The Evolution of IT Law Specialism

January 5, 2012

Information technology was an extra guest at the Eastham family Christmas. Once the online purchases (formerly known as presents) were carefully allocated to the appropriate seats so that there was a children’s sofa, a young adults’ sofa and a ‘more mature’ adults’ sofa (the two-seater for the fewest presents), the laptop was carefully positioned by my wife so that our daughter and son-in-law could watch the opening of presents from Zurich. So, by the wonders of Skype, they could be part of the glorious moment when their nieces discovered that the big parcel that Santa had left in the middle of the room really was a wii. Overnight, the wii became the traditional Christmas game, so in a sense IT elbowed charades and ‘Guess the animal’ aside. Even the traditional shouting at the children was IT-motivated – essentially amounting to ‘go to bed now so that we can play with your toys’.
It was the same at New Year. No sooner had we finished the first verse and chorus of Auld Lang Syne than a friend was Skyping her son in Mexico and the ‘pint-stowp’ verse had to wait; in fact we never got to it (thank heavens) because messaging took over, including a video of the London fireworks sent from a friend who was there. (Large-scale firework displays are so much better when filmed on an iphone, with most of the screen taken up by a stranger’s hat, than when filmed by the TV know-alls).
All this is merely evidence that there are now few aspects of human life that are not affected by IT. I am sure you are reeling with the shock of that revelation. It follows that IT law gets everywhere – I gather that even the probate specialists are now being asked to deal with digital inheritance and that consideration has to be given to how your heirs will inherit your passwords.
One effect of this is that we have, or had, a golden age for IT lawyers as their specialism became greatly valued; a recruiter recently told me that IT lawyers are like gold dust. But I suspect that golden age was marked in dog years on speed. (In fact, I reckon it lasted about a month and a half, and ended on a distant Tuesday.) Things have moved on.
I most fully realised that the ‘IT lawyer’ was an endangered species when attempting to draft some questions for the forthcoming {SCL Junior Lawyers IT Law Pub Quiz:}. It dawned on me that only the data protection people would know the answer to {i}that one{/i} and only the Internet specialists would know the answer to {i}the other one{/i} and so on. (If you are organising a team for the event, you might well take the hint that you may need to include a range of specialists.) The ‘IT lawyer’ has been replaced over the years by the data protection lawyer and the Internet lawyer and setting questions that ‘challenge your knowledge of IT Law’, as was my brief, was bit like challenging a monk with the Kama Sutra – I suspect that many attendees will ask ‘Why the heck would I need to know about that?’
The evolution of IT lawyers has an impact far beyond quizzes. Many law firms boast of departments and groups that are filled with specialists in information technology law but a growing number prefer to have a department for data compliance, an Internet and media Group, an e-commerce team and even an e-money cell (allegedly – although that cell reference may have been due to the fact that those working there were not allowed to leave the office until the job was done). I suspect though that the Crown Prosecution Service’s anti-piracy group is concerned with matters beyond Napster and the like. Some of the one-man bands specialise even more narrowly – I guess they like to think it is ‘focus’ rather than ‘limited’. That is surely only the beginning of the diversity that we will see. Gaming law is already an accepted speciality for the wizards (and trolls) with the appropriate expertise in World of Warcraft and the like, and some have taken a punt at acquiring expertise in the other sort of gaming (online gambling). I anticipate that we will see a range of colours and sizes evolve to suit the ever-changing IT environment – it will though be tough to guess which path will take you towards being the ridiculous, but evolutionarily successful, aardvark and which will lead you to becoming a dodo.
I guess that there will be a few general IT lawyers left for a decade or two, marooned in some Galapagos-like outpost – perhaps working in-house, or in Rochdale. But SCL’s IT law community will be an increasingly diverse one. It may be all the better for it and I am sure SCL will cope.