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Guidelines Issued On Jurors And Social Media For New York Courts

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Guidelines Issued On Jurors And Social Media For New York Courts."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Guidelines Issued On Jurors And Social Media For New York Courts

Last year the Social Media Committee of the New York State Bar Association’s Commercial and Federal Litigation Section issued Guidelines that addressed the ethics of lawyers using social media. You may recall that I wasn’t sold on the necessity of such a lengthy report addressing what I believe is a relatively simple concept: online conduct is simply an extension of offline conduct. For that reason, the guidelines were unnecessary since offline analogies can usually be found for online conduct.

In comparison, just last month the Committee released a new report which offers guidelines for courts on the issue of jurors and social media. This report provides much-needed analysis of issues that are affecting the judicial process on a daily basis. Jurors are often impermissibly using social media in ways that have long-lasting, costly effects on our justice system and judges are struggling to keep up with the changes wrought by jurors’ ability to use online platforms to obtain information about cases and share their experiences with the world.

Enter the Social Media Jury Instructions Report.This well researched report offers recommendations for judges to help address jurors’ use of social media and adeptly balances jurors’ use of social media with the interests of the judiciary and litigants.

At the outset, the Committee began by acknowledging the profound impact of social media on our culture: “Social media has revolutionized how we communicate. It routinely serves as both a
means of communication and a source of information for jurors and counsel. Its use must be
anticipated and its impact addressed during jury selection, at trial, prior to and during jury
deliberations, and after trial.”

According to the Committee, at the start of each case, it’s important to ensure that jurors understand that many of their online communications are public and an be viewed by anyone with Internet access: “(C)ourts should consider an instruction that jurors be ‘advised that what you may view as a private social media communication made by you or someone you know may or may not be private and can be viewed or followed by the public, including the lawyers in this case.’”

Next, the Committee explained that judges should provide clear and illustrative instructions to jurors regarding the types of online activities and communications that are permissible: “To adequately communicate the scope of what a prospective juror may or may not do and
what is expected of them, it is necessary to instruct jurors using examples from the technology
jurors are likely to use. For example, it may be difficult for some jurors to understand that a
general instruction not to use the Internet or social media is also a specific instruction not to use
common services and websites such as Google, Bing, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat,
Wikipedia, Google Maps or MapQuest to perform ‘research’ on a case…(J)ury instructions need to include detailed and specific explanations of the reasons certain activities are prohibited, examples of violations drawn from existing case law, and the range of the activity prohibited.”

The Committee also provided detailed guidelines for judges, with the end goal of reducing the potential impact of improper social media communications on jury trials. It summarized recommendations as follows: “(C)ourts…should: (1) consult with counsel prior to jury selection concerning the potential review and/or monitoring of “public” juror social media communications during jury selection, trial and/or deliberations; (2) consider the Section’s revised model New York’s Pattern Jury Instructions; and (3) consider displaying in the jury deliberation room a social media usage poster warning of the consequences of improper social media communications.”

All in all these guidelines are very useful for both litigators and judges and offer great insight into the impact of social media on litigation, including ways to avoid, or at least mitigate, the costly effects of the improper use of social media and online tools by jurors. It’s a very thorough, valuable report and is well worth a read.

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 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.


When You're Snowed In, It's Business As Usual In The Cloud

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "When You're Snowed In, It's Business As Usual In The Cloud."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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When You're Snowed In, It's Business As Usual In The Cloud

In past columns, I’ve discussed the many benefits of cloud computing, including convenience and flexibility, 24/7 access to client data from anywhere, affordability, simplicity, and the ability to eliminate IT staff and software management requirements. Another important benefit of cloud computing is that it provides offline back up for your law firm’s files—something that comes in handy when your firm faces a disaster like the law office fire that I wrote about in November.

But offline back up can also be a lifesaver in the face of less disastrous events, such as the snowstorm that shut down many East Coast states in January. The storm hit on a Friday and deposited nearly two feet of snow in some areas, causing businesses to close as all activity ground to a halt. Not surprisingly, legal institutions were affected by the storm, with many courts, law libraries, government offices, and law firms closing their doors early on the Friday that the storm hit.

But just because the courts were closed due to inclement weather didn’t mean legal clients were on the same page. After all, for many clients, a snow day means lots of time on their hands. And what better to do with downtime than play catch up and figure out the status of their legal cases?

For some of these clients, that wasn’t an option. Their lawyers were either unresponsive or simply didn’t have the answers to their questions, since all of their physical case files were located in their inaccessible offices. Similarly, their computers and all of the case-related information found on them were inaccessible as well, since their lawyers used premise-based legal software and as a result, all of their law firm’s digital data could only be accessed using computers located in the office.

Other legal clients were more fortunate. Their lawyers used cloud computing software to run their law practices. Because their law firms’ data was stored off premises in the cloud, the lawyers were able to access all of their law firm’s cases and data from any Internet-enabled device, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The lawyers had web-based access to case files, contact information, calendars, billing and invoicing, documents, and more. For each question their clients had, they had an answer.

Other legal clients were even luckier–their lawyers used web-based practice management software with built-in client portals. All they had to do was login to their portal using any Internet-enabled device and they had instant access to information about their case. They could read updates from their lawyer about the status of their case, review and download documents, see their next court date, instantly view invoices and pay a bill via e-Check or credit card, leave a message for their lawyer, and much, much more. These clients didn’t even need to call their lawyers for case-related information–they could simply login and use the client portal to obtain all the information they needed.

In today’s competitive legal marketplace, what type of lawyer do you want to be? Just because you’re snowed in at home, doesn’t mean your law office should be out of commission. Your clients should always come first, and like the postal service, it should be business as usual during working hours, whether sleet or snow or hail. With web-based software, that’s exactly what you provide your clients: the ability to securely access information about their case at their convenience at anytime, day or night–even in the middle of one of the biggest East Coast snowstorms in history.

 

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 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.