South Western Group: Professional Use of the Internet and Basic Legal Issues

August 31, 2000

Giving a lecture from behind a lectern using Powerpoint 7 wouldbe an insult to the intelligence of most people here.” So began the firstspeaker in the third of the SCL South Western Group/Bristol Law Society jointmeetings.

Think Carefully!
Michael Kaye of Kaye Tesler & Co in London ( engagedthe 30 or so participants at the meeting with a confident performance, clearlydisplaying the skills which have made him in high demand on both the legal andnon-legal circuits.

The theme runningthroughout Michael’s presentation was that careful thought must be given tothe purpose of a legal Web site. To put this in context, he began by consideringthe Lord Chancellor’s Department consultation paper, “civil.justice.2000, Avision of the Civil Justice System in the Information Age” ( paper indicated that the government intends to push for radical changes inthe way legal services are to be delivered in the future. It would, inMichael’s view, lead to radical changes in the way lawyers work and in the waythat clients access information about the law and lawyers.

The government’sdrive towards making the law available to the public and making access toself-help schemes easier were veiled threats against lawyers. The public will bebetter informed as to the type of assistance they require, from Citizens AdviceBureaux to lawyers.

One of the keys tosucceeding as a lawyer in this future environment was to anticipate that clientswill use Internet-based legal information sources, such as AUSTLII and BAILII,and will then require lawyers to be just as readily available as the law itself.This can be achieved, at least in part, by interactive Web sites and by videoconferencing.

In the foreseeablefuture, libraries and shopping malls will all have video conferencing booths.Some law firms have seen the future, but Michael’s message was simple: Thesechanges are coming. Be ready for them, or die as a viable concern!

Dealing morespecifically with where a law firm’s Web site fits into this overallbackground, Michael had another clear message: Think before you commit yourselfto a Web site. The firm should ask what they want the Web site to do for them.This may seem an obvious question, but the speaker pointed out that manybusinesses, including law firms, don’t include their Web site in their overallstrategy. Too many law firms use their Web site as an electronic advert fortheir services, pandering to the egos of the partners by showing their photos.Tesco, Michael pointed out, use their Web site to display the products theysell, not information about their MD. So, why do law firms do it?

The legal Web siteshould be designed bearing in mind the question: what do clients want to see onthe Web site? The technology should cost you (the law firm) nothing – inessence, it should pay for itself through generation of work and goodwill, aswell as efficiency savings. Michael quoted his own Web site as an example. Hehas created a questionnaire on his Web site which allows the creation of simplewills, using mail merge and templates, automatically in about 80% of cases. Thewhole process, including the billing, can be done automatically. For what isessentially work done by the client, with perhaps 10 minutes of input fromMichael, he charges £40!

Provided care istaken when dealing with client care issues, Michael singled out a number ofpractice areas, including conveyancing, where similar tools may lead tosignificant increases in profitability.

In conclusion,Michael restressed the importance of thinking about the purpose of the legal Website. If a firm is going to make mistakes using the Internet, it is best thatthey experiment now. In a very few years, mistakes will be more obvious to morepeople. Access to lawyers should be made as easy as possible for potentialclients (eg, American firms pay for their Web site/video conferencing booths tobe placed in the canteens of large firms) and it should be remembered that a Website will bring in some good work and some rubbish. The latter can be easilydiscarded and the former should be made to pay for the initial investment in theWeb site.

Contracts, Contracts, Contracts!
The second presentation of the evening was given by a Regional Committeemember, Lee Cudmore of Osborne Clarke (

The theme runningthrough Lee’s witty and informative presentation was the importance ofcontracts throughout the process of setting up and running a Web site. Thisranged from start-up issues such as leasing or purchasing hardware and software(remembering that you can only usually purchase a right to use the software, notthe product itself) to choosing and registering a domain name. Attention wasdrawn to the fact that one leading US domain name agency, Network Solutions, hasindicated that it is only granting a right to use a domain name and that itretains control over the name throughout the period of registration. This hasyet to be tested in the UK courts.

Particularemphasis was placed on intellectual property issues, both as regards infringingothers’ rights and creation of new rights in the Web site. An issue that Leeregarded as difficult to give definitive advice on was where to protect a mark,given the borderless nature of the Internet. The best advice he gives to hisclients is to register a mark in territories at which the Web site isspecifically targeted and add a disclaimer regarding use of the mark incountries where it may infringe an existing mark. He said that this advice wasby no means perfect, but it was the best that could be done in this fast-movingarea. Registration of a mark was advisable where branding was seen as important.

It was alwaysadvisable to get written consent from any copyright owner whose work was to beused on the Web site. Linking to another Web site was considered to beacceptable, but using the technique of framing, projecting other sites ontoyours, was probably a breach of copyright.

Terms andconditions of use were significant issues, given the recent Godfrey v DemonInternet defamation proceedings. Also, data protection and Law Societyregulations had to be considered.

In conclusion, Leeechoed Michael Kaye when he said that the purpose of the site was significant.If it was to provide legal advice, the site had to be kept up-to-date and adisclaimer should be added requesting that the reader seek independent legaladvice.
All those present at the joint sessions gained a great deal fromlistening to two very well informed and interesting speakers.

Jeremy Barker ( is with CartwrightsSolicitors in Bristol.