Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shameless self-promotion here: LexisNexis Top 25 Business Law Blogs voting begins now....

When I came back from class this afternoon, I saw this email:
Dear Nancy:

Each year, LexisNexis honors a select group of blogs that set the online standard for a given industry. I’m pleased to notify you that Nancy Rappaport Blogspot [sic, but I'm still flattered] is one of the nominated candidates for the LexisNexis Top 25 Business Law Blogs of 2010, featured on the LexisNexis Corporate & Securities Law Community and the LexisNexis UCC, Commercial Contracts & Business Law Community.

We are inviting the business law community to comment on our list of nominees. If you’d like to request that readers support your nomination, please ask them to comment on the announcement post at either of the following links:

Top 25 Business Law Blogs 2010 – Corporate & Securities Law Community

Top 25 Business Law Blogs 2010 – UCC, Commercial Contracts & Business Law Community

To submit a comment, log on to your free web center account. If you haven’t previously registered, you can do so on the Corporate & Securities Law Community or the UCC, Commercial Contracts & Business Law Community. Registration is free and does not result in sales contacts. The comment box is at the very bottom of the page.  The comment period for nominations ends on October 8, 2010.

Congratulations on your nomination. 
So, because it would be just lovely if this blog were to be included as a top-25 blog (even though all of the blogs are interesting, and many of them are remarkably good), if you have the ability to vote for my blog, please consider doing just that.  Thanks!

UPDATE:  As my buddy Brian Goldberg pointed out to me, the blog's been nominated, and now it's a matter of talking it up (if you're comfortable doing that) on the various LexisNexis communities.  Thanks!

SECOND UPDATE:  In order to post a comment to talk up a blog, register for one of the communities and click on this link (here) or this one (here).   In addition to voting for my own (think Hillel), I also voted for
The Corporate Library Blog,
Race to the Bottom,
The Conglomerate,
WSJ Law Blog, and
Credit Slips.

Best explanation of what Nevada needs to do to turn the state's economy around--EVER.

See here.  The whole "we don't have to raise taxes to fix the state's economy" problem brings to mind my favorite speech that Michael Douglas gives as President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (see here):
President Andrew Shepherd: For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character, and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I've been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character. . . .  America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free". . . .  We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. . . .
President Andrew Shepherd: I've loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer, and I lost the other 'cause I was so busy keeping my job I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now. . . .  We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you'd better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I *am* the President.
It's time for our candidates to step up to the plate.  Stop going for the votes, and start thinking seriously about how to fix Nevada's economy.  I know that you don't have the scriptwriter of The American President there to make your words powerful, but let's see if you can show that you're serious about your responsibilities to Nevada's citizens.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why I like Steven Horsford.

Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone apologizes for them or takes responsibility for them.  When Senate Majority Leader sent out a fundraising letter that linked access to donations, the public was outraged (well, at least the part of the public that thought that donations didn't create access was outraged).  But Horsford then apologized (see here) and refused to blame anyone on his staff for the original decision to send the fundraising letter (see here). 

Personally, I like leaders who own up to mistakes and don't sacrifice staffers for them.  So my opinion of Horsford has gone up, not down.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Give the banks a monetary incentive to do the right thing.

Guilt doesn't work.  Shame doesn't work.  Threats don't work.  "Affordable homes" programs don't work (see here and here for some examples).  What might work to get banks to agree to modify mortgages quickly and reasonably?

The first thing to realize is that banks are businesses.  Some might not be run very well, but they're businesses.  And businesses respond best to financial incentives. 

I've blogged about some possible incentives before (see here).  Give the banks a reason to write down the principal due on underwater mortgages, perhaps by agreeing to take any profit above that write-down if the house sells in the five years after the write-down.  The homeowner gets a lower principal balance that's more in line with the real value of the house.  The bank gets any upside for a reasonable time after the modification, if housing prices rebound.

Of course, we'd also have to deal with the accounting and tax implications of such a change.  Banks don't have an incentive to write down the value of these underwater homes; without either a positive (benefit) or negative (penalties) incentives, banks are engaging in behavior designed to inflate the value of their collateral.  Too many banks are foreclosing but not selling homes, in part because selling would set a real value at odds with the book value.  Not only are the banks not selling the foreclosed homes, but they aren't keeping up the property or the payments on the HOA dues (see here).  Banks are dragging out short sales beyond all economic reason.  Unless we figure out a way to provide financial incentives to get banks to behave better, all of the shame and guilt and anger in the world won't get them to change.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Larry Temkin changed my life, too.

One of my favorite professors from Rice University, Larry Temkin, now teaches at Rutgers.  The Rutgers home page is featuring a salute to Larry (here) for the next two weeks. Although I hated to see Larry leave Rice, I was happy to see him courted by the best philosophy program in the country.  (Oh, and Harvard courted him, too.)

What made Larry so good, in addition to his obvious desire to get his students excited about using their brains, was his ability to tease out--even from shy folks like me (and yes, I was shy!) a willingness to sink our teeth into difficult material.  He didn't teach down to us, not even once.  And like anyone else who's at the top of his game, his talent made us want to be better students.  He was vibrant in class, engaging outside class, and downright inspiring.  I can still see him bounding into class each day (and "bounding" is the correct word), ready to get the discussion started.  Best of all, he put the lie to the fiction that really great teachers can't be great scholars as well.  He was superb in both arenas, and he made everything look effortless, even though it wasn't effortless at all.  Rutgers is very lucky to have him.

And while I'm thanking Larry for his remarkable contribution to my education, I should thank some other Rice profs as well.  (I owe Bob Weisberg, Tom Jackson, and Jack Friedenthal, among others, thanks for my education at Stanford Law School, too, but that's a post for another time.)

Larry, along with folks like Baruch Brody (here), Dennis Huston (here), David Lane (here), Hank Hudspeth (here), and Harold Hyman (here), kept Rice's promise to provide an excellent undergraduate education.

Baruch Brody did give me a scare during my first semester, though.  I'm from a small town in deep East Texas, and although my parents were from "up north" (New York and Toronto), I had never heard a rich Brooklyn accent before.  I spent the first month of Dr. Brody's lectures wondering what he was saying and hoping that I didn't flunk his course.  After I was able to translate his accent into "Texan," I figured out that I was getting what he was saying, after all.

Dennis Huston taught me that good professors could cuss up a blue streak without shifting our focus away from the material at hand.  I took every course that he taught, and I'm still a member of his unofficial fan club.

David Lane turned me into a statistics geek, to our mutual amazement.  He even let me take some graduate-level courses in statistics while I was an undergrad.  Through him, too, I got to design my honors thesis on the effect of time of day on teaching performance, which is my own personal explanation for why my students fall asleep in class when I teach in the 3-4:30 slot.

Hank Hudspeth, who was kind enough to hire me for my first summer law job, was demanding without being demeaning, and he modeled how a true gentleman behaves.  When I worked for his firm in the summer of (gasp!) 1983, I saw his commitment to professionalism first-hand and began to model my own professional life after his.  I wish I could find his book, A Baker's Dozen of Torts, somewhere, because I lost my copy and I sure loved that book.

Harold Hyman scared me to death at Rice.  He had an imposing presence and a booming voice, and his face reminded me of a real-life Sam the Eagle.  He's also the first person I told about my getting into Stanford, and I remember him coming out from behind his desk to congratulate me.  When Jeff & I came back to Houston in 2000, Harold and Ferne became our fast friends.

All of these folks contributed to my love of learning (which actually started with my mom and dad--there were more books in our house, and more time spent reading them, than I ever noticed in any of my friends' homes).  I owe them big.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Bovitz ROCKS! (As does the Bovitz-Spitzer law firm....)

So I'm bugging my friends for some samples of stay relief motions to effect setoffs and for samples of objections to exemptions, and Scott Bovitz (one stylin' dude, BTW--see here) calls me to direct me to his portal (here).  That portal has all sorts of handy-dandy links, like the one to his law firm (here), which in turn led me to some form links for the Central District of California.  Thanks, Scott!

And, for the rest of my buddies who might have some such forms (hint, hint, folks like Marc, Billy, and others....), please let me know if you have some exemplars I can use.  I'm doing a pro bono representation of a creditor (Stop laughing! Creditors need love, too!), and I could use the help.  Thanks!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Shout-outs for new law professors

Thanks to my buddy Tim Zinnecker for mentioning the advice I've given to "newbie" law profs (see here), and kudos to my buddy Jeff Lipshaw (and his co-authors, Brandon Denning and Marcia McCormick) for their forthcoming ABA book, Becoming a Law Professor: A Candidate's Guide (see here).  Brian Leiter mentioned this book on his blog today (see here). 

I'd call today a good day for law professors.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Newest guilty pleasure: everything "Jen Lancaster-y"

First, I picked up Bitter is the New Black.  Loved it.  Then I went straight to a Jen Lancaster trifecta:  Bright Lights, Big Ass; Such a Pretty Fat (with the world's best descriptions of working out w/trainers; and, like her, I too now have my own "strongs," thanks to my own trainer--our buddy Jeff Monroe); and Pretty in Plaid.  Loved 'em.  Now I'm reading My Fair Lazy and the Jen Lancaster blog, Jennsylvania.  I really like her snarky sense of humor and her way with descriptions. 

I know, I know.  Law professors are supposed to read highfalutin things in the summer.   Nope.  At least, not me.  Yes, I read stuff for the articles/books I'm doing; yes, I read other people's articles, especially when I've been asked to do a tenure review.  But for fun, I read things that take me out of my normal routine.

Now, back to my fun summer reads.  If you want to follow down the Jen Lancaster path, start w/Bitter is the New Black and go from there.

Billing judgment matters.

As I was reading this morning's Above the Law post about a federal court cutting legal fees because the law firm requesting fees failed to use good "billing judgment" (see here), I felt particularly vindicated by the Court's discussion of reasonableness.  I've been focusing on issues about legal fees lately (see here), and I think that it's much easier to rack up high fees and expenses when you're assuming that someone other than your client will be footing the bill.

Check out this language from the Court's opinion, which you can download here, thanks (again) to Above the Law:
The Court recognizes that the work performed on researching, drafting, and arguing the preliminary injunction motion provided important roadmap for Plaintiff with respect to its strategy in pursuing this litigation. However, spending almost 420 hours, which equates to almost 53 full work days7, on drafting and defending a preliminary injunction motion is unreasonable in light of Plaintiff’s counsel’s familiarity with the disputed issues. For the same reasons, spending approximately 50 hours on drafting and revising 11-page supplemental declarations and expending significant number of hours on post-Complaint research and preparation appear unreasonable to the Court.
(Opinion at 16.)  The opinion continues with a reduction, not just of fees, but of expenses as well:
Having considered the invoices submitted by Plaintiff and objections raised by Defendant, the Court finds that some of the expenses incurred by these Signature personnel were unnecessary and unreasonable. For example, it is difficult for the Court to believe, and Plaintiff does not explain how, that the faxing or internet charges incurred at the Westin, frequent “entertainment” charges in addition to meals, numerous first class plane tickets, limousine rides or pick-up service to and from the airport, and approximately $400 nightly stays at Hyatt were necessary and reasonable costs related to this litigation when cheaper more reasonable options were at the witnesses’ disposal. 
(Opinion at 36.)

When a lawyer speaks directly with a client about a high bill, there's that moment when the client is likely to ask about the reasons behind some of the charges.  When a lawyer doesn't have to look the client in the eye, so to speak, it's easier to lose track of what a "reasonable" fee or expense should be.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Reason number n why Andy Morriss and Bill Henderson rock.

Over at the Legal Profession Blog, Bill Henderson has posted an explanation of what it would take for Stanford Law School to overtake Yale in the U.S. News rankings (see here).  In this post, Bill explains that he and Andy Morriss create an annual simulation model of those rankings, and that this model has helped them figure out what Stanford would have to do in order to become #1 in the rankings.  The price tag for becoming #1?  Somewhere between $350 million and $1.8 billion.

Bill's conclusion?  No one could say it better:
The legal profession, especially our students, have some big problems at the moment.  And society's are even larger.  The best law school is one that prepares its students to solve these problems.  This requires a careful balance of innovative teaching and scholarship.  The U.S. News rankings don't capture these metrics.  In fact, they obscure them and create incentives for truly destructive behavior.  By and large the deans are trapped.  From my own perspective, I don't think even one law school in the US News Tier 1 has reached even 10% of its potential to educate and solve problems.  Too many one-professor silos.  Too much ego.

I am sorry to moralize.  But someone needed to say it.  Let's focus on some problems worth solving.  At the end of the day, it will be worth it.
Bill, I'm glad you said it.  BRAVO.