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Delaware court on technology: Bah Humbug!

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Delaware court on technology: Bah Humbug!" My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Delaware court on technology: Bah Humbug! 

Earlier this month, in the spirit of the holiday season, the state of Delaware decided it was high time to declare “Bah Humbug!” to new technologies. In Matter of Member of the Bar, Barakat, a decision that reads as if it were drafted during the same century that Scrooge visited with the various ghosts of Christmas, the Delaware Supreme Court staunchly rejected the concept of any law office that deviated from 19th century expectations.

In this case, the court re-visited the application of the state’s bona fide office rule, Supreme Court Rule 12(d), which provides that a bona fide office is one where the “attorney practices by being there a substantial and scheduled portion of time during ordinary business hours in the traditional work week. An attorney is deemed to be in an office even if temporarily absent from it if the duties of the law practice are actively conducted by the attorney from that office.

An office must be a place where the attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf can be reached in person or by telephone during normal business hours and which has the customary facilities for engaging in the practice of law. A bona fide office is more than a mail drop, a summer home which is unattended during a substantial portion of the year or an answering, telephone forwarding, secretarial or similar service.”

At issue was whether Mr. Barakat, a Delaware lawyer, had engaged in a number of ethical violations, including whether he had violated the bona fide office rule. It was alleged that Barakat had access to office space in Wilmington such that he could rent a conference room, when needed. Additionally, employees of the landlord collected his mail and directed any visitors to the fourth floor where a receptionist was stationed who greeted visitors.

In response to the allegations, Barakat claimed “that advances in technology enabled him to handle client matters effectively, despite his lack of presence in the Wilmington office.”

Silly Barakat! Technology is irrelevant. “Real” law offices have lots of unnecessary, costly overhead such as:  1) oversized mahogany desks with bottles of booze in the top right drawer, 2) big law libraries chock full of dusty books, 3) lots of carbon paper right next to the typewriter (some even have bulky desktop computers and copiers), 3) a number of abacuses (or maybe even new-fangled calculators), 4) Rolodexes, 5) rows and rows of cabinets for reams of paper files, and 6) quill pens (although the latest new trend sweeping antiquated offices everywhere is ballpoint pens).

So, because Barakat’s office arrangement lacked all of these traditional law office accoutrements, the court concluded that Barakat had failed to maintain a “bona fide office,” among other violations, and suspended his license to practice law for 2 years.

In other words, modern technology be damned. According to the plain reading of Delaware’s archaic rule and the court’s strict interpretation of the same, Delaware lawyers have no choice but to be chained to their big mahogany desks and like it. Either that, or they can practice law elsewhere until the state of Delaware decides to join the rest of us in the 21st century. To that I say “Bah Humbug!”

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director 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 niki@mycase.com.


Legal technology predictions for 2014

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Legal technology predictions for 2014." My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Legal technology predictions for 2014

Every year, I take a stab at forecasting how lawyers will use technology in the coming year. Now it’s time for this year’s predictions. So, without further ado, here’s what my crystal ball tells me.

First, let’s take a look at social media. Clearly this is a phenomenon, not a fad, despite many lawyers’ assertions to the contrary over the years. It’s obviously not going away and for that reason, lawyers are now flocking to social media in droves. That trend will continue and lawyers’ participation in social media will increase markedly in 2014.

LinkedIn will be the gateway drug, as it has always been, with Facebook coming in second. Participation on both of those platforms will continue to rise. Twitter will also see a slight rise in usage, although not nearly as dramatic of an increase as the other two.

But the true winner with lawyers next year will be Google Plus. I believe that platform has truly come of age and many lawyers will begin to prefer it for online interaction over all others. One of the most popular places for lawyers to interact will be in lawyer targeted communities such as “Lawyers on G+”, a very active community with over 3,500 members, and “Cloud Computing for Lawyers”, a community that I started that focuses on legal technology issues.

Next up, mobile technology usage by lawyers. Of all new technologies, lawyers have embraced mobile tools the fastest, with 91 percent of lawyers using smartphones in their law practices and 48 percent of lawyers now using tablets, according to the results of the ABA’s 2013 Legal Technology Survey. These numbers will continue to increase and I expect that next year 96 percent of lawyers will use smartphones and 64 percent will use tablets.

Another emerging trend is wearable technology, such as smart watches and Google Glass. Wearable technology is, in my opinion, the next stage of mobile computing and will serve to enhance and in some cases, replace smartphones. But 2014 isn’t going to be the year that lawyers embrace wearable technology. A small percentage of adventurous lawyers will test the waters, but an increasing interest in the possibilities that these tools offer won’t be seen until mid-2015 and it won’t be until 2016 that we’ll see lawyers begin to use these products in their practices in any noticeable way.

And last but not least, cloud computing. 2014 will be a big year for cloud computing. It will be the tipping point and I predict that 50 percent of lawyers or more will use cloud computing tools in their practices by the end of 2014. By way of comparison, according to the ABA’s Legal Technology Survey, in 2011, only 16 percent of lawyers reported using cloud computing in their law practices, with that number increasing only slightly in 2012 to 21 percent. But in 2013, 31 percent of all lawyers now use cloud computing software to manage their law firms. That percentage will increase to over 50 percent in 2014 as lawyers truly embrace the cloud and all of the benefits that it offers. Online storage and back-up will lead the way with Web-based law practice management systems coming in second.

So there you have it — my legal technology predictions for 2014. Tune in next year to see if I was right!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director 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 niki@mycase.com.


Lawyers, social media escapades and more

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Lawyers, social media escapades and more." My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Lawyers, social media escapades and more

It would seem that after many years of convincing, most lawyers are finally, at long last, fully aware of social media and are trying to use it to their benefit. Some are succeeding. Others — not so much. In fact, some are failing quite spectacularly in a rather grand — and very public — fashion.

First, there’s rapper Chris Brown’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, who made a splash on Twitter in late October following his client’s arraignment for misdemeanor assault. In response to a critical post about Brown on Twitter, which was directed at Geragos and implied that Brown should be put in jail and beat up a number of times, Geragos repeated the tweet and then referred to the original poster as a “#haterhoe.”

Perhaps that phrase is a term of art that I somehow missed during Criminal Law 101 on one of the days that I slept through class. Or, perhaps a more likely explanation is that Geragos failed to learn Social Media Lesson #1: Think before you interact. The Internet is forever and Google never forgets. Not to mention that the Library of Congress has been archiving tweets for years now. So, always remember this lesson and don’t tweet if there’s even a small chance you might regret your actions down the road.

The same rule applies to online lawyer advertising. Google doesn’t forget. So, for example, if the advertising agency your firm has hired creates a video that includes racist overtones, perhaps it’s not a good idea to post the video on YouTube. Seems like a fairly self evident proposition, but clearly Alabama personal injury law firm McCutcheon & Hamner didn’t get the memo, since an offensive ad for their firm which demeaned Asians was posted on YouTube by an advertising agency (online: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/12/03/racist-law-firm-ad/). Although the firm later denied giving the video the green light and the video was subsequently removed from YouTube, the damage was done and the video will forever be accessible online.

Speaking of questionable advertising tactics, the recent New York train derailment brought out the worst in some New York City personal injury attorneys, a number of whom purportedly used online social media sites in creative ways designed to get around the ethics ban on directly soliciting business from victims for 30 days after an accident.

For example, shortly after the derailment, personal injury law firm Omrani & Taub published a blog post about the steps to take when suing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Similarly, attorney Mitchell Proner immediately released a YouTube video which appears in search results for the terms “Metro-North” or “train derailment,” wherein he discusses his legal experience and at the end, his phone number appears next to the phrase “Metro-North Train Derailment Bronx, NY – Call Lawyer.” Questionable tactics, indeed.

And, last but not least, just one more example of the permanency of social media — this time from criminal defendants. The two men each stand accused of threatening to kill a judge. Police were alerted that one of the men had attempted to purchase a gun with the goal of killing a judge. After investigating the allegations, the police learned from reviewing a conversation that occurred on Facebook that the two Maryland men, Zachary Ryan Mitchell and Justin Ray Ferrell, both of whom had criminal cases pending before different judges, had each agreed to kill the judge overseeing the other man’s matter. Shortly after reading the conversation the men were arrested and were recently arraigned on charges of threatening to injure a state official.

So, like the attorneys discussed previously, these two men learned the hard way that social media is forever. So take my advice and don’t forget the Golden Rule whenever you interact online: Think before you act. Better safe than sorry.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director 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 niki@mycase.com.


2013 holiday gift ideas for tech-savvy lawyers

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "2013 holiday gift ideas for tech-savvy lawyers." My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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2013 holiday gift ideas for tech-savvy lawyers

It’s that time of the year again. Time to eat good food, spend quality time with loved ones and friends, and buy presents — lots and lots of presents.

So, what about the tech-savvy lawyer in your life? Are you wondering what to buy for him or her? Well wonder no more, because I’ve got plenty of suggestions for you right here in my annual gift guide for lawyers with a passion for technology and gadgets.*

No doubt your technology-loving lawyer already has a smartphone and a tablet, so I won’t waste your time discussing those this year.

But if the lawyer in your life is taking steps to move toward a paperless law office, here are a few apps to consider gifting that will make the process easier. First there are an assortment of note-taking apps, but some of the more popular ones include Evernote (free), Notability ($2.99) and Springpad (free).

For document creation, consider Apple’s iPages app ($9.99), Office² HD for Word docs($7.99) or Office 365 for iPhone (free). For PDF annotation and storage apps, take a look at Goodreader ($4.99), PDF Expert ($9.99), iAnnotate ($9.99) and ReaddleDocs (free). Finally, scanner apps are a must-have for the paperless law office and a few good choices include Scanner Pro ($2.99), GeniusScan (free) or TurboScan ($1.99).

Another important piece of the puzzle for the mobile lawyer is a light, but powerful laptop. The new Macbook Air is a great choice and has incredible battery life, but for a cheaper, albeit less powerful alternative, the new Chromebook is also worth considering.

Of course books always make great presents and lucky for you, there are a number of useful and interesting books that were released over the last year that would be ideal presents for any lawyer.

First there’s “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis” by Andrew Harper, which offers an insightful, albeit depressing, look at our profession and the forces that have led us to the somewhat tenuous position that we find ourselves in today. Next, “Google Gmail and Calendar in One Hour for Lawyers” by Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch is a step-by-step guide for lawyers interested in learning what features and functions are available in Gmail and Google Calendar, as well as related services such as Google Chat, Google Talk, Google Hangout and Call Phone.

And, last but not least, there’s “Blogging in One Hour for Lawyers” by Ernie Svenson, which teaches lawyers how to create, maintain and improve a legal blog, all the while developing new business relationships and opportunities.

And, if you’d like some holiday music with a legal theme to set the tone for your holidays, take a look at the holiday-themed albums offered at LawTunes.com.

Finally, if these suggestions aren’t enough for you, you can always check out The Billable Hour (thebillablehour.com), a website that offers unique gifts specifically tailored to lawyers and legal professionals.

* All of the suggestions above are based on my personal experience and preferences, but rest assured — I haven’t been compensated monetarily by any of the vendors for these recommendations, although in some cases I was provided with review copies of some of the products mentioned in this article.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director 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 niki@mycase.com.