Do You “Like” Free Speech On Facebook?

“Likes” are free speech — at least according to Facebook, which recently filed a legal brief in support of Daniel Ray Carter and a group of workers who were fired from a Virginia sheriff’s office after they “liked” their boss’s political opponent on Facebook.

Facebook jumped into the legal fray after a federal District Court ruled that “[s]imply liking a Facebook page is insufficient [to qualify as free speech]…It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection.”

Facebook’s brief states that “If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, ‘I like Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,’ there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech…Carter made that very statement; the fact that he did it online, with a click of a computer mouse, does not deprive Carter’s speech of constitutional protection.”

The full stories can be found on Tecca and Yahoo.

Are Facebook “likes” free speech?  Probably.  Should Carter have been fired for his “like”?  Probably.  Just because you can say something, does not mean that there are no consequences. 

This certainly will be an interesting issue to follow.

Attorney General Fights Unethical Home Improvement Contractors

There is a little known law in the New York General Business Law (Article 36-A) that requires most home improvement contractors to state in writing the services they will provide.  The law is based in ethics and overall good general business practices.  Unfortunately, a lot of contractors are either not aware of the law or they refuse to follow it.

As of a few weeks ago, Article 36-A is no longer a little known law.  New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he has cracked down on 47 Upstate New York contractors for their ethical, legal and business failings:

Article 36-A of the General Business Law requires that every home improvement contractor, before beginning work, provide the consumer with a written contract, signed by both parties, which sets out certain specific information and disclosures. 

“It happens all too often, homeowners hire contractors without having a signed contract stating what work will be done and how long it will take. And many times, they end up with a much larger bill than expected, or with a project that was never started or completed,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.

“Homeowners need to know their rights and home improvement contractors need to obey the law. My office will fight to protect consumers’ hard earned dollars and ensure that bad contractors are held accountable.”

The full press release from the AG’s Office is available here.  Article 36-A can be read in its entirety here

It kind of goes without saying, but when I hire a landscaper to trim trees along my driveway, a roofer to replace my roof, or an HVAC specialist to fix my AC unit this summer, I’ll be sure make sure get it in writing!

More barriers to entry into the shrinking legal services market

Ben Trachtenberg points out the failings in New York’s new pro bono legal service prerequisite for bar admission in today’s New York Times:

Mandatory pro bono work for lawyers is a good idea. But Judge Lippman’s plan is deeply flawed, as it affects only aspiring lawyers who have not yet gained admission to the bar. As a result, the beneficiaries of Judge Lippman’s largess will be served by people unlicensed to practice law — who by definition have no real practice experience. (Though internships and law school clinics are useful training grounds for future lawyers, they are no substitute for the rigors of licensed practice.)

The Lippman plan hurts these budding lawyers most of all. Recent law school graduates face a growing employment crisis: the Law School Transparency Data Clearinghouse lists 67 schools (out of the 185 that were scored) with full-time legal employment rates below 55 percent. At the same time, law school tuition and student debt have skyrocketed. The average 2011 law graduate from Syracuse owes $132,993, not including any debt incurred for undergraduate education. At Pace, the figure is $139,007; at New York Law School, $146,230.

After commencement, things get worse. Law graduates often borrow more money for bar preparation, to pay for both living expenses and prep courses, which can cost more than $3,000. Even graduates with good jobs lined up face tight summer budgets; many work in retail or food service to make ends meet, as do many law students. The irony is that many recent law graduates may well qualify for the free legal services Judge Lippman will bestow on New York’s poor. It is from these struggling New Yorkers that Judge Lippman demands over a week’s unpaid labor.

In case you have a need for even more sobering news, LegalZoom has filed for an initial public offering.  Richard Granat illuminates the dent in small-firm revenues that LegalZoom may be creating:

LegalZoom’s data in the S-1 filing is now available for everyone to analyze:

  • In 2011, 490,000 orders were placed through their web site;
  • 20% of all limited liability companies in California were done by LegalZoom;
  • During the past ten years, LegalZoom has served over 2,000,000 customers.
  • Revenue in 2011 was $156 million.

These are impressive statistics and provide support for the proposition that consumers and small business prefer a very limited legal solution that is just good enough to get the job done, rather than pay the high legal fees charged by the typical attorney.

New Pro Bono Requirement Prior to New York Bar Admission

As if the $130,000+ law school price tag and horrific job market were not enough of a deterrent for would-be lawyers.

Starting next year, prospective lawyers must show that they have performed at least 50 hours of law-related pro bono service before being admitted to the New York state bar, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced yesterday.

The chief judge said in his annual Law Day address at the Court of Appeals that the requirement would serve a two-fold purpose: It would address the large, unmet need for lawyers to represent the poor and it would inculcate in aspiring lawyers a career-long duty to serve the public.

“If pro bono is a core value of our profession, and it is—and if we aspire for all practicing attorneys to devote a meaningful portion of their time to public service, and they should—these ideals ought to be instilled from the start, when one first aspires to be a member of the profession,” Lippman said to a crowd of judges, lawyers and legislators.

(Emphasis added). More here.

The Facebook Password Ethical Dilemma Hits Albany

To follow up yet again on the Facebook password issue (see posts from April 11th and March 24th),

If Albany County Legislature Chairman Shawn Morse has his way, employers won’t be able to look at things potential employees post on Facebook. Unless, it’s done publicly.

Morse says he plans to introduce legislation that would ban county employers from asking for prospective employees’ social media account passwords.

The full story from the Times Union can be found here.

When You are Better Off Representing Yourself

The lawyer whose work the justices had considered was the least of it; he had merely been unresponsive and incompetent. Mr. Holland’s earlier lawyers had failed him in much more colorful ways.

Consider Kenneth Delegal, who was assigned to defend Mr. Holland at a 1996 retrial on charges that he had killed a Pompano Beach police officer in 1990. Mr. Delegal was removed from the case after being sent to a mental health facility. Later, the two men would see each other at the Broward County jail, where Mr. Delegal was held on drug and domestic violence charges.

The next lawyer, James Lewis, was a friend of Mr. Delegal’s and had shared office space with him. When Mr. Delegal went to court after his removal from Mr. Holland’s case, seeking to be paid about $40,000 for his work on it, the new lawyer testified on behalf of the old one, saying the fees had been “reasonable and necessary.”

Mr. Delegal died of a drug overdose about a month after the fee hearing, and a local paper asked his former colleague Mr. Lewis about his troubles. “I heard some rumors,” Mr. Lewis said, “but I chose not to know.”   [. . .]

However, upon waiving your right to court-appointed counsel, be careful not to represent yourself too effectively:

As proof that Mr. Holland was no longer mentally ill, Judge Greene praised him as an able advocate who had “correctly argued case law and factual issues to the court.” His legal skills, then, were proof that he was fit to be executed — but not good enough that he be allowed to defend himself.

From the New York Times.  More here.

Lawmakers Heed Facebook’s Ethical Advice

Following up on a prior post (March 24th), Maryland has quickly enacted legislation prohibiting employers from asking for social media passwords, and it looks like Congress may be stirring on this issue, too: 

If you’re worried about an employer or potential employer asking for your Facebook or Twitter password, you might just want to move to Maryland. The state’s General Assembly has become the first to pass a bill to keep social media passwords safe from employers.

Just a few weeks ago national attention was put on the issue of job applicants and employees being asked for their Facebook passwords so that companies could ensure the individuals had appropriate social media identities.

In response, New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate if the practice violates federal laws.

The full ABC News story can be found here.  Maybe the fired elementary school teacher’s aide should move to Maryland.