A Long Read on Help the Lawyers LLC

A background on Help the Lawyers LLC and thoughts on where we may be headed…

The company I formed is called Help the Lawyers LLC. The website is http://www.helpthelawyers.us

The only job listed in the U.S. Constitution is that of a lawyer. Lawyers are critical to who we are as a nation.

Our nation is built on three separate but equal branches. The Executive Branch, Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch. Lawyers work in all three, but are most apparent in the Judicial Branch.

I formed a company called Help the Lawyers, LLC this past Valentine’s day with a goal of helping lawyers. Here is my story…


About three weeks ago I was studying to take the Bar exam in Michigan. After the president signed an Executive Order, that many called a travel ban, I saw the news on Twitter of the lawyers rushing to the airports and standing with hand-written signs saying they were there to help.

I kept reading tweets that said, “How can I help the lawyers?”

I answered these tweets with something like, “Get the coffee” or “They might need food” or “Just say thank you”. I began searching for the terms “help” and “lawyers” and would reply to the tweets and add a hashtag #helpthelawyers. To my surprise, this became a trending topic.

A day later, a gal named Natalie Lyda created the Twitter account @helpthelawyers. She was not as Twitter-savvy as I was, and agreed to let me come on board and help run the account. I have been on Twitter for many years and had about 1000 followers under my own account (@sarakubik). My background is technology, marketing, business, and the law, and I had tweeted and published in these areas.

On Twitter, I called myself a technical translator of different languages and skills. My degrees include a PhD in technology, a JD in law, an MBA in marketing and management and a BA in graphic design.

I began tweeting and producing content behind @helpthelawyers that utilized my skills and knowledge in unique, exciting, and novel ways.

The Nitty Gritty of @HelptheLawyers

Right now, Help the Lawyers LLC is only on Twitter under the account called @helpthelawyers

I am now running this account by myself. And I need help, here is why…

~ Getting food and coffee

It started off that @helpthelawyers would help coordinate getting coffee to various airport sites or specific lawyers on the ground. We used volunteers to help us as we were not located at any airport (I am actually living in rural Michigan and am using a pre-paid TracFone to coordinate most of this). Everything was done to help the pro bono lawyers at the airports.

Various Twitter accounts started emerging for the different major airports affected by the travel ban. Dulles, Ohare, Newark, Logan, Seattle-Tacoma, Los Angeles, San Francisco, JFK.

~Helping with tech

I began to pull content from the various sites and help develop the smaller sites by connecting them to the on-line resources I now had developed. Needs at the airports moved from getting coffee and food to getting wi-fi hotspots so the lawyers at the airports could file their briefs. To be clear- I am nowhere near an airport, so many volunteers were scrambling around at this time. I was one of them.

We started seeing how the tech community wanted to help @helpthelawyers, so we did things like asking about tech issues happening at each airport site. I also translated many tech tweets to our lawyers so they could understand the content better.

~Teaching lawyers how to use Twitter.

As the days went by, I started turning to educating the lawyers who were on Twitter but were not at the sites. Again, I tried to make the focus be on rule of law to differentiate us from the more political places.

Not only would I tweet basic instructions (like putting text into your bio saying, “I am a lawyer”) but I would tell lawyers how to engage with others on Twitter.

Beyond that, my interests are technology. I was actually building my own Twitter bot before the ban began. Because I can see how bots, and their natural language interface, can help lawyers in many ways.

So it delighted me to pull content from Twitter bots and place it in front of the HtL audience. These bots were built to pull digital filings from the various lawsuits, which normally are harder to access. So having the filings on Twitter was incredible. I had to teach many lawyers what a bot was.  To help the public understand what the filings meant (which were 45-page briefs, etc.), I asked the lawyers to translate the filings into Tweets! What a challenge! Asking lawyers who were new to Twitter to translate a 45-page brief into 140 characters in a way that an everyday person could understand!

But the lawyers did it! They were just on fire!

In order to produce more content and have an active twitter conversation under the @helpthelawyers account, I taught people to tweet to me so I could decide what content is appropriate for the vision I see as HtL. These people include the general public as well as lawyers. All are volunteers, which makes my role of being the gatekeeper very challenging. Because many people are angry right now. And many people want HtL to move to more of a social justice role. My goal is to keep it focused, as much as I can, on the rule of law. The rule of law means our country follows laws. Often times the social justice warrior and rule of law can overlap. But they are different concepts.

Finally, I would send out tweets and ask the lawyers active under HtL to reply. They were tweets where I (almost always) knew the answer, but I wanted people to see the attorneys who were answering, not @helpthelawyers. This gave the attorneys a larger platform and helped connect them to the average Twitter follower.

Who else is on Twitter for the airport lawyers movement?

There are many airport hubs (like @ORDlawyersHQ) who are focused on the various airports. I aggregate content from them as well as try to help them by boosting their messages to our followers.

There are also some airports that are managed, for the most part, by non-profit organizations like the ACLU.(@OneJusticOrg is at LAX)

There are one-man shows at some sites. Some sites have on-call lawyers. A few individual attorneys have also emerged as leaders at the various sites.

Almost all of this type of content is political. Many tweets are rough, profanity laced.

I will not support profanity and hysterics under HtL. Even though Twitter can be a mean place, and even though many feel a sense of frustration and fear that I do not have the right to denounce, I will not endorse it under HtL.

I can’t control who tweets to us; I can control who I endorse. But this is an unsustainable model. And I am really quite exhausted.

So what is next? Why is HtL needed

~Lawyers are a really, really, really tech-adverse group

Under @helpthelawyers, I teach lawyers how to use Twitter by tweeting about it. I was a professor before this and am used to communicating to non-designers. Here, I am teaching lawyers how to use Twitter through tweets.

Lawyers are a very tech-resistant group. They don’t trust new technologies that are being pushed onto them where the promise of the tech is to make their lives easier. Many don’t trust legal tech consultants who are not also lawyers. And the legal system often requires lawyers to file in paper-based ways;  many lawyers fax and many do not use e-mail.

The legal industry is incredibly old and well-established. It is not unreasonable to think that a lawyer may ask, “If it has worked for so long, why change?”

With that in mind, having a lawyer come to Twitter (especially because of @helpthelawyers) is a huge endeavor.  I tweet to many new lawyers to get them up to speed; I have direct messaged many lawyers and groomed them in a way that they tweet content under our account. They are smart people, and the ones that have moved from Facebook to Twitter are especially quick to learn.

I have seen no other entity do this. I have seen no other entity help get lawyers onto a public platform that they would normally dismiss and rapidly get them up to speed to the point where it benefits them and their legal practice.

Of course HtL, alone, is not the sole reason why lawyers are moving onto Twitter. I repeatedly tweeted that we are in a unique time when both sides of the v (Plaintiff and Defendants) are openly talking on the public communication channel that is Twitter. Never before have we had a president who tweets out his thoughts. I often say, “All eyes on Twitter,” because the discussion and dialogue are there.

And Twitter provides quick and easy access to content. My dissertation was a usability study on while older adults use cell phones (and this was 20 years ago, http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI3330291/). When my mother told me her cell phone was so important to her but she didn’t know how to use it, I knew I had a dissertation topic. Older adults didn’t use cell phones back then. So why was my mother saying this? Older adults were at tech-adverse group using technology because it provided/solved something important to them.

I can draw a direct parallel from my dissertation research to what I am doing now… helping a tech-adverse group (lawyers) use a social media technology (Twitter). I believe that lawyers are using Twitter because it provides/solves something important to them.

And little do they know, they are using in a disruptive way!

Where I could be headed with Help the Lawyers, LLC

~First, I can make this my job. But I need to find funding.

First and foremost, I need to secure an income for me. I can’t do this for free forever, and it is a full-time job. So I’ve set up a Patreon page here http://www.pantreon.com/sarakubik

Patreon donations are for people who produce content. It is different than GoFundMe and I have been told that this is the best way to go right now.

This is money will be to help me, which in turn helps me grow Help the Lawyers LLC. I know that a start-up based upon one person is totally unsustainable. So I need to address this first.

~To Twitter, and Beyond!

But where is Help the Lawyers LLC headed? It seems to be changing rapidly. I am working on getting a pitch deck created so I can secure investor funding for my start-up.

To date, HtL is just on Twitter. But that could change. Twitter happens to be the technology that is needed right now. And it is critical to lawyers and providing them with a means that they did not have before. It is open, efficient, and connects people in fast, efficient ways. There is not a lot of bloat like there is on many web pages, so people can use mobile devices to access it.

From a usability perspective, it doesn’t take people ten clicks to get to the content they need. The hashtags and lists can be explained to users by HtL tweeting them information.

And Twitter allows someone to engage in dialogue yet be hidden behind a profile picture of a dog. I have seen many egghead Twitter accounts that are lawyers; you can tell by what they write. I have seen profile pictures and names that are vague and used by lawyers who do not want to be known. And there are many people who are outwardfacing… they have a profile picture that is of their face and looking all lawyerly, and they say they are lawyers.


Lawyers have hard and stressful jobs. Yet they are so needed in our country.

Technologies are often developed for them that are just way too complicated, or not relevant to the challenges lawyers face. Tech solutions for having the public interact with lawyers also tend to be overbuilt and bloated. My frustration comes because I sit at the nexus of many industries and see this happening.

I get excited by technological solutions that work. That are useful.

It just so happens that lawyers are using Twitter in a disruptive way. I feel that lawyers using Twitter and following the @helpthelawyers account are disrupting the broken, slow legal system that many call horrible, but also the best in the world.

Why wouldn’t I want to help the lawyers with that?




A plain language post about fog computing (that anyone can understand)

Is fog on the ground? Or can fog be on the ground AND in the clouds? Just when you got used to the term “Cloud Computing”, we now have “Fog Computing”. Hang on! Before you bounce, let me explain how this is important for lawyers (or others that are not into tech). My goal is to get people to understand the concepts first, and then fill in the concepts with the techno-terms, which are listed in parentheses.

But I explain things simply by testing concepts on my 6-year-old son. If I can explain things to him, I can explain it to most anyone.

When I talked about cloud computing to my son, he said, “Clouds are up in the sky.” To illustrate cloud computing, I mimed the act of taking something in my hands (data or information) and throwing it up into a cloud.

But this is only one part of cloud computing; the second part is where the data sent up comes back down to another computer. Conceptually, cloud computing is a rocket ship blasting off and then return to earth.

I asked my son if he knew of any problems with all of this up and down. Other than crashing (which dovetails nicely into computing issues), he mentioned the time it takes to make the trip. True! That travel time causes a delay from when data is sent to when it is received. (latency)

Next, I asked my son what fog is. “Clouds that are on the ground,” he said. Yes! But again, it’s not this simple for fog computing. When we say fog computing, it really includes cloud computing. A better way of understanding what fog computing is to change “fog computing” to be “anywhere-along-a-continuum computing”. Seriously, though, fog computing sounds much nicer.

Fog computing is a continuum; it’s a range that goes from the cloud to the ground-level, where our computers and devices are located. The main reason for this continuum is because not everything should go up to the cloud.

fog computing

Fog computing is a range from cloud, to edge, to a device.

Fog Computing is a continuum or a range of computing that goes from the cloud, to the edge, to the devices. 

  • Sometimes, we want information sitting within a smart device. Or maybe we want our devices talking to other devices. (device computing)
  • Sometimes we want information just above the device but not quite at the cloud-level. (edge computing)
  • Sometimes we want information shooting up to the cloud. (cloud computing)

Fog computing includes cloud computing, edge computing, and computing done at the device level. And this is the next push that is going to affect lawyers in many ways.

But let’s get back to what is mainly happening now, which is cloud computing. In cloud computing, we are sending information from a device up to the cloud and then down to another computer to process this information.

The big problem is, as stated above, latency issues. Delays. And not everything NEEDS to go up to the cloud. This is becoming more and more of an issue because our things are generating more and more data.

What is creating this data? Computers, smartphones, smart devices (IoT), cars, airplanes, basically anything with a computer in it.

Future tech developments like driverless cars (autonomous vehicles) will produce so much data that it is impractical to send it all up to the cloud. The data needs to be aggregated closer to the car to avoid delay (latency) issues.

Connected devices used in our homes don’t need to send all their data to the cloud either. If Alexa talks to your toaster and fridge and television and hair brush and personal assistant (seen at the recent CES show), this talking could remain at a lower level. Terabytes of data where the devices say,  “I’m ok”, could be compressed at the lower level and batch sent to the cloud. Or only abnormal data could be sent to the cloud.

Fog computing has other benefits like:

  1. Data security: If you’re not sending as much information up and down a network, the data is more secure. This is a topic that many are aware is important yet most do not address or feel they are ill-prepared for breaches.
  2. System reliability: If you’re not sending information up and down a network, there are fewer chances of the data becoming corrupted so the system is more reliable.
  3. Less power needed to run devices: Fog computing includes the sharing resources at or near the edge of a system. By sharing resources left to right versus up and down, we need less power in each device as the devices work together.

Now, where do lawyers come in?  If lawyers understand the concepts behind this technological movement, they can drill down to addressing the practical legal aspects. Here are some nuggets to get you started:

There’s the obvious topic like data security. What data is being sent where? How will the data be stored?

In terms of liability issues, who is legally responsible if a product gets hacked? Who pays for damages?  Who is responsible for patching devices? Consider that a product could be as simple as smart hairbrush (Iot) or as huge as a driverless truck. (autonomous vehicles) Who has liability for failures in these very complex meshes of computations?

In terms of privacy, how will lawyers help draft privacy agreements in an age when surveillance IS the service? Will we get to a time when we, as a society, change the expectations of privacy (the second prong in Katz’s expectations of privacy test)?

There are contractual issues as well; contracts need to be written between all of the players in this system. And the companies that are developing partnerships are not between the same partners in the past.

In terms of intellectual property law, what if I learn new things from your data and patent the findings? Do I really own this?

But let’s not forget evidence! If you have it, lawyers will try to subpoena. And it won’t be in criminal trials alone. This evidence will also appear in civil lawsuits. Think again how ignorant it would be if a lawyer subpoenas “any and all data” from an entirely connected system.

Techno-speak can be off-putting. But so can legal-speak. Hopefully, this article gives lawyers an understanding of the next technological movement, called fog computing, so they can better prepare for the whirlwind soon to come.

Special thanks to Matt Vasey at Microsoft (@mvasey) and with the Open Fog Consortium (@openfog) for helping me out with this article.

Tutorial for Michigan Law Students on How to Join the State Bar of Michigan

When I joined the State Bar of Michigan, I was a law student. However, I was also a designer and had a few decades under my belt teaching design to undergrads. So while I was thrilled to be joining the SBM, I was frustrated by the process needed in order to join this organization. How can I help other law students join the State Bar of Michigan? I wrote this
State Bar of Michigan Logo

Tutorial for Law Students on How to Join the State Bar of Michigan

  1. Go to http://www.michbar.org
  2. In the upper right, click on “Member Area”, which will re-direct you to https://e.michbar.org/eCommerce/login/login.aspx
  3. Click on the “Click here” link next to “Prospective New Attorneys, New Law Student Section Members”.
  4. Of course, there’s too much text on this page. IGNORE IT. Then select “Law Student” at the bottom of the page. And Continue.
  5. This page pertains to you. But it’s wordy. So basically here’s what you are being told: it costs $15 to join the SBM and it goes from Oct 1 – Sept 30
  6. Go through the form to join.


Now you get the “free” stuff like the Michigan Bar Journal in print form, attendance to the annual meeting (which was in Grand Rapids in 2016… you  have to go to this next year in Novi because it is an amazing networking experience, but that will be explained in a future blog post).

Other things you’ll see:

  • Casemaker is trying to be Westlaw Next. It’s free for SBM members.
  • You, as a student, can’t edit your limited Zeekbeek profile b/c you are a student. But that’s ok, most of the referrals I’ve seen are through the list servs (see below) and word-of-mouth referrals. Zeekbeek is an online attorney referral service much like Avvo or Lawyers.com.

Joining the SBM alone is good. But what might be more important for law students is to join a section area to get on their list serv (e-mails sent to you). You may not know if the list serv you are on is active or not before you join it, though. Thankfully the costs are low, but you might have to pay (of course).

I’m on solo- it’s a ghost town.

On family law, I get 10-30 e-mails a day. I’ve been told the list serv goes out to 1000 attorneys and judges. You’ll see who is a frequent poster and see their expertise. If you post, be prepared to get not only feedback but maybe teased a bit. I posted, and now I have contacts (who contacted me off-list) that know my legal interests. And they are a really passionate group.

I’ve been told insurance is also bustling.

A practical tip I learned regarding these list serves: Create a new e-mail account that is just for receiving e-mails from the list servs. If not, your main e-mail will become clogged with list serv e-mails.


How law students can join the sections area…

  1. Log into the Member Area of the SBM site
  2. On the right side of the screen is a link called “Section Membership”. Click it.

Joining the SBM was easy for me to do. But it was a painful experience to join the family-law list serv; it took me weeks of e-mails to resolve. Hopefully the SBM will improve upon this experience (or perhaps it was just unique to me) because they have told me they want to get students integrated better into the SBM.

If you have a problem and can’t find their contact info, e-mail me.

If You Can See It, You Can Save it: How to Create a Screen Capture

Update to my original post:

Last night was the second presidential debate between DT and HC. And here, again, the use of screen captures was very noticeable.

NBC Nightly News tweeted this out…

Even NBC Nightly News uses screenshots

Even NBC Nightly News uses screenshots

And this morning, Twitter Moments used “The funniest screen grabs from the second presidential…” as the title to their section.

Twitter Moments announces screen grabs in their Moments section.

Twitter Moments announces screen grabs in their Moments section.

Now I call them screen captures, but screen grabs is good, too. Either way, lawyers need to learn how to do this. So read and re-read my original post on this topic.

Oh and regarding the administrator who made the public Facebook comment regarding a lawsuit he was involved in (see below).. yup, he took down his Facebook post. No matter; because of the many screen captures of his posting, that post is now listed as evidence in the Plaintiff’s Pretrial Disclosures.

Screen capturing a now-deleted-Facebook allows it to be used in litigation.

Screen capturing a now-deleted-Facebook post allowed it to be presented as hard evidence in a lawsuit.


If you see it, you can save it, but you have to save it immediately.

At one point during the first debate between HRC and DT, DT said he did not deny that there was global warming. My Twitter feed was soon filled with people tweeting about how DT had stated the complete opposite on HIS Twitter account years earlier (and that the Chinese had created it as a hoax). They even posted a screen capture of DT’s Twitter post.

Twitterverse screen captured DT's tweet, just in case it got deleted at a later date.

Twitterverse screen captured DT’s tweet, just in case it got deleted at a later date.

I had already written a blog post earlier in the day based on screen captures and knew I had to amend it to include this timely example.

The initial reason for my blog article was in reaction to a presentation by attorney Brian Koncius during the State Bar of Michigan’s annual conference. Brian led an educational session on some of the current technologies impacting employment law.

He mentioned two examples/situations that piqued my interest: disappearing apps and digital content that is removed off of a website (for example, deleting a post on Facebook or Twitter).

This blog post discusses how to capture and save these content types.

It all boils down to capturing what someone sees as soon as they see it. Time is of the essence because the material may be fleeting.

Here is the general rule: If you see something on your screen, you can save it to use at a later date, but you have to save what you see immediately.

The method to do so is called taking a screen capture. You can do screen captures with things you see on your phone, your tablet, your laptop, and your desktop computer. Think of screen captures as taking a picture of everything you see on these screens.

A screen capture is a photo, taken at one point in time (so no video screen shots, sorry), that is either copied to the clipboard of your computer or saved as a photo on your phone.

Here is a high-level overview of how to do a screen capture on your desktop computer. For phones and other devices, I’d suggest Googling “how to take a screen shot” along with the name of your device (e.g. iPhone) and see what results. I’ve seen amazingly straightforward YouTube videos showing how to do this.

Back to screen capturing on your desktop computer.

Step 1: View the information on your computer screen.
For attorneys, you will either have to go to a specific website or have information sent to you. Or, you will have to instruct your client that they will need to take a screen capture for any material they see so it can be later used as evidence to support their verbal testimony.

Let’s assume you, the attorney, are viewing someone’s Facebook page on your computer. Be sure to close out anything else on your computer you do not want saved in your screenshot.

Step 2: Take the screenshot.

Your Print Screen button will be on your laptop or desktop keyboard.

Your Print Screen button will be on your laptop or desktop keyboard.

On most laptops and desktop keyboards, there is a key that says something like “PRT SC” in the upper right corner of the keyboard. Press it. For my computer, nothing appears to happen- but I know it has because of the next step…

Step 3: Open up Word and within a new file hit the Paste button. (With the older versions of Word, it was /Edit /Paste)

If you want the ability to further edit the screen capture, open up a photo editing software like Photoshop or MS Paint and basically do the same thing. Open up a photo editing software, create a new file in it, and then do an /Edit /Paste

I use Adobe Photoshop. So the steps for me are to Open Photoshop, hit /File /New, accept the settings the software is giving me, and then hit /Edit /Paste. Whola! There is my screen capture.

If you don’t have Photoshop, surely you have something basic like Microsoft’s Paint software. The same steps apply to Paint… /File /New and then /Edit /Paste.

Step 4: Save your new photo or Word file.

As lawyers, you know that visual evidence can be very effective in court. When the father says, “She never told me she was pregnant,” showing his Instagram post of the mother’s ultrasound and his text below it saying, “My ex claims she’s pregnant” will help your case.

Dennis Armistead

To the press, this administrator said, “No comment.” Then he publicly posted this on his Facebook and Twitter pages.

But it’s not just you who are using these screen captures, so is the press. When a company administrator says, “No comment” to the press and then publicly posts his views on a lawsuit against his employer on his Facebook page, you can be sure that reporter has screen-captured the heck out of the post.

That’s what happened during the HRC/DT debate.  Screen-capturing is becoming a commonly-used verb, like Photoshopping a photograph.

So just to clarify the details a bit more here: Once something is seen on a screen, it can be saved. It just has to be captured immediately.

High Speed Internet Access is Not a Basic Right

A re-post of my article at the ABA’s Law Technology Today


But I added the photo on this page.


In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classified broadband internet service access as a public utility.

The move was focused around the concept of net neutrality. The FCC’s Open Internet Rules claim to protect consumers by prohibiting things like throttling data speeds or giving prioritization to higher payers of internet services. 

I laughed reading these “bright line rules” because the cellular plan I’m on unabashedly states that they will throttle my data content when I reach a monthly limit. I’ve experienced this throttling; it makes viewing almost every web page impossible.

And the prohibition of speed prioritization? This same service “allows” me the option of paying more money to get a faster Internet connection.

So is the FCC’s move lip-service only? And what does this have to do with lawyers? This article is a realistic perspective on the future of high speed internet access in rural U.S. areas. It will dispel the hype that we hear about broadband being a basic right and suggest practical solutions to the realities of internet connectivity and web page designs in an unequal-access world.

But back to the FCC and its broadband-is-now-a-utility declaration. Here are some preliminary questions:

  1. What is a public utility? Generally speaking, utilities include things like electricity, telecommunications, water, and sewage service.
  1. Are public utilities basic rights? That’s debatable. Some would say they are not; providers can shut off service for things like non-payment of electrical bills. On the flip side, many have argued there is a basic human right to water and sanitation, something that is being challenged in the Flint, Michigan water crisis, for example.
  1. Should we lump broadband Internet access in with this group? Is it a basic right? The reality is, high speed Internet access is not a basic right for all Americans. And it never will be.

I live in a town in Michigan in a county that is classified as rural. Technically I am about one mile beyond the town’s limit. And from here, I cannot get cable nor can I receive any type of wired-broadband Internet connectivity. And fiber optic internet connectivity (which has the fastest internet speeds)? Only in my dreams.

Country living perks include privacy, space with the drawbacks of limited internet connectivity.

Country living perks include privacy and space but with the drawback of limited internet connectivity.

My options for internet access at home are satellite-connectivity for any home computers or cellular-connectivity through my smart phone. Both are nowhere near as fast or maintain as consistent a connection as a cabled or fiber optic Internet connections.

Now before you question if my house has running water and electricity (yes to both), I would like to also point out that I live about one mile from one of the largest universities in Michigan. I live one mile from 27,000 broadband-connected young folk! Yet I strongly believe that this Broadband-Internet-High-Speed-Is-A-Basic-Right idea is completely unachievable.

Here’s why:

  1. When it comes to cable or fiber optic lines connecting to our homes, not everyone has them and not everyone will be able to get them.

We are a large nation in terms of geographic size. Rolling out cables or fiber optics to every U.S. home location is not going to happen. (See a comparison of cable to fiber optic connectivity here.) To connect to a private home, cables and lines must either be below ground or above. So that means either digging a ditch or connecting to utility poles. Digging new ditches to everyone’s home is expensive compared to the overhead alternative. The infrastructure is already in place regarding utility poles, however, not everyone can access them.

And for those who can access the utility poles, there is a lot of fighting both amongst them and to prohibit others from accessing these passageways.

To summarize: there is too much ground to cover to install underground cable or fiber optic lines to every U.S. home, it would be too expensive to install all of those underground lines to all rural dwellings, and there are too many players in the overhead line market who can’t, or won’t, form high speed internet agreements to serve the rural population.

Well, if we can’t be corded in rural areas, what else can we do?

Cut the cord!

But, this, too, is not an optimal solution…

  1. When it comes to cellular coverage and smart phone use, the data usage amount is routinely limited and the speed is not fast.

As mentioned above, living in a rural area and having a smart phone is not the same as living in an urban area. First, not every telecom company has service in rural areas. We still experience the “Can you hear me now?” phenomenon.

And of the smart-phone service we can get, there are issues like limited data amounts, or data plans that throttle users on so-called “unlimited” access plans.  Where this is felt the most is when we try to watch video on our smart phones. It’s a sure-fire way to hit our data cap in record time!

But that is assuming we can even see the videos. Often, and despite what the marketing may say, the speed of internet access when using a smart phone is just plain painful. I explained the comparison of cable internet connection versus smart phone internet connection to my mother like this: cable is like a roaring river with rapids—you get a lot of water, but it doesn’t last too long. Smart phone access is like a long and winding stream that goes on and on—it’s a smaller amount of water, but it goes further. We, in rural areas, are most likely limited to a stream-type connection for our Internet access with our smart phones.

Well, then, what about satellite?

  1. When it comes to satellite subscriptions, the price is too high and the service is not consistent.

Satellite connections are also not as fast as wired speeds and the fees are really expensive. Plus, signals routinely drop. They drop. They drop. And then they drop. This makes Cloud-connectivity software something we try to stay clear of.

The Takeaways for Lawyers

The solution to all of this is not to force all rural inhabitants to move but to keep in mind the following… do not forget about we, the-non-broadband group, when you design websites and digital solutions.

  • Start with mobile-optimized web pages and then do your desktop designs. One in five Americans do not have broadband access at home and also have relatively few options for getting online other than their cell phone. It’s not just we in rural America that are smart-phone dependent, though, and Pew Research has a great study on who else falls into this group. Again, remember that 20% of Americans are smart-phone dependent, so web pages should increasingly be designed, or at least responsive, for mobile viewing.
  • Assume we will connect to your site with our smart phones (which, like a stream, are the furthest reaching but can be the slowest in terms of speed).
  • Make it clear on your mobile-optimized sites that there may be more features on your desktop designs and provide us with a hyperlink to that site if we want to jump to it. This is an increasingly understood notion… that desktop websites have more features than mobile-optimized sites.
  • Remember that our screen sizes are smaller so be efficient with your designs. Do not put in content that is not necessary or redundant on your mobile-optimized websites. Do not put in too many images; do not put in images that are too large in size. Law Practice Today provides an explanation on resolution, resizing, and re-sampling images. And although it loads quickly, try to limit your words, dear lawyers.
  • Drop the auto-play of video content. Even animated .gifs are potentially problematic (and highly annoying). If you want to attract rural clients, drop video content altogether!

Remember, too, that high speed internet speeds vary depending upon what type of connection you use or have the ability to use (smart phone, satellite, cable, fiber optic). The gold star of universal broadband access is just not foreseeable given the problems noted above. It’s not a basic right; it’s not about being fair or unfair.

So let’s be realistic about what can, will, and should not be considered a basic right for the various ways to connect to the Internet in this very large country of ours. And on that note, because I wrote this article on my home computer, I must now drive into work to e-mail it.

Photographs as Evidence: How to Work with Print and Digital Images

A re-post of my article at the ABA’s Law Practice Today


It seems like photographs are everywhere, doesn’t it? The advent of digital photography, mobile phones, and social media sites means people are taking exponentially more photographs. Experts predict that within this year, more than 1 trillion photos will be taken.

We are living in a technological time when capturing and sharing images is easy and ubiquitous. People take pictures with digital cameras, smart phones, and tablets. Copiers often double as scanners that allow the rapid duplication of printouts, with an additional conversion of a page of text into an image format.

Not only has the number of photographs increased, so, too has the use of them in litigation for both digital and physical evidence. One reason may be because jurors, being drawn from the general public, are visual learners, so they mainly want to see evidence rather than hear it. People also more easily forget what they hear. With the amount of information that jurors must process, using photographs can help strengthen an argument or issue presented.

Litigators may choose to digitally project photographs depending upon whether the courtroom is capable of displaying the images. Or, as in the case of a federal suit, lawyers may be forced to use digital files. However, when the jurors deliberate, lawyers must consider what happens when they try to print a digital photograph.

What are Photographs, Really?

When a photograph is captured by a digital camera, it becomes a digital file called a “raster file.”  Raster images are resolution-dependent. Basically, resolution is the amount of dots per inch (dpi) when a raster image is printed, or pixels per inch (ppi) when a raster image is displayed on a screen.

Resolution dependency means that the resolution varies depending upon where that raster image ends up. Terms like “lo res” refer to digital images with a resolution of 72 ppi – suitable for website usage. “Hi res” images have a resolution setting ranging from 300-600 dpi or higher – suitable for print use.

Because of these resolution differences, lawyers often experience photos that are in-focus when viewed on a screen, but blurry/out-of-focus when printed out.

The Blurry Printed Photographs Problem

There are two main reasons why an in-focus digital photo becomes blurry when printed:

1. Web images have lo res settings while printed images need hi res settings.

When you print a lo res image that has 72 ppi, there’s not enough data to print a clear and crisp image. Although software, like Adobe Photoshop, allows you to upsample (and simply increase the resolution), do not do it. The resulting image will now be blurry in both digital and printed applications.

2. Web images that are stretched or scaled to fit a page will also result in blurry printouts.

Facebook and Twitter photos are not only lo res, they are also small in physical size, like postal-stamp sizes when printed out. This is not an effective way to present them as evidence.

Many a savvy lawyer will take a downloaded Facebook photo and stretch it to fit a printout size. Or, they will look in the print dialog box and click “Scale to Fit Page”. Both are also problematic because the result is a blurry printout.

So what can you do?


Here are two possible solutions to achieving an in-focus printout from a digital photograph.

1. If possible, you may be able to resize an image.

Resizing an image is different than resampling it. Resampling changes the resolution. Resizing allows for a swapping of size and resolution settings.

If you have a large photograph in terms of width and height, but it is lo res (72 ppi), you can resize it to be smaller in width and height, while increasing its resolution.

Where do you get digital photographs that can be resized?

They are photographs taken with a camera or smart phone and sent directly to an attorney – not  photos that are right-clicked and saved off of someone’s social media profile and then sent to an attorney.

After you have the resizeable digital photo, you will need software to resize it. Two good options are GIMP and Adobe Photoshop. GIMP is free and offers many of the capabilities of Adobe Photoshop.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial to resize an image using GIMP

  1. Open GIMP
  2. <File <Open and find your digital image
  3. <Image <Scale Image
  4. Increase both your X and Y resolution (and they are probably linked by default) and GIMP will automatically decrease your width and height. You may want to change the dropdown button next to the width and height values to inches so you see the size of the image when it is printed out.*
  5. Hit “Scale
  6. <File <Print to print your file
  7. Now be sure to Re-save your new, resized image as a JPG by
  8. <File <Export As
  9. In the Name box at the top, rename your file something like “hi_res.jpg”. Unless you make other changes, be sure to add/keep the .jpg or else your file won’t save as a JPG. Also, pay attention to where you are saving your file!
  10. Hit the “Export” button
  11. You can now close out of GIMP because you have already saved your new file.

*When you are changing the resolution in step 4, you may wonder what number to change the setting too. Remember, printed images normally need a resolution between 300-600 dpi. So try 300, then 600. Whatever prints out in focus and is the width and height you want is the winner.

Resizing is a powerful solution for most, but not all, digital photographs. Some digital photographs are too small in resolution and size to be resized. These are the digital files that mainly appear in a person’s Facebook or Twitter profile.

Social media sites optimize photos to be displayed digitally and to fit on Facebook’s or Twitter’s servers. The photos are not intended to be printed out. So these companies automatically downsample all photographs that are uploaded to their sites.

What can you do if a client sends you an image they downloaded off of a social media site? If you want to print it out, not much. However, you may be able to get a better digital image if you get a screen capture of it.

2. Take a screen capture of a digital photograph.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter display user-generated photographs in many ways. Sometimes images are embedded into a tweet; sometimes you can click and see the image by itself. Try to find a way to view the photo as large as possible on your computer screen. Get it as large as you can on the screen, and then take a screen capture of it by doing the following…

Taking a screen capture with a Mac:

  1. Press Command and Shift and 4 together
  2. Move the crosshair pointer to where you want to start the screenshot
  3. Drag to select an area
  4. When you’ve selected the area you want, release your mouse or trackpad button
  5. Find the screenshot as a .png file on your desktop
  6. Open the file in GIMP
  7. <Image <Scale Image
  8. Try to see if you can resize this lo-res image into a hi res one. If your image is larger in width and height than what you need, increase the x and y resolution (see step 4 from the above section about resizing).

Taking a screen capture with a PC:

  1. Press the Print Scrn button
  2. Open Gimp
  3. <File <Create from Clipboard
  4. Crop down the image to the photograph you want by going to <Tools <Transform Tools and selecting theCrop tool
  5. Drag to select the photograph only
  6. Hit the Enter button on your keyboard
  7. <Image <Scale Image
  8. Try to see if you can resize this lo-res image into a hi res one. If your image is larger in width and height than what you need, increase the x and y resolution (see step 4 from the above section about resizing).


Whether printed or projected, lawyers will probably use photographs in litigation. It’s crucial for lawyers to understand how to use them correctly and effectively.

Understand that resolution varies depending upon where these photographs will be used. Print photographs require a higher resolution setting than digitally displayed photos. But sometimes, if a lo res digital image is large in width and height, it can be resized to be a hi res image.

Resizing a photo allows for an increase in the resolution while decreasing the overall width and height of the photo. So litigators can have both an in-focus digital image and an in-focus (albeit smaller in width and height) printed image.

But if you can’t resize a digital image, try to view it as large as possible on your screen and take a screen capture of it.

These are some solutions to address working with lo res digital images. Sometimes, though, no workaround helps. In that case, hope for a courtroom that is wired so you can present the digital images to the jurors or judge on a screen.

Jurors and the Seriousness of Googling or Facebooking During Trial

A re-post of my article originally posted at


Thank you ABA for this wonderful opportunity to publish with you!


Many articles (e.g. William Bell, Daniel. “Juror Misconduct and the Internet,” American Journal of Criminal Law, 2010) and opinions (e.g. U.S. v. Fumo, 655 F.3d 288 [2011] opinion by Judge Richard Lowell Nygaard) have been written about the potential for juror misconduct when a juror posts information to their social media account or uses the Internet to “research” information about a trial.

Why does this topic seem to be increasing in frequency? And what role does technology play within these actions of misconduct?

Juror misconduct can take many forms, including:

Communication by the juror with those outside of the trial.

Gone are the days of communicating to others without the use of technology. Be it chatting on the phone, texting, posting to social media sites, using mobile apps… the channels of communication have undoubtedly changed. The majority of teenagers, who are early adopters of communication technologies, have made new friends online. Social media sites are the most common way to connect with these friends. So it not unrealistic to think that a juror’s preferred method of communicating to his (600 Facebook) friends is to post a message on his or her private Facebook page.

When the jury member brings outside evidence into the trial that they have found themselves, and this evidence had not been allowed into the trial by the judge or lawyers.

There are many legal ways to suppress information (motions in limine, motions to suppress, the prejudice/probative balancing test, objections, etc.). If a juror does “research” by way of Googling information, these suppression methods potentially become boondoggles.

For example, a juror may Google a defendant’s name in a criminal trial and find evidence of past crimes that might not have come into the current trial. Maybe the defendant was not going to testify or the judge would have barred the prosecutor of using evidence of a prior conviction to prove a defendant’s guilt or tendency to commit crimes. Either way, the juror, not the judge, has determined the admissibility of the evidence and may use this to presume that the defendant of a current trial is guilty.

On another note, we are living in an age where potentially any person can have an electronic platform to not only express their viewpoints but also solicit praise for them. Most news websites allow readers to vote for comments. Reddit allows users to vote up or down a story, and the most popular stories then get listed on the site’s homepage. This is a modern way to win a popularity contest that thrives on drama. If a story is dramatic or shocking in some way, it becomes more visible with the up votes, links, and shares.

So when a juror posts his or her news about a trial, they could be seeking praise and attention from their 600 Facebook friends. And, in what has been shown already, either the juror will ask for the friends’ advice or the friends will voluntarily advise the juror how to proceed in the trial.

In many ways, the trial process of barring jurors from posting trial information online or Googling information now runs counter to how jurors live.

Jurors may be not be able to stop themselves from going online.

Although the United States has not formally recognized internet addiction as a mental illness, there is a growing concern that Internet usage can be a more than a social problem. Currently, 85% of Americans go online. A study that was conducted in 2004 by Pew also found that 64% of Internet users say their daily routines and activities would be affected if they could no longer use the Internet, and older people are more likely than younger Internet users to go online to interact socially.

Although this data is a bit dated, it suggests that breaking jurors of the daily habit of going online and refraining from posting or searching may be akin to putting them through digital detox.  It is an upwards battle.

There now exists a constant flow of information that is easily available.

In fact, people pride themselves when they find something out online. The word “Google” has become a verb, and it seems expected that people Google each other as a first-resort, not last-resort. Additionally, new movements (aka medical-patient-to-medical-patient forums) center on the discovering of on-line information and the digital connectivity between people.

So jurors may bring to a trial their existing mindset that Googling is only a good thing.

The gatekeepers of information have changed.

Compared to the past, the number of gatekeepers (individuals who controlled the flow of news stories) who provided information to others has exploded. Social media sites are increasingly being used to view content that is considered “news”, but without the traditional news anchors as the sole disseminators of the content. And distrust for the talking heads (ala Brian Williams) has further eroded the confidence of collecting news from only one source.

Judges and attorneys may be telling the jurors that their current method of news intake is not what is accepted in a court of law. It’s back to the single gatekeeper days, where the judge and the lawyers are the only disseminators of information. So jurors may not understand why this seemingly antiquated method is so important in the trial environment.

What should be done about this?

In 2011, Judge Nygaard wrote an opinion suggesting possible ways to stop juror misconduct. These included fining jurors, holding them in contempt, increasing the frequency of jury instructions, and screening out potential jurors during the voir dire process based upon their social media habits.

In 2012, the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee updated their model jury instructions (posted as a downloadable pdf hyperlink within this page) to try to deter juror use of social media during a trial.

We suggest revising these instructions again and clearly, succinctly, explain why jurors are being ordered to refrain from activities in which they might normally engage.

For example:

I order you to decide the case only on the evidence presented at this trial.

The reason is because the information from outside sources, both online and offline, might be wrong, incomplete, or inaccurate.

I order you not to talk with anyone, other than your fellow jurors during deliberations, about this trial.

The reason is because other people, whether they are talking to you in person or are an online friend, could bias your thinking.

As academics, we suggest an educational approach. Lawyers and judges can learn more about the ways jurors routinely communicate and the reasons for doing so. Jury instructions could then be written in a way to address these underlying practices and subsequently explain to the jurors the importance of adhering to the established system used in trials.


Facing a divorce or child custody battle? There’s a forum for that!

A friend of mine told me she’s going through a hostile custody battle. Actually, she e-mailed this to a group of friends and family in a veryyyy long email.

Given my experiences of having gone through a lengthy custody battle, the quick reply I sent her was, “Go on-line and find a support group. Look for a forum so you can ask questions and get answers from others who have experienced what you may soon face.”

On the NEGATIVE side…

Divorce and custody battles/resolutions/terminations/lawsuits …whatever you want to call it… can be one of the scariest experiences people face. It can lead to depression. Anger. It can be the lowest point in your life.

And just we you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they probably do.

On the POSITIVE side…

You are not alone. Whether you are divorcing and have kids, or have never married and have kids, there are a whole lot of people who have probably gone through what you are going to go through.

So what this means is… you have already a support network. Hurrah!


Forums can connect similarly situated people.

BUT, it may not be the people who are in your immediate circle or those who you already lean on for support.

Why? Because everyone experiences different things on their legal journey. Your current close friends may start to resent your communications. Perhaps they think you are whining. Others may give you advice like, “Just get over this, already. I did.” (Whether or not that is true is a different story.)

My point is, you are not limited to the physical people around you or your current on-line friends. You are entering a new world, and therefore you can develop/join/create a new circle of supporters.

Google “divorce forums”, “custody support groups”, “single mom forums”, “single dad forums”, etc. Whatever you are looking for, there probably is a forum for it. Forums are sites where similarly-situated people can connect online.

There are various ways to learn things on forums. You can post a question and receive responses. Or, you can simply read other people’s postings.

Sometimes you can message or e-mail other forum members directly. Sometimes forum members use their real names. Often times they are nonsensical names. It really does not matter. What you are looking for is the relevant content. You are looking for answers.

Forums connect people in other serious situations too. Medical patient-to-medical patient forums tend to pick up where the doctor left off and have spawned a movement to let patients help! Caregiver forums provide support for those who support others. Technical forums from people using a product often replace company service manuals. The hard part is finding the forum that works for you.

If you do not know how to use forums, ask someone for help. Have someone sitting next to you who can walk you through a forum site is extremely helpful if you’ve never experienced these sites before.

Try to find an active forum. How often do people respond to posts? What is the overall tone of the posts and replies? These can range from positive-focused through venting-type outlets.  What, exactly are you looking for? Chances are, you’ll find it in an online forum!

The beauty of forums is that you can connect to people who will support you when you need it the most. And now is the time to reach out because, ultimately, divorce and custody battles involve you AND your children. You don’t have the option of NOT involving them.

Re-stated without the double negatives = your children are involved in this matter, too.

Being a parent is the hardest job in the world.

Being a parent who is undergoing family law battles is… well… it’s something you now have to do.

So find your new support network by using an online forum to help you through these times.


Are lawyers the only true experts on family law matters?

Like many Americans, I have gone through both a divorce and having to litigate family law issues in a court of law. I have spent enormous amounts of money hiring lawyers to represent me, and have often represented myself.

Unlike most Americans, while I was going through the litigation, I decided to enter law school. So my approach to family law is also intersected with my academic life of being a PhD in Technology. Yes, I like to learn. That is obvious. And it is upon this nexus of real-world experiences/law student/academic that I’ve started blogging.

Recently, I pitched an idea to a legal website about the potential use by family law attorneys of the Ashley Madison data dump. My idea was quickly rejected; I was told that I could not write about substantive law because I was too junior of a lawyer. I found this humorous because I’m not yet a lawyer at all! However, this dismissal was telling.

Do lawyers really believe that only other senior lawyers are qualified as experts in family law?

Are lawyers the only experts of family law?

Are lawyers the only experts of family law?

I beg to differ. First and foremost, a JD or bar-passage does not make anyone an automatic and well-rounded expert in every legal sense. Many lawyers I know believe the degree means you’re ready to start practicing law. It’s the same thing in many colleges… students learn the most after they receive the degree.

Secondly, being dragged through litigation almost forces a party to compile and acquire legal knowledge.  My knees were skinned with the “real world” applications and twists of the family law courts. And I was able to see the disconnection between what I was experiencing within the courts as compared to the beautiful theory of the law. Law school taught me the law and what the ideal process should be. My experiences as a defendant taught me the applications and realities. Additionally, most of my law professors would answer my questions with, “Family law has its own rules”, which gave me the impression that this area of law truly needs people who have practical experiences gained in more ways than by being the attorney of record.

On that same note, the fact is that many people are litigating without the assistance or representation of legal counsel. It’s incredibly expensive to be involved in a lawsuit. A surprising fact is that 2/3rds of California family law cases are filed by a self-represented litigant! So whether it is by choice or by default, people going through the system are learning in a way that is experiential.

Additionally, the State of Washington has started a program where, surely, these non-lawyers will claim expertise in family law matters!

Some lawyers are taking note of these changes and reacting in a flexible way. They may be offering non-traditional services like limited scope representation (ala Julie Tolek) or teaching people how to represent themselves without an attorney (ala Jason Levoy)

Based upon my experiences, the changing fee structures offered by flexible attorneys, and the emerging programs to license non-lawyers in the area of family law, I think that the belief that senior attorneys are the only family law experts is, well, antiquated. We become experts in various ways.

How might family law attorneys use the Ashley Madison data?

If you’ve been following the coverage of the Ashley Madison data dump, you may have read the stories about the expected surge of traffic to a divorce attorney’s office. It is anticipated that prospective clients who find that their spouse’s e-mail or name is within the database may contact a divorce attorney. Of course we would hope that it is not this simple trigger that would lead a client to contact attorney… that there are additional facts/evidence/suspicion of marital problems.

However IF that is the case, the next question is, how might a family law attorney use the information found on the Ashley Madison data dump?

Ashley Madison data

How might the Ashley Madison data be used in a family law dispute?

1. Attorneys should verify that the information is indeed connected to the person of interest.

One big disclaimer to all of the reporting of the Ashley Madison breach and database posting is that the e-mails in the database may have been hijacked, in a way. The site does not validate e-mails when accounts are created. So, in theory, anyone can create an account with another person’s email.

The other information posted in the dump includes full names, addresses, telephone, partial credit card numbers and physical descriptions including height and weight. It also includes the profile write-ups. All of these could be reviewed by the client to see if (most likely) she sees a similarity to what her spouse would post, or where they live, or if he has a telephone number that matches, etc.

2. Attorneys will want to search for additional evidence of the affair by reviewing other dating sites. The Ashley Madison data dump includes names. Of course, if a user used his true name, this is a relevant find. However, users who created false names could also be informative.

Although Ashley Madison is (by now, most certainly) the most famous salacious website, there are other websites a person could use to arrange an affair. Adult FriendFinder, who had their own database hacked into in March, 2015, is direct: Sign-up now and start hooking up tonight, they post on their home page. Okcupid lets a member search by “Covert Affairs”, and Craigslist allows posters to set their posting category to a “Casual Encounter”.

A family law attorney might find that the husband has additional postings on these other sites under the same handle/user name or with the same written description.

If an attorney can find additional profiles on other sites, the validity of the user being the one who posted on the Ashley Madison site becomes stronger.

3. Allegations or proof of an extramarital affair could be used to argue for sole custody of a child.

Like many other states, Michigan is a ‘no fault’ divorce state. This means that residents can establish a divorce without having to establish that the other party did something wrong. So although an affair is one reason a party may ask for a divorce, this reason will not be considered by the courts for granting a divorce.

However, proof of an extramarital affair could be used in determining the custodial arrangements of the divorcing parties.  In Michigan, we have what are called the “Best Interest Factors”. These are used to help make determinations of custodial arrangements between divorcing parents and their children. Factor F is the moral fitness of the parties involved. A family law attorney could most certainly use evidence of an extra-marital affair to argue against the cheating spouse receiving joint custody.

4. Allegations or proof of an extramarital affair could be used to argue for an increased amount of alimony and the division of the marital estate.

Similar to the Best Interest Factors, courts have factors to consider when dividing marital property and awarding spousal support. When dividing the marital property, one factor is the cause for the divorce, including fault in the breakdown of the marriage. When awarding spousal support, two factors are past relations and conduct of the parties and a spouse’s fault in causing the divorce.

In conclusion, evidence of an e-mail being listed in a database that contained information from the past seven years is probably not enough to completely sway a judge in a family law matter. But if the family law attorney leverages this information and builds additional evidence against the opposing party, this could be something included when arguing the big-ticket items within divorce matters.