Computers

This woman’s name is copyright law… I guess.

I’ve already written one piece about Cory Doctorow’s incredible column at the Guardian concerningdigital rights management and anti-circumvention, in which I focused on how the combination of DRM and anti-circumvention laws allows companies to make up their own copyright laws in a way that removes the rights of the public. Those rights are fairly important, and the reason we have them encoded within our copyright laws is to make sure that copyright isn’t abused to stifle speech. But, anti-circumvention laws combined with DRM allow the industry to route around that entirely.

But there’s a second important point in Doctorow’s piece that is equally worth highlighting, and it’s that the combination of DRM and anti-circumvention laws make all of our computers less safe. For this to make sense, you need to understand that DRM is really a form of security software.

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Jeffrey E. Stone is Co-Chair of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and Chair of the Firm’s Management Committee. In addition to his management roles, Jeffrey is a nationally recognized trial lawyer and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He concentrates his practice in the areas of white-collar criminal defense, complex commercial litigation, internal investigations and RICO. He represents corporations, boards of directors, senior executives and other individuals in a variety of complex civil litigation and criminal prosecutions, involving a broad range of industries, including health care, manufacturing and financial services. He has tried more than 40 cases to verdict before juries in federal and state court.

Jeffrey has served as National Chairman of the Stanford Fund (responsible for all annual giving to Stanford University), as a National Trustee for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, as outside counsel to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and as president of the Jewish Family and Community Services agency. He currently serves as a member of the national Board of Governors for the American Jewish Committee.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Rob Romanoff is Managing Partner of Chicago-based Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. He is also a partner in the firm’s Trusts & Estates Group. Rob has extensive experience in estate, gift and income tax planning and broad-based wealth transfer planning for high net worth individuals and owners of closely held businesses and their families. Rob is a fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC).

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The thing about promoting security on the Internet is that it, ostensibly, is about protecting individuals from identity theft. Sure, there are other possible harms, such as lost commerce, but the threat of stolen personal information is the primary concern of most folks.

So allowing employers to require their employees to hand over social media passwords would seem, to a reasonable observer, to be the exact opposite of a policy that promotes cybersecurity.

But in the wacky world of the House of Representatives, the majority rejected a proposal that would have barred middle managers from impersonating employees online. Because….

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Ed. note: This post appears courtesy of our friends at Techdirt. We’ll be sharing law-related posts from Techdirt from time to time in these pages.

The US government is already fighting wars on several fronts, including the perpetual War on Terror. “War is the health of the state,” as Randolph Bourne stated, and the state has never been healthier, using this variety of opponents as excuses to increase surveillance, curtail rights and expand power.

Bruce Schneier highlights a piece written by Molly Sauter for the Atlantic which poses the question, “If hackers didn’t exist, would the government have to invent them?” The government certainly seems to need some sort of existential hacker threat in order to justify more broadly/badly written laws (on top of the outdated and overbroad CFAA). But the government’s portrayal of hackers as “malicious, adolescent techno-wizards, willing and able to do great harm to innocent civilians and society at large,” is largely false. If teen techno-wizards aren’t taking down site after site, how is all this personal information ending up in hackers’ hands? Plain old human carelessness.

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From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out. People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.

Bill Herr, a lawyer who used to supervise document review for a chemical company, discussing new e-discovery software that can analyze documents quickly and cheaply. Herr is quoted in an interesting New York Times article entitled Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

We all know that it is only a matter of time before we are replaced by computers. As Elie explained a few weeks ago, the legal community is already predicting how computers can do the work of junior associates. I guess we can breathe a momentary sigh of relief after Rep. Rush Holt showed Watson who is boss. But I personally have been preparing for this day since 1985, when I first learned about Vicki from Small Wonder.

With the writing on the wall, it seems like there is no better time for us to embrace our computer brethren. And small law firms should be leading the charge.

My firm is not at the bleeding edge of legal technology. There are mid-level associates who still insist on dictating their briefs. We only recently converted to using Microsoft Word. Mark-ups are old-school (i.e., a red pen is used to mark-up a paper copy). And all associates are expected to be conversant in Morse Code. As an aside, this has actually come in handy when I send out my daily S.O.S.

But there are some small law firms doing big things with technology….

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From “concept searching” to “cloud computing,” every year there are new buzz words and catch phrases that enter into the lexicon of legal technology. Of course, when you are dealing with technology of any sort, you should expect to update jargon regularly (such as from 3G to 4G to 5G, whatever that means).

2011 is shaping up to be no different. This year’s “it” phrase is already emerging in the industry. It evolved from the buzz words of yesteryear, and if this new phraseology is worth its salt, these new advances could drastically change how law is practiced for years to come.

So what is legal technology’s newest terminology?

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I should have written about this days ago, but the pain was still too near to me. The humans have lost to the machines. We might as well start digging towards the Earth’s core, where it’s still warm, and start building our own Zion.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the terrifying story of “Watson.” It’s a computer built by IBM that just kicked Ken Jennings’s ass on Jeopardy. If you are not particularly scientifically inclined, I can see how that might not sound like a big deal. You probably remember Deep Blue beating chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and think that this kind of thing has been happening for a while.

That’s just what the machines want you to think. Teaching a computer to understand the subtle nuances of trivia — the puns, the innuendos, the ordering of information — is frightening. It’s a lot different than writing an algorithm that allows a machine to work through all possible chess moves and pick the correct one.

It makes you wonder: “What else could a computer be taught to do?” Over at the WSJ Law Blog, Ashby Jones wonders if the answer might be, “Your job”….

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Discovery disputes, like a certain other thing, happen. But it’s not often that these happenings make the pages of the New York Times. An article on the front page of the business section reports:

Dell has been accused of withholding evidence, including e-mails among its top executives, in a lawsuit over faulty computers it sold to businesses, according to a filing made Thursday. Advanced Internet Technologies filed a motion in Federal District Court in North Carolina asserting that Dell had deliberately violated a court order by failing to produce documents written by its executives, including the company’s chief executive and founder, Michael S. Dell.

The filing is the latest twist in a three-year-old lawsuit brought by A.I.T. that accuses Dell of selling at least 11.8 million faulty PCs over three years and then trying to hide problems with the computers from customers. A.I.T., an Internet services company, says it lost business as a result of the broken Dell machines.

Ironically enough, one of the apparent victims was the law firm representing Dell in the case….

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