SCL Award Presentation

March 1, 2003

For the third year in succession, I went to the Law Society’s Hall charged with reporting the presentation of the Society’s prestigious annual Award. The only difference was that I could not cast aspersions on any choice made by the judges since I had been on the panel of judges and knew the identity of the winner. I was, however, looking forward to hearing the keynote speech by Richard Susskind.

The finalists are mentioned elsewhere. I can confirm that it was a very difficult choice and I would emphasise the point that TotalSpeech gained the edge because the judges took the view that it is a self-contained application which can make a real and noticeable difference to how law firms operate.

Most of the attendees (save for the representatives of the finalists) appeared to be grey haired gentlemen d’un certain âge – and I consciously absorb any thoughts of pots and kettles. Unlike on previous occasions when he would more than amply fit that stereotype, the President of the Law Society this year is youthful, elegant and female. Carolyn Kirby made some remarks about how beneficial the activities of the SCL are and how lawyers needed to work increasingly with computers. This is good to hear but hardly likely to generate headlines of the “man bites dog” variety.

Professor Susskind was called upon and gave his usual fluent, entertaining and positively animated presentation. Glasgow was more evident than Hertfordshire and if you closed your eyes, the thought of Billy Connolly was never far away. Indeed, Richard gave a plug for his next book which, it seems, will involve the “Clicks and Mortals” concept. He feels that the greatest upcoming challenge is to identify those areas of legal service which still need human involvement as opposed to those which can be mass produced and sold as digital commodities.

Richard identified the three areas of particular interest for the future of legal IT. Firstly, there was web-learning – in particular the use of video presentations to elucidate complex concepts; he gave us a picture of his own participation in such teaching methods to the great benefit of the students of Strathclyde. Then there was mobile broadband – and the picture painted was of eager American lawyers and managers being too preoccupied with the instant messaging coming onto their portable “Bluetooth” devices to actually participate in the here-and-now. E-mail proliferation is a curse as well as a benefit and it was good to see such an influential figure as Professor Susskind describe concentration on intrusive e-mail as “offensive”. Finally there is the development of on-line communities: the sharing of experience and knowledge between those who previously worked in isolation. Well there are communities and communities. Some like “RollonFriday” (described previously in this magazine) are simply entertaining, giving certain well-known IT lawyers the chance to describe their lives and predilections under the cover of anonymity and some enable sophisticated research to be carried out more completely. Others are more sinister but then the Internet must cope with everything.

Lord Saville chaired the proceedings with suitable gravitas, apparently much relieved to have finished yet another day in charge of the Bloody Sunday inquiry (still using technology which won the award two years ago), this time refereeing a bout between Sir Edward Heath and an aggressive QC.

What did I enjoy most about participating on the panel of judges for the awards? Apart from the evening under review, and listening to four excellent presentations from the very worthy finalists, probably the salt beef sandwiches which Andrew Levison provided for lunch at

Baker Robbins & Co.

Richard Harrison