Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

December 2016 Archives

5 Top Tech Scandals From 2016

The past year has been good for technology and its fans. The tech industry has let us find Pokemon on our front porch, brought artificial intelligence into law firms, even given us smart speakers that know not to snitch.

But it's not all happy unicorns, robots, and black turtlenecks in the tech world. The past year has seen its fair share of failure, scandal, and schadenfreude. Here are our top five for the year.

Federal prosecutors have charged three Chinese citizens with insider trading that netted them more than $4 million in illegal profits.

But these weren't your typical tippees. The men didn't get their insider scoops from their family, friends, or colleagues. They got it from hacking into at least two New York law firms, stealing the emails of M&A partners, and trading on the information they found.

In what is likely the first murder case involving an Amazon Echo, police are looking to the smart device for clues surrounding the death of a man in Arkansas. But when asked "Alexa, who did it?" Amazon has remained silent.

Investigators in Bentonville, Arkansas, believe that the Echo might help explain why a man was found dead in the hot tub at a home owned by James Andrew Bates last year. Bates is currently facing first-degree murder charges. But, according to a report by the Information, Amazon has twice refused to give police audio data from the device.

2016 may be the Worst Year Ever, but there are plenty of lessons scattered throughout this year's rubble. And no, we're not talking about learning from dead celebrities, international political espionage, or Olympic doping scandals.

We're talking about learning how to be a better, or at least a better-informed, attorney. Here are some lessons we're taking away from the past year.

Do Couples Need Prenups for Their Ideas?

In a survey of 1,600 lawyers by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, more than half of the respondents saw an increase in millennials requesting prenups. Instead of focusing on alimony and inherited cash, millennials want to protect intellectual property such as software, apps and technologies that are only ideas.

"Millennials are getting older and richer," Randall Kessler, a family lawyer, told Bloomberg BNA. "Prenups used to be for old money, but now prenups do different things, like safeguarding intangible property."

How Tech Is Making Pro Bono Work Easier for Lawyers

Getting a lawyer to do pro bono work these days is easier than getting a lawyer to a car crash scene. Seriously, that's not a lawyer joke (but I will be here all week).

A generation ago, lawyers were called "ambulance chasers" because many people thought they were more interested in making money from their clients' misfortunes than the clients themselves. But today, partly due to the generosity of many lawyers to take on clients for free, more people know the term "pro bono" than ever. And tech is only making things easier.

Tech Gifts for Lawyers in a Flash

Unless you're sending flowers or candy, it might be too late to have a gift delivered by Christmas. At this point, you might have to hunt down the perfect gift the old fashioned way: driving to a store.

Or maybe not! To make your gift search less tedious, we put together a quick list of tech gifts, most of which can be ordered online and sent instantaneously to the recipient. 

Criminal Charges for Porn-Trolling Lawyers

At what point did these attorneys realize they were crossing the line? Did they even know what line they were crossing?

Paul R. Hansmeier and John L. Steele may have suspected they were doing something wrong in 2010 when they started their porn-trolling operation through Prenda Law. They set up shell companies to buy copyrights for pornographic movies, uploaded those movies to file-sharing websites, and then threatened to sue people who downloaded the movies.

Or maybe Hansmeier and Steele realized they had crossed the line when they made their own movies to upload in their enterprise. According to court records, the attorneys went to porn conventions in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Miami, where they hired actors and "produced multiple short pornographic films."

Certainly, they knew it was wrong in 2013 when U.S. District Judge Otis Wright sanctioned them for defrauding the court. Prenda Law, filing about one third of the copyright claims in the federal system at the time, was abusing it.

But the Prenda Law lawyers may not have known until now that the line they crossed would lead to jail.

5 Ways eDiscovery Will Change Things in 2017

This changes e-Everything.

As information security specialists sort out the aftermath of the 1 billion email hack at Yahoo, lawyers are circling the remains for future litigation issues. Will a billion customers rally for a class-action of privacy claims against Yahoo? Will Verizon retreat from its offer to pay $4.8 billion for the company's core business? Will the federal government demand more records from Yahoo in its fight against cyberterrorism?

And will the eDiscovery ever end?

Electronic discovery has evolved for more than a decade, and will continue to change for the next 10 years at least. That's not a prediction; it's a continuum. Here are five changes that are likely to come next year:

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

The internet is just "there" for us and our many online needs. But how often do you think about what it takes to power cyberspace?

Well, consider this: Google alone consumes practically the same amount of electricity each year as does the entire city of San Francisco, according to a recent article by Curbed San Francisco.

Millions of wearable devices will be given as presents this Christmas and Hanukkah, with smart watches stuck in stockings and fitness monitors wrapped up with bows. A few lucky folks might even be able to get their hands on Snapchat Spectacles, the much-hyped glasses that let you take short videos and share them directly to the Snapchat app.

Wearable technological hardware, or "wearables," are coming back this holiday season -- and bringing with them major implications for eDiscovery.

Technology is rapidly changing how people communicate, work, interact, even vote. And yes, how lawyers practice the law. In the face of such changes, more and more state bars are imposing technology competency requirements on lawyers, echoing the ABA's determination that lawyers must keep abreast of the 'benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.'

But when it comes to staying current on technology, some lawyers are lagging behind -- and they tend to be in smaller firms or solo practices. According to an analysis of the "2016 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report," there are wide discrepancies in tech training opportunities between small law and solo practitioners and their big firm counterparts.

Yahoo Hack Hits Stock and Deal, Too

Following Yahoo's announcement on Wednesday that more than 1 billion user accounts had been hacked, the company is facing more external and internal challenges.

Yahoo stocks dropped about 6% on the stock exchange Thursday, adding to the potential effect of the latest email hack on a pending offer to buy the company. Verizon had offered $4.83 billion to buy Yahoo's core business in July, but the company has revealed two historic security breaches since then. Reports have speculated Verizon will seek a billion dollar discount in the purchase price.

Uber began rolling out its fleet of self-driving cars in San Francisco today, allowing passengers in the ride-hailing company's hometown to take a driverless cab through the city's rainy hills and streets. Uber had previously offered self-driving vehicles to a small number of users in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but its SF aims are grander -- pretty much anyone on the app can get an autonomous car in San Francisco.

There's one catch though. Hours after the service launched, California regulators said that Uber was breaking the law because it lacked state permits for autonomous driving.

You've probably heard the buzz about so-called 'smart contracts.' These contracts resemble computer code more than typical legal documents, relying on programing to create, facilitate, or execute contracts, with the contracts and conditions stored on a blockchain, or a distributed, relatively unhackable ledger. The technology is considered so promising that PC Magazine recently declared 2017 to be "The Year of Smart Contracts."

But some are questioning whether smart contracts, alone, really are the future. Kevin Gidney, the co-founder and CTO of Seal Software, recently argued that contracts must be intelligent, not smart. Intelligent as in "artificial intelligence," that is.

You Can't Serve Divorce Papers Through Facebook, NY Court Rules

It's fair to say you've been unfriended if your spouse tries to serve you divorce papers on Facebook, but it's not fair to say you've been served on Facebook.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Sunshine this week refused to accept service through the social platform in a divorce case. The wife said she couldn't find another way to communicate with her estranged husband, who hadn't updated his Facebook profile in two years.

"Granting this application for service by Facebook under the facts presented by plaintiff would be akin to the Court permitting service by nail and mail to a building that no longer exists," the judge said.

Scammers Are Phishing for Lawyers Nationwide

How many fake emails does it take to fool a lawyer? And no, this is not a lawyer joke.

Apparently, it takes more than seven states' worth of email because scammers have targeted lawyers across the country and they are not letting up. Attorneys from New York, California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Alabama have recently received email with phony threats of lawsuits and disciplinary actions against them. The phishing scam is designed to entice lawyers to click on a link that results in their computers being taken hostage by ransomware.

"Attorneys are receiving email claiming that their business was subject of a complaint for which they have 10 days to respond," New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a press release. "The email includes a hyperlink to the 'complaint' but in reality it links to a website that installs malicious software on the person's computer."

Lawyers know jargon. We've got our alphabet soup of laws and government agencies, our obscure doctrines, our endless, archaic Latin phrases. But even lawyers can be left scratching their heads at the constantly evolving (and sometimes meaningless) stream of tech jargon that can pass their way. We're talking about the startup kids who want your help incorporating a company that will "gamify cross-office collaboration through SoLoMo tech." Or the new law school grad who is so excited to tell you about his project coding "self-enforcing crypto-ledger-based smart contracts."

Are those even words?

Time Is Running Out on Excuses Not to Go Paperless

Give me one good reason not to go paperless.

Having trouble? That's because you are in a paperless world. You are reading this very article on a digital screen. It's the future.

Maybe 20 years ago, when only a handful of law firms and courts had gone paperless, it would have been excusable. But today, basically every court requires electronic filings and even the trash can is an icon on your computer.

"In sum, some courts have been paperless for nearly two decades and the rest are in the process," says Sam Glover for the Lawyerist. "Malpractice insurers are paperless and recommend it."

Data analytics and the law is a burgeoning, promising field. Lawyers can use data analytics to help sift through discovery, identifying responsive documents faster and easier, for example. They can apply analytics to monitoring client communication, gathering valuable insights into their top clients. There are even services that will sift through data on individual judges, letting you know how quickly you can expect a decision on that motion.

And now, there's a new analytics service that crunches the numbers for entire court systems. Ravel Law, a San Francisco-based legal analytics startup, launched its new Court Analytics service last week, which can spot patterns and pull out insights for jurisdictions as a whole.

Competition is heating up in the email killing space, with office communication platforms gaining serious attention from major technology companies. In the past few months, Microsoft has rolled out Microsoft Teams, a "chat-based workspace" allowing online collaboration, and Facebook unveiled Workplace, or Facebook for your office. Both products take aim at Slack, the collaborative communication startup that allows professionals to chat, send messages, and share files. Now Slack is fighting back, announcing a new partnership with Google and more seamless integration with Google's online tools.

So, will any of this impact how you do business? Probably, in time.

Today's Billion Dollar Patent Question: Who Owns CRISPR?

Biotech is on the cusp of curing genetic disorders, curing aging, making disease-resistant crops, and giving us superhuman designer babies. If any of these miraculous promises come true, it will likely be thanks to CRISPR, the revolutionary gene editing technique. The billion dollar question is: who owns CRISPR?

On the one hand, there's UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who first filed a patent application describing the CRISPR-Cas9 method and its application to bacteria.

On the other hand, there are the teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University who extended the biotechnology to mammals. Synthetic biologist Feng Zhang and the Broad Institute teams made CRISPR work on human cells, too.

With potentially billions of dollars in future licensing at stake, neither side has conceded the others' patent claims. And so the judges at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office are deliberating over the biggest patent battle since Edison's time.

Samsung won a significant (one might say explosive) victory in the Supreme Court today, as the Court ruled that Samsung did not need to pay Apple the entirety of its profits, nearly $400 million, from phones found to be infringing on the rival phone maker's design patents.

A jury found in 2012 that several Samsung smartphones had infringed on Apple's design patents, particularly in their rectangular shape, rounded edges, and similar displays. The cost to Samsung was to be all the profits from the phone -- originally more than a billion dollars, then reduced to $399 million in damages. That was going too far, the Supreme Court ruled today, holding that the relevant "article of manufacture" for determining damages need not be the entire phone, but may be only its component, infringing parts. When it came to telling courts how they should determine the proper article of manufacture, however, the Court was mum.

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

Once upon a time, at the turn of this century, when the commercial internet starting becoming a reality, we had the first opportunity to purchase holiday gifts online. This seemed like a big experiment. Would our orders really get fulfilled? Would the gifts arrive on time? Was it safe to give a credit card and other identifying information on the World Wide Web?

Fast-forward to now. Many billions of dollars of gift transactions are happening on an ongoing basis as the current holiday season is upon us. We have grown accustomed to making online purchases of all types throughout the year, and the holiday season ratchets this up tremendously.

When Lan Cai was unhappy with her lawyers, the 20-year-old nursing student did what many Millennials do: she took to the internet. Specifically, Cai went on Facebook and Yelp to give the law firm a negative review. The firm, the Law Offices of Tuan A. Khuu in Houston, Texas, wasn't pleased with Cai's online complaint. They sued.

They didn't win that suit. Last week, a judge in Texas tossed the firm's lawsuit and ordered them to pay $27,000 to cover Cai's attorney's fees.

You're probably familiar with how data analytics can speed up the eDiscovery process, helping attorneys quickly review documents for responsiveness. You may have heard about how "big data" can be mined to improve law firm practices, helping lawyers monitor clients and improve their efficiency. You probably also know of legal tech companies who are mining data in order to make legal services and research faster, better, and more automated. In sum, there's a lot that data analytics can do for lawyers.

But can data analytics help you in trial prep as well?

You're a tech-savvy attorney, as fluent in gigs and RAM and blockchain as you are in personal injury, summary judgement, or motions in limine. You know how to tell a worthwhile tech product from an unnecessary one, and you know how tech can improve your practice of law. Or, hey, maybe you can't tell a Mac from a PC -- but you want the best new tech out there anyway.

If either of these sound like you, here are five worthwhile gadgets you should check out.

Benefits of Legal Tech Outsourcing

In an age when technology is making some careers obsolete, lawyers can thank the outsourcing of digital services for helping them compete.

According to a recent survey, lawyers are using more outside services to handle digital tasks at their firms. Swiss Post Solutions (SPS) North America, a leader in outsourcing and digitization solutions, says law firms outsourced mailroom and messenger services the most (93 percent), reception services next (50 percent), and then conference room management (47 percent). Big law firms have led the way, but smaller firms are catching up.