January 2nd, 2015

The Website and the Rotary Phone

Barbershop-RotaryPhoneOver at The Lawyerist, Sam Glover is having a contest for the best lawyer website, a contest I would never win as I hate mine.

I skimmed his piece and then went to get a haircut.

My barbershop has a rotary phone, which you can see here. And an old time cash register.

The shop doesn’t have a Twitter or Facebook account, no Flikr, Tumblr or Instagram.

What they do is this: They give good haircuts at a good price. There is a barber’s pole attached to the building.

I don’t care what business you are in, be it goods or service, this is something to think about: That barbershop is always crowded.


March 25th, 2014

Court: No, You Can’t Have That YouTube Video

YouTubeAnother social media case. This time, instead of the keys to a Facebook account being sought, it is a YouTube video that had been pulled down or hidden. And the video subject matter involves drinking, smoking, shooting a gun and cursing, among other things.

Is this stuff relevant to the lawsuit such that it need be disclosed?

The case of Reid v. Soults starts with tragedy, as 26-year-old Robert Reid falls off an ATV and suffers a traumatic head injury. Off he goes to see the defendant doctors for treatment.

A medical malpractice suit ensues as the young man dies, premised on a delay in treatment for cerebral edema.  As with every other medical malpractice case, obviously no claim is made for the injuries suffered before the patient came into contact with the defendants.

In this case, there is a YouTube video called “Rob Reid Raw and Uncut” that was placed online by non-party Thomas Reid, Jr. (brother of Rob). It showed,  according to the defendants, “the decedent drinking, smoking, and using guns,” all of which preceded the accident and alleged malpractice. That video was then taken down or made private.

Coming as a shock to absolutely no one, the defendants wanted an authorization for the YouTube account of the non-party, bringing up an interesting issue as to whether such discovery should be entertained.

The plaintiff, of course, countered that the only reason the defendants wanted the video was so that they could besmirch the character of the decedent in the hopes that the jury wouldn’t like him, and therefore ignore issues of malpractice.

In other words, the plaintiff wants the trial to focus on the doctors. The defendants want the trial to focus on the conduct of the decedent before any accident even occurred, and are looking for any hook to make it relevant.

The issue for the court: Could the requested discovery be relevant to the issues of pecuniary loss and life expectancy, which are at issue in a wrongful death case, such that it would then make it discoverable?

Back in 2011 when a lower court told a different plaintiff to cough up all Facebook data for a similar request for social media records, the appellate division (First Department) stopped the practice dead in its tracks and forced the lower court to do an in camera review.

The problem here for the courts is that, with the explosive creation of new potential evidence due to a variety of social media, the courts could be swamped by such requests, and each request could contain mountains of postings, private messages, photographs and videos.

Last year, Judge Joseph Maltese, sitting as a trial judge in Staten Island, warned of the problem of defense fishing expeditions through the lives of plaintiffs and the tsunami of data:

As a matter of judicial policy, such a fishing expedition is not a sufficient basis to open the flood gates of meandering thoughts or silly postings to be used to impeach a party in a simple assault or negligence action without any good cause to believe that any incriminating statement was ever made and publicized in the social media. These are not matters of national security or part of a criminal investigation. This is a civil tort matter of a minor assault that should have a good faith basis other than supposition, hope or speculation that some comment was made that may be relevant to the case at hand.

The appellate court in the Reid matter told the lower court to review the video. And Judge Joan Lefkowitz, who sees many of the medical malpractice cases in Westchester, did just that. And she found it badly wanting in the relevancy department, giving the defendants a big fat no in response to their attempts.

A final note: While the standard here is that the party making the request must show a “factual predicate” to get access to the records, the exceptionally burdensome task that will befall the courts in doing the reviews  of what could be, in some cases, mountains of records, means that if such requests are not well-documented, the request should be doomed.

The vast majority of such requests I have sheen so far are simply fishing expeditions. Courts are not going to place themselves in the position of looking for a minnow in an ocean on behalf of the defendants.

Note: On my request, plaintiff’s counsel Anthony Pirrotti, Jr. —  a frequent lecturer to other trial lawyers —  provided me with some of the background, via one of the briefs.


August 29th, 2013

Enough with the LinkedIn Endorsements!

linkedin_log0They come poring in to my email these days — LinkedIn endorsements. And I still can’t figure out why this is happening.

When I joined LinkedIn a couple years back it was to see what this other social network was and post my bio in case anyone using the service wanted to find me. I assumed it was a pretty pointless exercise since I already have a pretty good web footprint, but hey, you never know if someone is going to invent a better toaster. Twitter, after all, supplanted my RSS feed.

In doing so, I also accepted connections from other lawyers since this was just a simple click and it cost me almost no time. As long as I didn’t smell a marketeer that was going to follow-up with email solicitations, it didn’t seem to matter much to me.

But LinkedIn wasn’t, as far as I could tell, a better toaster, and it just seemed to be yet another gathering point for people to connect with others, and yet another way to spend time that could be better spent with doing actual work, or time with family.

My wife, a recruiter for dot com companies, loves the site as it enables her to look for people with certain attributes to fill positions. For job hunters, it can be valuable. But for a practicing lawyer to be spending time there?

Every so often I noodled around with it, and joined a legal blogging group that I diligently checked once or twice a year. That was about it.

LinkedIn EndorsementsAnd then started the flood of people endorsing me. Friends, adversaries and strangers.  A first I was flattered. I’m easy that way.

But I was endorsed for legal practice areas sometimes, in areas where I don’t even practice.

I endorsed a few people back if I knew them and was familiar with their skills, but the problem is that the endorsements came in like a flood, sometimes multiple ones from the same person, but with new practice areas noted. And each time I tried to endorse someone back, in took me several minutes just to do it right, me not being the type to willy-nilly endorse people.

My brain finally started to fire properly and I belatedly realized that this endorsement racket is, for most, a massive self-congratulatory pat on the back to each other that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Sort of like a contest to see who can collect the most Twitter followers.

I’ve stopped, at least for now, because I can’t answer the one big question: What the hell is the point? It isn’t as if a potential personal injury client is going to go to LinkedIn to find an attorney. And even if they were already deeply involved with LinkedIn, and used the service on some regular basis, it isn’t as if such a person would be duped by the endorsement scam.

Would some other attorney find me and refer a case? Maybe. But they are also unlikely to be duped by the endorsement scam. They would see my bio, and they would ask around.

So I’ve stopped what I see as a pointless charade.

If folks want to use LinkedIn in order to find people connected in their particular industry, as my wife does, I get it. If I were looking for new employment, I would most definitely have my bio on that site.

But running around “endorsing” people doesn’t seem like time well spent.


April 19th, 2013

What Does A Smile Mean? (Updated x2)

Jeff Bauman in the hospital after the Boston Marathon bombing

Jeff Bauman in the hospital after the Boston Marathon bombing

Jeff Bauman is in the picture to the right. He is in the news right now because he had the great misfortune of being near one of the Boston Marathon bombs.

In the picture Bauman is smiling and giving a thumb’s up. He is also missing both of his legs. Actor Bradley Cooper is to the left and New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (who tweeted the picture) is to the right.

As soon as he woke up in the hospital, he asked for pen and paper to write that he saw the bomber and then went on to help the FBI.

I bring this smile photo up today because, over the years, I’ve covered several rulings by courts that deal with defense attorneys asking to fish through the Facebook and other social media sites of plaintiffs. They ask to fish because the plaintiff is smiling in a photo and claim that the smile is inconsistent with suffering.

Here are two examples: In Davids v. Novartis,  drug-maker Novartis went fishing on the basis of a smile in a photograph and Magistrate Judge Williams D. Wall slapped it down, writing, “is not clear to the court, one picture of Plaintiff smiling does not contradict her claim of suffering, nor is it sufficient evidence to warrant a further search into Plaintiff’s account.”

By contrast, a Suffolk County judge permitted access to Facebook based on the same theory, writing in Romano v. Steelcase:

In this regard, it appears that plaintiff’s public profile page on Facebook shows her smiling happily in a photograph outside the confines of her home despite her claim that she has sustained permanent injuries and is largely confined to her house and bed. (see also, in contrast,  Eric Goldman’s commentary on the Romano photo)

Perhaps future courts will take note of the picture of Bauman, with a smile and a thumb’s up, to note that a smile in a snapshot does not magically mean everything is well.

As Bauman makes abundantly clear in this picture, people can smile for a multitude of reasons. It may be because they are happy to be alive. Or because someone said something humorous, even at a funeral. Or simply because of instinct when someone lifts a camera and hollers, “Say cheese.”

Judges and practitioners, please take note.

Heather Abbott, of Newport, R.I., is wheeled into a news conference past members of the media, behind, at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, Thursday, April 25, 2013. Abbott underwent a below the knee amputation during surgery on her left leg following injuries she sustained at the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)Updated (4/26/13) – Another smile, this time from bombing victim Heather Abbott. One week after the bombing, she had her leg amputated. Prior attempts to surgically repair the leg had failed.

Three days after the amputation she appeared at a press conference. And smiled. You can see her expression here.

A smile may mean many things.

Updated June 24, 2013: People Magazine ran a cover photo in its June 11, 2013 edition — three amputees, three brave smiles. If a defendant tries to claim a smile in a photograph means the person isn’t injured, just show them this cover.PeopleMagazine-BostonStrong


March 15th, 2013

The Death of RSS and the Rise of Twitter

twitterWhen news broke yesterday that Google was dumping GoogleReader there were two kinds of reactions from bloggers noted Bruce Carton at Legal Blog Watch: Those for whom it was the end of the world and those who shrugged.

Carton was in full panic mode. I was a shrugger. I stopped using my RSS feed about a year or two ago, as it simply died a slow death for me.

And that’s because most anyone that I would have followed on RSS is placing links to their blog posts on Twitter. And Twitter also had the advantage of having (short) comments on those blog posts, which might also give you an idea if something was interesting or contentious. RSS was not just redundant, but inferior. (And, as I noted the other day, it can make you a better writer of legal briefs.)

Between Twitter, RSS, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, blog post comments, YouTube, listservs, all manner of open discussion forums and whatever else is incubating now that I don’t know about, participating online can easily be a 24/7 job/hobby/distraction. But I have a real job and a real family, as most of you do, and I have to pick and choose. RSS lost. I also have an account at LinkedIn that I rarely check/use, I stopped using forums years ago, and I haven’t yet figured out what to do with Google+, or had the time to explore it.

I haven’t always been a fan of Twitter, and ripped it right after it came out. But I’ve come to appreciate its utility, an appreciation that comes only by carefully screening those I might follow.

When someone follows me, I generally look at their last three tweets (or “twits” as Scott Greenfield quite appropriately calls them). If those tweets are about a local accident, in the desperate hope the victim will log on to Twitter and find this brilliance, I know this is not a person to follow. So too with anyone in legal marketing. I need more phone calls and emails from these hucksters like I need a hole in the head.

But worse still are those that respond to an individual with something like “Ha!”, apparently forgetting that many others will see this gibberish, not just the one that sent the message being responded to. And even worse are those that write, “Thanks for the RT!” Thanks for sharing your insecurity with me by noting how important an RT is to you.

Why anyone would want this crap clogging their Twitter feed and rendering it useless is beyond me. Links and short comments on relevant stories are what works.

And you know those folks that are following thousands of others? It’s pretty clear such folks are not reading their own Twitter feeds. I don’t give a damn if they follow me or not.

Last year I spoke at a conference on social media down in Washington DC. And a woman that followed after me was hit by an audience question: If someone follows you on Twitter, are you supposed to follow them back? “Yes!” she cried, as that was the polite thing to do. I almost fell off my chair as I recognized the entire audience had just become dumber for having heard this.

Twitter can be a good tool that certainly replaces RSS. Just be sure to carefully cull the list of those you follow. You can follow me if you want (@Turkewitz) but don’t be upset if I don’t follow back. My brain has a limited capacity.

That’s my two pesos. Bruce Carton’s mileage will vary. And remember that no one will ever put the number of your Twitter follows on your headstone.

Elsewhere on the subject:

Really Simple Sign of the Future (Greenfield)

The End of GoogleReader: A Sign of Blogging’s Decline and Lessons for Lawyers (Elefant)