From the Editor’s Chair

April 30, 1999

The IT-related image which has stuck with me over the last few weeks relatesto the progress of the Breitling balloonists. I know that it was a high-techenterprise itself but it was a local reaction which haunts me. Here in the heartof rural Wiltshire there was great excitement over their progress because alocal man was involved, although I confess that my enthusiasm was limited andbased largely on the fact that neither of the balloonists was Richard Branson.In the home village of Brian Jones (or one of them – there was some localcompetition), the postmistress followed his journey on the Internet. She wouldthen chalk up his position on a board outside the shop.

At first I was merely amused by the incongruity but then I was impressed bythe allegorical power. I could wax lyrical about its relevance to the issuessurrounding the circulation of community information (including legal advice)but will content myself with a more obvious point. For lawyers, there is achoice to be made at present: do you want to get the up-to-minute information,or do you want to read what is chalked on the board. In practical terms, do youwant to access the updated Internet-based sites (free and on subscription) andrisk being overwhelmed by information or do you prefer the considered, filteredand slower traditional source and risk being ignorant of the latest development.

Of course to some extent it’s a phoney choice still: there is not just roomfor both, both are necessary and will continue to be necessary for some time tocome – and there is a massive and important role for the CD-ROM for some time tocome too. But there is already a choice to be made where resources are limited(which is pretty well everywhere). The challenge for the Internet- basedinformation providers is to offer the succinctness of the chalked-up summary andthe luxury of the full information; the newsflash and the archive; the immediacywhich only the Internet can provide and the considered comment which we usuallylook for in printed form. If that can be achieved then the choice will become amuch easier one. Such a level of service should be a mix of free legalinformation (covering at least primary sources) and copyrighted informationwhich I accept can only be supplied at a cost – but if the those providing suchinformation for a fee get their service right, that cost should drop aspopularity increases.

This issue may be succinct in part, but it is certainly not brief. It has anumber of outstanding features by way of excellent articles on a number ofsubjects but the outstanding feature of this issue is that it is the mostweighty we have ever produced. There are some 20 pages on IT applications andsome 20 pages on IT law. I do not intend that we shall always be so generous butit is a simple reflection of the fact that there is a great deal to say, thatour members and others are prepared to say it, that there are many interestingareas and to leave any more of it out or to hold any more over would be toshortchange the reader. If it is too much of a good thing, please accept myapologies.