Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

April 2015 Archives

What to Consider When Buying an External Computer Monitor

Most of the world is running on laptop computers now, and for good reason. They're the least expensive they've ever been, they're the most portable they've ever been, and for what they are, they're the most powerful they've ever been.

Did we mention portability?

But you'll need a host of accessories to make your laptop useful, and no peripheral is more important to a lawyer than an external monitor (or two). When you're trying to paste from a deposition into a brief, or have five different windows open, that 13-inch laptop screen just isn't going to cut it. Here are three things to take into account when looking at external monitors.

What are all the hip tech kids talking about these days? It's no longer Snapchat or gossip apps like YikYak. It's not even Meerkat. The newest big news is Periscope, Twitter's just acquired mobile live streaming app. It's already signed up a million users in its first ten days.

Periscope allows you to watch live broadcasts as well as recently recorded videos. These videos can be public, available to all your Twitter followers, or private, allowing you to just invite your besties. Think of it as a mix of Internet video services like Youtube or Vine, and more person-to-person video communication, like Skype or FaceTime -- all channeled through Twitter.

So, will it be useful for your practice?

Best Law Firm Billing Software Under $60 a Month

It seems like a notion so simple it might have come out of Yogi Berra's mouth: If you don't bill a client, you won't get paid. And yet, lawyers leave money on the table when they don't accurately record their time. This is especially true of solos and small firms, which don't necessarily have the resources to devote to ensuring accurate billing (even though, ironically, inaccurate billing hurts them the most).

To that end, we've decided to take a look at the best timekeeping and billing software under $60 per month.

Computers may not have tough lives, but they can have terrible deaths. Some have their lives cut short out of nowhere, sideswiped by a bug of virus and sent to oblivion. Others are slowly strangled over years, suffering under bloatware, spyware, and adware.

The worst computers, however, they get thrown out of windows, driven over by cars, doused in hot water, or, as recently happened in Colorado, taken down in a rain of bullets. It's alright though. The computer was asking for it.

5 Microsoft Word Tips to Make Lawyers' Lives Easier

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 Now Being Used to Track Judges

"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 Scholar Works for Lay People, Not So Much for Practitioners

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?

Teens Addicted to Their Phones

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

Does it ever seem that teenagers can't go anywhere without their mobile phones? Does it ever appear that whenever you see teenagers, they seem to be looking down at their gadgets while moving their thumbs at a feverish clip? Indeed, does it seem that their smart phones appear to be permanently attached to their hands as additional body parts?

Well, if these are your perceptions, a recent study supports what you have been perceiving. The Pew Research Center has released a study that addresses teen use of social media technology. According to that study, a robust 73% of American teenagers have access to a smart phone. And 88% of American teenagers have access to a mobile phone of some kind, whether a smart phone or not.

Perhaps these study results may not be surprising. However, the fact that we are not surprised marks a revolution in terms of youth communications.

Medical malpractice? Divorce? Mergers and acquisitions? There's an app for that! Or there could be -- and it could be yours.

As mobile technology continues to proliferate, many law firms have thrown their hat into the ring in the form of a mobile app. According to a report by Law Firm Mobile, 36 AmLaw 200 firms have produced 53 different mobile apps, and the numbers continue to rise. Is BigLaw smart to go after the mobile user? Should you join them?

Best Tablet for Under an Amount Yet to Be Determined

When the iPad first came out in 2010, I thought, "No one needs one of those," and truthfully, the fact remains that no one needs a tablet, but they're super convenient.

Let's all admit that the iPad is probably the best tablet out there (Apple haters are encouraged to come at me with whatever you've got), but it's awfully pricy, at $500 for the iPad Air 2, the current incarnation of Apple's tablet. Is there a good cheap tablet out there that's not a waste of your time (or money)?

The White House announced this week that it had been hacked, presumably by Russian cyberspies. The operation must have been pretty sophisticated, right? Someone at the State Department -- other than Hillary -- fell for a classic phishing scheme, allegedly opening an unverified document from a scam email. That's a pretty basic mistake. Has the Secretary of Defense started sending federal funds to that Nigerian prince yet?

Let's not lament how easily our government computers were breached though -- the intruders may have had access to sensitive documents since last October. Rather, let's take this moment to remind ourselves of the importance of proper training.

So does your firm need mandatory I.T. security training? Of course it does. Here's why:

If you've uploaded photos of family or friends to Facebook, you've probably been asked to "tag" them, or in the past few years, to confirm the tags suggested by Facebook. Instead of requiring you to say, "That's Sarah!" Facebook now asks, "Hey, isn't this Sarah?" In doing so, it uses its facial recognition software to scan members' faces and identify them in photos posted across the site.

That practice, made possible by Facebook's "DeepFace" technology, may also be against the law, according to a new class action lawsuit filed against the social networking site. The suit alleges that Facebook has gathered "the world's largest privately held database of consumer biometrics data," in violation of Illinois's Biometrics Information Privacy Act.

New Docs Reveal Extent of FBI Involvement in Stingray Use

When we last left Stingrays in January, the FBI insisted that they didn't need a warrant to use them. The devices, which fool a cell phone into connecting with them as though they were a legitimate cell tower, are deployed from public spaces, where there's no reasonable expectation of privacy, the FBI claimed.

Everyone got a good chuckle out of that one, but the degree to which the FBI will go to keep Stingrays secret is no laughing matter, as we learned from new documents released by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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

Once upon a time, shopping was a time-consuming endeavor. We had no choice but to actually get out of the house and physically travel to different stores to buy what we needed.

Then, the online shopping revolution occurred. Rather than traveling out of the house, all we now need to do is move ourselves up to our computers, and the shopping world is at our fingertips. Practically anything can be purchased over the Internet from a multitude of different Web sites. And Amazon, for example, has sought to be a one-stop shopping site, where countless thousands of items are available for purchase at any given moment, from books, to apparel, to electronics, to furniture, to food, to toys -- and the list goes on and on.

Drones are really having a moment these days, as everyone from backyard hobbyists to CEOs of major corporations have started to integrate drones into everyday life. However, the law surrounding the unmanned, hovering aircraft is still developing.

Think twice, then, before you send a drone out to collect evidence. A federal court in Connecticut ruled that stopping the use of a drone to record the site of a major auto accident does not violate First Amendment rights to free speech and the press.

Unless you're some fancy Senator, you've got to use email. Maybe all day long. It can be easy to get buried under hundreds of daily emails.

Google Inbox, the invite only app, tries to make email less of a chore. But, for lawyers, is it worth actually switching over to?

The Best Printer Under $100

Paperless office? What paperless office? That promise is just as real as flying cars. Lawyers, especially, labor under the burden of ever-more paper, and even though some courts are (finally!) accepting electronically submitted materials, others still refuse.

For your home office, or even for your personal life, a printer is sadly still a requirement. With all the models out there, how can you know what's best? Well, that's where we come in: Here's our guide to the best printer under $100.

Oculus Rift: Coming to a Courtroom Near You?

Oculus Rift is about as close as we've gotten so far to true virtual reality. It's a head-mounted device that creates an immersive VR experience. A user wearing the headset, for example, can turn his head and the application responds by moving the immersive environment.

Sounds pretty cool -- if it ever comes to fruition (we've been promised the device Real Soon Now for a few years). When immersive VR experiences like Oculus Rift do hit the consumer market, will they have an application in the court room?

Once again, teenagers have been hit with child pornography charge after they, so wisely, posted a group sex video of themselves on Twitter. The kids were arrested and charged with distributing child pornography.

Let the stupidity of children be a reminder to us all, even those of us who are grown and at practice before the bar, your tweets can easily land you in hot water, even if they're not of child porn. Here's five other ways to avoid trouble on Twitter: