The Internet and the Law
Since the Internet was opened to commercial use in 1995, it has had a tremendous impact on the way business is done worldwide.
Jane Kaufman Winn, associate professor in SMU School of Law, is one of only a few researchers in the country studying the impact of e-commerce on commercial law and on the legal profession.
"One of the most interesting things about e-commerce is the degree to which lawyers may become increasingly irrelevant if the technology works as intended by its designers," Winn says. "This has very profound implications for what attorneys should be learning in law school and what they should be doing in law practice, because some traditional areas of law practice may become much less important."
For example, Winn explains, tens of billions of dollars of commercial transactions have been conducted over the past 20 years using "electronic data interchange" technologies, yet there has never been a single reported litigated case involving EDI contracts.
One foundation of successful e-commerce, Winn says, is the organizations responsible for setting the technical standards for conducting business over the Internet. These organizations are addressing such issues as what can be used in lieu of a manual signature in electronic commerce agreements. Winn received a grant from SMUs University Research Council to study various organizations involved in setting technical standards for e-commerce.
"The work of technical standard-setting organizations has attracted relatively little attention among academics studying legal and political institutions," Winn says. She hopes her research will provide the foundation for an analysis of the relative fairness and efficiency of the different standard-setting processes.
"The ability to evaluate these institutions critically from a larger social and political perspective is essential, given the growing importance of information technology and its ability to displace existing legal and political institutions as sources of binding norms governing social and economic behavior," Winn says.
Winn, who joined the SMU faculty in 1989, is well-positioned to conduct research on e-commerce because her original legal specialties included comparative law and general business law, which covers such areas as automated commercial transactions. She also worked as a stockbroker before earning her law degree from Harvard Law School.
Winn is co-author of the treatise The Law of Electronic Commerce (1998) and has published numerous papers on different issues relating to the law of electronic commerce.
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