The moral of the tale

By | 16th November 2011

Did you know that India has over 600,000 lawyers? The profession in India is said to be the second largest in the world. No prizes for guessing that the US has the largest number of lawyers at a truly staggering 1,143,358 registered and active lawyers in 2007. I have been unable to find a more up to date figure presumably because there is some embarrassment about publishing the statistics.

Even the UK has 150,000 lawyers. I find it hard to believe that we in this country have so many. We have 25% of the number of lawyers in India, a country with a population which is 20 times larger than our own. The truly amazing figures continue. Whereas there are approximately 8-10,000 law graduates coming into the profession in England and Wales each year and about 30,000 in the US, the figure for India is over 60,000, every year!

No wonder there is a shortage of training contracts!

I am not sure that there is any particular moral to be extracted from the figures but in thinking about morals in general I remembered the vivid stories with a definite moral message apparently written by a Greek slave called Aesop and known to all as Aesop’s Fables. 

Actually, there is considerable doubt whether Aesop was a Greek as some people think his name is a corruption of the Greek word for Ethiopia!

Wherever he came from, most people today are familiar with the stories of the tortoise and the hare, the boy who cried wolf or the ant and the grasshopper but what I find fascinating is that the stories were not in fact written down until some centuries after Aesop’s presumed death around 600 BC. In much the same way, the writings of Buddha, who lived at roughly the same time, were not written down at the time so there is no way of knowing who influenced whom or whose writings came first!

Which brings me to a delightful report in Science Daily Scanner Spies Document Secrets (brought to my attention by the Oxford Alumni email service) about a portable multi spectral scanner recently developed at the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Classics. The scanner was developed for imaging ancient papyri and the technology has been used successfully to scan, restore and archive over a quarter of a million historically significant manuscripts. Lawyers are occasionally asked to retrieve and examine documents which are old (not to say ancient) and in poor condition. I recall an instance where we had to spend weeks in one of the republics of the former Soviet Union engaged in scanning and coding old documents and mud stained drawings in relation to a large construction project where a dispute had arisen. It is truly staggering how many cups of coffee (I have no information about the vodka, possibly because it leaves little or no mark) come to be spilled over vital drawings during the course of a normal construction project.

As there are so many new entrants into the legal profession around the world, many of whom just will not get training contracts or ultimately jobs as qualified lawyers, there may be mileage in at least a few of them applying to universities for research posts or software companies for development jobs with the aim of finding a tool to overcome the problem of the “damaged” electronic document.

Is the Oxford scanner the next weapon in the litigator’s armoury? Probably not, although optimism has been expressed by Paul Westwood, MD of Forensic Document Services in Asia that the scanner could be used to analyse “crime scene samples such as countered and altered documents as well as documents bearing erased or faded entries and signatures.”

Will such innovations provide employment opportunities for a potential 26 million lawyers in the world (if the lawyer to general population ratio were to become like that of the US )?  We will have to wait and see!