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A decade of technology and the law

A decade of technology and the law

THE DECADE of the 1990s belonged to the World Wide Web, when lawyers, courts and the world began to notice emails, learned what a “weblog” was, and that Google could quite possibly…

THE DECADE of the 1990s belonged to the World Wide Web, when lawyers, courts and the world began to notice emails, learned what a “weblog” was, and that Google could quite possibly take over information searches.

In a thoroughly researched speech to tech-savvy or tech-interested lawyers last week, Clayton Utz partner Jim FitzSimons reflected on a decade of computers and the law.

Giving a chronological speech on how technology advanced in the 10 years from 1990, FitzSimons began that on 12 November 1990, Tim Berners-Lee published a formal proposal for the WWW and the next day the first page on the web was written.

FitzSimons spoke ahead of High Court Justice Michael Kirby’s keynote address at the NSW Society of Computers and the Law 25th anniversary at the NSW Parliament House.

Reflecting on his own experiences with computers during this decade, the Clayton Utz partner said that when he started at the firm on April Fools’ Day in 1991, “I joined a firm that already had personal computers on all desks, except for a few holdout partners who required their secretaries to print out the emails which came for them. Although this was already seen as a laborious task. I was glad to leave a firm which only three years before that thought it a great idea to buy 18 memory typewriters”.

His sometimes surprising research into what law firms were doing with technology and some of the common perceptions about technology received laughter from the audience at the event.

“The email system in use within Clayton Utz was mainly for internal use. Only a few of us had external email addresses, which we could use to send messages to other hobbyists and technology clients. But I remember fighting with the chief technology officer to get an email address that included my name rather than a random collection of alphanumeric characters,” FitzSimons said.

Just 14 years ago, in April 1993, the first digital mobile network commenced in Australia. At that time, said FitzSimons, there were 635,000 analogue mobiles in Australia and less than 4 per cent of people had one.

The Clayton Utz partner noted that a year later, in 1994, the World Wide Web was the subject of a conference devoted entirely to its commercial potential for the first time.

The same year, he was an author of the Clayton Utz policy that said letters of advice could not be sent by email.

“Of course we all know how the decade ends: not with a bang but with a whimper,” FitzSimons concluded. “Or maybe it was all the good work so many of us put into all those Y2K contracts and warranties that ensured the disaster didn’t happen.”

His speech was followed by an inspiring speech by Justice Kirby. Read the speech at Lawyers Weekly online.

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