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February 2015

Social media posts violating probation/parole

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Social media posts violating probation/parole."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Social media posts violating probation/parole

 

When I read a headline indicating that an “outrageous” Facebook post served as the basis of a parole violation for a parolee who had been convicted of vehicular homicide and other crimes, I fully expected that the post would relate to the original crime, the victim or perhaps the commission of a new crime. After all, if words alone were going to be enough to send a man back to prison, then you’d expect that the words in question would be either incredibly offensive or indicative of conduct that was clearly violative of his conditions of parole.

Instead, I was surprised to find that the words at issue appeared to relatively benign, all things considered. But don’t take my word for it, decide for yourself. Here’s what Ryan C. Fye, an Ohio parolee, posted to his Facebook wall: “Prison didnt break me. It MADE me. Im free. Im a new man. Dont come at me like before. Yes im skinny and muscular now. 7 months of working out everyday. Love my real friends an fam. Shout outs to my fam behind bars. Ill see ya when youre time is near! Miss you brothers!” [sic]

He accompanied the post with an image of him flipping the bird to the camera with both hands. Certainly the decision to include this photo was a questionable one, but as far as I’m concerned neither the photo nor the posting rose to the level of a parole violation. After all, in essence he simply said that he had been rehabilitated in prison, and isn’t that — along with punishment — one of the primary goals society hopes to accomplish by imprisoning individuals?

Given that fact, I was puzzled. How exactly did this particular posting somehow rise to the level of a parole violation?

According to one of the articles about this case, the judge ruled that the conduct in question violated the conditions of his parole relating to “community controls.” Specifically, the post was allegedly disrespectful toward the family of the 22-year-old victim who was a passenger in Fye’s vehicle and died when Fye crashed his car into a tree after driving his vehicle in a reckless manner by traveling 60 mph in a 20 mph zone.

The judge’s rationale makes no sense. It’s unclear how this post has anything to do with the victim, nor is it apparent why the victim’s family would be offended by it. Certainly, it’s plausible that someone might be offended by his obscene gestures, but that hardly seems to rise to the level of conduct sufficient to violate parole.

Of course, the reality is that parole conditions are often intentionally drafted in broad terms in order to provide more leeway to supervise and regulate a parolee’s conduct. And now that social media has become ubiquitous in our culture, the number of parole violations triggered by social media conduct will no doubt increase.

So, regardless of the validity of this particular violation, the lesson to be learned from this is that parolees should be wary of interacting on social media, lest their innocuous postings be interpreted as “improper” and be used to send them back to prison. A good lesson indeed, but the problem then becomes determining who will impart this advice to parolees? Certainly not their parole officers, who are arms of the state and typically have little concern for preserving the rights of parolees. And, parolees aren’t represented by legal counsel until a violation has been filed.

For that reason, astute criminal defense attorneys would be wise to prepare their clients for the realities of being on probation or parole in the 21st century. If you represent a client who is sentenced to prison time and faces the possibility of parole, advise your client of the risks encountered when one engages on social media while on parole. Similar admonitions should be provided to clients sentenced to probation.

We live in a digital age and online conduct can have real offline consequences. Never forget that when representing your clients.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software 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.


Plan for 2015 with these solo/small firm resources

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "

Plan for 2015 with these solo/small firm resources."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Plan for 2015 with these solo/small firm resources

 

The new year is upon us and it’s time to start planning for 2015. For solo and small firm lawyers, annual planning can be an arduous task. Not only do you have to stay abreast of changes in your practice areas — you are also tasked with making business decisions about the direction of your law firm.

The good news is that there are lots of resources out there for solo and small firm lawyers to help you stay on top of running your busy law practice. Here are a few to get you started.

First, there are lots of great books that cover the basics of running your law firm. There’s the recently updated “Solo By Choice: How to be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be” and “Solo By Choice, the Companion Guide,” both written by solo guru Carolyn Elefant. There’s also the more traditional stand by, “How to Start and Build a Law Practice by Jay Foonberg.” Another great book for 21st century legal practitioners is “Limited Scope Legal Services: Unbundling and the Self-Help Client” by Stephanie L. Kimbro. And, of course, I think that my book, “Cloud Computing for Lawyers,” is a great technology resource for lawyers, but then again I might be biased.

Law blogs devoted to solo and small firm attorneys are another great way to find information to help you plan for 2015. First, there’s Attorney at Work, a group blog focused on a wide range of topics focused on running a small firm practice. Lawsites is a blog written by Bob Ambrogi and covers everything you need to know about the latest in legal technology. My Shingle is Carolyn Elefant’s long-standing and helpful blog dedicated to all things solo. Finally, there’s the ABA’s Law Technology Today blog, which addresses need-to-know technology topics for solo and small firm attorneys.

There are also a number of useful online forums available for solo and small firm practitioners. First, there’s Solosez, a free listserv for solos sponsored by the American Bar Association’s GPSolo section and where lawyers discuss all aspects of running their law firms. The Macs in Law Offices Google Group, is a great forum for lawyers who use Apple computers and devices in their law offices. Also useful is Solo Practice University, which is an online university designed to teach lawyers how to open up and run a solo practice. And last but not least, there is the Google + Community, Lawyers on G+, where lawyers gather to discuss the ins and outs of running their practices.

Finally, don’t forget about the vast assortment of legal conferences aimed at solo and small firm lawyers. These conference provide fantastic educational and networking opportunities, so why not invest in your practice and your future by attending at least one or two of these next year? First, there’s the solo/small firms conferences, which cover a variety of topics of interest to lawyers seeking to run their law firms more efficiently and economically and are always well worth the time spent attending them. The American Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm annual conference is a great place to start. Also useful are the various solo and small firm conferences sponsored by state bar associations, And last but not least, consider attending ABA Techshow, a conference held in the spring in Chicago, which focuses on using legal technologies to run solo and small firm law practices.

So now that you are armed with law practice management resources, why not spend some time coming up with a plan to get your firm off on the right foot? Invest a little time up front and make 2015 the best year it can be!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software 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.


2015 Legal Technology Predictions

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "2015 Legal Technology Predictions."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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2015 Legal Technology Predictions

 

As 2014 draws to a close, it’s once again time for me to take a stab at predicting how lawyers will use technology in the coming year. I’ve been making these predictions for years now; sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. But either way, it’s always a fun endeavor to put my predictions out there and then see if they come to pass. So, let’s get started, shall we?

First, let’s take a look at social media. In 2015, overall social media use by individual lawyers for professional purposes will essentially plateau. This is because the main social media platforms —LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — are saturated with lawyers and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for newcomers to stand out from the crowd.

Nearly all lawyers now have profiles on LinkedIn so there’s very little room for LinkedIn growth next year. Facebook use by individual lawyers will increase, but more so for personal use than professional use. This is because this platform has become more of a social endeavor for most individual attorneys, although lots of professional connections continue to be maintained on Facebook. Twitter use will likely decline slightly in 2015 for individual lawyers because it’s a difficult platform in which to gain a foothold and many eventually abandon it for other social media platforms that provide more instantaneous results.

However for law firms, social media growth will increase slightly in the coming year, with most firms viewing their social media presence as a necessary branding measure. LinkedIn pages for firms will see an increase since so many lawyers are on LinkedIn. Firms will also increasingly use Twitter since it is such a public way to establish a firm’s brand. Finally, Facebook pages for firms will see an increase as well, but at the slowest pace, given the more social nature of the site.

Google Plus use for both lawyers and law firms will remain the same. This platform had great potential, but unfortunately Google never opened up the site to third party platforms, which makes it difficult to incorporate Google Plus into a daily social media sharing routine. So growth has stagnated and use of the site has declined somewhat.

Next up, cloud computing. I predict that lawyers’ use of cloud computing will increase in 2015 but not as much as I had predicted in prior years. The unexpected NSA revelations and announcements of major hacking events in 2014 put a damper on the uptick in cloud computing.

But one thing that has become clear in the past year is that these types of events are inevitable regardless of whether data is stored on premise-based servers (such as those located in law firms) or on servers owned by third parties, as is the case with cloud computing. In other words, this year lawyers will begin to use cloud computing more often as they realize that what matters is the security measures in place that protect files, not the location of the servers that house the data. So, I predict that we’ll see an overall increase of 10 percent in the use of cloud computing by lawyers, with solo and small firm attorneys leading the way.

Finally, let’s take a look at mobile computing. Lawyers have embraced mobile computing more quickly than any other new type of technology. This trend will continue in 2015, with wearables leading the way. The majority of lawyers already use a smartphone so the increase in smartphone use will be small — perhaps 5 percent. Nearly half of all lawyers use a tablet in their practice and that number will increase only slightly in 2015 to approximately 55 percent.

But it’s wearable technology that will really make waves in 2015 — specifically smartwatches. As I predicted last year, only a small number of lawyers used smart watches in 2014. But with the release of the Apple Watch in early 2015, that will change. By the year’s end, I predict that 10-15 percent of lawyers will be using smartwatches and then by the end of 2016 that number will increase to at least 25 percent. And by the end of 2017, nearly 40 percent of lawyers will be using smartwatches.

Other wearable technology, such as Google Glass, won’t take hold in the legal profession anytime soon, although some innovative lawyers will find ways to use them in their practices.

So there you have it! My technology predictions for 2015. Check back next year at this time to see which ones were spot on and which ones totally missed the mark!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software 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.


Join Me For Lunch In NYC Next Month

Will you be in New York City on February 4th? If so, join  me for a free lunch in midtown Manhattan. This is a great opportunity to network with your colleagues and discuss the ins and outs of running a successful law practice. 

Here's what's planned. It's being held on Wednesday, February 4th from 12:30pm-1:30pm at Aretsky’s Patroon (map) and in addition to networking, you'll hear about:
  • Trends and best practices in law practice management
  • Tips to help run your law office more efficiently
  • How you can use MyCase to save time and money
  • A sneak peek at new MyCase features
  • What’s working for your peers (and share your successes too)!

Reserve your seat today as this event will fill up quickly! Hope to see you there!