The Cloud: A Foul Play?

Whether or not to use the Cloud in your legal practice: that is the question. To be, or not to be, in the Cloud depends heavily on the ethical rules that guide our profession. Not surprisingly, those ethics commissions are having just as much difficulty grappling with the question as are the ordinary practitioners faced with the attractive option of SaaS and cloud products. Is there an ethical trap inherent in the use of these tools, just waiting to be sprung?

Fortunately, the ABA Commission on Ethics is striving to be realistic in its approach to the use of cloud computing and possible violation of client confidentiality. The Commission has drafted a proposal to assist lawyers in making decisions regarding cloud services. 

The gist of the proposal, as well as the gist of the ethics opinions rendered by state bar associations, is that a lawyer need take “reasonable” steps to ensure client confidentiality and that this same standard applies to use of the cloud to transmit client data. Some opinions also combine the concept of flexibility with reasonableness, clearly a nod to the “everchanging nature” of technology. Protection level may be adjusted based on the client’s needs and nature of the information involved. And, rightly so, the onus should be on the lawyer to establish that he or she acted reasonably with respect to the use of technology for storage, manipulation and transfer of data. This includes a showing that the lawyer acted diligently by, for example, analyzing terms of service, privacy policies, security features and actively took the steps necessary to ensure the greatest level of protection available. This does not inecessarily require a complete refusal to use anything cloud in support of your practice.

Take a look at some  of the reported ethics opinions. From these, you should be able to get a sense of what is required of you when you opt to look to skyward for technological assistance. And remember, just because it comes from the cloud doesn’t necessarily mean that something wicked this way comes.

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What Do You Want For Nothing? Credenza

Great tip on a legal product over at Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites (a fantastic legal tech blog if you are unfamiliar). Credenza offers practice management software to lawyers, charging $24.95 per month for the goods (Credenza Pro).  But Credenza has just come out with a slightly simpler version for free – Credenza Basic.

Credenza’s system is great for lawyers who love Outlook – the software works within Outlook, adding features that will help you organize your calendar, tasks, emails, documents, research, phone calls, notes, billable time by client matter, file or project. It will track time as you work. The process adds “files” to Outlook, which essentially operate as tags for your tasks. Organize those tags according to any system you wish and mark time spent accordingly. Check out the list of tagging and organizing functionality within Credenza Basic:


There are differences between Basic and Pro, as there should be for $24.95 per month. The big differences are multiple users and integrated billing software – you can take that time you tracked within Credenza and create a corresponding invoice to clients. But if it is simply little old you plugging away, then the free option makes tons of sense. Head on over to the site and check out the links on each of the functions listed above – there is a lot to digest. Thanks, Credenza!

More Online, Searchable, FREE Legal Research

The Free Law Reporter an electronic case reporter that freely publishes nearly every recent appellate and supreme court opinion, from state to federal US courts,  with emphasis on recent. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the build, the FLR is looking to a free, unencumbered (by whom, I wonder?) law reporter fit for educational, research and practical purposes. It’s source feed pulls weekly so there is a potential lag time involved in securing results. Tapped sources include the appellate courts of the 50 states and the federal government. The service culls the slip opinions that are fed to it every week, and then organizes the opinions into “ebooks”, with each state and federal jurisdiction gathered into a volume. FLR is also working out its search function: basic keyword searching is now available and facet searching and “more like this” functionality is coming soon. Coverage starts January 1, 2011, so it is not much for archive searching. However, as it very cleverly formats the “ebooks” in the .epub format, they are viewable on virtually any desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone and e-reader device, allowing interested parties to read the most current decisions in the relevant jurisdiction easily and efficiently. Right now, the feed  include everything that comes from a given court including “unpublished” opinions, orders, and motions, which screams out for some level of filtering, which FLR promises is coming soon. And the FLP is actively soliciting law professors and other legal professionals to assist in a project to tag and add headnotes to opinions!

Limitations notwithstanding, the FLP is precisely the type of research geared to modern practice that we should be clamoring for. Once clever developers learn how to harness the massive flow of legal information generated from our court and legislatures, make that information accessible and usable, then the old models of electronic research, with their hefty paywalls, invariably will have to change. It can’t happen soon enough for me.

Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites.

A Little Late To The WestLawNext Party

But, better late than never, so they say. After boning up on everything WLN hot on the heels of the rumors and ultimate announcement of the revolutionary new legal database search interface earlier this year, I came away with the impression of “cool, but not worth the extra change.”

Just the other day, as I was hopping onto Westlaw for my daily visit, I noticed a little orange link at the top with admonishment that, for a limited time, I could try WLN free of charge. I am not one to turn up any chance to play with a new toy, particularly a free chance, so I decided to run my rather arcane inquiry in WLN instead of the old interface.

I am not going to do a full blown review of WLN here – there are scores of great posts and articles out there that lovingly list out every feature and improvement.

All I want to say is this: that new search algorithm West has outfitted WLN with really does improve your results. My query was on a very fine point of insurance law – I was having some difficulty even understanding the question, let alone formulating a tight search for an answer (after this many years in the biz, it takes something else entirely to make me scratch my head). So I entered my mostly unformed inquiry into the search box and, to my surprise, the very first hit was directly on point. I can only imagine what WLN would do with one of my familiar searches.

The bottom line question for me on the issue of WLN has always been: is it worth the money? Before I would have responded, unequivocally, no way, Jose, I can get what I need just fine from the old interface. Now, I must qualify with the further response that, if you have matters requiring turbo-charged research in unfamiliar waters or cases where the stakes are higher and mistakes more expensive, then WLN may be a reasonable cost of doing business.

Lots of Legal Interest Apps, All In One Place

I can’t say all, because there are a few legal research apps I know that aren’t included on the lists. Nonetheless, this is STILL a pretty cool tabbed table of (mostly) iPhone apps to help you lawyer on the run. The list (link here) was compiled by Vicki Steiner at the UCLA School of Law. There are 23 listed for legal research and news, ranging from free to very much paid (here’s looking at you West), some strictly legal and some merely informative. There are 7 listed for law school and bar exam study. There are 22 listed for productivity, many among my favorites, including Dragon Dictation and DropBox. There are 23 apps for fun, including one I hadn’t heard of, called WestlawNext Gavel (link here), which lets you bring the virtual hammer down on your own personal judgments. Special texted download via code from those wacky guys at West. Go figure.

I also really appreciate that Vicki includes links on the overview tab to various app stores and collections, including Android Market, Android Zoom, Apple Web Apps, Blackberry App World, Evernote Trunk, Facebook App Store, Ovi Store, Palm Apps, uQuery, and USA.gov Mobile Apps. If you can’t find it here, don’t bother.

Thanks for the hard work, Vicki!

Bringing Granular Search to Scholar

Cool new functionality available now in Google Scholar – you can  search within citations to an article! This is particularly helpful for sorting and sifting through the citations to particularly popular piece, like the example in the Google Scholar Blog article announcing the feature: Einstein’s famous paper Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?. When you see the “Cited By ##”  in the search results in your Scholar search, click on it and you will get a new search box:

This allows you to actually search within the articles listed in the citation results so that you can get to the subsequent treatment you are looking for.

What does this mean for lawyers? After pulling up the U.S. Supreme Court Opinion in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB  v. Vinson (link here), I searched within the citations to find “same gender discrimination” and cut my list of citations from 7,258 to 30.

Take THAT, Westlaw and Lexis! Read more on this awesome research tool at the Google Scholar Blog (link here).

Typography for Lawyers

Image of Matthew Butterick from Typography for Lawyers

Do you know your typography? What is typography? Typography is visual text, the aesthetics of the written word. Your typography affects your message. For lawyers, typography can actually be quite rigid and subject to formal rules of court. But in those grey areas in which the court hath not spake (spoken), there is Typography for Lawyers.

Attorney Matthew Butterick is a typographical nut with a legal bent. He has a background in digital font creation and ran a website development studio. He has created an online “book” using WordPress on typography for lawyers (link here). Besides being an incredibly clever use of the WordPress platform, the “book” provides some very helpful advice and information for lawyers concerned with the physical appearance of their written words.

I found his book very easy to read, interesting and informative. I hope you do too.

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Adding Statute Links Where There Were None

Great tip from RIPS Law Librarian blog  on a tool for pulling the text of statutes from a web page that fails to include the hypertext link (link here). The tool is called LII Citer (link here) and it is offered by the Cornell Legal Information Institute. The tool works by adding the Citer to your favorites (in any browser). Simply highlight the law on the web page, then go to the Citer link in your Favorites and you will see the text of the highlighted statute. It currently accesses federal law only, see the list below:

  • U.S. Code, e.g. 12 U.S.C. 1749bbb-10c, or 7 U.S.C. 136a(c)(3), which links to the paragraph level, using the LII internal USC resolver.
  • United States Supreme Court, e.g. 457 U.S. 800, using the LII resolver that tries to find an LII-local copy, and failing that, gives the user the option of choosing another source.
  • Federal Circuit Court System, e.g. 875 F.2d 1059, “resolved” by constructing a direct link to the resource.org data set as hosted by lawlibrary.rutgers.edu
  • Code of Federal Regulations, e.g. 40 C.F.R. Part 164 Subpart D, tries to resolve section references with the get-cfr.cgi file at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov; if no section number is cited, then a resolver at ecfr.gpoaccess.gov is used.
  • US Statutes at Large, e.g. 118 Stat. 919, resolution currently very speculative, using get-cfr.cgi at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov
  • US Public Law, e.g. Pub. L. 110-116, fairly stable, using get-cfr.cgi at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov
  • Federal Register, e.g. 72 Fed. Reg. 37771, uses the getpage.cgi at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov

Even without state statutes, it is still a handy tool for speeding up your web-based research process. Thanks Cornell and RIPS!

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When Social Media Hits Your Wallet

I just read an interesting post by Omar-Ha-Redeye at Slaw on how social media usage might result in an increase in insurance’ premiums to reflect an increased risk of loss (link here). The article actually discussed homeowners’ premiums and privacy and location-based services. These topics have been the subject of heavy discussion over the past two weeks, spurred at least in part by the brouhaha from Google’s launch of Buzz with insufficient privacy controls and the articles surrounding the website Please Rob Me. Personally, I think Please Rob Me is about ten times more irresponsible than the original location posters – it opens up location data to anyone and everyone in a clearinghouse-style, hyper-organized fashion not available to the potential robber who randomly peruses Twitter, Foursquare or any of the other location-based services that first require a friend or follow connection. Furthermore, I doubt that the persons engaging in this activity are learning the lesson this site is “purporting” to teach. But enough about that.

The title of Omar’s post sent my thoughts in a different direction – lawyers using social media who might experience an increase in legal malpractice fees. I am not suggesting that this is currently the case – I don’t have the data to back it up. But there certainly have been news stories over the past year outlining the different ways that lawyers can get themselves in trouble in and out of court based on their own on-line activities.

Engaging in social media in general, and for lawyers in particular, requires common sense. The same common sense that people and professionals should employ in the off-line world. Internet trouble may result from the incorrect perception that only those you are interested in targeting with your efforts will see your efforts. In reality, the digital trail is wide and clear for anyone interested enough to follow.

That said, if you only publish content that is valuable and well-thought out, there should be little problem with the law. On the other hand, you cannot control the perceptions of the other side in a dispute. So, how do you engage and protect at the same time? Carefully read your malpractice policy to ensure that on-line activity is not excluded. If it is excluded, then consider contacting your carrier / agent to discuss adding such coverage. There are specific insurance policies now being offered that cover blogging activity. It is worth it to take some time with your coverage and make sure it protects against the risks you want it to protect against.

Above all, if you are on-line in a professional capacity, keep it professional! If your activity doesn’t pass the “smell” test, well, then ….

And Something New From Fastcase: A Free iPhone App

Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites carried this post (link here) on Fastcase’s new iPhone application. What’s so special about it? Well, for one, free case law and statutes. Or is that two? Bob indicates that FastCase offers the largest, free, law library on the iPhone.  He does a comprehensive review of a pre-release version of what he describes as a fast and easy-to-use tool at the link above, complete with screenshots. I recommend you hit the link for the details – I haven’t my own copy yet to play with. However, this paragraph bears repeating:

As I noted at the outset, the app will be free to download and searching the Fastcase library using the app will also be free. First-time users will be required to register, but there will be no cost. Current Fastcase subscribers will be able to use their existing log-on and password.

How cool is that? I really can’t wait for this one to release.