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Monthly Archives: August 2018

“Robot lawyer” chatbot appeals parking tickets and wins 60 percent of the time

robot lawyer

Joshua Browder, a 19-year-old British student at Stanford University, has created a chatbot (DoNotPay.co.uk) that successfully challenged parking tickets in London and New York City.

The chat interface asks a few basic questions and then auto-generates a legal appeal for a parking ticket (it can also make a claim for compensation regarding delayed flights). 


It's a great idea for auto-generation of simple documents - an idea that we actually have been toying with, and will most likely introduce soon. It's not difficult to set up (depending, of course, on the complexity of the document that you are generating and what you are doing with that document after it's assembled).

Document automation systems have been used by lawyers for many years. For example, one of the systems that we use opens a document template, generates a question and answer process within Microsoft Word, and then assembles the document with the information provided by those questions and answers. It would be very easy to migrate this process to a chat bot system (at least for less complex documents).

If you're interested, you can opt in to receive updates concerning our future "robot lawyer chat bot" efforts.

Massachusetts gives workers new protections against non-compete clauses

non-compete

Tucked into an economic development bill signed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month was a little-noticed provision that could have a big economic impact for Massachusetts workers. The language, introduced by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, aims to rein in the abuse of employee non-competition agreements in the state.

The legislation bans the enforcement of noncompete agreements against minors, students, and low-wage workers generally. It also introduces important procedural protections, guaranteeing employees notice and an opportunity to consult with an attorney before signing noncompete deals.

The Massachusetts legislation doesn't go as far as California's refusal to enforce noncompete agreements at all. (Some scholars argue that this difference was a key reason Silicon Valley pulled ahead of Boston in the 1990s to become the nation's high-tech capital).

Read more at arstechnica.com

Arizona’s New Data Breach Law

data_breach

Arizona Governor Ducey has signed HB2154 into law, thereby updating and strengthening Arizona’s data breach consumer protection statute.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich: “I applaud Representative Shope and members of the legislature for adopting these common sense improvements to our data breach laws,” said Attorney General Brnovich. “Consumers have a right to know when their sensitive information has been breached so they can protect themselves from financial loss. A key component of the legislation was notification to the Attorney General’s Office of a breach. My office will be better positioned to investigate massive breaches in the future and assist consumers to protect their assets from theft.”

Highlights from the new state law include:

  • Expanding the definition of protected “personal information” to include online account credentials, as well as an individual’s name in combination with health insurance or other medical information, passport or taxpayer identification numbers, or certain biometric data;
  • Requiring that notice to individuals affected by a breach be provided within 45 days after determining that a breach has occurred (whereas existing law provided no definitive deadline);
  • Clarifying the necessary content and available delivery methods for notifications to consumers;
  • Requiring notification to the three largest consumer reporting agencies for any breach involving more than 1,000 individuals;
  • Increasing the maximum civil penalty for a knowing or willful violation of the statute from $10,000 per breach to $500,000 per breach; and
  • Clearly explaining the Attorney General’s powers in connection with the investigation and enforcement of data-breach matters.

Full copy of the newly signed law.

Also see "What you need to know about Arizona’s new data breach law" as well as Almquist Law's Privacy Policy.

New Arizona Laws Effective August 3, 2018

new-arizona-laws

Women who want an abortion will be asked new questions, consumers can have their credit frozen for free, Grade A eggs can stay on the shelf longer, and 15-year-olds won’t be able to legally marry under new Arizona laws that took effect on August 3, 2018.

There also will be new limits on the ability of Arizona cities to require public disclosure of campaign donations. And judges will be deciding who gets frozen embryos in a divorce, based on who wants to actually use them.

... Oh, and Arizona will have an official state dinosaur: the Sonorasaurus.

Read more.

See also Arizona's New Data Breach Law.

Why We’ve Implemented Video Conferencing

video_conference

Very often, clients meet with their lawyers by first calling and scheduling an appointment. Then, either the client or the lawyer have to put aside whatever he or she was working on, pack up all the relevant paper files needed for the meeting, and travel to the office of the other person. After checking in with a receptionist, the client or the lawyer sit in a reception area and thumb through an old Time magazine waiting to be called for the conference. When finally invited in to the office or conference room, several minutes of "pleasantries" are exchanged, before the real subject of the conference is discussed. Following the "meat" of the conference, the parties pack up their files, exchange more pleasantries and say their "goodbyes", before traveling back to their respective offices to make notes of the meeting. This might take all day - or all afternoon - just to accomplish 30 minutes of actual productive meeting time. At a lawyer's rate of $400 per hour, a conference that should have cost only $200 may actually cost the client $1,600 or more in fees, plus travel expenses, parking charges, and so on.

In a effort to avoid the scenario set forth in the foregoing paragraph, we encourage telephonic conferences.

However, we can't deny that, in many cases, there are benefits to "face-to-face" conversation.

For that reason, for situations that warrant it, we encourage video conferences. A video conference facilitates a "face-to-face" conversation and all the benefits that go along with it, without the associated time, cost and expense.

What are the benefits of "face-to-face" communication? Here are six various benefits:

1. Shows body language
According to research, more than 90% of human communication consists of body language. When you see the way that the person you are talking to reacts, you are able to better understand how they are feeling. You get live feedback translated through the body language and facial expressions. You can also hear the tone of voice which makes it easier to interpret the person’s feelings, and you are able to show your own reactions and emotions.

2. Builds relationships
Another benefit of face-to-face communication is that it helps in expanding your network and enhancing future communication. It provides a "feel" of friendliness which can have the effect of boosting the success of your business and personal relationships. Email and phone conversations don't give you the same opportunity to build camaraderie. 

3. Values the other person
When you make the effort to actually see the other person, and when you show them through your expressions that you are listening and that you care about what they are saying, you show that you value the other person and what they have to say. 

4. Boosts effectiveness
Efficiency is so important, especially in the business world. Imagine having to explain a whole project through an email and then spend the whole day responding to questions. A face-to-face meeting between people allows the issues to be all be addressed at once, and boosts overall creativity and energy.

5. Enhances confidentiality
Although (with limited exceptions) all communications between attorney and client are confidential and privileged, face-to-face communication eases the revelation of sensitive or delicate information to a trusted person in a private setting. 

6. Enhances trust and credibility
With face-to-face communication, you can explain clearly and answer questions with integrity. You are able to actually see how your words and actions align. This enhances credibility and helps build trust.

Although the benefits of actual physical face-to-face communication are numerous, there are obvious disadvantages. For example, it can be difficult to actually find and schedule the time to meet people. Emailing, texting, or talking on the phone are faster (especially if the person you want to communicate with is in another city or country). Also, some people find it uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing to communicate physically face to face. Perhaps most importantly, as described in the first paragraph above, scheduling, traveling to, and participating in a physical face-to-face meeting is inefficient, time-consuming, and expensive. However, these disadvantages can be overcome by scheduling a video conference through a platform like the one that Almquist Law uses.

In the end, making the effort for face-to-face communication is definitely worth it. The benefits of face-to-face communication are much more than the disadvantages, and those benefits can be obtained through face-to-face video conferencing. 

Visit our Video Conferences page for more information or to schedule a conference.

What are Smart Contracts?

smart_contract

Smart contracts, in theory, help you exchange money, property, shares, or anything of value in a transparent, conflict-free way while avoiding the services of a middleman.

One way to describe smart contracts is to compare the technology to a vending machine. Ordinarily, you would go to a lawyer, pay them, and wait while you get the document you want. With smart contracts, you simply drop a bitcoin into the vending machine (i.e. ledger), and your escrow contract, driver’s license, or whatever drops into your account. Smart contracts will have the ability to not only define the rules and penalties around an agreement in the same way that a traditional contract does, but also automatically enforce those obligations.

Blockgeeks.com, an online information and education resource, does a good job of explaining smart contracts In an article titled (ambitiously) Smart Contracts: The Blockchain Technology That Will Replace Lawyers

"One of the best things about the blockchain is that, because it is a decentralized system that exists between all permitted parties, there’s no need to pay intermediaries (Middlemen) and it saves you time and conflict. Blockchains have their problems, but they are rated, undeniably, faster, cheaper, and more secure than traditional systems, which is why banks and governments are turning to them.

In 1994, Nick Szabo, a legal scholar, and cryptographer, realized that the decentralized ledger could be used for smart contracts, otherwise called self-executing contracts, blockchain contracts, or digital contracts. In this format, contracts could be converted to computer code, stored and replicated on the system and supervised by the network of computers that run the blockchain. This would also result in ledger feedback such as transferring money and receiving the product or service."

How Smart Contracts Work

A group of law firms and tech companies have teamed up to develop the Agreements Network, a platform that will aid in the creation, use and sale of smart contracts for lawyers. This means that, within the next few months, lawyers may have more options for creating automated contracts for payments, billing, signatures and registrations. These codeless contracts work via blockchain.

The planned platform will assist in the creation of automated payments and billing, signatures and registrations. It also allows for collaborative storage of documents and assets, as opposed to a contract being on a single firm’s network.

“If launched safely and properly, the Agreements Network could provide a foundational piece of technology for a range of innovative solutions in the legal marketplace,” Robert Craig, CIO of BakerHosteltler, a partner organization in Agreements Network, told Forbes.

While smart contracts have been around for some time, the growing interest in blockchain has accelerated development and investment in the technology. The Agreements Network seems to be leveraging this growth with the downward trend of client demand and lawyer productivity.

“As decentralized network commerce proliferates, customers globally will require a new set of legal products to manage contract operation and regulatory compliance,” according to the organization’s white paper. “Lawyers who learn how to offer focused high-value work in conjunction with reliable legal products at scale will be able to serve larger numbers of clients while spending fewer resources.”

“There’s a very real financial incentive for the law firm to become more efficient and provide more value,” Dean Sonderegger, general manager of the legal markets group at Wolters Kluwer, told Forbes. “Whereas it has traditionally been difficult to get attorneys to use different tools and apps, you’re seeing the market pull them in a way where they have to do that.”

The organization’s website names numerous use cases for smart contracts, including leasing issues on devices like drones, tracking remuneration and protecting intellectual property rights for digital content creators, and creating a record of incorporation documents to assist the creation of smart contract associated with that entity.

“As the world moves ever further down the path of digitization the legal functions of most businesses are being forced to migrate and update their systems,” Casey Kuhlman, CEO of Monax, a smart contract company in the United Kingdom, said in the release. “This is, fundamentally, a good thing. It will eventually reduce errors, increase certainty, decrease risk, and streamline operations at a core level.”

The network is currently being tested and will launch in October, Forbes reports.

NOTE: At Almquist Law, we are always on the lookout for innovative technology; however, for our current practice focus, we don't anticipate the imminent adoption of smart contracts. We have given some consideration to incorporating blockchain into our electronic signature procedure with a system that creates a certificate containing the signatures and other information, such as dates, times, and email addresses of signatories. The signature certificate is then "notarized" in a public blockchain, which generates publicly verifiable proof of its origin, date, authenticity, and integrity. However, for our current purposes and those of our clients, we feel that this is "overkill" and that any marginal benefit is outweighed by the system is more cumbersome, time-consuming, and would result in unwarranted additional cost and inconvenience. Our current system for electronic signatures is more than adequate and obtains legally binding signatures using the strongest commercial SSL encryption protocols. These protocols keeps documents safe on a state-of-the-art SSAE-16 and ISO 27001 certified data center with a robust disaster recovery plan. Tamper-evident technology makes it easy to see if a signed document has been altered and we are able to access detailed logs including senders email address, timestamps, and IP addresses, which are appended to each signature request/response to substantiate trace-ability. This tamper-proof technology makes it impossible to make alterations.

Electronic Signatures

electronic_signature

An electronic signature is an “electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.” Electronic signatures are legally binding in most business and personal transactions in almost every country in the world.

Almquist Law utilizes the "SignX" electronic signature system which fully complies with the 2000 U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act ("ESIGN") and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act ("UETA"), Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (S.C. 2000, c. 5), as well as the European Directive (EC/1999/93), all of which intended to encourage adoption of legally binding electronic documentation and paper waste reduction. Each of these acts reinforces the validity of electronic agreements. According to the ESIGN, for example, a contract “may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.”

In Arizona, as in at least 46 other states that have also adopted the UETA, electronic signatures are recognized the same way as “ink” signatures if they meet the requirements of the UETA.

Under the UETA, an “electronic signature” must consist of “an electronic sound, symbol or process … executed or adopted by an individual with the intent to sign the record.” Simply using email to communicate and transmit documents does not trigger the UETA. The UETA does not supplant common law principles of contract formation. The circumstances surrounding the electronic signature must show that it was adopted with an intent to do a legally significant act. The UETA still retains the logical common law rule that a signature is only valid if the signer intends to sign something.

Also, the electronic signature must be “linked to, or connected with, the electronic record being signed.” (UETA § 2, official cmt. 7). The official comments to the UETA illustrate the concepts in play. “In the paper world, it is assumed that the symbol adopted by a party is attached to or located somewhere in the same paper that is intended to be authenticated, e.g., . . . the classic signature at the end of a long contract.” UETA § 2, official cmt. 7. In the digital world, such “tangible manifestations do not exist.” Id. Thus, the record or documents attached to an email need to be logically associated with an electronic signature to evidence a similar level of connection.

Finally, the UETA applies only when the parties to a transaction have agreed to conduct it by electronic means. A.R.S. § 44-7005(B). Parties, however, do not have to expressly agree for an electronic signature to be effective. The UETA allows consent to be implied by the actions of the parties in transacting electronically. Whether the parties impliedly agree to conduct a transaction by electronic means will be determined from the context and surrounding circumstances of the transaction, including the parties’ conduct. Therefore, where parties have been negotiating a contract only through email correspondence or have agreed to all of the terms over email, the courts will more likely find the parties have impliedly agreed to transact under the UETA.