When lawyer Robert P. Bigelow came out with his book Computers and the Law: An Introductory Handbook in 1966, he was so far ahead of his time that a reviewer of the book noted, “The effects of computers upon the legal profession are still basically unknown.” It was the first book on the topic, published under the aegis of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Electronic Data Retrieval, the forerunner to today’s ABA Section of Science and Technology Law.
Bob, who died March 23 at the age of 90, was a true pioneer with regard to both the legal issues surrounding computers and the legal profession’s use of computers and technology. He was one of the first lawyers in Massachusetts to practice computer law and he achieved international recognition as a prolific author and speaker on computers and law.
I first came to know Bob well before I started writing about technology, back when I was editor-in-chief of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and published a number of Bob’s articles. Sometimes he would come to my office to drop off a draft and we would end up sitting at length talking about technology. Over the subsequent years, our paths continued to cross at many intersections and he would still sometimes call me just to talk tech.
Bob was prescient in foreseeing key issues in technology. In 1977, for example, he wrote in the ABA Journal:
The ability of the computer to handle and analyze vast quantities of data with tremendous speed has served as a catalyst in alerting the American citizen to the possibility of an invasion of his privacy through the development of massive personal data banks.
The same year, in a law review article, he postulated an issue that continues to vex the legal profession:
A major conceptual problem in computer law concerns whether computer software is tangible or intangible. Can a program be a patentable machine or is it an intangible expression that can be copyrighted?
Yet even Bob, in his early years, did not foresee the full scale of technology’s impact on the legal profession. In that same ABA Journal article, he concluded:
While a majority of a lawyer’s contact with computers will be as a member of the public, each of us is likely to have at least one case during our professional life in which an understanding of the computer — and the policy and legal problems it has created — will be needed.
Among the items on the long list of Bob’s accomplishments in the areas of technology and practice management:
- President from 1977 to 1979 of the Computer Law Society, which later became the International Technology Law Association.
- Editor for nine years, Law Office Economics and Management, American Bar Association (which may have been the predecessor to today’s Law Practice magazine).
- Editor, Computer Law Service, a looseleaf law reporter published by the former Callaghan and Company in the 1970s.
- Editor, Computer Law and Tax Report in the 1970s.
- Many articles in the 1970s and 1980s on technology for the law office.
- Honorary member, College of Law Practice Management.
- Speaker or committee member at most ABA-sponsored economics conferences from 1967 to the mid-1980s.
- Six years as a council member of the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section and the founding chair of the analogous committee of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
- Columnist from 1979 to 1996 for Law Practice Management magazine.
Here is what Google turned up as a sampling of his writings:
- Computers and the Law, An Introductory Handbook (1966).
- Guide to Negotiating A Computer Contract (1969).
- Your Computer and the Law (1975).
- Computer Contracts Negotiating and Drafting Guide (various editions starting in 1987)(review).
- Counseling the Computer User, ABA Journal (1966) (said to be the first article in the ABA Journal to discuss “the problems that should be considered by an attorney whose client has, or is thinking about getting, a computer.”
- Attorney for the Computer User, ABA Journal (1977).
- Computers in Law and Society, Washington University Law Quarterly (1977).
- The Challenge of Computer Law, New England Law Review (1985).
- U.S. Versus IBM: An Exercise in Futility (1987).
Bob was a 1950 graduate of Harvard College and 1953 graduate of Harvard Law School. After clerking for the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, he spent a decade in the legal department at John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, and then the rest of his career with various firms in Boston.