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July 30, 2010

Friday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: Is there a speed limit for skateboarders in New Zealand? I could use a quick answer on this, as I am about to pass a truck.

Answer: Slower than you are going, mate! (YouTube, Longboarding the Bombay Hills, Auckland, NZ)

2) Question: Yes, I see that stupid piece of tape on the ground in the grocery store, but I'm supposed to be on break! I'll just pick it up 15 minutes from now when I clock back in. What's the worst that could happen?

Answer: Well, a woman could fall when her foot gets stuck on the piece of tape on the floor in the store, causing her to then step on a piece of plywood which then moves out from under her, causing her foot to fall in a hole and the rest of her to fall into a display rack. (Lowering the Bar, From the Docket: A Trip-and-Fall-and-Slip-and-Fall-and-Fall Case)

3) Question: I'm not going to lie, I'm way too drunk to drive my truck. The responsible thing to do here is to let me grandson serve as designated driver, right?

Answer: In some instances, yes. But if your grandson is 12 years old, you're going to need a Plan C. (Bad Lawyer, 12-Year-Old Designated Driver)

July 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Law Firm Cassels Brock Rolls Out Original, Engaging Student Site

Based on the hundreds of "bad news" articles and blog posts I've read over the past months about the state of the legal market for law students, I didn't realize that there were any entry-level attorney jobs out there. And I certainly didn't realize that in some places, at least, law firms are still pouring money into things like multimedia "student" sections of their websites to impress and attract students to join their firms.

Via the Precedent blog, I've been set straight on this point and came across the terrific student site put together by Toronto law firm Cassels Brock.  I've never even heard of this law firm but it has pulled out all the stops to create a student site that is engaging, interesting and even quite amusing. As described by Precedent, it "includes social media components, a student blog, videos, plenty of photos, events listings and, most notably, an interactive office tour set up like a game with 'secret' content hidden throughout."

Cassels Brock's Leigh-Ann McGowan, who is responsible for professional development and student programs, told Precedent that, "We weren't interested in emulating another law firm recruitment website. Young professionals are looking for a site that is different and creative -- a site that will give them insight as to what type of firm they are applying to. Cassels Brock is inherently a young, hip firm with a strong and solid client base from a variety of industries and we felt it was important that this is reflected in our site.”

Agreed! The site has a built-in YouTube channel that features slickly-produced videos of the firm's "articling class" of students -- check one of them out below. It also features a very cool interactive tour of the office that I also highly recommend based on originality alone. (Caution: I got stuck in the virtual elevator the first time I tried to take the interactive tour, but escaped by hitting refresh.)

Bottom line: Cassels Brock's student site is fantastic. Between it and the Paul Pearson video earlier this week, I'm starting to think that Canadian lawyers may be born with a natural talent for this social media stuff.

July 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Taking the 'Do Not Call' List to the Next Level: 'Do Not Knock'

Noknock Eric Lipman noted yesterday that a whopping 200 million people have now signed up for the Federal Trade Commission's "Do Not Call" list. Now, the residents of tony Rye, N.Y. are ready to take it to the next level with a new "Do Not Knock" list of their own.

In short, many Rye residents don't want solicitors, non-profit workers or any other strangers darkening their doorstep, and they are ready to take action. "People come knocking at my door and I don't know if it's legitimate or not. It's an inconvenience when it's dinner time," Rye's Bridget Vavasour told ABC News.The Do Not Knock registry under consideration in Rye would put solicitors on notice that they may not visit addresses on the list.

ABC reports that several Midwest suburbs like Parma, Ohio already have "no knock" lists (Parmanian readers can register here), but Rye would be the first municipality in the New York area to pass such a law.

July 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

LBW Quote of the Day: The Challenge of Teaching (and Learning) Good Legal Writing

I liked this quote I ran across today at the Legal Writing Prof Blog. Having taught (and taken) several legal writing courses, I think it is pretty accurate.

“Teaching legal writing is like dropping someone in the middle of China and telling them to learn Chinese, and, by the way, no one around you is speaking it correctly.”- Terri Pollman

I recall going off to law school as a what I believed to be a decent writer. After reading 1,000 cases as a first year law student -- most of which were written in the stuffiest, densest legalese imaginable -- my writing started to morph into what I was seeing everyday: passive voice, unnecessary Latin phrases, way-too-long sentences, etc. It took an intervention in the form of a really good legal writing course to get me writing like a real person again.

July 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 29, 2010

How not to Celebrate Easter in Center Line, Michigan

No, it's not exactly seasonally appropriate, but when you come across one of those "Really? That's a law?" laws, sometimes you can't help but talk about it.

Via Legal Juice, a link to Section 10-4 of the Municipal Code of Center Line, Mich.:

Sec. 10-4.  Artificially coloring birds.

It shall be unlawful for any person to artificially color, spray or paint any bird or fowl or to sell, offer for sale, or otherwise dispose of any such colored bird or fowl.

(Code 1962, § 7-504)

Duly noted. Good thing this guy lives in Connecticut.

Seriously, though, if it's about animal cruelty, why does the prohibition extend only to coloring for the purpose of sale or other disposition? The first reader who can track down the legislative history that answers this question will get a free "Legal Blog Watch" t-shirt.*

*Read: A plain white t-shirt on which I have illegibly scrawled "Legal Blog Watch" with a blue Sharpie.

July 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tax Professor Casts Ray of Sunshine on Yard Sale Bargain Hunters

Since federal income taxation is not covered on the bar exam (at least as far as I can recall), few aspiring lawyers were likely thinking about it this week. Luckily, Paul Caron at the TaxProf Blog was. Because, you know, that's his job.

This morning he analyzes the tax consequences of what he calls the "mother of all yard sale bargains." Some dude named Rick Norsigian was yard sale shopping in California about 10 years back and bought two boxes of glass photographic plates. He bargained the seller down from $75 to $45. Good haggling, Rick. As it turned out, these plates were apparently the work of Ansel Adams. Yes, that Ansel Adams.

Norsigian hired experts to authenticate the plates, and, as reported by Norsigian's lawyer (natch), they concluded that the plates were, indeed, Adams's work and might be worth $200 million, though the famed photographer's heirs aren't convinced.

Anyway, back to tax. Caron raised and answered the question: Does this guy have to report $199,999,955 in income, assuming his claims as to authenticity and value hold up?

Luckily for him, that's a negatory:

The leading case [on the IRS's "treasure trove" regulation] is Cesarini v. United States, 296 F.Supp. 3 (D. Ohio 1969), in which a husband and wife who purchased a used piano at a 1957 auction for $15 in 1957 and discovered $4,467 in cash in the piano in 1964 were required to report the $4,467 in income in 1964.  But Mr. Norsigian's case is distinguishable and he would not have to report the $200 million of gain (less his $45 basis) until he sells the photographic plates.

Caron goes on to cite an example from a tax casebook about an antique dresser.

Whether Norsigian intends to sell the plates themselves is unclear, but authentication hot off the presses, he is selling "limited edition prints" (one of which is pictured above) on his website. The price for a 24-inch-by-30-inch digital print: a cool $1500. Presumably, all taxable as income.

July 29, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

200 Million Numbers on 'Do Not Call List'

This week, the Federal Trade Commission announced that the much-heralded "Do Not Call" list -- best friend to all those who have received one too many jingles from telemarketers -- has reached the 200 million number milestone. 

The registry was introduced back in 2003, and as it has expanded over the years, the FTC has brought some very lucrative enforcement actions against companies that violate the sanctity of the list. As the agency notes, both cell phones and land lines can be registered, and you can do it all through the website.

So, unless you have some bizarre affinity for receiving calls from minimum wage workers asking if you're happy with your phone service, sign up today!

July 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

NYC Begins Grading Restaurants; Dirty Chefs Vow to Fight

A Starting yesterday, if you went out to eat in New York City, you might have noticed a conspicuously placed sign in the window, with a big blue "A" on it. It doesn't have the literary appeal of a scarlet "A," but it should have made you feel better about chowing down on that corned beef sandwich.

The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene yesterday began implementing its restaurant grading system, which eventually will see to it that every one of the more than 24,000 restaurants in the city is graded A, B, or (shudder) C based on the results of the department's health inspections. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley awarded the first "A" grade to Spark's Deli in Long Island City, Queens.

While having the commish compliment the owners of a neighborhood joint on the cleanliness of their kitchen would make for a good photo op, according to the The New York Times, he couldn't have hung any other grade on the place, since any establishment not earning an "A" gets another shot at an inspection before having a sign posted in the window.

The Times also reports that despite the fact that inspection results, including the number of "violation points" awarded on each surprise visit, have been available on the health department's website for quite some time, not all restaurateurs are taking this new system in stride:

Two weeks ago, the New York State Restaurant Association, which has fought the grading system since it was first proposed 19 months ago, sent a letter to some 3,500 eating establishments, rallying opposition and raising money for a possible legal challenge, said Robert Bookman, legislative counsel for the group’s New York City chapters.

“We don’t know that the government can compel you to post a sign that expresses an opinion about your business that you do not share,” Mr. Bookman said.

Well, Bob, when that opinion is based on a report that includes, "Found Feivel Mouskewitz and his extended family swimming in the matzo ball soup," I think the public might have a right to know.

The inspection results are worth a perusal -- you might be surprised at what you find. Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe -- perennially on Zagat's top food list -- scored 16 points on its last inspection in November 2009, which would earn it a "B" (and a whopping 60 points the previous November, which, were problems not quickly corrected, would have earned the restaurant a padlock on the front door). The Dunkin' Donuts at Third Avenue and 26th Street got a super clean 4! So, instead of those prosciutto-wrapped sea scallops with romesco, summer bean salad and basil-sherry vinaigrette, enjoy a turkey, cheddar and bacon flatbread sandwich tonight, and rest easy knowing that you've saved yourself some cash -- and are that much less likely to have eaten a roach.

July 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 28, 2010

Wednesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: We've got a great new ad for our law firm featuring a "gong" sound. It's gold, I tell you -- gold! Are there any legal issues to deal with here?

Answer: What? You put the gong in?! Who told you to put the gong in?! I didn't tell you to put the gong in!! Why'd you put the gong in?!! (National Law Journal, Law Firm Can't Use Certain Phrases, Sounds and Visuals in Ads for Now) (click on video below!)


Lemur 2) Question: My mom said I can get a pet for my birthday! Hooray!!  We live in San Francisco -- what should I get?

Answer: That's your call, but I hope your birthday is soon if you want anything with either fur or feathers. (Los Angeles Times, Fur and Feathers Fly as San Francisco Weighs Ban on Pet Sales)

3) Question: Today is my big job interview at the clothing store! What should I wear?

Answer: NOT the clothes that the store has a videotape of you stealing from it the day before. (QMI Agency, Applicant Can Add 'Shoplifting' to Resume) (via Consumerist)

July 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Paul Pearson not Afraid to Go Crazy on 'Wipeooooooooouuuut!!!!!'

Via Wendy Reynolds on the blog I stumbled upon this gem of a video by attorney Paul Pearson of the Canadian law firm Mulligan Tam Pearson. The video is Pearson's audition tape to appear on a reality TV show called "Wipeout" (although Reynolds speculates that it may be secretly be a "brilliant bit of viral marketing" for Pearson and his firm). According to this article about Pearson's quest, "'Wipeout' challenges participants from all walks of life to compete on the world's largest obstacle course for a $50,000 prize."

Whatever Pearson's true motivation may be, I defy any reader to get past the 30-second mark of his video without laughing. Ten semi-finalists will reportedly be announced on Aug. 9. Good luck, Paul Pearson!

July 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Legal Outsourcing Companies in India Now Correcting Grammar of Am Law 100 Firms


Are you an excellent writer and proofreader, but presently unable to break into the Big Law world in the U.S.? Then get yourself over to India, where legal process outsourcing companies reportedly have found a new niche: correcting the grammar of U.S. attorneys.

The August issue of the ABA Journal magazine reports that Indian LPOs have gotten so proficient at drafting and grammar that they are now being hired to edit the work of U.S. lawyers for grammar and style. "Man bites dog," as the Law Without Borders blog put it. Russell Smith, who helped start the Indian LPO firm SDD Global Solutions, says his company was recently hired to "to edit the work of lawyers involved in a Hollywood lawsuit at an Am Law 100 firm in Los Angeles."

Smith says he is not surprised, as he believes "lawyers at some U.S. firms do not have time to conduct or participate in similar training, and are either too busy or under too much cost pressure to take the time to do a perfect or near-perfect job.” He also chides that “high-quality, effective English writing has been out of fashion in the U.S. for decades.”  Ooof.

July 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

'Pants on the Ground' May Be Foolish, but It's not Illegal

Pants-on-the-ground People who like to let your pants sag down so low that your underwear shows, rejoice!  A New York state judge has decreed that while you are foolish, you are not illegal.

In a recent opinion in People v. Martinez, Criminal Court Judge Ruben Franco held that "[w]hile most of us may consider it distasteful, and indeed foolish, to wear ones pants so low as to expose the underwear ... 'people can dress as they please, wear anything, so long as they do not offend public order and decency.'" 

The New York Law Journal reports that the defendant, Julio Martinez, had been charged with disorderly conduct based solely on the fact that he wore "his pants down below his buttocks exposing underwear [and] potentially showing private parts."

"Potentially?" That seems kind of weak, doesn't it?

Anyway, Judge Franco ruled that Martinez's Pants on the Ground hardly "disturbed the public tranquility or violated the public order" in any way. Rather, he observed, "the issuance of this summons appears to be an attempt by one police officer to show his displeasure with a particular style of dress." He added that "the Constitution still leaves some opportunity for people to be foolish if they so desire."

July 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 27, 2010

Actor Rainn Wilson Files Counterclaim Against Think Brilliant

Earlier this month, Portland, Ore. web developer Think Brilliant filed a lawsuit (.pdf) in federal court against "The Office" TV star Rainn Wilson, alleging that Wilson failed to grant Think Brilliant an ownership interest in his SoulPancake company and affiliated website, as promised in return for Think Brilliant's services.

Apparently, Wilson has fired back, filing counterclaims (.pdf) in which he asserts that Think Brilliant "fraudulently" used money fronted by SoulPancake to develop an unrelated secret project called Ziphook. Here's the story from the Portland Oregonian's blog.

Reading the complaint and the counterclaims side-by-side, it sounds like a typical startup-related lovers' quarrel. Wilson and SoulPancake say that Think Brilliant promised to devote all of its resources and energy to working on SoulPancake, but, instead, while Think Brilliant's operations were being entirely funded by SoulPancake, started working on Ziphook. There are disputes about what sort of equity stakes were promised back and forth, and everybody thinks they got screwed by everyone else.

The thought of Wilson on the stand (in character) is priceless. Chances are, of course, that this dispute is settled long before that would ever be a reality. Whichever party is on the long end of that settlement should be very careful to ensure they don't get tricked into releasing all claims in return for Schrutebucks.

July 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tennessee Lt. Governor is 'All About Freedom of Religion' . . . Except for Muslims

Politicians must long for the days when, having said something moronic at a public event, they could simply claim to have been misquoted and get on with their lives.

Alas, in the age of cameraphones and YouTube, this often just ain't an option -- likely much to the chagrin of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, currently vying for the Republican nomination for Governor of that fine state.

Ramsey, at a recent campaign event, made the unfortunate decision to actually utter the words that came into his head in response to an audience member's question about the "threat" posed to the U.S. by Muslims. Here, via the Religion Clause blog and Talking Points Memo, are parts of his rambling response:

"Now, you know, I'm all about freedom of religion. I value the First Amendment as much as I value the Second Amendment as much as I value the Tenth Amendment and on and on and on," he said. "But you cross the line when they try to start bringing Sharia Law here to the state of Tennessee -- to the United States. We live under our Constitution and they live under our Constitution."

"Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it," Ramsey said. "Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face."

Talking Points has the video from the event, and there's not a real good way to spin Ramsey's answer. Which didn't stop him from trying. From TPM:

"My concern is that far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion," he said in an email. "It's time for American Muslims who love this country to publicly renounce violent jihadism and to drum those who seek to do America harm out of their faith community."

The good news is that Ramsey is currently running third in the primary polling. So, theoretically, he's got no place to go but up.

July 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Federal Register Website Gets an Anniversary Facelift

Need to know how the Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Office is proposing to deal with amendments to Montana law regarding required revegetation periods following the removal of siltation structures?

No? Well, some lawyer in Helena probably does. And, for that, he's going to have to turn to the Federal Register. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act, and, via the Legal Writing Prof Blog, I discovered that the Federal Register website has now become Federal Register 2.0

Granted, I wasn't a heavy user of the old version, but this new one seems pretty easily navigable and user-friendly. Though, if you need a walkthrough (and some history), you should watch this video:

Thanks, FDR!

July 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Happy Bar Day, Lawyers!

Today, July 27, is, in many states, the first day of the bar exam. Everybody and their mother has written posts offering tips and advice to those taking the test (see, e.g., Above the Law, The Bar Professors, The Bar Exam Project (these guys are real serious; they even give advice on how and when to pee during the Bar)).

So I'm not gonna do that. I'm no expert, and if anyone taking the bar finds him or herself reading this blog on the way into the exam or during a lunch break, that person is probably pretty confident already. What I am going to do is to call upon all you lawyers to exercise your empathy muscles (assuming they haven't completely atrophied by this point):
  • If you're at a Wendy's tonight, and the woman in front of you seems to be taking forever to order, consider that she might just be involuntarily thinking about the appropriate parties to join in a lawsuit should she find a finger in her chili.
  • See a guy sitting on a park bench, tears slowly streaming down his cheeks? His girlfriend didn't dump him, he's just terrified he's going to fail. When you sit down next to him and clap him on the shoulder, don't share your thoughts on the cruel nature of the female heart. Tell him you're sure he'd make a HELUVA lawyer, no matter what the Board of Law Examiners says.
  • If you happen to be walking or driving past the Pasadena Convention Center or the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (where yours truly took the exam many moons ago) around 3:30 this afternoon, give a reassuring smile and wave to the hordes of zombie-like wannabe attorneys shuffling down the street and/or vomiting in the bushes. Hell, swing by with a dozen donuts for the kids. You were once them.
Don't get me wrong, there's no shame in being damned glad you're not taking the test today and that chapter of your life is over. But have a little respect for the next generation.

July 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 26, 2010

Monday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: This guy just approached me and asked, "Do you bang?" Huh? What is the right answer to this question -- Yes? No?

Answer: Neither. Run! (California Appellate Report, Davis v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - July 22, 2010)

2) Question: My teenage buddies want me to go "ding-dong-ditching" with them (ringing neighbors doorbells and running away)? I know it's an annoyance to the homeowners but, I mean, what's the worst that could happen to me?

Answer: One possibility: An adult could (allegedly) chase you down, tackle you on the asphalt roadway, drag you back inside his house with your arms pinioned behind your back, force you to sit on the floor and tell you he is going to kill you if you try to leave. (Times Union, Folk Hero or Aggressor) (via Legal Juice)


3) Question: I'm a 26-year-old mother of two. Someone yanked down my halter top in a bar and now I'm the unwitting star of "Girls Gone Wild: Sorority Orgy." I'm going to get rich off a lawsuit, right?

Answer: Did you dance for the cameraman at all before someone yanked down your shirt? If so, you may be out of luck. (OnPointNews, Jury Goes 'Wild' in Woman's Privacy Case Over Video)

July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Does Working From Home Work for Lawyers?

Home Solo attorney Chuck Newton has an interesting post today on his Third Wave blog noting that for over a decade now, he has operated his practice out of his home. A proud "carpet commuter," Newton writes that he is amazed by the many lawyers who, despite being intrigued by the idea of working from home, cannot let themselves do it. Many such lawyers, Newton says, believe working from home will be "bad for business" -- which he argues simply shows that "law schools really do not teach lawyers about business, or how to analyze business opportunities."

On the other hand, Newton observes, Congress has now passed a bill requiring every federal agency to establish a policy under which employees will be authorized to work from home to the "maximum extent possible." And he says that studies show that allowing employees to "telework" increases their  productivity and can save companies thousands of dollars per employee.

My sense is that working from home will work much better for solos who are responsible for their own schedules and workload than for lawyers who work regularly with colleagues. The "home" in which you would work out of is also a key factor. In my case, with no detached office space in my home, I would (and sometimes do) contend with four loud-as-hell young children, a Labrador retriever, and far more interruptions than in an office environment. Other "home offices" no doubt have their own unique drawbacks.

Have you ever tried to work at home regularly? Did it work?

July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (21)

Blawg Innovator: Greenfield's Pre-emptive Comment Strike

Scott "Get Off My Lawn" Greenfield, who writes the tremendous Simple Justice blog, has added an innovative new wrinkle to the blawg world: the pre-emptive comment strike.

After thousands of posts on Simple Justice, and probably tens (or hundreds) of thousands of comments on his posts, Greenfield can sometimes see what is coming before he hits the publish button. And now he is striking back, in advance. In a Friday post from SJ following up on this LBW post on whether a retailer has the authority to stop a patron who has purchased and paid for goods on the way out of the store and demand to see a receipt, Greenfield foresaw no less than three streams of misguided comments coming his way. And thus, in this "Caveat," the pre-emptive comment strike was born.

Caveat: Given the enormous difficulty some readers/commenters have had lately in focusing on the point of the post, I'm constrained to make a few things clear:  First, clearly the most expedient thing for the shopper to do was be compliant, do as he was told and then walk away.  That's neither in issue nor the point.  The question is whether the store has any right to make the demand, detain the buyer and refuse to give him back his receipt and allow him to walk away unmolested.  Second, while the propriety of having a person not in uniform make the demand is a real question, raising a number of issues, the focus of the post is elsewhere.  Let it go, no matter how critically important you think it is.  If you can't, start your own blog to discuss it.  Third, even though you might think the shopper behaved poorly, that too isn't relevant.  People are allowed to behave poorly and are still entitled to rights, even if you don't think they should be. Again, if you can't let that go, go elsewhere. Focus.

Brilliant As the Guinness beer guys would surely say ..."Brilliant!!"

Since Friday I have been watching carefully to see whether Greenfield will be regularly serving up these pre-emptive comment strikes. I'd say the jury is still out, but he delivered one more today in a post in which he argued that "while anybody can fail the bar exam the first time, nobody but a blithering idiot* fails it twice." Recognizing the onslaught likely to follow, Greenfield added:

* If you are reading this post and failed the bar exam twice, do not post a comment saying so or informing of great lawyers who failed the bar exam twice. Just trust me on this. Don't do it.

July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Strike the Right Email Tone With 'ToneCheck'

Tonecheck Did you ever receive an email from opposing counsel and think, "Who does this S.O.B. think he is, talking to me this way? Call off the settlement, it's ON now, sucker!" Meanwhile, the person you now believe to be an S.O.B. of the highest order thought he was just quickly wrapping things up. 

Avoiding misunderstandings based on the tone of your emails has always been challenging. Sometimes you spend three minutes on an email trying to convey a simple thought, but the recipient reads your words as hostile, threatening, irrational, happy or something else far different than you intended. Not anymore, though!

Now, according to Lawyerist, you can cleanse your outgoing email of any false "tones" through ToneCheck.  It flags phrases and sentences that look hostile or angry (outside your specified "Tone Tolerance,") and offers substitutes. It also flags lines that appear too "contented," e.g., overly cheerful when you are actually trying to strike a tougher tone.

Check out the ToneCheck demo here.

July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 23, 2010

Friday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: I was on a flight from the U.S. to Australia when a three-year-old boy next to me let loose a deafening scream that would make your ears bleed. No, for real--blood erupted from my ears and now I'm deaf. Do I have a case against the airline?

Answer: You might argue that the airline was negligent because the crew failed "to take all the necessary precautions to prevent the accident that resulted in your injury." That might lead to a settlement. (, Screaming child lands Qantas in court after sending woman deaf)

2) Question: Why does my luggage get searched every time I fly? I don't have time for this!

Answer: Travel tip: Remove the "Drug Runner" sticker from your bag before you get to the airport. TSA hates those. (Consumerist, Buy These Suitcase Stickers If You Want To Get Frisked)


3) Question: I'm going to walk and text message people at the same time, so all of you complainers out there can just get used to it. I am willing to take reasonable safety precautions to prevent myself from falling in a manhole or crashing into others, however, if there are any out there. Any ideas?

Answer: You are in luck! Your iPhone can now help protect you by using its built-in cameras to project an image of what's in front of you and set it as the background while you're texting. Carry on. (Tosh.0 blog, Text While You Walk with Road SMS)


July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Calif. Court Finds 'Red Light Camera' Photos Inadmissible

Redlight By now, many readers are probably familiar with the "red light cameras" in some states that snap a photo of you and your car as you pass through a red light. The photo along with a traffic citation is then sent to the registered address of the vehicle in the photo for you to pay. According to a recent opinion by the Superior Court of California, however, the evidence produced by these red light cameras is inadmissible.

In People v. Khaled (App. Div. - July 22, 2010), the prosecution sought to prove that Khaled ran a red light by introducing the red light photo along with a "declaration that was intended to support the introduction of photographs purporting to show the appellant driving through an intersection against a red light."

Khaled, however, objected to the introduction of the photographs and declaration as "inadmissible hearsay, and violative of appellant’s confrontation rights." The trial court admitted the photographs "as business records, official records, and because a proper foundation for the admission had been made based on the submitted declaration." Khaled appealed. On appeal, the Superior Court reversed the trial court, holding that the lower court erred in admitting the photographs and the accompanying declaration over the Khaled’s hearsay and confrontation clause objections.

Specifically, the court stated that:

the photographs contain hearsay evidence concerning the matters depicted in the photographs including the date, time, and other information. The person who entered that relevant information into the camera-computer system did not testify. The person who entered that information was not subject to being cross-examined on the underlying source of that information. The person or persons who maintain the system did not testify. No one with personal knowledge testified about how often the system is maintained. No one with personal knowledge testified about how often the date and time are verified. The custodian of records for the company that contracts with the city to maintain, monitor, store, and disperse these photographs did not testify. The person with direct knowledge of the workings of the camera-computer system did not testify.

In addition, the court found that neither the “official records exception” nor the “business records exception” to the hearsay rule applied.

Read the full opinion here (via the California Appellate Report blog)

July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Trend Watch: 'Bring Your Own Damn Toilet Paper'

Tproll My perch here at Legal Blog Watch following hundreds of legal blogs and developments sometimes allows me to detect important trends early. This week, LBW's Trend Watch is on red alert following two similar reports of government entities tying to save money in a disturbing way: by not buying toilet paper.

When I saw the first "no more TP" story, I thought it had to be an outlier. The Houston Chronicle reported (via Consumerist) on Wednesday that Texas A&M's Department of Student Affairs is planning to save $82,000 by eliminating free toilet paper in the residence halls. Under the proposal now being discussed, students will get "a few free rolls at the beginning of a semester," after which they will be on their own.

Michael Spiegelhauer, a 20-year-old student at the school, said "it's going to become a problem." His buddy, Daniel Overstreet, asked "How's [Spiegelhauer] going to get TP? He doesn't even have a car." Overstreet predicted that TP theft was inevitable. "It's going to make people resort to going where there is toilet paper on campus and taking it from there."

As I was still contemplating the midnight TP raids that appear imminent at Texas A&M, I read in New York's Daily News that Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker vowed yesterday to stop spending city funds on toilet paper as part of the city's effort to close a $70 million budget gap. "We're going to stop buying everything from toilet paper to printer paper," Booker said.

Rahaman Muhammad, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 617, was not pleased with the TP threat. "He wants to balance the budget on workers' backsides," he said. "Maybe Booker is gonna make people carry those little packets of tissue."

Deans, mayors -- please! Buy your people some freakin' toilet paper and cut back elsewhere! Don't you see where this is leading? Do I really need to post the video below?


July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Trend Watch: Sex-by-Trick

On Wednesday, I wrote here about a Jerusalem man convicted this week on charges of "rape by deception" (or "sex-by-trick" as Above the Law put it) after falsely "presenting himself as a Jewish bachelor looking for a serious romantic relationship." That white lie was apparently all a Jerusalem woman needed to hear, and they "went to a nearby building and had sex." When the woman found Kashur was not a Jew but an Arab, she filed a complaint that resulted in his conviction.

I now see that compared to Hsu Shian-ming of Taiwan, the Jerusalem man was just a rank amateur in this sex-by-trick game that must now be added to the LBW Trend Watch.  In November 2009, Hsu was arrested (on fraud charges, not rape) following a scheme in which he allegedly persuaded up to 20 women to have sex with him. Hsu's scheme reportedly worked (and I do mean worked) as follows:

Hsu allegedly posted photos of a youthful male model online (see below), and claimed to be that person. The photos "attracted numerous calls from women interested in romantic liaisons," according to the China Post. Hsu then told the women over the telephone that he had a father whose medical condition ("prostate cancer") "required constant sex to stay alive," and he was able to sweet-talk them into "doing what was necessary to save him."


The Register reports that these women ("angels of mercy") administered "life-saving treatment" to Hsu in various Taipei hotels, and were "persuaded into unconventional sex acts varying from...." well -- you can go read it in the Register. Hsu now faces five years in jail on each of multiple fraud raps.

July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 22, 2010

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: I just robbed a bank using nothing but a bouquet of flowers. Prior to that heist I robbed a different bank with just a potted plant. I rule! Can I get a shout-out in your next update to the 'Legal Blog Watch Checklist for Bank Robbers?'

Answer: Absolutely! (NY1 News, Manhattan Bank Robbery Suspect Using Flower Bouquet During Heist)


2) Question: I'm running for the state Assembly as an independent candidate, and I'm allowed to include a five-word statement of purpose on the ballot to explain to voters what my candidacy is about. I'm leaning toward, "NOT the ‘whiteman’s bitch." Will this work?

Answer: It might well be rejected as an "obscene or derogatory candidate statement," so you may need a back-up plan here. Also, not to nitpick, but that's only four words. (The Volokh Conspiracy, “NOT the ‘Whiteman’s Bitch’” Rejected as Candidate’s Label on a Ballot)

3) Question: I'm an Amish teenager out for a drive and I've got some alcohol with me. I just ran a stop sign and now the cops are trying to pull me over!  What should I do? Did I mention that I'm driving a horse and buggy?

Answer: Pull back on those reins, young man! If you lead police on a low-speed chase, you may crash your buggy and find yourself charged with "underage possession of alcohol, overdriving and animal reckless endangerment, failure to stop at a stop sign and failure to yield to a emergency vehicle." (WGRZ, Catt County Sheriff Arrests Teen After Buggy Chase)

July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Four Law Blogs That Have 'Paid Off' for Client Development

Keyboard At the Lawyerist blog, Adrian Dayton has an interesting post looking at four law blogs that have become quite popular and "paid off" for their authors. Dayton's four case studies are:

Case Study #1: Connecticut Employment Law Blog, by Daniel Schwartz.

Schwartz says he invests two to three hours per week on CELB, which "has led to dozens of interviews, new relationships, recognition from my peers (and adversaries) and yes, clients." He says he "can’t imagine my practice without it. In short, it has made me a better lawyer."

Case Study #2: Chicago IP Litigation Blog, by David Donoghue of Holland & Knight. 

Donoghue's blog discusses IP litigation in the Northern District of Illinois. He says he tries to spend no more than three to 10 hours per week blogging. Acclaim for the blog includes an award for the best law blog in Chicago and inclusion in the ABA’s top 100 law blogs. Donoghue says that although it took a couple of years, he has begun to land "substantial litigation business" through the blog.

Case Study #3: Quirky Employment Questions Blog, by Roy Ginsburg of Dorsey & Whitney.

Ginsburg has been blogging for about three years. He spends about five hours per week on the blog, and he reports that the blog has helped him bring in a six-figure client.

Case Study #4: China Law Blog, by Dan Harris. 

Harris says he spends about five hours per week blogging. As a result, he says, he has received countless clients and major media interviews directly from the blog. The blog has also allowed him to to establish relationships with key people in China business and law.

The law blogs above provide great examples of lawyers who identified legal niches in which a blog could be successful, and filled them with their time, energy and creativity. Congrats!

July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Produce a Receipt on Your Way Out of the Store? No, Thanks!

Most of us have been "asked" by the Exit Door Receipt Guy at places like Best Buy or IKEA to produce a receipt for the items with which we are leaving the store. But what right do these pseudo-cops have to force you to show them a receipt or to detain you if you tell them to pound sand and just keep on walking?

That's what Consumerist reader Andrew would like to know after a recent trip to IKEA. Andrew says that

after going through the self check out a man not in any uniform (Ikea or otherwise) asked to see my receipt. What he said was " I need to see your receipt."

I complied and after about a minute I said, "you have another 10 seconds and then I am leaving." He replied with "you will let me finish." I demanded my receipt and he told me that "if you do not let me check you could be arrested". Needless to say I became irate and demanded both my receipt and a manager. He refused to give me the receipt and then pointed to a phone on the cashier podium and said "you can call the manager yourself."

We got into a yelling argument all the while he refused to give me the receipt. Finally an employee called a manager.

When the manager came, he had no name tag, refused his own name and told me "you have to let us check, if not you will go to jail."

I demanded his name and the name of the "security" person, both refused.

Finally after several minutes I was given my receipt. This can not be normal for Ikea to operate this way and detain people.

According to prior discussions on Consumerist, the store's right to mess with you (or not) depends on two things: (1) whether the store is membership-based and has required members to agree to a search in the  contract (i.e., Sam's Club/Costco), and (2) whether the shopper in question has given the store probable cause to believe he or she has committed shoplifting. Absent an agreement or probable cause, Consumerists states, "a retailer has absolutely no right to detain you." Not to stir up trouble but Consumerist and other sources say that means "bag searches and receipt checks are voluntary. As in, you can refuse."

Heisman Has anyone tried giving the Heisman to a receipt checker on your way out of a store? What was the response?

July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Linday Lohan's Mug Shots Through the Years -- a Retrospective

For no reason other than it is out there, I give you the Lindsay Lohan Mug Shot Gallery. The Tosh.0 blog has assembled Lindsay "Milk-o-holic" Lohan's mug shots going back to 2007 to create the montage below.

Lohan-mug shots 

Which is your favorite? Here is what each says to me:

July '07: "OMG -- I can't believe this! My life is over. Mommy!!!"

November '07: "Where am I? Is this photographer a paparazzi? Screw you!!"

July '10: "Hey Doris. Good to see you again. I know -- it's been a while! Can you get my good side? Catch you later."

July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 21, 2010

Pick-Up Line Crimes: A Pop Quiz

Night-At-The-Roxbury A quick pop quiz for the men before you all head out to the bars this weekend ... which of the following pick-up lines may land you in prison for rape if it results in you sleeping with a woman?

(a) "Hey, baby, I'm just back from the war. Want to go home with a guy who has a Purple Heart medal?"

(b) "Hey, mama, of course I'm Jewish and seeking a long-term relationship. Let's get out of this place."

(c) "Hey, cutie. Well of course the hair on my head is 100 percent real! Come on, I'll let you check it out for yourself."

Answer: (b). On Monday, Sabbar Kashur, an Arab resident of Jerusalem was convicted of "rape by deception" and sentenced to 18 months in prison. His offense? Kashur met a woman in downtown Jerusalem and "present[ed] himself as a Jewish bachelor looking for a serious romantic relationship." That was apparently all the woman need to hear, as "the couple then went to a nearby building and had sex." When the woman found Kashur was not a Jew but an Arab, she filed the complaint that resulted in his conviction this week.

Haaretz reports (via LegallyNoted) that the court found that although the sex was consensual, the consent itself was obtained through deception and under false pretenses. "If she hadn't thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated," the judges wrote.

(For those of you who answered (a), check out the 'Stolen Valor Act' post from earlier today. That's protected speech!)

July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Local Currencies Emerging in U.S. Towns as Economic Downturn Lingers

An idea popular during the Great Depression appears to be growing in popularity again today as the effects of the financial crisis continue: local currencies.

Downtowndollars-20-Spot The American Banker reports that in May 2010, people lined up around the block in Ardmore, Penn., to purchase "Downtown Dollars."  Downtown Dollars are offered at a two-to-one exchange rate with the dollar, allowing consumers to instantly receive a 50 percent discount on purchases at participating merchants in Ardmore. Merchants then get the full value of the purchase when they exchange the Downtown Dollars for U.S. dollars.

According to the American Banker, local currencies are perfectly legal and have gone in and out of vogue for decades. Today, more than 200 such currency systems are operated in the U.S., operating in different ways: "Some systems use community banks as conduits to exchange dollars for the local currencies and the reverse; in other programs, banks and credit unions let customers pay a portion of loans and fees with the local money. Still others don't involve banks at all." Large cities such as Detroit and Brooklyn, New York are now reportedly planning local currencies, as well.

While the Downtown Dollars initiative has been a success, other local currencies seem to be losing steam. Steven Kyle, a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., says the long-running local currency system known as "Ithaca Hours" does not appear to be thriving. Indeed, he says that in his 25 years in Ithaca, he's never seen an "Ithaca Hour" actually used. "Nobody only uses Ithaca Hours," he said. "To the extent that you do, you are basically limiting your options to spend that money that you have. It is, to some extent, a disincentive."

July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

1) Question: I'd like to find a job in public service that allows me to help the community. I'd also like to make no less than $800,000 per year. Any suggestions?

Answer: The Chief Administrative Officer position in Bell, Calif., may be a good fit for you. Thank you for your service. (Bloomberg, California Official's $800,000 Salary in City of 38,000 Triggers Protests) (via Turley)

2) Question: I'm a frequent air traveler and, I must say, a hot babe. How can I prevent the TSA employees from using their full-body airport scanners to get a free peep show?

Answer: Two words: "Flying pasties." (Consumerist, Will 'Flying Pasties' Help Hide Your Private Bits From Airport Scanners?)


3) Question: I need to post bail to get out of jail for shoplifting, but I don't have the $400. What if I just put a $20 bill on a color photocopier and make myself some bail money. Might that work?

Answer: So, so doubtful, and you may well end up facing forgery charges, too. Don't do it. (, Man posts bail with counterfeit bills) ( via Bad Lawyer)

July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Finds 'Stolen Valor Act' That Prohibits Lying About Military Medals Violates Free Speech

Medals A federal judge in Denver ruled last week that the "Stolen Valor Act," which prohibits people from falsely claiming they have been awarded military decorations and medals, is "facially unconstitutional." U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn ruled on Friday of last week that the act violates free speech.

The act provides that:

Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration,or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The act particularly hates it when people falsely claim to have received a "distinguished-service cross ... a Navy cross ... an Air Force ... a silver star ... or a Purple Heart" medal, and provides for extra prison time in such cases.

The case decided by Judge Blackburn involved Rick Strandlof, who allegedly posed as Rick Duncan, "a wounded Marine captain who received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star." Prosecutors claim he used that persona to found the Colorado Veterans Alliance and solicit funds for the organization, the Denver Post reports. Strandlof wasn't charged with stealing money meant for the veterans group, however, and was only charged based on his "speech" alone.

Judge Blackburn rejected the argument that lying about having military medals dilutes their meaning and significance, stating that

This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is, frankly, shocking and, indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor. To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D., Colo., who introduced the legislation in 2005, said last week that "individuals who violate this law are those who knowingly portray themselves as pillars of the community for personal and monetary gain. The Stolen Valor Act has been upheld by other courts and I am confident this decision will be overturned on appeal."

Anther defender of the statute from a veterans' group said they will push for an appeal.

July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 20, 2010

Best. College Library Marketing Video. Ever.

By now, the Old Spice ads featuring the "I'm on a horse" guy have surpassed viral and become positively bacterial. (I just made that up. Let's see if it catches on.)

In the past week or so, Old Spice Guy (real name Isaiah Mustafa) has been trading personalized towel-clad videos with no lesser a celebrity than my favorite child star/rabid baseball fan Alyssa Milano. 

Well, pop culture is pervasive, and our friends at the Law Librarian Blog have uncovered a fantastic adaptation of the Old Spice Guy gimmick. Frankly, I didn't know universities had to market their libraries. Although, upon reflection, as an undergrad, I barely knew where the library was. So, maybe a little advertising is in order. And if you're gonna try to sell the place to kids, the approach taken by BYU's Harold B. Lee Library seems like a good bet:

I know I always do what "8 out of 5 dentists" recommend.

July 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Stupid Defendant Tricks: Poor Photo-Editing Skills Edition

When you're facing decades in federal prison on various and sundry fraud offenses, I imagine the temptation to use any means necessary to try to shave a few years off your sentence is rather strong. I also imagine that, if you're the kind of person who would use a fake cashier's check to buy a $30,000 car, you might not have the greatest judgment. But editing yourself into pictures that make it look like you're engaged in charity work and other good deeds, and then submitting those photos to the judge as part of your attempt to plead for leniency -- come on!

Lowering the Bar has the story of Daryl Simon, in two parts. Simon doctored photos to make it appear as though he was the kind of guy who helped patients in rehab and physical therapy, and mentored teenagers. But he wasn't smart enough to realize that the U.S. Attorney's office might figure out that he used the same shot of himself in two of the pictures, simply reversing the image. This, and the submission of fake supportive sentencing letters from charitable organizations and individuals, got Simon a two-point sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice, with the net result being a sentence of 285 months. For the mathematically challenged, that's just shy of 24 years.

One of the more interesting tidbits about Simon was that, while on the lam after jumping bail, he worked as a magician. Under the name "Justin Lusion." Prosecutors didn't think that play on words was all that cute. From their sentencing memo:

Furthermore, Simon's adoption of the "stage name" (or alias) "Justin Lusion" while he was a fugitive reveals more than his entrepreneurial character.  "Justin Lusion" phonetically mirrors the phrase "just-an-illusion," and his use of this alias while evading arrest further shows that Simon considered his offenses, and his flight from justice, a joke.

Maybe. But his act ain't half bad:

July 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (27)

Robot Robot & Hwang -- Lindsay Lohan's Next Law Firm?

My predecessor Bob Ambrogi wrote on LawSites yesterday about a faux law firm website that made me smile. Robot Robot & Hwang is apparently the brainchild of Tim Hwang, who, though not actually a lawyer, purports to be the one human partner in the three-attorney firm.

Robot The other two partners are Apollo Cluster (pictured) and "Daria" XR-1029. Cluster has an impressive resume, having clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit, and having lectured at Stanford on "the obsolescence of humans in legal practice and mankind generally." XR-1029's pedigree is not too shabby either, with an LLM on top of her Boalt JD, and having been named a "Super Lawyer" in 2008.

I, like Bob, can't exactly figure out what the purpose behind the site is, but I will say it's entertaining, and as there's no office address listed for the firm, I'm not sure where, if in any jurisdiction, anyone can go after Hwang for impersonating an attorney.

I suggest that Lindsay Lohan consider retaining the firm, as she seems to be having a bit of trouble holding onto a lawyer, and I imagine a machine stands a much better chance of being able to spend 10 minutes in a room (or a cell) with Lohan without contemplating an act of violence.

July 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Former Law Librarian Cautions -- Poetically -- Against Blind Faith in Free Internet Research

Via a link on the New York Supreme Court, Criminal Term's Law Library Blog, I came across a very well done parable authored by Jonathan Stock, who retired last year as supervising law librarian for the Connecticut Judicial Branch in Stamford.

Stock's "Chambers of the Sea: Who Needs Law Libraries? It's All Free on the Internet." was published in the July issue of the AALL Spectrum. The piece, available here (.pdf), tells the tale of a people living in a utopian community known as Blissful, which is located in the State of Innocence, whose citizens rally to save their public law libraries just in the nick of time. I'm not going to be able to do it justice, and it's short, so just go read it. It suffices to say I think Stock's message is a good one: When threatened with the shutdown of taxpayer-funded law libraries, citizens shouldn't be complacent and simply trust that the benevolent owners of "Great Big Search" will live up to their commitment to provide legal research materials free of charge in perpetuity.

Stock's piece was not woven from whole cloth, as Connecticut is faced with just such threatened closures of its court libraries. Stock testified (.pdf) in support of a Connecticut House bill to limit library closures, and, while the bill is listed as having been tabled, based on the state judiciary website, it appears as though some of the facilities originally slated to be shuttered have survived to date.

July 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 19, 2010

How to Remind Job Applicants That You're Gonna Check Out Their 'Walls' Online

This morning at the Delaware Employment Law Blog, Molly DiBianca suggests that, though it's not required, businesses that plan to snoop on job applicants via the Internet disclose their intent to do so.

And if you're looking for vague language to accomplish that disclosure, DiBianca suggests taking a page from the federal government's book. She quotes the following language now appearing on federal agency job applications:

As part of the agency's review of your application, the agency may view and/or access publicly available information about you, including information publicly available on the internet, that is job-related and consistent with the merit system principles and prohibited personnel practices set forth in the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. 2301, 2302. No information from any source may be used to discriminate for or against an applicant based on race, color, national origin, gender, age, political affiliation, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a parent, membership or non-membership in an employee organization.

Are the photos from your buddy's third bachelor party in Vegas really "job-related?" I guess that depends what sort of job you're applying for. Whether or not you see similar language on a job application, it's a good bet that someone in HR is going to be Googling applicants and checking out their Internet presence. So if you're looking for a job, do a common-sense Internet sweep. And once you land that coveted position, remember that anything you post can still be seen by your employer, and get you canned.

July 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Freshfields to Blur the Meaning of 'Associate'


A report this morning on the Legal Week website reveals that Magic Circle powerhouse Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has decided to implement a pilot program among corporate associates in its London office, offering them a veritable cornucopia of "alternative work schemes."

According to the article, the four options, which associates must apply for, are as follows:

The four schemes include a basic job-share whereby associates will pair up to divide their working week between them. There is also the option for associates to work off-site on a regular basis.

The third option available will see the introduction of a "buddy scheme" whereby associates will put their name into a pool to cover colleagues who have important arrangements and need time off.

The last option is a maternity phasing arrangement which will be available to female associates from the announcement of their pregnancy up to six months after their return from maternity leave.

During this time female associates will be able to take a less active role in client work in an effort to make hours worked more consistent and to avoid unsociable hours on transactions.

There's not a lot of detail there, but let's try to parse these out (in American speak):

1) Find another guy and each of you can become half an associate, presumably for half the pay. Sounds pretty great if you can afford it. Also probably a good alternative to "We're going to fire one of you soon."

2) Sure you can "work from home." We're subleasing the floor your office is on anyway.

3) This one puzzles me most. What possible motivation would one have to volunteer to "cover colleagues," presumably on little to no notice?  What sort of "important arrangements" are associates allowed to have across the pond? Vacations? Family commitments? The death of a loved one? All things associates are expected to cancel/work around. It builds character.

4) Recognition that a pregnant woman/new mom might not want to work "unsociable hours?" From the same firm that's reportedly looking to pad its female partner ranks through a women-only "mentoring scheme?" What's going on over there?

The Freshfields program is supposed to begin this fall, and run for a year. If successful, it may be expanded to the firm's other practice areas and offices.

Is this the future for U.S. BigLaw? Having "associates" who are acting as what might more traditionally be called "staff attorneys" and/or widespread use of part-time work arrangements? Is it wise to have a formal two-tiered system for associates, where some are designated "non-partner track?" Anyone have thoughts?

July 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Brooklyn Judge: 'I Know You've Been Sworn ... ' but I Don't Care

Hot on the heels of the Judge Judy profile, TV court is getting some attention from real-life courts. A July 8 opinion out of New York Supreme Court, Kings County (aka Brooklyn) chastised a New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Administrative Hearing Officer for relying in part on a woman's "testimony" from an episode of "The People's Court" in denying her succession rights to her deceased mother's rent-stabilized apartment.

As this article from the New York Law Journal notes, Justice Francois Rivera held that "The People's Court" is not a court at all:

"The show has voluntary participants, who are not actors, who speak about disputes on a stage that resembles a court. The words or statements uttered by these participants are not testimony. They are neither sworn nor reliable."

Now hold on, Justice Rivera. At least in the Wapner days, episodes of TPC began with a shot of the litigants raising their right hands and taking an oath of some sort. And Wikipedia and I both recall that "Judge Wapner would greet his litigants by saying, 'I know you've been sworn. I've read your complaint ... '"

That was good enough for the hearing officer, who noted that the woman fighting to keep her dead mother's apartment at below-market rent, Ellen Kahn, had been sworn in before "testifying" on TPC that she did not live with her mother and only visited her on the weekends, and submitted a DVD containing the relevant episode. But Justice Rivera wasn't persuaded.

"[T]he statements made on the show have no more probative force than the words of an actor reading from a script in a play," Rivera wrote. "The only difference between the two is that the participants of the show may freely ad-lib their lines."

Thus, Rivera remanded the case back to the agency for reconsideration, with the express caveat that the "utterances" Kahn made on TPC are "unsworn and are not testimony."

Kahn's attorney, Lee Nigen, clearly struggled to come up with a grandiose statement for publication, and settled on the following:

"Judge Rivera has handed down a landmark decision that will resound beyond the sound stages of the 'People's Court' and into the tomes of Article 78 case precedent," Nigen said.

I guess that's better than "Justice Rivera says go ahead and lie on 'The People's Court.'" I anxiously await Judge Marilyn Milian's reaction

July 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 16, 2010

Have Nasty Emails From Opposing Counsel Read to You While You Drive

Today at Lawyerist, Randall Ryder touts a smartphone application for all the "crackberry" (is there a similar nickname for iPhones?) addicts out there who don't want to run afoul of the no-texting-while-driving laws and/or meet their demise in a fiery crash.

The app is called, and while Ryder doesn't appear to have tested it out, yours truly has, coincidentally, experimented with the free trial version. It's not bad. The female voice is less irritating than that on most GPS devices. It's also fairly good at injecting realistic inflection and emphasis based on context. It even knows to read "FML" as "F my life," in case there are kiddies in the car with you.

While the trial version reads only the first 25 words of incoming texts or emails, that's usually enough to figure out whether you need to immediately pull over to deal with a client "emergency," or if it's something that your secretary can deflect. With regard to emails, the system doesn't deal real well with html; I didn't know what to make of some notifications that sounded like:

New email from marketing dot d e p t at Mirage dot com. Message: 34 slash slash equals nine six three greater than colon colon slash dot 45

But then again, the latest deals from Vegas casinos generally aren't slam-on-the-brakes worthy anyway.

If you've got a better "read me my messages" application suggestion, let us know in the comments. And drive safely this weekend.

July 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday Grammar & Style Detour: The Serial Comma

Serial My mission is to watch legal blogs. The Volokh Conspiracy is the number 2 legal blog in all of internetdom, according to the Avvo legal blog rankings. Thus, the following:

This morning at Volokh, David Post laments the apparent demise of the serial comma in The New York Times. I weep with him. Here at LBW, we generally follow AP Style, which is anti-serial comma. (I am not sure what Fake AP Stylebook has to say on the matter, but I'm sure it's hilarious.) But I am a staunch grammar/style pragmatist. I believe that anything that makes the writer's meaning clearer is a plus. I am not afraid of the passive voice. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with writing as you would speak (assuming you speak something that resembles the Queen's English).

So why hate on the serial comma? It's an issue that should be as significant for lawyers as it is for journalists. As one commenter on the Volokh post points out, a serial comma most certainly can add clarity in the context of drafting a contract. Legal writing guru Wayne Schiess is a proponent. Though certain serial comma supporters do more harm than good, in my opinion, by using atrocious examples to demonstrate its effectiveness, I am not ready to give up the fight.

Who's got an opinion?

July 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Paul Hastings Summers: Get Rid of the Dubble Bubble

Ryan Earlier this week, Vivia Chen at the Careerist blog posted a mini-interview with Paul Hastings hiring partner Leigh Ryan

In Chen's series of five (so far) hiring partner interviews, Ryan was the first woman up to bat. I'm not sure why that's significant, but Chen pointed it out, so there you go. The interview touched on some of the topics you'd expect: grade inflation, how to rock (or screw up) an interview, etc.

Ryan also opines that, even in today's market, arrogance and entitlement on the part of law students seem to live on.

Do you see the opposite problem -- that is, being too cocksure? 
The sense of entitlement is very off-putting--the tone of "what do you have to offer me, when I have so many other offers to choose from?" 

Who tends to convey that?
Often those at the top law schools who have done well. But sometimes people have that sense of entitlement even when they haven't performed at the top of the class.

Who tends to be more arrogant -- men or women? 

In my experience, it's been men, though I probably shouldn't say that.

Oh, so that's why it's significant that Ryan was the first female interviewee.

When asked about the mistakes summer associates make once they've landed the position, Ryan cited behavior in real honest-to-goodness lawyer situations:

We take summer associates to client meetings and depositions, and sometimes they behave inappropriately--like not keeping their eyes open or showing up late for a client meeting. It's also not a good idea to chew gum or check cell phones for text messages during meetings.

I say if you find a law student who can chew gum and sleep simultaneously while at a deposition, snatch her up, as she likely has excellent multi-billingtasking skills.

July 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

LBW (Canadian) Lawsuit of the Day: Casinos Let Me Keep Losing Money

It's no "improper use of a beer pong commercial," but it's more interesting than the average slip and fall. A Canadian woman has sued the British Columbia Lottery Corporation and two casino owners for letting her gamble away over $300,000 after she had signed a "voluntary self-exclusion" form, pursuant to which she should have been thrown out on her a$$ as soon as she entered the building.

The complaint (.pdf), linked from Courthouse News, alleges that the plaintiff, Joyce May Ross, had become so addicted to gambling, and so at risk of financial ruin, that, in desperation, she signed a form available at all British Columbia government-sanctioned casinos, effectively banning herself from entering, and subjecting her to criminal fines if she violated the ban. She alleges that she was assured that, should she try to enter in violation of the ban, she would be escorted out by security.

Alas, it didn't work out that way. Ross stayed clean for a few weeks, but then the blackjack gods summoned her. She claims she entered one of the casinos and "security personnel who knew her" didn't do squat. So, naturally, she kept going back. To the tune of $331,000.

The brochure (.pdf) explaining the voluntary self-exclusion is as described in the complaint -- it puts the onus on the individual to comply. I tried to find a link to the actual form itself, but the BC Lottery Corp. website is a bit overloaded this morning. Because of yesterday's launch of the first legal online gambling site in North America. Somebody better get a hold of Joyce's laptop right quick.

July 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

July 15, 2010

Westlaw Reference Attorneys Now Blogging About Stuff You Can't Find

It's been a while since we welcomed a newcomer to the blawgosphere. So, though we were scooped by the Law Librarian Blog and 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, it seems worthwhile to note that West's (in)famous reference attorneys have started their own blog.

It's expressly geared toward summer associates, so I wonder whether it will continue post-August, or just take a nice long hiatus. The posts purport to provide helpful information in response to common inquiries being phoned in by summers. As a source for tips 'n tricks, it seems pretty decent.

In my days, I found the reference attorneys to be a real mixed bag in terms of helping you with difficult research questions. Some of them were able to come up with creative and efficient ways to get at the information I was looking for, while others were short on good ideas and/or listening skills.

Regardless, welcome.

July 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

TSA Advertising for Officers on Pizza Boxes

The legal job market may not be what it once was, but there is at least one industry so desperate for new talent that it's resorted to placing Help Wanted ads in an unusual place:

Yes, the Transportation Security Administration, renowned for enabling all of us to experience the glory of going barefoot in an airport, is looking for a few Washington, D.C.-area men and women "hungry" for a new gig. I'm with Kevin at Lowering the Bar; this isn't exactly confidence-inspiring. And the tag line -- "A career where X-Ray vision and federal benefits come standard" -- suggests to me that somebody should be fired.

The Washington Post reported on the ad campaign as well. Click on the link to enjoy comments such as the following:

Recruiting via a pizza box. How appropriate since the security measures performed by TSA are both cheesy and loaded with fat.

Detail shots of the boxes are available at Federal News Radio.

July 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pro-Life High School Students Sue for Return of Confiscated 'Rubber Babies'

And you thought nothing interesting would ever happen again in Roswell, N.M., after the aliens landed.

OnPoint News reported yesterday on a complaint (.pdf) filed in federal district court by a group of students at two Roswell high schools who were disciplined for handing out rubber fetuses with attached bible verses on school grounds earlier this year. School administrators not only shut down the distribution, but confiscated the fetuses, and apparently have yet to return them.

The complaint, filed by lawyers at Liberty Counsel, hews pretty tightly to the pro-life line; it uses the word "fetus" only when directly quoting from the statements or e-mails of the defendants. Otherwise, the objects at issue are referred to as "rubber babies ... the actual size and weight of a developing unborn child at twelve (12) weeks’ gestation," which, somehow, sounds even creepier than "rubber fetus."

It's an interesting read, as it goes through the history of all of the other items the students -- members of a group called "Relentless in Roswell" (yes, they have a Facebook page) -- allegedly had distributed on school grounds without incident: chicken salad, hot chocolate, candy canes (with a religious message attached) and "affirmation rocks." Only when the kids ramped up to the fetuses did administrators step in, allegedly expressly because some people were offended. As noted by Matt Reynolds at OnPoint, however, banning speech, even in a school setting, just because it's offensive, has not gone over well with the Supreme Court.

In addition to the constitutional claims you might expect here -- for violations of the students' rights to free speech, free exercise of religion and equal protection -- the complaint contains a Fourth Amendment claim based on an illegal seizure of the "rubber babies."

Thankfully, though the complaint indicates that a photo of one of the "rubber babies" is attached as an exhibit, it does not seem to be attached to the version posted by OnPoint. Thus, the image above will have to do.

July 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Behind the Scenes With America's Favorite (Current) TV Judge

Way back in February, we brought you up to speed on the current status of Judge Joseph Wapner, late of  "The People's Court." Wapner was undoubtedly a pioneer, and TPC spawned countless copycat shows, one of which has stood the test of time.

I'm talking about "Judge Judy," starring former New York Family Court Judge Judith Sheindlin. And so was USA Today in a thorough profile in yesterday's paper (via the ABA Journal).

The ABA Journal blurb picks up on the most jaw-dropping, and potentially rage-inducing, aspect of the profile. Namely, that Sheindlin is paid $45 million a year for 52 days' work. Take that, federal judiciary! I'm a big Judy fan, but had no idea that she clobbers Oprah in the ratings. Or that she has a private jet.

The USA Today piece is worth reading, despite passages like the following:

Watching a taping of Judge Judy can be a little like watching a mouse get dropped into a pet boa's glass case. There'll be some tension, some dramatic buildup, perhaps an attempted escape. But eventually, that mouse is going to get swallowed whole.

So, too, do many of Sheindlin's hapless litigants (some of whom volunteer, while others are discovered by producers who go through court dockets looking for promising small-claims cases).

Yikes. Saccharine cliched simile journalism fail.

I certainly hope Erica Rose gets her hand on a copy of the article. It should inspire her to continue dreaming big. As soon as she resolves her current "situation." (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

July 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 14, 2010

Wednesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

1) Question: We're not sure whether my fiancee's cousin, Ed, is going to come to our wedding this weekend. If he does, all hell will surely break loose as it always does when Ed is around -- people doing Statue of Liberty shots, multiple trips to the emergency room, photographer's camera thrown in the pool, etc. How can we mitigate the risk of Ed showing up?

Answer: Have you considered insurance from It offers brides and grooms "all-inclusive policies that can insure you in the event of cancellations, weather, disaster cakes, and if an overly drunken guest gets into an accident or a fight, in addition to the liability insurance that most venues will require you to purchase." It can can be purchased online 24 hours in advance of the event! (Wedsafe, via Consumerist)

Ymca 2) Question: We're finishing up the official change of our legal name from "YMCA" to simply, "the Y." Are there any final details we need to make sure we iron out?

Answer: Well, has anyone spoken to the Village People about this? Because they do not appear to be on board with this change. (The Associated Press, It'll Always be "YMCA" to Village People: Band Says Hit Song Won't Be Affected by YMCA's Name Change to "The Y")

3) Question: I just saw what appeared to be a forced march of about 400 geese out of Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Where are those geese going? Field trip?

Answer: You may have just witnessed part of "Sully's Revenge." Suffice it to say that in the name of improved aviation and passenger safety, those geese are not coming back. (The New York Times, 400 Park Geese Die, for Human Fliers’ Sake)

July 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Emergency Motion: Lawyer's Wife Unwilling to Accommodate Request to Give Birth After Deposition

Baby The South Florida Lawyers blog jokes that down in Coral Gables, Fla., "women and their narcissistic, ill-timed 'birthing' obsessions" are now starting to impact important things in life, such as deposition dates. In Plaintiff's Emergency Motion for Protective Order filed yesterday, attorney Joe Klock advised the court that today, July 14, "the deposition of Mr. Strickland was scheduled to be and is to be taken by Hugh Morgan, Joe Klock was to defend the deposition of Mr. Brakenhoff, and Juan Carlos Antorcha was scheduled to take the deposition of Mr. Pennekamp."

Obviously unconcerned with the justice system and the important legal matters her husband was handling, Mr. Antorcha's wife inconsiderately went into labor yesterday and subsequently delivered her baby. This prompted Klock to add the following footnote to his motion:

Undersigned counsel had specifically asked Mrs. Antorcha over last weekend to arrange the delivery for Friday evening, July 16, after 6:00 P.M., but Ms. Carolina Antorcha, with whom counsel was unable to converse, apparently was unwilling to accommodate the request.

I don't know how they roll down in Coral Gables, but Judge Carton rules that since Klock did specifically ask Mrs. Antorcha to delay the creation of the new human life until the weekend, the conflict is deemed "excused" and the motion is hereby GRANTED.

July 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Riff Offs: Damages Awarded in Rift Over 'Kookaburra' Flute Riff


As you already know, in February 2010, Australian Federal Court judge Peter Jacobsen ruled that the famous flute riff in Men at Work's "Down Under" plagiarized a popular nursery rhyme about a kookaburra written in 1932. The nursery rhyme is called "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree," and, as you can hear for yourself, the Men at Work song pretty clearly borrows the riff.

Larrikin Publishing, the copyright holder of the "Kookaburra" song, requested 40 to 60 percent of the royalties earned by "Down Under" in Australia during the last six years, but the question of damages was not resolved until last week. On July 6, Entertainment & Media Law Signal reports, the judge ruled that Men at Work's recording company, EMI Songs Australia, and songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, must pay Larrikin  just 5 percent of royalties earned from "Down Under" since 2002 and from its future earnings.

The E&MLS blog also has a link to JAMSBIO's great list of 10 other "riff offs," i.e., songs that sound suspiciously like other songs. Some of my favorites (hear the audio for yourself on the JAMSBIO website):

  • “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons and “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison
  • “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” by The Rubinoos and “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne
  • “All Day and All of the Night” by The Kinks and “Hello, I Love You” by The Doors

And from the comments to the JAMSBIO post:

  • "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles and "What I Got" by Sublime

July 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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