March 5, 2011
Online textbook seller may be liable under Michigan law for falsely promising students they'll save money
From the BNA Electronic Commerce & Law Newsletter (subscription required):
An online textbooks retailer who allegedly charged customers inflated prices while telling them they would “save money,” and who did not disclose that referring schools received a commission, could be liable for deceptive trade practices in Michigan, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled March 1 (Stalker v. MBS Direct LLC, E.D. Mich., No. 10-11355, 3/01/11).
The plaintiff stated a plausible claim that the company's partial disclosures about its sales practices convinced customers to purchase its products rather than shop at its lower-priced affiliate website or other lower-priced competitors.
. . . .Michigan's Consumer Protection Act prohibits “unfair, unconscionable, or deceptive methods, acts, or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce,” Mich. Comp. Laws §445.903(1).According to the plaintiff, the retailer's website violated that law in at least five ways. The retailer—an online service that sells new and used textbooks—has exclusive contracts with over 600 schools through which it sells textbooks to students. Generally, the school provides a link to the defendant's website through its own website, and students are sold books for the class schedules they provide.Although the website, in its frequently asked questions and other pages, stated that it helped students save money, its products actually cost more than other outlets, the plaintiff alleged. In addition, the site paid schools a commission on sales, and could have charged lower prices without that commission, according to the lawsuit.
NY Times Says Good-Bye to “On Language” Column
For 32 years, a highlight of the Times Sunday Magazine section has been the “On Language” column. For many years, the late William Safire dealt with trendy clichés, rules of grammar and style, and his pet peeves. Most recently, Ben Zimmer has ably carried on the Safire legacy.
Now, the new editor of the magazine section, Hugo Lindgren, has decided to end the column. Apparently, he is also ending the popular “The Ethicist” column. There is some hope for a reversal. I am doubtful. See the posting on The Economist blog. All of us who care about wordsmithing have lost a treasured companion.
March 4, 2011
Law school deans are meeting today to discuss faculty staffing models
Yesterday marked the start of the mid-year ABA workshop for deans in San Diego (the conference runs through Saturday). On the agenda are several programs discussing possible faculty staffing models in light of the proposed changes to ABA accreditation standards. Here's a list of the plenary sessions:
- Plenary 1 – The Changing Nature of the 21st Century Law Faculty. The topic will focus on curricular and teaching needs, the variety of teaching staff involved in legal education.
- Plenary 2 – Unbundling Tenure. Focus on ABA proposed standard on security of position, which unbundles security of position, faculty governance, and academic freedom. Assuming changes in the standards, what does this mean for academic freedom and faculty governance.
- Plenary 3 – Recruitment, Maintenance and Retention of Faculty
- Plenary 4 – Issues in Faculty Governance – As the diversity of teaching professionals in legal education expand, what are the questions regarding the role of these individuals in the administrative operations of the law school.
I don't know whether representatives of the legal press are covering this conference or whether we'll get a public report about what was discussed. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Charlie Sheen v. Warner Brothers: The Contract
Over at the Concurring Opinions blog, Lawrence Cunningham offers his educated speculation on the contract between Charlie Sheen and Warner Brothers. He discusses the consequences of several possible clauses including a non-disparagement clause, a play-or-pay clause, and a morals clause. He also notes that Sheen has no contract with CBS. Professor Cunningham doubts that Sheen has a contractual right to any money, but suspects that Warner will buy him off for a fractional amount.(ljs)
Many lawyers will tell you that a handful of their clients are the hardest to work with and take up the most time. Some lawyers will tell you that these troublesome clients are ones most likely not to pay their bills. The novice attorney may not be in a position to terminate the relationship with such clients, but with a little seniority, he or she may have the stature to “fire “ clients and take on more productive and satisfying projects.
Of course, the firing should be effectuated in a polite way—for example, “You may have a better working relationship with another attorney. Here are the names of some capable lawyers that you may want to consider . . . .” Here is an article on the subject from the Attorney at Work blog.
A second New York law school decides to admit fewer students
We had previously reported that Albany School of Law has decided to admit fewer students next fall in response to the poor job market for grads. Now the New York Law Journal is reporting that Touro Law Center on Long Island also plans to admit fewer students - each school is only going to forgo 10 applications - in the fall. Touro's dean said he'd like to reduce the size of the incoming class substantially more if he could:
'It is the ethical and moral thing to do,' Touro Dean Lawrence Raful said in an interview. 'I don't think the [job] placement situation is going to turn around for a number of years and I think we are concerned about the ethics of turning out quite so many students in debt when we know that not everyone can get a job to pay off that debt.'
In fact, Mr. Raful added, 'If I had my druthers, I'd go from 280 students to 150, if I could afford it. Classes would be smaller and I'd feel pretty good about the quality of education in the small classes and pretty good about students' chances of placement.'
The article goes on to report that law school applications are down nationwide more than 12% and the job market is really bad - but you already know that. You can read the rest of the NYLJ article here.
Research Tips to Help Law Students Prepare for a Job Interview – Part 1 of 2
This two-part post offers research tips for law students as they prepare for job interviews. This first post focuses on researching biographical and background information on potential employers. Part two will offer advice about deeper research recommended to prepare for a job interview.
To prepare for a job interview, you should conduct some background research on a potential employer.
First, spend some time reviewing a potential employer’s website. You should be able to find basic biographical information on the lawyers and useful information about their representative work and clients.
If you want deeper biographical information (especially if the website is not too robust), you should consult a legal directory:
If you are interviewing for a federal judicial clerkship position, you should consult:
- Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, and
- Almanac of the Federal Judiciary (available on Westlaw). The Almanac will allow you to view the rulings that the judge has marked as “noteworthy” as well as evaluations from lawyers who have argued before the judge.
If you are interviewing for a legislative position, you may want to take a look at the following resources:
March 3, 2011
Two more faculties oppose changes to ABA law school accreditation standards
On Wednesday we told you about the Georgetown law faculty voting unanimously to oppose changes currently under consideration by the ABA that would, among other things, remove tenure (and lesser job security protections for clinicians and contract faculty) as an accreditation requirement. The National Law Journal has picked up the story including news that the faculty at two additional schools have passed similar resolutions:
Law faculties are starting to weigh in on proposed changes to the American Bar Association's accreditation standards pertaining to tenure and other job protections.
. . . .
Faculty at least two other law schools have adopted similar resolutions — Golden Gate University School of Law in September and again in February, and the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law in December. 'The proposals continue to reflect an elimination of tenure which we feel is very dangerous,' said Golden Gate Associate Dean Kimberly Stanley. The Hawaii resolution said that faculty and staff 'strongly and unequivocally oppose any and all modifications that would undercut the continued requirement that law schools have a tenure system in place.'
You can read the rest here.
Friday's musical treat
It's Friday - and this particular Friday is the beginning of spring break here at Casa Legal Skills Blog. To mark the occasion, here's a little musical treat courtesy of Phil Alvin (a math prodigy and founder of The Blasters). It doesn't get any better than this - a man, a guitar and Big Road Blues.
Don't go down that big road by yourself.
What happens when the BigLaw tail wags the law school dog
You may have seen the recent report from the National Law Journal showing which law schools sent the most the grads to BigLaw (U. Chicago topped the list). The first 10 schools on the list sent a significant number of grads into BigLaw. But once you get below school 20, the numbers drop off quickly. Looking at the top 50 law schools on NLJ's list, on average 27.3% of grads went into BigLaw in 2010 which represents a drop from 30.3% in 2009. Thus, once you get outside the small cadre of law schools at the top, the vast majority of grads who go into private practice end up in small(er) firms (or solo) where starting salaries are much lower and the skill set is different (While BigLaw associates may need a background in international law, small firm associates need to know how to take a deposition and conduct a client interview).
This post from the Belly of the Beast called "Law School Deception II" contains a pointed criticism of one top school for allegedly pandering a bit too much to the curricular needs of BigLaw since fewer students these days are finding jobs there and even the ones who do won't stay long. BOTB is also critical of schools that use BigLaw starting salaries as a guide to setting tuition for the same reason.
The conundrum, though, is that a traditional BigLaw curriculum is relatively cheap to deliver (on the assumption that it's heavy on large, lecture-type theory classes and light on small, closely-supervised practice skill classes). But we know that the vast majority of grads instead go into smaller practices where there's less supervision and thus a greater need to receive skills training in law school so they can hit the ground running. The salaries are smaller too which means law schools have to find a way to deliver closely-supervised skills training (e.g. low student-teacher ratio classes) at a cost that allows grads to service their tuition debt and still pay the rent. This isn't going to be easy.
Are employee performance evaluations reliable or subjective rubbish?
This editorial from the New York Times, written by UCLA School of Management Professor Samuel Culbert, says employee evaluations tend to reflect how "comfortable" the boss is with you rather than measuring your overall contribution to the company. The editorial is entitled "Why Your Boss is Wrong About You."
[o]ne of the primary ways employee effectiveness is judged is the performance review. And nothing could be less fair than that.
In my years studying such reviews, I’ve learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how “comfortable” a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results. They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations. They almost guarantee that the owners — whether they be taxpayers or shareholders — will get less bang for their buck.Performance reviews are held up as objective assessments by the boss, with the assumption that the boss has all the answers.
Now, maybe your boss is all-knowing. But I’ve never seen one that was. In a self-interested world, where imperfect people are judging other imperfect people, anybody reviewing somebody else’s performance — whether as an actor, a writer, a spouse, a friend or a worker — is subjective. It’s why when employees switch bosses, more often than not their evaluation changes as well.
Under such a system, in which one’s livelihood can be destroyed by a self-serving boss trying to meet a budget or please the higher-ups, what employee would ever speak his mind? What employee would ever say that the boss is wrong, and offer an idea on how something might get done better?
Only an employee looking for trouble.
You can read the rest of the editorial here or check out Professor Culbert's new book called "Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters" here.
Soft Skills Matter
In a world where rankings are the name of the game (U.S. News rankings for law schools, class rankings and grades for law students), the focus is squarely on scholarly output and academic intelligence. However, a recent trend has us looking at how we can make sure law students develop “soft skills” to help them succeed in a very competitive job market. Regardless of the driving force behind this trend, it is a welcome (and needed) one.
A recent article by the District of Columbia Bar Association’s Andrea Lee Negroni (“What They Didn’t Teach You in Law School”) highlights important “soft skills” needed to succeed in a professional work environment:
Soft Skills Matter. Soft skills range from having good phone manners to maintaining a professional appearance and not being grouchy in the office. There is truth to the old saying, “there’s never a second chance to make a good first impression.”
Last summer this article at Law.com discussed the importance of soft skills for law graduates seeking employment:
Successful practicing attorneys, even at a junior level, must be able to work with people with different management styles and to lead. Look for opportunities to highlight past experiences that demonstrate your competence in areas like communication, conflict management, adaptation to change, and building strong interpersonal relationships. Candidates with limited professional experience should draw upon other life experiences.
For example, a law student who was captain of a sports team or managed a restaurant could elaborate on these experiences to demonstrate strong conflict management and communication skills.
How can we teach these skills? In addition to courses on professional responsibility and client counseling, some schools offer interesting courses focused on developing these important “soft skills”. Here are some examples:
Mindfulness Skills for Legal Practice - (William Mitchell)
Preparing Lawyers for Life – (Marquette)
Legal Careers and Life Satisfaction – (U of Virginia)
We can also lead our students by example in our classrooms. Take any opportunity you can to utilize a "teachable moment" to help set your students up for success by teaching them that "soft skills" matter.
Please welcome our new contributing editor Professor Debby Hackerson
Professor Hackerson is the Associate Director for Faculty & Public Services for the Schoenecker Law Library at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. She's also an adjunct legal skills professor who teaches 1L and advanced legal research courses. Professor Hackerson will be blogging about legal research, information management and legal practice issues.
Thanks for joining us, Debby!
Is it Qaddafi or Gadhafi or Kaddafi?
Fox News and the New York Times call him Qaddafi. USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the Philadelphia Inquirer call him Gadhafi. The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post call him Gaddafi. And the Huffington Post and Newsweek call him Kaddafi. O, the joys of transliteration! Yet when the Western world decided to modernize the transliteration of Chinese, everyone uniformly switch from Mao tse-tung to Mao Zedong. Why has uniformity proven so hard here?
Lawyers engaged in international transactions want to be careful to use the generally accepted transliterations of names and places. They don’t want to offend anyone. Yet, the task is impossible when 1000 transliterations may bloom.
How Law Students Brought Texas Independence Day to the University of Texas Campus
March 2 is Texas Independence Day. It is also the birthday of Sam Houston, the only individual to serve as governor of two states—Texas and Tennessee. In the 1890s, the University of Texas campus was a desert in the middle of an oasis, so to speak. While the rest of the state was celebrating the holiday, the university president banned the celebration from the campus. Texas law students decided to rely on a higher law, that of Texas patriotism, and brought the holiday to the 40 acres, which comprised the campus.
You can read the story here, taken from the University of Texas “@Texas” electronic newsletter.
March 2, 2011
Georgetown faculty unanimously passes resolution opposing changes to ABA law school accreditation standards
The ABA is holding an open forum next month to solicit opinions on proposals that would bring sweeping change to law school accreditation standards including eliminating tenure and other forms of job security that would most adversely affect skills profs like legal writing and clinical instructors (see here, here and here). Today the Georgetown law school faculty voted unanimously on a resolution that opposes the contemplated changes. Here's the text of the resolution:
Resolution of Faculty of Georgetown Law University School of Law
Regarding Proposed Changes to Existing ABA Standards Regarding Security of Position, Academic Freedom, and Attraction and Retention of Faculty
The Standards Review Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (“Committee”) has proposed substantial changes to ABA Standards 206, 405, and 603. These changes would dramatically reduce the ABA’s longstanding commitment to a system of tenure and of security of position for law school deans, traditional faculty, clinical faculty, legal writing faculty, and librarians. Specifically, the proposed changes would weaken or eliminate the:
(1) Standard 206(c) mandate of tenure for law school deans;
(2) Standard 405(b) requirement of an established tenure policy for traditional faculty;
(3) Standard 405(c) mandate of security of position for clinical faculty members;
(4) Standard 405(d) mandate of security of position for legal writing faculty; and
(5) Standard 603(d) support for security of position for directors of law libraries.
The Georgetown University Law Center faculty vigorously opposes these proposed changes, on the grounds that they would:
(1) Undermine the quality of legal education;
(2) Undermine academic freedom in the legal academy;
(3) Undermine faculty governance in the legal academy; and
(4) Undermine the movement, long endorsed by Georgetown, to bring clinical law professors, legal writing professors, and library directors into full membership in the academy.
IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED:
The faculty of Georgetown University Law Center opposes the proposed changes to ABA Standards 206, 405, and 603 as presently outlined in the Committee’s draft, dated January 8-9, 2011. The faculty endorses and adopts the official comments filed in opposition to the proposed changes by AALS (Association of American Law Schools), AAUP (Association of American University Professors), SALT (Society of American Law Teachers), CLEA (Clinical Legal Education Association), and an informal group of past AALS presidents. The faculty urges the dean to take all possible steps to resist the proposed changes and to urge other law schools to do so as well.
Good on GU! Other faculties are invited to do likewise.
A couple of videos for law students looking for tips on successful job interviewing
Both of these are courtesy of the National Law Journal. Perhaps you know a student who might benefit from them. The first one is from Reed Smith hiring partner Richard Holzheimer.
This next one is a student's perspective on the interview process from Georgetown 3L Kim Allen.
Law students - don't overlook the importance of the "informational" job interview
A new column at Above the Law focusing on small firm practice is worth a read by any law student contemplating a career in private practice. In this most recent installment called "Secrets to finding a small firm job" the author describes several ways to make an "informational interview" work for you.
- Informational interviews are much easier to get than real interviews - many attorneys will welcome the chance to offer their sage advice to an eager law student.
- There's no pressure so you'll likely feel much more relaxed and that can lead to establishing a genuine rapport with the interviewer.
- Research the person you'll be interviewing with by reading their blogs, Twitter posts and the decisions in cases they've handled - use all of it to demonstrate interest in their work and expertise.
- Use the interview as an opportunity to find other promising leads by asking "is there anyone else you can recommend that I should speak to?"
- Show up on time - not too early and definitely not late.
- Send a thank you letter after it's over - (some think a handwritten note shows greater appreciation).
Do these techniques actually work? Here's what the author, Jay Sheperd, says:
Absolutely. Over the past 13 years, I have hired five lawyers whom I first met in informational interviews (months or even years before I hired them). In addition, I know of six other informational interviewees who ended up with jobs that they got after I sent them to other lawyers. It absolutely works.
One of my former associates asked for an informational with me when she was a 2L. She dropped the name of a colleague of mine to get it. She then followed up with another informational during her third year, and then another after she graduated. She never once asked for a job, and I wasn’t hiring at the time. She then showed up at a CLE I was giving. (A little stalkerish, but still cool.) Shortly after this, we were having trouble finding a midlevel associate, so we decided instead to hire a first-year lawyer. Guess who we hired?
You can read the full column here.
Resume Writing for Older Attorneys
For the seasoned attorney, a resume will have a different format than it would for the newly minted lawyer. For example, while the novice’s resume would lead off with the lawyer’s educational record, the experienced lawyer would lead off with job experience in order to sell his or her expertise.
In 2009, Law.com presented a short article on resume strategies for the older attorney written by legal search consultants Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass. They offer a combined chronological and functional method of organization. Helpful advice.
March 1, 2011
The E-book user's "Bill of Rights" - give me the right of first sale or give me death!
Well, sort of. Remember the Amazon-Kindle-George Orwell dust-up from a little while back? Someone calling herself the Librarian in Black (no relation to this guy) has drafted an E-book user's "bill of rights." Among the rights sought is the right of first sale (because most e-books are sold pursuant to a licensing agreement, the "buyer" can't resell them like p-books) and the right for universal e-book and e-reader compatibility.
Every eBook user should have the following rights:
- the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
- the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
- the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
- the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks
The author feels the same about e-book restrictions that the open source people feel about restrictive copyright protection - it greatly inhibits creativity, information flow and the productive exchange of ideas. If you feel the same, the Librarian in Black asks that you copy her post and "add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole."
Hat tip to Josh Fenton.