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JILT 1998 (1) - Robin Widdison

Philip Leith and Amanda Hoey's

The Computerised Lawyer

Springer-Verlag, 1998, £24.50
xi +360pp, ISBN: 3-540-76141-1

Reviewed by
Robin Widdison
University of Durham
Robin.Widdison@durham.ac.uk


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This is a Book Review published on 27 February 1998.

Citation:Widdison R, 'Philip Leith and Amanda Hoey's the Computerised Lawyer', Book Review, 1998 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/bookrev/98_1widd/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1998_1/widdison2>/


1. Introduction

It is always a pleasure to welcome the return of an old friend. This is much the feeling that I have when I read the second edition of The Computerised Lawyer published some seven years after the first edition appeared. In that time, the work has increased considerably in bulk. But then, so have I! What began life as a one author, ten-chapter, 222-page volume now weighs in at two authors, 13 chapters and 360 pages. However, it has to be admitted that the subject itself has expanded enormously too.

The subject of this book is the computerisation of legal institutions, legal processes and legal sources - in short, the computerisation of law. The subject in question has inspired shelves full of weighty monographs. An important recent example that readily springs to mind is Susskind's The Future of Law. Works such as these are designed primarily to stimulate and inform debate and decision making in the board room - or whatever the lawyer's equivalent of a board room is. By contrast, The Computerised Lawyer is first and foremost an introductory textbook written for the classroom. It is certainly unusual to find a work that fulfills this role for this subject. It may even be unique in the United Kingdom.

In order to review this new edition, I plan to gather my remarks under three headings. These are coverage, focus and content.

2. Coverage

What of breadth of coverage? There are few other works that tackle such a comprehensive sweep of the subject as The Computerised Lawyer does. Law school, law firm, police station, court office, courtroom - all are examined in turn. From this point of view, the book is excellent. However, the coverage is not quite complete, in my view. A few areas are missing. For example, I was surprised to find no mention in Chapter 7 on 'Management: the court' of the far-reaching proposals in Lord Woolf's Report - Access to Justice. After all, the Woolf Report envisages a key role for information technology in the civil justice system. Furthermore, the Lord Chancellor's Department is already in the process of implementing many of Lord Woolf's recommendations. In addition, I thought that Chapter 10 on `Legal education' could have said rather more about the use of electronic communications for law teaching, to balance its account of the development and use of law courseware.

In one respect, by contrast, I think that the coverage of the book was a little too wide. I am not convinced that Chapter 13 on `Information and law' should have been included. It seems to me that this chapter is basically on substantive computer law rather than the computerisation of law. Students and others frequently confuse these two subjects. I often find myself trying to explain to them that there really are two separate albeit related fields of scholarship each of key importance and each worthy of study and research in its own right. I am sorry to say that this chapter only serves to perpetuate this confusion, in my opinion.

3. Focus

As to focus, The Computerised Lawyer is essentially concerned with the present. Sometimes the authors engage in forays into the past or the future. However, this tends to be the exception rather than the rule. I can think of two advantages of this approach. Firstly, a strongly futurological work must run the risk of getting its predictions badly wrong (although, of course, a work such as Susskind's The Future of Law may actually go some way to influencing the shape of the future). Leith and Hoey's book does not run such a risk. Secondly, an emphasis on how things are today must be an advantage to learners. Those already in the know - particularly those in the board room - are highly focused on coming technological trends and possibilities whether short term or rather further into the future. For those who are still in the classroom, though, their initial interest must surely be on what is happening now.

There are, however, two disadvantages in writing predominately about the computerisation of law as it stands today. In the first place, a book with a contemporary focus - rather like today's information technology itself - is likely to age very quickly. As we all know, whole technological generations come and go in months rather than years. In this context at least, the present tends to feel as though it part of the past. If we have to wait another seven years before the third edition of this book - or even four or five years - I very much doubt that we will still be using this second edition by then.

In the second place, a contemporary focus can result in insufficient emphasis being placed on major changes that are just about around the corner. For example, I am not sure that The Computerised Lawyer gives enough weight to the impact that the Internet and its publishing empire the World Wide Web are about to have on lawyering in the United Kingdom. Both the Internet and the Web are discussed in a number of chapters, to be sure. However, what is missing is the sense that we are taking part in paradigm shift - a complete change in the very idea of the computerisation of law. I think that this deficiency could have been rectified to some extent by one simple addition. What the book needs is a concluding chapter dedicated to describing and discussing likely future trends. The first edition had such a chapter. I am puzzled as to why the second edition does not.

4. Content

The approach adopted by The Computerised Lawyer is that of a descriptive account. Some analysis by others is reported and discussed but, for the most part, the authors do not seek to take a prescriptive line. Given that the book is intended to be used primarily as a textbook, of course, the approach in question would seem to be wholly apt.

The book is, for the most part, law-orientated rather than information technology-led. It is written very much from the lawyer's perspective. Each of the chapters takes a facet of the legal world - e.g. law office, police station, court, law school - as its central theme. It then explores the relevance of the various types of computer application - document generation, databases, electronic communications, computer assisted learning - very much in a legal context. Inevitably, such a perspective creates the risk of overlap and repetition. Nonetheless, I do feel that the authors have adopted the better approach. Realistically, the target audience is most likely to comprise law students, trainees and legal practitioners. This audience will, I am sure, be less interested in what the technology is capable of doing in the abstract, and more interested in its applied relevance to, and impact upon, their careers as lawyers.

From time to time, the authors make use of graphics. There are a number of useful diagrams dotted around the text. In the chapter on legal education, they even include two illustrations of the Law Courseware Consortium's IOLIS courseware. I myself would have liked to see more such images being used throughout the work. Graphics are an enormous help in conveying to a largely novice readership all the difficult technological concepts and expressions with which information technology is peppered. For similar reasons, I wonder whether the authors considered including glossary of terms? Commendably, they did make a considerable effort to use jargon sparingly. They could not, of course, avoid it altogether.

5. Conclusion

Do I recommend The Computerised Lawyer? Despite the few quibbles that I have mentioned above, I would certainly recommend it as an introductory guide to the subject. This is not only because I can think of no rivals. It is also because of the book's breadth of coverage and the fact that it is written in a way that makes the subject particularly accessible to law students, trainees and legal practitioners. This readership is under ever increasing pressure to acquire a working knowledge and understanding of information technology. It is unquestionably useful for them to have a work such as this - one that can genuinely act as a textbook for appropriate courses. Leith and Hoey are to be congratulated on producing a work that will go a very considerable way to meeting the needs of such a target audience.

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