Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Legal Profession Blog is, of course, right again.

See the various posts about the new, flawed SuperLawyers rankings here and here.

A plague on both their houses.

I'm officially disgusted with both political parties at this point. I've been a Democrat most of my life, and it's fair to say that I'm a social liberal and an economic conservative. I had hoped that, sometime in the last year, both parties would realize that it's time to stop demonizing each other's views and try to work productively with each other.

But I haven't seen that. Instead, I've seen polarizing votes and name-calling (on both sides); I've seen my own political party cave in on some long-term and deeply held principles; I've seen votes on bills that few (if any) people have read; and I've seen (at best) a shading of the truth by both parties when it comes to the projected effects of several bills.

What I haven't seen is a willingness to sit down and talk through the issues as if Congress cared about the solutions, rather than caring about whether votes on bills will affect re-election odds. I'm tired of people "so concerned with keeping [their] job[s] that [they've] forgotten to do [their] job[s]." See the clip from The American President here--it captures my feelings quite well. Although I don't agree with everything that Michael Douglas's President Andrew Shepherd says in this well-written speech by Aaron Sorkin, I sure agree with the sentiment that governing is all about character. And I haven't seen a lot of demonstration of character in our legislative representatives lately.

Look: I believe that the two things that help people overcome obstacles are good health and a strong education. I believe that the better-off should make sure that there's a basic standard of living for those worst-off, although I don't believe that government is always the right way to effect that redistribution of wealth. I believe that people who take excessive risks should bear the responsibility for those risks. (If their risks pan out, great; I'm a big fan of capitalism. If their risks don't pan out, though, they need to reap the consequences of those risks.)

But I also believe that we shouldn't try big, sweeping changes unless there are no other options. I believe that all legislation has unintended consequences of which we should beware (credit card bill, anyone?). I believe that probably no one understands the best way for our economy to recover and that therefore we should listen to a variety of ideas and not just to party-line rhetoric. And I believe that increasing taxes and reducing options for paying for uncovered medical services by reducing the cap on flexible spending accounts doesn't inure to the public's benefit.

As antediluvian as it sounds, I actually don't believe that everyone has a "right" to universal health care or that everyone has a "right" to a college education. There are rights, and there are "wish lists," and the two are very different. I do believe that a strong society should make all reasonable efforts to secure health care and education, but that--as with most things--there are tradeoffs of which we should be cognizant. Some of those tradeoffs include deciding at which point our deficit is so large that we should work hard not to increase it.

I do believe in raising taxes for certain objectives, but I don't believe in raising taxes as some sort of cure-all. (For example, I believe that Nevada needs to increase its tax base in order to diversify its income. Basing taxes on only one industry is a recipe for disaster.) And I believe that we should be very careful when raising taxes so that, again, we don't have unintended consequences. I'm particularly worried about small businesses and how they're going to survive in this recession. What are the mandates and increased taxes going to do to stimulate the economy? I'm sure that some increase in our taxes is necessary, but I doubt that we're raising taxes with a surgical scalpel. Instead, we're using a sledgehammer.

I'm tired of sound bites that blame the other party--EITHER party--for the nation's ills. I'm tired of sound bites that make the solutions sound simpler than they actually are. I'm tired of sound bites that pretend that fixing one problem won't lead to the creation of other problems. Most of all, I'm tired of Congress acting first and thinking second, if at all.

There are, of course, good senators and good representatives. I worry, though, that their voices are outshouted by those who are first in line for taking credit and last in line for taking blame.

Pretty much everything in this world comes down to character. Let's see if we can get our elected representatives to remember that.

My hair guru in action!

See here. Yay, Sara!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Continental Airlines sees box, refuses to think in or out of it.

I am sitting on a "weather-delayed" (or could it be the delay caused by the massive computer glitch, here?) flight from Austin to Houston IAH, hoping to get there in time to board my flight from Houston to New Orleans. I need to be in New Orleans TONIGHT, because I'm testifying in a court case tomorrow morning.

When I called Continental to see what it could do if I missed my connection, the customer agent (yes, I've omitted the word "service"--intentionally) told me that all other flights were sold out, she couldn't help me find another flight on another airline, and that she could put me on a flight in the morning which would get me to New Orleans after I was supposed to be in court.

So I got on my computer, went to www.sidestep.com, and found a first-class ticket on a later Continental flight from Houston to New Orleans. Price? Just a hair more than the original ticket.

You tell me: how difficult is it to tell a distressed customer that there are first-class seats available on the sold-out flight?

Southwest Airlines doesn't treat its customers with this much disdain. Normally, I like Continental. I really do. (I love Southwest--that's the difference.) But c'mon. The entire nation is having flight problems today, and the customer agent doesn't want to look at other alternatives?

For shame, Continental. For shame.

UPDATE: I made it to my original connecting flight with 5 minutes to spare, and Continental refunded the back-up ticket. So at least it improved on its original customer service glitch. Thanks, Continental--but please learn to think a bit more broadly when travelers seek help.

Law students, grammar, and the practice of law

I'm hearing through the grapevine that some of my law students were unhappy with the grades that they received on their group papers this semester. I told them to find a movie with legal ethics issues and write about those issues. (Sneaky way to reinforce what they're learning, eh?)

The good news: for the most part, they did good work analyzing the ethics issues in the movies. The bad news: most of them made proofreading and grammatical mistakes.
The statistics: because virtually every group did a good job on the analysis, I curved the grades based on their mistakes in proofreading and grammar.

I'd warned them that no one could get an A on this assignment without good grammar and few proofreading mistakes. Why am I so strict? Because no matter how good their analysis is, if they can't showcase their work with decent writing skills, their employers and their clients won't be impressed.

I don't know where students get the idea that employers and clients (and law professors) don't care about writing skills. It's one of the key skills that lawyers must have. And our writing program at Boyd is not just good--it's superb.

So here's a request for my lawyer (and client) friends out there: please weigh in on this post. Do you care about how your lawyers write? Does it matter to you if they say good things, but say them poorly?

Many thanks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Well, duh....

The SuperLawyers law school rankings are out (see here for a leak of the results). As I predicted (here), older and bigger schools did well; younger and smaller schools (except for Yale, which counts as "older") did poorly.

I had emailed SuperLawyers to find out if its methodology was going to factor age and size of school into account. The folks there were very nice, but noncommittal--and you can see for yourself that the results show what I'd predicted.

Speaking of nice, I had occasion to call Bob Morse of USNWR last week for some info, and as always, he was extremely helpful and courteous. Not everyone agrees with his methodology, but no one can argue with his willingness to be accessible.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New SuperLawyers rankings of law schools punishes smaller, newer schools

In the world of rankings, more info is usually better, but only when the ranking is fair(ish). SuperLawyers is about to release its new law school rankings, which consists of counting the number of lawyers making SuperLawyers from each school and then ranking the law schools according to the headcount.

Nice try, but won't smaller or newer schools (and yes, I teach at a small, new-ish school) suffer from not having the quantity of graduates that the larger and older schools have?

Ah, well--if we start ranking schools based on inverse height of bankruptcy professors, Boyd will do pretty well (but we'll have to exclude our two bankruptcy judge adjuncts, because one of them is way too tall to help us on such a ranking).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sad news about Fred Zacharias

I read on Brian Leiter's blog this morning that Fred Zacharias had passed away (see here). I had the opportunity to visit with Fred a number of times at conferences and, like a lot of folks who study professional responsibility, really enjoyed his scholarship. He had a keen mind and was quite generous of spirit in helping others with their work. Once again, untimely passings are a reminder of how important it is to tell people while they're alive how much they mean.

To Fred's friends and family, please know that my thoughts are with you at this most difficult of times.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Happy birthday, Marine Corps!

10 November 1775-10 November 2009 (so far). I'm so proud of the Marines I know, from Joe Reynolds, Racehorse Haynes, and Harold Hyman, all the way to John Ames, David Polyansky and the three Van Niels (my hubby, my bro-in-law, and my father-in-law). I'm also proud of the Marines I haven't even met yet. What an amazing organization! Some of the best lessons on leadership and character come from the Marine Corps.

Semper fi, and happy 234th birthday, Marines!

Click here for a YouTube video of the Silent Drill Team. Click here for another Marine Corps video. Click here for this year's birthday message. For the Marine Corps Hymn, click here and here.