April Fowl

By | 15th April 2010

It may be this continuing chill frosting up my antennae but I have been a little late and somewhat inaccurate with my April Fool detection this year..

The origin of All Fool’s Day goes back to the late 16th century and the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in France under the reign of Charles 1X.  I am not entirely convinced that all the hoaxes and pranks associated with that day can be explained by the fact that people were slow to catch on to the fact that the start of the year had been moved from the end of March to January 1st, and continued to celebrate New Year in April, resulting in the rest of the population calling them April Fools.

Nonetheless the practice of making jokes at the expense of others on April 1st has a wide currency even today in countries as varied as India, Scotland and Italy.

It was, therefore, understandable that I should have been fooled into thinking that recent reports that Easter eggs at Eversheds had fallen fowl (sorry!) of the firm’s equality and diversity policy were part of some seasonal spoof.

If you missed the story, Eversheds’ plans to give staff Easter Eggs had to be put on hold after concerns that the gesture might offend staff who did not celebrate the Christian festival.

Easter this year fell immediately after April 1st and I had assumed that this was a clever example of an April Fool which, if nothing else, provided the law firm with publicity.

Apparently, however, this was not the case and a serious discussion had ensued in the light of a possible objection from those who do not observe what was described as the Christian festival.

This was where I began to get annoyed as I could not see what Easter Eggs had to do with the Christian festival of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. As far as I could recall, eggs were conspicuous by their absence from Pilate’s court and from the road to Golgotha and surely never have been anything to do with the Christian festival.

Easter bunnies, too, are one of the images we are accustomed to seeing at this time of year, but I do not recall reading that anyone had sought to ban them for fear of offending those who follow a different religion. It would be like seeing a call to ban robins sitting on the handle of a fork on Christmas cards for fear that someone somewhere might take exception to them around December 25th.

So I am not sure what to make of the Eversheds story, but I am grateful to the firm’s HR department for starting it all because it led me to read belatedly the interesting report the firm published in March entitled “The Clients’ Revolution”.

Your can download a free copy from Eversheds’ website by filling in their request form.  The report is a 2010 update of a report which first appeared in 2008 and involved 130 General Counsel and 80 partners of law firms who overwhelmingly (78%) endorsed the thought that the recession would have a lasting impact on the legal profession. The research also identified four major factors which are driving change which, in order of importance, are:

  • Globalisation-the move to the East
  • Increasing professionalism and status of General Counsel
  • Technology
  • The Legal Services Act in the UK.

The report is beautifully put together and is worth reading in its entirety but its main conclusion, suggested by the title, is that the recession has provided real impetus to a move which has been apparent for some time now, namely that clients (and by extension General Counsel and other in-house lawyers) have moved to centre stage as the clients and purchasers of legal services.

One of the results of this shift will be the demise of the all powerful hourly billing model and the justifiable inefficiency in the manner of delivering legal services which some firms still continue to operate.

Clients are now more demanding and more knowledgeable about what they want and in litigation judges are more likely to intervene to ensure they get it.

It has been fascinating discussing with a variety of lawyers recently how best to get to grips with huge amounts of data when there is little time or money to employ the traditional methods of printing out reams of paper and setting teams of paralegals and other juniors to trawl through the resulting mountain just to put it in chronological order before starting some form of review of the material.

Fortunately, many law firms are serious about coming to terms with the new technology (and after the recent cases of Earles and particularly Goodale where the new ESI questionnaire is annexed to the judgment) it is just as well that they are.

The IT now available is so much more efficient that any manual process could ever be and, provided the entry price is low, could and should be used in even the smaller cases.

That sounds less like an April Fool to me than worrying about whether you should give Easter eggs to staff. What is more, it sounds like a win-win for clients and law firms to boot!