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The Smoking Gun

The client

A global law firm

The client’s goals

The law firm’s client was being prosecuted for events which had happened many years prior. The law firm sought archive data to evaluate the veracity of these claims.


Key challenges

The main challenge was simple but substantial: neither the law firm nor their client knew how to obtain suitable archive data. Indeed, both law firm and client suffered from critical, if not total, memory decay. Mergers and acquisitions played an important role, the case history involving a complex matrix of companies bought and sold over decades. While staff turnover had not been unusually high at the client firm, staff turnover at the law firm (our client) was comparatively high, our project contact changing twice over the course of the project. Moreover, our client’s researchers focused on desk-based methods which had been unable to rise to this particular challenge.


The scarcity of reliable archive data had already flummoxed the research teams of both our client and theirs, and soon became the primary challenge we had to clarify and solve. Our main contribution was in efficiently and effectively navigating the data landscape to discreetly locate suitable material. Data included state, private sector and industrial regulator collections, police records, and activist materials. All were obtained from publicly-accessible repositories, important in a project in which transparent data provenance was of vital importance (e.g. see here).

How we responded

Requiring flexibility and readiness on our part, this project was conducted in two distinct stages. First, an initial Project Hindsight proposal including sensible timeframe and costing. This allowed our client to integrate our planned work into their case preparation. Second, when the project was approved, we executed it within a very short timeframe. Given the high turnover of our client’s staff, Project Hindsight also acted as a stable core for this project, without which it may have fallen into abeyance (to the detriment of the case).


We discovered that the law firm’s client was very probably responsible for the incident in question. This allowed the law firm to prepare more robustly for the upcoming case.

Outcomes and impact

Our primary output was a definitive report which even included historical photographs of many of the personnel involved. Related, it was striking how much archive data we managed to acquire beyond the law firm’s initial desk-based research. Realising that the challenges in question perhaps spanned many large organisations and even entire sectors, this project in turn led to the foundation of Project Hindsight and its concept of ‘Memory Decay’. The project also emphasised to us the importance of readiness and adaptability in our service provision.

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