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JILT 1997 (3) - David Swarbrick

Paul Jacobsen's

Net Law: How Lawyers Use the Internet

O'Reilly 1997, $29.95
254 pp (includes CD-ROM), ISBN 1-56592-258-1

Reviewed by
David Swarbrick
Swarbrick & Co.

1. Introduction
2. Creativity and Reality
3. Conclusion

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This is a Book Review published on 5 August 1997.

Citation: Swarbrick D, 'Paul Jacobsen's Net Law: How Lawyers Use the Internet', Book Review, 1997 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

1. Introduction

This book at first seemed unappealing; yet another US law-book being pushed at us as part of a wave of Internet-inspired US legal and cultural imperialism. That impression was wrong. Though inescapably American, the book has very clear relevance to UK lawyers starting out on the Internet and also to those more experienced browsers. The book begins with one of those de rigeur but nevertheless appropriate descriptions of how to find your way about Internet; explaining the various elements which go to make up Internet; Usenet, Mailing Lists, IRC, netiquette and of course the World Wide Web. As with many such explanations, I suspect that this part must be approached with caution. The concepts involved are so novel to those who have no experience of Internet, so much quite outside the general run of experience that I suspect that many are not explainable until the reader has had some first hand experience of what is being explained. Just at that point, a helping hand encouraging the reader to try this or that facet of the Internet is welcome and useful. The author should set the reader, with his keyboard and mouse free to roam, investigate and experiment freely - to boldly press that button he has not pressed before. To see What happens if I do this

Jacobsen is clearly sold on the idea of the Internet and he advocates its significance and virtues with enthusiasm. His book will assist those starting out who need his assistance and encouragement.

2. Creativity and Reality in the context of the Internet

Two lawyerly virtues are eminently demonstrated by the book. The first is that unsung element of creativity. This can seem like dishonesty to those with adverse interests to our clients, but in truth it is the bedrock of our skills. We see the truth - that for every factual situation there are more truthful ways of describing it than can be allowed for in the average understanding of the world and the way it works. It is our creativity, our ability to see new angles, new descriptions in the world which makes us genuinely useful to our clients.

The book satisfactorily exemplifies the fact that that creativity will find all the outlets it could ever dream of in the Internet. Time and again the book refers to new uses (particularly for the World Wide Web) which are, even to an old hand, entirely new. The Web provides an entirely new context for publishing It brings together accessibility, as much freedom for design virtue as you would wish, two way communications, cheap delivery and constant development. Firms in America, despite what are sometimes more strict advertising restrictions than our own, are finding ever more and newer ways of having a presence on the Web. The book describes several, and in doing so will perhaps inspire UK firms to similar feats of imagination.

The second virtue is having our feet firmly planted in reality. In the context of Internet, a delicate balance has to be struck. It is entirely true that it is a phenomenon which will do much to reshape the world we live in, but at the same time there are plenty of blind alleys. Mr Jacobsen manages to find his own balance, and the lawyers he talks to find theirs. Lawyers live in very different worlds, even within the same jurisdiction, and it can be difficult to judge just how firmly some of the projects are rooted in reality, but even the ones which may seem over adventurous to us, may still serve as an inspiration for the lawyer looking to make the most of the net.

3. Conclusion

The new environment of Internet brings with it new twists on many ethical issues for lawyers which had otherwise become almost stale, and have not been addressed yet to any significant extent here. The book talks about some of these, and no doubt will be a good source of questions for such issues as they arise on this side of the pond.

A UK lawyer will find that he needs entirely different references for his own use. Such statutes, instruments, and cases as we have available on Internet will not be located directly from this book, but they are increasingly easy to find and in any event, any such book will necessarily be incomplete before it hits the press. That is no criticism of the book, but is inherent in what it describes.

The book is complete with a CD. The CD contains software which may be of use to get you on to Internet, but I suspect that it will be of little use to a UK lawyer seeking a connection.

On the whole, it is a book which should be read to encourage our lawyers to raise their sights just a little bit and to make the most of what is a new and exciting world.

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