⏩ Legal budgets for GCs will be unpredictable in 2021

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This week: Making a legal budget will be a challenge this year, and Apple loses a big copyright lawsuit. Plus: funny/cool details of what it’s like to argue in front of SCOTUS, over the phone. 

🧨 It may be a tough year for legal budgeting

Happy New Year! Except, maybe not quite yet. 

Although we may be getting coronavirus vaccines in the coming months, the legal industry is expected to remain unsettled, according to Law.com. It could be a murky year for GCs, particularly regarding budgets.

  • Legal budgets can be squishy to begin with: Law is often about unforeseen challenges. And budgeting is about routine and predictions. Legal budgets are usually generated based on prior year experiences and anticipated challenges in the coming year.  

  • And last year was not normal at all: Costs were all over the place for many legal departments. As for challenges in the coming year? They could be equally difficult to predict, especially for the first several months. 

Add financial uncertainty to all this

Many companies could be cutting back and thus want an even more precise budget from legal. 

  • “We, for decades, have said, ‘It depends and we don’t know.’ We have gotten kind of away from that for a really long time and I think right now we’re learning that’s not OK anymore,” said former Microsoft assistant GC Lucy Bassli.

The Verdict

GCs who spoke to Law.com shared a few major pointers, including to use data analysis to drive decisions and be transparent about any cuts likely to happen. 

🍎 Apple takes an L in major copyright case 

Corellium is a security research firm that helps customers detect bugs and other security problems on Apple products, notably the iPhone. And a new ruling that favors Corellium may alter copyright law at a wide scale. 

  • Apple sued Corellium over fair use: Corellium’s top product basically created a virtual copy of iOS that people can use on personal computers to test iOS security. (Needless to say, it is for a niche crowd.) But Apple considered Corellium’s product to be using Apple’s copyrighted materials for commercial purposes. 

  • A federal judge in Florida threw out the Apple fair use claims in a summary judgment: The judge believed Corellium was not a competing product and that it was designed to provide a benefit for iPhone users (better security).      

This was a shift from past rulings    

Apple has won many patent and copyright cases in the past, helping it dominate the competition. 

The Verdict

Particularly for cybersecurity research, this decision could go a long way. Alexander Urbelis, of the Blackstone Law Group, told the Washington Post it may create more opportunities for cybersecurity companies, which had previously feared legal liability. And more cybersecurity research could mean fewer Solar Winds-style hacks.  

👖 What it’s like to argue in front of SCOTUS...in a pandemic

For most lawyers, presenting an oral argument to the Supreme Court is a career milestone. You get to walk some of the nation’s most hallowed halls and look the United States’ best-known jurists in the eye. 

Except there’s that whole coronavirus thing, and now everything’s done over the phone. A few lawyers dished to the WSJ about the new SCOTUS experience.

  • Sweatshirts are OK: Lawyer Ramzi Kassem wore a hoodie from his law school classroom in Queens. Formal wear is no longer mandatory when nobody can see you.  

  • But a landline is: SCOTUS likes people to call in via landline, rather than smartphone. They don’t want any dropped calls. One young lawyer named Sarah Harris had to visit a friend’s house to make her argument on a landline. 

  • You have to worry about loud noises: A Philadelphia lawyer remembers a loud truck rolling up by his house just as the hearing began. He sent his son outside with $100 to convince any noisemakers to go away.  

  • You can make it as lifelike as you want: A Louisiana lawyer traveled to Washington DC for his argument, and a law firm hosted him -- in a room with nine framed pictures of the justices set atop nine podiums.

💌 What else we're forwarding

Tech predictions for 2021: If you think we’ll hear even more about antitrust and privacy laws, you’re not alone.

Lawyers expect ABA rules to catch up with remote work this year: Depending where you live, you may have been technically violating ABA standards if you were working as a lawyer outside your normal jurisdiction. But hopefully those standards will change soon.

🎧 Music we’re working to

This week we’re playing Chihei Hatakeyam at Lawtrades HQ, a Tokyo-based ambient composer. His records produce chiming, shimmering soundscapes with acoustic instruments (including guitar, vibraphone, and piano) and slow-moving synth pads. Perfect for deep work from home.

Autumn Breeze - Chihei Hatakeyama

Spotify / Apple Music / Youtube Music / Amazon Music / Tidal

Wishing you a great start to the new year.

- Raad 🧐