March 1, 2003

It was a real pleasure for me to be able to attend the SCL Award Ceremony this year. I apologise most humbly to anybody who followed my tips for selecting the winner, although I never heard of any large wagers. As most will know by now, Professor Richard Susskind OBE presented the SCL Award 2003 to BigHand for their digital dictation product TotalSpeech. Andrew Levison, head of UK and Europe consulting services at Baker Robbins & Co, who chaired the judging panel, described the winning entry as “easy to use, easy to deploy and the type of application which, in a difficult climate for lawyers, will really make a difference”. Andrew expects to see digital dictation ever more widely adopted as it saves firms money; I can but agree and expect to see it taken for granted within a couple of years.

In his address at the presentation, entitled ‘Clicks & Mortals’, Professor Susskind expounded his view that the future of legal service lies in the combination of ‘clicks and mortals’, ie in the appropriate blending of online and traditional human service. This is a view which sits between the polar extremes of those who are evangelical Internet exponents on the one hand and those who debunk all aspects of the new economy on the other. He believes that the biggest challenge is for lawyers honestly to identify those situations in which personalised, human service is genuinely needed and adds relevant value that online service cannot simulate or better. Richard Susskind claimed that, in the future, high-powered human service will still be in demand but routine and repetitive service will be delivered online (in a variety of ways). In practice, he said, much service will be a blend of clicks and mortals.

The SCL Award judges were Paul Berwin, Managing Partner at Berwins Solicitors, Kevin Connell, Director of Information Technology at Masons, Kieran Flatt, Editor of Legal IT, Richard Harrison, a partner at Laytons, and Ian McFiggans, IT Director at Lovells. Andrew Levison commented “Despite this being a tough year for suppliers, there was no shortage of entries, which made the panel’s decision extremely hard”.

The other shortlisted candidates for the Award were ARTL (Automated Registration of Title to Land) from the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency, easyconvey.com’s Electronic Conveyancing Solution and Visualfiles, a case management system from Solicitec.


The assumption, which I must admit I tended to share, that 2003 would be a tough year is looking questionable. Both Solicitec and TFB have posted impressive figures and there was little sign of a downturn in the market for legal software in 2002. There might be any number of factors, most obviously the fact that those showing marked reductions in turnover are hardly likely to trumpet the fact, but when a Solicitec press release reveals “an increase of 33% in turnover and 225% in profit year to date” and TFB post an operating profit of about 14% it’s not exactly belt-tightening weather. The explanation which should apply is that IT spend is not expense but investment towards increased profit and, despite a bout of the jitters in some quarters, I suspect that explanation is getting through. As was succinctly suggested to me recently, many firms have wondered about the effects of economic slowdown, realised that it could be a protracted situation and thought “What the hell!”

Cases bonanza for IT lawyers

This issue and the articles on the Web site provide IT lawyers with something of a case comment bonanza. After many years with a paucity of authority, IT law gets hit by so many judgments that I am seriously contemplating a congestion-charge policy. But I can’t resist a short sales pitch at membership renewal time because I am so impressed by the quality of the material we have on offer.

With the SCL Web site carrying prompt alerts to new cases, cross references to the judgments themselves and case comment from the lawyers involved or other lead experts (published there before being available in the magazine), SCL membership looks like the best-value information service investment you can get. Thanks are due to all who alert me to new cases and provide such incisive comment.