It is a pleasure to welcome you to this year’s Middle Templar.  It is also a great surprise: having stepped down as Under Treasurer in July 2020, I thought I had written my last Foreword. But, if we have learnt anything in the last two years, it is that we never know what lies around the corner.  All I can say is that I am hugely grateful to have this opportunity and it is a true pleasure to be back.

I remember my last day in the office before we closed. It was mid-March 2020. The pandemic had been accelerating at a terrifying pace. I came to work on the Monday morning, expecting to remain in the office for the foreseeable future. By Wednesday evening, it was clear we were going to have to lockdown, and on Thursday we all left. I remember walking out of the Ashley Building that day with Colin Davidson. We said goodbye, assuming we would see each other in a couple of weeks or so. That turned out to be my last day in the office. After working at home for the next three months, I stepped down in early July 2020.

Sadly, my very last day at the Inn was something of a damp squib, as the Inn was in full lockdown. However, any disappointment was more than erased by the great pride in being elected an Honorary Bencher of the Inn. Having returned as UT now, I find myself in the unusual position of also being a Bencher: I have not checked with my colleagues in our Archive team, but I wonder if this may be a first for the Middle Temple?

Following my (first!) retirement from the Middle Temple, I had planned to dedicate myself to the charities with which I am involved, principally in the arts and cultural sectors, but no one could have anticipated the level of commitment needed once the full impact of the pandemic began to be felt.  For many charities, the consequences of the pandemic have been catastrophic. Fortunately, the organisations with which I am involved were able to steer a course through these challenges. My charities are involved in the performing arts and museum sectors. Sadly, audiences and visitor numbers are still well below the pre-Covid-19 levels, so it is too early to say that the worst of the pandemic is over. Much activity has been transferred online, and very successfully. But while we have seen tremendous progress in technology over the last couple of years, these wonderful experiences are best enjoyed in person, rather than on the screen.

Returning to my former role as UT has been a slightly strange (but very enjoyable!) experience. I have found much to be as it was when I stepped down two years ago: not so surprising, given the nature of our institution. The estate is as immaculate as ever, and it is of course a joy to work again in such a beautiful area of London. It is also a real pleasure to work again with many of my former colleagues: they are an exceptional team, and I pay tribute to the way they have kept the Inn running smoothly through these truly difficult past few years. But one aspect that has changed very significantly, is how few people there are around the Inn, and indeed around the Temple estate generally, compared to a couple of years ago. Many members of this Inn, and the other Inns, can carry out their work from home. In truth, this is not a new phenomenon: it was already apparent well before Covid that barristers’ working habits were changing. Technological advances and the availability of online resources has meant that barristers can conduct a great deal of their work remotely. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of this change significantly. The consequences of this shift in working practices for the Middle Temple and the other Inns is potentially very significant.  There is a very real challenge now to the Inn, and we must rise to this and adapt. If we are to remain useful and relevant to our members, we need to understand their changing needs, and provide services and resources which support them and are appreciated by them. Given the phenomenal brain power on which we can draw, I have no doubt that we will rise to this challenge. We are now beginning to prepare our next multi-year strategic plan, which will determine the direction of travel for the Inn over the coming years. Coming off the back of the pandemic and the changes this has brought with it, I think this is going to be a very important exercise indeed. 

Another consequence of the pandemic is the speed and effectiveness with which we have migrated many activities online over the last couple of years, and I have been particularly impressed by the way our education and membership services have achieved this. As a result, we have been very successful in extending our engagement with many of our members based outside of London. The pandemic has forced us to think differently about what we do, and how we do it, and some of these lessons will stay with us as we move forward. 

In this edition of the magazine, you will find the usual varied and interesting assortment of articles, ranging from contributions from our Archive team, to experiences from students learning as we exit the grips of Covid-19, and updates from our societies around the globe. The variety of contributions reflects the varied and fascinating nature of the Middle Temple community, which is of course one of the real strengths of this great institution. We are working hard to widen that community further and ensure it is more diverse and reflective of our society. Only time will tell if this is my last Foreword, or if I will be writing to you again next year.  Whatever the case, I thank you for your support of our Inn, and encourage you to come along to Domus  and use its facilities and services, to ensure it remains the dynamic and vibrant community it has always been. Happy reading!