In a recent article about mobile marketing I wrote for Law Practice Magazine, I explained why I am skeptical about the marketing value of law firm apps. I made an exception, however, for apps that provide a useful or practical function, whether for existing or potential clients. The new Fisher & Phillips FMLA Leave App [...]
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Never again be without a legal dictionary. West today announced the release of an application that puts Black’s Law Dictionary on the iPhone and iPod touch. The app features the most recent 8th edition of the definitive legal dictionary, which is edited by Bryan A. Garner.
The iPhone edition includes more than 43,000 definitions and nearly 3,000 quotations from legal authorities spanning five centuries of jurisprudence. It features hyperlinked cross-references and audio pronunciations for some of the more difficult to pronounce terms.
If you don’t know what is meant by “legal informatics,” I suggest this quote as an oversimplified definition: “Everywhere, more and more courts, legislatures, and agencies are putting information on the Internet in more and better ways using improved technologies.” The quote is from Thomas R. Bruce, cofounder and director of the trailblazing Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School. It appeared on his blog recently, part of a thoughtful, longer post about the need for legal information professionals throughout the world to be more directly engaged in a conversation about mapping the future of legal information.
If there is to be such a conversation, it will have to confront a variety of difficult topics — access, transparency, standards, technology, government policies, IP laws and about the roles of government and private commerce. It is a conversation the LII hopes to help move forward with its launch last week of a new blog, VoxPopuLII. Bruce describes the blog this way:
Our new guest blog, VoxPopuLII, is designed to help the conversation along with biweekly posts from folks you may not have heard from before. They’re from all different tribes in all different places on the intellectual and global map. We’ve asked for their big ideas — and if you’ve got big ideas of your own, I’d invite you to get in touch with me about writing something for us. And of course we invite your comments and suggestions about what you find there.
The first post in the series, What is a Legal Information Institute?, comes from Kerry Anderson, deputy director and head of IT for the Southern African Legal Information Institute. The blog promises to be host to a conversation well worth following.
Harvard University Press this week announced the launch of the Journal of Legal Analysis, an open-access law journal published in cooperation with the John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics and Business at Harvard Law School. JLA’s editors say their plan is to publish “the best legal scholarship from all disciplinary perspectives and in all styles, whether verbal, formal, or empirical.” Articles are faculty-edited and subject to peer review.
By describing itself as an open-access journal, the JLA is promising to maintain immediate and no-cost access to its articles via the Web. Once a year, articles published online will be gathered into bound volumes and made available for purchase. The JLA’s editor-in-chief is Harvard law professor J. Mark Ramseyer.
The debut issue includes an article that argues that raising judicial salaries would do nothing to improve judicial performance, another that contends that judges should be deferential in reviewing class action settlements, and others, all from well-known names in legal academia.
Charles Pugsley Fincher divides his time between practicing law in Texas and drawing cartoons. For the former, his clients may be thankful. For the latter, many lawyers are surely appreciative. At his LawComix Web site, he publishes his “more or less weekly” cartoon, Scribble-in-Law, along with his comic Bitcher & Prickman. Now he has launched a related blog, The LawComix Blog, which he describes as an adjunct to his main site — “a behind the scene look with roughs, looser sketches and posts by other lawyers.” From jurors wearing mouse ears to a mime’s deposition, Fincher lets lawyers see the funny side of their daily grind.
Several bloggers are talking today about a blog post saying that FindLaw violated Google’s guidelines by selling links. That post accused FindLaw of scamming customers. My reaction was: Is this the pot calling the kettle black?
The blog post comes from a site called GetLawyerLeads.com. This is a company that creates shell lawyer Web sites and then sells the leads that come in from those sites to lawyers.
Consider one of the company’s sites, Maryland Criminal & DUI Defense Lawyer. A consumer in need of a criminal-defense lawyer who comes to this site would find reassurance. “I understand the tremendous stress you are feeling. … I can help,” the site’s front page says. It goes on:
“That’s what I do. I fight for people facing criminal charges in Maryland. I know that even a minor misdemeanor charge can have serious life consequences. A criminal record is no joke. And a felony conviction can be absolutely devastating to you and your family.”
Sounds like just the kind of advocate you want on your side, right? So who is this lawyer? Click on the About Me link at the bottom of the page, and all you get is a notice, “Lawyer Bio coming soon.” The rest of the text on the About Me page is no longer singular but now plural, suggesting that this is a firm of multiple lawyers. It says:
“We go to all Maryland Criminal courts, district courts and circuit courts, to fight charges on behalf of our clients. We firmly believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and we will fight using every defense tactic available. Our clients are important to us, and we take pride in helping people who are facing the wrath of our Maryland criminal justice system.”
Search high and low through this site, and you will not find the name of a Maryland lawyer. What you do find is a copyright notice for a Massachusetts lawyer, Russell Matson, and for Criminal Lawyer Web Site Marketing a search-engine marketing and lead-generation company run by his brother, David Matson. The Matsons also operate the aforementioned GetLawyerLeads.com. You will find no mention of it on the Maryland site, but it points to the Maryland site as one of several available to attorneys interested in purchasing client leads. Here is the company’s pitch to lawyers:
“What we offer is a bottom line, direct, economical, and low risk solution to this problem. We have web sites that are generating leads and inquiries from people facing criminal charges. We resell you the leads, generally on a month to month basis, based on historical numbers of leads generated in a particular market.
“The beauty of buying leads directly is that is a simple, measurable business transaction. It can easily be an add on to your other marketing efforts. If you have the capacity for more business, and can do so profitably, then it is basically a no-brainer.”
The FAQ includes this about the leads that come in:
“When I call someone back, how should I describe my connection to your website?
“Whatever works for you. You can say it is one of your websites, or you have a marketing or affiliate arrangement with us. Whatever is simplest and you feel comfortable with.”
The GetLawyerLeads site lists sites similar to the Maryland one also offered in Connecticut, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. The High Steppin’ Searches site lists several more such sites operating in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Virginia, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina and California.
For a consumer, the bottom line is this: It walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, but it’s not a duck. A consumer visiting this site would have every reason to believe it is the site of a lawyer in Maryland who does criminal defense work — especially with its first-person assurances, “I understand … I can help.” But a consumer who sends an e-mail or dials the number is instead sent through these companies to lawyers who have paid to receive these leads. The “I” who is providing these reassurances is not a single, real person, but bait to attract potential clients.
So the very company that is accusing FindLaw of running a scam is running a shell game of its own. Is this unethical? I am not an expert in ethics but I would refer you to this ABA page on the ethics of online referral services. But I do think that the sites are misleading to consumers, and that fact alone causes me concern.
The Columbia Law Review today announced the launch of an online publication, Sidebar, which will serve as a forum for shorter, more informal pieces to complement the Law Review’s print edition. The announcement explains:
“The term “sidebar” has different meanings in different contexts. In a courtroom, when attorneys and judges have sidebar conferences, they engage in frank discussion of a live legal issue. When journalists add a sidebar to a story, they provide deeper insight or a fresh perspective on an issue covered in the accompanying text.
“Sidebar, the new online publication of the Columbia Law Review, serves both functions. With the new site, the Review joins a growing list of legal publications, practitioners, scholars, and bloggers who engage in legal discourse online. In addition, the site provides a new take on the issues tackled by scholars in the pages of the Review‘s print edition, by inviting experts in a variety of fields to contribute their own views.”
Among the articles posted so far:
- Procedures as Politics in Administrative Law, by Lisa Schultz Bressman.
- Bringing Order to the Skidmore Revival: A Response to Hickman & Krueger, by Amy Wildermuth.
- In Search of the Modern Skidmore Standard, by Kristin E. Hickman & Matthew D. Krueger.
- In Defense of Eminent Domain, by Michael A. Cardozo.
- Executive Branch Avoidance and the Need for Congressional Notification, by Trevor W. Morrison.
- Patents on Legal Methods? No Way!, by Andrew A. Schwartz.
Amazon is calling Kindle a revolutionary wireless reading device with a high-resolution “electronic-paper” display “that looks and reads like real paper.” Purchasers can use it to buy and read books and subscribe to top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Time. Kindle can also be used to read a selection of more than 250 blogs, including such well-known ones as Boing Boing, TechCrunch and The Huffington Post. But in the category of law blogs, Kindle has just one: Denise Howell’s Bag and Baggage. At her other blog, Lawgarithms, Howell discusses her Kindle-ization.
Nota bene: Although Howell’s is the only blog listed in the category Law (at least as of this writing), Kindle includes other lawyer-bloggers, notably Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and Michael Arrington of Techcrunch.