Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

October 2015 Archives

Age Detection Software Poses Big Risk for Employers

If you're not already aware, a browser extension application was created recently to give a web user an estimation of an individual's age based on their LinkedIn information.

In this age of "there's an app for that," this is hardly a shocker. But did you ever stop to think about the possible legal implications?

Harvard, not content to be the world's premier owner of books bound in human flesh, wants to unleash its giant law library on the world. The university announced this week that it will be digitizing its massive law library in order to create a complete, searchable database.

Oh, and it will be free. Suck it, Lexis and Westlaw, says Harvard. (Westlaw, of course, is a valued legal resource and sister company to FindLaw. We wish them only the best.)

Senate Votes to Give DHS Cyber-Spying Immunity

We previously wrote about a victory by Privacy International who successfully argued in court that the British Intelligence Services was in cahoots with the the United States in sending private citizens' information through PRISM. That suit spawned the online tool to see whether or not you'd been looked into.

Back on this side of the pond, things are not looking all that great, but that probably strikes most people as no surprise. The Senate "overwhelmingly" approved the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act on Tuesday, according to ArsTechnica. The effect of this is to immunize companies who share user data with the US Government Department of Homeland Security.

A recent article in The Atlantic asks the question, "do lawyers need offices anymore?" No. No they do not. The article features several firms that have made a successful go of it as virtual practice, forgoing the wood paneling and real-estate fees for practices operated largely over the Internet.

We at FindLaw, of course, have long been proponents of the virtual office. You don't need to be a tech genius or a cutting-edge innovator to give up on commercial leases. Pretty much any attorney can operate a virtual practice these days. Here are 11 ways to get started, today.

DNA analysis was once at the forefront of medical science. Now it's just another consumer entertainment product. Rub a swab against your cheek, send it off to a company like Ancestry.com or 23andMe and in a few weeks you'll get a quick, simple genetic profile. Who knew you were part Polynesian?

But those companies are creating vast genetic repositories based on consumer curiosity. Police, in turn, are turning to those data stores to search for DNA matches that aren't in criminal databases, according to a report by Wired. And even if you never swabbed yourself, a relative's DNA sample can be enough to implicate you.

Apple's 'Smooth Internet Experience' Leads to Smooth Lawsuit Experience

Apple is facing more legal trouble in the wake of a class action lawsuit brought by disgruntled users who haplessly upgraded to its iOS 9 operating system.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that Apple failed to "properly warn" iOS 9 users that the new Wi-Fi Assist feature would automatically turn on after an OS update leading to huge data charges.

Government Censorship of Internet Speech

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

Here in the United States, we like to think that we can speak openly and freely on practically any subject while on the Internet. But is that universally true across the globe? Not necessarily!

Indeed, headlines have made clear that certain governments are intent on blocking Internet speech when it is in the interest of those who are in power but not necessarily when it is in the interest of some members of the citizens in those countries.

Last Friday, British chanteuse and pop-music phenomenon Adele released the first video from her full album, "Hello." It was filmed entirely in sepia tones, featured the expected heart-felt crooning, and one very prominent flip phone. That flip phone made headlines by Billboard, ABC, and CNet.

But if there's a vintage cell phone revival on the horizon, it's not going to be for the old flip phones. It'll be for BlackBerry, who is attempting to top the smartphone charts once again with its new Android Priv. And yes, it has the BlackBerry keyboard you've been missing all these years. Now it just needs a pop-diva sponsorship as well.

Tips for Using Technology to Automate Your Firm

Today, technology must be utilized effectively to manage the torrent of info coming your way. The more that can be automated by machine, the better.

We've done pieces on technology and the law before, and today the saga continues. Here are a few more programs to consider for your firm.

"Metro, boulot, dodo," the French saying goes. It's the catchy summation of the modern tedium: commute, work, sleep, over and over till you die. They should have added "preso" to the mix. For when it comes to corporate monotony, the predictable, boring presentation reigns supreme. And nothing represents that more than PowerPoint, Microsoft's ubiquitous slideshow software.

Thankfully, there are alternatives to the norm. (We're talking presentation software here, not bohemian lifestyles.) While PowerPoint might be pervasive, it's not the only option. Here are seven alternatives to help you live a .ppt-free life, without sacrificing quality presentations.

How Analytics Are Changing Partner Compensation

What took so darn long? Law firms are now moving into the 21st Century of data analytics. Analytics have been adopted by so many sectors of business one almost wonders why law firms have been so slow to adopt the use of real time data analysis in running their own businesses.

The traditional practice of determining a partner's compensation based on highly subjective criteria is going the way of the dinosaur. Increasingly, the change has been credited with a major observation: increased revenue does not necessarily mean increased profit.

In early October, negotiators finally put the finishing touches on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is the largest regional trade agreement ever, binding 12 Pacific nations and 800 million people, and effecting 40 percent of global GDP.

But the text of the agreement remains a secret -- except, that is, the parts that have been released by WikiLeaks. The "public secrets" website has published the text of the TPP governing intellectual property rights, raising concerns that the partnership's treatment of intellectual property could harm the public interest.

Products Liability Firms Use 3D Printing to Manufacture Evidence

Law firms are now finding ways to make use of the 3D printer -- a technology that was once considered gimmicky. Then it became the centerpiece of the gun debate and organ growing.

A number of enterprising law firms have utilized 3D technology in their products liability practice. These machines bring a new twist to the term "manufacturing evidence."

"OK Google, you can stop recording our conversation now."

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that Google's voice services create a record of what you've said. The company, after all, already records and stores your search and browsing activity. The company knows more about you than your mother. Luckily, though, it's not too hard to find and get rid of Google's audio trail.

Are you supplementing your legal practice by selling Amazon reviews for $5 each? It might be time to find a new side gig, before you get sued.

The online retailer filed a complaint in Seattle court last Friday, suing 1,114 John Does for breach of contract and unfair trade practices. The Does are accused of selling fake Amazon reviews for $5 and up on the website Fiverr.

No Longer a 'Toy': Feds Require Drone Registration

If you're the owner of one of the 1 million drones out there in the United States, get ready to have another one of your vehicles registered with the US Government.

The Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Association announced yesterday that they would require drones to be registered -- ostensibly to promote safer, friendlier skies.

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

Homo Sapiens are the most successful human species, so far. Homo Sapiens have thrived in the wake of the disappearance of prior human species like Neanderthals (although we do have some trace Neanderthal DNA from prior inter-breeding). And Homo Sapiens, of course, have greatly surpassed the abilities of other ape species. Need an example? Just take a look at all the recent tech trends for law firms of the future.

But are Homo Sapiens threatened to be left in the dust by another form of being here on Planet Earth? The answer is "yes," according to none other than Stephen Hawking. And what's more, Hawking says that we are threatened by our own creation -- Artificial Intelligence (AI).

5 Tips for Optimizing Local Search for Your Law Firm

Like it or not, businesses live and die by Google's search engine algorithms. If you don't show up online, you're dead. 

Google's recent Pigeon update is, ostensibly, an attempt to give local businesses a boost. Here are tips on how to make the most of Google's latest algorithms.

Want to see how your products liability defense will go? Need to test out a malpractice claim before bringing it before a jury? In the good old days (that is, yesterday and before), there was a fairly established approach: call in a jury expert, poll the public, maybe run a mock trial.

But now, virtual juries are beginning to replace, or at least supplement, traditional juror research.

Startup Takes Contract Management Into the 21st Century ... for Free

Just when you though you couldn't feel any more obsolete as a practicing attorney, a new startup begins offering a free service that threatens to take away more legal jobs.

These days, even getting work as a "doc reviewer" is the best that many licensed attorneys can hope for. But Silicon Valley's latest legal startup looks poised to strike the final nail in the coffin of the tedious practice of paper contract management.

Can't Make Your Court Appearance? This App Can Help

Acme Law Corp. has released an app called StandIn that allows lawyers to solicit the services of other lawyers in a geographical area to handle court appearances on their behalf. In this writer's opinion, this almost sounds like Uber for attorneys.

StandIn appears to merge the best aspects of hailing a cab and Craigslist in a single mobile application. Don't want to get to the city for that extension hearing? No problem.

The eDiscovery market is undergoing a major boom. The growth of the eDiscovery industry, estimated to triple in size before 2022, is being fueled primarily by the growth of massive data collection. From corporate instant messaging, to social media, to the Internet of Things, more and more of our information is being electronically stored and sifted through during litigation.

But, some eDiscovery industry leaders are starting to question the "collect everything" mindset, arguing that excessive data collection and storage is expensive, impractical, and unnecessary.

Your E-Signature Is Not Your Bond?

To many people, the word contract still evokes images of two parties coming together to put their signatures to paper. Now? Business moves far too quickly for that old fashioned nonsense. Today is the age of the electronic signature.

If you're feeling nostalgic about the simpler times before electronic signatures became a mainstay of business transactions, who can blame you. At least the Federal Rules of Evidence could rely on witnesses who had personal knowledge of what a "real" version of your signature was supposed to look like. Today, although the validity the e-signature practice is not questioned, the signatures themselves may be deemed inadmissible in court.

Digital Searches Now Require Warrants in California

A new law in California ensures that law enforcement can't snoop around your digital data without first obtaining a warrant. The California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) is the final result of months of pressure from Silicon Valley groups, media organization, and privacy advocates.

It's getting more expensive to protect against cybersecurity risks. In response to increased hacking of U.S. companies, insurance firms are raising cyber premiums and limiting coverage, according to a recent report by Reuters. Many cyber insurance policies cover the cost of digital forensics, credit management, and litigation expenses.

The changes come as high-profile hacks are causing more companies, from large retailers to small law firms, to turn to cyber insurance to protect against potential hacking liability. That has left some companies scrambling for coverage, especially in industries that are seen as particularly vulnerable.

5 Outlook Tricks to Improve Efficiency

Outlooks appears to be the de-facto email and scheduling suite used by offices around the United States, for better or worse. Unfortunately, the program is enormous and it's impractical to learn all that there is to learn. Then again, you're selling Outlook short if you use it for nothing but the basics.

Here are a few quick and dirty tricks that you should find useful to increase your efficiency in Outlook.

Big data makes measurable what wasn't measurable before. The more information firms can measure, the better they can manage their practices, predict outcomes, and make informed decisions. So the big data marketing pitch goes.

While data and analytics have been flourishing in the software and financial sectors, they've yet to make big inroads into the legal sphere. Here's what law firms could be missing out on.

A 15-year long data sharing pact between the United States and the European Union is no more, after Europe's highest court struck it down Tuesday. The European Union's Court of Justice ruled that European citizens' data isn't safe when stored on U.S. computer servers, since our pesky, spying government can peak into it.

The ruling will affect some 4,500 companies, from Google to Pfizer to Johnson & Johnson, who had long relied on the Safe Harbor system. That system, which allowed participating, companies to avoid complicated restrictions on the transfer of personal data out of Europe, is no more.

Forget hoverboards, flying cars, and space colonization, the future will be about intelligence augmented by nanobots. And that future's coming fast. Within 15 years, tiny robots in our brain will make us smarter, sexier, and permanently connected to the Internet.

Sure, the prediction may be little more than enthusiastic sci-fi fantasy, but don't disregard it outright. It comes from Ray Kurzweil after all, a well-known futurist, writer, and director of engineering at Google. Plus, our potential cyborg future could have important legal implications.

NSA/GCHQ Tool Watches the Watchmen? Not Really

2015 has been a good year for online privacy advocates -- kind of. Earlier this year, the Investigatory Power Tribunal in the UK ruled that British Intelligence Services (unfortunately not the same as M16) overstepped their legal authority when they accessed the private communications of millions that had been swept and collected under NSA's mass surveillance programs PRISM and Upstream. By the way, they're hiring.

The victory is a major feather in Privacy International's cap, a British civil liberties group. The efforts of the group resulted in the aptly named "Did the GCHQ Illegally Spy on You" online tool, which allows users to find out (within boundaries) whether or not the nefarious Government Communications Headquarters group -- Britain's CIA/NSA -- listened in on their private conversations.

Trademark research is about as fun as combing through discovery. The slow, often tedious process normally involves lawyers or researches pouring through databases to make sure that the mark is available to be used and registered. That means long, slow searches through state and federal registrations, as well as looking for marks that are unregistered but in use. Don't forget about all the fun but hard-to-find variables like phonetic equivalents, spelling variations, and foreign language uses, either.

Thankfully, that painful, painstaking process got a little less tedious today, as Thomson Reuters announced a new online tool, Trademark Clearance, promising faster than ever turnaround times.

Apple launched a new privacy website last week, seeking to better explain its privacy commitment to the public. It starts by stating what any sophisticated technology user has known for years: "When an online service is free, you're not the customer. You're the product."

But now the tech giant wants to give users a better understanding of and more control over what information is collected about them.

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

By now, most of us have grown accustomed to rating products on Amazon or services on Yelp, one to five stars. You might like knowing that the book you are thinking of buying on Amazon has been overwhelming rated five stars with many positive substantive reviews. And it might be helpful to learn that you probably should avoid a restaurant you were considering when most Yelp postings give only one or two stars with comments that tell you explicitly why you should go elsewhere. BUT . . .

How about websites that seek to review human beings in the same fashion as sites that address products and services???

The 'Inventor' of the Internet Is Suing Apple, Samsung in London

Unwired Planet Inc., a company that claims to have invented mobile Internet, stands poised to bring six different lawsuits in the United Kingdom. This is an unusual strategy since American courts are generally favored for such patent trolling suits.

Patent lawsuits in the UK are arduous and require special judge oversight. Additionally, American litigants are subject to the "American Rule," where each party pays for its own legal costs. In the UK, the loser is often responsible for the winner's attorney's fees. It's no wonder that America is the usual choice for Patent Trolls. So, Unwired's choice is a head scratcher.

Sooner rather than later, your fridge could be connected to your Facebook account. Your toilet could send out tweets. It's the Internet of Things -- the universe of web-connected devices from Fitbits to smart appliances -- and it's becoming more of a reality every day. The IoT, of course, raises a gig or two of legal questions: questions regarding privacy, cybersecurity, transparency, and liability.

But the Internet of Things also provides a wealth of evidence. All that data on your sleep patterns, your thermostat use, and gym schedule can and will be held against you (or your clients) in a court of law. In other words, your smart device is a narc.

Texas Judge Sets Chilling Tone for Patent Trolls

If there is one term in the legal community that generates widespread disdain, it's "patent troll." The term isn't exactly what we would call objective. But an ironic ruling by a US District Judge in Texas can be celebrated as a small victory against those who make a business out of filing bogus claims.

"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." Isaiah 11:6.

Are the end times upon us? Surely some revelation is at hand. Because only cosmic intervention can explain the announcement yesterday from eternal rivals Google and Microsoft: the two tech giants have come to "an agreement on patent issues" and will dismiss all pending patent litigation -- about 20 lawsuits in total.