When it comes to information technology (IT) and matters related to the computer industry, Peter Vogel is simply in a class by himself. He became involved with computers when most of us had never heard of hard drive, RAM or the term megabyte. He has successfully combined his shrewd business background and technical know-how to deliver extremely targeted legal services to his clients as they relate to IT and the Internet.
“When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas we had a required statistics course, the first half of the course was FORTRAN programming and I just fell in love with it. I thought it was the coolest thing,” said Vogel. “When I graduated, I got a job programming on IBM mainframes.”
“I worked as a programmer for a few years in Arlington, spent some time in the army, and ended up in Washington D.C. When I arrived, I got into law school and graduate school, but selected graduate school thinking I’d do something that would only take a year or so.” He worked as a programmer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, went to school in the evenings, and got his master’s in computer science. He then returned to the University of Texas to work toward his doctorate, but he wasn’t entirely happy. “I ended up going to law school, but I went to law school never intending to be a lawyer. I thought I would do computer consulting and the law degree would be like an MBA,” Vogel explained.
Vogel taught graduate IT classes throughout law school. “When I graduated, I moved back home to Dallas and did IT consulting for two years with a CPA firm. After a few years, my clients asked me to represent them as a lawyer, so I just hung up a shingle and I was a sole practitioner for 14 years,” he said. “I came to Gardere 22 years ago, but I’ve only ever represented buyers and sellers of IT and Internet services. When I started in 1978, few people knew what the heck I was doing!”
Special Master From newspapers to just about every other kind of media, everything now is electronic. “What happens now is that all evidence in every case is electronic. The rules of procedure and rules of evidence have had to conform to the fact that everything is not paper anymore,” explained the attorney. “But from my perspective, electronic evidence is not a new topic; it’s a very old topic since every case I’ve ever had back to 1978 has had electronic evidence.”
“For the past 20 years, I’ve been appointed to be a special master in state and federal courts to help judges deal with complex IT and e-discovery disputes. Often times, the dispute has to do with software ownership, system implementations, Internet and electronic evidence. Not many lawyers have that opportunity because they don’t have the IT training I do. That’s what is unique,” said Vogel. Vogel has taught law courses on IT, software licensing, the Internet and e-discovery at SMU law school for more than 25 years. Also he offers lectures around the United States more than 30 times each year on these topics.
On the Case As one might imagine, Vogel works on some very challenging cases. A few years ago, he was a special master in a case in which the plaintiff accused the defendant of violating the copyright of licensed software. “There were 13 million lines of software code in dispute,” he said. “There was a computer science professor from Harvard on one side and computer science professor from Texas A&M on the other side. They couldn’t agree on the time of day, let alone anything else. I helped the judge as a special master to understand the evidence and there were 43 motions for summary judgments in that case presented to the judge. It was my job to assist the judge to better understand the technology.”
Teacher and Mentor Since 2000, Vogel has taught classes at the SMU on the law of e-commerce He loves to serve as a mentor to those students interested in pursuing a career in law. “I certainly try to help my students. But on a day-today basis, I have friends and children of friends who I give advice to in studying law and in IT,” Vogel said. A good friend of Vogel’s is a professor at TCU in Fort Worth and she said one of the best students she ever had has a background in IT and plans to enter law school this fall. Vogel has been working with the student giving him advice and industry insight.
Vogel is also the co-founder of the College of e-Neutrals. “A friend of mine from Birmingham, Alabama, Allison Skinner came up with an idea about mediating e-discovery disputes,” Vogel said, “She and I created this college three years ago to help train lawyers, special masters and arbitrators around the country about how to mediate electronic discovery disputes and also to assist them in working as special masters.” Vogel and Skinner have given training courses around the country – it has been well-received by both lawyers and judges.
Sharing Expertise Vogel has been excited to share his wealth of knowledge on the subject of IT, the Internet, and e-discovery, through a variety of mediums, including his blog. “It gives me a platform to talk about cases and technology,” he noted.
The attorney’s unique insight and perspective has been in high demand throughout the country and in other countries, too. He’s given hundreds of speeches all over the United States, Europe and Asia. Additionally, for 12 years, Vogel was the founding chair of the Texas Supreme Court Judicial Committee on Information Technology, the committee responsible for creating the e-filing system and helping automate the court system in Texas. “I was invited to a conference in Singapore about automating the judicial system. There were speeches about automating the court systems in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Texas,” stated Vogel.
“Recently, I’ve been following cybersecurity and crime patterns. McAfee pointed out that cybercrime targets right now are cloud service providers because here’s so much valuable data on the cloud,” Vogel stated. He is not surprised at the recent massive data breach at Target, but points out that TJ Maxx was hacked and it took nearly nine months and many millions of dollars before they found the hack. “There’s a huge lack of awareness about what is going on. In fact, Chancellor Merkel in Germany is proposing that all data for businesses and residents of the EU remain in the EU, and Brazil is considering the same law. That concept is called data localization.” Instead of the Internet holding all of the information where it’s convenient for the ISP, the government gets to decide where the information is kept. Vogel feels that governments may not be very aware of this important issue.
Stepping Away From The Computer… Being in such high-demand for legal services, teaching and speaking engagements makes finding downtime a challenge. Vogel starts work each morning at 3 a.m. “After I work for three hours, I run and I’ve been running since 1968. I do like to travel. I’ve also had cases in 38 states and I’ve spent time traveling in Asia and Europe,” Vogel stated.
Vogel and his wife have two sons and two grandsons who live in the Dallas area and the attorney is grateful to have everyone so close by. Son J.P. Vogel practices construction law and Stephen Vogel does consulting in e-commerce, social media and web design. Vogel is always pleased when his sons bounce legal questions and ideas off him.
In looking toward the future, Vogel intends to keep up with his cases, while factoring in pertinent speaking engagements. “I’ve had a limited practice now for 36 years and my sense is that there will be more dependence on the Internet by businesses,” he said. “I think there is only going to continue to be litigation as it relates to crime, bad behavior and libel and slander on the Internet.”