February 18, 2012
Lawyer fined $35k and suspended for frivolous court filings
From the ABA Journal blog:
Ordered by a bankruptcy judge to pay a $14,000 penalty for frivolous filings, in a sanction later upheld (PDF) by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a Florida attorney has now been suspended from practice for three months for the same conduct.
The Florida Supreme Court order imposing the suspension also requires Mary Alice Gwynn to pay $21,000 to cover the cost of the disciplinary proceedings, reports the Palm Beach Post.
The newspaper article doesn't include any comment from Gwynn or her counsel.
Although a referee recommended a 90-day suspension, the supreme court in an opinion (PDF) yesterday suspended Gwynn for 91 days. The one extra day will require her to apply for readmission and prove her fitness to practice, the newspaper points out.
In addition to filing frivolous motions in federal bankruptcy court, in contravention of the best interest of her clients in routine cases, Gwynn continued to do so even after she no longer represented parties in bankruptcy cases, the Florida Supreme Court says in its opinion.
Noting that the referee had found Gwynn's misconduct in a bankruptcy case to be "intentional, serious and repeated, despite and in defiance of warnings issued to her, and sanctions imposed against her, by a sitting federal judge," and that he had found her guilty of 15 rule violations, including not only making frivolous claims but making false statements, the court held that the "obvious seriousness" of the misconduct warranted a 91-day suspension.
The court also found that the referee in the disciplinary case against Gwynn did not abuse his discretion by quashing her effort to subpoena a federal bankruptcy judge for a deposition in the ethics matter.
A Darwinian Economic Theory
Economic theory is often a basis of legal theory. Adam Smith's "theory of the invisible hand" has been the foundation of much law and economics theory. Now, economist Robert Frank challenges Smith's theory, advocating that Charles Darwin is the true intellectual father of economics.
Robert H. Frank, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good (2011).
Abstract: "Who was the greater economist--Adam Smith or Charles Darwin? The question seems absurd. Darwin, after all, was a naturalist, not an economist. But Robert Frank, New York Times economics columnist and best-selling author of The Economic Naturalist, predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. The reason, Frank argues, is that Darwin's understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith's. And the consequences of this fact are profound. Indeed, the failure to recognize that we live in Darwin's world rather than Smith's is putting us all at risk by preventing us from seeing that competition alone will not solve our problems.
Smith's theory of the invisible hand, which says that competition channels self-interest for the common good, is probably the most widely cited argument today in favor of unbridled competition--and against regulation, taxation, and even government itself. But what if Smith's idea was almost an exception to the general rule of competition? That's what Frank argues, resting his case on Darwin's insight that individual and group interests often diverge sharply. Far from creating a perfect world, economic competition often leads to "arms races," encouraging behaviors that not only cause enormous harm to the group but also provide no lasting advantages for individuals, since any gains tend to be relative and mutually offsetting.
The good news is that we have the ability to tame the Darwin economy. The best solution is not to prohibit harmful behaviors but to tax them. By doing so, we could make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. That's a bold claim, Frank concedes, but it follows directly from logic and evidence that most people already accept."
P.S. Book TV is currently broadcasting an interview with Professor Frank. The next showing is Monday at 9:45 a.m. (EST).
Student Lost in Professor’s Office
A student went missing in my office--somewhere back in the mazes of shelves, stacked books, papers and files--for nearly three weeks.
Rescue crews were sent in, but found that they, too, became disoriented and made it back out with much difficulty. (This was before the advent of GPS.) Guide lines were tied off at the office door, and rescuers were warned to keep the lines in hand as they navigated the often confusing terrain. Calls echoed through the canyons, only to return unanswered.
The search was called off after ten days, and the college community tried to come to terms with the loss of one of its own. A memorial service was held.
Miraculously, the student found his way out and emerged in relatively good health. He had survived on half-eaten donuts and the liquids found in abandoned water bottles and coffee cups scattered about the shelves and other flat surfaces.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education (a comment on an article). Sounds like my office before I engaged in a major clean-up.
February 17, 2012
Who owns the copyright in students' class notes?
You'd think it would belong to the students, right? Well, a couple of universities are claiming otherwise in an effort to thwart those pesky websites selling course prep materials. From MindShift:
California State University and University of California campuses are taking new steps to limit what students can do with their class notes: At least one CSU Chico student recently was reported to judicial affairs for selling notes to a website, while a newly updated UC Berkeley policy restricts how students share their notes with others.
The policies raise questions about whether instructors or students have copyrights to the notes students take in class. While the California Education Code prohibits students and others from selling class notes – and many campuses have policies that also ban unauthorized note-selling – critics say students, not instructors, own the copyright to their own notes.
Some university officials say faculty members have the right to protect their professional reputation – they don’t want inaccurate or low-quality notes to be attributed to them. But others say the university policies are restricting students’ free speech.
“Given the amount of money students are paying to go to school right now, to … confront them with these policies and say, ‘You don’t even have the right to use your own notes any way you want,’ seems to be the wrong message to be sending,” said Jason M. Schultz, assistant clinical professor of law at UC Berkeley and director of the university’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic.
The CSU and UC systems have made efforts to shut down private note-selling websites for some time. As early as 1999, the note-selling website Versity.com sparked officials’ furorat UC Berkeley. In fall 2010, CSU sent a cease-and-desist order to NoteUtopia, which allows students to upload course notes, study guides and outlines to a website, then set a price and earn cash for their work.
More recently, both UC and CSU have sent cease-and-desist letters to Notehall, a note-selling website owned by Santa Clara-based Chegg.
CSU sent its letterto Chegg in January after at least one student was reported to student judicial affairs for selling notes through the service. CSU Chico’s student newspaper, The Orion, reported that two students were referred to judicial affairs, but Lisa Root, the university’s director of student judicial affairs, said there has been only one case involving the note-selling policy in the past three years. She could not comment on the specific case. The one student named in the Orion story declined to talk to a reporter Wednesday.
It’s unclear whether the student was sanctioned or whether other universities in California have sought disciplinary action against students who have sold their notes to third parties.
The letter from CSU to Chegg cited CSU’s own student policies and the California Education Code, both of which prohibit selling, distributing or publishing class notes for a commercial purpose.
Notehall’s website indicates the company is no longer accepting notes from CSU or UC students. Users who try to upload notes for CSU or UC campuses see an error message.
Continue reading here.
Hat tip to Above the Law.
Students Think We’re More Out of Touch Than We Really Are
In class the other day, I used the expression (BFF). Then I said, “You didn’t think I knew that, did you?” And they all laughed. (If you don’t know what it means, just ask your students—and no, it’s not vulgar) The next day, I used the expression “Whatever,” the way the student generation uses it. Again, they laughed.
The age gap that the students perceive between themselves and us is wider that we might think. Whatever.
Could Law School Applications Hit a 20-Year Low?
Jeff Sovern see this possibility based on applications so far. He states, "But if the current trend holds, we may see law schools competing more fiercely than usual to fill their classes. Because there are more law schools than there were back in 1999, with more seats to fill, law schools may admit more applicants with weak credentials. Alternatively, law schools may shrink their classes. Probably we will see both reductions in class sizes and law schools going more deeply into the applicant pool."
It will be really interesting to see how law schools handle this if the trend continues.
Constitutionality of Health Care Reform Law
Bloomberg Law and SCOTUSblog presented a Supreme Court briefing yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The panel discussion was a preview of upcoming arguments in the health care cases. The program is available online at Bloomberg Law here.
The panelists included:
• Paul Clement, counsel to the plaintiff states;
• Michael Carvin, counsel to plaintiff National Federation of Independent Business;
• Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General;
• Akhil Reed Amar, professor, Yale Law School.
More information is also posted on the SCOTUSblog.
February 16, 2012
Spring conference on clinical legal education in L.A.
The conference, sponsored by AALS, will be held in Los Angeles from April 30 to May 3, 2012. The following is a description from the AALS web site. Click here and scroll down for the schedule and registration information.
Takeaways for Clinical Teaching and Assessment in a Changing Environment
Los Angeles, California
April 30 – May 3, 2012
The conference’s overarching goal is to provide clinical educators with concrete lessons, examples, and ideas for improving teaching, student assessment, and clinical program self-evaluation in the face of a changing legal profession and world. Plenary sessions, mini-plenary sessions, concurrent sessions, and working groups will be structured to emphasize and produce takeaways for improving the teaching of lawyering skills and professional values, incorporating reflection components into externships/field placements and in-house clinical courses, successfully meeting the teaching challenges of today, designing effective student assessment instruments, and engaging in meaningful self-evaluation of clinical programs.
The legal profession and needs of law school graduates have been rapidly changing. The last five years have brought profound changes in the legal profession, including law firm downsizing, a weak legal employment market, and an increasing call for practice-ready law graduates. At the same time, the needs of our client communities continue to evolve, as do our students’ goals and expectations for their clinical experience. These changes have placed, and will continue to place, more demands on clinical legal education within law schools. This conference will explore what these changes mean for clinical faculty while providing attendees with concrete tools they can use at their home institutions.
The conference this year will take place over three and one-half days and will address the changing environment by examining three major themes: (1) setting goals and structuring in-house and externship/field placement clinical courses in an environment in which student goals, client needs, and the profession itself are changing; (2) developing effective techniques for teaching skills, given how the practice of law has evolved and expanded in the 21st century; and (3) measuring the effectiveness of our teaching by learning from different clinical models (simulations, externships/field placements, and in-house clinics).
There will be a plenary for each of these major themes, and presenters will include faculty who focus on externships/field placements, in-house clinics, and simulation skills teaching as well as experts from other disciplines. A subtheme of the conference will be to compare and contrast what occurs in each type of clinical pedagogy and what we can learn from each other as legal educators in our common enterprise to prepare students for the practice of law.
Concurrent sessions will explore issues roughly broken into six categories: general clinical pedagogy; teaching and assessing specific lawyering skills and professional values; sessions with externship/field placement emphasis; sessions with in-house clinic emphasis; professional development for faculty; and sessions addressing diverse areas such as case and data management in clinics, and preparing students for today’s legal market.
The conference structure will have fewer large plenary sessions, and concurrent sessions will be structured to run in tracks (e.g., in-house and externship/field placement tracks) to minimize conflicts within areas of interest. There will also be four slots on different days of the conference for AALS Clinical Section committee meetings and one time slot for affinity group meetings that are not duplicative of working groups. None of these meetings will conflict with conference sessions.
While the emphasis of the plenaries and concurrent sessions will be on concrete tools faculty will be able to use, the sessions will also explore the underlying educational theories necessary to understand, modify, and develop these tools. Working groups will be organized to examine topics generated by the plenaries and to help answer questions about the effective use of the takeaways in the context of the teaching we do.
In addition to the general conference, there will be a special session and orientation to clinical teaching and the conference for new clinical faculty the morning of the first day of the conference, and clinic administrators with have a working group and sessions geared to their interests. Also, during the conference, there will be a time slot set aside for multiple concurrent sessions for works-in-progress.
Planning Committee for AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education
Jon C. Dubin, Rutgers University School of Law - Newark
Margaret M. Jackson, University of North Dakota School of Law
Peter Joy, Washington University School of Law, Chair
Luz M. Molina, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Jayesh Rathod, American University Washington College of Law
Who Should Attend? This conference will be of interest to all experience levels of clinicians and clinic administrators and those interested in learning more about clinical methodology.
When? The conference will begin on Monday, April 30 with registration at 9:00 a.m. The New Clinicians Program will be from 10 a.m. to noon. The opening plenary will be at 2:00 p.m.; a reception with posters at 5:30 p.m. The program will include three and a half days of plenary sessions, concurrent sessions, working group discussions, and committee and affinity group meetings. The workshop will conclude at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, 2012. In addition to the program sessions, there will be luncheons on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and another reception on Tuesday evening.
Where? The conference sessions and sleeping accommodations will be at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 404 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071. The room rate is $169 for single or double occupancy. This rate is subject to a nightly sales tax of 15.57%. Hotel reservations will be available in January.
Meeting Registration? Look for meeting registration on the AALS website www.aals.org coming in January 2012. Registration fees are: $425 for AALS member and fee-paid law schools if received by April 17.
Note-taking apps for lawyers
The blog Attorney@Work test drives several apps for Apple's iPad and iPhone. Whether you prefer to type, write or record your notes, there's an app for that. Here are some recommendations:
Note-taking and Audio Recording
I’d been searching a long while to find an app that can take notes and also record audio. Not too long ago, I discovered a very nice one for the iPad called Audiotorium, which allows you to type notes and record the audio from a meeting or lecture simultaneously. (See my mini-review here.) While it is a very good app, however, it does not have handwriting or drawing functionality.
Triple Threat: Note-taking, Audio Recording and Handwriting
In the app world, of course, things change very quickly. Recently I discovered Notability ($0.99) and Soundnote ($4.99), two great iPad apps that offer the three functions I want in a note-taker: typing, audio recording and handwriting. You can’t go wrong with either app—both are inexpensive and both work well. Personally, however, I find Notability to be more feature-rich. With the ability to change the thickness of the writing point, width of lines and paper color and add lines—important to simulate an experience similar to writing on a piece of paper—for me, it offers a better writing experience.
I love having the ability to record meetings and lectures in certain situations and, quite frankly, I do not want to have a separate typing program, or a separate handwriting app, and a separate audio recorder. I want an all-in-one, and Notability provides me with all three functions.
Plus, when choosing a note-taking app, one of my favorite features is the ability to tap the share icon and simply email a note or recording back to the office or to yourself (or save it to Dropbox) for filing into the appropriate matter or project folder. This saves the step of having to scan paper. All three apps mentioned have this feature. Also, while you could use your finger to write notes on the iPad, I strongly recommend investing in a stylus so that your writing experience is more similar to writing on paper with a pen.
A Find for Handwritten Notes
For the best handwriting experience, my good friend and colleague Brett Burney (MacsinLaw) told me about Noteshelf for iPad ($4.99). Based on my experience and in talking with many other folks, Noteshelf is probably among the highest-ranking and most popular. Penultimate ($0.99) also receives high marks. What sets Noteshelf apart from many other handwriting apps is the ability to magnify the writing area to maximize the sharpness and resolution of your handwriting.
A Dictation App Star
The sound recorder built into the iPhone is too basic for lawyers who need the more traditional features of dictation equipment. A few months ago, an attorney at one of my seminars told me about a great dictation app called Dictamus Dictate & Send ($14.99), which he uses every day. (It’s also iPad-compatible.) I checked it out and now I use it almost daily. Much like a traditional digital recorder, with Dictamus you can rewind, overwrite and insert anywhere within the audio recording. Once you are finished recording, you can download your recordings, send them as e-mails, or upload them to Dropbox, MobileMe, FTP or WebDAV. Many lawyers use Dictamus to email dictation to a virtual assistant. I use it to record my timesheets when I am on the go so that I capture more billable time.
Click here to get some helpful screen shots and additional information from A@W.
Global Report on Impact of Social Media on Legal Profession
The International Bar Association recently published “The Impact of Online Social Networking on the Legal Profession and Practice.” This post from Slaw.ca summarizes the report.
“Among the highlights:
• Almost 70 per cent of respondents felt that it is acceptable for lawyers and judges to have each other as contacts on online social networks.
• Over 90 per cent of respondents considered it unacceptable for lawyers and judges to post comments or opinions about fellow lawyers, judges, parties, or cases in progress on online social networks.
• The vast majority of respondents from jurisdictions comprising a jury system found it unacceptable for jurors to post comments or opinions about the judges, lawyers, parties, and/or cases which they are observing on online social networking sites….
• Over 90 per cent of respondents stated that there is a need for bar associations, societies, and councils, or, alternatively, for the IBA to construe guidelines regarding the use of online social networking sites within the legal profession and practice.”
The report is available here.
Letting 3Ls Take the Bar Exam in February?
Arizona's three law schools [University of Arizona, Arizona State, and Phoenix] are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to change its admissions rules to allow law students to take the bar exam in February of their third year.
According to their petition, under their proposal, students wishing to take the February bar during their third year would have to obtain a certification from the law school from which they expect to graduate that the student is currently enrolled in a course of study which, if satisfactorily completed, will result in graduation within 120 days following administration of the bar examination, and that the student otherwise satisfies the law school's certification requirements.
Here’s the story. I would wonder how many 3Ls would find the time to study for the bar during the school year and be ready in time for a February exam.
David Thomson On David Segal And Legal Education
As most of you know, David Segal has published a series of articles on legal education in the New York Times (and elsewhere). The problem that I’ve had with Segal’s articles is that he has an incomplete notion of legal education. He is correct that there are problems in legal education, but he doesn’t see the details of these problems and he misses other problems.
David Thomson has an insightful post on Segal’s articles on Law School 2.0. Thomson writes:
"From my point of view, in his articles in the Times and in this video, Mr. Segal has put a spotlight on problems in legal education at the top (schools that mostly disfavor teaching lawyering skills) and at the bottom (schools that charge a lot and may be playing fast and loose with employment data). But he misses the good middle almost entirely.
There are many law schools today that are working hard (and harder every day) to train their graduates better for a wider range of law practice. One way of looking at the concern about a lack of "small matter" lawyers is that too many law schools are not producing graduates who are ready to practice when they leave, some of whom might "hang out a shingle" competently, and develop a small matter practice and make a decent living doing so (and be able to pay off their educational debt).
I suppose the sexier, headline grabbing, front page "above the fold" articles are the ones Mr. Segal wants to write. But there is another very encouraging story that he is missing, and by not paying attention to it, he is not providing the full picture of legal education today. There are many encouraging signs. For a start, he might want to look at the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers initiative of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. A consortium of law schools - across the spectrum - are working hard to improve legal education. My own course portfolio - for the Discovery Practicum course - was one of the first ones posted, but I am hardly alone; more and more law professors are changing how they teach law, in part by making it more practice focused.
These efforts are about producing better value for the cost of legal education. We may not be able to reduce the cost, but we can teach better, and prepare our students for a variety of practice settings. As I argue in the Law School 2.0 book, leveraging technology will play an increasingly important role in providing better value for the cost."
Professor Thomson concludes: "The complete picture is much better, and more encouraging, than Mr. Segal acknowledges, and the full story would benefit from his spotlight. Now there's a story to write about."
Exactly. If those law schools that are making significant changes in legal education receive more publicity, then prospective law students will seek out those institutions. This will force those institutions that are not making changes to make changes.
February 15, 2012
Undergrads continue to resist e-textbooks
From the College and University Libraries ("CULS") journal, comes this article entitled The Customer Is Always Right? Resistance from College Students to E-Books as Textbooks, 2 Journal CULS 35 (2012). To date textbook publishers have met unexpected resistance to a format that everyone assumed digital natives would immediately embrace. It's a story we've been following for a while (here, here and here). This most recent article summarizes some of the student opinion surveys on e-textbooks versus the traditional kind and offers suggestions for how publishers might better address students' concerns. From the abstract:
As the reign of the e-book continues to expand, more emphasis is being placed on e-books within the academic community, particularly with the idea of e-textbooks. Conventional wisdom suggests that in the same way the e-books now hold a major share of the book market, e-textbooks will continue to expand until they are also the dominant mode of textbook publishing. It also would be expected that current students in colleges and universities, who are usually described as digital natives, would embrace this technology wholeheartedly, but indications from currently-available research suggest the situation may not be as clear-cut. Recent studies have focused on the perceived impediments to e-textbook use from the student‟s point of view. Collectively, they provide some guidance for appropriate modification of the technology, and suggest ways in which libraries and instructors might market e-textbooks more effectively.
What's a "reasonable" fee for a new lawyer to charge?
New or soon-to-be grads thinking about opening their own office have to decide how much to charge their clients. The model ethical rules require that fees be "reasonable" in relation to the complexity of the matter and in light of the fees customarily charged by others for similar work. So how do you figure out what others charge for similar work? Since many colleagues, who might perceive you as the competition, will be reluctant to discuss their rates, consider this advice from the blog Attorney@Work.
One way to approach this question is to ask those who have owned their own firms for a few years what they wished they’d charged when they first opened their doors. You could also ask what they think is a fair price for someone of your education and experience.
You should also check with your state bar association to see if it has compiled data on attorney billing rates based on years of practice and practice area. The State Bar of Arizona, for example, puts out such a report every three years. It is a fantastic resource for billing information.
Get Your Clients’ Opinions
If you are particularly daring, you might borrow a page from Alex Bajwa’s playbook. For the entire month of May in 2011, he let his clients name their own price. Yep, that’s right: After he performed the agreed work for them, he allowed the clients to decide what they would pay. Bajwa asked his clients to consider three factors in setting the price:
- The value of the services
- The client’s satisfaction with the level of service and representation of the firm
- What the client could afford to pay
Bajwa said from the outset that he would accept whatever price his client picked, even if that number was zero. The experience provided him with valuable feedback about how clients perceived his firm and the value of his services. It was a wonderful way to publicize his firm and it gave him the data he needed to revise his fee schedule.
If you are not that bold, you might want to create a simple survey describing your services and asking what would be a fair price. You could send this to your clients, people who fit the profile of your ideal clients, and lawyers who work in the same practice area. This will give you some insight into the perceived value of your services.
I sent out such a survey recently because I want to offer some of my services on a flat-fee basis. The results revealed where my prospective clients see value in purchasing legal services. It also suggested that clients may need more education regarding the amount of work required to create customized documents, such as operating agreements for businesses.
Clients are happy to pay more and refer more business to you when they understand that you provide personalized care and service.
Ethics panel finds attorney has duty to supervise law firm website design
For new solos, start-ups and anyone else thinking about creating a new law firm website, this North Carolina professional ethics panel reprimanded an attorney who failed to properly supervise an independent web designed who apparently used the copyrighted material from another firm's site. From the North Carolina state bar website:
Roderick M. Wright of Charlotte was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. Wright did not supervise an independent contractor hired to design his law firm website. The contractor developed a site almost identical to another firm's website. Wright did not review the content of the website for several years.
Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog.
Ninth Circuit reminds prosecutors of higher duty than winning at all costs
The Ninth Circuit expresses its deep disappointment both in an Assistant United States Attorney – by name – for the lawyer’s misrepresentation of a defendant’s prior testimony and in the U.S. Attorney’s office for “the government’s continuing failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for” the AUSA’s conduct. The court describes the situation as “a case of a prosecutor crossing the line in an attempt to ‘win at all costs.’” The court delivers more than a subtle hint about the possibility of judicial and departmental discipline.
United States v. Lopez-Avila, No. 11-10013, slip op. (9th Cir. Jan. 12, 2012).
United States v. Lopez-Avila, No. 11-10013, order and amended slip op. (9th Cir. Feb. 12, 2014).
Charlotte Law to Offer Bachelor’s Degree and JD in Six Years
From the National Jurist preLaw:
Charlotte School of Law has joined forces with Johnson C. Smith University to offer students a bachelor and law degree in six years, instead of the traditional seven.
High-performing JCSU students with an interest in law will be recruited to be a part of the program. Candidates must have a minimum SAT score of 900 and a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Students will follow a curriculum pace that allows them to complete their bachelor degree minus major electives. At the end of their junior year, qualified students can enter the law program at Charlotte Law, but must complete the bachelor degree by the end of August following the first year of law school.
Many years ago, students could attend law school after two years of college. Is the past repeating itself? Will we see other schools following Charlotte’s example? Stay tuned.
February 14, 2012
Some law schools may face credit problems
From Thomson Reuters.
recently filed against fifteen law schools for fraud are "credit negative" because they could cause reputational damage and a decline in tuition revenue, according to a report released this week by the ratings agency Moody's Investors Service.
The analysis of credit ratings for law-school bonds was released on Monday as part of the agency's weekly credit outlook.
Law-school graduates sued three schools in 2011, and twelve more on Feb. 1, alleging they committed fraud by publishing misleading job-placement statistics. The wave of litigation comes at a bad time for law schools -- especially those that are lower ranked, the report said.
"The outlook in general is that law schools are looking at fewer applications," said Emily Schwarz, who authored the report. "Students are starting to question the value of the degree because of high tuition rates and more limited job prospects. They're concerned they won't get their money's worth."
Moody's maintains credit ratings for eight of the fifteen schools sued, including: Southwestern Law School; California Western School of Law; Brooklyn Law School; New York Law School; Golden Gate University; DePaul University; Hofstra University; and the University of San Francisco.
None of the fifteen law schools facing lawsuits are among the top 50 in the latest US News & World Report rankings, and six are not ranked by the magazine at all.
Experts in legal education said they agreed with Moody's findings.
"In general, my sense is that credit agencies are not reliable, as their track record prior to the Great Recession amply confirms," Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who runs a popular blog on legal education, said in an email. "But in this case, the diagnosis seems to me exactly right."
STANDALONE SCHOOLS AT RISK
The report noted that standalone law schools -- including New York Law School and Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles -- are more likely to suffer the negative effects of the lawsuits than those that are part of a larger university. Standalone schools have less operating revenue and smaller balance sheets than those attached to universities, the report said.
Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, agreed on this point.
"Standalone law schools are especially vulnerable because there is no institutional support behind them to help out in difficult financial times," said Tamanaha. "At lower-ranked law schools ... the situation can quickly deteriorate if they experience year-after-year double digit declines in the numbers of applicants."
There are already troubling signs for some standalone law schools.
In January, Moody's revised its outlook on New York Law School from "stable" to "negative," reflecting "recent enrollment volatility" -- a 25-percent decrease in the size of the 2011 entering class -- and uncertainty about the outcome of the pending lawsuit. (The agency affirmed an underlying "A3" rating on New York Law School's bonds, the lowest grade of "A" bonds with above-average creditworthiness.)
Carol A. Buckler, interim dean of New York Law School, did not respond specifically to the Moody's reports, but said the lawsuit filed against the law school last year is without merit. "We are vigorously pursuing it in court and believe that we will prevail ," she wrote in an email.
Leslie Steinberg, associate dean for public affairs at Southwestern Law School, said that the lawsuit against the school is also without merit.
"Southwestern carries insurance to protect against financial instability and to preserve institutional resources," Steinberg said.
Hat tip Brian Leiter's Law School Reports.
Are Frequent Flier Miles Taxable Income?
As lawyers and faculty members spend more time hopping on and off planes, the question arises whether those accumulating frequent flier miles are taxable. Recently, my colleague Jim Maule addressed this issue on his blog, Mauled Again. (Feb. 3) Here is the current IRS position:
According to this story, the IRS considers frequent flyer miles received for opening a bank account as gross income, but considers miles received for making purchases on a credit card or for paying for a hotel room or rental car not to be gross income. The distinction, according to the IRS, is that the first situation is equivalent to receiving cash or a toaster for opening an account, which under long-settled law generates gross income, whereas the second situation is equivalent to a rebate. Though it is easy to see the rebate when the airline provides frequent flyer miles to the purchaser of a ticket, it is a bit more challenging to see the rebate when the rental car agency provides the miles to a customer. Though some tax practitioners find the distinction difficult to understand, the key is to think of the miles as a rebate, not on the airline ticket, but on the cost of renting the car. Technically, if a person receives frequent flyer miles for making a credit card purchase, and the item purchased is one that requires a record of basis, the basis in that item should be reduced to reflect the rebate. Compliance with this principle surely is far from 100 percent.
The full analysis gets complicated, as Jim’s blog posting explains.
Are We Less Intelligent in Group Settings?
This post from the ABA Journal may explain classroom anxiety.
“If you become tongue-tied or unable to contribute during group discussions, it could be because you believe others in the room are smarter.
That’s the conclusion that can be drawn from a study conducted by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, report the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), the Daily Mail Online and a press release.
The researchers found that small-group dynamics can change the expression of IQ in some susceptible people, the press release explains. The findings could apply to situations such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining and even cocktail parties.”
The results of the study are published in the journal “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B” here.