Saturday, March 26, 2011

Best thing about the Georgia Aquarium.

Whale sharks.

Thanks, SBLI & Georgia State University College of Law!

Having finished this week's visit to Georgia State's law school, courtesy of the Southeastern Bankruptcy Law Institute, I just want to say thanks:  thanks to SBLI for funding this program and for choosing me as this year's visiting professor; thanks to the great folks at Georgia State who made me feel so at home; and thanks to the Boyd School of Law for being so nice about my taking a week away during the semester.  My own spring semester Professional Responsibility students get my special thanks for being willing to do class via Skype.  They did a superb job yesterday.

A tale of two bank experiences in today's New York Times

How do I know when the weekend has truly arrived?  For years, the weekend arrived at the moment that I sat down to a leisurely breakfast while reading Joe Nocera's column (and I guess, after today, I'll just have to enjoy reading his op-eds instead).  This morning's column discusses the fate of someone who went along with the "everyone's doing it" ethos of liar loans (stated income loans--where the borrower doesn't have to substantiate his income).  That person's serving time in prison.  See here

Same page, farther down on the left-hand side:  Paul Sullivan's column on banks imposing insurance on borrowers, even when (1) there's no demonstrated need for that particular type of insurance (e.g., flood insurance outside the flood zone) and (2) the property is covered by that insurance already.  See here.

If I were a cynical person (stop laughing!), I'd marvel at how many different ways banks manage to game the system with impunity.  Let's see:  only borrowers, not lenders,* punished for liar loans; one department of a bank demanding insurance while another department assures the borrower that he's already covered by his own insurance; and my current favorite--banks refusing to credit mortgage payments to the loans for all sorts of untenable reasons. 

How do we get the system to change?  People won't change if there's no incentive to do so.  Financial penalties easily become costs of doing business, passed along to consumers as not even a speed bump in the company's business model.  We've got to get incentives to the right people, and I'm starting to think that we have to be much more aggressive with the officers and directors who tolerate these bad practices.  By "more aggressive," I mean the type of financial penalties that aren't paid by O&D insurance (and penalties that include prison time for the most egregious offenders).  We need to figure out an enforceable system of personal responsibility for people who don't fix systemic problems.  Start with the line folks who bounce their problems from department to department, infinite-loop style.  Move up the chain to managers who can't seem to see those systemic problems despite scads of customer complaints.  Keep moving up to department heads all the way to C-level officers and the board.  Everyone who routinely tolerates behavior that isn't a fluke needs accountability.  Until we come up with a way that links behavior with real consequences, we're going to keep seeing news reports like the ones in today's paper.


* Don't get me wrong:  borrowers who lie on their loans shouldn't get a free pass.  The rest of us didn't lie on our loans, and we're suffering from the fallout of other people's bad loans.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A salute to Pam Burns.

Because I have Google alerts about a lot of things, including one on the late John O'Quinn, I learned this week that John's exceptional right-hand person, Pam Burns, had passed away.  I was very fond of Pam:  she was unfailingly good-humored, very kind to me, and loyal to John in the extreme.

Pam, I'll miss you.  Rest in peace.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Greetings from a non-mediocre institution.

It's no secret that Nevada's budget is in horrible shape, and that problem is not likely to improve in the near future.  We are living in interesting times, with all that that phrase entails.

But I took umbrage when I read this piece in the National Law Journal (here) about what the budget cuts might do to our school.  (Thanks, though, to all of my buddies who passed along the article to me.)  I haven't seen the summary to which the article referred ("A summary accompanying Smatresk's letter notes that the plan would require significant tuition increases. 'These additional increases will undermine the law school's successful formula and render it a mediocre institution,' the summary reads.")  Whoever wrote that summary was, I'm guessing, trying to communicate that the burden for keeping us from drastic cuts will fall on our students, who will have to pay significantly more in tuition if the state can't figure out a way to help subsidize their education.  "Mediocre," though, doesn't describe us now and won't describe us later.

So far this year, we've hired:

Linda Berger, Mercer School of Law.  Seven edited volumes on legal writing, rhetoric, and the burgeoning field of metaphor & narrative. 11 articles.  Founding editor of J. ALWD.

Ruben Garcia, Cal Western.  Labor law expert, former Hastie Fellow, VAP at UC Davis.  16 articles, one book in progress (NYU Press).

Ian Bartrum, Drake University Law School.  Ribicoff Fellow in Law at Yale Law School, VAP at Vermont Law School.  12 publications on constitutional interpretation and theory.

Michael Kagan, entry-level hire.  Experienced refugee expert in the Middle East and North Africa with stints at Asylum Access, Africa Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA), Negotiations Support Unit, Frontiers Association, Musa'adeen Refugee Project, and Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Amnesty International.  13 articles and book chapters.  Teaching experience at American University in Cairo and Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law.

Year-long visitor:
Lisa Bingham, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.  Visitor at Berkeley, Hastings, Maxwell School of Syracuse, and Aberdeen School of Law.  Fulbright fellow in Sweden.  Industrial relations, ADR, and Labor Law expert with over 60 articles in peer-reviewed and law journals, over 25 book chapters, and 5 book reviews.  Expert in labor negotiations and mediation.

That's on top of the folks we've hired over the last few years, each of them gems.  Take a gander at our faculty home page (here).

Ultimately, Nevada has to decide if having an educated workforce is important and, if so, how it might help to encourage and maintain such a workforce.  Not even 12 years ago (we're not even old enough to have a bar mitzvah yet), Boyd was a baby law school, formed out of Nevada's desire to keep its budding law students from having to leave the state to get a law degree.  There has to be some happy medium between the low/no taxes stance we have now and the too-burdensome taxes that too many states have.  In a competitive world, where employers can outsource almost anything to very smart people in other countries, we have to have smart, innovative people on the ground here in Nevada.  That takes education, for starters. 

Mediocre law school?  Nope.  We have a good law school, with engaged faculty and staff members and dedicated students.  It's a warm community--one of the best I've ever enjoyed.  I have confidence that we'll be able to figure out a way to go forward without losing our momentum.  Whether the state is able to figure out a way to get its momentum back is another issue entirely.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Putting the news in perspective.

My hubby passed this along to me, and I'm passing it along to you.
This message is sent with the deepest respect.  This just made perfect sense to be shared.

Lindsay Lohan is 24 and her story is all over the news because she's a celebrity and a drug addict.  Charlie Sheen is all over the news because he is a celebrity and has multiple issues.

        While...
                      Justin Allen, 23;
                      Brett Linley, 29;
                      Matthew Weikert, 29;
                      Justus Bartett, 27;
                      Dave Santos, 21;
                      Jesse Reed, 26;
                      Matthew Johnson, 21;
                      Zachary Fisher, 24;
                      Brandon King, 23;
                      Christopher Goeke, 23; and
                      Sheldon Tate, 27.

These are all Marines that gave their lives this week for us.  There is no media for them. Not even a mention of their names.
In humble gratitude for their sacrifice, and with the deepest condolences to their loved ones, I'm passing this along.

[UPDATE]  My friend George pointed out that, every Sunday, ABC lists all of the Marines and soldiers who were killed that week.  Good point, George, and thanks for reminding me!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Two reasons to think before acting.

Loved Luke Johnson's piece in today's Financial Times about "How to Spot an Impending Calamity" (here).  Although high finance may be akin to rocket science,* the tips in this column are common-sense warning signs for a company that's going down the tubes.

And speaking of common-sense warning signs, take a look at this disciplinary case (here), describing what happens when a lawyer decides to fudge the record in the case by not indicating where he omitted part of the trial court's statement of facts.  (For a good analysis of the issue, see the Legal Profession Blog's post about the case--here.)  If a lawyer has to lie about the record to have a colorable case, then it's not a colorable case.

Lessons from both?  People under pressure will do some really dumb things.  Some of those dumb things will be intentional.  Some won't.  Remember:  trust, but verify.

* Oh, and that reference to rocket science?  We actually know a rocket scientist, so it's easy to call him and see if something is or isn't rocket science.