Out of kilter

By | 24th February 2011

Have you noticed how Network Rail persists in the use of the unfashionable word “alight” when talking to its “customers” ( I always think of myself as a passenger) about getting off a train? Have they got a secret supply of 1920s signs or tapes recorded in a different era which they continue to use despite the fact that no one I know has ever used the word “alight” in common parlance?

Strange isn’t it? It must be something to do with the railways because another instance of what you might call inappropriate use of the English language also occurs on the railways, specifically at King’s Cross Station and for all I know at other stations around the network. You have only got to have a hint of mist or rain or faintly damp conditions resulting in platforms and concourses being ever so slightly less dry than normal ( I cannot understand why they don’t just mend the roof) and the ‘Elf and Safety Brigade are talking about “today’s inclement weather.”

Inclement is a perfectly good word just like alight but neither word forms part of the lexicon of most people today. Why not just say “today’s bad/wet weather” or abandon the stupid announcement altogether or at the very least stop repeating it every 2 to 3 minutes?

I wonder how many of you come across or use the word “kilter” other than in the context of something being out of kilter? Kilter is the name of a theatre in Bath and there is a Scottish luggage and leather goods company of the same name. In fact if you are looking for a Sporran Wallet they are your people! But kilter apparently means in working order or a state of orderliness or even a condition of regular and proper arrangement! I have no idea of its derivation.

Which is why my eye was drawn to a piece by Edward Fennell of The Times (February 17th 2011 in the Legal Section) headed “Off kilter.” Out of kilter, yes, but off kilter is a new one on me, so I had to read the piece. It concerned Addleshaw Goddard’s announcement that they have set up a Transaction Services Team to “carry out the tasks that are found in major assignments but that do not necessarily need to be done by qualified lawyers.”

As a company which has for some months now offered “smart insourcing” of review work to our team of interns [see for example,  “All in a days work… “, 25th Jan, 2011] I was amused to see that Addleshaws claim their team to be “the only operation of its kind running in any UK law firm.”

They are, of course, referring to transactional work and I assume not to litigation but, as Mr Fennell points out, it is always dangerous to claim anything as unique. He goes on to argue that this is an admission that the profession should have been doing this sort of thing years ago and that in the meantime it has been charging clients for a “cost inflated” service.

I have no comment on that (well I have, but not now!) but I am interested in the move being made by Addleshaws which seems to me to be all of a piece with the announcements by the likes of Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith who have recently set up offices in Belfast where reports suggest the staff are being paid much lower salaries than in London (nothing surprising in that) to carry out tasks including document review. Others have gone down the LPO route and have engaged the services of outsourcing companies in places like India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and South Africa.

What is clear to me is that NOT to consider some form of change to methods of working is likely to be “off” or “out of” kilter with the mood of clients concerned about legal fees and the attitude of the courts where the judges are beginning to take a keen interest in the methods adopted by lawyers to deal with document review and the amount they seek to charge for doing so and the time they take to complete the process. To give this idea some thought will very much be in kilter!

Continuing the theme of being in kilter, I see that the Chancery Division, Commercial Court and Technology and Construction Court will all move into the refurbished Rolls Building in October 2011. My guess is that practitioners and judges alike will welcome this move to modern premises with the better facilities promised. But the real benefit will be in the efficiency of the courts themselves. Writing recently in Legal Week [“All rolled together – two affected parties on life in court at the new Rolls Building” – 15th Feb, 2011, subscription required !] both Mr Justice Briggs and Malcolm Davis Wright QC appear convinced that bringing the various judicial bodies together “will help do away with unnecessary differences while highlighting useful ones.”

An example given is the cross ticketing of judges where a judge from one division hears a case from a different division leading to greater efficiency and a better judiciary. In addition the amalgamation will lead to the largest specialist centre for business and property litigation in the world and should attract international litigation to London.

All will be “in kilter” particularly if the thrust of the report by Rupert Jackson is followed and accepted. Legal services providers such as Millnet have a role to play here too by educating lawyers to understand what is out there. What is now possible using technology is better, quicker, cheaper and more reliable than ever before and the quicker the profession embraces these changes the better for all concerned: clients, lawyers, judges, and of course the providers themselves.

Who is anti “kilter” now?