IT’s Legal – John Irving, Bowerdean Publishing, £19.99

August 31, 2000

Since John Irving is Joint Chairman of the Society for Computers and Law, readers will not expect to find a damming critique of his work in the pages of the Society’s journal. It is therefore rather difficult for any reviewer to approach his work with the required independence knowing that the review is to be published here. That is probably why the task landed on me. I confess I approached the task of reviewing the book with a degree of trepidation ­– what if I thought the book was weak? I knew I would end up agonising for weeks about how best to disguise that fact. I am relieved to say that the agony that was anticipated was never required. John Irving has written a clear guide to a number of IT-related issues in the style, and with the directness and the humourous insights, that you will have come to associate with his contributions to these pages and to the pages of a number of our rival publications.

But I do dare to criticise. I confess that the title is slightly misleading. The subtitle is Making Information and Technology Work in Practice and that is more accurate. The book is not in fact about the use of IT in legal practice, or at least it is not only concerned with that; it is about the use of IT in professional situations and about the problems which are likely to beset those working in IT whether as consultants or as IT managers or directors, in a professional context. As John Irving says the book is set at two levels. On the one hand it is about technology and trends but what gives the book its unique flavour is its concentration on real problems and real people. ‘At bottom it is people who drive the professions and those same people are themselves the only product that the profession sells’ says John Irving in his introduction. I particularly enjoyed some of the stories which intersperse his main message, such as the tale of the partner in a law firm who had felt capable of setting up his home Internet access without recourse to the manual or IT help – and had left his machine permanently online for three months. Anything that can make me feel technically adept is good – and it is these sorts of stories which give readers confidence and keep them interested in the more technically challenging aspects.

Perhaps refreshingly, the book is not visionary material. There are chapters entitled ‘Of Wands and Magicians’, ‘Getting it Wrong’, ‘Cost Justification’ and ‘There is a Woolf at the Door’. There is also a very useful appendix of e-mail protocols – you may well find that investing in the book so as to glean John’s guidance on this is worth the purchase price in itself. Perhaps a further justification of purchase is to be found in Chapter 8 of the book ‘How to Buy’ which is a simple guide to the ins and outs of what should be one of the simplest of problems but which frequently turns into a marathon beset with hurdles (a pre-Olympic taster metaphor) and John’s guidance on the ITT procedure (invitation to tender) may save many a smaller firm from reinventing the wheel and all manner of more highly developed technologies.

John Irving’s book is described on the back cover as ‘one of the most understandable books on IT that I have ever read.’ (Mary Heaney) – that seems like an adequate description to me.