Laurence Eastham likes the SCL’s special offer for trainees etc, and worries about the political implications of the increased focus on IT law
While IT law continues to have its niche practices and IT lawyers still occasionally focus on issues of great obscurity, the awful truth that IT law is central to legal practice can no longer be denied.
I was reminded of the downside of this by a humorous tweet from an academic tweeter, @Cybermatron, complaining that, having specialised in what she thought was a nice quiet area for study, 'my research field (privacy/DP) has become far too important'; she threatened to take up jurisprudence instead. The practising IT lawyer, who may have been briefly thrilled at the fact that dinner party companions or dates no longer nodded off when he or she described elements of the daily grind, must now be fed up with the fact that everyone now has an opinion on what is wrong with IT and the law associated with it. (It is a bit like being Roy Hodgson in a taxi, but at least one does not have to deal with a bunch of overpaid prima-donnas, at least not at most firms.) But, for the most part, the increased 'centrality' of IT law is good news for IT lawyers.
SCL has recognised this shift by making it possible for trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and devils to have free membership of SCL until they qualify. SCL wants to encourage the honing of knowledge of IT law. Even if that might not be an area for future specialism, it is hard to imagine a commercial lawyer of the next generation who does not have a good competence in all IT law issues. This category of membership will include full access to the content of the web site and attendance at SCL events at the members' rate but not a hard copy of the SCL magazine.
Prospective new members who are trainees should apply to firstname.lastname@example.org. This special deal will not be available in retrospect and will only be open to new members of SCL.
I am not so innocent as to think that politics has played no part in the formation of IT law. The legislators have come to the aid of the big battalions from time to time and the modern backdrop to IP rights is hugely political. But party politics has not reared its head. The political consensus in the UK has been in favour of 'helping' the IT industry and I am not sure much thought has been given to the possibility of any other approach. The fact that the help has been inadequate or misplaced, or often both, is neither here nor there in this context – bless them (or more likely curse them), they tried.
But anything that becomes important to voters requires major political parties to take up diametrically opposing views – health and education spring to mind. I am using 'requires' in a very loose sense to mean 'doesn't require anything of the sort but that's what you'll get'. And there is some evidence that data issues and copyright have begun to matter to people. While party lines are yet to be drawn, I think I am beginning to see the faint lines emerge. It is tricky because the libertarian Conservatives like David Davis have tended to be the natural allies of the LibDems and liberals. Once party lines are drawn, they always lead to Something Must Be Doneism - and that is the last thing we need.
We may of course be saved from IT law becoming a political football in UK party terms. The EU has such influence on IT law issues that the politics there may trump our own. I seem to be the only person in rural Wiltshire (and maybe the UK) who thinks this is A Good Thing. Not only am I rather fond of Neelie Kroes and Viviane Reding but I am very fond of the regular EU stance that amounts to 'something must be done but we cannot agree on what'. A little enforced procrastination would do our own Parliament no end of good – it is far too fond of making laws that are never actually implemented. The Digital Economy Act 2010, and all the angst that went with it, loom large in my memory.