Post office inquiry: HSF admits using law grads in major disclosure task

Avatar photo

By Legal Cheek on


Hearing postponed after thousands of documents not disclosed

A leading City law firm has revealed that a major disclosure exercise relating to the Post Office Inquiry was largely carried out by law graduates with little to no professional qualifications.

Gregg Rowan, a partner in the London office of Herbert Smith Freehills, told the inquiry yesterday that the first stage of the Post Office’s document review process was undertaken by the firm’s legal services (ALS) teams, which are largely staffed by law grads based in Belfast, Australia and Johannesburg.

The inquiry, headed up by retired judge Sir Wyn Williams, comes after hundreds of sub-post masters were falsely accused of theft and false accounting between 2000 and 2014, after the Post Office’s flawed IT system made it appear that there were major financial shortfalls.

The subsequent inquiry has seen the Post Office establish compensation schemes for those affected.

The 2024 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Although it’s not uncommon for big firms to draft in grads to sift through large files of documents, this particular disclosure exercise ran into problems in July after it emerged that thousands of documents which were relevant to the case may not have been presented. This led to the initial hearing being postponed.

HSF was the Post Office’s legal advisers but has now been replaced by Burges Salmon and Fieldfisher.

Rowan told the inquiry that HSF had reviewed more than 900,000 electronic documents on the Post Office database and that law graduates were briefed on the nature of the relevant disclosure request, The Law Society Gazette reports. Second and third level checks were also carried out by more senior members of the firm.

But inquiry counsel Jason Beer KC suggested that there was no way of knowing whether relevant documentation had been missed by graduates in this first stage of document review.

Rowan said it was a “thoughtful and careful exercise” and that the firm had “sought to engage extensively” with the Post Office about its disclosure task, according to the report, although this did not necessarily extend to what specific search terms should be used.

HSF declined to comment.



Blown a bit out of proportion, really – trainees are basically just new grads anyway. It’s not like disclosure was going to be ran by the partners personally.


Just like how basically every other first level review is completed?


What qualifications do you need to do a paper-sift?


why is this article phrased like it’s a shocking discovery and not industry practice?


Duty to the Court and Professional obligations springs to mind and hourly charge out rates


Post Office knew this when they signed for HSF’s services.

PO is owned by the Department of Business & Trade – so we can assume there was some governmental oversight and sanction for how disclosure to the inquiry would operate.

In short: the government agreed to an industry standard practice, then needed to go through their own inquiry to realise what they had already agreed to?!

I appreciate the government isn’t a monolith, but my god you’d expect there to be some transparency.


I’m going to be the voice of dissent here. They should not have used law students, especially at the level 1 review. Also, “lots of firms do this” is not an argument, but an observation, and one which does not support the notion that it’s perfectly fine to use law students for such a rigorous, lengthy exercise where there is much scope, but little margin, for error.

Many trainees have paralegal experience and, hungry to impress, are more likely to do a better job than a bunch of green grads mostly interested in filling in their CVs and obtaining a paycheck.

There are other factors too, although my comment is now bordering on TLDR.


Read the article again – they’re not law students, they’re law grads, which is itself slightly misleading as HSF were in fact using paralegals (their job title in their ALT department is “Legal Analyst”). These paralegals are more than capable of completing a simple first level doc review.

Also, what about the above facts suggests to you that they’re not “hungry to impress”? The fact you’re also insulting them by saying they’re more interested in filling their CVs and obtaining a paycheck only speaks to your judgmental mindset, not their motivations or competency.


There were 900,000 documents. How many trainees do you think it would take to get through that exercise? And do you think the Post Office would have paid trainee rates? HSF’s Legal Analyst rates are about half those of first seat trainees.

The issue isn’t how 1LR was conducted – it seems more about how the matter was managed at a London level.


Why did this need humans for that level of sifting anyway? AI can handle that stage better.


Started my career 10 years ago in that Belfast office. Unfair amount of heat on them. Massive disclosure exercises require a risk based approach with junior members of teams doing the first stage review.


I don’t see the problem. It is not as if the case involves allegations or concerns about a massive cover up.

Join the conversation

Related Stories

HSF records 93% trainee retention score

27 out of 29 NQs stay on

Sep 4 2023 8:27am

Made in Chelsea star secures training contract with HSF

'Who said those on reality television can’t become lawyers?'

Aug 18 2023 8:54am

HSF becomes first City law firm to sign up to ‘living pension’

New initiative aims to bolster post-retirement finances

Mar 22 2023 1:20pm