Saturday, January 30, 2010

Battle of the Sexes: Law School Edition

One of our readers recently made a comment about needing more estrogen on the blog, and that comment provoked a few thoughts that I've been internally debating for almost three years now. Female law students vs. male law students: where do the differences stem from and how much of it is just gender stereotyping?

Friday, January 29, 2010

President Obama Gets Involved in College Football

Two days after the State of the Union. . . . Thanks, I guess. ESPN.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Question of "Degree?"

We can all agree that law school is a costly proposition. But what are we paying for? The degree, the education or some combination of the two? Recently, this question has been the source of much debate amongst my fellow classmates who, like many of us, battle  their conscience over whether to take a perceived "soft" course that seems interesting over a "hard" course that will, as the argument goes, be more valuable in the real world. Presented with this dichotomy, the wise thing to do is to choose the latter; it's hard to argue with choices that will help one in their career. The question, however, may not be as simple as I described it.

As far as I can tell, law school's pedagogical method is not--and has never been--focused on helping prepare students for the specific legal problems they'll face in their careers. Rather, the objective is to provide students with a broad framework for resolving issues that will ultimately be confronted in practice. Whether shirking pragmatism in this manner is sensible is subject to debate from students and faculty alike, but it is a reality. And a reality that makes it less likely that any substantive law learned will ever be more helpful in the workforce than a brief survey of caselaw. (After all, professors have different emphases and the law has this pesky tendency to change.)

Given that, I'm inclined to think it really doesn't matter all that much. But if it does, I suppose there's a second question worth considering: why offer the supposed "soft" courses at all? Thoughts?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Student Loan Reform

The Obama administration has proposed a solution to the student debt fiasco. From Yahoo News:
Obama will also call for caps on some student loans, limiting a borrower's payments to 10 percent of his or her income, and forgiving all remaining debt after 10 years of payment for those in public service work — and 20 years for all others.
This cap and forgiveness program is similar to the student loan program in the UK. The model helps reduce some of the asymmetries associated with student loan debt (really easy to obtain, hard to predict rate of return, and almost impossible ability to discharge) by ensuring there is a finish line to the loan race and by encouraging people to obtain higher education.

I fully support such a system. Education, particularly legal education, is a huge financial gamble. The current student loan system relentlessly punishes those who lose the bet until the day they die. This alternative model better helps apportion the risk of obtaining an education. While the individual who ultimately receives the education gets the most benefit (and correspondingly, should pay for that benefit), there is a huge societal interest in educating the masses. Because both the State and the student benefit, they should rightly split some of the risk/cost. Simply loading the debt onto the student without the possibility of discharge ensures that such a student will be held back financially for the rest of his life (hard to get credit if you can't pay your $3500 a month student loans).

This is a sensible solution. Let's hope it goes somewhere.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What's in a Name?

"Transgender" has become a broad term that applies to people who identify and/or express themselves with a gender other than their birth sex. Currently, there is no federal law explicitly prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, public accommodations or any other area of law. However, states are taking baby steps, beginning with New York, which has become a leader in recognizing name changes that transfer across sexes. Overcoming issues such as requiring a doctor's note for a transgender to get a name change and publicizing all name changes in a newspaper, which would provoke safety problems for those in gender transition, Manhattan courts are slowly paving the way for these individuals to begin settling into their new identities.

Read about it here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Predicting the Future: Is it a Proper Role for the Supreme Court?

Adam Liptak wrote a fascinating article in today's New York Times regarding the habit of Supreme Court Justices to predict the future based on the resolution of the cases the Court adjudges. Principally, Liptak opines that "The Supreme Court’s main strength lies in adjudicating disputes based on things that have already happened. It is less good at predicting the future." Indeed, prescient--and in many cases, dire--predictions can often be found scattered about important dissents. Liptak illustrates this phenomenon:
When the court first ruled in June that prosecutors may not submit reports from such labs without accompanying testimony, the four dissenting justices warned that the decision would impose a “crushing burden” on prosecutors. Several of them repeated that point Monday.

“I don’t know except anecdotally,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, “but Massachusetts seems to be having huge problems.” That depends on whom you talk to. The chief trial counsel of the district attorney’s office in Boston, which handles about half of the state’s drug cases, told a symposium at the New England School of Law in November that “the sky is not falling.”

“Despite the dire predictions,” the prosecutor, Patrick M. Haggan, said, “defendants have not walked free. In the vast majority of cases where we have been required to produce the analyst’s live testimony, we’ve had that analyst there.”
These predictions are often more than mere rhetorical jabs waged by a disgruntled dissenter; they are sometimes found in majority opinions. As Liptak notes:
Poor predictions are not confined to dissents. Writing for eight justices in Clinton v. Jones, the 1997 decision allowing a sexual harassment case against President Bill Clinton to move forward, Justice John Paul Stevens confidently asserted that “it appears to us highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount” of Mr. Clinton’s time. The aftermath of the decision dominated much of Mr. Clinton’s second term.
Given this, one wonders why the Justices even bother--particularly given the justiciability concerns such predictions evoke (to the extent the predictions relate to future legal issues that are not before the Court).

Open Thread: Jets Fan Helps Create Torts Exam?

Now I know I'm thinking like a lawyer. The first thing I thought of when I saw the video below is how many claims this unfortunate Jets fan likely has if the video is not materially edited...any thoughts on how the locus of the incident could affect this (likely) lawsuit?

Maybe cheering for one's team in an opposing stadium suffices to establish probable cause for an arrest or brief detention? It strikes me as crazy, but maybe that's because I'm just as likely to be screaming my lungs out for the J-E-T-S in Indianapolis this weekend?

Update (10/20): The New York Post weighs in.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Law School Debt Exceeding $120 K

Visualize Law reports on the ballooning cost of law school. Particularly alarming (yet not surprising) is a calculation estimating "about 46% of all students in the year 2013 who [will] anticipate graduating with at least $120,000 in debt." Check out the article.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

IRS Commissioner on Tax Code: It's too Damn Complicated

Said the Commissioner of the IRS today. From The Hill:
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman does not file his own taxes in part because he believes the tax code is complex.

During an interview on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program that aired on Sunday, Shulman said he uses a tax preparer for his own returns.

"I've used one for years. I find it convenient. I find the tax code complex so I use a preparer," Shulman said.
I don't blame him. During my Fed Tax I class, one of the exercises was to try to determine your annual tax liability using only the code and regulations. The exercise can take hours even for what is a relatively mundane return. What did the exercise teach me? That just like Commissioner Shulman, I too should use a tax preparer.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why Are Lawyers So Unhappy?

A friend of mine just referred me to a book titled "Authentic Happiness" by Martin E.P. Seligman, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The author devotes a section to discussing the three main causes of the demoralization among lawyers, which he identifies as pessimism, low decision latitude in high stress situations, and the adversarial nature of the profession.

Google Tax

The French have solved the problem of Internet piracy: tax Google. From the AP (via Yahoo):
The report, handed to Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand on Wednesday, says Google and other Internet portals should be slapped with a new tax on their online ad revenues in France to fund the development of legal outlets for buying books, movies and especially music on the Internet.
Essentially, France wants to subsidize media purchases (read: French media purchases) with a tax on the Internet companies who provide easy access to pirated media. The idea behind this Robin Hood-esque plan is that young people would then find legal avenues to purchase this subsidized and relatively cheap media rather than use Google to find it for free (albeit, illegally). Of course, the opposition cites the parade of horribles that would result from such a tax:
'Where does it start and stop? The argument is that Google has culpability for declining music revenues because people start searches for illegal files often by Google,' said Mark Mulligan, vice president of Forrester Research. But 'what about the computers? Because without the computer people wouldn't be able to download. And then what about the electricity that powers the computer?'
There may be a hint of truth in this slippery slope. A tax on search providers (like Google) is bound to be "leaky". Essentially, if the French are only going to tax Google's French revenues, Google will simply rework its advertising contracts to other EU member states to dodge the tax (the EU is a common market, it can be pretty easy to avoid these kinds of taxes, particularly when they do not involve physical goods in the country). Google will still get its revenue and France will not collect its tax. And if you can't collect the cash from Google - well then just go after the items that cannot easily be moved (like the electricity to the computers that steal the music).

While I sincerely doubt that the French will implement an electricity tax to pay for young people's (French) music tastes, I do believe that France will ultimately set up this type of tax and subsidy scheme. The French have a habit for such interventions into the marketplace, a system affectionately known as dirigisme. But as discussed above, this tax-subsidy system will probably not work and in all likelihood, will wind up driving online advertising revenue away from France.

So why would France bother with such a potentially useless tax? Simple - because it's broke. With record deficits plaguing the developed world, new and novel taxes will begin cropping up to help contain some of the fiscal destruction. The more of a "moral" label a country can place on a tax, the more likely the tax is to be implemented. The French have found a convenient enemy in search providers: they are the gateways to broad-based theft. What better justification to tax someone than the fact that you will use the revenues to right a wrong. A little hint: with 10%+ of GDP deficits, that tax money is just going to wind up in the general fund.

I hope Congress isn't following the French news.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Blast from the LSAT Past

I may be in the minority, but my favorite part of the LSAT was the logic games section. Someone recently asked me what kind of questions appear on the test, and it inspired me to share a game with our readers. See if you can figure it out!

Hans is considering purchasing each of six items arranged from left to right on a shelf at the travelers' warehouse—a razor, a stereo, a television, a UV lamp, a video camera, and a watch. Each of these items is powered either by batteries or by an adapter, but not by both. The following conditions apply:

  1. The UV lamp is either the leftmost or the rightmost item on the shelf.
  2. No item powered by batteries is adjacent to any other item powered by batteries.
  3. The watch is powered by batteries.
  4. The fourth item on the shelf is not powered by an adapter.
  5. The razor, which is powered by batteries, is to the left of the watch, and to the right of the video camera and the stereo.

Which of the following could be true?

(A) The UV lamp is the sixth item on the shelf.

(B) The razor is the third item on the shelf.

(C) The fifth item on the shelf is powered by batteries.

(D) The stereo is powered by batteries.

(E) Both the UV lamp and the video camera are powered by batteries.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Take Three for Mayor Bloomberg

Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was sworn in for his controversial third term. Becoming the fourth mayor in New York City history to deliver three inaugural addresses, this billionaire must now face the possibility that New Yorkers are a bit tired of him. The City Council received much criticism for its vote to change the term limits law, and Bloomberg only pulled out a narrow victory over Bill Thompson.

Although he has received wide public support during his mayoral career, Bloomberg is now presented with the task of forcing New Yorkers to cut back as he deals with the struggling economy. A strong advocate for educational reform through essentially getting rid of "bad" teachers based on student performance, he will also have to deal with a new set of city councilmembers, many of whom advocate much more parent involvement in school board decisions. For the next few years, Bloomberg can be sure that his decisions will be scrutinized, and his actions dissected, because he needs to show New York that he deserved a third term. Congratulations, Mayor Bloomberg, and just keep in mind that a fourth term is out of the question!