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Information for Lawyers, Ideas for Journalists: Week of May 21

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Our weekly roundup of PR client news, notable links and story ideas

By Geri L. Dreiling, Esq.

There’s no question that the law influences technology. From net neutrality to the quest to unmask anonymous commenters on news sites, courts in the United States and abroad have been asked to weigh in and formulate rules to apply to this virtual land.

But it is not a one-way street. Technology is also transforming the law.

From the way in which evidence is gathered to innovations that are giving real meaning to the ideal of open courts, technology is influencing how cases are investigated and how legal practices are managed.

Ironically, by giving the public front-row seat in courtrooms, technology may offer the legal system a chance to transcend the belief that meting out real-life justice is a simple, clean process.

In this issue I’ll highlight notable links for lawyers and ideas for journalists where law and technology intersect.

But first, client news.

LMM Client News

Last week Butsch Simeri Fields LLC and two other law firms filed a federal class action lawsuit against Farmland Foods in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Print, radio and television media located near Farmland Foods facilities picked up the story. You can follow it here:

KTVO-3 (ABC) Heartland

KWIX 1230 AM

Canadian family lawyer Russell I. Alexander, based in Brooklin, Ontario, established a $5,000 annual grant for nonprofits serving greater Durham and Kawartha Lakes. The fund helps not-for-profit agencies that promote community development, arts and culture, sports, education and health and human services. In 2009, Covenant House of Toronto received the grant. The law firm is accepting applications for its 2010 grant.

Notable Links for Lawyers

What the Judge Ate for Breakfast

Who was one of the first newspaper reporters to tweet from a courtroom? You’re probably thinking of someone from The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or the Los Angeles Times. But did you consider a reporter from the Wichita Eagle? Indeed, the Wichita Eagle’s Ron Sylvester is the courtroom tweeting pioneer. And it was a Kansas judge, Sedgwick County District Judge Ben Burgess, who allowed it.

Now Sylvester is using technology to further expand the reach of his legal reporting by incorporating courtroom video and interviews on in his blog, “What the Judge Ate for Breakfast.”

The blog offers a realistic picture of the various tensions in the U.S. judicial system: the bureaucratic mandate to push cases through the system; the inexact science of balancing responsibility, punishment, redemption; and efforts to minimize collateral damage to innocent family members.

Of course, there are no makeup artists, expensive costume designers or special lighting. Lawyers and legal affairs reporters will instantly recognize this is the real unglamorous deal.

On Monday I’ll post an interview with Sylvester, a veteran legal affairs and courts reporter who also covered the BTK serial killer. He’ll discuss his project and reveal how he was able to persuade judges, lawyers and court personnel to give him access.

For now, if you want “true” TV, watch Common Law: Trying a Judge’s Patience.

Federal Judiciary Launches Enhanced Website

Podcasts, widgets, a YouTube channel. When it comes to press releases from the U.S. federal judiciary, one usually doesn’t see these references to technology and social media. But on Monday the court unveiled its new website and announced that its communication efforts would include multimedia outreach.

MRIs and the Law

Last week, NPR’s Science Friday aired a segment on using MRIs to tell whether someone is lying. Although some technology companies claim that brain scans can show whether a criminal suspect is telling the truth, a recent study revealed a high rate of false positives.

Stanford University law professor Henry Greeley appeared as a guest on the show and discussed the legal and ethical questions surrounding the use of MRIs as evidence

Translating for IT and Earthlings

In the May issue of California Lawyer, Robert D. Brownstone’s guest article highlights the challenges of collaborating with IT departments on eDiscovery issues. Brownstone, law and technology director at the Silicon Valley firm Fenwick & West LLP, includes a handy chart that translates into plain English both “geek-speak” and legalese.

21 Rules for Social Media Engagement

Admit it: As lawyers, we can’t help like knowing the rules. So if you’ve been considering using social media as a method for marketing and communication, read these rules from Brian Solis, featured on Mashable.

10 Sure Cures for Blogging Burnout

Those of you who already have a blog will want to keep these 10 tips handy. Whether you’ve already encountered burnout or fear that it may creep in, Michelle V. Rafter at WordCount offers some helpful ideas to get past — and even avoid — the blogging blahs.

Story Ideas for Business and Law Reporters, Writers and Bloggers

Cameras in the delivery room

This week on Legal Lad, Adam Freedman tackles the question, posed by a reader, as to whether hospitals may ban cameras in the delivery room. A few years ago I wrote a piece for Missouri Lawyers Weekly, titled “Birth of a Lawsuit,” detailing the pivotal role played by delivery room video in a malpractice suit.

As a reporter, you could write about the tension between the desire to record such an important event and evidence-gathering. How are your local hospitals handling the question?

Technology and Open Government

In addition to the U.S. federal courts new website and Ron Sylvester’s vlog of daily courtroom drama in Kansas court, the Indiana Supreme Court has announced that it is now tweeting legal news.

Are your local courts embracing technology? If not, what are the reasons being given for resistance?

A Service of Note

When I prepare verdict and settlement reports for my law firm clients, I submit the write-ups to a number of publications, including The Civil Litigator. An online database serving the legal community in the Midwest, The Civil Litigator provides coverage of civil cases throughout Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. For more information about subscribing, e-mail

Beth Lewandowski, The Civil Litigator’s editor, is also a St. Louis family law attorney. Her firm, Law Office of Marta J. Papa, is a Legal Media Matters client.

Have any links to suggest? Give them a mention in our comments section. And if you have any recommendations for next week, feel free to e-mail them to me.

Have a great weekend!