Daily Record--Legal Currents Column

New York Bar on providing digital documents to clients

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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New York Bar on providing digital documents to clients

Like it or not, we now live - and practice law in - a digital world. For example, efiling is quickly becoming the norm in many jurisdictions. In fact, according the 2017 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, for 55% of survey respondents, efiling is mandatory in state court. For another 47% it’s mandatory in local court. So, it’s not surprising that most lawyers have efiled documents, with 87% of solo attorneys reporting that they’ve done so, along with 96% of lawyers from firms firms with 10-49 attorneys, 96% of lawyers from firms of 2-9, and 94% of lawyers from firms of 100 or more.

Of course, a condition precedent to efiling is that legal documents be digitized. That’s one reason so many lawyers are moving to paperless law firms (or at the very least, firms with less paper). As a result of this transition, many law firms now store the majority of their documents in digital form only.

This increasing digitization of legal documents resulted in the presentation of a novel issue to the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics in January. In Opinion 1142, the inquiring attorney asked whether lawyers are required to provide former clients with copies of their files in the format specified by said clients and, if the requested files are maintained in a digital format, can the law firm charge clients who request paper copies of their digital files for the cost of printing and mailing said documents?

In the case at hand, the inquiring attorney’s firm used a cloud-based client portal to provide clients with access to their documents. As explained in the opinion, “(w)hen a former client requests a copy of his or her file, the firm provides a link to a secure, password-protected cloud storage facility containing the client’s file.”

This inquiry arose because a former client of the firm’s, who happened to be incarcerated, requested that a paper copy of his file be sent to his spouse. Because the file was stored in electronic form and printing out the entire file would be costly, the firm requested that the Committee opine on the firm’s obligations in regard to sending the file in the specified format as requested by its former client.

At the outset, the Committee explained that in most cases, lawyers are not required to maintain client files in any particular format and confirmed that “the Rules permit electronic copies to be kept in lieu of paper originals.” The Committee also explained that clients are generally entitled to obtain copies of their files pursuant to Rule 1.15(c)(4) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, which provide that lawyers must “promptly . . . deliver to the client . . . as requested by the client . . . the funds, securities or other properties in the possession of the lawyer that the client . . . is entitled to receive.” 

Regarding the issue of recouping the costs of providing file copies, the Committee noted that it is typically permissible for lawyers to “charge a former client the reasonable fees and expenses of assembling and delivering to the former client those documents that the client is entitled to receive.” The Committee then determined that “the costs of preparing electronic documents for delivery to the client are analogous to the costs of assemblage of paper documents that were at issue in that case.”  

As such, the Committee concluded that in the case at hand, where the documents were being provided to a client who had retained the services of the law firm, the firm “may charge the client the reasonable fees and expenses incurred in printing out and delivering a paper copy.”

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


iPhone health app data used in murder prosecution

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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iPhone health app data used in murder prosecution

If, like me, you’re a fan of the Netflix series, Black Mirror, then you’re well aware of the many ways that our digital footprints can potentially be used against us. In this series, the writers envision futuristic timelines where technologies currently available are taken to their extreme, resulting in disturbing, dystopian story lines, some of which have since come to fruition in one way or another.

The message of this series is clear: technology can greatly benefit our lives, but also creates the potential for unbridled violations of our privacy by governmental and corporate entities. It’s a delicate balance of interests that can easily go awry in the absence of careful, thoughtful regulation. And unfortunately, technology is moving so quickly that legislators simply can’t keep up.

One area where we’re seeing this delicate balance play out is in the courtroom. Data from mobile and wearable devices is increasingly being used in both civil and criminal cases.

For example, in mid-2015 I wrote about an emerging trend where data from wearable and mobile devices was being used in the courtroom (online: http://nydailyrecord.com/2015/08/14/legal-loop-wearable-tech-data-as-evidence-in-the-courtroom/). In that column I discussed two cases where Fitbit data was used: one where it was offered as evidence to support a personal injury claim and the other where it was used to disprove a complainant’s rape allegations.

Then, in early 2017, I wrote about another case where Fitbit data and other digital evidence was used to support the prosecution of a criminal matter (online: http://nydailyrecord.com/2017/04/28/legal-loop-fitbit-data-other-digital-evidence-used-by-prosecution-in-murder-case/.) In that case, a wealth of digital data was used by the prosecution to refute the defendant’s version of the events leading to his wife’s death, including cell phone records, computer data, text messages, information from Facebook, and his wife’s Fitbit data.

More recently, data from the iPhone Health App was used in court in Germany as part of a murder prosecution. In this case, the defendant was accused of murdering a medical student. The investigators were able to access his phone and obtain data from its Health App. Data collected by that app includes the number of steps taken, nutrition and sleep patterns, and a range of body measurements including heart rate. The app also provides geolocation data regarding the movement of the phone.

The data collected from the app corresponded to the prosecution’s theory of the case and its timeline of events leading up to and following the murder. The geolocation data provided evidence of the defendant’s movements throughout the evening in question, while the heart rate data indicated two different periods of “strenuous activity” which the app suggested involved the climbing of stairs.

A police investigator who was of similar size to the defendant recreated the events as it was believed they occurred and then compared the investigator’s Health App data to the defendant’s. The prosecution alleged that the similarities in the data indicated that the defendant was likely dragging the victim’s body down the stairs when his app indicated he was engaged in strenuous activity involving the climbing of stairs, thus supporting their theory of the case.

Once again digital data gleaned from a mobile device was used in court in an attempt to convict an accused rapist and murderer. The use of digital data for this purpose is something most people would likely agree with. However, there is a very real potential for abuse of the data our devices are collecting about us, as the Black Mirror series points out. Where we, as a society, choose to draw that line remains to be seen.

In the meantime, astute lawyers will educate themselves about the types of data available to them and will likewise be cognizant of the ways that data can be used in the courtroom to forward their client’s interests. In 2018, anything less would arguably be malpractice.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Survey says: Law firms should invest in business development and technology

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Survey says: Law firms should invest in business development and technology

Since the economic downturn in 2008, law firms of all sizes have struggled - and most have failed - to maintain profits at levels existing prior to the market’s near-collapse. During that same timeframe, technology has advanced at unprecedented rates, affecting all aspects of the practice of law and ushering in a new age where globalization and changes in practice models have radically altered client expectations.

Study after study has confirmed the permanency of this newfound reality. Unfortunately, in most cases, the repeated recommendations of legal industry experts regarding the changes law firms need to make in order to stay afloat in the midst of this new world order often fall on deaf ears. This very phenomenon was adeptly described in the recently released 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market, issued by The Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.

The authors explained that rather than adapt, law firm leaders often dig in their heels and stay the course, even if it’s a failing one: “The phenomenon of ‘consensual neglect’ seems a particularly apt description of the strategic posture of many (if not most) law firms in today’s rapidly changing market for legal services. Ignoring strong indicators that their old approaches – to managing legal  work processes, pricing, leverage, staffing, project management, technology, and client  relationships – are no longer working, they choose to double down on their current  strategies rather than risking the change that would be required to respond effectively to evolving market conditions.”

This despite the fact that one of the key recommendations that the authors make (and many other experts have made in the past) centers around a concept that should be palatable to lawyers since it’s the very essence of what we do: providing good client service. In other words, according to the authors, it’s imperative to provide the type of legal representation that 21st century clients want, not what lawyers think they need: “To be successful in addressing the new market realities, however, it is essential for firms to listen carefully and respond proactively to the concerns of their clients. And those concerns – at least since 2008 – have been driven by consistent client demands for greater efficiency, predictability, and cost effectiveness in the delivery of legal services.”

With the advent of sites like Legal Zoom and the rise of alternative legal service providers, competition is increasing and legal clients have more options than ever before. Law firms that ignore client demands for change are doing so to the detriment of their bottom line.

That’s why, according to the Report, the law firms that proactively addressed client needs “by implementing alternative staffing strategies, pursuing flexible pricing models, adopting work process changes, making better use of innovative technologies, and the like,” exhibited a what the authors referred to as a “dynamic response” to the changing landscape, thus achieving a better success rate than their more static counterparts.

According to the authors, the size of the firm was irrelevant, and instead investment in two primary areas were indicators of success: business development and technology. “These differences in investments by dynamic firms in both business development and technology suggest a philosophy of active engagement that is also reflected in the details of the expenditures. Dynamic firms reported that increased expenses in business development were designed to facilitate more client interactions and direct client meetings, business development coaching for lawyers, and brand development. Dynamic firms said their technology investments were focused on improving workflow efficiency, as well as enhancing their ability to assess profitability and better analyze data.”

So whether your firm is large or small, the lessons to be learned are clear. Turning a blind eye to change is not an option. Listen to your clients and respond strategically to their expectations. Take steps to facilitate improved client communication and understanding, whether through the use of improved processes or technology. Business development is a necessity; ignore it at your peril. And, finally, invest in technology to improve your law firm’s efficiency and increase profitability. Your clients, and your law firm’s bottom line, will thank you.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


ABA on Client Confidentiality in the 21st Century

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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ABA on Client Confidentiality in the 21st Century

These days, news is shared in many ways, with online news outlets and social media sites contributing to the rapid - and sometimes viral - dissemination of information. Not surprisingly, details distributed online can sometimes trigger client confidentiality issues. For that reason, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility (“Committee”) recently addressed the duty of client confidentiality owed to former clients when information about a client becomes “generally known” after being shared online and through other news channels.

In Opinion 479, the Committee considered an exception to the client confidentiality relating to former clients. Specifically the Committee examined the exception found in Model Rule 1.9(c)(1) that permits lawyers to use information that is “generally known” to a former client’s disadvantage despite lack of consent from the former client.

As the Committee explained, Model Rule 1.9(c)(1) provides that a lawyer shall not use information relating to a former client’s representation ‘to the disadvantage of the former client except as [the Model] Rules would permit or require with respect to a [current] client, or when the information has become generally known.”

The primary issue considered in this opinion revolved around defining the concept “generally known.” At the outset, the Committee explained that there was a distinction between “publicly available” and “generally known”: “Unless information has become widely recognized by the public (for example by having achieved public notoriety), or within the former client’s industry, profession, or trade, the fact that the information may have been discussed in open court, or may be available in court records, in public libraries, or in other public repositories does not, standing alone, mean that the information is generally known for Model Rule 1.9(c)(1) purposes.”

Next, the Committee acknowledged that modern technology has made its mark on this concept, explaining that information “may become widely recognized and thus generally known as a result of publicity through traditional media sources, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, or television; through publication on internet web sites; or through social media.”

Next the Committee provided insight into how information becomes generally known in the context of a client’s chosen career: “(I)nformation should be treated as generally known if it is announced, discussed, or identified in what reasonable members of the industry, profession, or trade would consider a leading print or online publication or other resource in the particular field. Information may be widely recognized within a former client’s industry, profession, or trade without being widely recognized by the public.”

The Committee explained that in that context, knowledge of the matter by the general public is irrelevant. The Committee offered the insurance industry as an example and indicated that what truly mattered was whether the information had been broadly disseminated in that industry: “For example, if a former client is in the insurance industry, information about the former client that is widely recognized by others in the insurance industry should be considered generally known within the meaning of Model Rule 1.9(c)(1) even if the public at large is unaware of the information.”

The Committee then summarized its analysis and conclusions as follows: “(I)nformation is generally known within the meaning of Model Rule 1.9(c)(1) if (a) it is widely recognized by members of the public in the relevant geographic area; or (b) it is widely recognized in the former client’s industry, profession, or trade.”

This opinion offers much-needed clarification for lawyers regarding client confidentiality issues in the digital age. The times are undoubtedly changing as the online world speeds up and amplifies the dissemination of information. Certainly the end result is that the internet may muddy the waters a bit when it comes to lawyers’ ethical obligations. But as this opinion shows, despite the rapid pace of change, lawyers’ ethical obligations nevertheless remain constant, whether applied online or offline.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Must-have Apple Watch and iPhone apps for lawyers

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Must-have Apple Watch and iPhone apps for lawyers

The iPhone celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year. In 2017, a decade after its release, it’s still the most popular smartphone with lawyers according to the recently released American Bar Association’s 2017 Legal Technology Survey Report. Of the lawyers surveyed, 96% used smartphones for law-related purposes while away from their office. And, the iPhone was the most popular smartphone by far, with 75% of lawyers surveyed using an iPhone rather an Android.

The Apple Watch, on the other hand, just celebrated its 2-year anniversary. Although I’ve not yet encountered any data on the percentage of lawyers using smartwatches, over time I’ve noticed more and more Watches appearing “in the wild,” including on the wrists of lawyers. So I wasn’t surprised to learn last month that since its launch, more than 30 million Apple Watches have been shipped.

Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of iPhone and Apple Watch apps to choose from, and I’m sure you’ve already got more than a few favorites. But you could always use more, so here are my choices for apps that are must-haves for lawyers.

First, if your practice areas require you to interact with people who speak a different language, a translation app is a must. For your iPhone, consider Speak and Translate, a free app that automatically translates what you say into the spoken word one of of 54 different languages. It also supports text-to-text translations between 117 languages. For your Apple Watch, there’s iTranslate Converse. This app ($4.99/month) allows you to translate conversations in over 100 languages.To use it, you simply speak into your Watch, which then automatically translates your spoken word into the appropriate language.

Another Apple Watch app to consider is Just Press Record ($4.99). This is a very useful app for recording and transcribing conversations and meetings. It allows you to record for an unlimited amount of time and then transfer the recording to your iPhone for transcription.

Another iPhone app that will appeal to lawyers is the free Time & Date Calculator app. Because we spend so much time calculating dates - such as due dates for a motion determining how long ago an incident occurred - a time and date calculator app is a must-have. This app provides a lot of flexibility and built-in tools to help you calculate dates across time zones and even down to the second.

My favorite iPhone scanning app is Scanner Pro. It costs $3.99, and lets you scan a document using your iPhone and then upload it as a PDF. The app also formats the uploaded document with OCR (text recognition) so that you can easily search the text of the document.

And last but not least is the Overcast podcast app for both the iPhone and Apple Watch. Ever since the Serial podcast took the world by storm, lawyers have become huge fans of podcasts. If you’ve jumped on the podcast bandwagon, then you need an intuitive, easy-to-use podcast app like Overcast. It’s a free app that is ad-supported, but you can have an ad-free experience, for $9.99/year. With the iPhone app you can play podcasts right on your phone and the Watch app allows you to choose and control the podcasts playing on your iPhone from across the room.

So there you have it: a few of my favorite iPhone and Apple Watch apps for lawyers. There are plenty more, of course, so don’t let me selections limit you. And if you don’t already own an Apple Watch, what are you waiting for? Add it to your wish list for the holidays. I assure you, you won’t regret it!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.

 


Virginia Bar Nixes Online Attorney-Client Matching Service

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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In recent months, I’ve written about a handful of ethics opinions from different jurisdictions whereby the ethics committees rejected the use of various online lawyer lawyer directories and lawyer-client matching services such as Avvo, Legal Zoom, and Rocket Lawyer. Virginia now joins their ranks with the issuance of Legal Ethics Opinion 1885.

At issue in this opinion was whether a lawyer may ethically participate in an online attorney-client matching service (ACMS) which operates as follows:

The prospective client selects the advertised legal service and chooses a lawyer identified on ACMS’s website as willing to provide the selected service. The prospective client pays the full amount of the advertised legal fee to the ACMS. Thereafter, the ACMS notifies the selected lawyer of this action, and the lawyer must call the prospective client within a specified period. After speaking to the prospective client, and performing a conflicts check, the lawyer either accepts or declines the proposed representation.

Under this arrangement, if the lawyer accepts the representation, the lawyer agrees to undertake a limited scope representation of the client. Upon completion of the representation, the ACMS deposits the legal fee into the lawyer’s operating account and then electronically withdraws a “marketing fee” from the same account as payment to the ACMS for participation in the matching service.

Although the Legal Ethics Committee did not specify the name of the matching service in the opinion, the setup described is the same as Avvo’s.

Of note, the Committee expressed concern regarding the fact that the ACMS, rather than the lawyer, controlled the attorney fees while the case was pending. According to the Committee, this arrangement circumvented the ethical requirements that lawyers are duty-bound to adhere to:

A Virginia lawyer who participates in the service rendered by the ACMS cannot comply with this Rule of Professional Conduct because she is not, and has never been, the custodian of the advanced fee. She has ceded control of that fee to the ACMS, which decides how to dispose of the client’s fees, both earned and unearned. A lawyer must not accept a legal matter under an arrangement which requires that she delegate the function of holding and disposing of the client’s advanced legal fees to a lay entity. In accepting such representation, the lawyer also violates Rule 1.16(a)(1), which prohibits any representation which would result in the lawyer’s violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Committee also determined that the business model of the ACMS involved improper legal fee sharing with a non-attorney and was thus unethical, despite the fact that the fee in question was referred to as a “marketing fee”: “Calling the online service’s entitlement a “marketing fee” does not alter the fact that a lawyer is sharing her legal fee with a lay business.”

For those reasons, and others, the Committee concluded that it was impermissible for Virginia attorneys to provide legal services through the ACMS in question:

(A) lawyer who participates in an ACMS using the model identified herein violates Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct because she:

cedes control of her client’s or prospective client’s advanced legal fees to a lay entity;
undertakes representation which will result in a violation of a Rule of Professional Conduct;
relinquishes control of her obligation to refund any unearned fees to a client at the termination of representation;
shares legal fees with a nonlawyer; and
pays another for recommending the lawyer’s services.

This opinion, and the others recently issued, do not preclude lawyers from participating in online lawyer-client matching services. Instead, it’s important to understand both the setup of the particular online service and the ethical rules of your jurisdiction prior to signing up for the service. Read any applicable ethics opinions that have been handed down in your jurisdiction and then carefully choose services with business plans that comport with your ethical obligations.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Lawyers and Social Media in 2017

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Social media has been around for more than a decade. At first lawyers ignored social media, but over time, as it infiltrated our culture, they sat up and took notice. Today, more lawyers than ever use social media. Some use it for networking and marketing, while others interact online to showcase their expertise or gather valuable evidence and information to support their practices, among other reasons.

Regardless of how or why lawyers use social media, the statistics from the 2017 American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Survey Report show that, generally speaking, the number of lawyers using social media has increased year over year, which is in line with the increase in the use of social media by the general population as a whole.

For starters, the use of blogs by law firms is increasing, with large firms leading the way. 71% of firms with 500 or more attorneys maintain at least one blog (compared with 60% in 2016, 58% in 2015, and 62% in 2014), as do 71% of firms with 100-499 attorneys (compared with 52% in 2016, 53% in 2015, and 47% in 2014). Mid-sized firms with 10-49 attorneys were next at 38%, followed by small firms with 2-9 lawyers at 25%, and solo law firms at 15%. The practice areas within firms that were most likely to maintain a blog were employment and labor law at 33%, personal injury law at 32%, and litigation at 31%.

When it came to lawyers who personally maintained a blog for professional reasons, however, the numbers were flipped. Solo lawyers led the way: 15% of solo lawyers blogged, followed by 11% of lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers, 11% of lawyers from firms of 100 or more attorneys, and 10% of lawyers from firms of 10-49 attorneys. Of those lawyers, 43% have had a client retain their services because of their blogging efforts.

Moving on to social media, 77% of lawyers surveyed indicated that their firms maintained a social media presence. And, 81% of lawyers reported that they personally used social media for professional purposes.
Interestingly, the age group of lawyers most likely to maintain a personal presence on social media was 40-49 years olds (93%), followed by 40 and under (90%), 50-59 (86%), and 60 or older (73%). Lawyers with the following practice areas were most likely to personally use social media: employment/labor (89%), personal injury (84%), litigation (84%), commercial law (82%), and contracts (81%).

The most popular social network used by lawyers for professional purposes was LinkedIn, with 90% of lawyers reporting that they maintained a profile. Next was Facebook at 40% and then Twitter at 26%. Two lawyer directories were included in the Report, Martindale and Avvo, with only 21% of lawyers reporting that they used each platform.

Of those lawyers who maintained a personal presence on social media, 27% have had a client retain their legal services directly or via referral as a result of their use of social media. Solo and small firms lawyers were the most likely to be retained due to their social media presence. Lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers came in first in this regard at 33%, followed by solo lawyers (32%), then lawyers from firms of 10-49 lawyers (22%), and finally lawyers from firms of 100 or more lawyers (18%).

All in all, this year’s report provided lots of interesting data about lawyers’ social media use. Whether you’re a solo lawyer or are part of a much larger law firm, social media can be a valuable tool. My hope is that some of the statistics above will help guide you in making the best use of social networking. The trick is to use social media wisely, and ensure that the time you spend interacting online is both efficient and effective.

 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Significantly More Lawyers Using Cloud Computing in 2017

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Cloud computing, where data is stored offsite on servers owned by third parties and accessed via an internet connection - has been around for more than a decade now. At first, lawyers have were slow to adopt to the concept even though it offers a host of benefits, including 24/7 access to law firm data, the convenience and flexibility of being able to enter billable time on the go, communicate and collaborate with clients in a secure online environment, and easily manage calendaring and tasks from any internet-enabled device - all at an affordable price.

Despite these benefits, lawyers use of cloud computing initially remained fairly steady at a little over 30% according to the the American Bar Association’s annual Legal Technology Survey Report. However, in 2016 those numbers began to increase and in the 2017 Report that was just released, that percentage increased substantially. These statistics comport with a prediction that I made in one of my Daily Record columns in December 2015:

“Cloud computing will be a different story in 2016. I predict that 2016 is the year that self-reported cloud computing use starts to increase. I make this distinction because over the past 2 years, according to a number of surveys, self-reported cloud computing use by solo and small firm lawyers has remained somewhat stagnant at around ~30%.…But as the concept becomes more familiar over time and lawyers have a better grasp of what cloud computing is and which software platforms and apps are built upon it, more lawyers will begin to report that they use it and/or realize that they’re using it already.”

As I predicted, after remaining stagnant at ~30% from 2013-15, with that percentage increasing to 38% in 2016. Interestingly, this year’s survey results showed a marked increase in the number of lawyers using cloud computing, with that percentage jumping to a whopping 52% for all lawyers in 2017.

Solo and small firm lawyers lead the way in cloud computing use according the 2017 Report. The survey results indicate that 56% of lawyers from firms of 2-9 attorneys used cloud computing (compared to 46% in 2016, 40% in 2015, and 35% in 2014), as did 56% of solo lawyers (compared to 42% in 2016, 37% in 2015, and 35% in 2014), 52% of lawyers from firms of 10-49 attorneys (compared with 33% in 2016, 23% in 2015, and 29% in 2014), and 42% from firms of 100 or more attorneys (compared with 20% in 2016, 17% in 2015, and 19% in 2014).

Lawyers were also asked to share which cloud computing programs they used in their firms. The 3 most popular legal cloud computing software programs used by lawyers were MyCase, NetDocs, and Clio. The 3 most popular non-legal cloud computing programs used by lawyers were Dropbox, iCloud, and Google Docs.

When asked why they chose to use cloud computing software in their law firms, respondents provided a vast array of reasons. The most popular benefit cited was easy browser access from anywhere (73%), followed by 24/7 availability (64%), low cost of entry and predictable monthly expense (48%), robust data back-up and recovery(45%), quick to get up and running (39%), eliminates IT & software management requirements (30%), and better security than can be provided in-office (25%).

It’s clear that we’ve reached the tipping point now that more than half of all lawyers use cloud computing in their law firms. For lawyers who have not yet made the leap to the cloud, the good news it that there are now more legal cloud computing software choices than ever before.

The trick is coo choose a well-funded, reliable vendor with staying power, so make sure to carefully vet each software provider that you’re considering. You can find a list of questions to ask third party vendors here: https://tinyurl.com/Questions4LegalVendors. It’s also important to check online for reviews from current customers. Finally, reputable vendors will also offer free trial access to their software so make sure to take advantage of that option and then test drive a few different software programs before committing.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Bitcoin and Blockchain 101 for lawyers

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Earlier this month, the Nebraska Ethics and Advisory Committee handed down Opinion 17-03, concluding that it was ethical for lawyers to accept Bitcoin as payment for legal services. It was the first opinion to address this issue and most certainly won’t be the last.

No doubt you’ve been hearing more and more about Bitcoin and Blockchain in recent months. And there’s a good reason for that: the use of Bitcoin as a form of payment for services, legal and otherwise, has been increasing significantly.

Unfortunately most people still have no idea what these concepts mean, and lawyers are no exception. However, because their use is increasing, lawyers should at least have a basic understanding of these terms in order to meet their ethical obligation to maintain technology competence. So let’s dive in and learn about “Bitcoin” and “Blockchain”.”

Simply put, Bitcoin is a digital currency or “cryptocurrency” that differs from traditional currency because it is not backed by any country’s central bank or government. Like traditional currency, bitcoins can be traded for goods or services with vendors who accept bitcoins as payment.

To use Bitcoin, you’ll have to sign up for a Bitcoin Wallet app online (online: https://bitcoin.org/en/choose-your-wallet ) or download a Bitcoin Wallet app to your smartphone. Your Wallet acts as a virtual bank account of sorts that allows you to send or receive bitcoins. You can buy bitcoins using your traditional bank account through a Bitcoin Exchange. Then you can spend bitcoins by locating businesses that accept it using a directory like this one.

Blockchain is a public ledger of all digital currency transactions. In other words, Blockchain is essentially a chronological history of bitcoin transactions, and each individual “block” is similar to a bank statement.

Because Bitcoin is an emerging currency that is increasingly being used by consumers, lawyers need to familiarize themselves with it. As the general population begins to use Bitcoin more often, potential legal clients will begin to expect law firms to accept this type of digital currency.

So accepting Bitcoin may very well give you a competitive advantage. Of course, demand will vary by geographic region and practice area. But, as you well know, the more types of payment you accept, the more easily clients can pay your law firm for services rendered. That’s why so many lawyers now allow clients to pay online by making ACH payments or credit card payments. And, just as accepting debit and credit cards online makes you more marketable and appealing to potential and current clients, so too does accepting other forms of payment such as Bitcoin.

Another reason to familiarize yourself with how Bitcoin works is because it may soon begin to affect certain practice areas. For example, lawyers who handle securities law or financial litigation matters may find that their practices are increasingly impacted by Bitcoin.

That’s why now is the perfect time to get up to speed on Bitcoin and Blockchain. Educate yourself and then make an informed decision as to whether accepting Bitcoin makes sense for your law firm. It will be time well spent. You’ll learn something new and, if you decide to accept Bitcoin, you’ll offer potential clients one more reason reason to retain your firm over a competitor.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Florida Court on judges and Facebook friends

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Florida Court on judges and Facebook friends

Courts and ethics committees have been grappling with the issue of judges using social media for years now. At first, the general consensus seemed to be that judges should avoid social media at all costs since any online connections compromised the judge’s appearance of impartiality.

For example in 2012, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal reached this very conclusion in Pierre Domville v. State of Florida, No. 4D12-556 and disqualified a judge from overseeing a case because the judge was Facebook “friends” with the prosecuting attorney.

In my Daily Record article about this case, I disagreed with this conclusion, explaining that: “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.”

Fortunately, as time advances and social media use permeates our culture, opinions on judges using social media are likewise changing with the times. Case in point: the an opinion recently issued by the Third District Court of Appeal in Florida, which expressly conflicted with the the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s determination in Domville.

At issue in Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein v. United States Automobile Association, No. 3D17-1421 was whether the judge assigned to the matter should be disqualified since he was Facebook “friends” with counsel for the defendant.

In reaching its determination on the issue, the Court noted that a friendship between a judge and an attorney is typically insufficient, in and of itself, to present an inherent conflict of interest: “(W)e note as a general matter, that “allegations of mere ‘friendship’ with an attorney or an interested party have been deemed insufficient to disqualify a judge.”

The Court also wisely acknowledged that the rate at which social media and its many platforms has changed over the years necessarily affected its analysis in the case at hand: “(E)lectronic social media is evolving at an exponential rate. Acceptance as a Facebook ‘friend’ may well once have given the impression of close friendship and affiliation. Currently, however, the degree of intimacy among Facebook ‘friends’ varies greatly.”

Next, the Court turned to the issue of assessing the nature of a Facebook friendship in the present day and explained that a connection on Facebook does not necessarily indicate a close personal connection: “A random name drawn from a list of Facebook ‘friends’ probably belongs to…(a) casual friend; an acquaintance; an old classmate; a person with whom the member shares a common hobby; a ‘friend of a friend;’ or even a local celebrity like a coach. An assumption that all Facebook ‘friends’ rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification simply does not reflect the current nature of this type of electronic social networking.“

As such, the Court concluded that it was departing from the holding in Domville and was declining to disqualify the judge in the case at hand: “Because a ‘friend’ on a social networking website is not necessarily a friend in the traditional sense of the word, we hold that the mere fact
that a judge is a Facebook ‘friend’ with a lawyer for a potential party or witness, without more, does not provide a basis for a well-grounded fear that the judge cannot be impartial or that the judge is under the influence of the Facebook ‘friend.’ On this point we respectfully acknowledge we are in conflict with the opinion of our sister court in Domville.”

It’s heartening to see courts and ethics committees changing with the times and issuing opinions that reflect the current state of social media and technology. Our society is being transformed by the Internet and technology at a rate never before seen. It’s not always easy to keep up, so kudos to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal for setting a great example and keeping pace.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.