Social Networking Websites

Remember how everyone used say, “Don’t post anything on Facebook you wouldn’t want your boss to see. But if you do, just make sure you set your privacy settings so that your boss can’t see.”

Well, things have changed. Now, when companies enter workman’s compensation or personal injury litigation, courts will sometimes order discovery on password-protected Facebook information.

On Thursday, a New York appeals court ruled that a company could not see the plaintiff’s protected data, but not simply because it was private. Let’s see what happened…

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New ATL columnist Brian Tannebaum.

So, looks like I’m going to hang out here for a little while writing weekly about small-firm and solo law practice issues. I’m as shocked as you are that I was asked to type over here – as I actually practice law, in a suit, in an office, with other humans, with a desk, and have real live clients who actually need legal services. I’ve done so for 17 years.

I’m also not the law review type. I wrote one sentence of a law review article in law school and threw it in the garbage. Since that day, no client has asked about my law review experience or cared when they were sitting next to me in a courtroom, so save your writing critique. To those who pay for advice from lawyers practicing 17 months, stop reading now. I can’t predict the future as it pertains to the practice of law, as the people doing that around the internet are mostly unfamiliar with the practice of law, and I can’t tell you how to be rich and famous via Twitter or a Facebook Fan Page.

Not to further disappoint, but I’m not here to play to the pajama-wearing, Starbucks-dwelling, sell-documents-and-pretend-I’m-a-lawyer-and-insist-this-is-how-all-law-will-be-practiced collection of lawyers. And to the resident cheetos-eating basement-dwelling “my law school sucks” whining anonymous commenting crowd here, start typing now – it will help drown out the possibility of you actually learning something….

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Four months ago, you revised your company’s policy on employees’ use of social media. The policy said all the right things: When employees use social media, they should respect the rights of others and treat people with dignity; obey the company’s code of business conduct; maintain corporate confidences; and so on.

Unbelievably, some recent communications from the National Labor Relations Board suggest that each of those provisions (except for the “and so on”) could actually cause your company some labor pains. Why?

Here’s the easy part: The National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in “concerted activities” for the employees’ “mutual aid or protection.” Those words apply across the workforce and are not limited to unionized employees. An employee acting solely on his or her own behalf is not engaging in “concerted activities.” On the other hand, consider an individual employee who is working with (or on the authority of) other employees, or is trying to induce a group of employees to act, or is bringing group complaints to the attention of management. The NLRA may protect all of those activities, and an employer may violate the NLRA if it maintains a rule that could reasonably “chill employees in the exercise of their” rights.

What does that mean for the three examples suggested in the opening paragraph of this post?

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Rapper or criminal mastermind?

I am constantly amazed at how dimwitted some criminals can be. We have covered them in these pages before, from the guy who left evidence of his violent plans open on his desktop, to the robber who reached out to his victim via Facebook.

On Thursday in Pennsylvania, a federal jury convicted Anthony D. Elonis on four counts of threatening his estranged wife, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Berks County Sheriff’s Department, a kindergarten class, and an FBI agent. The vehicle for his litany of threats was none other than Facebook.

The case goes to show that producers of cool heist movies like Ocean’s 11 or The Italian Job have no idea of the context in which your run-of-the-mill petty criminal exists.

What did Elonis threaten to do? Some pretty bad stuff, actually. Keep reading to see why it is lucky he’s no criminal mastermind….

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Earlier this week, the federal government got some heat for allegedly violating the common man’s electronic privacy by snooping around in email and the like. Today we have a lawsuit from Kentucky accusing a tech company, specifically Facebook, of doing nearly the same thing.

What is going on? It’s almost like there’s no privacy anywhere anymore! (I’m kidding, of course: Privacy completely disappeared years ago.)

The suit, filed by an average Facebook user like you or me (well, most of you are lawyers, so not quite like you), claims a class of 150 million people, and damages of hundreds or thousands of dollars per class member. Exactly what heinous offense has Facebook supposedly committed?

I’m so glad you asked….

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On July 28, I asked for readers to share their tips for success on Twitter. Several readers and social media experts have weighed in on this topic. Apparently, the way to garner a loyal (and numerous) Twitter following is the same way you make friends: build relationships, communicate and engage one another, and share information and unique insights.

Yes, Twitter is like high school, except that anyone can be a cool kid. So, if you want to be a Twar (read: Twitter star), use the following tips….

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The legal profession isn’t known for its sense of humor. On the contrary, most attorneys take themselves way too seriously. As a result, we see some pretty ridiculous attorney advertising that ends up being unintentionally funny. And while we’re happy to poke gentle fun at these websites and ads, our commentary isn’t always well received. Because another thing that lawyers aren’t known for is the ability to accept criticism.

Knoxville attorney Stephen A. Burroughs, a personal injury and auto accident lawyer and my new favorite person, is an exception to these rules. Anyone from the Knoxville area is likely familiar with Burroughs, having seen his serious, bearded face on billboards all over town.

The ads were so ubiquitous, and Burroughs’s gaze so smoldering and intense, that someone created a Facebook page devoted to Stephen A. Burroughs Memes, transforming Burroughs into Knoxville’s answer to The Most Interesting Man in the World. As the Facebook page gained popularity, the funny memes started pouring in.

Even better than the jokes, though, was Burroughs’s unexpectedly awesome response….

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Can gay marriage be stopped? Professor Tribe thinks not.

* Professor Laurence Tribe on “the constitutional inevitability of same-sex marriage.” [SCOTUSblog]

* You can sleep when you’re dead — and you can prevail against the IRS in litigation, too (as the late Ken Lay just did). [TaxProf Blog]

* Speaking of the dead, just because someone is burglarizing your business doesn’t mean you can kill them. [Jonathan Turley via WSJ Law Blog]

* Professor Daniel Hamermesh asks: “Why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?” [New York Times via ABA Journal]

* Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann wonders if the recent earthquake and hurricane constitute messages from God. [Dealbreaker]

Michele Bachmann

* Professor Larry Ribstein: “Law is waiting for its Steve Jobs (or Bill Gates). When he or she arrives it could be a lot more important than the iPhone.” [Truth on the Market]

* This juror should at least have put the defendant on “Limited Profile.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

* Is the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional? Let’s talk Turkey. [The Atlantic]

* Additional discussion of the recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on eyewitness testimony (which we mentioned last week). [Mother Jones]

Like many of you on the East Coast, I’ve been spending my Sunday without power, thanks to Hurricane Irene. As I write this Sunday night, we’re in our eighth hour without electricity. Thankfully, other than losing some small branches and a bunch of leaves, we fared pretty well in what was left of the tropical storm. And the Red Sox swept their storm-related Saturday doubleheader, so there’s that.

But without electricity, I’m writing this post by candlelight and quill pen. OK, not really. Candlelight and iPad. But consider that I’m sacrificing one of my ten hours of iPad juice for this instead of beating my kids at Cut the Rope, or whatever. I know: you can thank me later.

Actually, losing power got me thinking about just how much I rely on electricity and computers and iPads and iPhones, and also how much that reliance has increased since I started law school, 20 years ago this week. And over the years, I came to appreciate just how much technology has allowed small firms to compete with our Biglaw colleagues.

What are the five biggest ways that technology has empowered (if you will) small firms?

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Are you oversharing?

It’s strange how quickly the world changes. Things used to be so simple, but now Steve Jobs has resigned from Apple and we’re having earthquakes in Washington, D.C.

Moreover, some fundamental rules of online conduct are beginning to look like artifacts from a bygone era when people were crazy for RAZRs and nu metal.

Gone are the days of not Facebook friending coworkers. Online oversharing on social networking sites has simply become sharing. And workplaces have to adjust their rules and policies accordingly.

A National Labor Relations Board report released last week attempts to explain the changing legal standards for social media usage in the workplace. Written by the NLRB’s general counsel, Lafe E. Solomon, the document provides several case studies to illuminate how much smack-talking employees can do online while remaining legally protected.

In short, it’s a lot. Still, not quite everything is different. Calling your boss a “super mega puta” will still land you in the chokey. More on this and some of the other case studies, after the jump….

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