Briefs: Non-Lawyer Ownership of Firms, Social Media Discovery Is a Mess, Etc.

News concept: Painted red word News in solving Crossword Puzzle

Eyewitness Testimony, Statement Tampering, and False Memories

We’ve all seen the studies about how eyewitness testimony is often ridiculously unreliable, but new research shows that your own memories can be manipulated by other people, even after you’ve reduced those memories to writing.

This is currently a hot topic in the UK, where a very recently published inquiry into the so-called Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people were crushed to death during a soccer match in 1989, found that testimonies had been deliberately altered by police.

Research published earlier this year by the false memory dream team at the University of California, looked directly into the implications of such police (mis)conduct. They found that it is possible that changed statements can go unnoticed by the person who gave the original testimony, and may even develop into a false memory that accommodates the false account.

In the study, people watched a slideshow of a crime being committed and then were asked a series of memory questions. Later, some of their answers were randomly changed and shown to the study participants. A majority didn’t even realize their own responses had been altered, and several then actually changed their answers on a subsequent test to match the changed-and false-information.

Bar Associations Unsurprisingly Still Opposed to Non-Lawyers Co-Owning Legal Service Providers

For the past year or so, the ABA has been exploring how or whether to let non-lawyers provide some types of legal services or own companies that provide those types of services. The potential upsides? Increased innovation and better consumer access. The potential downsides? Decreased state oversight and possibly decreased attorney employment. Under these sorts of arrangments, non-attorneys might own and run legal services providers (think e-discovery companies, document assembly, and practice management software) in conjunction with attorneys.

Bar associations have waded into the fray and many are not happy with this possibility.

“There can be no doubt that the public interest and integrity of the profession is best served when lawyers are owners of law firms,” wrote the New Jersey State Bar Association’s president, Miles S. Winder.

State Bar of Texas President Allan DuBois said nonlawyer ownership of law firms “threatens to undermine the legal profession’s duty of confidentiality and the fiduciary protections afforded via attorney-client privilege.”

Although the ABA’s comment period on this issue closed last month, this fight isn’t going away any time soon.

Fast Company Looks at Legal Tech Startups

Last week, Fast Company published a big piece on the new-ish startups who use both crowdsourcing and big data to deal with the overwhelming amount of data that the legal profession generates. The article looks at Ravel Law, Lex Machina, Casetext, and PACERPro, complete with interviews with principals of each company. The takeaway: the future of legal tech innovation rests upon computers, but isn’t looking to use those computers to replace attorneys.

Though companies like Ravel and Lex Machina employ sophisticated AI, they don’t claim to provide a robolawyer. “What we’re hopefully doing is finding cases that you need to understand,” says Nik Reed of Ravel. “Professional lawyers have to use their intuition and their best judgment to understand the law.”

Social Media Accounts Remain as Confusing as Ever During Discovery

If you’d like to be reminded that discovery involving social media accounts is a hot mess, there is a new case out of federal district court in New York that will reinforce your worldview.

In a fair housing case, the defendant’s attorney informed the plaintiff they would be examining her social media accounts. As litigation went on, defense counsel said that Facebook posts were disappearing. The plaintiff explained that she had hidden posts from public view, but not deleted them, and that those posts were things not relevant to the litigation, such as pictures of her children. However, the plaintiff did apparently change her Facebook privacy settings during the litigation.

During the fight over whether things were deleted, the plaintiff was required to print out a huge chunk of her Facebook account, a task which took three days and resulted in a pile of non-relevant material.

The judge denied the defense motion for sanctions, but still dinged the plaintiff for changing the settings mid-litigation. Except…do any of us really understand those Facebook privacy settings?

The court’s treatment of the privacy changes is also interesting. I have long argued that Facebook privacy settings are and always have been confusing, and from this perspective it would not be very culpable for someone to have “accidentally” altered their settings. The court does not take this approach, instead holding plaintiff responsible for whatever alteration occurred. Perhaps the court saw something in the evidentiary hearing that caused it to come to this conclusion. Or maybe it’s a case of a party or witness always being held responsible for the privacy implications of their account settings.

Slicing and Dicing the Class of 2015 Employment Data Report

We’ve talked before about how there are a million ways to look at legal industry employment data. A recent pass at the class of 2015 jobs report data shows a decline in graduates reporting being employed and a big decline in solosmall employment.

Overall, 3,772 fewer 2015 grads reported being employed (versus 2014), with 25.9% of that drop being in firms of 2-10 individuals. Other big drops: business and industry (23.6%), government (11.6%), and public interest (7.5%).

SmartDraw May Be an Alternative to Microsoft Office for Your Diagramming Needs

If your practice involves a fair bit of diagrams or scene reconstruction, you may want to take a look at SmartDraw, a diagram/flowchart/graph creation tool with some built-in templates that they say will allow you to create those complicated accident reconstruction courtroom displays with a few clicks. 

Overall, SmartDraw doesn’t appear to be targeted specifically to the legal market, though the parts that are, like crime scene diagrams, look polished. Aside from the legal-specific uses, there is a host of things that may come in handy for client presentations like org charts, graphs, calendars, and strategy maps.

The New Yorker on the 4-4 SCOTUS


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