Society for Computers and Law Annual Conference
Internet, Intranets and Law' 97
Day 2, London 14th March 1997
This is a Conference Report published on 30 June 1997.
Citation: Kirkland E, 'Society for Computers and Law Annual Conference: Internet, Intranets and Law' 97 - Day 2', Conference Report, 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/confs/97_2scl/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_2/kirkland/>
Internet, Intranets and Law' 97 - Day 2
The second day of the Society for Computers and Law Annual Conference began with barrister Laurie West-Knights outlining the bleak position with regard to availability of primary source materials on the Internet in the UK. Although House of Lords reports are available within four hours of the decision and 1996 statutes and SI's with effect from 1997 are available on the HMSO site, these are not being updated and there are no cross links for example to subsequent commencement orders. Mr West-Knights referred delegates to the SCL executive's response to the government's Green Paper (available in the February/March 1997 issue of Computers & Law) which urges the government to follow the Australian precedent and make available via the medium of the Internet the whole body of UK law, fully cross referenced and noted up. Whilst appreciating that changes for example in the way that UK courts operate will be required, these are not seen as insurmountable. The SCL's aim is that the whole body of UK law should be available free of charge, fully searchable and hyperlinked and claims to crown and parliamentary copyright should be given up in relation to primary source materials. This position has been the subject of some debate recently. (see Computers & Law April/May 1997 pp 36-37). The SCL undertook to continue to lobby the government to open up availability to materials.
The fragmented and almost secretive approach in the UK was indirectly highlighted by Andrew Mowbray and Geoffrey King who demonstrated the Australian model AustLII. They explained how AustLII began as a university operation with the aim of promoting free and widespread access to the law. From humble beginnings, there are now 14 million hypertext links and almost ½ million pages of HTML. AustLII has pursued its objectives by lobbying courts and other public bodies to move away from paper based information and to produce information in standardised computerised form without restrictions on the use or resale of materials. AustLII also acts as host for several home pages of courts and tribunals including the Federal Court of Australia and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. Most delegates were amazed by the scale of what AustLII has achieved in the past two years and in particular the powerful search engines and customised note-up with allow complicated searches to be carried out within minutes. Having come so far AustLII is now campaigning for courts and tribunals to move away from paper based citations and use citations which are independent of any particular publisher or method of publication. One of the interesting issued raised by AustLII and the resultant wider availability of public access to court decisions is the question of personal privacy. AustLII provision of decisions of the family court of Australia was cleared by the attorney general and the cases restored to the database following complaints that the personal privacy of those whose cases were made available was being infringed. AustLII does not view itself as having a censorship role and believes that it is up to the relevant court or tribunal to deal sensitively with the materials which are made available to AustLII. AustLII also blocks certain searches which potentially could have personal privacy implications.
Delegates were extremely impressed by the sheer power of AustLII and its implications for the UK and resolved to increase pressure on the UK government to follow the AustLII model without delay.
Following coffee, Stephen Vincent of Go Interactive demonstrated the new look SCL home page <http://www.scl.org> which includes improved graphics and the ability to book conference places online.
This presentation was followed by Doctor Andrew Taylor Brown, director of information technology at Linklaters and Paines, who demonstrated how Linklaters has harnessed the commercial opportunities presented by Internet technology and has developed a highly specialised product (Blue Flag) which selected clients can access on payment of a substantial fee. Although the project has been successful and is likely to be repeated by Linklaters, many of the delegates expressed the view that although such a project was all very well for a firm with the resources available to Linklaters it was not really a feasible way forward for them to make money giving the hugh expenditure both financial and in terms of deployment of personnel which Linklaters had to make to make the project successful and deliver it on time.
Martin Telfer, IT director at Masons, next demonstrated Masons' approach to allowing client access to certain information via@ the Internet. Masons took the three most commonly asked questions (who is working on my matters? how much is on the clock? and haven't we asked you this before?) and allow clients to access their system to find the answers. Some of the legal delegates at the conference were quite horrified at the thought of clients being able to tap into the firm's system and information, however, Mr Telfer assured them that the security issues had been fully explored. Martin Telfer's firm view is that client access to firm's information via the Internet can only continue to grow. Given every solicitors obligation to keep his client fully informed at all times, I can only agree with him. Following lunch, the conference moved on to consider the possibilities of the use of Intranets and electronic mail. John O'Connell of Jeffrey Green Russell gave a demonstration of the JGR Intranet from the user's perspective. Much of the information available on the Intranet would normally be handed out to employees in a paper based staff manual, however, the beauty of the Intranet is the ease with which procedures can be updated. The Intranet is linked to certain Internet pages including the Law Society home page. Questions were raised regarding staff access to the Internet and the potential time-wasting which could result from this. JRG strictly regulate access by certain staff to avoid this.
Many legal firms are definitely considering a firm wide Intranet and so it was extremely interesting to see the JRG Intranet in operation. If the proposed changes in access to UK legal materials take place, we may see an increase in legal firm Intranets with links to primary source materials.
Nick Hughes of Informix Software then gave an overview of the benefits of a legal intranet. As client expectations are increasing and competition is driving change, firms are being forced to look to new technology to reduce transaction costs. He gave a demonstration of the Llama & Llama intranet site which has been updated and improved with the addition of new links. Nick Hughes clearly sees a firm with an Intranet as the way forward for legal research and the sharing of legal expertise throughout the firm. All of this is very appealing to today's practising lawyer. Derek Sturdy then gave a publisher's view on the commercial opportunities and potential advantages of Intranets. Mr. Sturdy sees a place for traditional publishers in advising those setting up Intranets as to the best way to structure the information to make it useful and allow easy searching. The main pitfalls which can be encountered are inability to get to data quickly, inability to back up data easily and problems encountered in trying to move to new systems. In Mr. Sturdy's view, the key to building a successful Intranet from scratch lies in clearly communicating your needs to your supplier who must then provide a service and not a product. The clear conclusion to be drawn is that the data which you get out of your Intranet is only as good as the thought and effort which you put into structuring your Intranet. Neil Cameron gave a brief rundown of the latest advances in e-mail technology including new security devices and de-encryption devices which are available on the Internet. Finally, Simon Kosminsky, IT Director at Wilde-Sapte gave a presentation on the firm's integration of internet e-mail into the office e-mail system. Basically Wilde Sapte have taken the view that they will acquire any technology which is needed to allow them to communicate with their clients via e-mail. Wilde Sapte have built in various features to protect confidentiality, avoid hacking, stop transmission of viruses, promote delivery guarantees, check authenticity of incoming messages and avoid junk mail. The firm enters into agreements with its clients to regulate e-mail communications between them. Again, it was extremely interesting to see how another firm is using new technology to enhance the service which it offers to clients.
As a whole, Day 2 of the Conference was very enjoyable and worthwhile. Many Internet conferences are disappointing, rehashing old ideas and pitched at too basic a level - most solicitors are at least aware that the Internet exists and many are looking seriously at ways to exploit it with a view to improving client services and reducing costs. The highlight of the Conference for me was the demonstration of the AustLII site. I think that having seen for ourselves what can be achieved in a short time with the necessary government backing, most delegates resolve to continue pressurising for change in the UK. Many of the other presentations were innovative and interesting and it is to be hoped that this high standard will be met by next year's annual Conference.