Links to nowhere: 404 Errors

The December 2013 issue of the A.B.A. Journal has an interesting report on the “subtle scourge of link rot.” According to the author, L. Ray Jackson, internet hyperlinks which ultimately lead to unavailable webpages (or nowhere) plague the internet in the form of “link rot.”Jackson opines broken links are not only frustrating, but create an underlying concern he calls “reference rot.” Reference rot is when the link exists but the referenced information is no longer present, especially problematic for practicing lawyers to locate legal precedent.

The article cites a study co-authored by the chief information officer at the John Marshall Law School of Chicago that found nearly one-third of the websites cited by the U.S. Supreme Court were dead links. Mostly to government or educational domains. Another similar study by Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain reports the number of obsolete links was as much as fifty percent. While some are crying link rot is destroying stare decisis as we know it, others are advising tactics to prevent link rot. Such as downloading reference material to be attached to court submissions.

Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about link rot. Having written law review articles relying on news reports from the internet, I have experienced the “scourge” of link rot first hand. I will say, however, many of the links in my paper were not reference material or used for citing legal authority. In fact, relying heavily on authority which only exists on the internet just doesn’t fit well with me. Whenever possible, print out your authoritative sources and site it appropriately. In Louisiana, if the courts cannot easily access the reference material it may order the lawyer to furnish hard copies. Since Louisiana has a strict page limitation, it is probably best to retain the copies indefinitely.


Medicare recovery process demystified.

Practitioners for plaintiffs and defendants alike shiver upon hearing the words Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Contractor. Fear not lawyers who have internet access, the MSPRC has availed itself of modern technology and done lawyers a huge favor at the same time with the the MSPRC website, which is robust, user-friendly, and full featured with forms, letters, tool kits, and contact information. My favorite part is the MSPRC flow-chart of the overview of the recovery process. The Letters section has a menu with codes that correspond to the various letters sent during the recovery process. Identify the code on your letter and find the corresponding menu. You can click for a brief description of the letter, but the best feature is the advice on what step to proceed to next on the flow chart. Very cool stuff for attorneys suffering through the process.


In UK violent rape will carry tougher penalties.

In England and Wales policymakers propose a fifteen year minimum jail time for conviction of violent rape crimes. The Guardian U.K.  reports that the Sentencing Council responsible for research, revision, and establishment of punitive sentencing has made its first recommendation. The occurrence of sex crimes has swelled in the last decade and the sentencing committee spent two years reviewing penalties concerning sexual offenses. The outcome of years of work appears to address the most heinous cases of rape-instances where severe violence is employed. The committee should be applauded for taking up the issue of sex crimes, which is an unusual but much needed course of action.

Lawmakers in the United States should should follow the lead of our common law allies. Crimes against the most vulnerable members of the population should be prosecuted aggressively and carry heavy penalties. If rape is not a federal crime, it should be. Louisiana should lead progress and enact criminal statutes that balance the victim’s rights, as opposed to having knee-jerk reactions that place fault on the victim. Admittedly, there is much more work to do ahead in the U.K., but at least putting the issue on the table that violent rape is absolutely intolerable is step in the right direction.


Should courts be televised?

What appears to be a progressive move, the court of appeal in England and Wales is expected to begin videotaping courtrooms while court is in session. On this side of the pond there has been some reticence to allowing court proceedings to be recorded for public consumption, especially after the sensationalism of the infamous O.J. Simpson trial. However, concerns surrounding broadcasting the British court are much more practical than the worry that judicial proceedings will be reduced to reality T.V. Among them are the possibility of profanity-such as reading testimony or statements that include language that may be inappropriate for some viewers. Protection of trade secrets, confidential, proprietary, information as well as the identity of witnesses who wish to remain anonymous (beyond the court room) is another concern. To address these matters the courts have simply placed the video journalist under the jurisdiction of the court, and must obey court orders. Including whether to pause or to enjoin the video of sensitive witnesses. Read more about the televising of courts in England on the Guardian’s website.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of the United States has opposed video taping of any kind for decades. In fact, it is a federal crime to do so since at least 1946. On numerous occasions legislators have attempted to pass laws that would permit oral arguments to be documented by video, a move they say would increase transparency. Here is an interesting timeline on C-Span’s attempt to gain approval to record court proceedings which have been roundly rejected. Why is our Supreme Court so resistant to this technology? One reason is the fear that oral arguments will be reduced to “sound bites” rather than substance. There are plenty of articles available online about technology, and the Supreme Court of the United State’s adamant refusal to allow video in the court room.

At some point the Supreme Court will hopefully yield on this issue. The highest court in the free world regularly decides cases that impact broad swaths of the population, such as gay marriage, healthcare reform, and the impact technology has on Fourth Amendment protections. Counselors in most court rooms across the country are routinely recorded in both state and federal courts. It seems like a double standard to permit citizens and lawyers to be subject to video recording while the Supreme Court justices hide behind a veil of privacy.


Let the food truck fight begin.

Food trucks around the country are facing strong opposition. It sounds counter-intuitive for municipalities to suppress small businesses, but these stories are popping up nationwide. The ABA recently reported a food truck vendor operating in Chicago faces anti-competitive ordinances. This includes laws that restrict the distance a food truck can operate from another business that sells food or beverages and caps on the amount of time a vendor can be parked in one spot.

Chicago is not the only political subdivision restricting free enterprise. Locally, Jefferson Parish passed several ordinances to “regulate” food trucks that popped up after Hurricane Katrina. Under the pretext of sanitation, Jefferson Parish effectively squashed any possibility of a thriving food truck industry. Meanwhile, food trucks in New Orleans are facing imminent danger of being regulated out of existence. Food trucks are pioneers of small business and everything should be done to allow these vendors to flourish.

Meanwhile, this author supports food trucks every last Wednesday of the month at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Mid City. Send a message that you support small businesses, free enterprise, and good local food by attending the monthly food truck rally.

ABC dubs former national security aid an “internet troll.”

A former director of the non-proliferation section of the National Security Staff at the White House was fired for being an internet troll. ABC News defines a troll as “anonymous Internet users who intentionally provoke others by writing inflammatory posts. They can be found in the comments sections of sites like YouTube and congregating in the darker corners of the Internet, on sites like” Jofi Joseph was reportedly fired after making inflammatory anonymous remarks about senior administration officials on twitter. The article attempts to answer the age old question-why would someone squander such an elite position to be a petty internet troll?

Amazingly enough, psychologist have a theory about what makes a troll. You may be aware the anonymity of the internet is often attributed to lowering a person’s inhibitions. But, a hidden identify is not the sole cause of troll behavior. Researchers believe a troll’s behavior escalates over time if there is no negative repercussion for objectionable conduct. Consistent with this theory, Mr. Joseph publicly stated he originally intended to create an account that illustrates or mocks the “DC culture.” And at some point the mockery progressed to mean-spirited and inappropriate statements.


Peremptory challenged.

The jury selection (or voire dire for you lawyers) process is both an art and a science. In its online journal the ABA recently reported an incident where a defendant purportedly had an encounter with one of the jurors sitting on the jury panel in his own trial. The juror in question is said to be working as a lawyer in corporate finance and securities as a “partner in an elite Manhattan law firm.” The juror-lawyer is alleged to have flipped off the defendant while catching a taxi cab leaving the court house, ostensibly because the defendant was trying to steal her ride. After giving an angry look at one of the attorneys the defense objected to the juror’s impartiality .

The first question I have is why is a lawyer sitting on a jury? A not-so unspoken trial strategy among lawyers if to remove all the attorneys from the jury panel. The only exception that I can think of would be a case that involved highly technical or elaborate legal theories where an attorney-juror may be beneficial. Even under those circumstances it would be a risky move. Needless to say the article reports the juror was later released, it is unclear if her removal was connected to the glaring look. Read more  about the incident on the ABA’s online article: “Lawyer who flipped the bird at defendant is removed as juror; was cab conflict the reason?”


Cuneiform “receipts” predate writing, still a scientific mystery.

One of the earliest known forms of writing is what scientist (or according to Wikipedia) call cuneiform. From my memory of studying linguistic Anthropology, the emergence of language is often associated with early commercial transactions. Merchants would trade over long distances through an intermediary (or several messengers) who finalized the transaction by delivering the goods together with a “receipt.” The “receipt” has been described as a sealed container that could not be tampered with inconspicuously. For example, if a purchaser was buying twelve cows he would expect to receive a tamper-proof vessel with twelve objects representing the twelve cows purchased.

Naturally, it piqued my interest when I stumbled upon this article about researchers in Mesopotamia studying “clay balls” used for record-keeping, 200 years before writing was invented. The article describes the balls as the “very first data storage system” and as sealed “envelopes” containing a variety of geometrical shapes. It goes on to mention these clay balls are believed to have been used to record economic transaction, yet the utility of the clay balls is still a mystery given the fact they predate the existence of writing. Read more about why scientist are having trouble deciphering the “code” found inside these “receipts” on the Live Science website.

When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object: the intersection of law and technology.

In May the ABA posted an article about the various advantages legal practitioners hope to gain by leveraging technology. No doubt, standing by the trendy new mantra “access to information is access to power.” Lawyers, law firms, and search engine titans are increasingly mining information resources, crunching numbers, and analyzing data for the purpose of strategically implementing it in the legal field. The result is interesting to say the least, and if proven to be pragmatic, will likely spearhead the trend of perusing data troves for lawyering. From reading the article it appears the lion’s share of practical application of all this information is in the form of predictions. One such example is using data mining to help predict whether prospective hires will be a “good fit” for a company (One hopes this will improve the arena of law office management beyond the mere Google, Facebook, and Twitter profile searches).

Other helpful predictions include charting what the “going rate” or the standard fee is, to ensure that a firm’s rates are “competitive.” The article even references information services that predict the viability of a winning (or losing) lawsuit, to predicting whether a particular motion will be granted or denied. Perhaps future technology developments will predict how jurors will decide in a particular case. One cannot help but ask what impact this information will have on discovery procedures.

At any rate, watching the intersection of technology with the legal industry always has its redeeming qualities, even if it is purely for entertainment purposes. Whether the edge of having access to “big data” will be a privilege vested with a few larger firms with bigger resources. Or whether the information revolution will trickle down to meager lawyers that still have to pick their cases manually (or on their own merits); we will have to see.




Mid City Porch Crawl Saturday October 19.

In New Orleans the month of October is always filled to the brim with social engagements. One of my absolute favorite October events is the Mid City Porch Crawl. The crawl begins at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub at 3701 Banks Street and kickoff is set for 5 p.m. For more information on the vendors, the food, the drinks, the price, and any other questions check out their website.

TIP: You can take the streetcar to avoid searching for a parking spot.