social networking

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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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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Click if you "like" this wall.

* Germany essentially outlaws the “like” button on Facebook. Really, why did we let them reunify? Did we all honestly think that was a good idea? [BuzzMachine]

* West Memphis Three could be getting out of jail. Umm… hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife? [WSJ Law Blog]

* Is an MBA just as bad of a bet as a JD? [Law & More]

* The hippies who don’t like genetically engineered crops need to remember that not everybody can afford to waste money on produce grown inefficiently archaically organically. [Volokh Conspiracy]

* Is that kiddie porn on your shirt or did you just buy it from Urban Outfitters? [Gawker]

* You can’t blame your e-discovery vendor when things go wrong. [Law & Technology / Forbes]

* I’m very glad that everybody is now here at the “there’s a huge problem with the market for legal education” party. Can I interest anybody in the “prospective law students are incapable of making a rational choice” punch? It’s spiked with Absolut Special Snowflake and it gives everybody the same deranged sense of self worth as new law student. [Truth on the Market]

* Of course, if you absolutely must go to law school, think outside the box and be ready to take advantage of any opportunity. You are responsible for your own career from day one. [An Associate's Mind]

Judge Terence Evans

* Professor Eugene Volokh poses this question to his readers (we considered a similar query before): “I Got Awful Grades My First Year in Law School. Should I Quit?” [Volokh Conspiracy]

* I’m not that familiar with canon law, but I don’t think it looks favorably upon alleged groping of teenage girls. [La Crosse Tribune]

* Professor Douglas Berman wonders if there should be a social networking website designed for use by prisoners. (Commenter challenge: come up with a name for this “Facebook for jailbirds” social network.) [Sentencing Law and Policy]

* Stroock stricken with lawsuit by former partner. [Am Law Daily]

* Professor Paul Horwitz’s (thoughtful and measured) response to the law prof turned scamblogger. [Prawfsblawg]

* Seventh Circuit Judge Terence Evans, RIP. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]

On the other side of the pond, the principles of the First Amendment often take second place to the right to privacy. Britain, for example, has a smashing little thing called a “superinjunction,” which citizens can get from a court to keep the media from writing stories about them. They also have regular injunctions, which people — usually rich people, since injunctive relief can be expensive — can get to keep their names out of scandalous scoops. This results in lots of tabloid stories that read like Gawker’s blind items, or simply don’t run at all.

A married soccer player (for Manchester United, in case you care — though you probably don’t) got himself one of the latter, when the Big Brother star/model he was balling told him she was selling her story to the press. Unfortunately for him, a Twitter user crusading against muzzling the press with superinjunctions somehow got his tweepy hands on the information and published the rumor about the player’s adulterous scoring, along with a bunch of other supposedly superinjuncted gossip.

It caused an uproar in Britain initially, but the fire died down fairly quickly — until the soccer player’s lawyers decided to give it some more fuel….

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Image representing MySpace as depicted in Crun...

Proving your case requires more than a screenshot.

The practice of “oversharing” on social networks has been a boon for law enforcement. Investigations regularly involve checking out people’s Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn profiles. Thus, it’s probably unwise to post about your involvement in a crime. Or about threatening a witness set to testify against your boyfriend.

While investigating Antoine Griffin, a murder suspect in Maryland, police checked out his girlfriend’s MySpace wall, where she had unwisely written (note that “Boozy” is Griffin’s nickname): “FREE BOOZY!!!! JUST REMEMBER SNITCHES GET STITCHES!! U KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!”

The “veiled” message was a little too transparent. During the trial, prosecutors used this as evidence that Boozy’s girlfriend, Jessica Barber, had intimidated one of their key “snitches” witnesses, affecting his testimony. They introduced a print-out of Barber’s MySpace wall into evidence. Boozy was busted and found guilty of the 2005 shooting. Seems like an open and shut case, right?

But Griffin appealed, in part because the prosecution had not proven that it was really his girlfriend’s MySpace profile, or that it was really something she had written. The Maryland Court of Appeals was sympathetic….

Read on at Forbes.com….

I’m done whining about Facebook privacy issues. Everyone should know by now that Facebook and privacy are basically mutually exclusive.

But every once in a while, someone does something stupid relating to Facebook privacy in a new, exciting way — like stealing a computer and posting photos of yourself on the owner’s page, or uploading placenta pics from your nursing-school class. We enjoy mocking covering such special occasions. It’s even better when Facebook bungles have larger implications.

Last week, an emergency room doctor in Rhode Island got reprimanded and fined $500 by the state medical board. (She had been fired from her hospital last year.)

Why? She posted information about a patient on Facebook….

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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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