Bath 2002 – Mine’s a Hot One

January 1, 2003

SCL’s annual IT Law Review is the Big Daddy of SCL’s year – where the big guns gather and the key hot topics are aired and viewed. The Boot Camp is for the aspirants, the Review for the grown-ups. It’s a challenge, therefore, for the organisers to keep coming up with new ideas; new definitions of the essential, cutting-edge, cool stuff.

The Review, as opposed to the interest and regional groups, aims to be the occasion when there is a drawing together of areas that have been exercising the big-as-planet brains of IT lawyers around the country. In 2001, it felt a bit that way – essential visiting. This year, the convenors came up with different answers to the hot-topic, cool-as-February, Frosty-the-Snowman question. This then was Bath, 2002.

The venue for the event, as ever, was magnificent – the Bath Spa Hotel is an excellent use for anyone’s training budget. This year we were denied the hedonistic delights of an IT lawyers’ disco – some things are too good to repeat. However the pampering surroundings compensated, and the hotel bar allowed us all to remember that luxury (£7 for a whisky? Or is this naïve Northern thrift creeping in?) comes at a price. However, the hotel provided a copy of the local newspaper, the Bath Bugle and Gleaner, or some such, for free. Of which, as they say, more later.

Day One

Richard Stephens, late of Masons, now of Field Fisher Waterhouse, chaired the event throughout, with no word of discord with his former partners. Last year we enjoyed the ebullient presence of Harry Small; this year, shirt tails and front akimbo, Harry rationed his presence, blowing in for his session on day two then blowing out again on his way to a wedding. Richard, in his more measured style, kicked off by introducing Lars Davies of the Institute of Computer and Communications Law at the University of London. Lars immediately confounded his topic ‘Security and the Internet; how it all works’ by making one thing clear; the two are mutually incompatible, in his eyes. Encryption? Forget it, any two-year-old can untangle 128-bit tomfoolery. PGP? Pretty Rubbish Privacy. Virtual Private Network (VPN)? Virtual Hackers’ Network. Paranoia? It’s only reasonable. Passwords? Make them short, and anyone can work them out or trick them out of you. Make them long, and you’ll write them down, and either put them in your wallet or on a Post-It next to your screen. The message, which you may have guessed by now, was that without the resources of the Pentagon (just maybe) you are wasting your time and fooling yourself if you think you can achieve security. So that was fine, clear, and perhaps the view from academia; for those of us of us in the real world, it felt as if we were being told that we had an insoluble problem at the heart of our businesses; in fact, that was the message. But we wanted danger; we didn’t know it, but what we wanted was Olswang’s Clive Gringras.

Clive brought a devil-may-care frisson to the proceedings by rebelliously leaving his mobile on; they live on the edge in Covent Garden. How dare he? – Because he was simultaneously trying to exchange contracts on his house sale and purchase, and keep in contact with his wife who may have been (who knows? we were never told) going into labour somewhere in London, with Clive stranded a gridlocked M4 away. Brushing aside the gathering domestic perils, he spoke about digital signatures and secure trading on the Internet with a confidence and certainty which made it clear that he had never met Lars, or didn’t believe him, or kind of believed him but life must go on anyway. Crazy, perhaps, but comfortingly human.

Mason’s William Malcolm addressed the issue of data protection and human rights, pointing out particularly the extent to which the US government had stepped into this area in the wake of 9/11, prompting a ramping-up of the development of a culture of security through a plethora of directives in the US and the EU. There appears to be clear public interest now in private companies’ security arrangements; it’s not just a matter for your own business purposes. William’s conclusion – ‘Have a shufty and see what’s coming down your way.’ Don’t know about you, but my spellchecker is alarmed by shufties. I’ve been on the lookout for shufties down my way ever since. Would I know one if I met one? Could William Malcolm be one? Could Harry Small?

Ashurst’s David Toube’s brief was to talk about financial services on the Internet, but his talk seemed to waft over the heads of some of the audience; those who were not specialists in the promotion of listed companies – rather than IT lawyers – as he referred breezily to regulations which he assumed that all those present imbibed with their big-firm morning in-house training cornflakes. We small-firm folk, and quite probably the big-firm IT folk, were unable to meet his exacting expectations. The title to the talk suggested to some the selling of financial services, such as pensions and insurances, rather than stock exchange issues. As a result this session seemed largely to miss its mark; though it’s perfectly possible that only I felt bypassed on this one.

Never mind; the Bath Spa offered its deep baths, soft white towels and clubbable bar, for those who wanted; your correspondent took up his running shoes and hared around the city’s streets and river paths in fluorescent yellow, alarming the local mendicants in his juvenile enthusiasm. The Bath Bugle & Gleaner announced a road race in Victoria Park next day, with a sub-four minute miler as favourite. Tempting.

The participants assembled for drinks and a splendid dinner some time later; we old timers reminisced fondly about the previous year’s wild rave, before retiring to the bar to punch holes in our firms’ office accounts. It was pleasant, and it was sociable, though lacking the delightfully bizarre spectacle of lawyers getting on down on the dancefloor. Maybe if Harry had been there; we can but dream.

Day Two

Saturday had been advertised as having two parallel sessions, the first by Kevin Connell on Computer Programming and Language, the second finance-raising. The delegates had showed a noticeable unworldliness by opting en masse for the first session, and so there was only the one. This was well and clearly presented by Kevin, IT director at Masons; a man clearly used to explaining the mysteries of the subject to technological illiterates without patronising them. The interest in this session may in fact suggest an area for SCL to explore more, because many have come to IT through commercial and IP and few through programming; to a degree we are routinely advising on areas where we are enthusiastic amateurs (if that). I suspect that the hunger for this session – all but one of the attendees went for this – suggested a gaping insecurity. The finance raising sessions would also have been important – maybe one for next year – but such Iraqi-style popularity poll hints at ravenous need.

Following that was a purported clash of the titans – we were promised Harry Small (at last!) championing the cause of IP protection, against the ravages of Bird & Bird’s Hilary Pearson talking up the benefits of open source. In the event the clash never came, because Harry was more focused on a wide-ranging consideration of the issue of patentibility of software in the US and EU contexts and only touched, in a carefully non-combative way, on the open source point. His address was none the worse for that, notable as ever for his enthusiastic wanderings away from the lectern and erratic dress code. Hilary followed with a measured exploration of the history of open source and the philosophical underpinnings to it, with some musings as to the routes which the movement may take in the future. Many of us have been watching the development of Linux from an ignorant distance for some years, and her talk was an illuminating discussion of the area which filled in some of the gaps left by others who assume a level of technical knowledge which I, for one, lack.

Lunch on Saturday, to be followed by five sessions on outsourcing; same subject area as last year, apparently (from the notes) to be delivered from the suppliers’ perspective as a sales pitch. Last year I missed out on this session to catch a train, but this year, could I resist? Indeed I could; the Gleaner had cast its benign spell, and I skipped lunch, dashed over to Victoria Park, enlisted in the four-mile road race, and swapped the undoubted rapture of outsourcing for the graft of run and sweat. For this dereliction of duty, I apologise; but only a little. I finished the race, dashed back to the hotel, changed and showered and presented myself for Baker & McKenzie’s Rory Graham’s discussion of the key legal issues in outsourcing. This was a useful clarification of those issues and of the structure and legal pitfalls of an outsourcing arrangement; in effect, describing the deal as an asset sale where the umbilical cord remains uncut. By this point I was all ready to redeem myself, since a panel discussion on outsourcing issues was on the agenda; I thought I’d be able to pick up on the key points. Sadly I had missed an explanation as to why this was not now taking place, but when Rory sat down Richard Stephens simply thanked everyone and closed the proceedings. He had sensed that, though hungry for IT, there was a yet greater hunger for the shops and tea rooms of Bath. It was time to go.


Bath 2002 had a different feel to 2001. Total numbers were down, and perhaps training budgets are under pressure; some of the previous year’s atmosphere, consequently, was lacking. Having said that, I recall that last year was sparsely attended on the second day, as the attractions of the city and the morning-after-the disco-before kept some attendees away. There was not quite the same feeling that the massed IT lawyers of the land had assembled, in spite of the quality of the programme and the diligent publicity. Aiming high, as this conference does, is tricky, and there are bound to be some elements which fall short every year. It is an important event in the IT law calendar, which needs supporting, nurturing and building. Bath 2003 starts now; see you there. n

Paul Berwin is managing partner and head of IT and Commercial Law at Berwins LLP, Harrogate. He is a member of this year’s judging panel in SCL’s annual competition for Legal Applications of IT (and of Harrogate Harriers A C and Leeds & Bradford Triathlon Club).