The Legal Tech Institute at the Harris County Law Library has just released a new video CLE. Practical Cybersecurity for Lawyers is the latest addition to our Learning On-Demand CLE library, where you can earn CLE credit in Texas while staying up to date on legal tech. Visit the Law Library's Legal Tech Institute page for more on our legal tech learning opportunities.
This year’s topic for the University of North Texas Open Access Symposium was Is Open Access an Answer for Access to Justice? Held this past weekend at the UNT Dallas College of Law, the symposium drew speakers and attendees from a variety of backgrounds including academia, legal aid, law librarianship, and the judiciary. Joe Lawson, Deputy Director, and Heather Holmes, Assistant Law Librarian at the Harris County Law Library, were fortunate to be in attendance and also to appear as speakers on a panel called Engaging the Public.
For their contribution, Joe and Heather presented a program called Minding the Gaps, an exploration of the barriers to access that self represented litigants, especially those of low and modest means, encounter when interacting with the justice system. Joe and Heather also discussed the important role that trusted intermediaries, such as legal aid attorneys and public librarians, play in mitigating the impact of barriers to justice. Citing the work of others in the field who have written on the limitations of techno-optimism and over-reliance on digital resources, Joe and Heather presented a model for providing access — supplemented by support and guidance from trusted information professionals — to reliable, authoritative sources of legal information that pro se litigants can use to effectively engage with the courts and achieve just outcomes for their civil legal needs.
Concluding the two-day symposium was an interactive workshop called A2J By Design: Prototyping Innovative Legal Solutions with Open Legal Information. The workshop was conducted by Kelli Raker and Casandra Laskowski, librarians at Duke University School of Law. For the activity, two teams used design thinking principles to devise creative solutions for providing access to justice. Pictured here, Joe Lawson and his teammate, Jason Sowards, Law Librarian at the Nevada Supreme Court Law Library, explain their team’s project idea, an interactive kiosk for legal aid services at senior centers.
Technology is ubiquitous, pervading every aspect of our lives. From computers to smartphones to activity trackers, technology is an integral and vital part of how we live, work, and play. This technological explosion can leave some members of our communities befuddled, anxious, and even slightly technophobic. To help out in this regard, attorneys Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene have authored Technology Tips for Seniors, a book offering tips and suggestions for adapting to the changes that technology brings to their professional and personal lives and recommendations for embracing, rather than fearing, those changes. Written in simple terms without the use of technical jargon and in an easier-to-read large print, the authors set out providing tips for:
using mobile devices, including phones and tablets;
using PCs and management tools;
using the Internet as a means of communication;
sharing media, such as photos, videos, and files;
using technology for travel;
protecting your privacy and identity; and
The second volume, Technology Tips for Seniors: Volume 2.0, offers some more advanced tips, helping seniors navigate the use of technology in certain settings, such as the office, the home, and on the road. Seniors can learn how to set up a Wi-Fi network in their office and/or office, use Smart Home Technology, use the Internet to become more digitally connected, and support their hobbies using technology. As an added bonus, the authors reveal some of their favorite apps.
You don’t have to be a senior or a person of a “certain age” to benefit from the tips provided in these books. Remember: it’s never too late (or early) to learn something new.
The Legal Tech Institute at the Harris County Law Library has released a new video CLE. Fulfilling Ethical Obligations with Legal Research is the latest additional to our Learn On-Demand CLE library that lets you earn CLE credit in Texas while staying up to date on legal tech. Visit the Law Library's Legal Tech Institute page for more legal tech learning opportunities.
In October 1969, the Texas Ethics Commission issued an opinion stating:
An attorney may honor a reputable credit card or similar device in the payment of his fee, but may not display an emblem, window decal or desk emblem displaying his acceptance of such credit card.
The Committee members reasoned that collecting legal fees with a credit card is "no different from acceptance of a check in payment of legal services," even though some members dissented calling an "easy payment plan" unethical and a violation of Canons 11 and 24. Fortunately, times have changed, and payment options have evolved dramatically.
One of the more popular options for financial transactions is Venmo, a peer-to-peer payment system that allows parties to transact business and transfer money digitally via their smartphones. Users simply download the Venmo app to begin exchanging payments. It all seems easy enough, as the Millennials who use it so freely to split the bar tab can attest. For lawyers, however, particularly solo practitioners attracted by the efficiency and convenience of digital payment systems, the risks of using Venmo or any other peer-to-peer payment solution such as Zellepay or SquareCash are worth considering. Critics recognize the benefits of this alternative payment technology but still say that collecting legal fees via an app is fraught with ethical pitfalls.
As of yet, it appears that states have not yet weighed in on the ethics of using these services, and the ABA does include peer-to-peer systems as an alternative payment method but cautions users to choose a service that offers the same kinds of protections provided by other payment options, such as credit cards, debit cards, ACH, and wire transfers.
As with the debate around credit cards more almost 50 years ago, there are proponents and detractors of using peer-to-peer payment methods. The trend does seem to be growing, even in the professional world, and may be something to explore further:
The State Bar of Texas Computer and Technology Section worked with TexasBarCLE to create a series of short videos on tech-related topics. The program, called Tech Bytes, launched just one year ago in the spring of 2017. Already, there are more than 40 videos available, and the collection is growing.
The videos focus on technology's role in the legal profession and its application to the practice of law, with a special emphasis on tech tools and trends that impact legal ethics and current Rules. Topics vary from simple (redaction) to sophisticated (cybersecurity) and from the everyday (legal apps) to the esoteric (EXIF data). There is something for everyone no matter your level of tech knowledge. Even the most cyber-savvy lawyers will learn something useful. In each 4-7 minute video, explore a new topic. Cloud computing, data encryption, metadata, forensics, electronic data preservation, ransomware, and the ethics of social media are just a few.
Whether you're simply curious about trends in legal tech and want to keep abreast of the benefits and risks of using technology in the practice of law, or you're interested in earning CLE credit through self-study, the State Bar of Texas Computer and Technology Section has a Tech Byte video for you!
In fall 2016, Harris County Law Library launched the Legal Tech Institute, an ongoing series of free learning opportunities focused on using technology for more efficient legal work. Now, as we approach the end of February, we're gearing up for the second installment of our latest LTI venture, Hands-on Legal Tech Training. On every Thursday afternoon in February, we offered a session called MS Word for Legal Work. It was a success! And we're excited to move ahead with the next installment of our Hand-on Legal Tech Training series.
On Thursday, March 1st, at 2:00 pm, in the Law Library's Legal Tech Lab, we'll offer a program called Find & Format Legal Forms. Like all Hands-on Legal Tech programs, this course will be divided into three sections, each covering a different skill level. We will "Get Started" by presenting the types of forms available for legal work, along with tips for finding them using the free online resources and databases available in the Law Library. Next, we will "Level Up" by exploring more advanced strategies for navigating O'Connor's, Westlaw, and Lexis Advance to find the best forms for specific legal needs. Finally, we will "Go Pro." We'll address techniques for formatting the forms we find and for creating reusable templates for routine legal work. As always, we will leave time to answer your questions during our Q&A session at the end of the program.
We hope you will join us at the March Hands-on Legal Tech training session, Find & Format Legal Forms. To register for this event and sign up to receive one hour of free CLE credit for attending the course, please visit the course catalog (or click on the image above) and select the date for the session that works best for you.
In recent days, stories about coins and other currencies have been appearing in the news: a coin collector has all but confirmed the authenticity of the first coin ever minted in the United States; the Abraham Lincoln penny, which debuted on August 2, 1909, celebrated its anniversary; the Bitcoin split in two; and the Venezuelan bolivar was calculated to be less valuable than the currency used in World of Warcraft. With today's blog post, we're continuing the trend with a discussion of coins old and new.
Since the release of the Abe Lincoln penny more than a century ago, simple coinage has evolved dramatically. These physical objects that we trade for goods and services still hold value as legal tender, but in some circles cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoins are becoming a more widely preferred unit of exchange. Serving as alternatives to traditional forms of money, these cryptocurrencies are intangible strings of computer code, executed on a distributed ledger or blockchain, to be transferred between virtual parties in the digital realm. According to speculators, the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies is quite lucrative, prompting the government to formally consider whether or not U.S. federal securities laws should govern their trade. In a Report of Investigation released last Friday, the SEC determined that offers and sales of digital assets by virtual organizations are indeed securities and therefore subject to the requirements of the federal securities laws. Of course, pennies and other minted metals (along with banknotes) are still the primary forms of currency in use today, and they will be for the foreseeable future, but the idea of transacting business using a secure, anonymous, decentralized alternative to traditional coins and bills has many supporters. Increasingly, the legal industry is among them, and Agrello is one of the first players at the table.
Created by a group of Estonian lawyers, academics, and technology experts, Agrello is a pioneer in the legal tech field. (It's no surprise that Estonians are leading the charge. The small but impressive country has fully embraced digital life by building an efficient, cost-effective, entirely digital government infrastructure that warrants a closer look.) This innovative company seeks to transform the practice of law using artificial intelligence as a tool for facilitating digital agreements over the Internet. These smart contracts have the potential to radically change how business is conducted, as well as the monetary model on which it will rely. Just weeks ago, Agrello announced an initial coin offering (ICO) for its own cryptocoin called Delta, which, according to the token utility paper published on the company's blog, "will be required to employ the Agrello platform and to perform various actions in the system, such as the deployment of new agreements or the usage of blockchain and contract repository resources." The Delta token sale started on July 16th, but for the time being, "US nationals are excluded from participating in the sale." Regardless, tracking the progress of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology will be interesting, especially as these new tools are used to shape the practice of law. At least for now, however, a penny saved is still a penny earned.
Several Tech Tuesday blog posts have provided tips for using Microsoft Word in the practice of law. Today's tech tip focuses on Excel, another popular program in the Microsoft Office suite.
Excel is a data management tool used for organizing, calculating, graphing, and sharing tabular information. The importance of developing proficiency in the use of Excel cannot be overstated. Knowing how to manipulate spreadsheets is just as important as properly formatting a written document, and without a firm understanding of how Excel works, embarrassing and potentially costly errors can result. Consider the following:
When Barclays sent over its offer to buy up Lehman Brothers in the immediate wake of the firm's September 2008 collapse, it did so with an Excel spreadsheet. The makers of the spreadsheet, which detailed Lehman's assets and what Barclays was willing to buy, hid, rather than deleted, nearly 200 cells. But when a junior law associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton converted the Excel file to a PDF and e-mailed it over to the bankruptcy court, the hidden parts of the spreadsheet reappeared. The result: Along with the parts of Lehman Barclays wanted, the British bank was also forced to swallow losses on an additional 179 toxic deals it never intended to buy.
-- From Stephen Gandel, writing in Fortune magazine, April 17, 2013
This cautionary tale is just one example of how Excel has been used improperly, with very negative consequences. This is obviously a mistake of greater magnitude than most attorneys encounter on an average day, but nonetheless, it does illustrate the perils of using software improperly.
If you're interested in learning how to use Excel in the practice of law, keep an eye on the LTI Course Catalog to find out when the Harris County Law Library will offer a CLE program on Excel for Lawyers. In the meantime, visit the website of Excel Esquire, where you will learn many practical tips for generating Bates numbers, using pivot tables, sorting metadata, and much more.
Today, the Legal Tech Institute at Harris County Law Library hosted a training session called Introduction to Lexis Advance. This Vendor Visit provided a nice overview of basic search functions within Lexis Advance and featured many tips and tricks for more effectively locating cases and statutes. The session also offered a preview of upgrades that will be added to the Law Library's Lexis subscription in January. Upgrades include:
- National Primary Plus - National cases, statutes, administrative and agency materials plus all law reviews and journals
- National Briefs, Pleadings, and Motions - includes documents from the most dynamic and high-stakes practice areas of litigation
- National Verdicts and Settlements - including IDEX and American Lawyer Media (ALM) VerdictSearch
- News - robust collection of all LexisNexis news sources
- Matthew Bender Federal Practice Forms - provides a complete range of litigation forms needed for practice in any federal court from federal district courts through and including the Supreme Court of the United States
- Lexis for Microsoft Office
The Legal Tech Institute will offer training sessions in the new year to introduce these and other features of Lexis Advance. Check the LTI Course Catalog for details about Vendor Visits and the rest of our legal tech CLE programs.