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Date Archives: July 2012

Mandated E-Service for Florida Civil Filings as of September 1, 2012

The Florida Supreme Court has required e-service in Florida Civil cases by September 1.  The change-of-date order is here.  The underlying order is here.

Confused?  Here’s sources of information so you can prepare your firm over the next month.

The Florida Bar News had these relevant articles:  “Court Sets E-filing, E-Service Deadlines,” “The Changing World of Electronic Courts,”  and “Commonly Asked E-Filing Questions.”

The Palm Beach Bar issued this e-Newsletter on the topic.

The Florida Courts E-Filing Portal is here.

The Florida Courts’ Technology Page has some FAQs and other info here.

For information specific to your county / circuit, considering googling “e-filing [your county/circuit” or visiting the court’s page.

Better still, try YouTube for a visual tutorial.  The Florida Clerks have their own channel and overview video.  A YouTube search will likely reveal others’ advice.

Our friends at The Florida Legal Blog even came up with an online email template, here.

Finally, here’s a powerpoint developed by the Florida Bar entitled, “Service by Email and Efiling.”

Can a Law Firm Operate ONLY in the Cloud?

Can a lawyer operate a pure internet-only “virtual law firm” where counsel never speaks or meets with the client face-to-face?

The California State Bar recently issued opinion 2012-184 saying that virtual law offices (“VLO’s”) are acceptable with some considerations.

The hypothetical setting is that clients would sign up for transactional, probate, and family law assistance purely via a secure website.  The Bar (correctly) identified that there was nothing inherently wrong with that method of communication or representation as long as the lawyer was reasonably capable of ensuring that all confidences were protected.  Moreover, since the lawyer would not see the client in person, the lawyer would need to go to extra steps to confirm the client’s identity, understanding of the legal advice, and that the client was technologically-capable of receiving the advice via portal and that such communications were timely.

It’s not referenced in the opinion but a lawyer operating a VLO should have some way for a client to connect via phone; throwing a myriad of forms or “walls” (such as webpages or voicemail) might trigger a breakdown in communications and tempers leading to bar complaints.

As with lawyers and cloud computing, there is an appropriate focus on security and confidentiality.  This “focus” on confidentiality is good as long as it does not turn into a fascination or e-paranoia about security.  Admittedly, VLOs and cloud computing are emerging technologies and reasonable consideration and care needs to be taken to ensure client confidence.  But the fact remains is that law firm lease physical offices from third parties as well as use third parties for office cleaning, copier rentals/service, security, phone connections, credit card, electronic payment, trash services, outside storage, etc.  Bottom line: with reasonable precautions, we have third parties in and around our client data all the time in the physical world.  The fact that a third party is involved in transmission, storage or reproduction of client information in an electronic format should not be viewed as foreign or an inherent risk to security.

Lawyers in the Cloud

Considering using “cloud” storage for your law firm?  Or do you already use services like DropBox and GoogleDrive to transmit large attachments via email links?  Increasingly, lawyers like everyone else are moving towards the cloud.  Is it safe?

What do you need to know before you commit?  If you already have a cloud service, what features can you check to ensure your data is safe?

The article, “Lawyers in the Cloud,” from the Palm Beach Bar Bulletin, should answer some of those questions.


First Amendment / Defamation Case Discusses “Religious Internet Filtration Software”

The case of Darrel Bilbrey v. David Myers and First Pentecostal, Etc. from Florida’s Fifth DCA may be a significant case as to the “church autonomy doctrine” but also yielded a reference to an interesting internet tool:  faith-based internet monitoring.

Here’s how this came up in a court opinion: the Bilbrey case involves two church members in a mentor relationship where the plaintiff confided in the defendant that he (plaintiff) had been labelled as gay “as a teenager by an authority figure.”  According to the court opinion, this somehow “…ultimately led to Bilbrey’s installation of a religious internet filtration and accountability system on his personal computer that reports suspect internet usage, or attempted usage, to third parties.  [Defendant] Myers served as Bilbrey’s ‘accountability partner’ under the system and one report prompted Myers to ask Bilbrey if he was gay.”

A Google search revealed that there are at least ten such faith-based internet monitoring services available.  Most appear to be for self-regulation or for child-raising but some software, such as CovenantEyes, notifies third parties of the user’s internet travels.  In other words, a user puts this software on his or her PC/cellphone or connects via a cloud service, and permits other people to monitor the user’s internet habits.  The concept is that the user is accountable to a third person — one example given included a wife concerned about her husband’s internet habits.  Interestingly, this is not necessarily a filtration or blocking service.  It allows the user to proceed but reports the attempted/successful access of suspect sites to third person(s).

To be clear, we’re not driving at a specific legal or social point other than to acknowledge that we did not know that faith-based third party reporting tools existed before this court case was published.  To some, this kind of filter/reporting software is a welcome tool for spirituality, safe-Internetting, and peace of mind.  To others, this software might represent censorship and a frightening degree of trust in other people.

Our discovery revealed some interesting and somewhat related stories such as  this ACLU case where a public library filtered Wiccan and Native American religious terms.  Also on a related note, see this recent L.A. Times story about a religious group studying popular movie content and ticket sales to conclude that “clean” movies are more profitable than their R rated counterparts.