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Internet research tips and tricks for lawyers

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Internet research tips and tricks for lawyers."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Internet research tips and tricks for lawyers

I was recently provided with a review copy of “The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet,” written by Carole a Levitt and Mark E. Rosch. This book, which was recently updated and is now in its 12th edition, was written to help lawyers learn how to use the Internet to conduct effective and free investigative and legal research.

When I first started reading this book, I smugly expected that, given my knowledge of online tools, I wouldn’t find much that was new to me. Was I ever wrong. In nearly every chapter I learned at least a few new tricks, and by the time I had finished the book, I had learned a vast array of new and practical tips that I would have otherwise never known about.

And, since I’m feeling altruistic, I figured I’d pass along a few of them to you.

First, you probably already know that when you perform a Google search, you can limit the results to certain categories, such as videos, images or news. But did you also know that you can limit your search to provide results from certain timeframes, including the past 24 hours, the past week, or the past month?

Another interesting Google fact: you can conduct patent searches on Google at www.google.com/patents.

And, Google tip 3: you can search for definitions of words by typing “define:” into the search box followed by the word you would like to define. This search will bring up definitions of the particular word from across the Web. Similarly you can also search for synonyms of a certain word. To do so you add a tilde (~) next to the term for which you would like retrieve synonyms.

Now, on to the next tip. Have you ever wanted to view a older version of a website? You can do so using using a website called the “Way Back Machine” which can be found at www.archive.org. You type in the website’s address and then choose, from the dates available, the version of the website you would like to see.

The next few tips are from Chapter 7, which is, without a doubt, one of the most useful chapters in the book. This chapter focuses on using the Internet to conduct free investigative research and explains how you can use the Internet to locate people and conduct background checks.

At the beginning of this chapter, the authors provide you with a very helpful list of useful websites which provide access to free public records and publicly available information. I’ve reproduced that list below:

• Search Systems (www.searchsystems.net)

• RootsWeb (rootsweb.com)

• USGenWeb (usgenweb.com)

• Portico (indorgs.virginia.edu/portico)

• BRB Publications (www.brbpub.com/free-public-records)

• Zabasearch.com (www.zabasearch.com)

• Black Book Online (blackbookonline.info)

• Zoominfo.com: (zoominfo.com/search)

• 123People.com (www.123people.com)

• Pipl.com (pipl.com)

• Spokeo.com (www.spokeo.com)

Also from this chapter comes another interesting tip. Did you know that you can use your public library card to gain access to expensive pay databases for free via your library’s online portal? It’s true. Just visit Libdex (www.libdex.com) to locate your local library’s website and determine which databases you have access to as a result of having a library card with that library. Databases available at some libraries include the full text of the Wall Street Journal, Gale’s Business Directory (provides background information, broker reports, and more), and RefUSA (includes addresses and phone numbers for millions of people and businesses.)

But Chapter 7 doesn’t stop there. The remainder of this chapter includes a wealth of information regarding ways to locate information and people, including how to: find military personnel, locate assets and personal property, verify aircraft registration and pilot certification, and research copyrights, trademarks, and patents.

Believe it or not, Chapter 7 is followed by 11 more chapters. In the chapters immediately following Chapter 7, the authors provide, among other things, an exhaustive look at ways to find additional types of information, including locating and researching experts, attorneys and judges.

Finally, the last few chapters of this book focus on methods to conduct legal research online for free. These chapters provide invaluable information for lawyers trying to run their law practices on a dime in this competitive economic climate.

My only criticism of this book is that some of the information is already outdated even though this latest edition was published just a few months ago. But, that’s the nature of the beast and is to be expected when you’re covering the Internet — where websites and interfaces are updated every day — sometimes multiple times in one day.

The bottom line: this book provides a wealth of information for attorneys (or anyone else) seeking to use the Internet to conduct free investigative research and for that reason alone is worth its weight in gold. I highly recommend it.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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Florida judge disqualified for social media activities

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Florida judge disqualified for social media activities."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Florida judge disqualified for social media activities

Is it ethical for judges to interact on social media and “friend” the lawyers who may appear in their court?

The majority of jurisdictions that have addressed this issue have concluded that it is generally permissible for judges to become online “friends” with attorneys appearing before them, as long as the judges are careful to avoid the appearance of impropriety, avoid ex parte communications, and otherwise ensure compliance with applicable ethical rules. (See, 2009 Advisory Opinion 08-176 of the New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline Opinion 2010-7, and the 2010 Ethics Committee of the Kentucky Judiciary Opinion JE-119).

However, in 2010, the California Judges Association, while agreeing with this general principle, in Judicial Ethics Committee Opinion Number 66, set forth one caveat: The committee concluded that, although it was ethical for judges to become “friends” with lawyer who might appear before them, the judges were required to “unfriend” attorneys who actually did appear before the judge and after doing so, were required to notify all parties of the “unfriending.”

In comparison, the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has taken the minority position on judicial use of social media. In November 2009, in Opinion 2009-20, the committee concluded that although judges could join and participate on Facebook, becoming “friends” with attorneys who may appear before them was impermissible.

The committee reasoned that allowing judges to do so would give the impression that the attorney was in a position to exert special influence upon the judge. This determination was later reaffirmed by the Committee in Opinion 2010-06.

Earlier this month, this advisory opinion was cited by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in Pierre Domville v. State of Florida, No. 4D12-556. In Pierre Domville, the court held that the judge, who was Facebook “friends” with the prosecutor in a case pending before the judge, was required to recuse himself.

The court explained: “Judges must be vigilant in monitoring their public conduct so as to avoid situations that will compromise the appearance of impartiality … (Because facts have been alleged) that would create in a reasonably prudent person a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial, we quash the order denying disqualification …”

The rationale for this decision is short-sighted and misguided. Online connections are no different than those made offline. Certain types of offline interactions with judges have always been considered acceptable and are commonplace, such as lunching or golfing with a judge. Online “friend” connections are comparable to offline interactions and should not be forbidden simply because the medium for the interaction is different.

That the status of the judge’s friendship with an attorney is arguably more public than a traditional friendship does not change the nature of the relationship, and just as with offline friendships, a judge’s assurances that the relationship will not effect his or her rulings should be sufficient.

For that reason, the California ethics opinion offers a more sensible approach, assuming it even makes sense to forbid social media relationships between judges and counsel appearing before them. Although it does serve to inhibit judicial interaction on social media, at least California has adopted a stance that allow judges to exist in the same century as the rest of the world.

Like it or not, judges live in the present, just like everyone else. It is unrealistic — and unfair — to issue ethics decisions that require judges to live in a 20th century bubble. Since sending them back to 1990 in a time machine isn’t an option, the wisest course of action is to adopt reasonable standards that reflect 21st century realities.

Judges are human beings with lives outside the courtroom. They have preexisting friendships with attorney colleagues that didn’t cease to end when they became judges. To issue ethics decisions that prevent judges from interacting on social media with the very same lawyers with whom they regularly interact in public is nothing short of ridiculous. Let’s hope Florida remains in the minority on this issue.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.


Reference apps for the mobile lawyer

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Reference apps for the mobile lawyer."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Reference apps for the mobile lawyer

These days it seems as if we’re always on the go. The good news is that for the mobile lawyer, there are lots of ways to get things done on the road, with smart phones and tablets leading the way.

Of course, one things that busy lawyers always need access to is information. Fortunately, there are a vast assortment of useful mobile apps that make it easy to get whatever information you need, no matter where you are.

So, to get you started, here’s just a sampling of some of the better reference apps available. Most of these apps are available for both Apple devices and Android devices, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on the apps for Apple devices.

First off, there’s the Wolfram Alpha app ($1.99). This app gives you full access to the Wolfram Alpha database, right from your smart phone or tablet. Among other things, you can perform complex calculations, obtain date and time zone information, convert units and measures, obtain geographical information, locate weather information and much, much more.

And, if the regular Wolfram Alpha database isn’t as legal-specific as you’d like, there’s always the Wolfram Alpha Lawyer’s Professional Assistant app ($4.99). It offers, among other things, a full legal dictionary, statutes of limitations for every state, financial computations, and investigative information, including including weather, company information, IP lookup and a blood alcohol calculator.

Next up, apps to aid in the writing process. Because lawyers write. A lot. So it’s good to know that there are a number of useful writing apps. First, there’s the Merriam Webster dictionary app (free). And, for those lawyers seeking to interpret street slang, there’s the Urban Dictionary app (free). Finally, the iThesaurus app (free) will help you find that elusive word that’s on tip of your tongue but that you just can’t access no matter how hard you try.

Now let’s move on to a language app that’s useful for lawyers representing clients who speak another language or for lawyers who simply need to translate a document. For these lawyers, the Google Translate app (free) will no doubt come in handy. Using it you can translate words and phrases from over 60 languages. For most languages you can simply speak a phrase and then hear the translation.

For access to a vast array of knowledge, there’s the Wikipanion app (free), which allows you to search the entire Wikipedia database. And, for geographical information, there’s the World Atlas HD app ($0.99) from National Geographic. Finally, Google Earth (free) is an app that allows you to virtually navigate far flung locations. Using this app you can browse 3D images of select cities, from aerial views right on down to road views.

Next, if you’re on the road and in need of a phone number or address, the White and Yellow Pages app (free) is all that you’ll need.

Also useful are two apps for medical and anatomical information: WebMD (free) and DK the Human Body ($6.99). The latter app offers a visually appealing and detailed map of human anatomy and includes over 270 full color and zoomable high resolution images.

And, last but not least, two apps that will be useful for litigators. First there’s the Recalls app (free) which, if you upgrade in-app to the Pro version for just $0.99, provides a searchable database of recalls dating back to 1969 from the FDA, the CPSC, the USDA, the EPA and the NHTSA. Finally, there’s the Weather Time Machine app ($1.99), which provides detailed weather conditions dating as far back as 1960 for over 40,000 locations across the U.S. and Canada.

So there you have it: a great assortment of reference apps to get you started. Using these apps you’ll always have the information you need right at your fingertips, no matter the time or place. After all, we live in a mobile world, so why make full use of your mobile devices and take advantage of all the reference tools and apps available.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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ABA Women Rainmakers Mid-Career Workshop 2012

Yes check(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you're a woman attorney and are seeking to improve your rainmaking skills, then the ABA's upcoming Women Rainmakers Mid-Career Workshop may be just what you need. It's being held from October 19-21 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

At this workshop, you'll get:

(H)ands-on training where you will build on your existing rainmaking strengths, improve your weaknesses and learn to get creative with NEW approaches! The ABA Women Rainmakers Mid-Career Workshop was designed to be an interactive learning environment where attendees work with one another to share different areas of expertise and to help you further develop your own skills to advance your career. The Workshop will accomplish this through three segments:

• Keynote Presentations

• Interactive Work Sessions 

• Individual Coaching Sessions

Speakers include Ellen Ostrow, Dr. Silvia Hodges, Patricia Gillette, Leanne Myer, and Traci Stuart.

The cost is $695 for section members and $795 for non-members. You can learn more about the conference here and sign up to attend here.

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Federal model jury instructions discourage social media use

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Federal model jury instructions discourage social media use."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Federal model jury instructions discourage social media use

In past columns, I’ve reported on the undeniable effect that social media is having on the practice of law. Social media is popping up in all aspects of practice. Crimes are being committed using social media. Prosecutors and law enforcement are using social media to investigate and prosecute criminal activity. Attorneys in all areas of practice, ranging from litigation to matrimonial, are seeking to obtain social media evidence via subpoena or during discovery.

Lawyers are experimenting with using social media to make their client’s case, with George Zimmerman’s defense counsel being a prime example of this. Law firms are using social media tools for client development purposes. And, finally, social media use by jurors has derailed trials across the country.

Interestingly, it’s jurors’ use of social media that has been the cause of much judicial angst and media attention in recent months. In fact, as I’ve discussed in past columns, judges have gone so far as to fine or even jail jurors who have used social media during trial, and legislators have proposed laws that would criminalize such conduct.

This, even though a report issued by the Federal Judicial Center in November of 2011 (http://tinyurl.com/FedSocMedRpt) found that only 6 percent of the 508 federal district court judges who responded to the survey reported encountering instances of jurors using social media during trial or deliberations. Furthermore, of those 6 percent, the vast majority of judges (93 percent) reported having seen jurors use social media on only one or two occasions.

Nevertheless, even though the rate of social media use by jurors is low and despite the reality that the occasional violation of judicial mandates has always occurred, the Federal Model Jury Instructions have now been amended to incorporate a plethora of warnings and admonitions designed to deter jurors from using social media during the course of a trial.

The new instructions prohibit the use of all electronic communications: “You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through email, BlackBerry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, including Facebook, Google+, My Space, LinkedIn, or YouTube. You may not use any similar technology of social media, even if I have not specifically mentioned it here. I expect you will inform me as soon as you become aware of another juror’s violation of these instructions.”

Importantly, the new amendments also include an explanation of the reasoning the ban, arguably aiding the jurors in understanding its purpose: “You may not use these electronic means to investigate or communicate about the case because it is important that you decide this case based solely on the evidence presented in this courtroom. Information on the Internet or available through social media might be wrong, incomplete or inaccurate. You are only permitted to discuss the case with your fellow jurors during deliberations because they have seen and heard the same evidence you have. In our judicial system, it is important that you are not influenced by anything or anyone outside of this courtroom. Otherwise, your decision may be based on information known only by you and not your fellow jurors or the parties in the case. This would unfairly and adversely impact the judicial process.”

The amendments also include the recommendation that these instructions be offered repeatedly throughout the course of the trial: “These instructions should be provided to jurors before trial, at the close of a case, at the end of each day before jurors return home, and other times, as appropriate.”

While I don’t disagree with the arguable need for the amendments, I do object to the unnecessary hype surrounding the “problem” presented by social media use by jurors when the reported incidence of juror misconduct of this type is so low. The sheer number of times that the amendments suggest referencing social media use and the frequency with which judges are advised to issue these warnings throughout a trial is overkill.

Instead, I would argue that a specific admonition regarding social media at the start and conclusion of each case would be sufficient, with a more general admonition given at the end of each day.

The truth is that juror misconduct in the form of unauthorized research and discussion about a case is nothing new. It is the medium for potential misconduct that is novel and different and overreacting to the reality of unavoidable technological change is unnecessary and does a disservice to the profession.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

 

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In response to Brian Tannebaum's Above the Law Post (or How I launched My Practice)

Home office (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a recent post over at Above the Law, Brian Tannebaum addresses my recent post at the MyCase blog, What’s the Point of “Going Solo”?

First off, prior to replying to Brian's post and his subsequent comments thereto, I would like to invite anyone who reads this post to take a minute to learn about MyCase, a leading cloud-based law practice management system.

Now, on to his post. First, as Brian explains in the comments to his post, I did contact the editors at Above the Law regarding Brian's original statement in the first version of his post, claiming that I was a non-practicing lawyer. His statement that I am a non-practicing lawyer is simply untrue. As I'll describe more fully below, I am a practicing attorney and have been counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach since 2007 and continue to be to this day.

Although my workload for the firm has greatly decreased over time due to other job-related demands, including writing books and my duties as Vice-President at MyCase, I continue to be available to handle, on an as needed and as available basis, assignments from the firm. In fact, over the last few months, I handled a significant research and writing project for the firm, turned down a request to draft a motion to reargue, and currently have an outstanding project which I have yet to complete.

Now, on to the allegation that I know nothing about starting a law practice. This, too, is simply false. Everything that I discuss in my MyCase post about going solo is based on my personal experience of hanging a shingle for a home-based law practice in 2005. Hopefully, the description of my career path that follows, in addition to serving as a response to Brian's allegations, will be helpful to other lawyers who are thinking about starting their law practice.

In late 2005, I started my own law practice after a brief, self imposed 2-year hiatus from the legal field. Prior to opening my practice, I had been a Monroe County Assistant Public Defender for nearly 4 years and then had worked for another 4 years as a litigation associate at a Rochester law firm.

When I hung my shingle, because I had 2 young children, I decided to limit my law practice to: 1) handling research and writing projects for other lawyers and 2)  accepting court appointments as a mortgage foreclosure referee. I started my home-based practice using my computer and my cell phone (we didn't have smart phones back then).

Prior to hanging my shingle, I obtained legal malpractice insurance, purchased business cards and office supplies, signed up for an eFax account, and created a website (current version and 2005 version). I sent out letters to local attorneys announcing my practice and sent letters to various judges notifying them that I was available for referee appointments. To advertise my practice, I wrote free articles for the local legal newspaper, the Daily Record, and for the local bar association's newsletter. I also started my first blog, Sui Generis, which was targeted toward other New York lawyers and thus, at the time, my blog focused on New York legal decisions and legal issues. I also re-joined the local bar association and began to attend events. 

It was at one of these events that I encountered my Thomson West Criminal Law in New York co-author, who is a local judge and also practiced law at the time. She asked me to handle a few projects for her and, because she was pleased with my work, a year or so later asked me to join on as a co-author on our book. 

At about that same time, the editor of the local legal newspaper for whom I'd written a few free articles (as I discussed above) contacted me and asked me to write a regular weekly column. I accepted and continue to write my weekly column (which is distributed nationally across Dolan Media's newswire) to this day.

Shortly thereafter, I ran into Ed Fiandach, the owner of Fiandach & Fiandach, an attorney I'd known since the start of my legal career and he asked me to handle projects for his office. Over time, I handled an increasing number of projects for his firm and he asked me if I'd like to become of counsel to the firm. I accepted. I didn't renew my legal malpractice insurance coverage and allowed it to expire and changed my website to reflect that I no longer handled projects for other attorneys.

For approximately 2 years, I was extremely busy handling projects for the firm. Over time, however, I became increasingly interested in legal technology issues and my focus shifted to writing and speaking about these issues, both in my Daily Record column and elsewhere. I also started to write my first book, "Social Media For Lawyers," an ABA publication which was obviously a time consuming endeavor. After finishing that book, I then began to write my book "Cloud Computing for Lawyers" which was also time consuming. But as has always been the case, the firm was very flexible and reduced demands on my time accordingly. Our country was also in the middle of a recession, so I think that it made economic sense for the firm to keep more projects in-house. So all in all it worked out well for everyone involved.

The firm's flexibility continues to this day and is particularly important now that I am Vice-President at MyCase, which is a full-time, salaried position. As always, I continue to be available to the firm on a continuous, as-needed basis for assignments, depending on my ability to handle them at any given time. 

So, that's how I re-started my legal career in 2005--by hanging a shingle, just as I described in my MyCase post. My solo practice was a limited practice with a very specific scope, but it worked for me. In fact, I think it worked quite well. And I did it from my home-based office using only a computer and my cell phone.

It can be done and I'm living proof of that fact. I started a solo practice and shuttered it to become of counsel to a law firm and later pursued other opportunities that came my way--all as a result of starting my own, limited, home-based law practice. 

So, if I may say so myself, I think that my closing words in my post at the MyCase blog are really quite fitting:

That’s the beauty of 21st Century lawyering: increased flexibility and choices create opportunities never before seen. So to view shuttered solo practices as unsuccessful endeavors is short sighted and flawed. These lawyers are anything but failures. Instead, they are trail blazers in this new 21st Century frontier. They are the next generation of lawyering and they epitomize the very definition of success.