Let’s Take a Legal Break

Something has been bothering me for years about our (American) legal system.

Pause for snarky comments.

Drawing by Austin Kleon used under Creative Commons

Drawing by Austin Kleon used under Creative Commons

As a longtime reader of Slashdot, I’ve followed the legal aspects of technical lawsuits passively for years, especially  court decisions that affect overall precedent, e.g. RIAA and MPIAA decisions as they pertain to P2P, cyber-bullying, spamming, anti-trust in tech, etc.

I find this stuff interesting (and sometime frightening) because I’m a geek, and these precedents affect me because. I wish I had bookmarked some of the stories I recall from the early RIAA trials because I remember being absolutely scared to death by the lack of fundamental computer and network skills shown by some of the courts.

This begs the larger question that has troubled me for a while: should cases of a technical nature be sent to courts with specialized skills, i.e. the judges have technical background and training?

Most recently, the start of the Lori Drew cyber-bullying case reminded me of an old sore.

I’m a huge believer in this idea, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been broached in the open yet. There are several compelling (I think) arguments in favor, and I shall present them in bogus legalese for your consideration.

Time Saved = Money Saved
Everyone knows going to court costs money for all parties involved. Most importantly, it costs taxpayer money.

Up front costs to establish a new court system and train judges in technical disciplines would quickly be recouped because lawyers would not have to spend hours detailing the intricacies of TCP/IP or the differences between Windows and Linux licenses.

Expert witnesses called to testify would also benefit from a higher base knowledge, skipping the “dumb it down” phase and going right into the meat of the testimony.

This would be like calling customer support and skipping past the n00b on Level 1 duty who reads off the “Have you rebooted your computer?” script and heading straight for the Level 3 geeks who can really help. No need to explain what a BIOS is or how to configure it. Just point me at the right setting.

Ultimately, a tech savvy judge will also be able to set a jury’s expectations and advise them appropriately on the technical nuances of the case, just like a judge does with legal nuances. This saves deliberation time.

Jargon is What Jargon Does
Quick: name two types of jargon?

I’ll bet you said either technical or legal. Bonus for both. There’s a very good reason why lawyers shouldn’t talk about technology, least of all in an explantory way; it’s like combining Latin and Sanskrit. I hear your voice, but nothing you’re saying makes any sense to me.

Assuming you believe that either side of a lawsuit will explain objectively what a technical concept really does, it’s still less than ideal to have the lawyer educate the principle decision maker(s) in a lawsuit.

With a tech savvy judge, the lawyers would be held accountable for misrepresenting technical concepts. This is a win, IMO.

Too Late?
Of the branches of our government, the judicial is generally the slowest to react to change. The legislative branch has been the most savvy to date, maybe in spots, but due to the large number of members and regular turnover, new ideas tend to bubble up quickly.

The incoming Obama administration is by far the savviest at tech to date, e.g. using Twitter as a campaign tool, uploading regular fire-side style chats to YouTube.

It may be too late though for the judicial branch. Precendent has already been set and continues to be set by cases in the system now. When in doubt, look for precedent.

As the general population grows more tech savvy, with Gen Y entering the workforce, cases will get more complex. Want an example? Boston College announced that next year, incoming freshman will no longer receive email accounts; they will instead receive addresses (e.g. johndoe at bc dot edu) which can be forwarded to existing inboxes elsewhere.

This is a big deal.

Sure it’s a savings for college IT departments, but it’s also a harbinger of things to come. Gen Y uses email, but only to talk to older people. It’s seen as a chore to maintain an inbox.

I wonder how many judges even use email regularly.

Technology is moving so fast. It seems logical (and necessary) to train judges on tech.

This is pure opinion, and if something already exists to meet this need, please enlightened me in comments. I’ve not heard of anything in this vein.

So, what do you think? Did I miss something obvious? Let me know in comments.




  1. Patent law cases are heard in special federal courts. Why not tech cases? The two big challenges: 1) creating a very clear and focused definition of what constitutes a technical case, and 2) defining the procedural means for bringing a case to the court.

    Hmmm…not a bad comment…I knew that law degree and legal experience would come in handy one day!

  2. As well they should have…a long time ago. No evidence of the intent element necessary to support the charges…big no brainer in light of the evidence.

    As for me, well I left the law for a reason: lawyers are rewarded for escalating disputes rather than for resolving them. Not much of a value add. Shakespeare was probably right…

  3. The crappy thing about that case is that she still had to plead to a misdemeanor and surrender her teaching license. I guess that would feel like a moral victory.

    You'd make a good lawyer. I see some Atticus Finch in you.

  4. You mean like this guy http://www.computerlaw.com/bio/JackRusso.asp ? The google search you probably want is for jurimetrics.

    Insert snarky comment about “a judge could find a performance consultant incompetent because they didn't use ratio tuning like OCP says to” here.

    Jury is deliberating in the cyber-bullying trial.

  5. I think the judges need the training, not the lawyers. The cyber-bullying trial arguments are over already? I thought they just got started. Bracing for some weird ruling that will take away my 'tubes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.