Thursday, January 30, 2014

Should State Bar Membership Be Voluntary In Michigan?

Senator Meekhof recently introduced SB 743 in Michigan to change the membership of the State Bar of Michigan from mandatory to voluntary.

The Bill would:

"No longer require that individuals pay a periodic fee for continued membership in the State Bar,
require that individuals who designate themselves 'attorneys or counselors' be licensed to practice law in Michigan, and require that all individuals who practice law in the state do so in compliance with the requirements of the Michigan Supreme Court."

As of 1/23/14, the Bill has been referred to the Committee on Government Operations.


The Bill comes after recent scrutiny of the State Bar when it urged mandatory disclosure of those financing judicial campaign ads.


"Republican Sen. Arlan Meekhof of West Olive says the bar association has become more 'political' and not all lawyers agree with its actions. Meekhof said Thursday that the bill's intent isn't to let attorneys' off the hook from fees for attorney discipline system and other bar functions. Conservatives first proposed a 'right-to-work' concept for lawyers at a Republican policy conference in September."


Many attorneys who pay their annual dues may see no immediate benefit, but the State Bar of Michigan does work as the oversight agency for attorneys in Michigan. Our State Bar dues help pay for attorney discipline procedures (a good thing for libraries when attorneys steal books -- which happens more often than you think).


There are also other benefits like discounts for members for things like insurance, car rental, travel, etc....


One of the biggest benefits I can think of for practicing attorneys is the free access to Casemaker.  For annual dues that cost ~$305 per year, you get access to a free legal research database that would otherwise cost $450 per year.


Also, when I have done pro bono work, the State Bar of Michigan has offered me free malpractice insurance to cover the work, which promotes free services to others.


While making dues voluntary would basically create a 'Right to Work' for lawyers (and I do believe that what is good for blue collar is also good for white collar), I also think that the Bill is, in itself, a political move. Senator Meekhof, it would appear, does not like the fact that the State Bar required mandatory disclosure of judicial campaign financing. However, mandatory disclosure of campaign finance is a transparency issue, and transparency is a good thing when deciding which judge to vote for. Even though judges should be nonpartisan, it is clear that money talks (and they were partisan people before they ran for a judicial position).


The current system works, so I don't see a reason to undo it only to have to create a new system because, as Meekhof said, the bill's intent isn't to let attorneys' off the hook from fees for attorney discipline system and other bar functions.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Low Cost Legal Research Databases

As a librarian, access to WEXIS (librarian speak for Westlaw & Lexis) is amazing. I rely on these databases for most of my research needs.

However, if I were to start my own little solo practice, I'm not sure that I would be able to afford WEXIS. In the alternative, I might rely on a low-cost database, such as Fastcase or Casemaker.

For premium access, Fastcase costs $95/month. And some jurisdictions give 'free' access to Fastcase through the state bar.

Something that I really appreciate about Fastcase is its extensive free webinar series. The webinars cover the following topics:

Introduction to Legal Research on Fastcase 2014

Advanced Tips for Enhanced Legal Research on Fastcase 2014

Introduction to Boolean (Keyword) Searches 2014

Introduction to Legal Research on Fastcase for Paralegals 2013 

Casemaker is another low-cost database that the State Bar of Michigan (as well as 24 other states) partners with to provide 'free' access for its members. If your state bar does not provide access, the premium subscription costs $45/month.

Casemaker also has a free webinar series to give you an introduction to the basics of the database.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Cautionary Tale Of A Lawyer's Personal Bankruptcy

The NYTimes ran an article recently profiling a lawyer's journey to personal bankruptcy.

The article starts out with a prescient, "[a]nyone who wonders why law school applications are plunging and there’s widespread malaise in many big law firms might consider the case of Gregory M. Owens."

To offer some background, "[t]he silver-haired, distinguished-looking Mr. Owens would seem the embodiment of a successful Wall Street lawyer. A graduate of Denison University and Vanderbilt Law School, Mr. Owens moved to New York City and was named a partner at the then old-line law firm of Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood, and after a merger, at Dewey & LeBoeuf. Today, Mr. Owens, 55, is a partner at an even more eminent global law firm, White & Case. A partnership there or any of the major firms collectively known as 'Big Law' was long regarded as the brass ring of the profession, a virtual guarantee of lifelong prosperity and job security."

So basically, Mr. Owens is the epitome of a successful lawyer. "But on New Year’s Eve, Mr. Owens filed for personal bankruptcy." The article goes on to discuss the events that resulted in bankruptcy.

I am not judging Mr. Owens for his bankruptcy, but I do take aim at the NYTimes stating that this is part of the reason that law school applications are plunging.

"In 2012, he made $351,000, and last year, while at White & Case, he made $356,500. He listed his current monthly income as $31,500, or $375,000 a year." That is a lot of money, and just to put it into perspective, the top 1 percent of American households had income above $394,000 last year. The top 10 percent had income exceeding $114,000.

Any perspective law student that thinks that Mr. Owens's situation is the reason to avoid law school is just plain greedy. Barring the situation that caused Mr. Owens's bankruptcy, if $375,000 is not enough to live on, then maybe Wall Street is the better choice (well, pre-regulation years ala The Wolf of Wall Street).

The only part of this cautionary tale that struck me was to not live beyond my means. And you'll be happier for it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Death & Taxes & Student Loans

It is well known that Benjamin Franklin said, "the only things certain in life are death and taxes." Although this is still true, I would add student loans to the list -- at least for most of us. Especially since 85% of law students graduate with $100,000 of debt.


As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, "[s]tudent-loan borrowers filing their taxes through TurboTax this year will be encouraged to enroll in an income-based repayment plan, the Departments of Education and of the Treasury are expected to announce on Friday.

As part of the White House's efforts to raise awareness about income-based plans, the Obama administration has reached an agreement with lntuit Inc. to include a banner on its TurboTax tax-preparation website inviting users to learn more about their repayment options.

When borrowers click on the banner, they will be directed to the Education Department's repayment estimator, where they can receive estimates of their monthly payments under various income-based repayment plans, and apply for a plan."

I understand why income-based repayment may not be the most popular choice for all borrowers because, under the current plan, the amount forgiven is taxed, which can result in a hefty tax bill. So even if some student-loan holders qualify for IBR, they might forego the option.

However, in the past, I've blogged about IBR in conjunction with Public Service Loan Forgiveness and the fact that it is being underused. If you qualify for PSLF, I would highly recommend it as a viable option to afford your higher education. 


Image info: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kazvorpal/6824930292/
License info: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Importance Of Reading Books

The NYTimes published an article by op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow about the importance of reading.

In his article, Blow cited a few startling statistics:
“The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn’t cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978. The details of the Pew report are quite interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. Among American adults, women were more likely to have read at least one book in the last 12 months than men. Blacks were more likely to have read a book than whites or Hispanics. People aged 18-29 were more likely to have read a book than those in any other age group. And there was little difference in readership among urban, suburban and rural population."

Blow goes on to mention the oft-cited reasons for the lack of reading -- social media.

"I understand that we are now inundated with information, and people’s reading habits have become fragmented to some degree by bite-size nuggets of text messages and social media, and that takes up much of the time that could otherwise be devoted to long-form reading. I get it. And I don’t take a troglodytic view of social media. I participate and enjoy it.

But reading texts is not the same as reading a text.

There is no intellectual equivalent to allowing oneself the time and space to get lost in another person’s mind, because in so doing we find ourselves."

Like Blow, I understand that we are getting our information in other ways, but I do agree that there is no replacement for reading a text. I recently started to be more mindful of my smartphone usage (especially after this story yesterday). One of my resolutions this year is to read at least one book per month. I am on track after reading Malcolm Gladwell's David & Goliath, and I just started The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It's a nice change of pace to read longer texts and become engaged in the content. It feels more satisfying than constantly reading short snippets of fleeting information.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Verify Internet Sources Or Shephardize The Internet

InsideHigherEd recently ran an article about information literacy on the web. The author advances the notion that websites should have some form of updating information for the user. 

"Every law school student knows “shepardizing.” It is the process by which one learns how and in what ways to research a legal case that may have been affected by subsequent cases.  Shepardizing is a critical process in a legal system based on precedent.  Stare decisis notwithstanding, one must know the latest decision on any specific legal question to proceed to the next.  In the old days, it was done by hand and rather laborious, requiring not only denoting a case, but also reading those subsequent cases to evaluate the nuances of “modified,” “distinguished,” or even “overruled.”  I was in law school during the transition to digitized process.  In one of my first jobs as a lawyer, the attorney who gave me the assignment thought me brilliant because I came back within 20 minutes with the up-to-date case that significantly modified the one he asked me to research.  His opinion shifted when I explained the automated West Law program that did all the work!"

The author is basically saying that if Westlaw could automate the shephardizing process, why can't search engines to the same for websites to make sure that the information is still valid? 

"Information literacy 101 instructs students not to accept the first link in a search, to test for validity, to evaluate the source, and to do a researcher’s version of shepardizing. In other words, to dive deeper exploring subsequent research. With all the knowledge that search engines integrate, some form of updating information, or at least denoting links with metadata that contextualizes it, shouldn’t be too difficult to create." 

The author goes on to say that "[u]sers, especially computer scientists, research faculty, and reference librarians, should already be thinking about how this metadata should operate. Responsible “shepardizing” helps citizens as well as students because it prizes transparent, objective, valid and sometimes even peer reviewed or tested information. And that direction shapes user experience of the Internet."

This is a great argument, and one that I had never considered. As a reference librarian, I teach manual information literacy and vetting of information, but I have never even considered the possibility of Google doing the job for me. In previous posts, I have written about the perils of relying solely on Internet resources, and the quality of information is of utmost concern. If the search engines can make the job of vetting information easier, then the quality of scholarship created from online sources will increase, which is a good thing for society as a whole. 

For more information about digital literacy, see Cornell's Digital Literacy website. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Legal Consequences of Tweeting

The ABA Journal recently had an article discussing a lawyer's sanctions for a few ill-advised tweets. The lawyer, Sarah Peterson Herr, live tweeted her opinions during an ethics hearing for Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline.

She watched the hearing from her office computer. Among her tweets (which misspelled Kline’s name):

“You can watch that naughty naughty boy, Mr. Kilein [sic], live! live.kscourts.org/live.php.”

“Why is Phil Klein [sic] smiling? There is nothing to smile about douchebag.”

“I predict that he will be disbarred for a period not less than 7 years.”

Herr lost her job as a research attorney for the Kansas Court of Appeals as a result of the tweets, and she also came under scrutiny for a possible ethics violation. 

"A three-judge hearing panel [ultimately] recommended an informal admonishment [for Herr]. The disciplinary panel’s recommendation is the most lenient sanction that can be imposed. The hearing panel cited mitigating circumstances, including Herr's apology, her self-reporting of the possible disciplinary violation, her lack of prior misconduct, her cooperation, and her lack of law practice experience."

We also recently saw the first 'twibel' case. Courtney Love tweeted that "her onetime lawyer, Rhonda Holmes, had been "bought off" concerning a case she wanted to bring related to the estate of her deceased husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. The case is the first in the country to go to trial based on alleged defamation in a tweet." 

The case is likely to settle out of court, especially since "the Los Angeles Superior Court nixed an argument by Love's lawyers that hasty, opinionated language on Twitter should be interpreted differently than if the same words had been used in a more formal setting."

The moral of the story: be careful what you tweet!


Image info: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thecampbells/7842096300/
Image License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Problem Solving Courts

Problem solving courts are an important step to help those who have fallen through the cracks -- rather than merely locking them up. 

I have acted as attorney in a few DUI cases that have qualified for a problem-solving sobriety court. Instead of merely locking up the offender, the court offers the offender an intensive rehabilitation program for a chance at a lesser offense on his or her record. These courts are not easy, but they do treat the problem, which is what a lot of these offenders need to make sure that they are not repeat offenders.

In addition to sobriety court, a new mental health problem solving court has been started in a district court nearby. 

"Ingham County’s 55th District Court is now one of at least 19 in the state steering mentally ill defendants into intensive and holistic treatment instead of jail. The program is available to defendants with serious mental illnesses who agree to participate. They can’t be forced into the program, which offers psychiatric treatment and therapy, as well as help finding housing, employment and health care.

Officials say jails too often are housing mentally ill people who wouldn’t otherwise be there if they had proper treatment and other forms of support. 

Mental health courts can help prevent people from committing new crimes, according to a three-year study of 10 Michigan mental health courts by the State Court Administrative Office. The study found that participants’ recidivism rate was 300 percent lower compared with similar offenders. Also, more than a year after completing a mental health court program, participants had a recidivism rate under 20 percent, compared with 43 percent for other offenders."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Occupational Outlook For Librarians

On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Occupational Outlook Handbook.

As a librarian, I was specifically interested in the occupational outlook for librarians.

Here's a quick snapshot of the information:

What Librarians Do
Librarians help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. Their job duties may change based on the type of library they work in, such as public, school, and medical libraries.

Work Environment
Librarians work for local government, colleges and universities, companies and elementary and secondary schools. Most work full time, but opportunities for part-time work exist.

How to Become a Librarian
Most librarians need a master’s degree in library science. Some positions have additional requirements, such as a teaching certificate or a degree in another field.

Pay
The median annual wage for librarians was $55,370 in May 2012.

Job Outlook
Employment of librarians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Librarians are needed to assist library patrons in locating information and resources, but growth will be limited as people become more comfortable using electronic resources to conduct their own research.

Of course this information is a tad different for law librarians, where you would generally need a J.D. in additional to a master's degree in library science (as noted that some positions require additional degrees). But I think that the median salary is just about the same.

The BLS says "that growth will be limited as people become more comfortable using electronic resources to conduct their own research." As digital natives begin to enter college and law school, there may be less instruction regarding how to maneuver around electronic databases, but I still think that research strategy and organized searching will still be a major teaching point. Also vetting reliable information.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Happy Friday With Happy Lawyers

After a six day work week, I am happy to say it is Friday! I have blogged about happiness in the legal field in the past, but I thought it might be a good time to remind everyone what happy lawyers do.

The ABA Journal recently ran a post about the things that happy lawyers do. "A Duke University lecturer who teaches a course on lawyers and personal well-being says happy lawyers make choices that make them less miserable than their pessimistic counterparts."

The lecturer "outlined six ways that lawyers can make the choice to be happy." They are:

1) Look at the big picture. Happy lawyers have perspective and don’t obsess over every setback.

2) Lighten up and savor moments of laughter, which can enhance your mood and that of the people you interact with.

3) Learn optimism. Law school training can discourage optimistic thinking, translating to chronic pessimism that affects all parts of your life.

4) Stop multitasking, and spend some time focusing on friends and family.

5) Try physical activity to reduce stress and boost mood.

6) Develop positive relationships with others.

These ideas are good advice for the population at large. But lawyer should take heed as the associate attorney is often ranked the unhappiest job in America.

For motivating quotes from attorneys about why they love being lawyers, check out this other article at the ABA Journal.


By Jgsho (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AYellow_Happy.jpg

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hidden Messages In Gilded Books

This article from The Meta Picture was posted on the Law Library Director's listserv recently.

I, for one, had no idea that gilded books sometimes contain hidden messages (see pics below).

This might be a good time to check the books in my law library to see if any of the books have this type of message. If so, it might be worth placing them in our new rare books room.

Spring by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

Autumn by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

Winter by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No Bar Exam In Iowa?

The ABA Journal reports that Iowa may follow the lead of Wisconsin and not require a bar exam for graduates from Iowa's law schools.

"The Iowa Supreme Court will consider a proposal this summer that would allow graduates of Iowa’s two law schools to skip the bar exam if they practice law in the state.The grads would still have to pass an ethics exam, take a class on Iowa law and procedure, and submit to screening."

The Iowa Bar Association says that the idea "is intended to shorten the period between graduation and practice, saving the money needed for living expenses and bar review during that period. The average debt for law graduates is about $95,000 at the University of Iowa and about $106,000 at Drake."

But won't this lower the standards of the profession? Not really. "Iowa State Bar Association President Guy Cook [said] that the bar exam weeds out few grads. Only 6.8 percent failed their first exam between 2008 and 2013, and 62 percent of those who failed passed on their second try or in another state."

Cook went on to say that “[w]hat this proposal really does, at its core, is put more power back into the hands of the Iowa Supreme Court as opposed to some third-party testing service, so that the [court] decides what are the courses that a law student must successfully complete that would make that law student a competent lawyer in Iowa."

That's an interesting take. I wonder how much sway the Iowa Supreme Court currently has in the course lists at the University of Iowa and Drake? Generally, the courses offered correspond with ABA requirements, but this might entice the schools to work more closely with the Iowa Supreme Court (if they don't already). Because I am sure this will entice some potential law students to attend school in Iowa to skip a bar exam.

"Currently, Wisconsin is the only state that allows grads of its law schools to practice law without taking the bar exam—a system known as an in-state diploma privilege."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lawyer Hiring Stats State-by-State

Forbes recently had an article discussing stats on lawyer hiring by state.

Forbes "updated the supply-and-demand outlook for lawyers by state to see if the picture looks any better than it did a few years ago. The answer [according to Forbes]: Not really. Hiring has mostly been stagnant coming out of the recession, and more than twice as many people graduated with law degrees in 2012 (46,565) as there are estimated job openings (21,640). But take away full-time, salaried positions and the real growth in the lawyer job market has come from those working on the side in part-time arrangements. It’s here where many of the job opportunities appear to be, which is hardly encouraging for newly minted lawyers deep in debt."

So how are the individual states faring? "For most states, the outlook is similar — there are between two to four graduates for every opening. The most extreme oversupplies are in Vermont (7.9 law grads for every opening), Michigan (5.4), Massachusetts (4.4), and Mississippi (4.3). Six states, meanwhile, have just about the right amount of graduates compared to openings: Alaska, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming."

Forbes computed the stats comparing graduation data from each state along with job openings in each state. My first question when seeing the data was, but what about those students who go to school in one statea nd move to another? "Keep in mind that not every law grad is going to practice or take the bar in the state in he or she graduates from. This is especially true in big law graduate-producing states such as New York and Illinois. But as Jordan Weissmann wrote in The Atlantic, '… law is in many ways still a geographically bound profession.'"

In terms of which school are producing the most graduates, "Georgetown and Harvard produce the most degrees among prestigious schools. The biggest jump in degrees has come at Duke, which went from 243 law grads in 2003 to 363 in 2012. Stanford, meanwhile, saw a small decrease (from 193 to 180). And while not among the top tier, Thomas M. Cooley Law School has gone from 438 law degrees in 2003 to 1,080 in 2012, the most in the nation."

From this data, it may be easy to argue that law school isn't the right choice, but "[t]he skills gleaned while getting a law degree are valuable, whether inside or outside the legal industry. A paper from economists at Seton Hall and Rutgers argues the average law degree-holder will earn $990,000 more over his or her lifetime than a bachelor's degree-holder."

Monday, January 13, 2014

BigLaw Firm's School-Blind Hiring Policy

Now this is real elitist reform right here. The ABA Journal reports that a "British-based law firm, Clifford Chance, has introduced a 'CV blind' policy that hides candidates’ university information from those who are doing final interviews."

"The aim is to eliminate bias in favor of Oxford, Cambridge and other leading schools. Clifford Chance adopted the policy last year, leading to a 28 percent increase in the number of institutions from which it drew trainees."

As a senior employee of Clifford Chance put it, “[w]e’re looking for the gems and they’re not all in the jeweler’s shop.”

A 28 percent increase in the number of institutions is pretty substantial. Currently, the name brand law schools in the U.S. are the main feeder schools into BigLaw leaving little room for candidates from the other 140+ law schools in the country. If U.S. BigLaw were to follow the lead of Clifford Chance, I wonder how many additional schools would be represented in new associate hiring?

It's something worth looking into, if only a U.S. BigLaw firm would take the chance.


By Emmanuel Huybrechts from Laval, Canada [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGolden_Lady_Justice%2C_Bruges%2C_Belgium_(6204837462).jpg

Friday, January 10, 2014

Scribes Says 'Take A Book Home Each Night'

It's no secret that I am a fan of Scribes. The research tip this week was to learn your library and take a book home each night.
________
Scribes Research Tip No. 16:  Take a Book Home Each Night

It's extremely valuable to know what resources are available and what are their strengths and weaknesses before the need to use them arises. Whether your library is large or small, learn what it has.

One technique is to take a book home and browse through it, not to learn a specific point but to learn about the book. Does it have forms that might be helpful in the future? Are there good checklists? Was it peer reviewed before publication? Is there a clear bias or is the book neutral in presentation? How does it compare to other books on the subject? Is it well indexed? Get comfortable enough with the book to know whether it will help you on a rush project or be a waste of time.

If you take a book home once or twice a week and perform this sort of review, you'll see the benefits almost immediately in your ability to find the information you need.
_________
This is exactly what librarians do every day. When we help patrons find resources, we make mental notes of our library's resources that were particularly helpful to answer a specific question. That's part of what makes this profession a life long learning experience.

Of course it's not a bad idea to become familiar with your own library's resources, but make sure to also ask a librarian for help because there's a very good chance that the librarian can lead you to specific resources that will be helpful to you.


By Unnamed WPA photographer (WPA photo Via [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/Librarian_working_at_the_Pointe_Coupee_Parish_Parish_library_in_New_Roads_Louisiana_in_1936.jpg

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Loss Of Self Development With The Bookless Library

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article discussing the harm of the bookless library. The author states that his "primary concern is that this might (or already has?) create false expectations of what 'all libraries' should become. It’s setting a precedent. The key issue for [him] is funding. Why do we need a library anymore? Let’s just build computer labs– that’s what they are doing in Texas."

This kind of thinking is already happening in the legal academe. See my previous post discussing the issues with eliminating law libraries.

And this NYTimes article made me evaluate how much of my life is spent online and the effect that it has on all of us. "The digital world offers us many advantages, but if we yield to that world too completely we may lose the privacy we need to develop a self. Activities that require time and careful attention, like serious reading, are at risk; we read less and skim more as the Internet occupies more of our lives. And there’s a link between selfhood and reading slowly, rather than scanning for quick information, as the Web encourages us to do. Recent work in sociology and psychology suggests that reading books, a private experience, is an important aspect of coming to know who we are."

So, yes, a bookless library may save us money for those bottom-line thinkers, but it may do more harm than good to our development of self.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Perceived Advantage Of Prestige

With the polar vortex that essentially shut down the Midwest, I was finally able to read for fun! I chose David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

It is a quick read, and it has an interesting argument about the perceived advantage of attending a highly ranked, brand-named school. The argument goes like this: If you are a little fish in a big pond (like a student attending an Ivy League institution in terms of sheer brain power), and you are at the bottom of your class (which is probably still in the 90th percentile nationwide), you may be deterred from finishing a difficult degree because you are not used to failure, and you become demoralized. Of course Gladwell offered various statistical analyses to support the idea that this phenomena actually happens.

His argument is that it may be better to be a big fish in a little pond (like a student at a respectable state school) and excel and be motivated to finish a difficult degree.

Gladwell goes on to discuss how this works with affirmative action. He points to evidence that shows that affirmative action may actually be hurting law students. "Affirmative action is practiced most aggressively in law schools, where black students are routinely offered positions in schools one tier higher than they would otherwise be able to attend. The result? According to the law professor Richard Sander, more than half of all African-American law students in the United States -- 51.6 percent -- are in the bottom 10 percent of their law school class and almost three-quarters fall in the bottom 20 percent."

Gladwell suggests that these law students become demoralized and may not finish their law degree. It's an interesting point given the evidence. Gladwell points to further evidence showing that students at the top of their class at Fordham generally did better in the job market than those at the middle or bottom of their class at Columbia even though Fordham is consistently ranked lower than Columbia.

I guess the moral of the story is that it may not always be the best decision to choose your school based on prestige alone. The perceived advantage of attending a prestigious institution may actually be a disadvantage in the long run.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Green Bag's Limited Edition Supreme Court Bobbleheads

Did you know that The Green Bag releases limited edition Supreme Court justice bobbleheads? I was elated when I saw this story at USAToday until I realized my chances of actually getting a bobblehead are pretty slim.

"They are some of the rarest bobblehead dolls ever produced. They're released erratically. They're given away for free, not sold. And if you get a certificate to claim one, you have to redeem it at a Washington, D.C., law office."

So how do you get one of these bobbleheads? "Subscribing to the journal is the most reliable way to get a voucher to claim a bobblehead when they are released, but there's no guarantee. The certificates warn that the bearer "might be able" to exchange it for a bobblehead, and the journal also hands out some bobbleheads to non-subscribers, including law school public interest groups that auction them at fundraisers. Some ultimately wobble their way onto eBay, where they reliably sell for hundreds of dollars."

No detail is too small. "Each has multiple references to the legal legacy of the person it honors. For example, Justice Louis Brandeis rides a train, a nod to his important opinion in a case involving the Erie Railroad in Pennsylvania. The David Souter bobblehead plays a song by Modest Mouse, a group he mentioned in a copyright case. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg stands on a replica of the parade ground at the Virginia Military Institute. In 1996 she wrote an opinion striking down the school's all-male admissions policy. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's bobblehead replicates the shoes she wore on Sept. 25, 1981, the day she was sworn in as the court's first female member. John Paul Stevens stands on a Betamax VCR, a nod to his opinion in a copyright case involving the device. When the VCR wasn't turning out right in production, Davies bought one on eBay and shipped it to China for a bobblehead sculptor to study. So far, Davies has gone through four drafts of the upcoming Breyer bobblehead, which portrays Breyer engaged in a favorite activity, riding his bike."

Here is a list of the bobbleheads released by date over at The Green Bag. And if you want to be on list to possibly get a boblehead in the future, make sure to subscribe to The Green Bag

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Student From Unranked Law School Lands Prestigious Fellowship

The National Law Journal reported on a Skadden fellow who was chosen from an unranked law school -- a rarity among Skadden fellows.

"Since the creation of the Skadden Fellowship in 1988, more than 700 law students and judicial clerks have received its financial support for two years as they pursue public-interest law projects of their own design.
Of those recipients, nearly 70 percent came from schools listed in the Top 10 by U.S. News & World Report; most of the remainder held J.D.s from schools listed in the Top 100."

But Sarah Hess broke the mold when she became the "first student from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago to win the prestigious fellowship. In fact, 2010 was the last time a student from any unranked law school (in that case the Widener University School of Law) made the cut."

"The year’s 28 Skadden fellows hail from 13 law schools—seven of them from Yale Law School and six from Harvard Law School. Each fellow will be paid on par with the salary and benefits of the public-interest organization they join for the next two years."

Hess proposed a plan to "start what is known as a medical-legal partnership through the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The idea is that families living below the poverty line generally have five unmet legal needs at any given time. Hess will offer pro bono advice about any non-criminal or immigration-related legal need, from housing or public benefits problems to domestic violence or access to Medicaid."

This selection should work as a motivator for the majority of law students out there who do not attend Yale or Harvard (although it appears that most of the fellows are chosen from these schools). Hess "sees her selection as a Skadden fellow as proof that dedication and hard work can trump law school pedigree when forging a legal career."

As Hess put it, "[y]ou should never let people tell you something is impossible. You should use the warning as motivation to do a better job."

Good luck to Ms. Hess as she continues.