Technologist - FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog


Like it or not, Microsoft Word is one of the two de facto word processing applications lawyers have to make peace with. (The other, WordPerfect, continues to enjoy widespread use, in spite of itself.)

Many practitioners, though, don't unlock the true power of Microsoft Word. Instead, they treat it as more or less a text-based word processor, which it is, but it's also desktop publishing software. Take a look at these tips to see if you're using Word to its full potential.

The ABA's Techshow took place in Chicago last week, gathering lawyers and tech vendors from around the world to look at the potential future of technology in the legal world. (As an aside, the ABA would like us to refer to the conference as the TECHSHOW, but we will politely decline.)

From exhortations to test lawyers' tech skills, to warnings that computers could dumb us all down, the program presented a nice mix of the useful and trivial, the inspiring and worrisome.

If you couldn't make it yourself, here's a few highlights of what you missed.

"Analytics" is everywhere these days, from social media to baseball. It's the process of aggregating a bunch of data and then using those data to formulate trends or come to conclusions.

The legal world is embracing analytics, too -- and in some interesting ways. A startup company called Ravel Law just debuted a platform called Judge Analytics, which seeks to aggregate data about state and federal judges so that litigants can fine-tune their strategies for specific judges.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

We keep hearing about new and different ways that data can be hacked in the online and wireless world. And, generally speaking, our concern tends to be that our personally identifiable information may be stolen and misused. But that may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the negative consequences of hack attacks.

Indeed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) now is concerned about the security of modern aircraft that are more and more dependent on the Internet, as reported by The Guardian. According to a recent GAO report: "Modern aircraft are increasingly connected to the Internet. This interconnectedness can potentially provide unauthorized remote access to aircraft avionics systems."

Best Ultrabook Under $1,300

Apple has set the bar high with its new Retina MacBook, a computer that combines the slimness of the MacBook Air with the audacious screen of the Retina MacBook Pro.

The Retina MacBook isn't the only game in town, though, when it comes to the "ultrabook" -- a category of thin, low-power notebooks designed for portability and very long battery life that don't make the sacrifices of netbooks. So what's the best ultrabook for the money?

It hasn't been a good few months for ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization that brings together (often conservative) state legislators and corporate interests to write model legislation. Several major corporations have been jumping ship as the organization has faced increasing criticism.

What's the best way to deal with critics? Sue them! At least that's increasingly become ALEC's strategy. The group has sued critics in the past and has will probably continue to -- the group has started to send out cease and desist letters to MVNO Credo after the small telecom claimed ALEC's policies keep broadband uncompetitive.

When I was in law school, course materials repeatedly referred to "Google or Bing," as in, don't use them for legal research. It was a combo that was, literally, laughable. Bing? Almost no one used Bing back then.

And that's a problem, according to the European Union. With Google having a virtual lock down on the Internet search market -- it controls around 65 percent of U.S. searches, but over 90 percent of searches in Europe -- it has enormous power to control where Internet users end up. And it's been abusing that power to promote its own services, according to an antitrust complaint filed by the EU.

Google announced last week the creation of a "Google Scholar" button for Chrome. The button sits in your tool bar and allows you to search for terms on a Web page in Google Scholar without actually going to the Google Scholar website.

No less an authority than Professor Orin Kerr of George Washington University Law School lauded the button last week -- because Google Scholar also searches case law. That it does, but for practitioners, a legal research database is still the best solution.

We talk a lot about cybersecurity here, and not just because the Internet is a scary place full of crazed Russian hackers ready to steal your every cached file. It's because of that, but it's also because we're lawyers, and we're trained to look at potential risks.

Some of those risks may get a bit smaller should Congress pass any of the three cybersecurity bills coming down the pipeline. The bills seek to increase information sharing between the private sector and government and protect companies from liability when sharing information. Privacy advocates and the White House have expressed concerns that the bills could lead to greater gathering of person information by the NSA, however.

The Department of Homeland Security could possibly have to reveal details of its secretive Standing Operating Procedure 303 program should the D.C. Circuit rehear a recent decision en banc. SOP 303 is the voluntary process for cutting off the nation's cellular phone system in times of emergency.

The program, adopted after cell phones were used in a 2005 London bombing, is highly controversial. Cutting off mobile communication is something more often associated with authoritarian regimes looking to maintain a tenuous grasp on power. The Egyptian government under Hosni Mubarak shut off cell service during the Arab Spring protests, for example. Iran, Mynamar, and China have all taken steps to stop mobile communication at some point.

So, will a rehearing mean that we'll find out what would cause the U.S. to do the same?