereliction and obsolescence described by Chris’s post in which he muses on the possibility that work will gradually flow away from those law firms which do not embrace the new technologies as the corporates increasingly send the electronic processing work to experts on the basis that it is not legal work for which they will want to keep paying lawyers.

I recall that lawyers in the post war period up to about the late 1970s increasingly failed to keep up with the world of taxation to the delight of the accountancy profession which to this day has a stranglehold on areas of the law which used to be the province of the lawyer.

There must be a risk that the same will happen in the area of technology where lawyers are failing to grasp the need to get to grips with the basics of what needs to be collected, processed, analysed and produced in order to offer a proportionate and focussed service to their clients at a reasonable price. If this goes on ( or perhaps I should say if this does NOT go on) there is a risk that the river of technology work will bypass the law firm and head for the expert consultant leaving the lawyers the poorer.

Occasionally, events buck the trend and it was thrilling to see two major musical highlights in the past few weeks, at least one of which would not have been easily predicted.

There was much publicity for the reissue of the entire recorded catalogue of Beatles’ music in a digitally remastered edition. I am wondering whether to spend the necessary £169 to recreate a bit of my teenage years! However, the most extraordinary spectacle was of the most famous band in pop history being kept from the top of the charts by the 92 year old Dame Vera Lynn. Now that must be worth the cost of a CD for all the romantics and nostalgics amongst you.

This is not the time or the place to philosophise but in trying to make sense of these events I suppose that all we mere mortals (lawyers) can try and do is delay the inevitable! The Beatles (or rather, Apple ) and Dame Vera have done just that. Both are extraordinarily good at what they do/did. They have survived while many others of their type have faded into obscurity.

It remains to be seen whether lawyers, from the mightiest to the one man band, can avoid a similar fate and if you want to read a fascinating discussion of this subject, try Richard Susskind’s  End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services (OUP, 978-0-19-954172-0).