Information Technology and the Bar in the Third Millennium

November 1, 1998

The Bar is a profession of individuals. Though many sets of chambers havebecome over the last ten years more corporate in structure, at the heart we areall individuals, and we value our independence.

Flexibility and Talent

That gives us great flexibility. Especially so in our willingness to adapt,and to learn new techniques for our cases. In my own chambers, ten years agoonly a couple of us were using our own computers; now almost everyone does soregularly. And whereas perhaps even seven years ago, the only program anyoneused was WordPerfect, now many of us are adept at word processing, using theInternet, CD-ROM databases, spreadsheets, Livenote, and all the other panoply ofprograms available for modern legal practice. At the Bar there are individualswho have written their own software programs to solve a perceived need, and tohelp the profession generally. I think of the communications program Lix, aprogram to run a chambers library involving the use of bar codes, my ownWordPerfect for the Legal Profession, and those barristers who have developedtheir own excellent Internet sites. There is real talent in IT at the Bar.


There is real vision as well. The Bar has representatives on numerousgovernment and legal committees concerned with IT, contributing, advising,drawing on the experience in other jurisdictions, and ensuring that theinterests of justice are fearlessly maintained. The work of ITAC, the CourtService, HM Prison Service, and the Society for Computers & Law are primeexamples where the Bar contributes and where its contribution is valued.

The Future

So what can we predict for the next 25 years. There is a note of optimism,and a note of caution. First, the good news. I am sure that the Bar willcontinue to make use of the very best IT available to continue to provide afirst-rate advisory and advocacy service to all who come to it. I am sure thatthe Bar will continue to provide valuable input into the new developments in ITas they come about, and willingly adopt new techniques and ideas for its cases.

But I want to sound a note of caution, and that is in the area of cost. Largecompanies and legal firms can afford subscriptions to the best legal researchtools. Not all members of the Bar can do the same. Lexis costs me £153 perhour. That is more than my own charging rate. I have to pay my Lexis bill myselfrather than simply charge it to an employer’s account. Many CD-ROM subscriptionscost more than £1,000 per annum. Many members of the Bar cannot afford tosubscribe to more than the odd one or two of such services.

I am not just special pleading on behalf of the Bar. I am concerned for thecost to the public, and the taxpayer. I was counsel in a four-week trial in Julyin which all parties had laptops in court with instantaneous transcription ofthe evidence using Livenote. The cost of using Livenote is approximately £1,000per day. I know people claim that using Livenote cuts up to one-third off thelength of a trial, and therefore it more than pays for itself by saving in legalfees. But I do not think Joe Public sees it that way. He sees the cost of £1,000per day added to his bill, rather than the savings from the bill he would havereceived if Livenote had not been used.

It comes down to the issue of proportionality, championed by Lord Woolf.Justice is about people, real people; and it is no good having the mosttechnologically advanced legal system in the world, with wonderful equipment andrazzamatazz, if the result is to make justice unaffordable.

Bringing Costs Down

How can we use technology to bring costs down? One way is to promote the useof video-conferencing. The Bar has promoted video-conferencing ever since it wasfirst developed. I used video-conference evidence in a trial in 1992. Picturequality was OK then; it can only be described as excellent now. The time andtherefore money wasted by the failure to use video-conferencing where it couldbe used is scandalous. There is no reason at all why many applications inchambers, to district judges, masters, and even judges, should not be made byvideo-conference. Counsel or solicitors could make the application directly fromtheir chambers or office anywhere in the country, connected by an ISDN line andvideo-conferencing equipment to the court. The saving in costs in travelling andwaiting time would be enormous. And why should this stop at applications inchambers? Far more use should be made of witnesses giving their evidence byvideo-conference. I see no reason why video-conference evidence should notbecome the norm, with live evidence the exception, especially in the case ofexpensive expert evidence where waiting and travelling time all has to be paidfor by the client or the Legal Aid Board. We are all accustomed to seeing peopleinterviewed on our television screens. Why do we need to see them live in court?


The Bar will continue to be at the forefront when it comes to future ITdevelopments in the law. We will make good use of whatever IT is available; wewill assist in the planning of new IT projects; we will champion the use of ITin new areas where this serves the interest of justice; and we will strive toensure that the use of IT is proportionate to the nature of the case. That meansthat we will insist that IT should be both affordable and cost-effective. ITmust be our servant, not our master.