Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

March 2018 Archives

Uber Quickly Settles Self-Driving Car Death

The settlement in the Uber self-driving car case is confidential, but it still says a lot about how to settle a high-profile case.

In the big picture, it isn't so much about the money. Of course, money is almost always the currency of civil settlements.

But settling a high-profile case for a company like Uber is more about moving on. It's the main thing the parties have in common.

Now that spring is officially here, families are going away for spring break, and gearing up for summer vacations. And while you may only be fortunate enough to get a working vacation, if you have the right tech accessories, you won't have to stay behind at the hotel while the rest of the family hits the beach.

When it comes to the basics of working from the beach, you will definitely want shelter from the sun, a sand-proof towel, a comfy beach chair, and, of course, your smartphone and laptop. In addition to these basic items, the following tech accessories will surely make working from the beach a breeze.

A Federal District Court of Appeals decision in Oracle v. Google could leave the search giant on the hook for billions in damages to Oracle. The appeal is making headlines not just over the potentially astronomical damages, but also due to the discussion of fair use when it comes to code copyrights.

The appellate court overturned the lower court's jury verdict finding that Google's use of Oracle's copyrighted Java APIs in the Android software was fair use. In the de novo review, it explained that while certain "historical facts" relevant to the issue of fair use can be decided by a jury, the matter is largely an issue of law that a court may decide after appropriate fact finding. Now Google faces a third trial in this matter, but unfortunately for everyone's favorite search engine, this time around, it'll only be about damages.

Internet Association Steps Up for Net Neutrality

When the legendary Babe Ruth stepped to the plate, crowds cheered and feared as they waited for his next home run. He hit 60 in 1927, a record that stood for 34 years.

About a century later, the world's biggest internet companies are stepping up to the plate on net neutrality. The Internet Association has filed to intervene in a lawsuit against the government's repeal of open-internet regulations.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other association members want to knock the government out of the park. Fans are cheering for them, but there is definitely tension in the air.

Despite all the hype, the cryptocurrency game seems to be filled with risks beyond just the usual risk of financial loss that comes along with any investment activity. And beyond the security issues that come along with decentralized, non-fiat currencies, users also need to be careful about who they choose to handle their digital transactions.

The cryptocurrency payment processor Payza was recently charged, criminally, with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, conspiracy to launder money, as well as conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. These charges stem from allegations that the service and its co-founders, the Patel brothers, over a six year period of time, helped to launder $250 million worth of proceeds from child pornography, ponzi schemes and other illegal activities.

Facebook, Cambridge Fallout Spreads in Illinois With Lawsuit

Cook County, Illinois, which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, will have its revenge.

The Democratic stronghold has sued Facebook in the ballooning analytics scandal, in which the social media giant provided user information to a Trump-affiliated political consulting firm. It is apparently the first public entity to join the cascade of lawsuits against the company since the "breach of trust," as Mark Zuckerberg described it.

So why is Cook County -- population 5 million -- suing Facebook about the 50-million-user data scandal? The short answer is: it is against the law.

People scrambling to delete their Bitcoin Blockchain ledgers due to the child pornography scare may want to hold off -- that is, if the folks can be trusted. As commentators have noted, Bitcoin's response discusses links to child pornography, and curiously omits discussing the image that the researchers claim to have found buried in the Blockchain.

It's no secret that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can be favored by criminals for the whole "crypto" anonymous feature. But recently a team of researchers claim that downloading the Blockchain that Bitcoin is based upon is a criminal act because there is child pornography stored in the data.

It may be hard to believe for many lawyers, but landlines are pretty much a relic of the past. And for those lawyers that steadfastly maintain that their landline is required for telephonic court appearances, you may want to double check your local courts' rules, as that may not be the case anymore.

More and more courts these days are opening up to the idea of allowing telephonic appearances using VOIP or softphones. Generally, like the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Minnesota, you can use internet-based phone services so long as you have a handset or headset. Speakerphones, pay-phones, and mobile phones however are still, usually, not permitted.

When it comes to lawyering on the go, the smartphone changed the game, even for those luddite lawyers. However, for the luddites and those attorneys that haven't decided to go all in on a pricey enterprise solution, or a full fledged case management system that they can access from the mobile web or an app, starting slow is a good idea and can be as simple as downloading a few really helpful free apps.

From increasing your own productivity, to impressing clients with your practical and pragmatic use of technology, smartphones can make lawyering much easier. Below, you'll find the three best apps for today's lawyer on the go. (FWIW, FindLaw has no relationship to any of the below-mentioned apps).

Special Effects Firm Sues to Destroy Your DVDs

Fortunately, some things are legally impossible to enforce.

That's why we have legal principles such as "acts of God," or "impossibility of performance." And then there are those "rights" that cannot be enforced because, well, they are "ridiculous."

It's a good thing, too, especially if you want to keep your copies of "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Avengers: Age of UItron" and "Beauty and the Beast." A visual effects firm has sued to destroy them all.

Hacked Law Firm Shuts Down -- for Good

The fall of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm caught in an international tax scandal, is the stuff of movies.

Founded 40 years ago, it became one of the largest providers of offshore services in the world. It served more than 300,000 company clients in more than 40 countries.

It started to fall apart after hackers exposed tax liabilities for its wealthy clients who hid money in offshore accounts. Then there was a government investigation. Oh wait, that was a movie.

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

When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), what might come to mind are "things" like the automatic regulation of settings in the home and routine ordering of household products when supplies are low. But IoT applications are more diverse than that and can be of greater societal importance, for example, when seeking to increase food production for our heavily populated planet.

In a recent article in, a company is profiled called Sid Wainer & Son. Wainer has sold speciality foods using heirloom tomatoes, green eggplants and fig-infused balsamic vinegar in the New England area for more than a century. But more recently, the Wainer farm has gone high-tech.

Self-driving tragedy struck over the weekend in Tempe, Arizona when an Uber self-driving test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian. Despite having a human driver in the car monitoring the autonomous vehicle, a woman reportedly crossing the street just outside a crosswalk was struck.

While not much more is known to the public at this time, one thing is for certain: Uber is taking this incident seriously. The ride-hailing giant stated that it would immediately stop all testing on public roadways nationwide. Prior to now, there haven't really been any major reports of catastrophes, or even other deaths, caused by self-driving cars.

There sure are a whole lot of legal tech apps out there these days. From being able to manage your entire practice from the palm of your hand to simply turning client docs into usable PDFs without a giant high-quality scanning machine, the smartphone has revolutionized the mobile and small firm lawyer's life.

And while lawyers may not have a reputation for being the most tech savvy bunch of professionals, legal consumers have certainly shown a willingness to dive right in to legal tech. The legal chatbots, and other online apps and services geared towards improving the access to justice have seen quite a bit of success. For some practitioners, all these new legal apps have created a new problem, legal consumers are coming to them with specific questions and half done legal work.

Is Congress Ready to Allow Cars With No Steering Wheel?

It won't be long before you look at the car next to you and see no driver, but no steering wheel? No gas pedal? And no brakes?!

General Motors already has plans to make that kind of self-driving car. It is the latest thing in driverless design, and it's cause for serious debate.

Current safety rules require cars to have a steering wheel and pedals, but Congress is considering an exception. After all, proponents argue, who needs them when there is no driver?

California Cannabis Website Invokes CDA

The roll-out on California's recreational marijuana laws is a bit like rolling a joint. It's not as easy as it looks.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control, the state entity that oversees the new marijuana market, is trying to weed out some trouble spots. The bureau recently sent a letter to one of the bigger players in the market, saying it was advertising unlicensed pot growers.

Weedmaps, an online directory of marijuana businesses, responded that it was not subject to the agency. Tommy Chong, the marijuana activist and comedy actor, couldn't have said it better.

Judge Suggests Mute Button for Trump Twitter Lawsuit

In the Trump Twitter-Blocking case, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald was hoping the President would settle by muting unfriendly users rather than blocking them.

The plaintiffs sued the president last year after he blocked them from commenting on his Twitter page. They claim Trump violated their free speech rights on a public forum.

The president's lawyers argue it is not a public forum, and that he has the right to associate with people as he chooses. The judge is pushing the pause button while they consider her mute proposal, but wait, haven't we seen this movie?

An Iowa man, from the city of Sibley, has just sued Sibley over their efforts to silence him on the internet.

Although the city may be understandably upset over what its own resident was saying, using governmental authority to restrict speech on the internet, even if that speech claims that you're a smelly city, just isn't right. The First Amendment lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Iowa and has all the hallmarks of a fishy story.

Early adopters of technology can often be made fun of for all sorts of various reasons. However, some businesses have directly felt how impactful having the right technology can be. And if you can get your hands on that before your competition, you could be looking at a serious competitive advantage.

But that doesn't mean you should blindly go about being an early adopter of every new piece of tech you find interesting, or think might be helpful. There are definite risks to implementing new tech into any business, and for lawyers, one of those risks could be your entire license and livelihood. To that end, below, you'll find three reasons why you might consider not being an early tech adopter.

Law Firms Need Your Expertise to Make AI Tools Work

Robots may be casting a shadow over law jobs, but they are also opening doors at law firms.

Legal tech positions -- such as chief innovation officer, legal solutions architect and chief data scientist -- are in demand. BigLaw, in particular, needs people to make the tech work.

It's no secret that those tech workers have an advantage if they also know the law. The big surprise, for some, is that the robots actually need help.

FBI Used Best Buy's Geek Squad for Child Porn Informants

You can find 'geeks' somewhere between 'cool' and 'sketchy.'

Like members of the Geek Squad are cool because they can fix computers. But they can also be sketchy because some have been paid to turn over child pornography they find on computers to federal authorities.

According to newly released records from the FBI, Best Buy's geeks have been working with the agency for a decade.

A new AI tool on the market has the potential to really help some lawyers out. It won't revolutionize the practice of law, but it might just please those lawyers that have been waiting for a good app to do real time voice-to-text transcription. Unfortunately for those lawyers, for the time being, the new AI powered app still lacks all the functionality you'd want, but it may still be worth checking out.

The app, named Otter, is currently free and does a reasonable job of accurately transcribing in real time. Of course, like any transcription app, some words will be missed, but for the most part, it did a good job in my own limited testing (which even included asking it to transcribe non-sense, and non-English, words-which it didn't do very well with). However, the current iteration of the Otter app limits users to interactions within the app only, and limits how much text can be copied to the clipboard from the app for exporting to another app or email.

Study: Lenient Patent Examiners May Have Caused Patent Trolls

Who gave birth to the dreaded Patent Troll?

Was it Greed? Was it Opportunity? Was it the Jabberwocky?

No, according to a new study, it was the Lenient Patent Examiner. Patent trolls, economists say, were born at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Do you get a lot of email? Do you use Outlook for email? And do you drive by yourself to commute? If you answered yes to all three of these questions, you may be in luck as Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana may soon be able to read you your emails from Outlook.

This time saving feature promises to save those over-emailed commuters some valuable time, though doing so may cut into those precious moments of solitude and quiet reflection while commuting. Currently, Cortana's email reading functionality is being tested. If successful it could be rolled out in an update to Outlook. But before you start letting Cortana read your emails during your commute, you should make sure you know how it works.

In what may seem like a venture into the category of the legally weird for this legal tech blog, a recent lawsuit that was dismissed by the Texas courts tells a tale too odd not to share, again and again.

A self-described "Objectophile" lost his Texas lawsuit filed in order to be able to marry his own laptop, and he's tried this more than once. But barring the general considerations of the physical impossibility of marrying personal property, there's an interesting question that follows, beyond just what in the digitally-damned hell this guy was thinking.

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

We tend to think of censorship happening in other countries, and not so much in the United States. Just like the government can't violate the First Amendment, we like to think that private companies would be equally generous in allowing freedom of expression, unless something is truly troublesome in nature. Well ...

As it turns out, Facebook recently censored a post that displayed a very small 30,000-year-old statuette carved in the image of a naked woman and referred to as the "Venus of Willendorf," according to

A Facebook spokesperson has since apologized for Facebook not allowing the post in the first instance, but how did this all come to pass?

Biggest Cyberthreats to Lawyers

According to a new survey, more than one-fourth of law firms last year say the were hacked and the number is increasing.

If your law firm hasn't been attacked, chances are it's just a matter of time. It may have already happened; you just don't know it.

In any case, cyberthreats are getting bigger, so you need to do more to fight them off. Like the sheriff said in Jaws, you're going to need a bigger boat.

Reports: Ethereum Smart Contracts Are Far From Secure

So, some smart contracts are not so smart after all.

According to a new study, about 34,000 smart contracts built on blockchain technology are vulnerable to hackers. An "accidental bug" in an Ethereum blockchain, for example, cut off users from $150 million to $280 million in their virtual wallets last year.

It's hardly a death knell to the wildly popular technology, but it does raise some second thoughts. Like, what is going on?

Does My Firm Need Blockchain? What For?

Many lawyers are afraid of blockchain technology because they don't know what it is.

"Is it really necessary for my law practice?" "Do I have to be a coder to use it?" "Will it take my job?!"

Yes, technology is transforming the legal industry. But relax, the professor will answer all your questions shortly.

Can Law Firms Be App Based?

When it comes to providing legal services, the future looks increasingly digital. While certain functions may still require in-person contact with clients and people, more and more can be done from the palm of your hand these days.

While lawyers can effectively (though maybe not as efficiently) do 99 percent of the job on a smartphone, the apps that cater to legal consumers are generally lacking. This is due to the fact that apps and online services do not generally provide the same level of full service as a traditional law firm does. However, with the pace of legal technology, that may be changing.