The Laws of Tomorrow: In Conversation with IT lawyer Stefan Schicker

The Laws of Tomorrow: In Conversation with IT lawyer Stefan Schicker

Aditya AK

Stefan Schicker is a Partner at German law firm SKW Schwarz Rechtsanwalte. Specialising in the areas of Intellectual Property and Information Technology law, he spoke about his pet topic, the Darknet, at the ITechLaw Conference held in India earlier this year.

In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, Schicker discusses the legal issues surrounding the Darknet, data protection, and how disruptive technologies are likely to affect legal professionals.

Aditya AK: Could you give us a little background about your career as a lawyer?

Stefan Schicker: I got my first computer, a Commodore C64, in the mid of 80’s. I was immediately fascinated and started programming. In the beginning of the 90s, I started working with PCs and started to work on Internet projects. Of course, at that time everything was slow and unorganized, just like the Darknet is today!

At this time, I also started studying law. During my studies, I realized that combining legal skills with my technical knowledge could be fun. I qualified as a lawyer in 2001 and from then on concentrated on technology and law. In addition to my qualification in Germany, I also qualified as a Solicitor for England and Wales and achieved additional titles as specialized IT and IP attorney in Germany.

Today I am working mainly in international technology and IP matters, covering online projects, digital marketing, data protection, IT transactions as well as trademark, patent and know how protection.

AK: How important is data protection in today’s world?

SS: It is a central part of our business, for either client-based maters or our internal organization regarding the attorney-client privilege. Personally, I decide consciously where I am giving out data and what it should be used for. I generally have a more relaxed feeling if a firm is sitting in Germany.

AK: Do you think the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union in 2018 will adequately protect data?

SS: I think the standards as planned today are going in the right direction. We will see how it turns out in practice. In Germany we have had very high standards already for quite a while, many of them we see now in the GDRP.

A particularly interesting issue will be how firms outside of Europe will be affected by the new regulation. They will now have to have representatives in the EU putting them much closer to the supervising authorities. This will be a significant change.

AK: How different is the GDPR from the existing regulations?

SS: I would estimate that 85% of the regulations are already implemented in Germany. In other EU countries, the impact will be much more. The most significant change is that with the GDPR, the system of EU legislation was modified away from setting minimum standards to now full harmonization. This is new for many states. But still there will be differences between the states.

AK: Do you believe the Darknet can be viewed as a more secure, private version of the internet?

SS: Under the term “Darknet” we generally understand all networks that are not public, sometimes encrypted, and using internet technology but standing apart from the Internet. Hence there are many networks that qualify as darknets, including ones that are completely legal.

Amongst the darknets, there is one network of particular relevance: the TOR network. Access to this network is gained by the TOS software bundle that is freely available on the Internet. After installing it, you are presented an almost normal looking web browser. However, communication to the Internet is encrypted in a way that hides the identity of the person looking up the information to the most extent. Hence such information is quite private and secure.

However, it always depends on how you use the software and what traces you leave. I don’t believe it is completely secure for lay users.

Next to normal Internet sites in the TOR network, one can also access additional sites that are not accessible by a normal web browser. Such sites use the top level domain “.onion”. Such sites, in many cases, are used for illegal business with payments often made via Bitcoins.

AK: What are the legal issues surrounding the Darknet?

SS: If crimes are committed using the TOR network or to get materials via the TOR network, it is very hard to trace for the enforcement agencies. And as mentioned, the network is often used for completely illegal activities.However, it can also be used for absolutely legal activities.

Just like a knife: one can use it to prepare dinner or to kill a person. It depends on how it is used.

AK: Moving on, there is an apprehension that disruptive technologies like ROSS would render them obsolete. How far is this true?

SS: I am working a lot in the area we call legal tech. It covers computer aids for lawyers or systems that can take over work of an attorney. Also, I am in constant exchange with lawyers from other firms and other jurisdictions.

I am sure that in the next 5 to 10 years we will feel significant changes in this respect. There are a lot of redundancies in today’s work of lawyers. Also, there are many jobs that might be done better and faster by machines, e.g. document inspection of very many documents. Already today we are using such tools that use character recognition and are scanning contracts for specific clauses (e.g. change of control clauses in due diligences).

The systems are self-learning and also learn from the input of lawyers. That makes then constantly better and faster.

We are also using similar tools for document creation, e.g. contract drafting. It is basically a new form of know-how management.

AK: What are the other disruptive technologies? 

SS: I think the most disruptive event is technology and transparency as such. Clients are demanding a lawyer to be more effective in the future. The lawyer, in my eyes, will move to become a legal project manager: the client hands over a legal matter, the lawyers has to separate the included jobs and process them in different ways, e.g. send one part to an e-discovery firm to organize documents, then process them with another system, and so on.

The job will include a lot of technical knowledge and project management skills. So it will remain in the way it is now only in a specific high quality, tailored area, for probably 10% of the attorneys.

On the other hand, my feeling is that there will not be an “Uber-ization” of the lawyers in the next few years. So, it will not be likely that all lawyers will be replaced overnight.

AK: Do you see law firms embracing these technologies?

SS: I have the feeling that firms in the USA are making more use of such technology than German firms. I have recently organized a legal tech meetup with great participation.

It was interesting to learn that all of the bigger law firms are thinking about using legal tech, [but] smaller ones are often left behind. However, none are using it yet to a maximum extent. We are all working on the next steps, there is no final solution yet.

AK: How do lawyers keep up with the constant changes in technology?

SS: It will be a big struggle. I believe that an intense technical understanding will be vital for future development. However, in the past lawyers and technology have not been best friends. This will change for sure and I would definitely advise every law student to learn a programming language during their studies.

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