Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Wisconsin saved the Big Ten (and more college football madness)

By losing 59-0 to Ohio State, the Badgers made the Buckeyes look so good that “the committee” leapfrogged them over TCU and into college football’s field of four “playoff” teams.  Meanwhile, both TCU and Baylor — the so-called “co-champs” of the Big 12 — got left out of college football’s “little dance.”  In some sense this is unjust, given that the Big 12 is a stronger conference than both the Big 10 and the ACC.  But in addition to blaming Wisconsin, the two Texas teams from the Big 12 can also blame their own conference. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vampires and cops

In my second book I asked: What’s the difference between a vampire and a cop?  Answer: A vampire has to be invited into your home before entering; a cop only has to say he was invited in and the judge will believe him.  And now, it turns out that cops don’t even have to do that much.  In State v. Parisi the cops had “probable cause” to believe that Ms. Parisi was smoking some weed inside her home.  Probable cause is an incredibly low level of proof, but it allows the cops to do a lot of things — except enter her home.  For that, the general rule is that they need an invitation or a judicially-signed search warrant.  (Admittedly, warrants are nearly always rubber-stamped and are nothing more than Fourth Amendment symbolism; worse yet, they sometimes fail to serve even that limited purpose.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lawyers, throw away your computers!

I just read an article that annoyed me more than listening to a podcast where the guest starts every sentence with the word “so.”  Apparently there is a group of “young lawyers” who are trying to “shake up [the] legal profession with mobile apps.”  (I hated the expression “apps” when restaurants were using it, and it’s even more annoying when techies use it.  Aren’t the words “appetizers” and “applications” short enough?)  According to the article, this entrepreneurial group may have developed some new software programs that sound potentially useful for certain legal practice areas — kudos if that is, in fact, the case.  But the gist of the article is that the legal profession’s goal should be “to remove computers from the equation and build complex legal documents through mobile devices.”

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The problem with continuing legal education (and how to fix it)

I recently attended a day-long continuing legal education (CLE) program as part of my 30 CLE hours that are required every two-year reporting period. It may have been the "longest" eight hours I've experienced since becoming a lawyer — although one speaker’s informative, dynamic, and even inspiring presentation on defending domestic violence cases salvaged the day from complete and utter disaster. Many of the remaining presentations, however, fell into one of the following categories:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The lawyer job market (revisited)

I recently wrote about an advertisement for a Racine County advocate counsel position.  Essentially, the job would require the victim newly hired attorney to handle as many as 80 case appointments, including the defense of serious felonies, for $25,000 per year without benefits or even expense reimbursement.  I suppose that I knew this was outrageous, or I wouldn’t have written about it in the first place.  But as a criminal defense lawyer for the last twelve years, I’ve kind of become immune to governmental and bureaucratic outrageousness, so I didn’t expect that the post would garner such national attention. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The lawyer job market

The scam blog and law school transparency movements have exposed the JD as a flat-out bad decision for many (if not most) would-be law students.  That is, many graduates won’t find lawyer jobs, and those who do might not be able to pay back the debt they had to incur to graduate.  That will lead many new law grads to consider hanging out their own shingle, i.e., self-employment.  And most of these new solo practitioners will have to take whatever work that comes through the door, which typically includes criminal defense, juvenile, and traffic cases.  (Sorry, new solos: maritime law, sports law, space law, and international law will be nothing more than fond law school memories.)  But how lucrative is this bread-and-butter type of work?  To answer that question, I will quote an email I recently received advertising an “advocate counsel” position in Racine County, Wisconsin (located between Milwaukee and Chicago and just north of where I practice).  Here’s the scoop:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Improving law school without changing it (too much)

Knightly reads his case law
With very few lawyer jobs available for their armies of graduates, many law schools are trying to “innovate” and make their curriculum “practice ready” to give their new grads a leg up in the job market. Aside from whether today’s law schools are capable of such genuine curriculum redesign, one prof recently wrote that law schools should simply stop such efforts, and instead “change the conversation.” This prof argues that attempts to innovate are essentially admissions that the traditional law school approach — reading case law — is no longer valuable. Instead, he argues, law schools should market / sell / discuss what they’re good at: “teaching students how to read cases with the requisite degree of care.” Now, while I suspect that many of today’s practice-ready reform efforts are just marketing campaigns designed to compete for a shrinking number of law school applicants, the prof’s defense of the status quo also has some flaws — though they could easily be corrected.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Giles was right

One day in the fall of 1997 during my first semester of law school, I was standing in my parents’ kitchen while taking a break from reading casebooks. I was channel surfing on a small television that my mom kept in the cabinet above the refrigerator, and stumbled upon the show that Entertainment Weekly would soon label the best on television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (DVDs available here.) Back in 1997, the internet was just coming into its own, and the episode’s subtext was a debate between the stuffy, stuck-in-his-ways school librarian Mr. Giles, and the hip, sexy computer science teacher Ms. Calendar. Ms. Calendar was trying to convince Giles that books were a thing of the distant past and that information shouldn’t be bound-up, but instead should be virtual. Giles disagreed. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

“The law professor priss factor”

A few years ago I interviewed for a law professor job at a Chicago law school.  During the interview, the panel brought up my “unique background.”  Typically, law professors graduated from one of only three schools (my alma mater is not among them), clerked for a federal judge for a year (I didn’t do that), and then practiced law in a rarefied setting for no more than two years (I had practiced on my own for a decade and had nearly thirty jury trials under my belt).  To make matters worse, the ideal (rather than typical) candidate for a law professor gig actually skipped the one to two years of legal practice altogether, and instead earned a Ph.D. in economics (I hadn’t done that, either).  I assured the hiring committee, however, that my actual trial experience would not be a drawback, and could even be a plus when it came to teaching law.  I also addressed the other elephant in the room:  although I did not go to a “top US News-ranked school” — I intentionally used that phrase instead of “Ivy League school” in order to avoid offending any Stanford grads that might be on the panel — I assured them that I made up for it with a lengthy and high-quality publication record.  Big mistake.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Legal education and sloppy thinking

For the first few years of my law practice, I was amazed at how emotional prosecutors and judges could be.  That’s not to say that these two groups yell and scream in court — well, they often do, but that’s not my point.  Rather, what I mean is that they decide ahead of time what they want, and then will offend logic and reason, and even ignore basic facts and law, in reaching their predetermined outcome.  When the prosecutor does this, it’s just bad argument from an overzealous advocate hell-bent on winning at all costs; when the judge does this — well, I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s even more offensive.  In any case, I’ve often said that the willingness and ability to function this way flows naturally from law school — the place where, in most classes, there is never a wrong answer and every point of view, no matter how absurd, is treated as equally valid.  And I just love it when law school deans say things that prove my point.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Law school puffery and the last minute grab for students

If memory serves, first-year contract law teaches that specific, factual misrepresentations are bad and legally actionable, whereas mere “puffery” (e.g., “We are the world’s best; hurry and come to us before it’s too late!”) is just bad.  I even remember one law school professor wryly telling the class that daytime television ads by personal injury lawyers were “quite unsettling.”  Yet, despite this anti-puffery attitude inside the classroom, law schools are among the biggest puffers when it comes to selling their own services.

Friday, August 8, 2014

California State Bar Serves Up Delicious Irony

"This is delicious!"
Lawyer ethics rules — particularly those regarding confidentiality — are supposed to protect clients.  But sometimes the bureaucrats are so obsessed with giving the impression that they are protecting the public that they actually lose sight of that goal.  For example, when doing research for a new law review article, I came across several articles discussing the California Bar’s “Formal Opinion 1986-87.”  This opinion is now quite old, but it is so absurd that it is still being discussed and debated in legal publications as recently as 2013.  In short, the opinion deals with California’s version of the bizarre ethics rule that prohibits an attorney from revealing any information relating to the representation of a client.  And the word “information” includes not only confidential client communications and other secrets, but all information, including information that is widely and publicly available.  (If you are a Wisconsin lawyer and think this is ridiculous, you might be surprised to learn that we, along with most states, have similarly absurd rules in the form of SCRs 1.6 and 1.9.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

“You’re not killing me properly” and other legal news

I’ve often criticized government officials for completely botching nearly every aspect of the criminal justice system.  (Until my recent spate of legal education-related posts, government-bashing is pretty much what this blog has been about since I took to the keyboard with the inaugural post on judicial incompetence in 2010.)  If fact, the negligence, complete ineptitude, and even intentional wrongdoing of many police, prosecutors, and judges makes for a compelling argument against the death penalty.  But now there is a better argument: government officials aren’t even capable of killing someone properly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer hiatus (and good links)

Knightly and I are on summer break, where we're alternating naps and research for a new law review article.  In the meantime, checkout these blog posts for some interesting goings on.  First, and most significantly, there is good news for practicing lawyers: law school enrollments will be down yet again this fall.  If these declines continue, eventually the huge backlog of unemployed lawyers (and the massive numbers of underemployed lawyers) might be able to find suitable work -- though we are a long way off from that utopia.

This graph nicely illustrates the dipping  plummeting applications over the past decade.  This post at Third Tier Reality (a great blog, but not for the law professor or the overly sensitive) discusses how this fall's entering class of law students will likely be the smallest since 1974, even though we now have dozens more law schools than when Steely Dan was making magic.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bad Business

TV viewing with Knight
Some marketing campaigns are so bad or so embarrassing that you wonder how they ever got off the ground.  One ad that makes me flat-out angry every time I see it is the Time Warner Cable series, where former football coach Bill Cowher walks into a family’s home and just starts talking to them about TWC’s services.  In one commercial, the marketing geniuses behind the ad actually have the nerve to make Cowher read this line: “You shouldn’t have to buy what you don’t want.”  This from the company that makes me buy an entire package of cable channels just so I can get ESPN and FX.