Thursday, January 24, 2008

I did it--I switched to a MacBook Pro!

Having gotten a full refund from Dell (thank you, Michael McKinney), I have switched laptop formats from Dell to a MacBook Pro, although I still have a Dell desktop.  Even though having an Apple computer is a tad like being a left-hander in a right-handed world, I love it:  I love the design, I love the sharpness of the screen, I love the fact that I've had it for two months and have not managed to break it.  So, bravo, Apple--thank you for making a good product that's fun to learn how to use!

And, Dad, you were right:  it is a spectacularly well-designed machine!

Death of the billable hour, part n+1

In this morning's NYT, Lisa Belkin's article, Who's Cuddly Now? Law Firms, caught my eye. As I've predicted (see here for an example), law firms are starting to move away from billable hours to more client-friendly, lawyer-friendly forms of fees. She points out that clients "reacting to spiraling legal costs, have begun insisting on flat-fee deals." She also notes that the newest generation of lawyers wants a more balanced life.

This is, to quote every parody of Martha Stewart ever done, a Good Thing: billable hours tempt fraudulent behavior (a one-minute phone call as a 15-minute increment of a fee?), punish the efficient lawyer, and grind inexorably on the quality of life of lawyers who do want to take time to do their jobs well. With alternative methods of billing, big-firm lawyers can concentrate on the professional side of their lives, in much the same way that their smaller-firm and contingency fee colleagues have been doing for decades.

By the way, thanks to Gil Grantmore for fixing the formatting of this post.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bye, bye, lessons that we can learn from Enron

What with the Stoneridge case and the denial of certiorari in the Enron shareholder lawsuit, it's pretty clear that Enron--along with any lesson that we hoped to draw from it--is drawing to a sad, useless close. The more things change, etc., etc. See, e.g., here for comments about the Enron appeal.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's all about the incentives....

Jared Sandberg's WSJ column today, Why Learn and Grow on the Job? It's Easier to Feign Infallibility, reminds me how important the right incentives are in business. Bad behavior unpunished is no different, really, from bad behavior rewarded. Enron wasn't that long ago, you know, and with the ink from the USSC's Stoneridge decision still wet, we're going to see continued bad behavior. We need to develop incentives that work, if we want to stop trying to learn the same lessons over and over again.

(And yes, I read the NYT, too....)

For all of my friends who know my political leanings, guess what? John Yoo is right about the lawsuit against him.

See his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, here. For those of you who don't subscribe to the WSJ, here's an excerpt:
In a case about warrantless national security wiretaps ordered by Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, the court declared that executive branch officials should benefit from qualified immunity. Officials cannot be sued personally unless they had intentionally violated someone's clearly established constitutional rights.

Legal Ethics Nightmare Comes True--Sort Of

I'm assuming that other folks saw this article in the Saturday New York Times: Lawyer Reveals Secret, Toppling Death Sentence. It's about a lawyer who knew about alleged prosecutorial misconduct but kept it confidential until he was advised that he could speak up about it at last.

Adam Liptak's lead sentence of the article matches everyone's classic ethics hypo about confidentiality:
For 10 years, Leslie P. Smith, a Virginia lawyer, reluctantly kept a secret because the authorities on legal ethics told him he had no choice, even though his information could save the life of a man on death row, one whose case had led to a landmark Supreme Court decision.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The headline meme....

Jim Chen has tagged me, over at Jurisdynamics, to do my own version of the following four headlines:

Headline I most fear seeing in 2008:  2008 Exactly the Same as 2007; No Changes Predicted for 2009, Either

Headline I most want to see in 2008: Public Realizes Education Can Be Useful; Funding Increases

Headline I most expect to see in 2008:  Corporations Decide Pillaging Can Be Expensed; Congress Agrees

Headline I least expect to see in 2008:  Congress Swears Off Legislating Before Investigating Root Causes of Corporate Scandals

Now I tag Jack Ayer and John Steinberg.  Have fun!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Nice one, Cameron!

For those of you who missed Cameron Stracher's op-ed on the rankings, see here. For those of you who don't subscribe to the WSJ, here's an excerpt:

Of course there are other things that matter to law-school graduates -- like getting a job. Although the U.S. News rankings purport to measure a school's success at placing its graduates into gainful employment, the rankings do not distinguish between success at placing students at high-paying corporate law jobs versus low-paying paralegal-type jobs. Nor do they distinguish between jobs that graduates want and the jobs that graduates get. Students who assume that going to a more highly ranked school is more likely to get them a good job are essentially being misled by lazy reporting.

The U.S. News rankings are also heavily weighted toward reputation, which would seem to have some real world significance. But again, "reputation" is misleading, and often irrelevant. Beyond the top 20 or so law schools, law firms care less about the ranking of a school when making hiring decision and more about the ranking of the students at the schools.

Put a different way, there are really two kinds of law schools: those at which students decide where they want to interview, and those where firms decide. The large majority of law schools belong to the latter group. Hiring partners admit that they use GPA or other bright-line criteria (like law review membership) to interview at Tier 2, 3, and 4 schools, while taking resumes from nearly everyone at Tier 1 schools.

In short: The difference between the 55th-ranked law school and the 105th law school is of little significance in determining which students are more likely to get a good job. At both schools, unless a student is in the top 15% or 20% of his class, he has little chance of getting a high-paying job directly upon graduation. Students might be better served by going to a lower-ranked law school and doing better, rather than going to middling law school and not doing as well.

Students and parents are led astray by U.S. News because in putting a simple number on something that is incredibly complex, they are missing the nuances that are likely to be more important. But schools themselves -- high schools and law schools -- are partly to blame, because they resist fully disclosing important information.

Just as law schools would better serve their constituencies by releasing accurate information about numbers that matter -- bar results, jobs, and average salaries -- high schools should make more of an effort to fully disclose test scores, college admissions, class sizes and other important data. More information may put some schools under a harsh light. But it will help students and parents decide whether those high taxes and tuition rates are worth it. The alternative is letting U.S. News decide for us.

A couple of op-eds that resonated....

As we start out in 2008 (and here's wishing everyone a good 2008), I wanted to note a couple of op-eds that resonated with me:  one from the New York Times on December 26, suggesting that creative mortgages aren't such a bad idea, as long as those lenders who are offering them can explain them clearly to the borrowers (Michael S. Barr, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Eldar Shafir, A One-Size-Fits-All Solution, here), and one from the Wall Street Journal on December 28, pointing out that adding new laws to deal with the subprime crisis won't be nearly as useful as will figuring out why humans do some of the dumb, self-destructive things that we do (Neil Weinberg, Subprime Conduct, here).