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Using the internet in the law 2.0

To those of us who have been practicing law for a while, “younger” lawyers are now comprised of all barristers, solicitors and counselors under the age of 40.

For those of you whippersnappers out there, the use of iPads, smart phones, predictive coding document search software, and other internet-enabled gizmos, gadgets and methodologies is simply the world you know. To those of us “experienced” lawyers however, articles and blogs about the roles the internet can play in the practice continue to amaze.

It is perhaps for this reason that I find myself drawn to every bit and blurb that I stumble across that concerns the internet and the law.   I read them all, religiously. As a result, I thought that I was up to speed on all the many forms law-related internet use could take, despite my age.   As always, I was mistaken.

Today I encountered what can only be called “Internet in the Law 2.0.” This next generation of internet use combines the internet, the law, and, unfortunately, the modern lack of morality and ethics that seems to plague us all these days.

A year or two back, a lawyer based in West Virginia landed a sweet gig, representing indigent defenders and being paid by the state. The rates weren’t the best, but it was quick pay and relatively stress-free work.   The state also had one of the easiest methods of submitting invoices, getting them approved, and receiving payment that the West Virginian had ever seen.   It was so easy, in fact, that William Lester, the lawyer involved, apparently couldn’t help himself. He allegedly billed the state for work he never actually did – in some cases supposedly billing for more than 24 hours in a day.

Now, we have to say allegedly, because nothing has been proven, as of yet. The state claims that this is not because of a lack of evidence, but rather because Mr. Lester didn’t show up for his arraignment last summer. Instead, he seems to have hit the road.

This is where the internet comes in.

Although Mr. Lester is nowhere to be seen, he is in full communication with his accusers, thanks to the internet.   It turns out, he is following Assistant Kanawha County prosecutor Fred Giggenbach on Twitter.   In fact, Lester was among the first people to follow Fred, welcoming Giggenbach to Twitter with a jovial “My Man Fred! Welcome to Twitter. Send my Best to All!” tweet.

How Lester learned the assistant prosecutor had joined Twitter is unclear.   Generally, Twitter will notify you if someone you follow on Facebook, or is in your email chain, or is otherwise identifiable as internet friend material joins. Yet it seems unlikely the AWOL attorney would have been notified for those reasons. It seems more likely that he actively searched the twitter world for signs of prosecutorial life.

Perhaps the bigger question, however, is why did it take so long for Giggenbach to join Twitter?   The halcyon days of the site have passed, and it has settled into a calm, ubiquitous existence. Most of Giggenbach’ s ilk joined years ago, or decided to forego the morass.   What prompted Giggenbach to join? Perhaps he was looking for Lester.   Was Lester’s Tweet a response to a phishing exercise by the state prosecutor’s office? Hmmm, the plot thickens.

It’s even more interesting when you consider the fact that the prosecutor believes Lester is hiding on a beach somewhere in Central America.   I’m no outlaw, but it would seem to me that, if I were hiding on a beach and wanted to taunt my prosecutor, I’d use Instagram or snapchat, and send a nice picture of me and my umbrella drink, sitting in a chaise, in front of the setting sun.

But, as I said, I’m no outlaw.

1201kramer1:  Attorney Charles Kramer.  KAREN ELSHOUT/photo© 2017 under analysis distribution, LLC.   Under analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Charles Kramer is a principal of the St Louis based law firm Riezman Berger, P.C. Comments about this column may be sent to comments@levgroup.com.

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