The Society was established in 1973 to promote the use and understanding of information technology (IT) in the context of the law. For the first twenty years of its existence it focused more on the technical aspects of IT in use to support legal practices. Since then its focus has shifted more to the practice of IT law as a specialist subject as this has evolved to encompass new issues like the world wide web and digital media.
In 1970 the Law Society of England and Wales set up a committee to look at the possible uses of computers in a solicitor's office. The focus of those deliberations were on time-recording and on accounting systems only but there were many groups of people who were already pointing the way to a wider range of possibilities
In Scotland Colin Campbell, who was then a member of the Law Faculty in Edinburgh, organised a conference which led to the formation of the Scottish Legal Computer Law Trust and the publication of a report by Colin Campbell, Bill Aitken and Richard Morgan entitled Computers for Lawyers.
Meanwhile in England, starting, as long ago as 1967, Professor Bryan Niblett had aroused the interest of Norman Nunn-Price in computing. Norman had been working on shock waves and plasma physics at Harwell and Culham, and it was at Harwell that the two pioneers developed the Status project for the retrieval by computer of legal data relating to atomic energy.
In New York a legal information system was made available in the early 1960s by a firm called Law Research Services Inc. but the enterprise floundered in a welter of litigation. It was not until later in that decade that the Ohio Bar Association decided to sponsor a new full-text retrieval system which eventually developed into the Lexis system.
Information retrieval systems were also being developed in Europe and Italy and Scandinavia were leaders in this field.
Advent of SCL
Other early pioneers in the UK included Tom Woodcock and Paul Leach of the Law Society and Alan Woods of Bird and Bird who became the first Chairman, and first paid up member of the Society. It was Alan Woods who saw the need for a body which would help to introduce the legal profession to the new world of information technology.
The Society was established as a registered charity on 11 September 1973 under the inspiring leadership of its first President, Lord Scarman.
In those early days the Bar did not play much of a part. On 20 May 1974 the Bar Council arranged for Bryan Niblett and Norman Nunn-Price to address a meeting on computers and the law in the Council Chamber of Lincoln's Inn. The meeting was attended by a small group of seven people. Four years later, in March 1978, the Bar Council arranged a meeting of the Bar to hear Jerry Rubin extol the virtues of Lexis. The numbers present on that occasion had only swollen to nine, but they included three future judges – Peter Cresswell, David Eady and Henry Brooke.
Meanwhile, however, the Society as a whole was growing in strength year by year. It held its very first Conferences as early as September 1974 and in June 1977 held its first workshop in Scotland which was organised by Bill Aitken, Sandy Weatherhead and David Andrews who become SCL's second chairman.
Role of SCL
SCL has travelled along way since those early days and has always been seeking to address the latest issues. Initially it was the lawyers themselves who were involved with introducing the technology to the law firms but this role has now been taken over by technology specialists who have their own professional organisations. SCL's focus is now more concerned with the encouragement and development of IT related law although it still has a very active Knowledge Management Group and keeps its members informed of relevant technology developments. We currently have over 1200 members mainly drawn from private practice, in house lawyers and the academic world.
One of SCL's major achievements was the establishment of BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) following a meeting arranged by SCL in London on 8 November 1999.
SCL was a founder member organisation of IFCLA (International Federation of Computer Law Associations) and hosted their biannual conference in Bath in 1994 and Oxford in 2004. SCL will host the 2016 IFCLA Conference in London on 9 and 10 June 2016
For many years SCL was involved with ITAC (Information Technology and the Courts).
SCL is very fortunate that since its inception in 1973 it has always attracted enthusiastic and innovative leaders including Lord Scarman, Lord Saville, Sir Brian Neill, Sir Henry Brooke, Theodore Ruoff, Professor Richard Susskind OBE and Professor Christopher Reed amongst others.
The Society continues in its important role of educating the legal profession and general public through its website, magazine and highly relevant events. It also responds to government consultation documents and funds research into the exciting and developing area of IT law. SCL provides a community for IT lawyers and is continually looking at how to improve its service to members as IT law changes.
Society for Computers and Law A company limited by guarantee 1133537 Registered Charity No. 266331 VAT Registration No. 115 4840 85 Registered in England and Wales Registered office: Unit 4.5, Paintworks, Arnos Vale, Bristol, BS4 3EH.
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