Group Reports

June 30, 2000

Viri Chauhan reports on the South Western Group meeting which took place on 11 May. Viri Chauhan is a freelance IT consultant with engineering and legal qualifications. He can be contacted at

Interesting, enlightening and most of all very useful.’ – ‘Good speakers, interesting topic, one which affects both employees and employers.’ – ‘Great location, informative and lively topics, wish all my CPD hours could be used this way!’
These were some of the comments made by the attendees of this first seminar of three hosted by the SCL South Western Group and the Bristol Law Society.
With nearly all the seats in the house taken at the Armada Conference centre in Bristol, we were ready to hear two experienced speakers share their knowledge and experience about a topic which is frequently talked about and one which affects most of us. Internet use at work. Not only did the talk keep us awake on a quite dull day in Bristol but the thought of escaping early to Bar RSVP to join the rest of the city slickers with a cold beer only entered my mind once the seminar was over.

Employment Law meets the Electronic Worker
Paul Sampson, chair of the SW Group kicked off the first seminar, and introduced Penny Christie of Bird & Bird to begin the first topic: Employment Law meets the Electronic Worker. What can you as an employee do on the Internet without being sacked? Do not be obscene, do not defame, do not download pornography, do not send offensive e-mails, – the list goes on. How about as an employer? Now it gets interesting. How much liability do you have if your employees misuse the Internet, and how can you as an employer legally monitor the perpetrators of Internet misuse when they should be billing hours instead.
Penny’s approach was doctrinal and explained the relevant areas of law very easily and with clarity. Advising clients, being asked to sign various rules as an employee, and imposing rules on employees to maintain professional standards and limit liability to the firm were subject matters which were all covered comprehensively.
An edited version of Penny Christie’s presentation is to be found at p9.

Caught on the Web, HR implication of E-mail and the Internet
Beverley Perkins is a Human Resources specialist at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and sees at first hand the abuses and misuses of the Internet. Beverley concentrated on the practical issues that she has experienced and shared those with the audience.
Beverley’s talk was of immense interest to her listeners and was very well received. What Beverley came up with was a practical, sensible and open approach to the Internet and e-mail that balances both the interests of the employee and the employer, as well as third parties. The PWC approach was to have a separate policy that is published and incorporated into the employee contract and included in any induction and staff manuals.
The question of using software that blocks access to various ‘inappropriate sites’ was addressed. At PWC Beverley pointed out that this would be too restrictive when doing research. As these sites are quite simple and look for key words like ‘sex’, legal research including that word would be blocked.
If the risk of downloading and sending obscene, illegal, offensive and defaming material is taken away, I wondered how much time it was acceptable for an employee to spend sending and receiving personal e-mails or surfing the Web? Take the example of a lawyer who is working very hard, billing long hours, working late, and exceeding his targets. Working late one evening he receives an e-mail from a colleague to ‘check out’ a great holiday site. It can become a ‘human issue’ where perhaps performance has to be balanced with flexibility.
I asked Beverley what approach an employer should take when, say, a lawyer clearly breaches an Internet policy by surfing the Web whilst working late at night. Beverley thought this would be acceptable and went on to point out that it was usually the junior members of the firm who tend to abuse the Internet/e-mail.
There is still room for thought. How many times have you received an e-mail joke from a colleague which made you laugh, led to the lowering of your stress levels and lifted your mood for the rest of the morning. The question to ask is how much the absence of light trivia will impact on your day if the Internet policy at your workplace restricts this. This puts the Internet/e-mail issue within the boundaries of smoking/tea breaks and chats.
I believe e-mail and Web use is a behavioural trait. As Matsushita, founder of Panasonic, once said ‘to change your habits, you must change your behaviour. If you change your behaviour, you change your outlook. If you change your outlook, you change your destiny.’ This is a very powerful quotation – perhaps we should be thinking beyond Internet policy and start to think about Internet philosophy.

‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – A Review of Legal Web Sites’
Peter Aiken is Senior Partner of Menzies Dougal WS, Edinburgh and a Member of the Scottish Group Committee of the Society.

At a very well attended meeting at the Aberdeen Solicitors Property Centre, John Gailey, Document Imaging Manager for Advanced Recognition Ltd, provided the audience with a most interesting and amusing ‘surf’ through current legal Web sites. The theme of the talk was ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and John was able to provide many examples of all three during the evening.
Using the AustLII site as an example of a ‘Good’ site, the audience were able to see the convenience of consolidating much of the country’s current legal material in one place. John explained the similar project being undertaken in Britain and outlined how he saw this developing for the benefit of both lawyers and members of the public alike. John also treated the audience to sites which fell short of the mark and explained why such sites were less attractive, whether due to lack of useful content or simply because they failed to load !
The details of those sites either discussed or demonstrated are to be made available on the SCL Web site.