August 31, 2004

Food for Thought

This issue begins to reflect the July IFCLA Conference by including a selection of the papers which were presented there. I hope to include some of the other outstanding papers, both within these pages and on the SCL Web site, over the next few months. Some of the ideas which were raised there deserve a wider audience than can be provided by any lecture-hall.

We begin with just two pieces. William Dutton’s keynote address which falls outside our normal categories – written by a social scientist and requiring conceptual thought. I found it stimulating and know that our readership contains many who will give it the thought it deserves – I know Professor Dutton would very much like feedback from lawyers. A brief visit to China reminds us that it was an International Conference.

More thinking outside the normal confines is required when reading the predictions in our Future Gazing piece – a collection from the Panel at a recent SCL Internet Interest Group meeting which both amuses and intrigues.

Security is No Joke

You may be familiar with the following story.

Ralph Smith, Head of IT at a major City firm, went to keep his appointment with the company doctor. To Ralph’s surprise, the Managing Partner was sitting behind the doctor. “Sit down, Ralph” said the doctor. “I have Good News and Bad News. Which would you like first?” Ralph asked for the Good News. “The Good News is that I have had all the reports back from the specialists and they are unanimous – you are cured.” “That’s wonderful” said Ralph “but what is the Bad News”. The doctor looked deeply embarrassed: “The Bad News is that the Managing Partner found out that you were cured”. At that point the Managing Partner leaned forward, “Ralph, I will expect your resignation by 5 pm – I am afraid that you are not qualified for your job now that you no longer have paranoia.”

I am not thinking of adding the above story to my stand-up routine but it does illustrate the point that, in the cyberworld of e-mail wireless connections and viruses, they really are out to get you. Most law firm IT departments will record dozens of hacking attacks; lawyers are just as prone to viruses, phishing and worms as any other well loved members of the community – and on top of that there are, incredibly, a few deranged souls out there who do not like lawyers and target them especially. This issue includes articles which might help you defend yourself – or even fight back. The dangers are increasing as IT becomes a mission-critical function in almost every firm. The extent of IT dependence can be tested by a simple experiment: although we all know that it is perfectly possible to work without e-mail, disable your e-mail system for half a day and watch the fan slow to a halt with all the stuff that hits it. And with the increasing dependence, there is increasing fear that your security is not all that it should be. Which is where a bit of paranoia is helpful – because the truth is that your security probably is not all that it should be.

Over the next few months we will be devoting at least one article an issue to security matters. They will not just be about security in the law firm or chambers. Security issues for lawyers are the same as those faced by all professions – and most of them are pretty similar to those that affect every other business too.

Generic vs Specific

The increasing relevance of generic software, and not just Word and Excel, is another theme we will be visiting with regularity. I would encourage anyone with strong views on the legal profession’s tardiness in realising that generic software can do most of its IT work to contribute. And I would encourage those who think that opting for generic software and adapting it to the law firm is dangerous to do the same.