Squid & cream

By | 2nd September 2010

With summer coming to an end (although the recent weather over the Bank Holiday suggests this has already happened) we can look forward with keen anticipation to what the autumn and the first half of 2011 will bring.

Incidentally, why do we all still have to suffer bank holidays? Given to bank workers in the late 19th century who did not have proper holidays, they are an outmoded concept where the state allows you to have a holiday on a given Monday when the weather is “guaranteed” to be poor and everyone else is on holiday so you cannot get anything done. Note to Coalition: Abolish bank holidays (except Christmas and Easter as these are religious festivals) and allow everyone an additional number of days of statutory holidays to be taken when we want and not just because it is ghastly Wilsonian May Day or August 31st!

Politics aside (and I am not going to talk about Florence Rose Endellion or “Uncle” Nick, still less the effects of the June Budget or the forthcoming Spending Review) the next few months in the legal and technology world seem likely to be dominated by:

  • Strong competition between law firms for juicy big ticket litigation.
  • The introduction in October of the new Practice Direction 31B and the formal passing into the rules of the Electronic Documents Questionnaire.  (A commentary will appear shortly in the resources section opposite).
  • Ongoing debate about LPOs.
  • The emergence of the Third Party Litigation Funders as mainstream providers of funds for litigation (always assuming there are willing investors brave enough to provide the funds in the first place).
  • Continuing downward pressure on law firm costs exerted by clients and general counsel. In turn this will lead to increased pressure on profit margins as much of the low hanging fruit has already been plucked by the managing partners and CEOs of firms keen to reduce costs as demonstrated by the recent reported profits surge across many of the larger firms. It will not be so easy next time round and the firms who succeed will be those which are prepared to offer fresh and innovative solutions to old problems.
  • The increasing use of technology in Early Case Assessment, Document Review, Disclosure, etc
  • Further rationalisation of the technology vendor market: economic pressures and the ability to keep up with the changes in technology will take their toll.

I predict that we will see all of the above soon even if the timescale I have suggested turns out to be more elastic.

We are all in for a bumpy ride. Squid and Cream anyone?

A recent report in The Times from Japan noted that an electrical engineer is out to change the culinary world as we know it. I cannot provide a link as that newspaper has decided to cut itself off from the reading public who are encouraged to pay for what was previously free and Google has therefore taken down the links! So that we can share the phenomenon, I can tell you that, armed with a gadget the size of a large marker pen, Professor Kiyoshi Toko of the University of Kynshu prepares combinations of food, for instance carefully mixing soy sauce with crème caramel to create the exact taste of sea urchin. It is all about electrical impulses sent to the brain by the taste receptors in the mouth when they come into contact with food and drink. The implications, according to Professor Toko, are huge. (Implications are always huge! Has anyone come across “tiny” implications)?

A prod with the gadget (a sort of sensor) which can replicate the minute electrical differentials as food hits taste buds could immediately establish provenance and quality. No pun intended, but in essence, the good Professor is trying to make taste objective. And squid and cream? Apparently it tastes like strawberry shortcake!

The point of all this is our old friend innovation coupled with a dash of experimentation on the side. Sadly it does not always work out as I am sure the guinea pigs at Kynshu University will readily testify. Some things just do not change for the better. I was sad to learn that the ancient post of Judge Advocate General of the Fleet had been abolished as long ago as 2004. Established in 1663, the post was held by a civilian judge responsible for the supervision of the Royal Navy’s court martial system. The 28th and last holder was Commander His Honour Judge John Sessions who died in June this year and the duties he discharged have now been subsumed into those of the Judge Advocate General who deals with the Army and the RAF as well no doubt with a phalanx of officials at the MOD. I have bemoaned the passing of the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the arrival of the Ministry of Justice before and time will tell whether these changes are an improvement or not.

However, innovation and experimentation are vital to law firms and particularly in the area of litigation. Examples include:

  • Litigation Funding, where to next?
  • LPOs, the debate continues!
  • New technology, because technology always changes. Ask Professor Toko!

I will return to each of these at a later date as I believe we will hear more about them all in the coming months.

In the meantime, and as a taster (since we are experimenting with food) I was interested to read the article by Gabe Acevedo, an attorney in Washington DC, writing in Above the Law, which contemplates the growing use of technology and the social media as a possible counter to the rise and rise of LPO:  Could Technology Turn The Tide Against Legal Outsourcing Overseas?, Above the Law, 12th August, 2010.