Blogging

Is your law firm this transparent?

Greetings from lovely Palm Springs, California, home to the 2011 annual education conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (better known to many of you as NALP). The setting is beautiful, the weather is fabulous, and the conference panels have been stimulating thus far. Who needs SXSW?

Yesterday I attended a very interesting session, covering a topic near and dear to the hearts of many Above the Law readers. The apt title of the panel: “From Black Boxes to Glass Houses: Evolving Expectations of Law Firm Transparency.”

The lively discussion covered a wide range of topics — and also offered some advice for law firms for dealing with the increased transparency of the digital age….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Social media: They’re all the rage.

And they should be. At a firm, if you could convince half of your lawyers to write intelligent, substantive blog posts twice a week in their areas of expertise, you could stop paying the public relations folks. You’d dominate the web, and reporters from traditional media would beat a path to your url, seeking ideas for stories and comments on hot topics.

(The same holds for many corporations, although it would be the business folks (who are responsible for generating business) and not the in-house lawyers (who are not) who should be hitting the keyboards.)

But firms and corporations don’t do this, for many reasons. First, firms are skeptical; they’re not sure this would work. Second, this requires a large, non-billable commitment of time; many firms (or individual lawyers) aren’t willing to put in the effort. Third, firms are legitimately nervous. What happens when we urge our lawyers or employees to go forth unto the web, and those folks go forth and write embarrassing or crazy stuff, which they inevitably will?

In fact, even if you don’t encourage folks to participate in online discussions, they’ll do it anyway. So social media policies have necessarily become the next rage: How do law firms and corporations protect their institutional interests without unduly interfering with their employees’ right to express themselves online?

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Did Lester Munson get his law degree by staying at a Holiday Inn Express?

Last night, Barry Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice, while the jury hung on all other counts, resulting in a mistrial as to those counts. We posted about it.

Now, I don’t expect non-lawyers to really understand what “obstruction of justice” means. I certainly don’t expect them to understand what a “mistrial” is. But I do expect anybody who has been through 1L year at an American law school to understand these concepts. I certainly expect law professors to understand these terms. And I freaking demand that legal analysts charged with making sense of this issue for ESPN — the WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS — have a basic grasp on what the hell is going on.

ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson, you, sir, have failed. Failed at your job. Failed at being a thought leader. Failed at failing in a funny, non-offensive way.

Even 1Ls won’t believe the kind of tripe Muson has been spewing on ESPN…

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The high priestess of liberal blogging: Arianna Huffington.

The gorgeous and glamorous Arianna Huffington, reigning empress of the liberal blogosphere, has been sued by some of her not-so-loyal subjects.

This morning, a group of unpaid bloggers for the Huffington Post, led by union organizer and journalist Jonathan Tasini, filed a class-action lawsuit against the HuffPo; its foundress, La Arianna; and media giant AOL, which bought HuffPo back in February. The gist of the lawsuit, as Tasini told Jeff Bercovici of Forbes, is that the site’s unpaid writers “must share in the value they create” — $315 million worth of value, based on what AOL paid for the Huffington Post.

As a writer myself, I’m all in favor of writers being paid for what they do. But the lawsuit against HuffPo strikes me as a bit dubious….

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Former Michigan prosecutor Andrew Shirvell might be gone from the Michigan attorney general’s office, but he has not been forgotten. Shirvell, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality, has just been hit with a lawsuit — by Chris Armstrong, the ex-president of the University of Michigan student body.

Armstrong is suing Shirvell in Michigan state court for stalking, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and abuse of process. His lawsuit seeks more than $25,000 in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages and injunctive relief (to enjoin Shirvell from, well, being such a creep).

As you may recall, Shirvell seemed obsessed with the young, beauteous, and openly gay Armstrong, devoting an entire blog to criticism of Armstrong and following Armstrong around, day and night. As explained by Armstrong’s lawyer, Deborah Gordon, Shirvell demonstrated a “bizarre personal obsession” with Armstrong, reflected in numerous blog and Facebook postings in which Shirvell asserted that Armstrong was advancing a “radical homosexual agenda.” [FN1]

Let’s take a closer look at the complaint….

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Earlier this month, we presented you with a trademark law hypothetical. It was based on a dispute between Lawyerist and PeerViews Inc., parent company of TechnoLawyer, over the term “Small Law.” Lawyerist used the words “Small Law” in the title and text of this post — about Above the Law’s new offerings for small-firm readers, incidentally — and PeerViews objected.

In a letter by Kristen McCallion of Fish & Richardson, PeerViews expressed the concern that Lawyerist’s use of the words “Small Law” would diminish PeerViews’s goodwill in its “distinctive SmallLaw trademark.” PeerViews uses the mark for the TechnoLawyer newsletter on small firms.

We asked you, our readers, for your opinions on this matter. In the comments to our post, most of you sided with Lawyerist (but there were a handful of very vocal dissenters).

How will a judge or jury feel about this dispute? Because that’s who will get the next crack at this controversy. Lawyerist Media just filed a lawsuit against PeerViews in federal district court in Minnesota, seeking to invalidate the PeerViews trademarks on the terms “BigLaw” and “SmallLaw”….

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Ann Althouse

* The town of Sedgwick, Maine, has declared “food sovereignty,” giving its citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing,” without regard to state or federal law. Preemption? The Supremacy Clause? Eat it. [Food Renegade]

* Speaking of chaos, Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse wonders: “Who will win and who will lose in the recall madness?” [Althouse]

* Elsewhere in the Midwest, a blogger who didn’t commit defamation is nevertheless held liable under alternative theories that media law professor Jane Kirtley describes as “trash torts.” We no like. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune via Consumerist]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: birthday girl.

* A young couple that has been fined for their noisy kid might take legal action against their homeowners’ association. Do they have a toddler’s leg to stand on? [MyFoxDFW.com]

* Happy Birthday, Justice Ginsburg! You don’t look a day over 78. [Vault]

* We previously mentioned the ATL contest for NCAA picks — click here, join the group “Above the Law Blog” with the password “abovethelaw”, and fill out a bracket — but we also encourage you to join the Dealbreaker contest (which has much nicer prizes). [Dealbreaker]

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Bruce MacEwen has been blogging long and well over at Adam Smith, Esq. He typically writes about law firm management, and his target audience is senior lawyers at large firms. Recently, however, MacEwen published a post about an award that Kraft Foods gave to Clifford Chance for innovation in delivering legal services.

Apparently, Clifford Chance helped Kraft’s legal department with its knowledge management issues. Clifford Chance had experience in knowledge management; Kraft did not; Clifford Chance helped Kraft to create a series of blogs and discussion boards in which Kraft’s in-house legal department will share information. MacEwen provides this example:

“Kraft, as you know, is a global consumer food services company . . . which means they generate their own specific variety of legal questions, such as ‘what food-like items are subject to VAT in various countries around the world?’ Food is largely exempt from VAT, non-food subject to it. Kraft sells some products, such as chewing gum, which are on the border.

“If you post that question on a discussion board, and get responses from around the world, you have the beginning of a knowledge base on VAT incidence on quasi-food items. And of course it’s also recorded for posterity, at least in theory never needing to be answered again.”

This type of knowledge management is surely a good idea. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that only one of the two tools that Clifford Chance helped Kraft to create is ultimately going to prove effective. Which one, you ask?

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How can you be a happy lawyer?

* Is concern for “privacy” simply a justification for censorship on the internet? Some thoughts from a lawyer for Google. [Peter Fleischer: Privacy...? via Kashmir Hill / Forbes]

* What’s the secret to lawyer happiness? And no, it doesn’t involve illegal drugs or porn stars (Charlie Sheen isn’t a lawyer). [Slaw via Legal Blog Watch]

* Want to start your own law blog? Read this interesting interview with BL1Y (a regular in the ATL comments section). [Lawyerist]

* Superstar criminal defense lawyer John Dowd, the Akin Gump partner who successfully got Monica Goodling (among many other clients) out of legal trouble, offered a rousing defense of Raj Rajaratnam today. [Dealbreaker]

Jonathan Bristol

* Ex-Winston & Strawn partner Jonathan Bristol, former counsel to money manager / fraudster Kenneth Starr, has reached a plea agreement with S.D.N.Y. prosecutors. [New York Law Journal via Summary Judgments]

* Elsewhere in Ken Starr news, it seems that some celebs are getting hit with IRS tax liens as a result of their ties to him. [TaxProf Blog]

* Congratulations to a 3L at Harvard Law School, Nneka Ukpai, who trounced the prosecution at trial and won an acquittal for her client. [Yolanda Young / On Being a Black Lawyer]

* Congratulations to a 3L at NYU Law and future S.D.N.Y. law clerk, Eli Northrup, who belongs to a hip-hop band called Pants Velour — which has, in the words of our tipster, “captured the magic of Charlie Sheen as only music can.” [YouTube]

* This week, A Round Tuit includes a nice round-up of opinions on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Westboro Baptist Church case (Snyder v. Phelps). [Infamy or Praise]

Jeff Cox

What in the world is going on with our state attorneys general?

First there was the amazing Andrew Shirvell, former Michigan assistant attorney general. Shirvell used every form of media, social and otherwise, to stalk make people aware of the demonic student body president of the University of Michigan, Chris Armstrong. Shirvell claimed that Armstrong, who is openly gay, was imposing his notorious “homosexual agenda” on the Wolverine faithful, and had to be stopped. After being banned from the University of Michigan campus and allegedly lying to his boss, Attorney General Mike Cox, Shirvell was finally relieved of his duties.

Last week, another news item caught my interest. Jeffrey Cox, a deputy attorney general in Indiana (no relation to the AG from Michigan), tweeted the liberal magazine Mother Jones that live ammunition should be used against the protestors at the Wisconsin Capitol. A few hours later, he was fired.

Such quick and harsh punishment struck me as going a bit overboard, and it seems that Jeff Cox might have a cause of action on his hands…

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