Morgan and Stedman on Computer Contracts by

August 31, 2002

IT law is not (comparatively) an area overladen with case law or legislation. A large part of the job is getting your mind round tricky technical concepts, complex deal structures, and detailed schedules.

Morgan and Stedman is not one of the crowd. This is the one book any young IT law practitioner would demand if they knew all the partners were on holiday for a month. It deals with the subject areas in the way that the young IT solicitor is likely to come across them; ‘bureau service contract’, ‘licence’, ‘software maintenance contract’.

Every day I am faced with conversations with my clients that are basically:

‘ The deal is 300k payable on such and such dates, with termination on 1 years rolling notice after an initial period of 5 years, no dealing with x type competitors in the initial period etc.

You don’t really need to know about what the software does, do you? Can I have the contract in an hour, only I promised my customer?

As with most IT lawyers, it became apparent to me early on in my career that the biggest risks tend to come from what the client doesn’t say straight off, and IT lawyers really need to be aware of the need to know what questions they need to ask.

The information may come in a mixed-up rush, or only after several conversations whilst I tease the relevant points out. Any book that manages to be structured so that it can help is a godsend. Unfortunately most books seem to be designed as if a client walks through the door and asks ‘What is the effect of s 7 of the Data Protection Act?’

Morgan and Stedman is structured so that issues are easily identifiable in their ‘contract type’ areas. The lawyer can go through the chapter and quickly get a view as to whether any further questions of the client are necessary.

The book also helps prod the young drafter into seeing ways of achieving deal specific nuances, which is a great time saver. A young practitioner can spend half an hour staring at the screen trying to get a three-line clause right without some guidance from a partner. Morgan and Stedman manages to give fairly dynamic drafting advice – making the user aware of the risk of just using boilerplate contracts and clauses without a clear understanding of what she is actually trying to achieve.

For those that are already familiar with it from the earlier editions, the whole book is now into its sixth edition, and has had a thorough update with the main changes to the previous edition in Part III: Computer Services: outsourcing agreements, Internet contracts, and Web site design agreements are now included. If you have the previous version it is time for an update.

Are there any criticisms? Well yes a few, but these are mainly in matters of detail – for example, in the managed service agreements, I’d have liked to have seen more emphasis on the issue of clear and meaningful service levels and the importance of supplier reporting. The outsourcing section is too brief, but then outsourcing is an area that can take up a guide alone, and is therefore a tricky area about which to write a generally applicable standard.

The book comes with a set of helpful precedents available on paper and on disk. Personal drafting style issues aside, they make a useful starting point. I advise any reader not to just grab the precedents and skip the book.

Reasonably priced (currently at £160.00 on Amazon), buy the book – it will stand you in good stead.

Hazel Raw is a solicitor at v-lex.