Archive for August, 2008

Making Your Law Office More Portable

Posted on August 26, 2008. Filed under: Portability, Productivity, The times they are a'changin', Web 2.0 | Tags: , |

This week’s Daily Record column is entitled “Making Your Law Office More Portable.”

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

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Making Your Law Office More Portable

I know, I know. Some of you are wondering, “Why in the world would I want to take my law office with me? It can stay right where it is, thank you very much.”

Rest assured there are a number of legitimate and, dare I say, logical, reasons to consider making certain aspects of your law practice more portable, not the least of which are flexibility, efficiency, and convenience.

The ability to access relevant information anytime, anywhere saves both time and money. Free or inexpensive online applications and resources provide lawyers with cost-efficient alternatives to the traditional office-based law practice.

As we all know, time wasted is money lost. One of the more frustrating aspects of practicing law is finding yourself unexpectedly delayed, in court or elsewhere, and knowing that if you just had certain information you would be able to make productive use of the time.

Portability provides you with the ability to do just that by allowing you to access contact information, e-mails, documents and other relevant information with the touch of a button.

The first step toward portability is to invest in a smart phone, and if at all possible, a laptop. Smart phones, such as the iPhone or Blackberry, are an indispensable part of the portable office. Smart
phones allow you to access your contacts, your e-mail accounts and the Internet no matter where you are.

Internet access is extremely important, since it is the key to the portable law office. Web-based applications and the ability to utilize them via your phone or laptop free you from practicing law within
the confines of your office.

Web-based e-mail is ideal and Gmail is one of the best email systems available. It’s free, has a huge storage capacity, conveniently groups related e-mails into “conversations” and has a number of
unique mechanisms that assist in organizing, labeling and accessing stored e-mails. Contacts are easily managed and accessed via Gmail, and, best of all, Gmail is compatible with the vast majority
of cutting edge Web-based productivity applications.

Gmail can be easily used in conjunction with office-based e-mail servers. For example, my work e-mail address is set up so that all messages are forwarded to my Gmail account. Messages from that
account are automatically labeled and filtered as they are received into my Gmail account. And, my Gmail account is programmed so that all new messages sent from the Gmail account are sent from my
work e-mail address. In other words, my work e-mail address is the default address for all new emails created from my Gmail account.

Opening a Gmail account also automatically provides you with access to a number of free and useful Google applications. The first is Google Calendar, a simple and intuitive calendaring system that is fully integrated with Gmail.

Another very useful application for the legal practitioner is Google Docs, a Web-based word processing system. With Google Docs, you can upload or create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and forms.

You can then access and edit the files via any computer or smart phone that has Internet access.  You can also permit others to access the files, thus providing a simple way to share and col-
laborate online.

Once you’re familiar with Google’s Web-based applications, the world is your oyster and true portability becomes a reality.

There are innumerable free Web-based productivity applications and organizational tools that are compatible with Google’s mail and calendaring systems. I’ll discuss some of the options in the near
future, but in the meantime you can visit the blog Practicing Law in the 21st Century (http://21stcentury law.wordpress.com) and explore the many applications available by clicking on the navigation tabs located at the top of the Web page.

Portability is the key to practicing law in the 21st century. Once you’ve made the jump, you’ll wonder how you managed to get work done in the “old days,” when the portable law office was simply a
fantasy.

–Nicole Black

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Some new resources for lawyer collaboration…Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies

Posted on August 23, 2008. Filed under: Collaboration, New Resources | Tags: , |

Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell have added two great resources to support their recently published ABA book Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, including a blogsite and a wiki. The purpose of the site is to:

[M]ake the book a living document that can be updated and expanded. We hope it will also serve as a gathering place for discussion and conversation by the community of the book’s readers and all others interested in the tools and technologies we use and might use to work together.

Blogs can be a great tool to use in conjunction with a printed book. They allow authors to carry on a conversation with their readers, updating them on important and even unimportant developments until the next time the book is printed.  The conversation can also help the author with future updating and editions of the book as comments may provide authors with guidance on readers’ interests and suggest areas that were not explored.

But wait…there’s more.  Dennis and Tom have also created another useful resource in the wiki (on DIY wiki provider PBwiki) to collect the tools that lawyers can use to collaborate with each other and their clients, and a page of resources and links to books, websites and blogs that will help you further explore how to use these tools effectively.  While they may find a few additional possibilities to add on the tabs we developed for the MCBA seminar, I’m looking forward to joining this conversation.

I’ve been going to the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Techshow for several years and always try to catch the panels that Dennis and Tom are on (Tom was the “Grand Poobah” at the 2008 verion). Dennis and Tom are some of the earliest denizens of the blawgosphere with excellent blogs (DennisKennedy.com and Tom’s Inter Alia).

–Greg Bell

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War on terrorism collides with attorney-client privilege.

Posted on August 12, 2008. Filed under: Privacy Rights, The times they are a'changin', Uncategorized |

This week’s Daily Record column is entitled “War on terrorism collides with attorney-client privilege.”

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

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War on terrorism collides with attorney-client privilege

In an effort to combat the somewhat nebulous concept of “terrorism,” laptops and other digital devices are currently subject to warrantless inspections at the border.

On July 16, in response to demands from civil liberties groups, two Department of Homeland Security agencies, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, released policies on border searches of electronic devices, such as laptops and smart phones. The policies obviously are of great interest to any lawyer who travels internationally, in light of ethical obligations and the confidential nature of the information likely stored on such devices.

The polices provide, in relevant part:

[O]fficers may examine … computers, disks, hard drives, and other electronic or digital storage devices…absent individualized suspicion…transported by any individual attempting to enter, reenter, depart, pass through, or reside in the United States. … Officers may detain documents and electronic devices, or copies thereof, for a reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search. … [I]f after reviewing the information there is not probable cause to seize it, any copies of the information must be destroyed… To assist CBP in determining the meaning of such information, CBP may seek translation and/or decryption assistance from other Federal agencies or entities. Officers may seek such assistance absent individualized suspicion. … [However] [n]othing in this policy limits the authority of an officer to make written notes or reports or to document impressions relating to a border encounter.

Attorney-Client Privileged Material. Occasionally, an individual claims that the attorney-client privilege prevents the search of his or her information at the border. Although legal materials are not necessarily exempt from a border search, they may be subject to special handling procedures. Correspondence, court documents, and other legal documents may be covered by attorney-client privilege. If an officer suspects that the content of such a document may constitute evidence of a crime or otherwise pertain to a determination within the jurisdiction of CBP, the officer must seek advice from the Associate/Assistant Chief Counsel or the appropriate U.S. Attorney’s office before conducting a search of the document.

In other words, U.S. officials virtually have unfettered discretion to conduct warrantless, suspicionless laptop and smart phone searches at the border, a policy that seemingly flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment and causes extreme consternation for privacy and civil rights advocates.

Despite the obvious privacy implications of the border search policies, so far both the Fourth and Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth and Ninth Circuits have upheld the legality of such searches, likening the search of a computer’s hard drive to the search of the contents of a briefcase.

However, congressional hearings recently were conducted to examine the constitutionality of such searches and Senator Russell Feingold has said he intends to introduce legislation that would require reasonable suspicion as a prerequisite to border searches of electronic devices.

The border searches present a unique set of issues for lawyers who travel internationally. While the policies regarding the searches purport to provide for special procedures in the event attorney-client privilege is asserted, there is ample room for the arbitrary exercise of discretion on the part of border
patrol agents when making the determination as to whether a device is subject to the special handling procedures applicable to attorney-client material.

A foolproof method for protecting confidential information has yet to be agreed upon universally. Some computer experts have suggested lawyers consider encrypting confidential client files, while others recommended using Web hosting services for e-mail and file storage in lieu of storing such information on a device’s hard drive.

Until suspicionless laptop searches are declared unconstitutional or otherwise restricted, lawyers traveling internationally will face an unresolved ethical quandary worthy of inclusion on a bar exam.

–Nicole Black

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Wannabe Lawyers Gamble on the New York State Bar Exam

Posted on August 5, 2008. Filed under: The times they are a'changin' |

This week’s Daily Record column is entitled “Wannabe Lawyers Gamble on the New York State Bar Exam.”

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

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You only get one chance to roll the dice of life, make your bet wisely.”
—Nathan Detroit, “Guys and Dolls”

Just last week, aspiring lawyers across the state endured the anxiety-ridden hazing ritual of sitting for
the New York bar exam. Some chose the traditional method of writing out their answers longhand. Others, despite last year’s laptop fiasco, which resulted in lost essay questions due to unforeseen technical glitches, made the seemingly brazen choice of utilizing laptops for the essay portions of the exam.

The decision to use laptops might seem perplexing to the technologically-challenged lawyers amongst us
who are risk averse. However, the choice is less puzzling when one considers the environment in which
this younger generation was raised and educated.

The vast majority of recent law graduates grew up around computers and were allowed —some might even say encouraged — to utilize technology as part of the educational process. They were able to take classroom notes on laptops and, in many respects, keyboards essentially replaced longhand.

Thus, not surprisingly, the prospect of taking a written exam as lengthy as the bar exam likely seemed a daunting prospect to many of them.  The option to utilize laptops for the essay portion of the exam was no doubt an appealing alternative to this technologically-savvy bunch despite the obvious riskspresented by this choice.

Of course, this year, the New York State Board of Law Examiners did what any self-respecting groups of lawyers would do on the heels of last year’s debacle —it issued a lengthy disclaimer and required those choosing to utilize laptops to sign a detailed waiver.

The disclaimer provided for the procedure to be followed in the event of a technological failure and placed the burden of risk squarely upon the shoulders of the exam-takers:

Technical difficulties may occur before, during or after the bar examination. Technical difficulties may include hardware or software malfunctions, data saving or retrieval problems, operator errors, upload or download problems, or the loss of electrical power at the examination facility. In the event any technical difficulties occur during the bar examination, you must handwrite your essay answers in the answer books provided and no additional time may be allowed

If you no longer have access to the computer after the conclusion of the examination, you may not be able to retrieve files which could assist in the recovery of missing portions of your essay answers. Should you choose to rent or borrow a computer, you should arrange to keep the computer until after the results of the examination have been released.

In other words, those who chose to utilize the technology which they had been conditioned to use and
upon which they increasingly relied were essentially penalized in the event of a technical glitch.

Furthermore, the laptop program implemented this year made it nearly impossible for many test-takers to participate, since it inexplicably precluded the use of Apple computers, which are used in increasing numbers by law students. Apple computers were not permitted even though the software used for this year’s bar exam can run on Apple computers. In fact, students taking the Maryland bar exam, which used the same software, were allowed to use Apple computers.

Suffice to say, I am not envious of the choices presented to my computer-reliant, future colleagues: Abandon the technology upon which you’ve been trained to rely or utilize it at your own risk.

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