Indiana Court of Appeals reading Typography for Lawyers?

The Indiana Court of Appeals announced this week that it will begin publishing its opinions in a new format. While the new format does not follow the recommendations of Typography for Lawyers, it will be a huge improvement. A larger typeface (one that will facilitate scanning and optical character recognition) is perhaps the most notable.

While I favor Butterick’s recommended formatting, there are many other terrific formats. One is suggested by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Painting With Print.

Will the Indiana Supreme Court follow suit in the near future?

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Will your law firm be backwards compatible?

The client comes in all excited after learning about his status as the sole heir of his eccentric and wealthy uncle. The client’s anticipation is largely based on the uncle’s legendary music collection. Imagine the client’s dismay upon discovering the legendary music collection is completely on eight-track tapes. There might be some rare recordings in that collection, but who has the equipment to listen to them?

As we lawyers produce more and more electronic “documents,” we need to consider whether we will be able to open and use those documents in five, ten, or even twenty years from now. No one knows what might happen if I tried to use the current version of Microsoft Word to open a file created in the late 1980s with the then-current version of Word. There are probably countless documents on 400k floppy disks that are doomed unless you happen to have an ancient (and working) Macintosh with MacWrite.

This potential dilemma is what makes Markdown interesting to me. Markdown is a simple system for formatting text that does not depend on any particular word processor. There are a number of free or inexpensive Markdown text editors available. The file that you create—your electronic document—is simply text. No proprietary formatting codes, nothing like that. If your word processor or other text editor can open text files, you’re covered. Another nice feature of Markdown is that it lets you work on the actual content of your document rather than worrying about how it formats on the screen.

The one thing that keeps me from adopting Markdown completely is one of its strengths: limited formatting. I’m a fan of good typography (even if I wouldn’t necessarily know it if it hit me in the face; thank goodness for Typography For Lawyers). I want my documents to look just so. I am not certain that Markdown will give me that much control. So, I will have to continue the investigation and exploration.

The point of all this rambling is to encourage you to think about how you will make sure that many years from now you’ll be able to open that complicated document that no one wants to re-type. Markdown may be an option, as is plain text. It might be wise to spend some time thinking about workflows as we produce our documents. Saving a document in its native word processing format, as plain text, and as PDF ought to cover everything. There are probably other solutions, and I’d love to hear your ideas.

Facebook post gets Navy veteran fired

A US Navy veteran lost his job with a hotel in Missouri after he posted a few photos to his Facebook page. What was in those photos? A group of Department of Homeland Security vehicles. That were parked in the hotel garage. Apparently, the hotel’s security chief called the man “a terrorist.”

Legally, the hotel may be in the right if Missouri is an employment-at-will state. But the hotel looks dumber than a bag of hammers. The vans were in a public parking garage, visible to anyone driving or walking in the garage, and weren’t hidden in any fashion. How putting the photos up on Facebook amounts to an act of terrorism is…well…it doesn’t pass the giggle test.

As a civil libertarian at heart, what really bothers me about this incident is that the hotel is telling its employees, “If you do something legal that could make us look like we don’t support the Department of Homeland Security, you’ll lose your job.” This kind of economic threat can be used to chill the constitutionally protected speech of its employees.

It may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right.

A high tech legal battle anyone can understand

You may not realize it, but every day you probably use software that takes advantage of application programming interfaces (APIs). Basically, an API is a set of specifications that lets one piece of software talk to another. When you use an app on your iOS or Android device, the app uses APIs to communicate with the operating system. Or, as an Electronic Frontier Foundation court brief explains it,

So when you type a letter in a word processor, and hit the print command, you are using an API that lets the word processor talk to the printer driver, even though they were written by different people.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently held that APIs are protected by copyright law. If the ruling stands, it means the API owners can decide which applications will get to use the API and which ones won’t. If an API owner decided to punish Microsoft, for example, it could decide that Microsoft Word could not use the API to connect to printers, yet continue to allow WordPerfect users to print seamlessly. The result would mean Microsoft would either have to pay for access to the API or dedicate resources to developing its own API.

The Federal Circuit seems to have misunderstood the difference between specifications and computer code. The specifications are akin to standardization of certain things. Light bulbs, for example, use standard sizes so you can buy a bulb from GE, Sylvania, Philips, or anyone else and know it will fit in your lamp at home. Imagine the chaos in your local Home Depot if such standardization did not exist. I had a similar experience recently when I needed to buy a quart of motor oil that met a certain manufacturer’s specification. I stood for five minutes in Auto Zone reading the fine print on several different types of motor oil until I found the right one.

At this point, there is no indication whether the Supreme Court of the United States will review the Federal Circuit’s decision. Let’s hope it does and that wiser minds prevail.

A collision of the law, technology, and the brain

You sit quietly in a chair as brain wave sensors are placed on your head. These are no ordinary sensors, though—they can also transmit waves to the brain. The attendant asks if you’re ready, and after a brief nod and smile, the attendant presses a button. Your brain is inundated with signals. You are immediately experience…perhaps whatever you want.

Sounds like science fiction, right? Or an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. But according to futurist and physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, this may soon be a reality. In August, the Wall Street Journal published an essay by Dr. Kaku in which he outlined the progress science is making with the brain. As unbelievable as it sounds, scientists have already successfully “uploaded” memories to animals. How far away are we from the following scenarios?

  • Your mind and memories can be digitized and stored on physical media, perhaps for the purpose of restoration after an accident or injury? Or maybe just to let you “check out” for a number of years? (Check out the concept of “deadheading” in Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.)
  • Memories can be created and uploaded to your brain—as Dr. Kaku suggests in his essay, letting you experience the vacation you never took.
  • Physical sensations such as pain can be uploaded to the brains of jurors in personal injury cases. (This idea came to me courtesy of our local federal magistrate judge, who shared Dr. Kaku’s essay with me.)

It’s not hard to start thinking of the potential legal issues that these and other scenarios raise. Who will retain the legal rights to your memories—true intellectual property? Will there be remedies for improper distribution of your memories? Will your heirs have access to those memories? Can you prohibit your heirs from having access to certain memories? Does “deadheading” constitute a form of assisted suicide? How do we assess the accurate depiction of pain that might be uploaded to a juror’s mind? Could a juror refuse to allow the memories to be erased since they are now part of her mind? Will appellate judges be able to experience memories received into evidence in order to assess the validity of damage awards?

For most of us, we will never have to confront or litigate these issues. But for our young people who are attending law school today, these might be the hot legal topics in their careers.