Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why law school sucks, part I

Imagine you are a medical student. What if you were allowed to ignore an entire system of the body in order to study something cool and very difficult to get into, like plastic surgery? You wouldn't be much of a doctor - even plastic surgeons need to know about the digestive system.

Imagine now that you are a law student. Your first year was prescribed to you with required courses - civil procedure, contracts, torts, criminal, constitutional, and property. After that, you are on your own to decide what you will study. Your schedule permits you to choose between family law and international human rights.

Not only would likely choose the latter, law schools more or less encourage you to do so - despite that fact that the most common legal matters people face are probably in family court. That's right - you don't actually have to study an entire field of law, even though it impacts arguably the greatest number of people. I ask you - would you be much of a lawyer?

It would seem that this is a problem - but the law schools don't think so. In fact, most law schools would probably encourage their students to choose human rights over family law. I do not have statistics readily available, but I suspect that most law schools only offer a single course on family law.

How can the legal education system possibly justify this? Failing to require study in family law, even though everyone is virtually impacted by this seems completely untenable. So why do they do it?

To hold out the false hope of the mega payday. And it is a false hope - Biglaw represents a very small slice of the hires for newly graduated lawyers, yet the law schools do their damndest to push the students toward the mega firms, because it pushes up their median starting salaries, which is one of the metrics that potential students consider. Biglaw doesn't do family - supposed bottom feeders do.

This is kind of rambly and incoherent, but I think this is the beginning of a bigger idea. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Worst. CLE. Ever.

I am at a CLE, Internet Law Update.

This is the worst waste of time I have ever had the displeasure of sitting through. The speaker on Web 2.0 and the law clearly did not use or understand Web 2.0 technology. In fact, he only spoke about Second Life, which he admitted he doesn't get. The legal issues in discussion are also a couple of years behind the times.

Memo to PBI: let me teach it next year. I know and understand internet life and culture, I actually use a whole host of internet technologies, and I am much more up to date about these issues than any of these speakers. Really. I promise not to speak about things like sweepstakes and contests, or talk about internet gambling, even thought internet gambling was effectively barred by Congress in 2006. I won't get dragged down into a long talk about copyright, because the coming issues will all revolve around Creative Commons.

I even look good in a suit. Seriously.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Does this mean we can have real forks again?

Hat tip to the brilliant (no exaggeration) John Wesley Hall for this. He writes in his Fourth Amendment blog that Homeland Security is considering requiring all airline passengers to wear an electronic ID bracelet with a - wait for it - built in taser. Sarcastic post title aside, this has me seriously ticked off.

This might reveal my September 10 way of thinking, but why should I trust an airline employee with the power to incapacitate an entire flight? Wouldn't this only force the "terrorists" - whoever they may be - to pose as a members of a flight crew? We already put up with airline security measures that range from the sensible (like scanning electronics) to the completely ridiculous (like taking off our shoes). Now, they expect to wear little ID bracelets with the power to injure us?

I try not to get political in this space, but there are clearly legal ramifications about this. It is almost inevitable that these bracelets will malfunction at some point - who will be liable for that? The airline? DHS? The manufacturer? What kind of training will these people have? And how can we trust that these things will only be used to deal with real security issues, and not on some drunk guy who wants an another Tom Collins?

And there are some real constitutional issues here as well. Take it out of the air travel context - could the government force its citizens to wear a portable taser generally? Of course not - so why is air travel that much different? Because it is seems to be the only answer.

This is a slightly ranty post, but I am angry.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Some thoughts on marriage, and the nature of rights

I had a thought earlier, and it was on the nature of rights- the right to act automatically includes the right not to act. In certain contexts, it is easy to conceptualize: the right to free speech includes the right not to speak; the right to privacy includes the right to be open (ever more relevant in this age of internet oversharing).

And then I thought about the right to marry. Same-sex marriage advocates argue (convincingly, in my estimation) that marriage is first and foremost a legal status that conveys rights and responsibilities upon the parties to the marriage. In a very real property law context, only married spouses can own property as tenants by the entirety, a status that allows the couple to own property as if they were a single (as in unitary) person.

If marriage is a fundamental right, as SCOTUS held in Loving v. Virginia, then it stands to reason that there is also a fundamental right not to marry, just as the freedom of speech carries with it the freedom not to speak. Couple who, for whatever reason, choose to remain unmarried are being discriminated against by the restricting entireties property to married couples only.

This distinction is ultimately just as arbitrary and artificical as the anti-miscegenation law at issue in Loving (and the laws barring same-sex marriage now at issue everywhere). Some committed but intentionally and happily unmarried couples will try to buy a home and demand the same benefits as married couples. I can think of no reason why they should not receive them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Everything I hate about schools all wrapped into one.

I hate the stupid decisions made by [EDIT: corrected typos] school administrators, but this is egregious- to teach the kids of El Camino High in Oceanside, California that driving drunk has consequences, the school had police interrupt 20 classes and announce that 26 classmates had been killed in a massive DUI car wreck. The kids, understandably, became very upset, some becoming inconsolable.

Then they learned it was all a hoax, and the kids became, understandably, furious.

The school actually WANTED to make the kids upset. "They were traumatised, but we wanted them to be traumatised," guidance counsellor Lori Tauber reportedly said. "That's how they get the message."

No, Ms. Tauber, the lesson the kids got was that you (and the people of your ilk) lying sacks of shit. That teachers and cops will lie when it suits them. That their feelings do not matter. That teachers are petty and cruel.

To get the message across, the school basically (and admittedly) intentionally inflicted sever emotional distress on its students. I say sue the bastards, and make them think twice before doing it again.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You know...

Probably the biggest case ever on the limits of Presidential power comes down this week, and the blawgosphere is agog about what might have been on Judge Kozinski's personal web site.

Better minds than mine are writing about the former, and the latter isn't worth writing about.

So there.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Don't we have better things to do?

More outrage, which seems to be all I have these days. Osama bin Laden is still at large; the economy is in a handbasket on its way to hell; our energy "policy" is to consume as much as possible; and the Air Force haphazardly mishandles the US nuclear arsenal, by flying warheads across the country in an unguarded C-5.

Your government is hard at work protecting you, my fellow Americans. Max Hardcore has been convicted.

For those who don't know, Max Hardcore is nom de pr0n of Paul Little, and his work is generally upsetting to me. His videos are generally male-dominant, and strike me as angry to outright misogynistic. Not my cup of tea, but legal.

Apparently, it is not Justice's cup of tea either. Even though Max Hardcore never actually set foot in Florida (professionally, at least), DoJ chose to prosecute him there because the servers for his website were located in Florida, and because he sold some of his videos were sold there via the mail.

Or perhaps because no jury in Southern California would ever possibly convict him?

As a lawyer, I think the jurisdiction is weak at best. As society becomes increasingly decentralized, territorial jurisdiction becomes simultaneously more important and more susceptible of abuse. By choosing to indict in Tampa, the government did nothing more than forum shop for a favorable jury pool. This is as old as American justice itself, both criminal and civil.

However, by prosecuting a businessman (because that is what Max Hardcore is, a businessman) because some of his were sold via a server farm PHYSICALLY located in a district that he didn't choose, although legal in the jurisdiction where the actual production occurs shows an immense disregard for the people of California. To put it another way, the "crime" occurs wherever the government thinks they can convict someone. Tampa is well known in legal circles for being antagonistic to sexually oriented businesses. So they found a way to get the case down there.

On the other hand, the internet is also undermining the single greatest justification for territorial jurisdiction. Territorial jurisdiction gives the affronted people a chance to pass judgment on the offender. But theoretically, the whole world could be affronted by material transmitted via the 'nets. It makes little sense for a small, prudish sliver of the American people (and remember, this was a Federal case, prosecuted on behalf of every American)
be able to pass judgment on someone. Max Hardcore is a felon now, in California and New York, as much as in Florida, simply because he made a legal product in which all the participants consented, but which is not everybody's taste.

Like I said, not my cup of tea- but not a crime either.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Anger and outrage

Legal Times reports on a terrible example of how far insurance companies will go to screw plaintiffs (registration required). A hotel employee molested a young girl when her family vacationed in the US Virgin Islands. Police are notified, investigation ensues, other victims are discovered, and hotel employee gets convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

Family sues, and based on the above it sounds like an open and shut, slam dunk, show me the money, ginormous settlement.

The insurance company assumes an aggressive posture, deposing the family, their business associates, and (because they are UK citizens) their immigration records. Family eventually gets tired of the BS, and goes to court to force an end to the abusive discovery practice. The trial court, and the 4th Circuit agree that the defense has been "harassing" the plaintiffs through discovery.

So the insurance company turns everything over to the Feds, who begin to investigate the family for money laundering and immigration violations.

The Feds eventually drop everything, but not until the family ponied up $400k to defend the criminal and/or immigration matters. The original case "settled," but the defendants never paid the money, prompting additional intervention by the court, resulting in yet another appeal, and further delay. The family has filed a second suit alleging malicious prosecution by aggressive discovery and turning materials over to prosecutors, and unlike the original suit this one is no slam dunk. I'd go so far as to say it is a long shot.

I am a criminal defense attorney, and people ask me all the time how I am able to sleep. For the record, I sleep just fine, on my right side, with my Beloved's arm wrapped around me. After reading this article, though, I have to wonder how these people - insurance defense attorneys whose only goal is to save a faceless company some money - can sleep.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

So I'm a little late to this party....

The California same-sex marriage decision is fascinating on a number of fronts, but the one that stands out the most for me is that the Court held that it didn't matter whether you call it marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union, as long as the name applies to all persons across the board. The Court gave the Legislature permission to get out of the business of marriage altogether; the Legislature could abolish the legal status called "marriage" and replace it with a system called "domestic partnership" for all persons, leaving "marriage" to religious institutions alone.

In this sense, it is similar to the French marriage laws - - religious marriages are not legally recognized, as the couple must also have a civil ceremony to make the marriage legal. Furthermore, this case arose within the background of California's domestic partnership law, which (legislatively) bestowed upon same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, a la civil unions. What mattered for the Court was calling the system for same-sex couples by a different name was inherently discriminatory - - in other words, the term "marriage" itself bestows a legitimacy upon the relationship that the term "domestic partnership" does not.

Words really matter, after all.

Whether any state follows this is hard to say. California treats sexual orientation as a suspect classification for the purposes of its state equal protection clause. I would imagine that most other states do not treat sexual orientation the same way - - that suspect class status was the key here. If other states do not treat sexual orientation the same way, then the argument that the terms matter fall apart. It wouldn't work here in Pennsylvania, for example, where us LGBTs are routinely discriminated against.

I am still waiting for some state to step up and find that their marriage laws violate the Federal constitution, which would guaran-damn-tee that SCOTUS gets involved. I just hope it happens after President Obama gets to replace Scalia and Thomas.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

News & Updates

I have registered my own domain - - with the hopes of getting a real practice up and running in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, I am trying to figure out how sync up all my services over there.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Some people never learn...

Remember the DC administrative law judge who claimed $54 million in damages over a missing pair of pants? He's at it again, although this time he is only after $1 million and his job back.

Inside the mind of a juror

Trial attorneys often wonder what goes on inside the jury room. Here's a very detailed look thanks to a juror in the Uma Thurman stalking case who also happens to be a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How did this slip through?

Not being a patent attorney, I don't pay much attention to patent law. There are occasionally stupid patent decisions that get my ire up, but by and and large the ins and outs of patent procedure, but apparently two-thirds of the patent judges were unconstitutionally appointed. DoJ hasn't even denied it, and constitutional lawyers are all in agreement that it's not even close.

This could REALLY muck things up for the patent bar, which (unsurprisingly) didn't notice the error because patent attorneys are generally not accustomed to thinking about things constitutionally. Imagine all the patent hearings and appeals that must be redone, that are invalidated, all those millions once again at stake.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The dark side of DNA

The Times has an excellent article on "surreptitious sampling," the police practice of collecting DNA samples from suspects without their knowledge (and without a warrant). In a typical case, the cops follow a suspect who may happen to be smoking a cigarette or drinking a soda. The cigarette butt or soda can collects trace amounts of saliva, which contains the suspect's DNA. The suspect throws the butt on the ground (with his DNA on it), the cops pick it up, and then they have a sample.

Prosecutors love the practice, defense attorneys hate it. I don't know how I feel, to be honest. The ordinary rule is that if a person throws something away, they lose any expectation of privacy they may have in the item- no probable cause. The ordinary rule, however, was for objects. In these cases, what the cops want is the traces of DNA left on the object, something that the suspects may not have even realized they were leaving behind. I honestly don't know what to make of this right now, but I am damn intrigued.

A return to blawgging

I haven't been posting lately. By lately, I mean in the past 10 months. I am not really at liberty to discuss it, but I had to focus on other things. My situation is stabilizing, and I really miss writing about the law. So I am back.