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[Debian-Lex] Interview with subproject leader

[Most of the discussion on the Debian-Lex proto-subproject has been
off-list, so I'm sending this one to the list so that people can see
something of our progress.  These answers will be made into an article
by Matt Black at some point after we get an official list and Web area.]

On Sun, 2003-04-27 at 10:07, Matt Black wrote:

> * Tell me a about yourself / your background.

I'm from Perth, Western Australia, where I work both as a lawyer
specialising in information technology law, and as the manager of an IT
consultancy.  Having one foot in the IT field and another in the IT
world is helpful because these areas cross over in much of the work that
I do.  For example, I fought a prominent legal case against a spammer
last year in which my IT knowledge proved useful, and my legal knowledge
is often useful when my IT consultancy provides services to law firms. 
I've been using Debian GNU/Linux for about eight years, and both arms of
my business now use it exclusively.

> * What is Debian?

Debian aims to be a universal operating system, that is free to
distribute and develop.  Debian is available for numerous types of
computer system, but its most widely used variant is based around the
Linux operating system kernel and runs on ordinary PC hardware.  It is,
if you like, an alternative for Microsoft Windows, but with the
advantage of having many thousands of software packages bundled with it,
all of which are free to use and to extend.

> * What is Debian-Lex?

Debian-Lex is project to create a subset of Debian that will provide a
pre-configured operating system designed specifically for use in legal
practice.  Our aim is that Debian-Lex will not only sit on lawyers'
desktops, but also be found in their accounts departments, on their
office servers, and be used in court registries.  Debian-Lex is not a
competitor to Debian, as everything that goes into Debian-Lex will go
straight into Debian also.  It will, however, make it easier to install
a Debian GNU/Linux system that is tuned to the requirements of a legal

> * Who are the people behind Debian and Debian-Lex?

The Debian project is quite unique in that it comprises over a thousand
participants from all around the world, ranging from software engineers
to documentation maintainers, all of whom are unpaid for the work they
contribute to the project (although some are sponsored by their
employers).  Debian-Lex, being a sub-project of Debian, is being
developed by some of these same volunteers, so far including three
qualified lawyers.  Anyone is welcome to apply to join the project, so
long as they share our ideals of collaboratively developing a free
operating system.

> * What advantages will Debian-Lex bring to lawyers and law firms?

There are hundreds of proprietary software packages designed for
lawyers, to fulfil their specialist needs for time recording, trust
accounting, and client and matter management.  Most of these packages do
not interoperate with each other, and still less frequently can the
packages in use by one firm exchange information seamlessly with
packages in use by another firm, or those in use by a court.  One of our
main aims for Debian-Lex is to increase interoperability of legal

> * What kind of specialist software will be available in Debian-Lex?

We hope to provide a framework for various software packages to access
and maintain a central database of client and matter information.  One
of these will be a sophisticated multi-user accounting package, another
is a desktop time recording package, and a third is the well-renowned
Microsoft Office-compatible office suite, OpenOffice.org.  On a more
obscure note, we will have a tool to check for conflicts of interest,
and various tools to search and manipulate legal transcripts and

> * With the importance that attaches to legal proceedings, shouldn't lawyers be 
> willing to pay for the best rather than preferring free software?

Often free software (or open source software) is the best available. 
This is so because it can draw on the talents of a much wider community
of developers than proprietary software.  Moreover, if a software tool
does not meet the needs of its users, they have free access to the
source code which enables them to modify it to suit their requirements,
or to pay a software developer to do so.  Many lawyers have been caught
out when support for specialised proprietary software they are using has
been withdrawn by its developer, or the developer has gone out of
business.  The use of free, open source software reduces this concern.

> * When will Debian-Lex be 'released'?

That all depends on how many contributors decide to collaborate on it! 
The Debian project at large does not have a fixed timeline for its
releases, and Debian-Lex follows the same policy.  We expect that a
full, working operating system pre-configured for lawyers will be
available if not by the time of the next official Debian release, then
by the time of the following release.  Meanwhile, components of the
Debian-Lex project will be released into Debian's unstable branch in
incremental stages.  Regardless of whether you are a Debian developer,
or a software developer of any sort, we would welcome your input into
the project. 

JEREMY MALCOLM <Jeremy@Malcolm.id.au> Personal: http://www.malcolm.id.au
Providing online networks of Australian lawyers (http://www.ilaw.com.au)
and Linux experts (http://www.linuxconsultants.com.au) for instant help!
Disclaimer: http://www.terminus.net.au/disclaimer.html. GPG key: finger.

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