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Showing posts from January, 2014

Should State Bar Membership Be Voluntary In Michigan?

Senator Meekhof recently introduced SB 743 in Michigan to change the membership of the State Bar of Michigan from mandatory to voluntary.

The Bill would:
"No longer require that individuals pay a periodic fee for continued membership in the State Bar,
require that individuals who designate themselves 'attorneys or counselors' be licensed to practice law in Michigan, and require that all individuals who practice law in the state do so in compliance with the requirements of the Michigan Supreme Court."

As of 1/23/14, the Bill has been referred to the Committee on Government Operations.

The Bill comes after recent scrutiny of the State Bar when it urged mandatory disclosure of those financing judicial campaign ads.

"Republican Sen. Arlan Meekhof of West Olive says the bar association has become more 'political' and not all lawyers agree with its actions. Meekhof said Thursday that the bill's intent isn't to let attorneys' off the hook from fees fo…

Low Cost Legal Research Databases

As a librarian, access to WEXIS (librarian speak for Westlaw & Lexis) is amazing. I rely on these databases for most of my research needs.

However, if I were to start my own little solo practice, I'm not sure that I would be able to afford WEXIS. In the alternative, I might rely on a low-cost database, such as Fastcase or Casemaker.

For premium access, Fastcase costs $95/month. And some jurisdictions give 'free' access to Fastcase through the state bar.

Something that I really appreciate about Fastcase is its extensive free webinar series. The webinars cover the following topics:

Introduction to Legal Research on Fastcase 2014

Advanced Tips for Enhanced Legal Research on Fastcase 2014

Introduction to Boolean (Keyword) Searches 2014

Introduction to Legal Research on Fastcase for Paralegals 2013 

Casemaker is another low-cost database that the State Bar of Michigan (as well as 24 other states) partners with to provide 'free' access for its members. If your state bar do…

A Cautionary Tale Of A Lawyer's Personal Bankruptcy

The NYTimes ran an article recently profiling a lawyer's journey to personal bankruptcy.

The article starts out with a prescient, "[a]nyone who wonders why law school applications are plunging and there’s widespread malaise in many big law firms might consider the case of Gregory M. Owens."

To offer some background, "[t]he silver-haired, distinguished-looking Mr. Owens would seem the embodiment of a successful Wall Street lawyer. A graduate of Denison University and Vanderbilt Law School, Mr. Owens moved to New York City and was named a partner at the then old-line law firm of Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood, and after a merger, at Dewey & LeBoeuf. Today, Mr. Owens, 55, is a partner at an even more eminent global law firm, White & Case. A partnership there or any of the major firms collectively known as 'Big Law' was long regarded as the brass ring of the profession, a virtual guarantee of lifelong prosperity and job security."

So b…

Death & Taxes & Student Loans

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It is well known that Benjamin Franklin said, "the only things certain in life are death and taxes." Although this is still true, I would add student loans to the list -- at least for most of us. Especially since 85% of law students graduate with $100,000 of debt.

Now that tax season is upon us, the federal government has teamed up with TurboTax to spread the word about student-loan repayment options.
As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, "[s]tudent-loan borrowers filing their taxes through TurboTax this year will be encouraged to enroll in an income-based repayment plan, the Departments of Education and of the Treasury are expected to announce on Friday.
As part of the White House's efforts to raise awareness about income-based plans, the Obama administration has reached an agreement with lntuit Inc. to include a banner on its TurboTax tax-preparation website inviting users to learn more about their repayment options.
When borrowers click on the banner, th…

The Importance Of Reading Books

The NYTimes published an article by op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow about the importance of reading.

In his article, Blow cited a few startling statistics:
“The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn’t cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978. The details of the Pew report are quite interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. Among American adults, women were more likely to have read at least one book in the last 12 months than men. Blacks were more likely to have read a book than whites or Hispanics. People aged 18-29 were more likely to have read a book than those in any other age group. And there was little difference in readership among urban, suburban and rural population."

Blow goes on to mention the oft-cited reasons for the lack of reading -- social media.

"I …

Verify Internet Sources Or Shephardize The Internet

InsideHigherEd recently ran an article about information literacy on the web. The author advances the notion that websites should have some form of updating information for the user. 
"Every law school student knows “shepardizing.” It is the process by which one learns how and in what ways to research a legal case that may have been affected by subsequent cases.  Shepardizing is a critical process in a legal system based on precedent.  Stare decisis notwithstanding, one must know the latest decision on any specific legal question to proceed to the next.  In the old days, it was done by hand and rather laborious, requiring not only denoting a case, but also reading those subsequent cases to evaluate the nuances of “modified,” “distinguished,” or even “overruled.”  I was in law school during the transition to digitized process.  In one of my first jobs as a lawyer, the attorney who gave me the assignment thought me brilliant because I came back within 20 minutes with the up-to-date…

Legal Consequences of Tweeting

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The ABA Journal recently had an article discussing a lawyer's sanctions for a few ill-advised tweets. The lawyer, Sarah Peterson Herr, live tweeted her opinions during an ethics hearing for Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline.

She watched the hearing from her office computer. Among her tweets (which misspelled Kline’s name):
“You can watch that naughty naughty boy, Mr. Kilein [sic], live! live.kscourts.org/live.php.”
“Why is Phil Klein [sic] smiling? There is nothing to smile about douchebag.”
“I predict that he will be disbarred for a period not less than 7 years.”
Herr lost her job as a research attorney for the Kansas Court of Appeals as a result of the tweets, and she also came under scrutiny for a possible ethics violation. 
"A three-judge hearing panel [ultimately] recommended an informal admonishment [for Herr]. The disciplinary panel’s recommendation is the most lenient sanction that can be imposed. The hearing panel cited mitigating circumstances, including Herr'…

Problem Solving Courts

Problem solving courts are an important step to help those who have fallen through the cracks -- rather than merely locking them up. 
I have acted as attorney in a few DUI cases that have qualified for a problem-solving sobriety court. Instead of merely locking up the offender, the court offers the offender an intensive rehabilitation program for a chance at a lesser offense on his or her record. These courts are not easy, but they do treat the problem, which is what a lot of these offenders need to make sure that they are not repeat offenders.
In addition to sobriety court, a new mental health problem solving court has been started in a district court nearby. 
"Ingham County’s 55th District Court is now one of at least 19 in the state steering mentally ill defendants into intensive and holistic treatment instead of jail. The program is available to defendants with serious mental illnesses who agree to participate. They can’t be forced into the program, which offers psychiatric t…

Occupational Outlook For Librarians

On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Occupational Outlook Handbook.

As a librarian, I was specifically interested in the occupational outlook for librarians.

Here's a quick snapshot of the information:

What Librarians Do
Librarians help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. Their job duties may change based on the type of library they work in, such as public, school, and medical libraries.

Work Environment
Librarians work for local government, colleges and universities, companies and elementary and secondary schools. Most work full time, but opportunities for part-time work exist.

How to Become a Librarian
Most librarians need a master’s degree in library science. Some positions have additional requirements, such as a teaching certificate or a degree in another field.

Pay
The median annual wage for librarians was $55,370 in May 2012.

Job Outlook
Employment of librarians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2…

A Happy Friday With Happy Lawyers

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After a six day work week, I am happy to say it is Friday! I have blogged about happiness in the legal field in the past, but I thought it might be a good time to remind everyone what happy lawyers do.

The ABA Journal recently ran a post about the things that happy lawyers do. "A Duke University lecturer who teaches a course on lawyers and personal well-being says happy lawyers make choices that make them less miserable than their pessimistic counterparts."

The lecturer "outlined six ways that lawyers can make the choice to be happy." They are:

1) Look at the big picture. Happy lawyers have perspective and don’t obsess over every setback.

2) Lighten up and savor moments of laughter, which can enhance your mood and that of the people you interact with.

3) Learn optimism. Law school training can discourage optimistic thinking, translating to chronic pessimism that affects all parts of your life.

4) Stop multitasking, and spend some time focusing on friends and family.

Hidden Messages In Gilded Books

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This article from The Meta Picture was posted on the Law Library Director's listserv recently.

I, for one, had no idea that gilded books sometimes contain hidden messages (see pics below).

This might be a good time to check the books in my law library to see if any of the books have this type of message. If so, it might be worth placing them in our new rare books room.

Spring by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa
Autumn by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa
Winter by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

No Bar Exam In Iowa?

The ABA Journal reports that Iowa may follow the lead of Wisconsin and not require a bar exam for graduates from Iowa's law schools.

"The Iowa Supreme Court will consider a proposal this summer that would allow graduates of Iowa’s two law schools to skip the bar exam if they practice law in the state.The grads would still have to pass an ethics exam, take a class on Iowa law and procedure, and submit to screening."

The Iowa Bar Association says that the idea "is intended to shorten the period between graduation and practice, saving the money needed for living expenses and bar review during that period. The average debt for law graduates is about $95,000 at the University of Iowa and about $106,000 at Drake."

But won't this lower the standards of the profession? Not really. "Iowa State Bar Association President Guy Cook [said] that the bar exam weeds out few grads. Only 6.8 percent failed their first exam between 2008 and 2013, and 62 percent of those w…

Lawyer Hiring Stats State-by-State

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Forbes recently had an article discussing stats on lawyer hiring by state.

Forbes "updated the supply-and-demand outlook for lawyers by state to see if the picture looks any better than it did a few years ago. The answer [according to Forbes]: Not really. Hiring has mostly been stagnant coming out of the recession, and more than twice as many people graduated with law degrees in 2012 (46,565) as there are estimated job openings (21,640). But take away full-time, salaried positions and the real growth in the lawyer job market has come from those working on the side in part-time arrangements. It’s here where many of the job opportunities appear to be, which is hardly encouraging for newly minted lawyers deep in debt."

So how are the individual states faring? "For most states, the outlook is similar — there are between two to four graduates for every opening. The most extreme oversupplies are in Vermont (7.9 law grads for every opening), Michigan (5.4), Massachusetts (4.4)…

BigLaw Firm's School-Blind Hiring Policy

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Now this is real elitist reform right here. The ABA Journal reports that a "British-based law firm, Clifford Chance, has introduced a 'CV blind' policy that hides candidates’ university information from those who are doing final interviews."

"The aim is to eliminate bias in favor of Oxford, Cambridge and other leading schools. Clifford Chance adopted the policy last year, leading to a 28 percent increase in the number of institutions from which it drew trainees."

As a senior employee of Clifford Chance put it, “[w]e’re looking for the gems and they’re not all in the jeweler’s shop.”

A 28 percent increase in the number of institutions is pretty substantial. Currently, the name brand law schools in the U.S. are the main feeder schools into BigLaw leaving little room for candidates from the other 140+ law schools in the country. If U.S. BigLaw were to follow the lead of Clifford Chance, I wonder how many additional schools would be represented in new associate…

Scribes Says 'Take A Book Home Each Night'

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It's no secret that I am a fan of Scribes. The research tip this week was to learn your library and take a book home each night.
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Scribes Research Tip No. 16:  Take a Book Home Each Night

It's extremely valuable to know what resources are available and what are their strengths and weaknesses before the need to use them arises. Whether your library is large or small, learn what it has.

One technique is to take a book home and browse through it, not to learn a specific point but to learn about the book. Does it have forms that might be helpful in the future? Are there good checklists? Was it peer reviewed before publication? Is there a clear bias or is the book neutral in presentation? How does it compare to other books on the subject? Is it well indexed? Get comfortable enough with the book to know whether it will help you on a rush project or be a waste of time.

If you take a book home once or twice a week and perform this sort of review, you'll see the benefits alm…

A Loss Of Self Development With The Bookless Library

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article discussing the harm of the bookless library. The author states that his "primary concern is that this might (or already has?) create false expectations of what 'all libraries' should become. It’s setting a precedent. The key issue for [him] is funding. Why do we need a library anymore? Let’s just build computer labs– that’s what they are doing in Texas."

This kind of thinking is already happening in the legal academe. See my previous post discussing the issues with eliminating law libraries.

And this NYTimes article made me evaluate how much of my life is spent online and the effect that it has on all of us. "The digital world offers us many advantages, but if we yield to that world too completely we may lose the privacy we need to develop a self. Activities that require time and careful attention, like serious reading, are at risk; we read less and skim more as the Internet occupies more of our lives. And there’s…

The Perceived Advantage Of Prestige

With the polar vortex that essentially shut down the Midwest, I was finally able to read for fun! I chose David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

It is a quick read, and it has an interesting argument about the perceived advantage of attending a highly ranked, brand-named school. The argument goes like this: If you are a little fish in a big pond (like a student attending an Ivy League institution in terms of sheer brain power), and you are at the bottom of your class (which is probably still in the 90th percentile nationwide), you may be deterred from finishing a difficult degree because you are not used to failure, and you become demoralized. Of course Gladwell offered various statistical analyses to support the idea that this phenomena actually happens.

His argument is that it may be better to be a big fish in a little pond (like a student at a respectable state school) and excel and be motivated to finish a difficult degree.

Gladwell goes on to discuss how this works with affirma…

The Green Bag's Limited Edition Supreme Court Bobbleheads

Did you know that The Green Bag releases limited edition Supreme Court justice bobbleheads? I was elated when I saw this story at USAToday until I realized my chances of actually getting a bobblehead are pretty slim.

"They are some of the rarest bobblehead dolls ever produced. They're released erratically. They're given away for free, not sold. And if you get a certificate to claim one, you have to redeem it at a Washington, D.C., law office."
So how do you get one of these bobbleheads? "Subscribing to the journal is the most reliable way to get a voucher to claim a bobblehead when they are released, but there's no guarantee. The certificates warn that the bearer "might be able" to exchange it for a bobblehead, and the journal also hands out some bobbleheads to non-subscribers, including law school public interest groups that auction them at fundraisers. Some ultimately wobble their way onto eBay, where they reliably sell for hundreds of dollars.&q…

Student From Unranked Law School Lands Prestigious Fellowship

The National Law Journal reported on a Skadden fellow who was chosen from an unranked law school -- a rarity among Skadden fellows.

"Since the creation of the Skadden Fellowship in 1988, more than 700 law students and judicial clerks have received its financial support for two years as they pursue public-interest law projects of their own design.
Of those recipients, nearly 70 percent came from schools listed in the Top 10 by U.S. News & World Report; most of the remainder held J.D.s from schools listed in the Top 100."

But Sarah Hess broke the mold when she became the "first student from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago to win the prestigious fellowship. In fact, 2010 was the last time a student from any unranked law school (in that case the Widener University School of Law) made the cut."

"The year’s 28 Skadden fellows hail from 13 law schools—seven of them from Yale Law School and six from Harvard Law School. Each fellow will be paid on par with …