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Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Reflecting on 25 years as a litigator!

Today, I am celebrating 25 years at EAD.

I joined on 1st November 1991 following the take-over of his previous firm Ashby Cornforth & Co.

So this has got me thinking how things have changed.

Some developments have certainly been a good thing. Growing a moustache for charity rather than fashion must be positive!

In those days you had a telephone with a dial. It was attached to the wall and you were lucky to speak to a client directly unless you called after work. There were a few very early mobile phones around but you needed a trolley to carry them and they could certainly have been a murder weapon on Cluedo. 

There was a relatively new thing called a fax which some modern thinking lawyers were starting to use. 

If you needed to go to court you had to get in the car and drive there, unless you were close enough to walk. There was no such thing as a telephone hearing or any other sort of conference call for that matter. Neither was there any such thing as a costs budget, case management or Mitchell. In fact Directions were relatively sparse and the first you saw of your opponents’ evidence was when you turned up at court. The thought of experts actually having a discussion was a thing or horror.
Today you can handle a litigation caseload and hardly ever leave your desk. This makes the practice of law quicker but less sociable. You heard the gossip while waiting for your hearing; a sort of live Twitter!

One thing we did take for granted was Access to Justice. There was something called a Green Form – largely due to it being a form that was green. This entitled a person of limited means to half an hour’s advice on any matter of law! You could give helpful initial advice and then extend the limit to take things further or obtain an expert report. Back then, I did hundreds of disrepair claims against local authorities. You could use the Green Form to get a surveyor’s report and then apply for full legal aid. 

Legal aid? Remember that? Who would have thought that Access to Justice would become a waste land?

Many accident claims were run on spec. It was a sort of unofficial conditional fee arrangement where you only got paid if you won. Politicians later realised that this could become the norm and the only way to represent victims of accidents. A Labour government removed legal aid for these cases. They created a world where we had no work on this basis and then attacked us for being ‘no win no fee lawyers’. 

It is also worth noting that relationships between lawyers and insurers were very different. We regularly spoke to each other. Every few weeks I would be visited by someone from the Municipal Mutual, Guardian Royal Exchange, Iron Trades or Sun Alliance. Over coffee and much conversation about football we would settle ten or more cases. Nobody has heard of the ABI!

So much has changed. Some for the better some for the worse. Litigation is faster, smoother and far more expensive.

Access to Justice is an endangered species and I hope that it still exists in 25 years time…

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