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1998-05-23 16:19:26


Companies Fail to Warn Clients; Lawyers' Strategy



Peter de Jager warns companies not to hide the dead rat of noncomplisnt chips in a closet. It will eventually stink.

Don't rely on lawyers who advise keeping quiet, he says.

Having run into lawyers head-on in his short-lived "Project Damocles" whistle-blowing project, he should know better.

The lawyers are paid to keep companies out of trouble. Companies that tell the truth about their products will suffer reduced sales. They may be sued anyway. After all, they told the truth. "Anything you say may be held against you."

What's the best strategy? The lawyers know. Assume that all companies are selling noncompliant products. (True). Assume that the court system will jam up with cases. (Safe.) Assume that your client, on average, is as likely to be in the bottom half as the top half of the list of those whe get hauled into court. (Safe.) Bet that there will be relief from Congress: a law banning y2k-related law suits. (Probable.) Solution: don't say anything.

But this retards the flow of information. The information might help, says de Jager. But would it? ask the lawyers. Is there any evidence that y2k can be fixed? Very, very little. Is there any evidence that it is going to be fixed? Almost none. So, say nothing, hunker down, and wait. That's the lawyers' way. An information blackout makes the defense lawyers' job easier.

What is good for each company -- silence -- is bad for the system, e.g., the survival of the economy, and maybe even Western civilzation. This is the classic mark of a systemic failure. Y2K is a systemic problem. It will not be fixed.

This is from INFORMATIONWEEK (April 13). De Jager wrote it.

* * * * * * * *

After a conference late last year, a year 2000 manager of a chip manufacturer approached me and asked for my advice. He had found problems in some of his company's chips. The decision about whether or not to communicate the problem was being made by the marketing department. To the best of my knowledge, the company's clients are still in the dark.

More recently, another manager of a programmable logic chip (PLC) manufacturer related a similar story. He also had discovered some problems. He also has not informed the company's clients. He has kept silent on the advice of his lawyers: "Don't go looking for trouble."

This is irresponsible advice. At least those folks advising people to wait for the silver bullet have a one-in-a-quadrillion chance that someone, somewhere might find something to solve the problem (I'm not holding my breath). But to know that something will break and choose to ignore it in order to avoid a lawsuit for acknowledging it? That's just too unconscionable.

My advice to this particular manager: Fire your lawyers and get legal advice from your janitors. At least they know that if a rat dies in a closet, the way to avoid a stink is not to close the door and walk away. We must go looking for trouble if we are to have any hope of avoiding it. Our challenge is that we have no idea where to find embedded systems. But we do have two clues and one overriding guideline.

The first clue: It's a PLC and it needs electricity. Take an inventory of every electrical device in your organization-admittedly, a daunting task.


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