Tuesday, December 29, 2009

College vs. Law School: High Powered (Undergrad) Degree Worth it When Shooting for a JD?

Among law students, there appears to be a general understanding that students who attend top tier schools have more opportunities when it comes to prominent law firms, clerkships, and academia. At some point, where you go to law school becomes the dominant question, and where you went to college becomes seemingly less relevant to the point where one wonders whether it even matters.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have Yourself a Very Mobby Christmas

Here's some more Mob & Christmas news for your viewing pleasure. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a local mob capo was given an amended court order of house arrest so he could indulge in a family (but not Family) dinner for Christmas.

I wonder if he will remember to leave a tip and take the cannoli.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is Law School Non Partisan?: A follow-up

As I discussed in a previous post, I find the role of partisanship and its potential to hinder insightful debate within a law school atmosphere rather intriguing. Therefore, when I read this New York Times article about how ideology is beginning to play a primary role in the life of former Supreme Court clerks, I expected to be similarly amazed. But I wasn't.

The article discusses how Justices are likely to hire clerks who agree with their political platform, and in turn, the presidential administration is more likely to hire former clerks of Justices that support the administration's political platform. I really want to be shocked that political figures are not actively seeking diverse partisan interests to avoid problems of groupthink, but it seems like that is simply the way the political world functions. While the same may not be true in finance or medicine, in politics, you want people on your side who at least agree with your overall approach to issues, and then they can debate you on more nuanced topics of how to tackle a specific problem. I am trying to follow through with my own thought process and think about what would happen if Obama began hiring all of Scalia's former clerks, but I cannot quite grasp how significant the effect would be.

The most interesting aspect of the article, in my opinion, was the idea that some firms have a tendency to hire more former clerks of either conservative or liberal justices, suggesting that law firms have political leanings as well. The article does not imply that firms are specifically turning candidates away for their political views, but simply notes a general correlation. At the end, the author claims that while these trends may be predictable, they effectively blur the line between law and politics. I guess the real question is whether that line exists, where it falls, and how much it matters in the real world.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

US to EU: Eat My Carbon

For all of you international law fans, there is an interesting case out of Europe today. By way of background, the EU-ETS is Europe's cap and trade scheme for carbon emissions. Starting in 2012, airlines will be required to purchase carbon permits for all flights into or out of E.U. member states. From Aviation Week:
Three U.S. airlines and the Air Transport Association filed suit in a U.K. court Dec. 16 seeking to block implementation of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The suit was filed by ATA, Continental, American and United against the U.K. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. It is the first legal action brought by U.S airlines in a European court to halt the inclusion of international aviation in the ETS.
U.S. airlines sue in a U.K. court over E.U. law. Procedural issues aside, the key legal question is whether the E.U can require an E.U. bound foreign aircraft to offset its carbon emissions even if most of its flight took place outside the E.U. (Think an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to London).

If the E.U. loses this case, they may be forced to remove airline emissions from the ETS (cheaper flights for euro-fans, bad news for Tuvalu). Imagine if European based carriers were subject to an additional tax on their extra-EU flights while foreign carriers could avoid the levy. The foreign airlines would have an instant price advantage and would likely take over large chunks of the market. For that reason alone, I have a feeling the E.U. law will trump the U.S. airlines in the U.K. court-making that European dream vacation just a little more expensive.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Law Professor Seeks to Raise $100,000 for Charity

Suja Thomas, the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Faculty Scholar at the University of Illinois Law School, has posed an interesting challenge to readers of her new blog, "The Give Blog." Continuing a promise that began on November 23, 2009, she plans to potentially donate $50,000 of her own money to five charities:
To celebrate the launch of this blog, with your help, we hope to give away $50,000 to five charities – The Hunger Project, The Grameen Foundation, Safe Passage, Catholic Charities USA and the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. . . . [Through December 24], [w]e will match contributions of up to $100 from new donors to these charities, and each charity can receive up to $10,000 from us. (We will match up to $100 of new donations to each of the five charities such that a person who has not given to any of these charities in the past could be matched up to $500.) So together, with your contributions, we can give $20,000 to each of these charities, or $100,000 to all five of them.
We commend these efforts, and encourage everyone to take a look at the site. If you desire to participate, you may send an email "stating the amount that you will donate and make the donation directly to the charity. The charity will confirm that you are a new donor and the amount of your donation, and then [The Give Blog] will match your contribution."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Client Meeting from Hell

Lawyer beats client with baseball bat. From the Charleston Gazette:
A Charleston [West Virginia] lawyer beat his client with a baseball bat on the East End Wednesday afternoon after the client allegedly broke into his house. . . . A witness described lawyer Joshua Robinson chasing [his client] David Lee Gump II along the 1500 block of Lee Street, hitting him in the head, back and upper body at about 5 p.m. Wednesday. . . . Gump, 35, of South Charleston, was arrested and charged with battery and burglary, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court. . . . Gump, who spoke with the Gazette at his house prior to his arrest on Thursday, said he didn't break in to Robinson's house. He said he was knocking on the door and standing on Robinson's porch, trying to confront him about a $1,100 check that he said belongs to him.
The incident is under further investigation. This would make for a killer MPRE hypo.

House Subcommittee Approves College Football Playoff Legislation

We assumed it had to happen eventually. . . . From ESPN:
A House subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday aimed at forcing college football to switch to a playoff system to determine a national champion, over the objections of some lawmakers who said Congress had more pressing matters on its plate. . . . The bill, which faces long odds of becoming law, would ban the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I football game as a national championship unless that title contest is the result of a playoff. The measure passed by voice vote in a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee, with one audible "no," from Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.
Doubt this goes anywhere.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Open Thread: November MPRE Scores Are Out!

It feels like it was only yesterday when we joined in this open thread to commiserate about the MPRE, but "score release day" has come and gone.Your score report is now available, and can be accessed at this link.

Good luck to all who took the November test! Feel free to celebrate and bemoan in the comments.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How Low Can the Pleadings Standard Go?

Recent legislation seeks to overturn the infamous Bell Atlantic v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal cases responsible for holding plaintiffs to a higher pleadings standard. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). Before Twombly, FRCP Rule 8 laid out a notice pleading standard which required a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief in order to give defendants fair notice. At the initial pleadings stage, the plaintiff had the burden of making factual allegations that, if true, stated a cause of action on which relief could be granted. Although the allegations needed to satisfy all elements of the claim, no evidence was required.

However, in Twombly, the Supreme Court created a plausibility standard establishing that a pleading must contain something more than a statement of facts that merely create a suspicion of a legally cognizable right of action. Revisiting Twombly in Iqbal, the Court rejected the theory that the heightened standard applied only to antitrust conspiracies, claiming that “Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions.’” 129 S.Ct. at 1955. Supporters of these decisions believe that the heightened standard will reduce the amount of frivolous claims and avoid cases in which discovery is unlikely to reveal relevant evidence.

Well, Senator Arlen Specter begs to differ. Proposing the Notice Pleading Restoration Act, he is joined by several other officials in arguing that a higher pleadings standard simply favors defendants who succeed in concealing evidence, especially large corporations. As a result, courts are more likely to wrongly dismiss cases.

In certain respects, I do agree that the standard may be too high. First, it seems unfair to say that a meritorious case is always factually supported from the beginning. For instance, the plausibility standard is likely to be invoked is discrimination cases where the defendants will succeed on the basis of pure information asymmetry. Sometimes, the information necessary to meet the standard is in the hands of the defendants, and plaintiffs get caught in the catch 22 of needing discovery documents to solidify their claim while being stopped short of actually engaging in discovery. Also, I think that courts are able to impose certain limits on the discovery process to avoid the idea that it merely becomes a fishing expedition amounting to a waste of time and money. However, I think the major attack comes from the idea that lawyers, judges, plaintiffs and defendants alike have absolutely no idea what a plausibility standard actually entails. As a result, the Iqbal decision seems to imply that judges are left to decide right from the start whether the plaintiff is likely to have a meritorious claim, and without enough information, this decision can be construed as rather arbitrary.

I will say that, in reading about this new legislation, I was intrigued by the vast number of Twombly supporters who truly believe that the heightened standard will promote worthy claims, save resources, and encourage settlements. I know that I am instinctively uncomfortable with both Twombly and Iqbal, but I am open to being persuaded otherwise.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Opportunity to Clarify Atkins v. Virgina?

Maybe. As the New York Times reports:
A 44-year-man whose lawyers claim he is mentally retarded is scheduled to be executed Thursday evening in Huntsville, Tex., unless the United States Supreme Court agrees to hear his case.

The man, Bobby Wayne Woods, whose I.Q. hovers around the level of a mildly retarded person’s, was convicted of the brutal killing of an 11-year-old girl in 1997 and sentenced to death.
While the Court, in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), held that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, state practice following the decision has--as the Times notes--been inconsistent.

We'll be sure to keep you posted on any developments in this case.


Update: Mr. Woods was executed as scheduled.