SCL Meeting Report: Question Time

November 21, 2012

In a change from its traditional format, the SCL version of Question Time fizzed into life at the London Bridge offices of Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP with an opening address by the Chair, Professor Richard Susskind. 

After first contrasting disruptive and sustaining technologies, it wasn’t long before we were taken on an enlightening journey into Big Data and how it is already starting to disrupt the status quo. From its use in Google flu trends (now three days ahead of conventional methods), through re-routing of DHL vehicles (reducing accidents by minimising the number of left hand turns) to IBM Watson (the computer that could beat even the most knowledgeable guests on the US show Jeopardy), it became apparent that even the market leaders cannot afford to stand still!  

We then moved swiftly onto the Question Time format, hosted by Clive Davies in a style closely resembling that of his BBC equivalent, David Dimbleby. After the distinguished panel of Harry Small from Baker & McKenzie, Kit Burden from DLA Piper, Richard Stephens from LORS and John Yates from v-lex had been introduced, the ‘interrogation’ began with a curious question about paper. 

Why all the paper? 

Pretty much everyone uses laptops these days. However, would you be prepared to rely totally on technology and leave your paper copies behind? Once the panel moved past the basics of ensuring that power was available, back-ups were in place and encryption/security had been dealt with, it appeared to come down to personal preference and the particular circumstances. Whilst individuals and some of the smaller firms have already moved to a paperless office, the larger firms still tend to rely on a combination of technology and paper (although greater reliance on technology appears inevitable in the long term). 

Is everything going to be in the cloud? 

Cloud, cloud, cloud! It appears to be the buzzword at the moment, but what’s the reality on the ground? It seems that live business examples are still fairly limited when you look at the market as a whole. The panel discussed the current practicalities of cloud, the sort of information that should be in the cloud and what is realistic in relation to commercial principles and contract terms. We then explored what is happening across Europe, and whether the new standard cloud terms under consideration by Brussels would be helpful. In summary, although cloud is coming, it appears to have some way to go and is certainly not a one-size fits all solution. 

Standard Contracts and the OGC model contract are dead, or are they? 

The old chestnut of standard IT contracts and whether there was any merit in them resurfaced. This is particularly relevant in the UK in the context of government contracts. For those of us who thought the OGC model contract was dead, it appears to have been resurrected! We heard that it has resurfaced as the Cabinet Office model contract and is still being used quite widely across government. We also listened to the arguments for and against updating the current version or starting again from scratch. The panel moved on to consider whether the existing ‘lite’ version was appropriately named, bearing in mind that it has only been shortened by 25% and still comprises some 25,000 words. 

What is the real price of free apps? 

Although on the face of it, apps may be described as free, you only really get what you pay for! The panel explained that the cost of a free app may be your personal data and cited examples from Google and Apple which looked at the importance of cellular connections in allowing companies to receive particularly valuable GPS data. The overall view appeared to be that, although data sharing is already happening on an industrial scale, public awareness is fairly limited.  

Who are you in a virtual world? 

Life online, and the difficulties it presents, is now a whole new area of debate which could fill a number of events in its own right. Certainly the law is lagging behind everyday life and will need to play ‘catch up’. The panel dived into a number of areas including the advent of e-money, which allows you to buy things virtually without the need for ‘real’ money, the difficulty of proving someone’s identity online, whether tweeting or running up debts, along with topics such as the growth of gambling in an unregulated virtual world and how contracts could be formed on Twitter.

Could you print a 3D gun? 

Although it’s been possible to print in 3D for some time, the costs of consumer adoption have been prohibitive. However, things appear to be changing. We Iooked at the example of a gun design which was e-mailed and then printed in 3D. Once the panel got past the criminal implications, we looked at the legal issues raised by this innovation, such as whether the picture could be considered to be a ‘literary work’ as well as the issues raised by cross border transmissions. 

Is it the end of lawyers? 

Not surprisingly, the panel didn’t think the end of lawyers was nigh. However, there seemed to be a consensus that changes were afoot which would present opportunities for some but would be terminal for others. The classical pyramid structure of law firms was contrasted with some of the innovative structures that new firms have adopted. We then looked at different charging models (traditional hourly rates vs fixed fee and risk sharing) before considering the application of ‘lean’ thinking especially in relation to the standardisation of lower value work.


We then moved back to our Chair, Richard Susskind, for his closing thoughts on what had been an absorbing ‘interrogation’ of private practice. We heard that, in summary, change will be brought about by in house lawyers with the participation of their clients.  

James Taylor is Legal Counsel, Commercial, Legal & Assurance at Fujitsu