SCL 30th Anniversary Lecture: Richard Christou on “Thirty Years of Law in the IT industry”

March 1, 2004

Click here for the edited transcript of Richard Christou’s lecture. This is available only to SCL members.

Richard Harrison’s report

Nearly 200 IT lawyers and associated professionals were in attendance for a celebration of 30 years of the Society and Richard Christou‘s compelling memoirs. Both Mr Christou and the joint chairmen, John Yates and Nigel Miller, succeeded in making them feel good about themselves for their contribution to society. The Royal Society which combines a palatial and traditional exterior and cutting-edge internal design was a superb venue.

Mr Christou‘s CV is unusual and distinguished. He is an eminent IT lawyer and he has become Chief Executive of Fujitsu Services. He knows both sides of the legal/commercial divide and both sides of the user/supplier divide. The first signs were encouraging. Mr Christou does not look much like a Chief Executive of a major IT company. He does not look much like a computer lawyer. He reminded me of a trendy west coast professor or a country singer, secure in the hall of fame.

Although it looked as if the state-of-the-art screen in the lecture theatre was going to project a series of dull PowerPoint slides at us, Mr Christou simply said what he had to say. I won’t attempt to summarise what is available in full elsewhere on the Web site, courtesy of LiveNote, and which will no doubt appear in the magazine. But the memorable passages are worth emphasising. A major IT contract has no room for grandstanding lawyers attempting to give their client the capacity to draw blood; damages can never be a substitute for proper performance. Such a negotiation should be dealt with as the treaty, not the battle.

He concluded with a discussion about whether there is a discrete body of computer law. He referred to a few statutes such as the Computer Misuse Act, the relevant provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, and the Data Protection Act but suggested that they did not really constitute the necessary specialist corpus. He looked at the classic cases of recent years on computer projects (omitting, without noticeable gritting of teeth, Co-op v ICL), and concluded that they were simply applications of the law of contract. Domain name decisions were a manifestation of the law of trade marks and passing-off.

What computer lawyers were doing, he concluded, was engaging in the application of ordinary law to extraordinary technology. Which requires some pretty extraordinary lawyers. So that was a pat on the back to a bunch of lawyers from a top businessman.

What impressed me was that the standard businessman’s exhortation to lawyers to concentrate on the real commercial issues was tempered by recognition of the pressures which sometimes face lawyers in a tough negotiation, when they have to also deal with legal minutiae which may not be recognised by their clients. Mr Christou showed he was clearly capable of identifying the fundamental legal issues. But clearly you would find it difficult to pull the wool over his eyes on whether something was necessary or unnecessary legal “boilerplate”. That is because he has written the standard book on boilerplate.

So in addition to not really looking either of the parts, Mr Christou did not speak like a Chief Executive of an IT company or a computer lawyer. In other words, you could understand and appreciate what he was saying without being bemused by impenetrable jargon. I would recommend reading the lecture in full.

The evening concluded with a champagne reception and buffet. Thanks to the organisers, in particular Ruth Baker and Caroline Gould.

Richard Harrison is a Partner at Laytons.

Richard Christou delivering his lecture.

Richard Christou with the Trustees.

Three of SCL’s founding members: Richard Morgan, Sir Brian Neill and Alan Brakefield.

Party time!