On the Edge of Law Firm Technology

By Joseph Raczynski

Over the previous three years at ILTA, one of the most popular sessions has been “What’s That? New and Cool Technologies”.  This year was no different.  A capacity crowd of legal technologists listened to the witty foursome of Jeffrey Brandt of PinHawk LLC, Mark Manoukian of Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter, Beau Mersereau of Fish & Richardson P.C., and Ben Weinberger with Phoenix Business Solutions.  The cast injected levity into their dialog about predictions of where technology is headed.

They focused on several areas: Windows 8, Wearable Technology, Enterprise Content Management (ECM), Digital Currencies, and The Internet of Things (IoT).

Windows 8:

The panel mentioned that Windows 8 is lightning fast.  The difference between Windows 8 and 8.1 is that in the latter, a start button was added which is key for most users.  Previously people had to hunt out where to begin and it was less intuitive.  The other key takeaway, many firms have not implemented Windows 8 for a singular reason, many vendors do not support IE11 which comes standard on the OS.

Wearable Technology:

The group cited many examples of how wearable technology will start creeping into law firms.  Ben Weinberger stated that “The NFC ring could be used to unlock doors, mobile phones, transfer information and link people.”  This could be a nonintrusive way to acclimate users to this sort of technology.  It is easy and subtle.  Others weighed in with current examples.  Disney World uses Magic Bands worn by park goers.  They are easily able to tap down for food, gift shop purchases, and unlocking their hotel room door.  The goal with wearable said Jeffrey Brandt, is that the form will be small and help establish convergence.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM):

In a statement that seemed to shock the audience, several panelists stated that they thought law firms were on the cutting edge of ECM.  Where firms are typically more conservative to adopt new technology, this is an area firms have a precise focus on organizing data into scalable structural components.

Digital Currencies:

The panel was definitely split on this topic.  Some saw the true value of having an unregulated currency while others bluntly said this was a disaster without government control.  Bitcoin dominated the discussion as the crypto-currency of choice, but Mark Manoukian mentioned a new coin called Ripples which has the endorsement of MIT.  Ultimately the panel suggested that some sort of regulation would be important for true adoption.

Internet of Things (IoT):

The Internet of Things is very popular these days.  It is essentially applying an IP address to almost everything, e.g. each light at your home, doors, and appliances.  The panel saw a great deal of opportunity here and mentioned law firm books as a great way to incorporate this type of technology.  They spoke about placing RFID chips in books to keep track of inventories.

The fast paced discussion covered a wonderful array of topics that may have a major impact on the law firm of the future.  The wearable technology discussion specifically referring to the NFC ring, seemed to strike a chord with most as something very plausible in the near future.  Lastly, it does appear that ECM will continue to evolve within the firm to become more seamless and search dynamic.

 

Twitter Unlocking Courtroom Doors?

By Joseph Raczynski

For a seemingly innocuous 140 characters, Twitter continues to rouse evocative legal discourse.
The newest twist for Twitter consists of judges grappling with the question of what place, if any, Twitter has in the courtroom.  According to a recent article in Time, the United States Supreme Court has yet to rule on Twitter’s use in the courtroom.  The lower courts are divided about its role; some tolerate tweets by attorneys during criminal proceedings, while others forbid such activity altogether.

Helping to further spark the discussion, recently there was much hubbub about the comedian Steve Martin (@STEVEMARTINTOGO) who, while on jury duty, was tweeting about his experiences.  He quipped multiple times, tweeting:

REPORT FROM JURY DUTY: Lunch break. Discussing case with news media gives me chance to promote my book.

REPORT FROM JURY DUDY [sic]: Defendant running for exit. Not to escape, but out of disgust. Judge wearing NOTHING under his robes. We are adjourned until tomorrow.

FINAL REPORT FROM JURY DUTY: Defendant sentenced to death. Feeling bad. Wait…call from REAL JURORS OF BEVERLY HILLS. WORTH IT!

Technology, like Twitter use in the courtroom, poses an interesting dilemma.  It is a debate as aged as the legal system itself, which is directed at openness, fairness, and access to the justice system.  How unrestricted do we want our legal system to be?  What information is appropriate to be disclosed to the mass public?  Looking at the Founding Fathers for guidance on the breadth of access to public information, perhaps we have a glimpse in to their intent.  The hallowed Independence Hall in Philadelphia originally had been built on the belief that there must be open trials, and as such, no doors were placed on the courtroom.  Therefore, is it not plausible to argue that the use of Twitter in courts is consistent with the free flow of information our forefathers had intended in our “open” court system?

Social Media: From Handcuffs to Handshake?

By Joseph Raczynski

The world of ever evolving social media can be legally and technologically confining for companies.  ALM recently hosted an event Social Media: Risks and Rewards at the Harvard Club in New York City.  The stage was set for the daylong conference by the keynote Joel Reidenberg, Professor of Law and Director at Fordham University School of Law.   He focused on the impact of Social Media from a user and business perspective delving into a web site’s terms of service, privacy policy and technology.

The lively discussion began with a poll of the audience.  Of the nearly one hundred senior level counsels in attendance, two had read the terms of service and five the privacy policy of LinkedIn.  Simply stated, most consumers do not look at the terms of a web site.  Increasingly alarming, as Facebook learned, social media sites tend to be unaware of what their “App” vendors are doing.  Blending this issue with social media name squatting, underutilized technology to aid awareness of policies, and an under educated social media public; attorneys are finding it an arduous task to craft appropriate policies.

Reidenberg makes several technological and policy recommendations:

  • If you are advising clients make sure you tell them to be transparent.  Use technology tools, e.g. popups or interstitial pages to make it clear to users information is being collected.  Ask, “Would a normal person be able to understand the terms and conditions?”
  • Focus on substantive fairness, i.e. the “The Grandmother Test”, as a company, can you describe to your grandmother what you are doing, and do it with a straight face?
  • Technology tools will be very important going forward.  Some of these exist, and some need to be developed.  For example, if you want your information to be deleted from a social media website, how to do this needs to be explicitly stated, but additionally the site needs technology tools to allow this to be automated.  Giving a user the rights to review and make adjustments to personal information will soon have to be the standard in the social media sphere.  Currently there is a disincentive for advertiser based companies to use these technologies because it decreases their revenue.
  • General public education will have to be enhanced.  Companies need to focus on how to raise awareness about helping people, especially children, to understand risks.

Lastly here are some interesting concluding thoughts from Reidenberg:

Privacy Policies:  A Neilsen rating report stated that 78% of the public thought that if a website has a privacy policy; it means they do not share personal information.  This is not the case.  A policy could clearly state all the information a user submits is sellable.

Prediction:  Facebook and similar social media sites could potentially be a prime candidate of a class action suit.  As they continue to collect volumes of information from its users, it is possible to hold them subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The reason, Facebook is increasingly being used to screen employees.

Ultimately if policies are transparent, technology is utilized, and education is enhanced, companies can fully embrace social media as an effective tool to better their brand.

 

Social Media & eDiscovery: The Water Is Rising 

Lawyers are mired the immensity of eDiscovery materials.  Enter into the quagmire social media, which in part encompasses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn creating a massive flood of discoverable data.  At LegalTech Michael E. Lackey, Jr., Partner at Mayer Brown, Jack Halprin VP of eDiscovery and Compliance at Autonomy, and Honorable David J. Waxse of the US District Court District of Kansas dive into various topics surrounding social media and eDiscovery.  Some of the issues they explored included; if social media is discoverable, how to handle it, and the challenges of social media.

Social media can be discoverable.  According to Michael Lackey, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) defines a document as “any designated documents or electronically stored information…”.  Therefore Social Media Sites (SMS) can be considered discoverable if relevant and within that definition.  One important point that the Judge mentioned was that “lawyers are treating social media differently than normal discovery, which is wrong.”

Since 75% of the Fortune 100 companies are using social media and the Library of Congress is recording every tweet, the panel examined how to handle the data.  Firms are taking one of three tactics: Block, Punt or Tackle.

Block: The firm prevents all access for employees; however, typically employees find work-arounds.  In addition, most firms are actually using social media so that makes the policy cumbersome.

Punt: Other firms are actually doing little to nothing to regulate.  This will leave the organization open to risk.

Tackle: Increasingly firms recognize a need to add social media to corporate information and governance. These groups realize social media is here to stay, that data is discoverable, and see the negative effects of not having a policy.

Technologists and attorneys must deal with the challenges of social media itself.  They have to consider the complexity, massive volume, informality of the conversation, anonymity of users, and lastly the transient and dynamic nature of the medium.  With respect to the informal and dynamic nature mentioned, the panel pointed out that words can be interpreted in multiple ways given variances in culture, language and age.  They gave an example that the word “dog” could be interpreted: as an animal, a negative connotation, e.g. that stock is a dog, or vernacular, “He’s my dawg”.  Multiple meanings complicated this process.

Technology is the solution in dealing with the challenges of properly understanding and organizing this discovery.  Judge Waxse stated, “Lawyers need to be convinced that technology has to be used now.”  The sheer challenge of volume, web content, conversational text, and slang necessitates highly scalable algorithmic technologies.

These technology tools should be:

  • Language independent
  • Have the ability to dynamically understand slang and abbreviations
  • Scale to manage ever growing volumes of data
  • Able to cull through all media including audio and video

Ultimately social media can be discoverable.  Law firms must take an active role in creating an information governance plan thus becoming proactive in addressing any possible issues that could arise.  Lastly, technology should be utilized to help unearth and understand the volumes of information that are now within the realm of discoverable.

 

Social Media Policy Development

By Joseph Raczynski

Panelist:

Julia Montgomery, Technology Projects Manager, Arent Fox LLP

Karen M. Sheehan, Head of PLC Law Department at Practical Law Company, Inc.

Mary Abraham, Counsel, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP (Moderator)

 

As social media has ballooned in popularity and use, law firms have had to wrestle with the myriad of implications on the organization.  Staff and attorneys who increasingly use of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube can cause serious issues for the firm.  This session at ILTA (International Legal Technology Association) focused around the various aspects of a firm developing a social media policy.

Here are some important points to consider when crafting you social media policy:

  • A firm should gather a wide internal audience for a complete perspective. These individuals should include: a partner, junior associate, the marketing department, and the “grandmotherly secretary”
  • It should involve a cross-disciplinary drafting team: IT, HR, marketing, ethics department, and someone who has used social media in the past
  • A policy should keep the policies broad so as not to get into specific types of social media like Youtube or FourSquare
  • The policy should not be crafted unless you actually play in the field. That is, that policy owner needs to know how each works, e.g. Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn

Some recommendations for a firm to its users:

  • Firms are using social media to look at people for hiring and firings.
  • You may need to educate people about privacy settings and work with IT to adjust sites at the firm
  • You should have a designated individual at the firm whom users could visit to ask if it makes sense to post something
  • The best rule of thumb is to keep in mind if what you are doing or saying is “in public.” In most cases, what you write online is public or can be made public
  • Some firms are blocking all users from social media, some firms merely block staff, and others actually select individuals who have a reputation for abuse

 

Educational Issues:

  • If a policy is not accompanied by education, it will be hard to enforce
  • Be sure the employees of your firm understand the opportunities and the dangers of social media
  • A firm can dictate what you can or cannot write on Facebook, if you are on company time and using company resources. There should be no real expectation of privacy if you are posting on Facebook and are associated with a firm.  However, the firm must have a business justifiable reason to take action.

Ultimately with the rapid adoption of social media, a carefully crafted social media policy is highly recommended.  It must be broad in its scope to include all possibilities and use cases as it is easier than ever to break the client confidentiality rules via social media.  Lastly, users must be aware to be honest about who they are, making it clear their views or their own and understand that even those statements potentially have an effect on the firm.

Social Media and Privacy

By Joseph Raczynski

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Joseph Raczynski, an Applications Integrator for Thomson Reuters, Legal , is also a technology evangelist who specializes in social media and portal technology.  He also has been a consultant in web and wireless development.

Legal Tech May 20, 2010

Legal Tech: Social Media & Privacy

I attended the “Social Media & Privacy” seminar of Virtual Legal Tech.  Jason Romrell General Counsel at InsuranceLeads.com spoke about “How Much Exposure is Too Much?”  In this discussion he offers two examples, and then provides specific awareness consulting about privacy surrounding social media.

First he discussed acts of, in his words, “privacy stupidity”.  In one example an employee of a large firm claimed workmen’s compensation and thus received medical benefits for the inability to walk.  When pictures of her surfing in South Beach appear on Facebook, her benefits were terminated immediately.  In the second example, Microsoft “fired” an employee for publicly posting a picture of the delivery of Apple’s Macbooks to Bill Gates building with Microsoft’s signage clearly in the background.

In both of these cases, Romrell points out that “off the clock” activities posted publically can be used against the individual.  Most companies operate using “at-will” employment, thus any action they do not approve of is grounds for dismissal.

In one very curious aspect he mentioned that the IRS and DOJ are also using social media, e.g. Twitter and Facebook, to investigate individuals with cause.

As Romrell underscores, it is crucial to recognize that any and all information posted online via social media has the potential to be viewed by anyone.  However, read what you see with a skeptical eye.  Be aware users who post as “Angie Smith” may actually be someone attempting to pass themselves off as Angie.

Twitter: Mind the Gap

By Joseph Raczynski

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Joseph Raczynski, an Applications Integrator for Thomson Reuters, Legal , is also a technology evangelist who specializes in social media and portal technology.  He also has been a consultant in web and wireless development.

Twitter: Mind the Gap

In the social media sphere within the legal industry there are several gaps which need attention.  One chief oversight is the under utilization of the broadcasting ability of Twitter.  In its most simplistic nascent form, Twitter is a megaphone.   “Payne & Suffrin, LLP wins medical case!”  “Partner Tom Thompson lands Megasaurus, LLC.”  As is outlined below, some firms are using Twitter in this capacity; however others remain silently “tweetless”.

The second more dynamic and critically important aspect of Twitter is the dialogue opened.  That is, when people are frustrated or elated typically they tweet about it.  Companies and firms alike who have products or clients should be fully cognizant of these musings.  The gesture by a firm in the form of a rapid reply satiates most because their tweet does not fall into the abyss.  The tweet becomes an actual conversation.  It is a perfect opportunity to engage and evolve the conversation into positivity, and in turn profit.  This is easily accomplished via Twitter Search and the myriad of applications that allow access to aggregated tweets about your company or firm.

Who is doing what with Twitter:

  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld is using Twitter to broadcast such announcements as wins, partner opinion on the international climate in the Middle East, and recaps of events on the Hill
  • Howrey LLP transmits alerts regarding symposiums it hosts, awards won, and tasks forces created
  • King & Spalding announces new clients, partner discussions, and blogs

While those firms are tapping into the potential, others seem to be on hold.  Firms such as Hogan Lovells, Holland & Knight, and Proskauer Rose have apparently parked their names and locked down their pages, protecting tweets.

Final thoughts to consider:

  • Are you seeing twitter as an open dialogue?
  • Do you search tweets to see what people are saying so you can respond?
  • What resources do you dedicate to answering tweets?

Twitter the Next Biggest Connective Development for Humans

By Joseph Raczynski

“Twitter could be the next biggest connective development for humans, bigger than TV.”

That is what someone who has been working with the development of Twitter told the audience at a legal technology conference I was at in NYC a few months ago.

Here is the rationale.  Think of Twitter as an army of millions of mobile reporters.  People tweet all over the world.  People tweet in war zones, at major events, but more importantly they tweet where an event happens and there are no news reporters available, yet.  They are the first person on the scene accounts.

The key to this whole development is the open API which allows for applications to be created by anyone so that Tweets can be gathered, processed and understood in mass.

News companies are major adopters of reading Tweets.  In fact, there is an application that categories Tweets coming from different parts of the world, or state, or topic area.  They search on key words like “Middle East” or “Bomb” or “Providence”… whatever you can imagine.  They have huge digital boards, and people can monitor all the activity of the tweets that come in, and see what those army of millions of mobile reporters are saying.  To make this all better… People can also send pictures, and I see video is not too far behind.  So think about a breakout of a mob in Southie… people would Tweet on that and send pictures far before some news crew could get there.  It is like news immediately, even more immediate that what we have traditionally thought of as immediate.

The big part that people miss is the search function.  Go to http://search.twitter.com from that site you can search on anything you like.  Look for a restaurant in your area that you wonder if is any good.  People probably have tweeted about it.  Marketing companies are finally seeing this as a way to find out what people think about good or services in real time.

When you tweet, you are actually tweeting to the whole world, so ask a question, and you are likely to get an answer.  The bigger following you have the better the response.  When I was in NYC I asked about a restaurant… I said, “What do people think of 5 Napkin Burger”?  And via my immediate responses, I got a good sense that the place is damn solid.

So from my vantage point, it is a cool app, in its infancy.  There is way more to it that some guy saying, “I just ate a whole cherry pie.”  Seriously, it will make waves for a reason, and will continue to do so.