The Story Behind the Stories

The stories on this website are the work-product of oral interviews I conducted between March 2014 and June 2016.

The principal way that I identified candidates to tell their stories was to scour the website Legal Futures.[1] This website is a treasure trove of information especially (but by no means only) with respect to alternative structures in England and Wales. In particular, this is the go-to website for information about newly licensed ABSs — in searching the archives as well as the current pages of this site, it was possible for me to identify not only the ABSs that merited attention, but also the best person with those ABSs for me to contact for an interview. Once I identified a candidate, my next step was to search for that person’s contact information. In most cases a simple and quick Google search sufficed to produce an email address, but in a few cases lengthier and more in-depth Google sleuthing was required.

The other way I was able to identify as well as access candidates was through personal introductions. In this context, I am indebted to a number of persons for making those introductions, and most notably to Neil Rose (the Editor of Legal Futures), John Chisholm, Mitch Kowalski, Colin Lachance, Lisa Webley, and Paddy Oliver.

I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get when I reached out to request an interview. Would they agree to speak with me? Would they even respond to me? How long would it take to receive a response? At the beginning, some (but not many) of the people I contacted did not respond to me. In retrospect, I think this was because they were not the people I needed, and they recognized that faster than I did. In time I got better at identifying the people I needed, and as I did, nearly everyone I contacted not only responded to me, but also responded relatively quickly, and expressed little hesitation in agreeing to speak with me.

I conducted the interviews either by phone or skype, with one exception (Sir David Clementi, with whom I met in person). Most interviews lasted about one hour. A small number were shorter — about 30 minutes — and some were much longer — up to two hours, with some of those taking place over more than one call. When I conducted the first interviews in early 2014, I had no idea what I was doing: I wasn’t sure what questions to ask, I wasn’t sure in what order to ask them, and I wasn’t adept at formulating follow-up questions. After the first few interviews, I got the hang of it. The interviews became semi-structured, with the support of a topic guide.

More specifically, I developed a core set of questions. Before each interview, I studied the publicly available information about the organization and the interviewee, and tailored the core set of questions to reflect the specificities of both. As I listened to each interviewee, I got into the habit of noting follow-up questions and I got better at identifying the right moments to ask them. Because I was never sure that I asked all the right questions, my last question became “What should I have asked, but didn’t?” Often it was this question that elicited the most interesting comments.

In most instances, the interviews were recorded with the permission of the interviewee, and I also took handwritten notes as needed. After each interview, I prepared a write-up. I quickly recognized that a simple transcript of the interview wouldn’t work: hearing the spoken word is one thing — reading the spoken word is something entirely different. Run-on sentences, sentence fragments and the repetition of words and ideas are tolerated and even expected in speech, but not in writing. So, what I did was take the words and ideas that the interviewee expressed orally, and organized them on paper (or, more precisely, on a screen) in way that they could be easily accessed by a reader rather than a listener. Because I wanted the focus of the reader to be on the interviewee and not on the interviewer (me), I excluded from the write-up the questions that I posed and any other limited commentary I occasionally made during the interviews. An unfortunate by-product of this is that sometimes in reading the stories, the transitions can be abrupt.

I sent each write-up back to the interviewee. In doing so, I invited him/her to make comments and corrections. At first, I wasn’t sure how “warmly” I should extend this invitation. Naturally I wanted any factual errors to be corrected. More than that, I wanted the interviewee to be comfortable with the write-up. At the same time, however, I didn’t want the write-up to be transformed into something that no longer reflected the interview, and I especially didn’t want changes that would transform the write-up from an interview to advertising. In progressing with the first few write-ups, I discovered that those fears were mostly unfounded — most interviewees made very few if any substantive changes. And when substantive changes were made, in most cases I felt that they improved the write-up. So, after those first few write-ups, I became comfortable extending what I intended to be a warm invitation to make comments and corrections, saying “please don’t feel wedded to what I have typed” and “it is important that you are comfortable.” And when I received a write-up back, usually in the form of a mark-up, I did not question or quibble with the changes — instead, in nearly all cases I accepted all of them, and then went back through the revised document simply to correct any spelling or grammatical errors.

As noted above, the interviews were conducted between March 2014 and June 2016. In August 2015 I contacted everyone I had interviewed up to that time, and I invited them to work with me to update their write-ups — most of them did so, if not immediately, then over the course of the following months.

[1] http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/.

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