A useful tool to access police misconduct cases for defense lawyers

Vidya Pappachan, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society in New York City did not have enough time to prepare for her client’s case on a drug felony charge. However, she had a tool that helped her look up information about the officers that arrested her client.

The database is called the Cop Accountability Project. Through this, she learned that the officers were involved in misconduct cases that involved false arrests and cost NYC more than half a million dollars in settlement payouts. Even more, this was much similar to the situation in which her client was arrested. There was no drug stash found and no other evidence besides the arresting officers’ account of the incident. Since Pappachan proved the three officers were involved in prior misconduct cases, she challenged the weight of the evidence against her client. The judge agreed with her proposition and the client was released without bail.

Beyond New York, similar projects are popping up. The Indianapolis Police department created a portal that tracks officer complaints, use of force, and shooting incidents. In Chicago, there are two separate but complementary tools that track police misconduct cases. Michelle Bonner, former chief counsel to the Legal Aid Society called the New York project “a great advance in the evolution for defender databases.”

The project stemmed from the grassroots of newspaper clippings and paper documents. After 1998, it evolved into a database in the form of a digital library catalog program called Inmagic and later into an Excel spreadsheet where documents were scanned or uploaded to a shared file.

This tool has brought mixed reaction from judges. Some are very open to hearing this information and some say it’s not relevant at this stage of the case. The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has a unanimous opinion. Patrick Lynch, the president of the city’s largest police union, said : “Compiling a list of police officers who are alleged to be ‘bad’ based upon newspaper stories, quick-buck lawsuits and baseless complaints … does nothing more than soil the reputation of the men and women who do the difficult and dangerous job of keeping this city and its citizens safe.”

This project will continue to morph as the Legal Aid Society trains its lawyers to better integrate this database into their practice.

Article via ABA Journal, February 2016 issue

Photo: Paris – Police via clement127 [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Handshake software integrates with Ravel

Handshake Software, a provider of SharePoint-based products and services to the legal market, announced its tech integration Ravel Law, a legal search, analytics, and visualization platform. The move is based on the need to provide a legal search product to law firms that will allow them to be more efficient in their practice.

Glenn LaForce, vice president of global sales & marketing at Handshake Software stated, ““Attorneys are under tremendous pressure from their clients with regards to the billable hour, so bringing together as many data sources as possible into one universal search is paramount for their practice,” he said. “To be able to perform legal research while seeing key financials, internal documents, contacts and internal expertise helps the attorneys become more efficient and effective.

This move is a strategic integration between the two companies products. By combining these technologies, the users Sharepoint experience will include search that allows for all knowledge to be in one place. LaForce confirms this by saying, “Lawyers, CIOs and knowledge management professionals tell us they want one system to deliver one-stop [knowledge management] information to their users. Our integration with Ravel Law is another important aspect of the Handshake Software’s all-encompassing solution that includes integration to online legal research and other major legal applications.”

The goal is to provide and environment where users will have access to critical firm data as well as online law research materials. This allows attorneys to more effectively manage the business and practice of law. We’re excited to bring these technologies to lawyers in one easy-to-find location,” said Nik Reed, co-founder and chief operating officer at Ravel Law.

 

Article via LegalTechNews, 12 January 2016

Photo:Assignments by Ryan Hyde [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


How WordPress is affecting law firm websites

WordPress is identified as the best software in terms of digital publishing and managing content. As of November, the popular management system has reached a notable milestone: it powers about 25% of the internet. Statistically, 1 in 4 websites run on WordPress.

This is due to the ease-of-use. It’s great for people that have blogs, small businesses, personal portfolio sites, and basic retailers. Pool all of that together and it entails a great portion of the Internet.

A recent post by Lauren Nguyen of Pantheon, a website management platform, highlights the broadening applicability of WordPress, drawing on a survey of thousands of agencies in their partner network. “We see a trend of enterprise customers across all industries turning to WordPress. Historically, big companies have relied on proprietary enterprise CMS solutions. However, many are getting wise to the fact that open source CMS can give marketing teams the flexibility and agility they need to iterate and improve faster.”

WordPress is known to be simple to use and navigate through but people still list some issues. It isn’t ideal for complex websites, which characterizes law firm websites. However, earlier this year, WordPress announced that what it calls its “JSON REST API” will be part of its core. This allows the WordPress CMS to interact with basically everything — other sites, other software, other interfaces. Opening up with new possibilities will give WordPress the ability to connect with the more complex website and gain even more popularity.

For law firms, this means that:

1. They would be able to better integrate their publishing efforts.

Large law firms agree that publishing independent digital publications is ideal. They run on building reputations and audiences around that specific niche. Using WordPress API, publishers can pull their blogs onto the main website, and run the blog on a separate website. Using WordPress as an underlying CMS will remain a viable choice.

2. Website development companies can lay a custom background over the top of WordPress. 

In the future, as WordPress advances from being a simple CMS and into a full-featured platform, the traditional interface becomes optional. If a company wants to build a custom interface geared towards elaborate law firm websites over the top of WordPress, they can do so.

Article via Above the Law, December 16, 2015

Photo: W for WordPress via Kristina Alexanderson [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Harvard Law Library is adapting to the Digital Age

The Harvard library is where one may find shelves of books unearthed with valuable resources that include nearly every territorial and tribal judicial decision since colonial times. It provides priceless information for everyone from legal scholars to defense lawyers trying to challenge a criminal conviction. Now, Harvard librarians are taking off the spines of all but rarities and running them through a high-speed scanner. This would allow a complete searchable database of American case law available on the Web. Retrieval of these vital records were once usually paid for. Now they will be completely free.

“Improving access to justice is a priority. We feel an obligation and an opportunity here to open up our resources to the public.” said Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law school.

Though the primary documents can be found in the public domain, it’s not in a convenient format, if at all. Legal groups spend approximately thousands to millions of dollars a year depending on the size of the office to find cases and trace doctrinal strands. Harvard’s “Free the Law” project can offer a floor of crucial information and offer sophisticated techniques for visualizing relations among cases and searching for themes.

“Complete results will become publicly available this fall for CA and NY, and the entire library will be online in 2017,” said Daniel Lewis, chief executive and co-founder of Ravel Law, a commercial start-up in California that has teamed up with Harvard Law for this project. The cases will be available at www.ravellaw.com. Ravel is paying millions of dollars to support the scanning project. The cases will be accessible in a searchable format and will be presented with visual maps developed by the company. It hopes to make money by offering more advanced analytical tools still being developed, like how judges responded to different motions in the past all for a fee.

Legal aid lawyers and public criminal defenders called the Harvard project a welcome development that may save them money and make the law more accessible to struggling lawyers, students and even inmates who try to mount appeals from barren prison libraries.

Alex Gulotta, executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, CA, called the project “brilliant” and put it in a broader context of making government information more readily available. “Knowledge is power. People will always need lawyers, but having resources available for self-help is important.”

Article via NY Times, October 28, 2015

Photo: Law books 2 via Eric E. Johnson [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Lawfirms are outsourcing information services

Gone are the days when law firms could rely on business from traditional sources. Due to the financial crisis in 2008, many law firms are still operating on a leaner staff and are looking for ways to cut expenses. To mitigate this need firms are looking to grow their expertise by connecting with outside experts, while also lowering their costs. In the information age, this means relying more on external digital sources for research instead of traditional in house law libraries.

Many prominent law firms have cut their costs by shrinking the size of their law library. In this leaner model, law firms cannot afford the costs of duplicate content and a buffet style approach to purchasing information. The demand for sophisticated research has increased, making law firms more dependent on access to vast amounts of content.

Two venders, LexisNexis and Westlaw are leading the market of law firms looking to meet the high information demand. As outsourcing has become more accepted in the legal community, there are more new companies coming aboard to meet legal information needs. Outsourced consultants are valuable to law firms because they can deliver high level services and expertise at scale. The companies allow law firms to take advantage of both broad and deep information, along with industry expertise, something that in house libraries alone cannot match.

For law firms, this means a lower administrative burden while increasing efficiency. As law firms conform and adjust to a changing market and economy, these services offer a means of staying relevant and competitive.

 

Article via LegalTechNews, 1 October 2015

Photo: law books via  Mr.TinDC [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

 


Firm uses wearable technology to better represent clients

While wearable technology like Google Glass and Fitbit may appear to be better suited to consumer and recreational use, Marc Lambert from the firm Fennemore Craig has been creatively using wearable technology to better understand his clients and skillfully equip his lawyers. Lambert states that the process of introducing and using technology within his practice revolves around a “petri dish mentality”. Technology is routinely integrated into use within Lambert’s group, and then they evaluate whether the technology is benefitting their ability to help their clients. If the technology is found to have a positive impact on their work, other lawyers within the firm begin utilizing the technology.

One of the technologies that is allowing Lambert and his group to better communicate clients’ information is Google Glass. Lambert recounts using Google Glass to document how being a double amputee affects the day-to-day activities of client. Better than simply entering a demand letter or asking the client to describe their situation on the stand, Google Glass “is so effective is because it offered a first-person perspective on the hardships our client encountered each and every day of his life”, according to Lambert. Additionally, Lambert hopes that in future iterations of Google Glass hands-free video conferencing will allow him and his group to communicate with injured or handicapped clients that could not use other technology such as iPads to communicate as easily.

While Google Glass may seem more applicable to particular types of cases, Lambert utilizes Fitbits to determine how evidence may appear to focus jury groups. By asking focus groups to wear Fitbits and monitoring their heart rate as evidence is presented to them, Lambert can build a stronger case for his clients. Additionally, Fitbits could be used to provide support to clients’ claims that they are following their healthcare providers’ recommendations.

Though Lambert agrees that technology is a means to an end, it allows for better representation if “you buy in and aren’t simply paying lip service”. Technology is here to stay and innovation will lead to newer and more complex technologies. Therefore, as Lambert explains, it is  “important to educate other lawyers about how technology can be used and lead by example.”

Article via Above the LawSeptember 17, 2015

Photo: Becoming a cyborg via Jenn Vargas [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]