Law and Conversation

August 17, 2011

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? I’m TechnoLawyer’s Pick of the Week!

Wowie zowie–TechnoLawyer chose my cover story, “To Tweet Or Not To Tweet,” in the current issue (August 2011) of the Illinois Bar Journal, for BlawgWorld’s Pick Of The Week!

BlawgWorld publishes newsletters for lawyers. Its editors cull what they judge to be the best articles from legal publications all over the web for a handy weekly e-mail newsletter. (I don’t know how those editors work, but by even a conservative measure, that’s a LOT of articles to weed through every week. Lawyers deal in words, after all, and there’s a legal publication for practically every state, every local bar association, every national bar association, and every area and size of practice within those locales. There are also legal publications for gadgets and software that lawyers use. Then there are legal blogs, also known as blawgs–hundreds of those, at a minimum, many of which contain superb writing and insights.)

From all of those articles, the editors at BlawgWorld choose around a hundred each week to link to. From those top 100, they select ONE to excerpt and feature at the top of the newsletter. For the week of August 9, it’s mine! My head is still spinning.

The best things in life are free, and that includes BlawgWorld’s newsletters. You can subscribe by hitting the nice badge above that they sent me and following the instructions on the page it takes you to. Thanks so much to BlawgWorld’s great newsletter editors, Adriana Linares and Liz Kurtz, as well as to Neil Squillante, BlawgWorld’s publisher, and Kathryn Hughes, who writes the TechnoLawyer Blog, for choosing my article to feature. Thanks to all the lawyers I interviewed for the article and for the related , who provided terrific insights and commentary; I’ve included all of them, as well as many more, in my Illinois Lawyers Twitter list. Special thanks to Sonya Olds Som,  a lawyer and business development specialist at the legal search firm Major, Lindsay, and Africa, and Carol Ross, a career coach in Boulder, CO and fellow Northwestern alum, who gave me good insights into social media back in 2009 for my article, “Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook, Oh My!” that appeared in the June 2009 issue of the IBJ. And thanks to my own wonderful editor at the Illinois State Bar Association, Mark Mathewson, for all of his work and support!

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March 25, 2011

Literature, law, and technology: a connected lawyer

I think I’m pretty good at both using the English language and getting my computer to do the fairly limited number of things I want it to do.  But I can’t count the number of times I’ve read an error message, or a warning, or an instruction regarding our computers or programs, and, though the message was clearly written in English, understood it no better than Sanskrit.

Those frustrating experiences, which I suspect many lawyers and others share, underscore why I always appreciate reading and hearing advice from Illinois lawyer Bryan Sims.  On his blog, The Connected Lawyer, Bryan provides pithy tidbits of information and advice on gadgets and software in plain, easy-to-understand English.  Though he directs his advice to lawyers, anyone can benefit from it.

Bryan has a good article in the current issue of Illinois Lawyer Now, published for members by the Illinois State Bar Association, on how to integrate technology into your law office without spending a bundle.  He addresses different, cost-effective options for printers, faxing, and phones and provides examples from his own practice to explain why his own chosen options work best for him.

Bryan speaks on these matters at conferences and always gives a great, informative presentation.  I’ve interviewed and quoted Bryan in articles I’ve written for the Illinois Bar Journal and learned quickly that he’s a very nice and approachable person (as true superstars tend to be).  Bryan also loves to read and posts occasionally about the books he’s read on another blog, I Would Rather Be Reading (great title, Bryan!). I was interested to note Bryan’s post some time ago about how much he and his family love their Kindle e-readers, which, along with many other recommendations and a loan from another generous friend, is inspiring me to try one out.

In related news, the New York Times has an article on which gadgets we can get along without. What sites with technology tips do you find useful?  How about book blogs?  And for those of you with Kindles or other e-readers, do you love them as much as everyone else I  know does?  Anything you don’t like about them?

February 1, 2011

More on court opinions on the Internet

Yesterday I posted about the distinction that a decreasing number of jurisdictions, including Illinois and the federal courts, make between “precedential” and “nonprecedential” opinions, historically referred to as “published” and “unpublished.”  Today brings word of an interesting new article by Peter W. Martin of Cornell Law School, “Abandoning Law Reports for Official Digital Case Law.” The article, which you can download without charge from SSRN, discusses Arkansas’s cessation of publishing its state courts’ opinions in the Arkansas Reporter, which had been the official record of those decisions, in favor of posting them on the Internet, where the state’s Reporter of Decisions maintains them as official records, and “explore[s] the distinctive alignment of factors that both led and enabled the Arkansas judiciary to take a step that courts in other jurisdictions, state and federal, have so far resisted.”  Thanks to Prof. Martin for making this article freely available, and a Hat Tip to Paul Lomio of Stanford Law School and Legal Research Plus for posting and tweeting about it.

On still more breaking electronic legal news, congratulations to young legal research provider FastCase on inking deals with the D.C. and Georgia Bars.  I wrote in 2009 about the company’s service, which the Illinois State Bar Association provides to its members as a free benefit, for the Illinois Bar Journal.  As part of preparing the article, I interviewed Fastcase’s CEO, Ed Walters, whose business acumen so impressed me that I interviewed him again and got more great commentary for a subsequent IBJ article on social media for lawyers.

And in other news related to the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent amendment of SCR 23, the state court rule that distinguishes precedential from nonprecedential appellate opinions, my profile of Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride in the Illinois Bar Journal, which includes a sidebar explaining the justice’s leadership with respect to the court’s action, is now up.  (Link may not work if you’re not a member of ISBA, and, if you’re a lawyer or a judge, you really ought to pony up and join 😉 .)  The justice has a fascinating and inspirational story, and I was honored to get to tell it in the pages of the IBJ.

On a completely different subject that has nothing to do with the law or court opinions, here’s a link to a LadyGagaLicious video:  Zheng Lab’s hilarious “Bad Project.” Send it to your favorite scientist!  Hat Tip:  Freelance writer Sandra Boncek Hume.

December 17, 2010

E-readers and privacy

Filed under: Books and writing,judiciary,Law,legal technology,privacy,reading,Technology — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:58 am
Tags: , , ,

No matter how much you love your old-fashioned paper books, it’s hard not to own up to a few little covetous twinges when you see people with Kindles or sleek iPads.

Students who download their texts on e-readers must love not having to carry around the extra weight of traditional texts.  They must also find being able to highlight, underline, or make notes in their e-books, as the Kindle application permits, incredibly convenient.  Those who commute or travel also love their e-readers, for the same reasons.

But those capabilities have legs which give e-readers a creepiness factor.  I took note some months ago of Gretchen Rubin’s post advising that if you download a book on a Kindle and highlight or take notes, the device reports back to Amazon about your highlighting or notetaking.  NPR now picks up on the issue by reporting on other data that’s transmitted back to Amazon, or Google, or Apple, or whatever other company manufactured your e-reader or the application you use.  Those companies know, or have the capability of knowing, when you read, when you stop reading, where you were while you were reading, and whether you read the whole book or stopped at page 45. 

This information may prove immensely useful to businesses who want to sell more products to consumers, of course.  But what might a government inclined to monitor its citizens’ activities closely do with information about people’s thought processes, I wonder?  Might the government of, say, China require all university students to use e-readers that report students’ reading habits and notetaking back to it, I wonder?

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported that at least two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court read briefs on their e-readers, as do an increasing number of judges on lower courts.  What if those judges highlight or underline the arguments of counsel?  Do the e-reader applications they use report that data?  What implications for judicial decisionmaking does that carry?

Of course, data about individuals’ browsing habits is already stored in multiple locations on different computers and servers.  When in doubt, you can assume that online publications generally know your IP address, which articles you’ve clicked on, and other information about you.  If you buy books online, or in a store using a credit card or frequent buyer program, there’s a record of the books you’ve bought.  If you check books out of a library, there’s a record.  Bottom line:  we trade our privacy for what electronic devices, applications, and the internet offer.

NPR quotes Stephen King on the data collection issue as follows:  “Ultimately, this sort of thing scares the hell out of me,” King says. “But it is the way that things are.”

In related news, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held this week that citizens have the same expectation of privacy in their e-mails as in their snail mail letters and phone conversations, so that the government must obtain a search warrant before seizing and searching e-mails held by private e-mail providers.  Hat tip for this and the WSJ Law Blog item:  Ed Walters of FastCase.

May 18, 2010

Big Brother monitors the Internet, and Kindle readers, too.

In my cover story in the April 2010 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, “The Internet:  Your (Mostly Free) Private Investigator,” I wrote about lawful methods of finding out information about people over the Internet.  As usual, I had incredibly knowledgeable, interesting sources who also happen to be very nice people:  two Chicago litigators, Todd Flaming and Kent Sezer, and an Alton, IL police computer crime detective, Mike Bazzell, who also presents on computer crime and internet safety issues.  The article’s directed to lawyers who have a need for finding out everything they can about their opposing parties, witnesses, and, in some cases, their own clients, but I think anyone reading it would find the information in it useful and interesting.

Since my article was published, some new developments highlighting the lack of privacy and what you can find out about other people on the Internet have been reported. 

First, PCWorld magazine’s blog, like other publications, reports on the multiplicity of clicks and menus that you have to go through on Facebook if you want to lock down your privacy settings.  Anyone on FB who cares about privacy probably already knows what a time-consuming pain in the neck it is to make sure all of your settings are adjusted to your satisfaction, but the article also refers to a free tool I was unaware of at zesty.ca to verify what, if any, information from your Facebook account is available to anyone. 

Parenthetically, every time Facebook tweaks its information sharing policies, I think about deleting my own account.  I haven’t because I really like FB for making it easy and efficient to get back in touch and stay connected with friends, especially those I may not be able to see much, as well as for providing an avenue to get to know people better.  I resolve my feelings about the data-sharing issues by never posting anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable seeing on the front page of the Chicago Tribune tomorrow.  The Zesty tool is useful for double-checking whether you’ve got your settings properly adjusted.

Second, I recently learned of a new site that aggregates publicly available information about people:  Spokeo.com.  I must say that it’s a pretty good site!  But I wonder where it gets some of its information.   Among the information about me on the site was that I love to read; I’ve put that information out there myself, and I’m perfectly happy for people to know that fact about me.  The site also reported that I’m not interested in politics and I have a high school education.  Where did the site get the former information, I wonder?  It’s not quite true, though, indeed, I don’t generally enjoy political discussions and don’t volunteer my political views (though when asked, I have been known to answer).  The latter information also isn’t accurate:  I certainly do have a high school education, but I didn’t stop there!  And I only wish the site’s vastly inflated estimate of the value of my home were correct. 

Though none of Spokeo’s information about me was exactly offensive, I found it disconcerting to have this (not entirely accurate) data compiled about me as a virtual dossier, so I removed it by clicking on the site’s Privacy link and filling out the form.  I realize, of course, that other aggregator sites will still maintain such dossiers and that there’s not much any of us can do about it.  If you want to know what Spokeo has on you, hie yourself over to the site, plug in your name, and take whatever action you wish after doing so.

Third, and most unsettling to me, was some news about the Kindle:   Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project learned that Amazon is looking over your shoulder as you use the device.  She writes “It turns out that Amazon keeps track every time someone highlights a passage from a book on a Kindle! Yes, if you’ve highlighted a sentence on your Kindle, Amazon knows.” 

I don’t own a Kindle or want one myself, but the people I know who have them love them.  I can understand why:  it’s light, fits in a handbag, and if you’re an expat in a country where bound books in your language aren’t readily or economically available, like one family I know, it’s the perfect solution.  It seems to me it would also be great for students to use instead of having to lug around heavy and costly textbooks, especially since the device enables highlighting.  But I’d hate to have a Big Brother logging my highlightings or annotations–it’s way too much like having someone peering into your very thoughts.  Also, I can remember some pretty callow comments I made in the margins of some of my college texts, and I wouldn’t want anyone reading them and thinking I’m still so naive!

Speaking of The Happiness Project, it’s a lovely site, written by another lawyer mom who wrestles with many of the same issues I do–do check it out!

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