lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Sign of the Times: “My whole practice is sitting on a 2-inch thumbdrive.”

National Law Journal has a remarkable story of a lawyer getting a deal done in the worst of circumstances in Heller Ehrman Vet Closes $3 Billion Deal Despite Firm Closure. My favorite line:

Outside of a few boxes of mementos, “my whole practice is sitting on a 2-inch thumbdrive,” Tonsfeldt says. “It holds 15 gigabytes, and I’m sure I didn’t even use a fraction of it.”

Air Force’s Rules of Engagement for Blogging

I posted a few days ago on Blogging While Publicly Employed. The most public of employees are the men and women in our armed forces. With the growing trend of military blogs going strong now for several years, the question raised is how any large organization handles the self-expression of its members. Lo and behold, a little googling turns up what purports to be the Air Force’s Rules of Engagement for Blogging. It’s not entirely clear how official this is, but the flow chart appears to be a reasonable and workable monitoring and response decision matrix that could be implemented by any large organization.

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Whither Google Law?

The lodestar in Google’s reason for being is to organize the world’s information. Why is it that such an information-driven industry such as the law has escaped the tech-giant’s gaze?

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud has taken up the challenge and points out the obvious:

Americans have grown accustomed to finding just about anything they want online fast, and free. But for those searching for federal court decisions, briefs and other legal papers, there is no Google. Instead, there is Pacer, the government-run Public Access to Court Electronic Records system designed in the bygone days of screechy telephone modems. Cumbersome, arcane and not free, it is everything that Google is not.

There is no ‘Google’ for the law. Why isn’t Google that ‘Google’?

Civil Suit Challenging Alleged Abuses in Asset Forfeiture

Nachodoches attorney David Guillory is challenging the enforcement of Texas asset seizure laws in Tenaha and Shelby County in east Texas, alleging that his clients were stopped and coerced into waiving property rights in exchange for a promise to be released and not be criminally charged.

Linda Dorman, an Akron, Ohio, great-grandmother had $4,000 in cash taken from her by local authorities when she was stopped while driving through town after visiting Houston in April 2007. Court records make no mention that anything illegal was found in her van. She’s still hoping for the return of what she calls “her life savings.”

Many small town police forces have come to depend on the civil asset forfeiture laws for operational expenses. The incentive to cross the line from preventing criminals from enjoying ill-gotten gains to an easy way to earn money for the department is an all too apparent conflict of interest.

Guillory’s sleuthing in the district clerk’s office raised his suspicions. ” We found out what the names of those people were and then we looked in the criminal docket there in Shelby County for the past 24 months to see if any of those people were ever charged with a crime or prosecuted of a crime. The answer is we didn’t find anyone. That’s what really caught our eye. That’s what made it suspicious and that’s what made it seem like a situation where it’s just a money shakedown operation beside the road with no intent of enforcing crime or criminal laws or anything like that. “

Private Information in Public Places

Above the Law had an interesting post on the intersection of confidentiality, bluetooth ear-pieces and the economic downturn. In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to New York, passengers on the train from D.C. to New York, including a law student tipster got an earful a firms layoff plans from an indiscreet partner on a bluetooth headset.

This afternoon I boarded a train from Washington bound for Penn Station…. I, along with all of the other passengers, were sitting quietly when the man directly behind me decided to make a phone call using his bluetooth. He was talking so loudly that I think most people in the car were able to hear him.

His conversation, though he stressed how necessary it was to be kept secret (ah, the irony), detailed the current plans of Pillsbury to lay off somewhere in the range of 15-20 attorneys from four offices by the end of March, including a few senior associates with low billable hours and two or three first-year associates. I wouldn’t have believed it except for the fact that he identified himself to the call as Bob Robbins, who I learned is the leader of the firm’s Corporate & Securities practice section, and was talking to Rick Donaldson, who I learned was COO. What’s more, he was NAMING NAMES over the phone!

The Recorder caught up with the firm to confirm the story in Pillsbury Confirms Layoff Leak.

“We apologize for the unfortunate manner in which our deliberations about reductions have become public,” Pillsbury said in a statement issued Thursday morning.

The story offered some disturbing observations on a culture of loose lips among lawyers:

Firms are increasingly wary of the instant flow of information made possible by blogs, which are more receptive to anonymous information than traditional media. “Most firms assume that any communications they make internally, particular to associates, will get on a blog, and they try to tailor those communications accordingly,” said Newport Beach, Calif.-based consultant Peter Zeughauser.

Comments posted below blog stories often reveal confidential information as well. By the end of the day, more than 300 comments were logged on the ATL story, with one poster claiming to be a Pillsbury associate who had been told to leave by the end of March and wasn’t offered severance. Pillsbury declined to discuss layoff decisions beyond its statement.

Loose lips sink ships. Lawyers are natural communicators and information purveyors, but they’re also often entrusted with sensitive and confidential information, and being cognizant those limits is a skill worth developing early.

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