What do we want to look like when we’re 50?

February 7, 2018

At the start of the year many of us sit down and plan how we can change things for the better in the year ahead. Dry January, Veganuary and the countless news pages devoted to self-improvement published in the post-Christmas period are manifest illustrations of this modern-day ritual.

Yet sometimes you need to look further than just the next twelve months. With the SCL’s 50th birthday looming in 2023, and with so much technological change touching both legal practice and the law itself, the beginning of 2018 feels like the right time to think about where we should be by the time we reach that milestone.

So it was a great pleasure for the Trustees to meet with our President, Professor Richard Susskind,over dinner last week to brainstorm ideas about our strategic objectives between now and our Golden Jubilee.

The discussion ranged far and wide, touching on both the short and long term. Of course, as you would expect in a robust board of Trustees, there were differences of opinion along the way but I hope the summing up below is a fair reflection of the agreed, broad direction of travel for the next five years. It’s not quite a manifesto, but so much more than a to do list:

Remember our role as public educators
As Richard pointed out, the advent of online courts means that technology and law has become a subject of interest to everyone, not just a cohort of outsourcing and data protection lawyers. Coupled with that our charitable objectives make public education a fundamental reason for our existence. 

Accordingly, over the next five years we will seek to create and curate content that helps, not just our members, but non-specialist lawyers and even interested members of the public. This could be through opening up the content we already have, collating other people’s work or commissioning entirely new material, such as White Papers, to explain and fact check some of the hype around, for example, smart contracts.

Become the voice of tech law
There is a great deal of misinformation, much unintentional but some deliberately hyped, surrounding the impact of technology on both law and society itself. Whenever the media needs some expert input into, say, the impact of the GDPR or the latest cybersecurity breach, then they should turn to SCL first to provide a neutral, informed view. 

Again, this will help fulfil our charitable objects.

Work with others as much as we can
We are a strong, influential group but we can be so much more influential and visible if we reach out to others working in the same space. Last year’s Hackathon was a great example of how this could work, forging closer links with the HMCTS and others. We should continue to forge those links where we can and pro-actively do so where we think we can work with others to benefit the wider sector.

Reach out to colleagues overseas
As was discussed at the meeting, we are lucky that in the UK we have an SCL. There are lawyers across the world who envy what we have as there are very few equivalent organisations in other jurisdictions.

So we will help to meet that demand by progressing our International Editors initiative and the ad hoc support of regional meetings. We have successfully supported an event in Singapore and will continue to look out for other opportunities that will bring more members into the fold.

Bring our brand up to date
In the shorter term we are going to think about our brand. Over the years there has been a regular debate about the use of the word “computers” in the Society name. While we have shied away from a change in the past it might just be time to tackle this issue. The most popular option round the table was to use the term “technology and law” in some form or other. Obviously we would love any feedback on this critical issue as I am sure there will be some strong views and we are a member organisation.

Looking longer term we are also investigating how SCL might become an institute, enhancing the status of SCL membership in both legal circles and wider society. We have started the research on what would be involved and we will keep you updated on any decisions made.

This is just a taste of what we was discussed (it was not all earnest, there were a good few jokes as well) but in this revolutionary era for tech lawyers around the world I think these are healthy ambitions to pursue in the run up to a major landmark in the Society’s development. I hope you agree.

Mark O’Conor is the Chair of SCL and Partner & Chair of the London Client Group at DLA Piper UK LLP in London