Off the Clock

Trump’s Attacks on Inspectors General

Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the independent Offices of Inspector General (IGs) have provoked significant public controversy.

Since I was a lawyer for IGs in three different agencies between 1993 and my retirement in 2018 I feel qualified to comment on this issue. In these jobs I assisted teams of criminal investigators and auditors in their efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse of government funds. Since I am retired, I am freer to express my view of this matter.

In the course of my IG jobs I frequently worked with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and their staffs. Everyone in Congress that I worked with, including the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans, liked the IGs because they provided reliable, objective information about government problems.

Trump’s efforts to undermine IGs deserve more national attention. The relative lack of attention is probably a result of the national health crisis. While thousands of people are dying it’s tempting to downplay what may appear to many citizens as an insignificant reshuffling of organization charts.

This relative lack of attention is a large mistake. Trump’s actions are a significant attack on an institution that is one of the most effective independent oversight bodies. It’s part of a pattern that threatens our democracy. A bipartisan response is needed. There are some signs that this is beginning to coalesce, but given the tremendous level of political polarization, success in these efforts should not be taken for granted. The bizarre reaction of Attorney General Bill Barr reduces optimism that this scandal will be appropriately addressed.

Glenn Fine

One more point: I know Glenn Fine, one of the IGs Trump has undermined. He was and is absolutely one of the most respected IGs. That’s why a panel of his peers selected him to lead the oversight of the trillions of dollars Congress is giving Trump to spend. Fine was not fired, merely demoted, but the demotion removes him from any real decision making oversight role.

I have no personal acquaintance with Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community Inspector General who Trump recently fired. He assumed office only a few months before I retired, but as a result of my work in the IG community I do know that this job is considered one of the most sensitive and difficult IG positions. Only the most capable people are considered for the DNI IG position.

Finally, a personal note:

Once I became an IG lawyer, I never wanted to do any other type of work. I loved it because we were independent. We went after Democrats or Republicans with equal fervor. We really didn’t give a damn.

This is the Inspector General ethos. This is why Trump fears IGs. It is why, when so many Americans are dying, sick or distracted in the midst of a great national public emergency, Trump is taking advantage of this to undermine their efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse.

Jerry Lawson

Productivity Tips Security

Nicole Black Tips on Collaboration

Very timely! LLRX is hosting Nicole Black‘s article “Securely Collaborate and Communicate Remotely: A How-To for Lawyers.” Nicole likes portals.

Glad to see her emphasize a recent change in the ABA Ethics Committee’s recent change in its approach to unencrypted emails:

[I]n the mid-1990s, bar association ethics committees across the country began to approve the use of unencrypted email when communicating with clients and for nearly two decades lawyers used email to communicate with clients since no other more secure methods were available. But most ethics opinions acknowledged that the standard established was an elastic one that could conceivably change as technology advanced and more secure options became available.

Since then, technology has improved significantly, and more secure electronic communication methods have emerged, rendering unencrypted email insufficient for certain types of client communication, as the ABA acknowledged in Formal Opinion 477 last year. In this opinion, the Ethics Committee concluded that unencrypted email may not always be sufficient for client communication.

Specifically, the Committee advised that lawyers must assess the sensitivity of information on a case-by-case basis and then choose the most appropriate and sufficiently secure method of communicating and collaborating with clients. Options offered in the opinion included encrypted email and “the use of a Virtual Private Network, or another secure internet portal.”


Facebook Quizzes and The Folly of “Secret Questions”

Lots of discussion lately about risks of filling in quizzes on Facebook. This is merely a new example of an old problem:

Many websites, including banks, have gone to the practice of allowing users who have lost passwords to obtain access to their accounts through the use of “secret questions.” For years the classic secret question was “Mother’s Maiden Name.” Though there is now more variety in secret questions, they still represent a giant security flaw. Security guru Bruce Schneier has written many times about this issue, including this concise essay.

Serious attackers will often be able to figure out the answers by researching the subject–especially subjects who are indiscreet users of social media.  This is even more risky today, with the popularity of quizzes on Facebook. Close friends or relatives inclined to access your accounts may not even have to do all that much research. They may already know the brand of your first car, or the name of your favorite elementary school teacher.  At a minimum, protect yourself by never giving a real answer when you set up a “secret question.”

Why do banks and other online entities like to use such insecure techniques? From their point of view, it’s better than having to deal with an angry customer who has lost his password. Any losses the practice may cause are an “externality,” a cost not born by the bank.

Productivity Tips Security

Zoom Security Tips

Thanks to Jim Calloway for timely tips in his post Zoom Security Tips.

Blogs for Lawyers

Seventeenth Blawgiversary of DennisKennedy.Blog

Thanks to legal blog pioneer Dennis Kennedy for the shout out in  his February anniversary post Celebrating the Seventeenth Blawgiversary of DennisKennedy.Blog.

I had a chance to work with Dennis in a series of columns about lawyer marketing for LLRX named The Internet Roundtable. Thanks to the indefatigable Sabrina Pacifici for providing a forum for our efforts.


Productivity Tips

Perform Online Legal Research Without Spending a Dime 

Working on a budget?

ABA Law Practice Today has an article by Judy Davis and Carole Levitt explaining a variety of ways to perform legal research at no cost. This includes:

  1. Casemaker4 and Fastcase7 — Offered through state bar associations. Both include some cite checking.
  1. Google Scholar — Surprising number of cases and articles about law.

Social Media for Lawyers

Catching Up With Social Media–Twitter

Twitter is one of the main potential tools for lawyers interested in using social media. Many, maybe most lawyers could benefit from Twitter, but not for the reasons most people think. That’s not to say all lawyers are situated to benefit from marketing via Twitter.

Confession: I used to think Twitter was stupid. In my defense, the antics of the best-known Twitter user are enough to give many the same impression.

After learning more about it and tentatively putting a toe into the water, one thing has become clear:

While Twitter definitely has potential, it is not a promising way for most lawyers to promote their practice. I’m aware of only a few exceptions, including Carolyn Elefant, Greg Siskind and Dennis Kennedy. These lawyers have several things in common:

  • All had strong reputations before they began using Twitter.
  • They practice in “promotable” legal specialties (solo and small firm issues for Carolyn, immigration law for Greg and legal technology for Dennis).
  • They had successful blogs before beginning to use Twitter.
  • They have the insights, writing skills and personalities to thrive in this environment.

Lawyers without similar advantages will find that it’s hard to market on Twitter. It’s hard to attract “followers.” Without an audience, speaking is pointless.

The biggest benefit of Twitter that I have found is not “speaking” but “listening.” Learn from others first. Be a follower before you even think about using it as a platform to spread your own ideas.

Determining If Twitter Is Right for You

For years the dominant philosophy of surgical training was known as “See One, Do One, Teach One.” Many doctors are beginning to ask whether this approach is the best for patient safety, but there is a core of wisdom here applicable to lawyers:

  • Step One: Watch other Twitter users.
  • Step Two: Try it yourself. Take baby steps.

After completing steps One and Two, you will be able to decide whether you can “teach,” meaning in this context, use Twitter for marketing.

This approach has many advantages, including: Learning Twitter dynamics by close observation. This will help you decide whether you have the potential to use Twitter for marketing, like Elefant, Siskind and Kennedy, who are all exceptions to the general rule.

How to Get Started

The single best reference Twitter reference I know for lawyers interested in social media is not a website, but on paper:

Jared Correia’s book Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2013). Some technical issues have changed in the seven years since this book was published, but the book’s advice about issues specific to lawyers means it is still a great resource for lawyers.

Suppose you are interested in learning to use Twitter as a source of information, or for marketing. The best place to start is Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers. It gives some advice on getting started and tips on more advanced topics. We’ll look at this book and its lessons more closely in future posts.

Presentation Tips

Presentation Tip 9: Lightening Talks

Are you tired of speakers who drone on and on? Maybe a compressed format would be right for you. Compressed presentation formats known as lightening talks can provide a welcome alternative.

  • Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chit chat”) is known as the 20×20 format. Each presenter shows 20 images, each for 20 seconds.
  • Ignite gives each speaker gets 5 minutes and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds. This forces speakers to get the point quickly. 

These formats are constraining but so the rules for sonnets. Lightening talks may be just right for your next conference.

Any of these formats require more preparation than a conventional speech. Olivia Mitchell has some advice on preparing an Ignite presentation.

Social Media for Lawyers

Lawyer Use of Social Media

This page is our anchor for content concerning lawyer use of social media. We’ll be covering the use of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blogs as well as related Legal Ethics issues. The latest updates are available at our blog‘s’s Social Media category.

We’ll be begin by taking a look at the best available reference for lawyer use of social media in general:

Googling the phrase “social media for lawyers” will bring up a variety of online publications addressing this topic, but a 10 year old book may make a better starting point: Social Media for Lawyers The Next Frontier, by Carolyn Elefant and Nicole Black.

Lots of things have changed over the past 10 years, but their explanation of why all lawyers need to understand the basics of social media and some could benefit by using it has yet to be topped.

While parts of it are outdated, this book remains a great starting point for lawyers trying to catch up with social media and how it affects their legal practices.


Carolyn Elefant’s Solo & Small Law Firm Guide to Surviving in a Time of COVID

Carolyn Elefant’s Covid guide for solo and small law firms is up to her usual high quality:

Solo & Small Law Firm Guide to Surviving in a Time of COVID