New Chairmen for SCL: Interview with Nigel Miller

June 30, 2002

It has been quite a year for you becoming Chairman of things – not only have you become Joint Chair of SCL but you were recently elected as Chairman of the International Federation of Computer Law Associations. Obviously I must offer my congratulations in respect of both appointments but, before exploring your role in those organisations, I’d like a little bit of background.

You are now widely acknowledged as a leading IT lawyer. How did you get into that? Was it the law first or the IT?

After qualifying in 1983, I began to specialise in commercial contracts and intellectual property. One of my first IT jobs was to act for a developer in Cambridge in relation to a software contract. The software operated on MS DOS. I asked what this stood for; it was the first time I had heard of the (then) fledgling Microsoft and the concepts of operating systems and applications. At my then firm (Oppenheimers), anything that involved computers, technology or intellectual property tended to find its way to me. I enjoyed exploring how the law dealt with the protection of ideas and new technologies and working on contracts for which there were no time-hallowed precedents. Towards the end of the 90s, this led me into an interest in the developing law and business opportunities presented by

I also developed an interest in computer technology and how it could be used to make lawyers more efficient. In the early-90s I attended a major SCL conference on WordPerfect macro programming. It was an eye-opener in terms of the possibilities for the automation of legal process. Even now, most of the legal world is only scratching the surface of this. Being the most ‘techie’ of my partners (ie I could work a word processor), I have been IT partner at Fox Williams since the firm started in 1989. I have found that being involved in management issues relating to IT, and having a reasonable understanding of the technology, has proved of value in terms of developing a legal practice relating to IT.

You have come into your position as Joint Chairman of SCL with a new structure in place. Were you involved in the creation of that?

Our immediate predecessors, Harry Small and Laurie West-Knights, take credit for being the principal architects of the new structure. John and I were members of (what was then) the Executive Board and Council of the SCL and so were able to have some input into the new structure.

I do wonder if there is really an answer to the problem of getting more people involved.

Our challenge is to ensure that members feel that it is worthwhile and rewarding to be involved with the SCL. I have certainly found being active in the SCL rewarding both in terms of development of expertise and the opportunities to network and meet professional colleagues. For all of us, time is a most precious resource; many people give considerable amounts of their time freely to the SCL and we would like to help make sure that this time is put to best effect. We would like to encourage involvement at any level; so if a member would like to join a group committee, write for the magazine or the Web site, or simply has a comment or suggestion about the SCL, we would be delighted to hear from them.

Well I certainly would be! What do you see as the main challenges in your time as Chairman?

As we all know, the IT and e-commerce industries are somewhat depressed at this time. However, these sectors are hugely important to the UK. There is more and more law evolving in relation to e-commerce. Law practices are increasingly dependent on IT for delivery of legal service and communications. An additional competitive threat/opportunity is developing which is the delivery of legal service online. The SCL has a key role in relation to all these areas; our challenge is to engage on all these issues, continuously to deliver benefits to members which are relevant and timely and provide an environment in which to develop social and business ties. We also have an important role to play in terms of applying our collective expertise to comment on proposed legal developments and the impact of new technology for legal practice.

A lot of people will wonder about a situation where the two Joint Chairmen, you and John Yates, are well known IT lawyers. Does this presage a neglect of IT applications issues?

Not at all. Both John and I are involved in IT management in our respective firms. And we are very fortunate to have Andrew Levison as Trustee with responsibility for IT applications. Andrew is one of the best known law firm IT consultants. There certainly has been a shift over the past few years in terms of the SCL’s focus on IT law. However, many of our members are interested in the application of IT as well as IT law and so this continues to be important. The SCL’s conferences provide excellent value and in early 2003 we will be holding a major IT conference to address the management issues associated with the application of technology to the law. The SCL IT awards has also been an enormous success and is an increasingly prestigious award where new technologies can be explored.

But are most of the IT applications issues so central to 21st century legal practice that they are no longer the concern of a specialist organisation like SCL?

I think that the focus has shifted away from nuts and bolts issues such as what software to buy and the latest hardware. Many people know what to do, but not always how to do things. There are serious management and policy issues associated with the operation of IT systems and we see the SCL as being able to set a lead in relation to these issues. We plan, for example, to examine and document best practice in relation to the use of e-mail, confidentiality issues and the use of encryption technologies.

There has been an increase in the number of legal developments in the field of IT and e-commerce. Is this something you see as needing a particular type of response?

Whilst the market may have lost some appetite fore-commerce, the legislature – particularly at EU level – is playing catch-up. The SCL has a wealth of knowledge and expertise within its membership; the views of the SCL on proposed new legislation are valued. For example, the SCL’s Internet Interest Group recently produced comment on the Government’s Draft Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002; at the moment, a new SCL Group is being formed to deal with e-conveyancing and other IT and property issues. These sort of initiatives are both rewarding for the members that take part, but also produce valuable and informed comment that reflects well on the SCL generally.

Being Chairman of an International Federation sounds tremendously impressive, but what is the real significance of the IFCLA?

In June 2002, the SCL won its bid to host the 2004 international conference of IFCLA in Oxford. As such, the SCL had the opportunity to hold the presidency of IFCLA. So, my appointment as President of IFCLA is as representative of the SCL.

As the largest computer law association in Europe, I believe that there is an opportunity for the SCL to develop greater international links. We are also exploring ways in which we can develop links with the Computer Law Association of the USA. All this will be of benefit to members in terms of providing an international dimension and added networking opportunities.