The views of programmers & lawyers on Y2K : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Just a thought, for what it's worth:

My observation has been that the single most polarized group of people on Y2K is programmers. They either think it's no big problem, or they've headed for the hills (figuratively or literally). There's rarely much in between. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that they're basing their entire Y2K outlook on their experience. If their project was easy, well then apparently all of Y2K is easy. If their's was a nightmare, well then TEOTWAWKI, or some flavor thereof.

That said, I've also noticed one single group of people who, when they have devoted their attention to Y2K, are pretty much unanimous in *their* outlook, and that's lawyers. I don't know if you all saw a column in Computerworld a while back by a tech columnist who attended a Y2K lawyers/legal meeting. He said that as opposed to tech types, who tended to speak in generalities and hopes, etc, the lawyers were smart and quite organized, point for point. They knew what they were looking for, and what they intended to do. Having been around some of the top Y2K lawyers in the country, I can pretty much vouch for that. They know what the issues are, and what they're all about.

Just some thoughts...

-- Drew Parkhill/CBN News (, March 10, 1999


We'd like to hear more about that Drew, especially from you--you early riser you. . . :)

-- FM (, March 10, 1999.

Yes, Drew, Please tell us, are they stocking up or just hiring bigger staffs to handle all their Y2K litigation? Haven't heard of any of them heading for the hills, guess there's just too much money to be made.

Interesting point: My aunt's stock broker told her "let's not panic over this" but he moved to New Mexico last fall. Coincidence? Not!

-- Sue (, March 10, 1999.

Com'on guys. They're lawyers. They smell blood. Picture sharks circling in the water waiting for the feeding frenzy. Whatever damage the glitch doesn't do, the lawyers will be sure to finish the job. Y2K is just one BIG opportunity to them. Can you say "class action suits"?

-- David (, March 10, 1999.

As Cory has said:

Good food and the lawyers ( and were surprisingly interesting.

The slides should be accessable at those sites so I won't type in the revelations. Summarizing, these law firms specialize in Y2K issues and believe that the situation is more doomer than broomer, that a combination of procrastination and possibly ignorance, has put us in a precarious position.

They expect a panic toward the end of the year because the {government, corporate management, -bks-ers} has allowed denial to last far longer than it should.

Personally, I don't much trust lawyers. And Koskinen is a lawyer.

-- a (a@a.a), March 10, 1999.

What Dave has said is very true. These sharks have chewed on me since childhood and I expect them to continue for the rest of my life. Unless they choke themselves on Y2K. Even though I have never committed a crime, was never found giuilty, lawyers truely and literally have ripped the clothes off my back and my toilet from under my arse.

-- fly .:. (.@...), March 10, 1999.

Didn't they put a limit on how much could be 'awarded' for damages cause by Y2K? I think it was in the $250,000 range...?? Anyone??


-- Deano (, March 10, 1999.

I have to agree with Drew's assessment of lawyers. I have a friend who is on the Y2K committee for his large local church along with two powerful and influential local lawyers. Both of them are planning on having a two-month supply of cash on hand for Y2K (and two months for these guys is a substantial amount of greenbacks).

-- Nabi Davidson (, March 10, 1999.

In Silicon Valley the "big" high-tech law firm, Fenwick has a dedicated Y2K litigation team. (Of course they do.)

Drew, if you plan to do an article, be sure to "dig" there.


-- Diane J. Squire (, March 10, 1999.

Whatever damage the glitch doesn't do, the lawyers will be sure to finish the job. Y2K is just one BIG opportunity to them. Can you say "class action suits"?

The lawyers are already doing lots of damage just by being there. Because of the threat of lawsuits, companies are unwilling to share the true picture of what progress they are making with remediation, assuming that they know. This prevents both businesses and individuals from preparing properly, because nobody really knows whether the work is being done in time or not. Even if there are companies that get their own code fixed in time, many of them are still dependent on vendors achieving compliance in order to stay in business. The only assurance they have from vendors is the same legal boilerplate garbage that they themselves release to the public. The end result of this is that if things go bad on Jan 1, they will catch a lot of people unprepared who might otherwise have had a chance to know that their cozy little lives were about to be shattered.

-- Tom Knepper (, March 10, 1999.

Deano -

Nope, no limits yet, but a Senate bill limiting damages did narrowly move out of committee last week. Congresscritters are engaged in much debate (I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked!), but currently a winning argument is that all those companies that failed to act and get the work done on this completely-predictable failure deserve the full force (read "actual AND punitive damages) of the law. Senator Hollings was quoted as saying, "Why should we punish all those companies that spent the right amount of money and time and got the work done by letting their competitors off the hook?"

Some state legislatures are also having the same discussion. Check out Y2K Press Clippings and search on "law".

Stay tuned...

-- Mac (, March 10, 1999.

Mac - Thanks! I knew I read/heard about it somewhere. I think there really should be a limit (not sure what it should be but certainly more than $250,000). We only spent $47,000,000.00 on it. I wonder if that's the 'right amount'. How the hell do you define 'right amount'?!? Not sure what to make of that statement.


-- Deano (, March 10, 1999.

Got news for you, Tom, the only reason most of these companies are taking y2k seriously is BECAUSE of the lawyers, of which I am one, though I do not practice in the y2k area. Do you think AT&T was just going to send out a little postcard to all the purchasers of their noncompliant phone system to tell them to kindly stop by any AT&T dealer to receive a new compliant phone system? Apply that logic to any of these suppliers. The only thing that gets their attention is a lawyer breathing down their neck, representing someone with a valid claim who will suffer an injury that will make them look like an ass when innocent people are victimized.

What are lawyers doing? Speaking for this one, I'm following the litigation, keeping up with as many seminars on y2k as I can through my different organizations. It's scary stuff, folks, what can be uncovered during discovery and what is anticipated, especially in the health care industry. And nothing gets me more riled than some complainer whining about lawyers. Believe me, there's no defense lawyer in this great country of ours who's up nights over a stubbed toe in the supermarket. But give them the potential for deaths in every hospital in this country due to equipment failure, and they get more than a little uncomfortable. This lawyer is stocking up and preparing for the worst.

An interesting element to y2k litigation is that more small firms will be part of the wave of lawsuits from failures due to potential conflicts of interest. If you look at law firm X who employs 800 people and represents all the big utilities and corporations in town, law firm X is not going to be able to represent factory A when A sues utility B because A lost millions when the power went out and A has a written guarantee that the power would still be on because of a conflict of interest. So factory A will turn to law firm Y who maybe employs 40 or less, and this will continue throughout this country.

Please don't knock lawyers, folks. Without lawyers we'd still have thalidamide babies, asbestos and lead paint in our construction, and the safety procedures in our industries would be nil. Nothing teaches an American corporation like a hit to the wallet.

-- Sue (, March 10, 1999.

Sue -- Sorry, I still hate lawyers with a passion. NEVERTHELESS, your post is excellent. The simplest way to fix Y2K so you wouldn't be sued was to (sound of drums) .... fix ... it. Amazing facts!

The simplest way to keep from being sued NOW and in the future is to do everything possible to fix the code, keep your actions visible and (more sound of drums) ... tell ... the ... truth. Another amazing fact!

Yes, Sue, you're right about the role of lawyers in the current system (viz. your ATT example). Why/how it came to that is another story which I admit is beyond my competence though not beyond my ability to have an opinion, obviously. By all means, keep the pressure on. The current litigation limitation legislation is, though I say it through gritted teeth that make my jaw ache, a joke.

So, Sue, sue all the b*&^terds.

-- BigDog (, March 10, 1999.

Sue -

Did you see the Garner Group's Y2K progress charts organized by US industry? I seem to recall that both the legal and medical fields are in very poor shape indeed. Ironic, isn't it? Two industries made up of highly-educated professionals are about to get clobbered by a completely-predictable problem...

-- Mac (, March 10, 1999.


Yes, I did see those figures, and I have to admit my trusty old laptop will be a paperweight (according to my IT man) come the rollover but the desktop is continually being updated and should be fine (fingers are crossed). I'm not taking any chances, though; everything's hardcopied and will continue to be throughout '99. However, the noncompliance of law firms is really not as impacting as it seems. From a lawfirm standpoint we rely on computers for two areas (and you other lurking lawyers can confirm this or add to it as you see fit): legal research and in-house PC work. Depending on how dependant you are on your office technology, you will either get a big hit or a tiny one. The skills remain, however, in the grey matter.

For instance, any lawyer who relies on tickler programs for docket dates into 2000 is crazy, IMHO. Same thing with accounting and other scheduling software. Most law firms in my experience over-copy; my office is flooded with "cc" mail on a daily basis, and all those hard copies go to the file. Most legal filing systems have date reminders in written form and cover pages that list all pertinent dates; firms (including mine) who deal heavily with the courts and in form-related work have preprinted checklists and charts and diagrams up the wazoo, because a date missed is the most common reason for a malpractice suit. Most lawyers in my experience are also not very trusting of technology. The newer lawyers (last 5 years or so) who were wooed by Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis throughout law school and learned to rely on those companies' researching techniques may have a tough time if everything really goes kablooey, and they don't fall in that non-trusting category. But the last time I looked the books were all still there in the law library, though they were on-line and on CD-ROM as well. Smaller firms who can't afford the software and still must rely on the library and other hands-on procedures will be in good shape, as any firm that still retains the knowledge of legal research the "hard way." What bothers me is court docketing procedures which are usually automated according to district, and most of them use different software by region. That non-compliance could throw a wrench into things. But again, there are alot of old timer judges (especially in smaller districts) who were previously lawyers suspicious of technology and still do everything on paper.

The legal industry cannot be compared to the medical industry which is reliant on heavily computerized machinery which can mean the difference betwen life and death. If you take an MRI technician and say, "whoops, no MRIs anymore," that person's out of a job. If you take a paralegal and say, "whoops, no computers anymore," she or he can head to the library and prepare to sue the MRI manufacturer and the hospital.


-- Sue (, March 10, 1999.


Please check back later. I have some various thoughts on your points, but, since I've been 100mph since I wrote the first post in this thread (circa 5 a.m. or something) & have had nothing to eat... the call of food is too strong. However, I have talked to lawyers I consider at the absolute forefront of Y2K, and want to pass on some thoughts & see what people think. I should get this done by 11 tonight, if not well before...

-- Drew Parkhill/CBN News (, March 10, 1999.


First, to respond to one of your points:

>>Got news for you, Tom, the only reason most of these companies are taking y2k seriously is BECAUSE of the lawyers, of which I am one, though I do not practice in the y2k area. Do you think AT&T was just going to send out a little postcard to all the purchasers of their noncompliant phone system to tell them to kindly stop by any AT&T dealer to receive a new compliant phone system? Apply that logic to any of these suppliers. The only thing that gets their attention is a lawyer breathing down their neck, representing someone with a valid claim who will suffer an injury that will make them look like an ass when innocent people are victimized.

Well, the threat of going out of business if Y2K wasn't fixed did manage to get at least some companies' attention, I would suspect. It wasn't the threat of litigation alone. I do agree that's been an incentive (or at least I would think so).

Now, moving on, I'd like to toss out a couple more points, from different sides of the fence.

On one side: one reason why there are difficulties over the legislation under consideration on Y2K litigation is the simple fact that, to a large extent at least, the lawyers are *right* - ie, management in many cases has been negligent, waited too long, permitted a non-compliant product to go to/stay on the market, etc. This very argument came up during the recent hearings on the McCain proposal:


(sorry, don't have time to hotlink & rearrange the whole post with the necessary paragraph codings)

That story deals with the famous example of Produce Palace in Michigan, which settled out of court with the company which provided a non-compliant cash register system which shut down the whole store & created all kinds of problems. The owner said that if the McCain proposal was law at the time, he might never have won the settlement.

On the other side of this issue: the fear of lawsuits has created a major information bottleneck, or at least is blamed for having done so. One big example is found at:


In that case, the National Retail Federation surveyed 82,000 members, and most didn't respond. Fear of lawsuits was blamed as a key factor. I repeatedly hear about this. Peter de Jager even wrote in his recent column that lawyers are bottling up good news (I have run into this phenomenon myself, so I know it exists). The reason given being that "if we say we're ready, and we're not, bam, we're sued, etc." This same reasoning shows up in another story, this one about utilities in Michigan. One representative said that although he was confident, he had to "be careful" about what he said "from a legal standpoint."

"You can't make promises you can't keep," he said.

This story is found at:


In other words, lawyers are serving both positive (the threat/incentive of lawsuits) and negative (information bottleneck) functions in Y2K.

Your thoughts?

-- Drew Parkhill/CBN News (, March 10, 1999.

I totally agree, Drew, that lawyers are going to both chill speech and be an impetus toward remediation. But I think you have to take the good with the bad, and I don't believe in this case that preventing a CEO from saying his company is compliant when it may not be is necessarily a bad thing. When public safety is at issue, and y2k involves public safety to an extreme, I believe erring on the side of caution is wise. However, I do not believe that fear of litigation is even a major player in chilling the press right now -- the mainstream press, that is. Did you see the thread on the press conference where the press was told to cool it with the scary stories? The "powers that be" want to prevent public panic and bank runs (read: our financial infrastructure and everyone's MONEY), not lawsuits. They've effectively taken that bite out through punitive damages limitations in nearly half of our states.

I think sometimes it's easy to say, "my lawyer has advised me not to say," when a sticky question is asked, especially since many times the lawyer has advised that. But lawyers act as advisors on more issues than litigation. For instance, way back when, when I did divorces, if I had a female client who was afraid to tell her husband "no" for some reason or another, I'd say blame it on me, say your lawyer said to say no. It takes the heat off the client and places the blame on me; hence some of the lawyer bashing that has arisen. Now, lawyers can be sharks, don't get me wrong, that's what we're paid for. But we're also paid for prudence and clear-headed advising in a time of crisis on all matters from financial to prognostic to image-control, as well as litigation.

I was very happy when the supermarket case came out; it probably was one of reasons most of our domestic credit machines are now compliant. Have you seen any of the ABA reporting on y2k, or any of the state stuff? I don't know how much of this stuff is on the web, but i could probably look around for you, if you want an "insider's" view. My particular state Bar has been more than helpful in compliance issues for individual law firms.


-- Sue (, March 11, 1999.

Got news for you, Tom, the only reason most of these companies are taking y2k seriously is BECAUSE of the lawyers, of which I am one, though I do not practice in the y2k area. Do you think AT&T was just going to send out a little postcard to all the purchasers of their noncompliant phone system to tell them to kindly stop by any AT&T dealer to receive a new compliant phone system? Apply that logic to any of these suppliers. The only thing that gets their attention is a lawyer breathing down their neck, representing someone with a valid claim who will suffer an injury that will make them look like an ass when innocent people are victimized.

Have to disagree with you Sue, that this is the only reason companies are taking y2k seriously, though it may be a reason. Any company with a CEO who is capable of understanding the issues and comprehending the threat that faulty code poses to the company's future existence will take y2k very seriously. The code itself is impervious to lawsuits --if it is not fixed, it will fail, regardless of who is suing who. If a company loses the ability to tap into its customer database, for example, getting sued is the least of its worries.

I'm glad that you believe in your profession --everyone should believe in what they do, and I'm sure the legal profession has had its successes. But if big businesses are motivated chiefly by profit, as you imply, then law firms, being big businesses themselves are no different. They will initiate y2k lawsuits because there is profit in it for them, not because this will help society at large.

If the end result of these lawsuits is to dam up the free flow of information about y2k repairs, according to you, that is an unfortunate side effect that lawyers are not to be blamed for. The fact is though that a lack of information, or false, misleading information about a looming crisis could hurt a lot of people. If companies continue to stonewall, and paint happy-face pictures from now until Dec 31, even though their internal code repair efforts are going down the toilet, then the public will be in for a very rude and possibly life-threatening awakening. I'm not trying to blame this on lawyers, only to say that they are part of the scenario that seems to be shaping up that the truth will not be told to the public until events force it out into the open.

-- Tom Knepper (, March 11, 1999.

Thomas -

I think we're seeing a lot more pressure to deliver "happy face" Y2K messages coming from high level officials (like Koskinen and Kelley) than from lawyers. See thread: Koskinen and The Press

What info do we think the lawyers are keeping companies from publishing? Accurate status reports? The SEC has all but threatened companies with grievous bodily harm if they don't provide sufficient information, and many are STILL not complying. Their stock prices (and much of their executive compensation) would collapse if it was made clear that they're not going to finish in time. We will hear that, by and large, everyone's doing "just fine" right up until the moment when reality proves otherwise. I'm just glad that folks like Senators Bennett and Morella and Congressman Horn are using their own "bully pulpits" to ask a few tough questions...

"A project is always right on schedule, at least until it isn't."

-- Mac (, March 11, 1999.


Yes, I would definitely like to hear what information you have. Thanks.

Incidentally, I wasn't so much worried about a chilling effect on the media as I am on businesses talking to the government, or each other. That information bottleneck could prove to be extraordinarily serious.

-- Drew Parkhill/CBN News (, March 12, 1999.

Tom, When I wrote that "the only reason companies are taking y2k seriously ...," I was referring to the initiation of y2k remediation and the insistence of remediation being made public. Remember, most companies believed until just recently (and some still believe) that they still have enough time to fix the problems. The supermarket case that Drew cited and the AT&T class action, and now this California case against the computer retailers is getting people's attention. But more importantly, it's forcing some of the companies who wear the happy faces to admit that they may not make it, or at least they may watch over their IT dept. a little more closely, perhaps ask more detailed questions or demand more accurate answers. Yes, much of this is due to requirements by the government, but what is the private profession of most of our lawmakers? That's right, and the drive to expose the truth doesn't disappear when you change careers.

If I implied that big business is just out to make money, I apologize. I know that they're out to make money. These are not 501(c)(3) corps, these are good ol' American capitalists, and there's nothing wrong with that. But please don't compare law to big business, regardless of what Hollywood would like us to believe. Some lawyers in my profession do make a healthy profit in some cases. But let's talk about some starting salaries. A typical starting salary for a young lawyer with a private firm after 4 years of college and 3 years of law school (and the corresponding student loans about to kick in) is between $30 and $40,000.00 per year, depending on the city. Government lawyers get paid far, far less. When I graduated in '92 the city of Miami was hiring at $18,000.00 per year. Compare that with the starting salary for doctors, all specialties, starting at over $100,000.00. Most plaintiffs' lawyers make a contingency fee set by their state Bar, and many times get paid nothing at all because the law was not in our favor and we lost the case. Justice Holmes wrote, "the law is a jealous mistress," and this is the definite truth; we work long hours towards an uncertain outcome, often at the expense of our families and our non-working lives. I know many a lawyer who elected a different career after realizing they couldn't make ends meet on a typical lawyer's salary.

The differences between law as a profession and a business are astronomical. When we are sworn in to the Bar we take an oath, not to make as much money as possible, but to never turn away a client because of money. We are regulated by the state Bar as an arm of the Supreme Court, with penalties including jail time for treating a client improperly. Our bank accounts are subject to audit by our state Bar as well as the IRS. And finally, we are absolutely and personally liable for every decision we make; we cannot hide behind the "corporate veil." Try living with that knowledge. It's not a comfortable feeling that I can be personally sued along with my firm for a professional decision regardless of the kind of corporation I set up or work for (government excluded here). And then try living with the amount of lawyer bashing that occurs.

Sorry to get so wordy. Like you said, I do believe in my profession. In light of what I said above, please believe me when I say that lawyers are not motivated by profit alone. It's too nerve-racking a way to earn a living.


-- Sue (, March 12, 1999.

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