Biggin it up at Bath

January 1, 2002

Dinner at 8 pm seemed fine, but it was the next item which worried us. Disco? IT lawyers biggin it up on the dance floor? Bath is an ancient city with many charms, but Ibiza it ain’t. Some things just seem too ambitious. That wild and crazy guy, MC ‘Harry’ Small has a lot to answer for.

And so it was that a self-selected band of IT lawyers, many of us bearing lofty titles but guiltily confessing that we did other things beyond IT – and didn’t know what the judge in the Salvage Association had for breakfast – took ourselves off to the splendid Bath Spa Hotel. The judge would have done well to try the breakfast there, after a brisk workout in the gym and pool. It was excellent. The hotel was 20 minutes walk from the station we were told; we were not told that it was 20 minutes uphill, at a gradient which was challenging even to veterans of the Berwins triathlon team. The list of speakers was long, and the subject matter was daunting. Should we admit to ignorance of RAD? We were going to have to. Was the two-inch thick volume of material a ploy by the organisers to achieve compliant behaviour? As MC Harry cheerily opened proceedings, suspicions grew; the frequency of his references to visits to the bar, and to the need for hangover cures, suggested we’d all be driven to drink by the forbidding sessions.

The talks were a rapid-fire succession of quality material. Harry led off with an overview of the copyright position as it related to software, softening us up for fellow Baker & McKenzie dude Michael Hart’s session on the Copyright Directive. Without a break, and with the attendees reeling, Lorna Brazell discussed patents for software; and if we were hoping for an easy answer on that one, we were to be disappointed – the answer is still that, well, we don’t really know.

A break, some great cakes, and Dawn Osborne had clearly struck lucky. By choosing to talk on domain name disputes, she got the chance to stand in front of 80 lawyers and say ‘fuck’; which she proceeded to do, repeatedly, gleefully and in deepening scouse. All in the interests of illustrating negative domain name. In case we were flagging, she then perked us up with pictures of phallic cucumbers. Chris Millard, following, and with the bar beckoning (as Harry reminded us), had to maintain the interest on the subject of the E-Commerce Directive. That he did so speaks volumes for his presentation skills; that his running joke about data protection seemed funny at the time is a devastating commentary on the world of IT lawyers.

We then retired to our rooms, wondering weakly how to prepare for the IT lawyers disco; and it became apparent that Mad Harry had been right all along, as at the pre-dinner reception people dived for the champagne, with several Chardonnay chasers. And it worked, as the dancefloor filled, and we asserted our membership of the groove nation. Harry, sadly, was not there.

Saturday came. Berwins had been running; and swimming; but numbers were down, and the suspicion was that Harry’s Game had got them, and people were still a-bed – or Chrismas shopping in Bath. And Harry, too, had gone. In his place, v-lex’s John Yates bravely chaired and, with technology failing him, led off on Implied Terms with no Powerpoint; the Romans had managed in Bath without Microsoft, and John’s tuff – he’s from Worksop. Sarah Sasse followed, worrying us back to our draft documents by her exploration of limiting and excluding liability. Then RAD – for anyone who has read to this point nodding sagely but guiltily, Rapid Application Development – presented by Richard Stephens, navigating a jungle of acronyms with clarity, and Deryck Houghton evangelising for framework agreements, before we were allowed lunch for good behaviour. Not an attribute of Deryck’s crim clients in his former legal life, his partner John Yates advised.

The end was in sight. Lunchtime Saturday, and the survivors showed that they were close to losing it by queuing from all ends and risking riot and commotion.

Entering the lion’s den was Paul Holden from outsourcing company Vertex, describing how to harvest the potential of outsourcing, and gently dropping in the odd mention of lawyers holding up deals; then Osborne Clarke’s Bobby Gill, retrieved from exile in Australia, gave pointers on how to go into an IT business deal.

Before we ran off (downhill) to catch a train – missing Duncan Aitchison’s probably wonderful insider’s view on outsourcing – we were fortunate to catch Alistair Maugham’s clear and simple explanation of some of the complex contractual issues around outsourcing.

That was it. An excellent weekend. See you there next time, folks. n

Paul Berwin and Sarah Ruston are members of the Technology, Global Positioning, Information, Media, Data Protection, E-Commerce, Computer, Topography, Commercial, Communications and Biscuits Unit at Berwins, Harrogate.