I recently blogged here about Law.com’s forthcoming launch of an extensive contributor network, with from 100 to 500 writers from outside ALM regularly contributing commentary and analysis. I wrote that the network would be in the style of The Huffington Post, but it now appears that the better comparison would have been to Forbes, which [...]
CAT | General
Last week, Google introduced Helpouts, a service that offers “real help from real people in real time.” The idea is simple: If you need help with something — a recipe, a computer problem, a home repair, or whatever — you can turn to Helpouts to find people who have the knowledge to help you and then connect with them via real time Web video. Some people offer their help for free, others charge by the minute or hour.
I searched Helpouts for lawyers and found only two — and neither is offering legal services.
The first, Marvin Ammori, is a Harvard Law School graduate, a blogger, a former law professor, and a TEDx speaker. As the former general counsel for Free Press in 2008, he litigated the Comcast-BitTorrent case before the FCC and argued it before the D.C. Circuit on behalf of citizen groups and technology companies. Currently, he is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the CEO of a startup in Washington, D.C., that makes software for Google Glass.
On Helpouts, Ammori offers his services on two topics:
- Which law school should I go to — if any?, in which he offers advice on whether to go to law school at all and which one to attend.
- How to start a tech company or join a startup–for liberal arts majors, in which he offers to help liberal arts majors get started as entrepreneurs.
Surprisingly, given Ammori’s background, his fee for a 30-minute Helpouts session is just $50. Why would an accomplished lawyer charge so little for his time? He explains it this way on the law school Helpouts page:
Considering I’m a lawyer, I can usually charge hundreds of dollars per hour (I know, crazy), but I’m setting a hopefully low price because so many people helped me when I was in your position.
The only other lawyer I found is Larkin Robson, who offers a Helpout called Learn the LSAT. Larkin is a 2010 graduate of NYU School of Law who runs a company called 180° LSAT Prep. According to his bio, he scored in the 99.9th percentile when he took the LSAT. On Helpouts, he offers to teach the particular skills needed to do well on the LSAT and also to help with admissions counseling. He charges $360 per Helpout or $5 per minute.
Where Are the Lawyers?
As far as I could find, Ammori and Robson were the only lawyers offering Helpouts. Why are there no lawyers offering direct consultation on legal matters?
For now, it appears that the reason is that they were not invited. One can become a Helpout provider only by invitation from Google. And the invitation-request page suggests that Google is not currently extending new invitations.
The bigger question is whether Google will ever invite lawyers. There are no Helpouts categories related to law or legal advice (just as there are none for medical advice). Perhaps Google fears that allowing lawyers to provide legal advice on Helpouts could be a potential minefield and, for that reason, will never allow legal services there.
Should Google ever open Helpouts to lawyers, however, you can be sure many lawyers will flock to offer their services there.
File this one under “stay tuned for further developments.”
My email brought a note from a website called Best Attorneys Online congratulating me on my new rankings as a “Best Attorney” and inviting me to download a “winners seal” to add to my website and email signature. I was honored, particularly because I was ranked as among the best in three different states — not one of which I am admitted to practice in or have ever set foot in.
According to Best Attorneys Online, I am the:
- 9th best Internet lawyer in Arkansas.
- 12th best Internet lawyer in Alabama.
- 13th best Internet lawyer in Alaska.
As far as I know, all I have in common with these states is that our names all start with the letter “A.” For that reason, I am somewhat offended not to also have been rated a best lawyer in the only remaining A state, Arizona. At least I’ve been to Arizona, although it’s been a few years.
I wondered how this site arrives at its rankings. The only explanation I could find was this:
[W]e rank law firms based on what we have found in our research to be some of the most respectable and dedicated law teams in the United States.
OK, that explains it. Their research led them to conclude that I am a top attorney in Arkansas, Alabama and Alaska. Apparently, their research skipped right over the part where I say that I am a “Massachusetts lawyer.”
At any rate, I am honored by this ranking. Now that I am among the best lawyers in Arkansas, I will have to look into getting admitted and starting a practice there. At least my winners seal will give me a head start in my marketing.
Lawyers have an ethical obligation to protect the confidentiality and security of communications with their clients. The more we learn about NSA snooping, the more we realize what a challenge that can be.
One option for secure communications is to skip the email and use the SMS messaging app Wickr, which is available for iOS and Android phones. Wickr lets you send text, picture, audio and video messages, as well as PDF documents, with military-grade encryption, so that only you and the recipient can read the message. Although your message travels through Wickr’s servers, it is transmitted using cryptographic hashing that prevents anyone at Wickr from opening your message or revealing it to third parties yielding subpoenas.
In addition, you can set an expiration date for any message you send — anywhere from one second to five days. When the recipient opens the message, the timer begins counting down. Once the expiration time arrives, the message is deleted from the recipient’s device. Your sent message will also self destruct, although not until 24 hours after the self-destruct time you set for the recipient. You can delete a message at any time.
Deleted messages are destroyed using file-shredding technology specifically designed for mobile devices. Typically, when you send an email or message to trash, it remains accessible if someone were to take your phone. When Wickr is running, its file shredder continuously shreds anything you put in the trash.
Wickr integrates with Box, Dropbox and Google Drive. That means that you can use Wickr to send a document securely from one of these services to a client or colleague.
Wickr has one of the strongest privacy policies you’ll find anywhere. The following is taken directly from Wickr’s policy:
- We use military-grade encryption. Our encryption is based on 256-bit symmetric AES encryption, RSA 4096 encryption, ECDH521 encryption, transport layer security, and our proprietary algorithm.
- We canʼt see information you give us. Your information is always disguised with multiple rounds of salted, cryptographic hashing before (if) it is transmitted to our servers. Because of this we donʼt know — and canʼt reveal — anything about you or how you use the Wickr App.
- Deletion is forever. When you delete a message, or when a message expires, our “secure file shredder” technology uses forensic deletion techniques to ensure that your data can never be recovered by us or anyone else.
- You own your data. We do not share or sell any data about our users. Period.
On top of that, the company promises that it will never collect any location information from your device or have access to the contents of any communications you send. After messages are deleted, “they are forensically deleted and are not retrievable by us or anyone else.”
Wickr is free to use and the app is free to install. An added bonus for those who pay for text messaging is that messaging through Wickr is not only secure, it’s free.
As I reported last week, Ed, the anonymous editor of Blawg Review, has died. Today, several legal bloggers collaborated to create a fitting tribute to his memory — a final Blawg Review written in multiple chapters on multiple blogs. Start with Colin Samuels’ explanation at the Blawg Review home site, then follow that to Scott Greenfield’s contribution, and then follow the chain as each successive contributor provides a link to the next.
Meanwhile, in my post last week, I included a photograph of a blindfolded Ed I took while having dinner with him once. Here is another sighting of him that I snapped back in 2008, the first time I met him in person, as I explained in a post back then.
One of my favorite sites for tracking the U.S. Congress is OpenCongress, an open-source project that draws on a variety of sources, from official government websites to blogs, to track federal legislation and members of Congress. (See my original post about OpenCongress.)
OpenCongress was launched in 2007 as a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation. Now, the Sunlight Foundation has announced that it has assumed sole operation of the site and has given the site a refresh that adds new data and features. (The change in ownership actually happened last May.)
Features of the refreshed site, according to the announcement, include:
- Bills. Read, follow and share your opinion on legislation from both the Senate and House of Representatives. Sift through the legislation by most-viewed bills on the site, recent activity and more.
- Representatives and senators. See a profile of every lawmaker, call or message their offices, track their votes and bill sponsorships, connect with their official social media accounts, see recent fundraisers, watch their YouTube videos and review campaign donations.
- Votes. See the “ayes” and “nays” broken down by political party for all floor actions and compare two lawmakers to one another using the Head-to-Head tool.
- Issues. Find bills by more than 4,000 issue areas using the classification system designed by the Congressional Research Service. Create a widget for an issue you’re interested in and customize it to add to your own website.
- Committees. Follow the work of House and Senate committees and see what members serve on each one. Find bills the committee is considering, reports they issue and delve into the activities of subcommittees.
- Groups. OpenCongress has a built-in social network to connect users around a certain issue or location. When you register for the site, you will automatically join the group for your state and congressional district and you can join or create other groups.
For anyone interested in learning more about OpenCongress, the Sunlight Foundation is hosting a free webinar tomorrow, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m. ET.
I’ve written a couple of posts (here and here) about TheFormTool, an add-on to Microsoft Word that makes it extremely easy to create document templates and generate documents based on those templates. This weak, the developers of TheFormTool gave a sneak peak of a forthcoming product that they have code named REACH.
REACH is an enhancement to TheFormTool Pro that extends its document-assembly capabilities from a single document to document automation for groups of documents. In much the same way that TheFormTool allowed you to generate a single document, REACH will allow you to generate multiple documents in one fell swoop.
For a basic understanding of how TheFormTool works, see my initial review. In short, TheFormTool enables you to easily add a Q&A table to a document in order to create a template. Once you’ve created the template, simply answer the questions (such as, “What is the name of the purchaser?”) and the appropriate fields are filled out in the document.
REACH extends this basic functionality by enabling you to create sets of yours document templates. A set might be for a type of matter — a divorce, for example — or a set might be created around a task, such as a simple estate plan.
Once you’ve created a document set, you will now be able to answer a single set of questions and use your answers to fill out and generate all the documents in the set.
In this week’s preview, this functionality was demonstrated using a set of corporate forms that contained four documents: annual vote, bylaws, certificates and minutes. Select which documents from this set you want to complete — it can be any or all — and REACH extracts the Q&A tables from all the documents and builds a compiled table that includes all the information required by all the templates. Fill out the Q&A once and generate all the documents.
Plus, the Q&A tables are compatible across documents once you save your answers for a particular matter. If you’ve saved answers in a single form, they are available to the set; if you’ve saved answers in the set, they are available in each separate form.
The company said that this is REACH 1.0, with further enhancements scheduled for later this year and early next year. The next version will add a “library” feature that will let you grab and insert selections of boilerplate text. A later version will add a “sequel” feature that will enable you to pull information from databases such as SQL, Excel and CSV.
REACH will be released in beta in early November and will be released for full public distribution in December.
The price has not been set but REACH will be sold on a subscription basis. The subscription will include a package of features that will include priority for receiving service from the company and priority access to a new “Formers’ Market” where form authors will be able to share and sells forms they’ve created.
A video presentation on REACH can be seen here.
OK, not only is it the morning after the World Series, but it is also Halloween. You don’t really feel like working today, do you? Besides, you may be stuck by your front door for hours, waiting to dole out treats to a stream of ghosts and goblins.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of retro fun, try out the Internet Archive’s new Historical Software Collection. Right in your browser, you can run a working version of WordStar, the most popular word-processing program of the early 1980s, or fire up a 1979 version of VisiCalc, the first-ever spreadsheet program, which was designed for the Apple II.
If games are more your thing, the collection includes classic adventure games such as The Hobbit, a 1982 game for then-popular home computers such as the Commodore 64, and Akalabeth: World of Doom, a 1980 role-playing game for the Apple II; chess games such as Chess by Peter Jennings, considered one of the first commercial game programs ever, and the Sargon Chess program, first released in 1978 at a price of $895; and multiple versions of Pac-Man.
Some of these programs are fully operational, others appear to run only in a demo mode. If nothing else, they are a reminder of from whence we came.
Back in 2011, I wrote a post about the launch of CourtListener, a free website that lets you create alerts to notify you of new cases that match your search criteria. Today, the site announced that it is adding more than 1.5 million court opinions to its database, expanding its coverage to a total of 350 federal and state jurisdictions.
Originally created by Michael Lissner as part of his master’s thesis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information, CourtListener is now a part of the broader Free Law Project, a non-profit devoted to providing free, public and permanent access to primary legal materials on the Internet.
In an email, Lissner describes this expansion as huge for CourtListener, “blowing us past the 1M and 2M marks in one fell swoop.” In addition to being available for alerts, all of the data will be available for bulk downloads.
In addition to adding these cases, the site is making some improvements to how it handles the cases. For one, it is adding star pagination throughout its collection, making pinpoint citations possible. In addition, it has added the ability to search by name of judge. The feature is still in beta and is not comprehensive, according to CourtListener.
To create an alert in CourtListener, simply enter a search query. Once the results display, you can choose to create an alert based on the search and select how often you wish to be notified of matching results. You will have to register first to create an alert, but registration is free.
Should you wish to support the work of the Free Law Project, the site welcomes donations.
Tweets posted this morning said:
Dear Blawg Review Community,
I am the son of Ed, writing today with a heavy heart to inform you of his passing after a courageous battle with esophageal cancer. I believe it would have been his wish for Ed to remain anonymous – and so I will respect those wishes.
Started in April 2005, Blawg Review was a “carnival of law bloggers” in which each week’s host would round-up his or her picks for the best posts of the week. It was always a must read for those who followed legal blogging.
I had the good fortune to meet Ed on several occasions. Here’s a photo I took of him adorned in full identity-protection mode.
He was a pleasure to know — smart and witty and kind. He will be missed.