Friday, January 30, 2009

Today's moment of validation . . . .

Take a look at Jonathan Glater's article in this morning's NYT (here), which describes the changing world of law firm economics.

A side note: I was a Morrison & Foerster associate when Carl Leonard (mentioned in the article) was the managing partner. I still have a "Carl Leonard Work Hard Play Hard" button from one of the MoFo retreats, and I remember Carl with fondness.

The times, they are truly a' changin'. But for a very well-reasoned counterpoint by my buddy Jeff Lipshaw, see here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why I'm so proud of Rice University, part n

In an earlier post (here), I bragged about what Rice is doing to help with the global health crisis. If you'd like to see a video of what Rice, through Rebecca Richards-Kortum's program, is doing, click here for more on Rice 360.

Bravo, Rice!

I'm still exhorbitantly priced (and worth it!), but here's a new record.

See here. It's not the billing amount per se that I'm sure everyone's going to watch, but what bang for the buck folks get for those rates.

Hitting close to home

Just read about Morrison & Foerster's recent layoffs (see here). I learned so much from my time at MoFo (yes, that's its nickname), and I sure feel for the folks there, as well as for folks laid off in other law firms and other business sectors. It's a scary world right now.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A cautionary tale about law firm economics

Today's Wall Street Journal has a front page article on the economic pressures facing law firms (here), with a particular focus on Heller Ehrman's demise.

I knew many of the folks at Heller, having been a summer clerk there in the mid-1980s. The folks whom I knew were bright, talented, and dedicated, but clearly those attributes aren't enough to manage large businesses in tricky economic times. Some preliminary lessons for those choosing managers (whether those managers are for private firms, government, or academia):

1. Just because someone is great at his or her current job doesn't mean that that person is going to be good as a manager. Management has its own skill sets, and although it certainly can be learned, people often forget that being good at one set of skills doesn't automatically translate to other sets of skills.

2. Don't go only for those with glossy resumes. Sometimes the best person for the job isn't the person with the most elite background.

3. Test-drive the person by seeing how he or she has handled issues of management strategy in the past.

4. Managers aren't omniscient. Cut them slack. They'll make mistakes, and sometimes their failures are beyond their control. Don't assume that you have the same type or amount of knowledge that the managers have, and don't assume that the managers are at liberty to share with you all that they know.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Finally--graphic proof!

song chart memes
more music charts

Actually, we think that the green part of the graph should be much, much smaller. Thanks, GraphJam!

Why the State of Nevada needs a strong higher education system.

I'm heading home to Las Vegas this afternoon, having attended the Winter Board Meeting of the Association of Rice Alumni. This afternoon's meeting included a talk by Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering. She described the many ways in which Rice University professors' research can be used to address global health issues (water-borne diseases, the high costs of getting technology to the medical personnel in developing countries who need them, etc.). Take a look (here) at what Rice's "Beyond Traditional Borders" project is doing all over the world. What makes Rice's program so special (well, among many things) is that undergraduates at Rice are participating in the research and outreach on an international scale (see here). You can read some of the students' blog posts here.

I can't think of a better illustration of why university research is such an integral part of all students' education. The film that we watched in the board meeting illustrated how Rice undergraduates were involved in the research, design, and dissemination of "science that matters." Not only were scientists involved, but also people from the Jones Graduate School of Management, as well as other disciplines, took part in the real-world problem-solving question: how do we get ideas and tools for improving health to communities with no resources at all?

I've had the pleasure of being at two flagship state universities: The Ohio State University and the University of Nebraska. Even at the less-than-flagship-funded University of Houston, faculty members do research that affects on-the-ground, real-life issues. And, of course, we at the Boyd School of Law at UNLV take our research and outreach missions very seriously. The students who take courses at any of these universities from any of the professors conducting this research or creative activity (don't forget the fine arts at all of these schools!) are benefiting from faculty members who are at the top of their game, and the students get to see for themselves what it means to have a life infused with meaning. Trust me: when you get paid to think about issues that are important to you and to convey your knowledge to other people, you have a life with meaning.

Now I'm living in a state in which the governor has proposed a cut amounting to 50% (yes, you read that right: 50%) of the budgets of the two public research universities. With a cut of that magnitude, there's no way to preserve any sort of benefit to the local, state, national, or international community from the research or outreach that we faculty members can do. The basic functions of these two universities will be gutted by these budget cuts, let alone any ability to discover and implement useful new ideas. (Even combining the two universities--an idea proposed by Geoff Schumacher in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week as a way to navigate the budget cut--would be impossible with a 50% cut.)

Rice University graduates students who become astronauts, novelists, doctors, journalists, lawyers, and teachers. (See here for some examples.) Part of the reason that Rice has such a great track record with its graduates is that it has enough funding to attract the best minds--students, faculty, and staff. I actually don't think it's an exaggeration to say that some of what Rice does can save the world--or at least parts of it.

One of my favorite movies is The Right Stuff, and one of my favorite scenes in that movie explains the politics of the space program this way:
Recruiter: Funding. That's what makes your ships go up. . . . No bucks, no Buck Ro[]gers.
I'm not trying to compare Rice to any of the large public universities with which I've been associated. Rice has a very different mission from other universities and, as you can tell, I'm passionate about Rice. I am as proud of the work that Rice is doing with its Beyond Traditional Borders program as I've been of the fact that President Kennedy announced his goals for the space program at Rice in 1962.

But Nevadans deserve to have its best people working on difficult issues, teaching Nevadan (and non-Nevadan) students, and adding far more to Nevada's economy than any state appropriation "pays for." Unless the governor really thinks that it's more important to keep taxes low than it is to improve the Nevada economy for the future, this blow to higher education is taking away our "Buck Rogers" moments. Do we really want to give up reaching for the stars so soon?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More on Nevada's budget crisis

My colleague Sylvia Lazos (here) just reminded us of an interview that our Dean, John Valery White (here) gave to In Business Las Vegas last semester (here), in which he quite rightly pointed out how devastating more budget cuts would be for our law school. Reporter Stephanie Tavares began the article by observing:
The Boyd School for the past decade has built a well-respected curriculum amid low tuition and high community support.
It recently announced increases in tuition meant to take Boyd into its second phase of building a great law school.
But state-mandated budget cuts could reverse that progress.
....
The law school already has a small faculty and staff compared with similar schools
across the nation.

I'm proud of our school and the education that our students receive here. I'm proud of the research and service that my colleagues and I do here. And I believe that having more well-educated, ethical lawyers is, yes, GOOD for Nevada and everywhere that our graduates will serve.

And I'm worried that the Governor's proposed cuts (see here) will devastate Nevada's educational system (K-12 as well as higher education).

Look: Nevada doesn't have a very diversified economy. We need to attract more businesses here, and so we need to be attractive to both employers and employees. I "get" that very high taxes might scare off businesses, but wouldn't well-below-par educational systems scare off employees? Do the children of Nevada deserve to be less prepared for the 21st century than children in most other states?

We need to think hard about how to solve the budget shortfall and attract more revenue. A mantra of "no new taxes" isn't going to help--especially when the Governor has said that he is willing to tax state employees w/a 6% pay cut. Let's spread the pain out a bit and increase revenue so that we can build a better state.

A shout-out to Jack Ayer (and Ed Fein)!

Jack Ayer's blog, Underbelly (here) is always delightful (as is Jack!), and in one recent post (here), Jack, well, deconstructs a cute joke that Ed Fein (who collects groanable but funny jokes) had sent along to me. Well, Jack, your post made me think that I "got a flucky," too.

A shout-out to my dance teacher, Sergei Shapoval

Sergei's blog (here) was nice enough to give me a shout-out (here), and I wanted to return the favor. Thanks, Sergei!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Score: 13 pounds of cat, 1; two adult humans, 0

Our girl Grace (on left) was supposed to be on diet cat food. After four days of a hunger strike (hers--not ours), we finally called our vet, who told us to give up on the diet food and just give her less of the regular food.

We are still trying to figure out which one of us gave her the "stubborn" gene.

We also think that Shadow (on right) is gloating.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dear government of the State of Nevada: some thoughts

I know that you're struggling right now with a horrifyingly bad economy, and you're trying to minimize the pain to Nevada's citizens. I don't envy you your choices, because you're at the point where you're deciding between choices that are devastating and those that are merely awful.

It's a bit self-serving of me personally to point out that the 6% pay cut and similar suggestions are penalizing one sector of your economy much more than the rest, especially given the trade-offs in job satisfaction that I get from working at UNLV. But I'm relatively well-compensated, compared to many of my colleague workers here. As an example, here's a recent letter written by one of my co-workers:

Honorable Legislators,

I have great concern for the proposed increases in health care cost, removal of health care for State Workers after retirement, and the proposed 6 percent pay cut for State Workers. I manage a crew of 50 grounds personnel, all of whom do not have computer access. So I am writing not only on my behalf but theirs. Some of these employees' entry wages start out at around $11.92 per hour. We have already removed their merit increases and these further cuts would be devastating to their income, child care, and health. I have served my country in the United States Marine Corps, and have served the State of Nevada for the last 24 years. On behalf of myself and those whom work along side of me, working for the State, we request that you and the State Representatives do not allow these cuts to occur; please vote against them.

I have lived in Nevada for 47 years and watched the population expand; there has to be other ways to increase revenues, business taxes for example, to raise the revenue
needed other than placing the burden on those who have served and dedicated
their life for the State of Nevada.

Sincerely yours,
Robert Lynn
Facilities Manager
UNLV Landscape and Grounds (letter edited slightly)


I've made a similar point before (see here). It's time for Nevada to consider a much more broad-based economy. We need to look more like, say, Texas (many different sectors of the economy) than like Michigan (which is teetering on the brink of failure because so much of its economy relates to the automotive industry). Texas is hurting, but Michigan may be dying.

(Actually, in one sense, I'd like to see us look a lot more like Texas or Michigan--at least in terms of support for such public goods as education and health care. That would make us a far more attractive place to recruit new types of businesses. People want to see their children well-educated and their families well cared for and safe. A slash-and-burn approach to our budget woes is the exact opposite of what we need in order to attract new businesses here. With low taxes that cannot support even the basic needs of its citizens, Nevada "gets what it pays for"--not very much.)

After I left the world of private practice to take a job in higher education, a very wise person told me that people believe in ideas that save lives or change lives. Health care saves lives; education and research changes lives. It's time to ask everyone in Nevada--not just its state employees--to invest in saving and changing lives.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thanks, AMEC!


I had a wonderful time at the 4th Annual Counsel of the Year awards last Friday. For information about this year's awards, see here. For pictures, see here. (Yes, that's my dance teacher, Sergei Shapoval, with me in one of the photos. I brought a real-live artist with me, as my hubby Jeff was giving firearms instruction to my cousin visiting from NYC that weekend. That would be my learning-film-editing cousin, Josh Kahn.) A special shout-out to Arnold Peter, the center of all things in my life that are media and entertainment law related.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A shameless plug for the Seventh Annual DePaul Business & Commercial Law Journal Symposium

Seventh Annual DePaul Business & Commercial Law Journal Symposium--Into the Sunset: Bankruptcy as Scriptwriter of the Dénouement of Financial Distress

Thursday, April 16, 2009, 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Westin Michigan Avenue, 909 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

For Better or Worse: Chapter 11 in the Post-BAPCPA Downturn

BAPCPA, the 2005 Bankruptcy Code overhaul, brought some significant changes to corporate reorganization, leading some to dub Chapter 11 as the "National Foreclosure Act." This panel will examine the myths and realities behind this description by focusing on the more sweeping BAPCPA amendments: time restrictions on assumption or rejection of commercial leases, the limited plan exclusivity period, 20-day administrative expense claims and the attempted reigning in of executive compensation.

A Fistful of Dollars: Hedge Funds, Private Equity and Bankruptcy

The presence of hedge funds and private equity in bankruptcy has become more prevalent in recent years, altering, sometimes dramatically, the outcome of troubled companies' reorganization efforts. In addition to exploring the impact of these non-traditional bankruptcy players, our experts will also discuss the latest twist—what happens when these entities themselves are threatened with insolvency.

The Importance of Being Earnest: Bankruptcy's Disclosure Rules

Bankruptcy is a transparent process and the transparency begins with the disclosure requirements of Bankruptcy Rules 2014, 2016 and 2019. These rules require that certain professionals working in the bankruptcy system disclose their connections with a variety of entities, including their past or present engagements, their fee arrangements with their client in the case, the identity of clients if more than one is represented and more. This panel will discuss pertinent provisions of these important bankruptcy rules, highlighting what must be disclosed and the sometimes dire consequences that follow a failure to comply.

Tickets are $85.00 on or before March 16, 2009 and $100.00 after that date. Price includes luncheon and written materials. Judges and students are free. CLE credit offered. For more information, contact Megan Bosau or Chalet Braziel at (312) 362-6178 or depaul.bclj@gmail.com.