John Cord Law, LLC

Helping Lawyers Create Compelling Content

Dropbox Hacked

Don't use this method to remember your passwords

No sooner did we post about the usefulness of cloud computing than one major provider of cloud computing to lawyers, Dropbox, has been hacked. Dropbox is cloud-based program that allows users to save and share files.  For small and solo firms, it is useful for sending large documents that are too unwieldy for e-mail, and for acting as a back-up for on-site data storage.  

So, a security breach is clearly a bad thing.  Dropbox, for its part, is doing what it can to prevent this from happening again.  

So what do you need to know to protect your information in Dropbox and other hopefully-secure sites?  The key is unique and functional passwords.  What you shouldn’t do is use the same password for multiple sites, and don’t keep a list of all your passwords conveniently saved on your computer.  There are numerous services that can save your passwords–you simply remember a master password, and they will keep the specific information.  Services like Lastpass  and 1Password will save your passwords, and provide a place to securely log in to other websites.   

Many websites, including this one, can evaluate the “crackability” of your current passwords.  Plug a few of your passwords in to see if they make the cut.

Using PowerPoint Slides On Your Website

PowerPoint slides (or Keynote, if you’re a Mac user) are the poor man’s video.  If you can’t afford a camera, tripod, microphone and the editing software to make it look good (or, if you have a face for radio, like yours truly), then you can still give your audience good visual information by providing PowerPoint slides and saving them on your website, blog, or YouTube.

How is this useful?  If you are a lawyer who handles medical malpractice cases, then put up 15 slides on how to choose a medical malpractice lawyer.  Product liability lawyers can create a 30-slide presentation on the latest medical device recall, like metal-on-metal hip implants, or transvaginal slings.  This will give your potential clients something to do other than read a stagnant website.

Here’s how:

  • Step One:  Create your PowerPoint presentation.
    • Don’t forget–you can create links from a slide to your blog, website or authoritative source.
  • Step Two:  Upload the presentation to an online service like SlideShare, Scribd or Docstoc.
    • Alternatively, you can use software like Camtasia Studio (a little pricey, but extremely useful for recording video right off the computer, including YouTube and other videos) to record the slides as you narrate them.
  • Step Three:  Embed the content to your website or blog (most sites will give you an html for that purpose).  Decide whether you want the slides to be available on the host site, as well.
  • Step Four:  Spread the word about the presentation on your other social media platforms–link from Facebook, Twitter, and your blogs.
  • Step Five:  Check your stats–some hosts have analytics programs that measure the reach of your presentation (how many times someone clicked it).  You should be doing this already with your blogs and websites.

That’s all there is to it.  This is a terrific way to break up the monotony of a blog.  Here’s one I did way back when to help new lawyers adjust to the rigors of law firm life.

Cloud Computing: Sounds scarier than it really is

Lawyers have been up in arms about cloud computing for years.  Most of this stems for discomfort for the term.  It’s like other words that cause consternation–SEO, and e-discovery, to name a few.  It’s not really that complicated, but we are hard-wired to fear the unknown.  

Cloud computing is, essentially, the access of information through the internet.  The information doesn’t have to be stored in a public domain to be cloud computing.  Much of it is privately-held information.  Let’s examine some typical cloud computing:

  1. Online banking
  2. Internet-based e-mail
  3. Online social media

Lawyers are mostly worried about security.  We have obligations to keep our clients’ data reasonably secure, whether that data is in hard copy form (the office file) or in digital form (backed up in a server bunker in Iowa).  To keep the hard files secure, we keep the doors locked, the alarms on, and we only use trustworthy cleaning services (have you checked the credentials of your cleaning service?).  To keep the electronic files secure, we need to make sure that the vendors who maintain those files use sophisticated digital security.  

The state bar associations, sensing the near-apoplectic panic among some lawyers, are starting to get involved.  The Massachusetts Bar Association, in Ethics Opinion 12-03,  is the latest to opine that cloud computing can be ethical. In general, a lawyer must undertake ”reasonable efforts to ensure that the provider’s terms of use and data privacy policies, practices and procedures are compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations, including the obligation to protect confidential client information reflected in Rule 1.6(a).”  

In a footnote, the Massachusetts opinion references other states that have issued opinions on the subject (hyperlinks added):

The American Bar Association and the bar associations of various states also have addressed the ethical implications of using Internet-based software and data storage services, either formally or provisionally. See, e.g., American Bar Assoc. Commission on Ethics 20/20 “Issues Paper Concerning Client Confidentiality and Lawyers’ Use of Technology,” dated September 20, 2010; New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics Opinion 842, dated September 10, 2010; California State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 08-0002, approved for public comment in August 2010; Iowa State Bar Association Committee on Ethics and Practice Guidelines Opinion 11-01, dated September 9, 2011; and North Carolina State Bar Ethics Committee Proposed 2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 6, dated October 20, 2011.

Others include:

None of these states say its a bad idea.  There are certainly precautions that lawyers must take, but cloud computing, if not here and now, is the future.  As a solo practitioner, I find cloud computing to be easier, cheaper, and necessary.  I don’t have a firm server–all of my data is held on the hard drive, backed up on external hard drives, and double-backed up in online storage.  Many vendors provide me with software that is accessible online, which means that I am less likely to experience problems with the software, or with difficulties running the software on my computer.  All tech maintenance is performed by the company.


Maximize SEO for Lawyer Blogs and Webpages

Search Engine Optimization, commonly referred to by the mysterious acronym SEO, is pushed at lawyers every day, often in the form of spam comments to blog posts, unsolicited e-mails from self-proclaimed SEO experts, and fear.  

The fear is a fear of the unknown.  SEO can be hard to understand, and it can be even harder to implement well.  Add to this the constantly changing rules imposed by Google and other search engines, and many attorneys have no choice but to throw money at the problem.  Throwing money at the wrong “SEO expert” can have dire consequences, particularly if those experts use questionable linking schemes and other black hat practices that can penalize law firm websites.  

Here is a ten-minute video with SEO tips that any lawyer can implement on their own website, created by Google (they know this stuff):  

Lawyer SEO Tips  

Here are main tips:  

  1. Go to Google Webmaster Tools: There’s a ton of stuff to check out there, including a sample crawl by Google’s “bots” which check the site for keywords and malicious redirects.  Ask Google to “submit to index” whenever you create a new page.  
  2. Use Google Analytics immediately.
  3. When designing a new website, think about the overall site navigation, and provide a logical menu scheme.  
  4. Every page needs a “call-to-action.”  For law firms that is a “contact us” tab or a “free book here” link.
  5. Avoid legalese:  use common language.
  6. All pages, whether static pages or blog posts,, should have a unique title, and hyperlinks should use descriptive anchor text (that is, a link to my main car accident page should be something like Baltimore Auto Accident Lawyer).  
  7. Make sure you rank first for your company name–a unique firm name can help.  Secondary websites and blogs can also help you to claim and enhance your firm’s name.  
  8. Use social media to help boost your Google credibility.  

If you have questions about any of these tips, contact us at 443.850.4426, or visit our online contact form.  

125 Technology Tips

The Journal of Accountancy has 125 technology tips.  There’s advice for computer maintenance, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and other pointers.  My favorites?

  • No. 17:  Adding Checkboxes to Word Documents
  • No. 18:  Jumping Slides in PowerPoint (great for presentations where a question derails your linear flow)
  • No. 24:  Convert PowerPoint presentation to video, with narration
  • No. 59:  Free movement to the Cloud (up to 50GB), courtesy of Microsoft

Take a peek–you’re certain to find something useful.  

Facebook For Maryland Judges

The Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee gave sparse guidance for Maryland state judges who are interested in expanding their electronic footprint through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  The June 12, 2012 published opinion first warned judges to “proceed cautiously.” 

The opinion examined what other states do, noting that in some states judges are prohibited from friending lawyers who do or might appear before them in court.  

Realistically, the important concern for a judge is whether the existence of an online friendship could create the appearance of impropriety.  Ordinarily, that would be a simple matter.  However, Maryland judges have one special circumstance that should be considered:  judicial elections.

Judges are initially appointed by the governor to fulfill vacancies.  After that appointment, though, judges in Maryland are forced to run for office—that is, they must be re-elected to the position.  I think most lawyers in Maryland think this is a terrible idea.  Here’s why:

  • Judges have better things to do than run for office
  • Judges have historically been insulated from politics, which allows them the freedom to make rulings with political ramifications.  Judicial elections are a major step in the wrong direction.
  • If you’re looking to avoid the appearance of impropriety, judicial elections is the wrong answer.  In order to succeed, judges must schmooze with voters, raise money from people, organizations and corporations, and then somehow not be influenced (overtly or sub-consciously) when those supporters have cases in front of the judge.  That’s ridiculous. 

The reality is that Facebook, Twitter and other forms of electronic social media are important political tools.  We witnessed that with Obama’s election.  Several legislators in Maryland use the tool to connect with their supporters and potential supporters.  Judges, who are forced to occasionally play politics, should be allowed to friend just about everyone in the Twitterverse in order to raise money and stay in the game.  But, that doesn’t exactly smack of impropriety.  Perhaps one way around this is to use a separate Facebook page/Twitter handle for the judge’s election committee, but that’s really just a shell game. 

Applying the new opinion to prospective judicial conduct, I think the real analysis is going to be what judges are doing with social networking, and the relationship of that online presence to the courtroom.  Judges should pay particular attention to their friend lists—if one of those friends is a lawyer or party or witness before the judge, he or she needs to decide whether recusal is necessary and, if not, the issue should be at least raised to the lawyers who can then decide whether a motion for recusal is appropriate.  Just like law firms need to perform conflicts checks, the judges should have a way to cross-reference their friends with the people walking into their courtrooms. 

It’s likely that most judges will refrain from any social media comments about pending cases.  Even though some comments are likely to be insignificant, the risk of exposing too much or revealing any biases is simply too great.  But you can expect that some judges will cross the line the further we proceed into this brave new world.