Musing as I’m cruising – the witterings of a Vice Chair – August 2018

Musing as I’m cruising - the witterings of a Vice Chair - August 2018Musing as I’m cruising - the witterings of a Vice Chair - August 2018Paul Nicholls takes a cruise which leads him down memory lane

I am sitting on board the ‘Aurora’, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, journeying back to Southampton. Two days at sea on the return from Lisbon has given me that rare commodity; spare time, and pause for thought.

The shows on board have all been a trip down memory lane – hits from the swinging sixties, through to Glenn Miller, and for the younger ones – hits from the eighties.

It’s not until you stop and take a breath, that you realise some of the eighties tunes are nearly forty years old, and that times change a little more quickly than you dare imagine. It would be a bizarre sight for me to enter a court room with my head shaved one side, long the other, donning black mascara, and a chef shirt. It’s only when you look back, you realise how different times were.

I started life in law, straight from school in 1984, and remember being amazed to the colour photocopiers, and the fax machine – I couldn’t quite understand how words could travel down a telephone line. Later I couldn’t believe how convenient email must be – and how that could surely change things for the better. How wrong I was.

When I stop and remember the ‘good old days’, I do think they were actually better, and certainly more beneficial to the legal profession. I’m concerned that we’re in a time of deep austerity, and despite ancient writings that law would never be sold, wonder how and why on earth a third of the court buildings have been decommissioned and many sold. I suppose you can get the Magna Carta on your Kindle now, perish the thought.

I started my job as a ‘Trainee Legal Executive’ with Thompsons back in the eighties with four books: The White Book, The Green Book, The Factories Act 1961, and a collection of writings by W.H. Thompson, father of Robin and Brian, on Civil Liberties.

Those four books have long gone and been replaced by numerous schemes, publications, and protocols from those who thought they knew better. The Clementi and Woolf reviews seem but distant memories behind The Jackson review.

We’ve had the ‘new-fangled’ Compensation Recovery Unit’, an increase in the small claims limit from £500 to £10,000 with P.I, housing and other exceptions limited to £1,000, Automatic strike out that came and went with Order 17 r11, and numerous other wide-scale changes that banished my White and Green Books with the CPR. I remember sitting in a litigation meeting with loose leaf folders in the late nineties and told that the law was changing … tomorrow … but that the rules hadn’t been completely changed, so more loose leaf pages would come in. And didn’t they just?

I recall one of my first court appointments under the CPR – me, counsel, and the Judge, all having the CPR now in book form – my version was brown, Counsel’s was white, and the Judge’s green. It was an unmitigated disaster with the promise of better things to come.

But those great things haven’t come, or if they have, I appear to have missed them. We’re presently in the middle of the Civil Liability Bill and a hop skip and jump away from online courts – another, apparently, great new idea, that has most of the profession groaning.

But, as ever, the lawyers soldier on and find a way. Rubbing shoulders with like-minded professionals help you find that way – and, as Vice Chair of MASS for the last two years to the very capable Simon Stanfield about to come to an end, I’m hoping that I’ll be writing a similar piece to this in another thirty odd years, smiling about how we coped with the changes, and rolled our eyes collectively at the next great idea…


Paul Nicholls, author of ‘Musing as I’m cruising – the witterings of a Vice Chair – August 2018’ is Senior Partner at Nicholls Brimble Bhol in Birmingham. He is also an Accredited Commercial Mediator, and a non-practicing Barrister with call at Lincoln’s Inn – and MASS Vice Chair.

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