Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

October 2017 Archives

Bad news divorce lawyers: Your easy cases might be harder to come by after February 2018. That's because the maker of the DoNotPay chatbot has turned his focus to uncontested divorces.

In a few months, a free service for divorce papers preparation will be available to couples that qualify and agree to an uncontested divorce. Like the DoNotPay chatbot (that handles parking tickets), an individual will go through various chat prompts and then receive filled out court forms. All that's really left after that in an uncontested divorce is getting the papers signed and filed.

Technology is a beautiful thing. It helps you do more, and do it faster, better, cheaper, and while sitting poolside halfway across the globe. With a few grand and the right combination of hardware and software, a lawyer can be as well oiled of a machine as the six million dollar man.

However, since we lawyers aren't Lee Majors, when we consider buying new tech for our practices, getting a good deal actually matters. But when buying tech at a discount for your firm, beware of a few common pitfalls and traps.

A recent AP story details some facts that appear to be particularly troubling for Georgia's Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, as he faces a lawsuit over the state's last two elections. Complicating the lawsuit, the state's main election servers have been deleted and completely wiped clean of any and all data.

The deletions came at rather suspect times, with the first server being deleted just days after the lawsuit was filed, and two others being scrubbed about a month later. In either case, it would seem that the state should have known better than to allow the servers to be scrubbed. Fortunately for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and the state and Kemp, the FBI had made a digital image of the servers before the lawsuit was ever even filed, and will provide a copy of their copy upon being provided with a proper request from the parties or court.

Conservative Vlogger Sues YouTube for Censorship

Sometimes the line between the legal court and the court of public opinion is pretty thin.

Like the lawsuit by conservative talk show host, columnist, and vlogger Dennis Prager. His "Prager University" is suing YouTube for censorship even though his YouTube Channel has more than one million subscribers.

Is the lawsuit legit or a media grab? A real judge will decide, but you be the judge for now.

Despite what the tech crowd would have you believe, the court, judges, and juries, do not need to know how to code to rule on cases involving software programs. In fact, having experienced jurors and jurists could actually lead to deeper confusion, or potentially improper influences.

The U.S. justice system is setup to present conflicts before neutral fact finders who rule based on the evidence and law presented, not their own personal knowledge. While some might think that highly technical disputes require a jury or judge that can understand the technicalities, in reality, those disputes require attorneys that can properly explain the technicalities via experts and evidence. A trials is not meant to be a "hack-a-thon."

K&L Gates Invests in Private Blockchain

K&L Gates, a large international law firm, is going where few law firms have gone before: blockchain.

The firm is developing its own blockchain for smart contracts and other applications. The technology, a virtual chain of authentication, also underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

"By investing in this technology that is expected to significantly impact the practice of law, K&L Gates is committed to finding practical and timely solutions that benefit both our clients and the firm," said James Segerdahl, the firm's global managing partner.

Study: Police Body-Cams Make Little Difference on Use of Force

Some people in Washington think that what they do sets the standard for the rest of the world.

We're not talking about the president. We're talking about the people who work for the mayor's office.

In a new study, they say that police body-cams don't make a difference in changing police behavior. Maybe not in Washington, but they are making a difference elsewhere, as explained below.

When it comes to wrongful convictions, usually it's the Innocence Project making headlines. However, it was recently announced that a joint project by the ABA Center for Innovation and the makers of the popular ediscovery software, Relativity, will be helping to stop and fight wrongful convictions.

The project is called DFENDR, which stands for Distributed Forensic Expert Network Delegating Review. Basically, Relativity has set up an ediscovery platform to allow for remote expert review of forensic evidence in potential wrongful conviction cases. Yes, that's a whole lot to unpack.

App Helps Lawyers Become Podcasters

Technology is great if you know how to use it, right?

And it's alright to admit if you don't know how to use everything on your computer or smartphone. Lawyers use only 10 percent of their brains anyway, right? (Well, maybe some of us.)

But if you didn't know how to create your own podcast, you can't really use the "don't-know-how-it-works" excuse anymore. That's because there's an app for that.

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

Earthquakes can be devastating in terms of their destructive impacts. For decades, there have been scientific efforts seeking to predict earthquakes. If an earthquake could be predicted reliably in advance, people could be warned and they potentially could move toward safety before the earthquake strikes.

Unfortunately, earthquake prediction efforts generally have not met with success. But what about fiber optic cables -- the very cables that deliver internet connectivity -- can they help when it comes to earthquake detection?

When it comes to choosing the right tech for your law office, one of the biggest questions firms face is choosing desktops or laptops. This question gets even more complicated because laptops can be used with docking stations allowing attorneys to have multiple screens and other perks associated with using a desktop.

For those firms that are leaning toward laptops, often, questions abound about whether using a docking station while in the office is worthwhile, or just having separate desktop computers for in office use is better. After all, when it comes to tech and computing, size matters.

Below is some helpful advice on navigating this computational dilemma.

As Tech Giants Step on Startups, What About Their Lawyers?

Silicon Valley has evolved since silicon chip makers saturated the area in the 1970s and tech companies later grew into monsters like Apple, Facebook, and Google.

The valley also became the focus of investors, with about one-third of venture capital going to tech startups. But that was then, and this is now.

Reports say that startups are at a 30-year low, and they blame the behemoths. For lawyers facing similar pressures, it may be survival of the technologist.

Twitter Attacks Revenge Porn and Hate Speech

Twitter says it will remove revenge porn -- 'non-consensual nudity' -- even before victims know it is posted.

It's a great idea, but how is that going to work? Like, how will Twitter know if something is "non-consensual" without the victim saying so?

However it happens, it'll be interesting. The new program starts next week.

UK Spies Collecting Social Media Data

The British are not necessarily coming, but they may be closer than you think.

According to reports, British spy agencies are collecting social media information on potentially millions of people. That likely includes people with Facebook and Twitter accounts.

It's not clear if the information only pertains to subjects of the United Kingdom, but we all know James Bond has no boundaries.

While everyone over the past two decades has been clamoring for the best laptop they can afford, a recent study among law firms shows that desktops have not fallen out of fashion. Nearly half of the law firms that responded to the 2017 LTN survey stated that in the next hardware refresh, they planned to get desktops for their lawyers.

Sure, being able to remotely access the network, files, or whatever digital resources a firm has available would make a laptop seem like the right choice for firm associates, but when it comes to security and cost, desktops tend to outperform laptops for a few simple reasons.

L.A. Police Letting the Drones Out, Sparking Privacy Concerns

If you were worried the cops were following you, don't look over your shoulder. Look up.

The Los Angeles Police Department has approved a new program for drones. It's not the only police agency to use the flying copters, but it will be the largest.

If there is a silver-lining for potential law-breakers, at least the drones won't be weaponized.

If you use a password protected Wi-Fi network, chances are you're using a WPA2 password. Most consumer Wi-Fi routers and connected devices have been using the WPA2 standard for years. And until this past week, WPA2 was pretty much considered safe, but now, experts are warning Wi-Fi users about a new hack that threatens to unravel the core of WPA2 security.

The KRACK hack exploits a process in the WPA2 protocols called the "four-way handshake." This is, in effect, an exchange of information between devices and router that allows someone to be granted access by verifying the device has the appropriate key. The hack takes a flaw in this process to gain access to a network, allowing a hacker to monitor, copy, manipulate, send and stop information on the network.

What to Expect in the Desktop Outlook Redesign

You know when someone says, 'How do you like my new hairstyle?'

It's usually an awkward moment, right? Even if you say,"oh, I love it," people know when it's not working.

That might be the response when Outlook rolls out its new redesign. It's going to take some getting used to.

When it comes to confirming a person's identity, biometrics has come quite a long way since the days of Pudd'nhead Wilson. Smartphones now contain biometric scanners that can not only read fingerprints, but also faces.

However, with the added security of biometrics to confirm a person's identity, can the blockchain technology that has been touted as tamper resistant be made even more secure?

Dude, Your Phone Is Obsolete

Remember that 70s show when somebody was holding a cell phone as big as a shoe to their head?

No, not "Get Smart." That was a shoe and it was the 60s. Anyway, it doesn't matter what show because we're talking about old cell phones.

Dude, double-check but maybe your cell phone is obsolete.

DNA Testing Under Scrutiny

While Josiah Sutton was sitting in prison on rape charges, his mother was thanking God.

He had been convicted years earlier on DNA evidence, but she knew he was innocent. When she learned about problems at the crime lab, she also knew that her prayers had been answered.

"Thank you, God!" she recalled in a report about false DNA testing. His case and many like it are changing the way labs analyze DNA.

How Working in the Cloud Can Keep Your Practice Competitive

Everybody is in the cloud these days, including lawyers of all sizes.

From BigLaw to solo practitioners, cloud computing has become a great equalizer. It enables almost any lawyer to practice virtually anywhere.

Many concerns, like cybersecurity and confidentiality, are always there. But the cloud-based lawyer is not some tech experiment. It's a proven business model that can help keep you competitive.

With how fast technology is advancing, don't blink, or you might miss it. At least with iris scanning technology, opting out might be as simple as closing your eyes, but that might not be a great idea if you're out in public, or behind the wheel of a car. It may not be being used by law enforcement on the general public quite yet, but the technology is here that would allow a cop to scan your iris through your car's side-view mirror.

With the soon to be released IPhone X implementing a facial recognition scan, and long range iris scanning becoming a currently available technology, it's high time we asked: what are the major legal concerns with using biometrics, like an iris scan. Should we be comfortable with our smart phones scanning us?

Apple Inc. is known for manufacturing some of the sleekest and highest quality consumer technology available. However, according to a recent review of legal filings by Ars Technica, the most creative people on the Apple team might in fact be the lawyers.

The In Re Apple IPhone Antitrust Litigation case has found its way to SCOTUS review. Now the tech goliath will have a chance to test out their novel arguments before the High Court in a bid to get the case tossed once again.

When it comes to technology, new and old, different devices will be helpful for different people. Sure, maybe every lawyer should have a smartphone that syncs their many calendars and has an extensive address book, email capabilities, and even mobile web browsing.

But beyond a smartphone, a computer, and a printer, what technology do you actually need? The newest widgets, whatnots, and whiz-bangs, may be fun to play with, or even serve as a status-symbol of sorts, but will any of them actually help you be a better lawyer?

Is Waymo Getting Ready to Launch in Phoenix?

Self-driving cars have been bumping along Silicon Valley roads for some time, but the first self-driving service will likely roll out in Phoenix.

According to reports, Waymo is getting ready to launch a commercial service on the Arizona flatland. The company recently announced partnerships there as part of a campaign to sell driverless safety.

"Imagine climbing into the backseat of a car and just pushing a button to go," the campaign goes. "Everyone moves around safely, drunk and distracted driving become a thing of the past and we all get time back in our day."

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

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted to shine light on government activities for public review. Indeed, for our democracy to function effectively, those who govern must be accountable to those they govern. Along those lines, the Supreme Court has held that our citizenry is entitled to know "what the government is up to." And in the wake of Watergate, the FOIA was given greater enforcement teeth.

In a nutshell, the public can make FOIA requests to the government seeking government records pertaining to all sorts of government affairs. The government is required to produce or make available such government records, unless a narrow exemption applies, such as exempting the production of records that could compromise an ongoing law enforcement investigation, or records that would reveal classified state secrets. But the presumption is that requested government records must be produced.

The U.S. Supreme Court may be the most authoritative court in all the land, but it is surely among the least technologically advanced, particularly in the federal judiciary. And since only a couple of the High Court justices reported even using email, and the fact that you can sometimes hear the paper pages flipping on the audio recordings, one can safely assume that the SCOTUS courtroom is an electronics free environment.

In the actual rules for counsel arguing cases, it is clearly written that no electronic devices, including cell phones, PDAs, computers, or other electronic devices, are allowed in the courtroom. Although clearly there's a double standard, SCOTUS justices are not overwhelmed by massive computer monitors.

A 40-year-old adult male, Sameer Thakar, lost the appeal before the Indiana Supreme Court over his sending a nude photo of himself to a 16-year-old girl in Oregon that he met online. What may come as a surprise, however, is that he had those charges dismissed last year, and the state had filed the appeal.

While two lower courts agreed with Thakar that the law he was being charged with was unconstitutional due to ambiguity, the Indiana Supreme Court had a difference of opinion.

Cryptocurrency Founder Ordered to Pay Nearly $10M for Wire Fraud

If you are techno-skeptical, virtual currencies like Bitcoin may be a good reason for that.

Homero Josh Garza, who founded two cryptocurrency startups, has been ordered to pay nearly $10 million for wire fraud. His companies have been hit with a judgment of more than $10 million.

The fines barely dent the $172 billion market, but it's a shot across the bow to everyone dealing in digital currencies. And big banks like JP Morgan are saying, "we told you so."

Lawyers Rank High in Cybersecurity

Despite the luddite label, law firms are not so bad after all when it comes to cybersecurity.

"There's this impression that the legal sector is behind everyone else," says Jacob Olcott, a vice president at BitSight and an attorney. "From a quantitative, measurable standpoint, we don't see that's true."

So why do law firms have the reputation for being adverse to technology? And if that's true, why are they so cybersecure?

If you've ever had a personal email or social media account hacked, you know, basically, what to expect and do. You're not going to be able to log into your account, and you're going to get a handful of text messages, calls, or even emails from family, friends, colleagues, and potentially clients, asking if you've been hacked. You're going to get on the phone, or online chat, with tech support and prove you are the owner of the account. Then, there'll likely be a brief, or exceptionally long, wait before your services are restored.

The process is similar for a law firm, but a simple email hack could just be the precursor to a larger, more nefarious plan. From a law firm's perspective, there simply isn't anything worse than getting hacked, excepting disbarment of a partner or economic losses (which both could result from getting hacked). Some hacks are worse than others, and depending on the hack, what you do could be critical. Knowing how to recognize when you've been hacked is half the battle.

Below are examples of three of the worst types of hacks that target law firms.

Without fail, in every litigation matter, this question is bound to come up (particularly around the time discovery responses are due): Will you accept service of pleadings and other documents via email? But, note, as one of our readers pointed out, in some states, such as Illinois, accepting pleadings via email is a requirement.

Under FRCP Rule 5, if the person being served consents to receiving service by electronic means, such as email or fax (or ECF), then service will be considered complete upon transmission. However, as the rule implies, you don't have to consent to electronic service (of documents that go through ECF), but doing so could prove rather beneficial. Most state courts also will allow service via email, if the party being served has consented.

Uber Turns Over Key Evidence in Self-Driving Lawsuit

They found a proverbial 'smoking gun' in the self-driving car case against Uber.

It was buried in discovery documents that the company wanted to hide. Ultimately, the judge ordered Uber to produce them.

The plaintiff has the documents now, but there's a problem. It's going to take some time to figure out if the smoking gun shot the bullets.

Every year, the Supreme Court takes up a case or two that help to clarify how recent technological advancements should be analyzed under the law. This term is no different, with SCOTUS having agreed to hear the Carpenter case, which could lead to significant changes in how law enforcement officers obtain cell phone metadata during investigations.

However, even cases that are not directly about technology can often make waves throughout the tech community. For example the Chrisie v. NCAA case could change the landscape, nationwide, for online sports gambling. Additionally, a few pending cases that may be taken up this term could upend some everyday tech practices for both corporations and individuals.

Is It Time to Hire Alexa as Your Assistant?

Alexa, the voice of Amazon's Echo products, is everywhere.

She started out as a feature of Echo, a smart speaker that could also control other internet- connected devices in the house or office. Then she spawned Echo Dot, which can fit almost anywhere.

For lawyers who have been waiting for Alexa to come to life, the Echo Show also has a face. It might be time to meet your next digital assistant.

In the technological world we live in, email has become the gold standard of communication, particularly for client communications. But when you need to inform a client about something critical, or get some time-sensitive answers to questions or access to documents, can you just send an email? How can you be sure that your client will see it in time?

Or most importantly, how do you confirm that a new potential client received their retainer agreement via email?

Below you'll find a few tips on ensuring that your emails get received and read by clients.

No Access to Facebook Messages for Ocean Beach Shooter

As high-profile shootings stunned the world, a lesser-known shooting incident was changing social media law.

It happened in Ocean Beach, a small town in Southern California. It is most famous for the pier -- the longest on the West Coast.

It's also where Jeffrey Renteria was shot, and where his shooter tried to get his private Facebook information. Lance Touchstone said he needed it for his criminal defense; a state appeals court said, more or less, not over the law's dead body.

Did Tribes Find Pass Around Patent Review?

If you thought Native American tribes just made money from casinos, you don't know the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.

The tribes, with about 15,000 members, occupy about one million acres in North Dakota. Most members live elsewhere due to poor conditions on the tribal lands.

Unlike many Native American tribes, however, the North Dakota tribes don't survive solely on casino money. In addition to oil rights, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation owns a significant technology patent.