44 kids find new families on Austin Adoption Day

There are more than 6,500 youth in Texas waiting to be adopted. On Nov. 6, 2014, 44 children—with ages ranging from one to 17 years—were welcomed into “forever families” during Austin Adoption Day at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center.

To celebrate the occasion, attendees were treated to a day of games, giveaways, and performances by entertainers. In addition to books, toys, and commemorative pieces, including ID jewelry engraved with the child’s new name and the date of the adoption, each family received a complimentary wills package from the Law Office of Fred A. Helms in Austin.

Adoption Day, now in its 13th year, is spearheaded by the Austin Bar Association and the Austin Bar Foundation in partnership with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, CASA of Travis County, Partnerships for Children, Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, the Travis County Office of Child Representation, and the Travis County Children’s Protective Services Board. Community partners, including Jim Kruger and Cook Walden Funeral Home, also contributed to the event.

 

SXSW CLE Wrap-up

Part I: Cool Things v. Consumer Privacy, Filming Unsuspecting Subjects, and Streaming Pay Scales

By the end of South by Southwest 2014—held in Austin from March 7 to March 16—attorneys were referring to the festival’s official legal program as “Camp CLE.” Like the much larger SXSW spectacle, the CLE room was full of lawyers from around the country, as well as a mix of artists, publishers, and other entertainment industry professionals. Put on by the Midwest-based Lommen Abdo Law Firm, a total of 12 sessions were held, led by 30 law experts. The Texas Bar Journal reports on several of these events below. Stay tuned to the State Bar Blog for additional SXSW CLE articles.

 

The Sentient Economy: Law and Policy for the IoT. Session leader Gerard Stegmaier—of counsel to the technology-focused firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Washington, D.C.—explained that the Internet of Things “is like looking into the crystal ball,” which consists of objects that people use in their everyday lives that have the ability to connect to the online network. Smart phones, personal activity trackers, even refrigerators with interactive computers make up the IoT. These devices often ask for the user to provide a varying amount of personal information so that the user’s experience can be individually customized—oftentimes to motivate the user to achieve a specific goal.

Stegmaier quipped that this “machine-to-machine” connection is dangerous because it is a billion-dollar industry that involves controversial consumer privacy matters. “And when there’s that much money at stake,” he said, “lawyers come running.” Privacy law issues, Stegmaier believes, will either inhibit or prohibit the growth of the IoT. Because most consumers value being notified—or being asked for permission—any time their personal data is captured, Stegmaier recommended that tech companies consider taking such “privacy by design” approaches.

Businesses that supply objects within the IoT can get into trouble for violating deceptive-trade laws, either by being outright deceptive (when the writing used is determined to be misleading) or by being unfair (when substantial consumer injury outweighs any potential benefits). While the IoT “makes cool things possible,” he said, lawyers need to make sure consumers and companies aren’t at risk.

 

All About Hidden Camera and Investigative Reporting. A handful of attorneys mixed with dozens of filmmakers and media professionals at this CLE session, led by entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson of Donaldson & Callif in Beverly Hills. The discussion focused on the recommended practices for documentary films and news programs that film non-actors—or “unsuspecting subjects”—and wish to publicly distribute the recordings.

Donaldson noted that it is always a good idea to start by researching the relevant states’ laws on recording conversation and to try and obtain releases from any unsuspecting subjects who are filmed. The movie Borat, for example, employed a release (although not for all filmed subjects) that courts found to be “rock solid” because it was absolutely clear, in plain language, and short.

When no releases are obtained—as is commonly the case for undercover and investigative reporting pieces—the most important factor that courts have considered is the filmed individual’s expectation of privacy. A TV news show that secretly filmed a physician inappropriately prescribing painkillers lost in court based on the doctor’s reasonable expectation of privacy in his own office. On the other hand, a suit brought on by a performer who was filmed backstage beating apes that were used in his circus show was unsuccessful because the court found that he had little reasonable expectation of privacy backstage, where stage hands and other performers were frequently present.

 

Screaming About Streaming. Said to be the hot topic of this year’s SXSW CLE, this three-person panel focused on online streaming and the copyright and royalty issues related to the increasingly popular way of consuming music. Panelists included Ken Steinthal of King & Spalding in San Francisco; Colin Rushing, senior vice president and general counsel to SoundExchange; and John Simson, of counsel to Lommen Abdo Law Firm. They explained that music streaming involves two separate copyright issues: one for the composition’s publishing and another for the master recording. And, streaming itself is divided into two categories: interactive streaming (i.g., Spotify) and non-interactive (i.g., Sirius XM and—controversially—Pandora).

To illustrate this complex legal situation, panelist Steinthal focused on the recent court case involving Pandora and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, in which Pandora sought to pay the same rate that traditional radio pays (1.7 percent of revenue) for ASCAP-registered material. (Pandora insists that it is guaranteed protection to have such low rates, while publishers and ASCAP argue that it is unfair and results in an industry where millions of hits on a single song generate less than $600 in compensation.)

Panelist Rushing of SoundExchange gave the audience some historical background, noting that traditionally, radio stations had to buy the rights only to a song. But after 1995, all sound recordings broadcast via digital public performance also required publishing rights. While technically the publishing copyrights are compulsory and masters copyrights are voluntary when dealing with interactive streaming services (and vice-versa for non-interactive streaming), Steinthal and Rushing explained that it is probably best to acknowledge both copyrights.

ABLA holds first pro bono clinic based on SBOT's Care Kit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
On Nov. 9, the Austin Black Lawyers Association hosted its first free legal clinic based on the State Bar of Texas’s Care Kit that encourages lawyers to engage in pro bono work.

Rudolph Metayer, president of ABLA, said he hoped the clinic would achieve one simple goal: to help the community. “It is my personal opinion that [lawyers] want to do what is right,” said Metayer. “The problem is that, I think just because we’re so busy, we don’t always have the ability to do so. The [Care Kit] played a vital role.”

Volunteer lawyers with ABLA and the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid nonprofit met with about 38 community members in just four hours to discuss matters concerning family law, bankruptcy, wills and estate, and landlord/tenant law. Although impossible to solve a legal matter during a short 30-minute consultation, clients left the ABLA clinic with more knowledge and direction for moving forward.

“I have called some attorneys, and they quoted me $2,000 to $5,000 to deal with a case like mine,” said Jacqueline Fisher of Round Rock, who sat down with Metayer at the clinic to discuss a child custody case. “So for him to give me a [phone] number for Legal Aid actually helps me out a lot. I know now what I need to do to take care of my case.”

No joke about it -- Austin attorney is funny

Last time the State Bar caught up with Austin attorney John Ramsey, he was fresh out of law school and had just started practicing with Nunis & Associates. He was also just named Funniest Person in Austin. That was back in 2005. Since then, he’s performed throughout the country, most notably in Aspen for HBO’s USA Comedy Arts Festival and in New York City for Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham series.

Seems Ramsey is taking his brush with fame in stride. “The best thing about having comedy as a hobby has been the free trips with my wife,” Ramsey says. He’s still performing in Austin, but manages to do a couple of shows out of state when his job allows.

Ramsey has no plans to leave his position at Nunis & Associates for his hobby, saying “it is far more likely that I will leave the comedy world to become a full-time lawyer.” Considering how supportive his firm is of his comedy career, it's no wonder Ramsey would choose law first. Boss Bob Nunis allows Ramsey to shift his schedule if need be, and Nunis and the other attorneys at the firm have even gone out to see a few shows.

Catch the funnyman this weekend, when he performs Friday and Saturday at Austin’s comedy club, The Velveeta Room.

Live at Gotham  
John Ramsey – Russian Poop Joke
comedycentral.com
Joke of the Day Stand-Up Comedy Free Online Games

 

Austin lawyer an elite Yelper

Michelle Cheng is one of Austin's most prolific Yelpers.

Yelp.com describes its free service as "real reviews by real people." Michelle has written 501 reviews of restaurants and other businesses, leading her cohorts on Yelp to call her "legendary" and earning her an elusive "Yelp Elite" status for three years running.

"Yelp.com gives me an easy, no-pressure outlet to do some writing on one of my favorite topics – food," says Cheng. "I’ve discovered many great restaurants and other businesses through Yelp, and have met lots of terrific people, too (there are frequent social gatherings for Yelpers)."

There's no telling where she finds the time, considering she's a busy plaintiff's lawyer (recently promoted to name partner in Whitehurst, Harkness, Brees, Cheng & Imhoff, PC) and serves on the State Bar Board of Directors and Texas Bar Journal Board of Editors, among other community activities.

And it's not all fun and games. "I’ve even had some potential clients who discovered me through my Yelp activity," Cheng related.