In front of a packed house of nearly 500 people at the Law School auditorium, David Boies LAW ’66, regarded by many as the highest profile litigator in the country, spoke last night of his work in the Napster, Microsoft and 2000 presidential election cases.
The Yale Law and Technology Society invited Boies as a part of a series that brings in prominent speakers approximately once every other week. Although Boies is perhaps most famous for representing Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election recount fiasco, last night he spoke primarily about technology’s impact on law.
Over the years, Boies has worked on many prominent cases, representing IBM, AOL, CBS and George Steinbrenner. More recently, he was hired by the U.S. Department of Justice to tackle the landmark antitrust case against Bill Gates and Microsoft. Following his successes with that case, he defended Napster against the Recording Industry Association of America’s successful attempt to shut down the online music-trading service.
“In general, we’ve had a lot of success in getting big names to come,” Yale Law and Technology Society president Robin Goldstein LAW ’02 said. “But this is definitely one of our biggest ones this year.”
Although Boies spoke distinctly about his three most famous cases, the common theme in his speech was technology.
“What we’re seeing now is that the pace of technological change has accelerated far beyond what anybody could have comprehended,” Boies said. “But we’re also seeing that courts and institutions are continually adapting to the technological changes they are facing.”
Boies said the Microsoft case tested the bounds of law because of the rapid pace in which technology advances. He said even if technology moves ahead of the law, the law never becomes irrelevant. Antitrust laws apply to all industries, including computer and Internet ones, he said.
The Napster case was similar to the Microsoft case in the sense that the courts’ ability to understand the technology and apply their laws to it was a crucial issue.
“There were things about the technology that the court couldn’t understand in the limited amount of time the court had,” Boies said. “Peer-to-peer technology was unlike anything they had had before.”
He emphasized the growing power of the Internet and the influence it has had on the Napster case.
“The record industry is fighting a losing battle,” Boies said. “One of the greatest promises — or inconveniences — of the Internet is that it is borderless. How do you deal with something that has the power and scope of the Internet?”
Although technology was an obvious aspect of the Microsoft and Napster cases, Boies also managed to tie in the concept to the Florida ballot recount case.
He spoke about the problems that can arise from using punch cards as ballots, such as voter error and interpretation of voter intent. Punch card ballots typically have an error rate of 0.5 percent, which in usually not enough to make a difference in an election. But in this particular election, it did, Boies said.
Following his 45-minute speech, Boies took about 15 minutes to answer questions from the audience.
“[Boies] did a great job on touching on all three of the cases people wanted to hear about,” Goldstein said.
Many of the Law School students were also pleased with Boies’ speech, as approximately 20 of them waited outside to get his autograph and ask him questions.
“He’s a rock star lawyer,” John Leibovitz LAW ’03 said.
Other audience members said they admired Boies’ delivery and unbiased style of speech.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” Alexi Nazem ’04 said. “I’m a big fan of his. I thought his speech was very fair, and I liked how he gave objective opinions.”
And it was Nazem who elicited perhaps Boies’ funniest comment of the evening.
“What role do your personal views play in your cases?” Nazem asked. “I mean, would you have represented Microsoft instead of the government? Would you have defended the RIAA instead of Napster? George Bush instead of Al Gore?”
Boies’ response: “Yes, yes and no.”
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