A Chapter of My Life

October 4, 2011

I always vowed that I would not write a book as I considered it the height of indulgence. However, I noticed that there was no basic guide for managers about IT law and my will faltered. My idea was to produce a book which covered all the main areas of IT law that came up in practice. If you were getting into a taxi with a Managing Director on the way to a meeting about, say, data protection, what would you say to the MD about that subject in the half an hour taxi ride? Each chapter was to be written in terms that a non-lawyer could easily understand and follow. At the time I was secretary for the Law Specialist Group of the British Computer Society. So I put a notice in the group’s newsletter asking for volunteers to write such a book. I was surprised by the healthy response. We met at Charles Russell’s office in London (I used to be a partner there) and I asked for chapter suggestions. Having put twelve proposed chapter headings up on the flipchart I then went round the table and asked each person to choose one of two subjects saying that I would take the runts of the litter at the end. These turned out to be computer contracts and employment aspects of IT law which was fortunate. The British Computer Society looked around for a publisher and eventually they decided to publish it themselves. I wrote my section of the book very early on Sunday mornings before the rest of the family got up. I found that I could do about 600 words in one go. When I meet writers I always ask them when and how much they write.

The other volunteers who produced chapters were Sarah Ellacott, Andrew Katz, Jean Morgan, Jeremy Newton, Jennifer Pierce and Graham Wood. Having got the chapters ready I naively thought that that was the bulk of the work done. Far from it. First the chapters had to be edited so I shared this job with one of the other contributors, Jeremy Newton, with whom I had frequently lectured. After Jeremy and I had each edited our respective halves of the book, the text was passed to the copy editor. I was most impressed by the work of the copy editor and we subsequently used her to check some of the draft agreements that we use in my firm. Next we created the glossary of terms which I insisted be put at the front of the book to draw its existence to everyone’s attention before they read the main text (often I had read a book only to discover that there was a glossary at the back that I had not been aware of when reading the main text). Then we added a list of useful web sites so that the reader could research matters further. Lastly, we prepared a list of the abbreviations used in the book. Ironically, one of most difficult jobs I had was to persuade the various experts on copyright to sign the copyright assignments that the publishers had drawn up. This resulted in protracted negotiation.

The book “A Manager’s Guide to IT Law” was published in 2004. To our pleasant surprise the book was the best selling of the series that the publisher produced (selling more than 3500 copies) and it became a recommended text in more than 23 British universities. My two daughters (then both teenagers) assured me that it was worth more on e-Bay unsigned than signed. The book received one adverse review on Amazon saying that we had paid insufficient attention to the Computer Misuse Act. I researched the background of the reviewer and discovering that his previous review was of wrapping paper so I did not bother to respond.

Because of the subject matter, the book rapidly became out of date and the publishers were keen to produce a second edition. Eventually we relented, and in September 2011 an updated version was published with new chapters on freedom of information, cloud computing, WEEE and open source. The new contributors to the book were Victoria Hordern, John Leigh, Andy Lucas and Stuart Smith.

I have had one J.R. Hartley moment. I asked in a bookshop in Bath once whether they sold the book (they did not but they could get it). I then paid for another book with my credit card and the shop assistant seeing the name on the credit card exclaimed “You were asking about your own book!” to my embarrassment and to the amusement of those in the queue behind me.

Jeremy Holt is the head of the Commercial Department at Clark Holt Commercial Solicitors in Swindon.