Take me to your leader

By | 29th September 2010

Even if you are too young to remember the exploits of Dan Dare in the boys’ comic The Eagle which brightened up my week when I was a boy at school arriving, as it did, in a special wrapper for all to see, I suspect that you will be familiar with the name Dan Dare and with his trusty friend and sidekick, Digby. Some of you will also remember other characters from The Eagle such as Harris Tweed the private detective and Captain Pugwash and yet others will have fond memories of other comics such as the Beano with Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and Lord Snooty along with the Bash Street Kids.

But there was one character above all who was really spooky. The Mekon was the green headed evil genius who was planning galactic domination long before the Daleks and the Klingons clashed with Time Lords such as Doctor Who. The Mekon held a special place in the small chamber of my tiny mind which was reserved for horrors. He was always present in person (if that is the right description for an alien being) or in the background and poor old Dan was always looking over his shoulder, metaphorically speaking, to see what the Mekon and his devilish accomplices were up to and where they were up to it. And of course Dan and Digby had to sort it out which they inevitably did!

I am regularly asked by lawyers and others to whom they should turn when they have an e-disclosure issue or anticipate that one will hit them between the eyes in the very near future. The answer is not as easy as you would think.

There is no central register of organisations which can help with e-disclosure. In fact the industry is not regulated in any way. There is no leader to whom an alien can be directed. Worse still, if you try and find e-disclosure providers on the internet you are very likely to find 30 million hits! In fact there are probably only about 50 or 60 companies in the field but you would not know that by relying on Google.

Equally, because there is no central register there is no central body to prescribe basic rules of competence or experience. It is not like the Law Society or the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority. There is no one to turn to for industry advice or to whom you can make a complaint where necessary. All those providing e-disclosure provide services which are broadly similar but the pricing tends to be opaque and one company does not price in the same way as the next so the poor lawyer seeking help and guidance is often faced with a bewildering array of guff and cannot know whether he/ she is getting good value or not. Apples may or may not be apples and could easily be, and often are, pears!

Now I am not normally one for regulators and recent articles in the press about the bonfire of quangos and even quangos supervising quangos have brought warmth to the cockles of my heart. However, regulation would bring certainty where there is confusion, would provide somewhere where lawyers could check the marketplace and even set some rules by which providers might operate much in the same way as other professional organisations do and could also provide some sense on pricing.

I wonder how many people have heard of UNOOSA or indeed Mazian Othman? Today’s world is full of wars, crises and uncertainties and from time to time the United Nations becomes involved. However, I did not know that they had set up their own Office for Outer Space Affairs (hence UNOOSA) nor that a Malaysian astrophysicist called Mazian Othman had been appointed to be its leader. You may not think I am being serious but an article appeared in the Sunday Times of September 26th written by Jonathan Leake who is described as their science editor in which this momentous information appeared. Apparently the UN is concerned about the possibility that there could be an alien invasion and that there is no obvious person who can be described as the Earth Leader should the little green men ask to be taken to see them. They have discounted the Pope and President Obama and Prime Minister Putin and as no one could remember the names or identities of the people said to run the European Union they decided that Mazian Othman was the right person to be designated as the leader to whom the alien task force should be referred.

Personally I find this rather odd as I had never heard of Mazian Othman and indeed the article referred to her as an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist, but they might just as well have designated Banki Moon or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela or even the man with the 1200 titles, the revered leader of North Korea. I cannot believe any of them would do any worse. In fact had it been April 1st I would have presumed that this was all an April Fool. I had assumed that because the science editor had written almost a page about Mazian Othman, it was true!

Still, I suppose it answers that important question, “Who is my leader?” and when faced with a grim faced Mekon it might be important to know the answer to that one and now I know. (Sadly, it seems to be a story which originated entirely in the Twittersphere and you now have both me and the Sunday Times to blame for passing it on!)

But for lawyers in need of impartial advice on e-disclosure the wait goes on. The best I have been able to come up with is advice I gave some months ago in this blog when I suggested that the way forward was to get to know two or three providers as soon as possible. Have them in to your offices, ask them questions, get them to tell you about their experience, get them to talk to you about how they would deal with specific problems and don’t let them blind you with science. Get them to process some material with which you are familiar so that when you see the software in action the results actually mean something to you. After all, you will all have seen the inevitable demo data dealing with the Enron disaster but if you were not involved in that how can you possibly tell whether the software is doing anything useful or not?

If you have done that, then when you have a problem you will know which provider you liked best or if time permits you can get two or three firms you know and like to quote on a comparable basis and can then choose the best one for the particular circumstances.

You will then know the identity of the person who is the leader and will not have to rely on Mazian Othman or anyone else who says they know what they are doing. Does that not make sense? After all, Eagle readers knew to whom to turn when the Mekon came to call and that was because Dan was tried and tested in advance!