Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lies, damned lies, and the statistics that expose them

I’m generally not a huge fan of empirical studies on the law.  (There are one or two exceptions, of course.)  But sometimes, the numbers have an uncanny way of exposing lies.  Consider this tale of two groups: police officers and law school bureaucrats.  With regard to the police, one famous study on police-officer behavior revealed that, before the Fourth Amendment was imposed on the states, the police would simply write in their reports what really happened: they stopped people on the street for no reason, searched them, found drugs, and arrested them.  In fact, the police admitted to this in 33 percent of their police reports.  Only in 14 percent of their reports did they write that the drugs magically fell out of the defendants’ pockets.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The wrong kind of theory

Legal education has come under a great deal of fire lately.  One criticism that has been around long before the recent legal education crisis, however, is that law schools teach only theory, and not practical skills.  The debate, in a nutshell, boils down to two competing camps.  The practicing-lawyer camp mocks theory, while praising the value of a practical education.  After all, we lawyers are licensed to practice law, and clients deserve some basic level of competence, even from new graduates.  The law-professor camp, on the other hand, elevates theory to heavenly heights, singing its praises along with the importance of teaching students “how to think like a lawyer”—whatever that phrase may mean.  Unfortunately, the two sides are only preaching to their respective choirs.  In fact, the debate never gets off the ground because the word theory means something different to each camp.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Law review publishing: In search of a useful ranking system

I’ve published ten articles in law reviews, with an eleventh on the way.  Basically, the system works like this: I write an article, submit it to 50–100 different law journals, and wait for offers of publication. Then, after a series of emails with the editors of some of the journals, I have to decide which offer I should accept.  (After that, the article goes through a lengthy, and sometimes painful, editing process before it’s eventually published.)  My initial decision on where to publish has typically been guided by the US News rankings of law schools, which, in legal publication circles, is used as a proxy for the quality of a law school’s journal.  For example, the UCLA Law Review is published by the UCLA School of Law, which US News says is the fifteenth best law school in the land.  This means that authors would love to publish in the UCLA Law Review and, as a result, that journal may receive 2,000 or more annual submissions for about 12-15 available publication slots.  As we slide down the US News rankings—say, to the bottom fifty-or-so of our nation’s 200-plus law schools—the journals may receive only a couple hundred submissions for their 12-15 publication slots.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Speaking Freely

I exercise my free speech rights nearly continually, and the government is my biggest target.  Fortunately for me, “criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas . . . are almost always permitted” under the First Amendment.  So whether it’s my books, articles, blogs, or podcasts, my keyboard is rarely at rest, and my big mouth is rarely shut.  (In fact, my contrarian jabbering as a child led my mother to accurately predict my careers as both lawyer and writer.)  But I sometimes forget how lucky I am – lucky not only compared to citizens of other countries who can be imprisoned or even killed for speaking out against their governments, but also compared to others here in the United States.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sports and Courts: What Judges Can Learn from the NCAA

In the criminal justice system, our government agents—police, prosecutors, and judges—are supposed to follow certain rules when trying to convict us of crimes.  However, when they break those rules, there are usually no consequences for the rule-breakers.  The result, of course, is that there is little incentive for government agents to know and follow the rules that supposedly govern them.  And, as every five-year-old child in America knows, a rule without a consequence really isn’t a rule at all.  As some prosecutors mockingly say, “It’s more of a suggestion.”