Monday, December 31, 2012

Lucky Foods for New Year’s Day

Different cultures value different foods for January 1—grapes, legumes (like black eyed peas), pork, fish, cakes, etc. Foods to avoid: lobster, chicken, and any winged foul. You are read more here at Epicurious.


December 31, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why are Law Schools so Resistant to Change?

According to Deborah Jones Merritt (here), the answer is "groupness," which is being "too cloistered to keep up with changing times."

She elaborates,

"Smart, talented, and conscientious people are particularly prone to groupness. That's because, according to Gonzales: 'If a group invests a lot of effort in a goal and succeeds, its boundaries become stronger, and it tends to become even more hostile to outside influences. . . .'  Smart, talented, and conscientious people are exactly the type to invest a lot of effort in their projects. When they do, and when the projects succeed, they face the danger of unconsciously adopting group resistance to any change."

Merritt adds,

"The dangers deepen the longer a group has shared success. Members of new groups (rebels and innovators) continue communicating with people outside their immediate circle. More established organizations lose their communication with others; they become insular and dysfunctional."

She uses the Columbia disaster as an example:

"The final report on Columbia's crash noted that '[e]xternal criticism and doubt' only 'reinforced the will to ‘impose the party line vision on the environment, not to reconsider it.' NASA's executives, in other words, responded with perfect groupness: Bonded by their past success, they rejected any criticisms with hostility."

She concludes,

"Legal education, unfortunately, shows all of the signs of groupness. How many times have you heard a law professor say: 'We've been using the case method for more than a century. You can't argue with a hundred years of success!' How often have you heard administrators and faculty revel in the excellence of their schools and programs? How often does your law school, as described internally, sound like the 'perfect place?' How often do you hear faculty attacking the 'naive' suggestions of practitioners, students, alumni, and other outsiders?"

I think Professor Merritt is on to something.  Law schools today are using a modified version of a model (the "Langdellian Bargain") developed in the "Gilded Age."  That might be fine if conditions had not changed, but the world, including the legal world, is much different than it was in the nineteenth century.  Lawyers have to practice in the modern world with international commerce and instant communication.  Clients have much different needs than they did 100 years ago. Finally, our student population is extremely diverse.  The modified Langdellian model just won't cut it any more--not economically and not in its teaching methods.

Imagine if hospitals operated like a law school.  They would reject the latest technology because the old methods of diagnosis and treatment had already worked.  They would reject heart surgery because that just wasn't done in the nineteenth century.  They would even reject penicillin.

Law schools can no longer be resistant to change.  They must operate on a business model that allows their diverse student population to graduate without crushing debt.  They must adopt teaching methods that prepare them to be practicing attorneys, rather than legal philosophers.  As Merritt declared, "After a hundred years, times change."

(Scott Fruehwald)

December 31, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Six law schools to participate in project that will teach students to provide better access to legal services for low income clients

I'm passing along the following announcement from an organization called the Center for Access to Justice and Technology.

The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI®) will announce at the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Schools in New Orleans on January 6, 2013 that they have reached agreements with faculty members from six law schools to develop course kits as part of the Access to Justice Clinical Course Project (A2J Clinic Project). Participating law schools include Columbia Law School, Concordia University School of Law, CUNY School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, UNC School of Law, and University of Miami School of Law.

Each participating faculty member will develop and document a course model that uses A2J Author® to teach law students how technology tools can be used to lower barriers to justice for low-income, self-represented litigants. CALI will use those course models to assist other law schools in establishing A2J Clinical Courses as a permanent part of their law school curriculum.

A2J Author is a software tool developed by CALI and the Center for Access to Justice & Technology at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law to deliver greater access to justice for self-represented litigants by enabling lawyers and law students to rapidly build user-friendly web-based document assembly tools called A2J Guided Interviews®. These A2J Guided Interviews allow users to complete court documents by presenting a series of easy-to-understand questions while graphics virtually lead users along the path to the courthouse, where these documents can be filed.

“The A2J Clinic Project will help participating professors develop courses that use A2J Author as educational tool,” CALI Executive Director John Mayer said. “We have has always worked as an innovative force to push legal education to change for the better. Previously, we’ve done that by developing computerized lessons to supplement in-class instruction and e-Langdell coursebooks, but the A2J Clinic Project will develop course kits that our member schools can incorporate into their clinical curriculum.”

Professor Ronald W. Staudt at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has been using A2J Author as part of the Justice & Technology Practicum for three years, automating forms for use by legal aid organizations in Illinois and  around the country.

“Eighty percent of the legal needs that low-income people face go unmet each year,” explained Professor Staudt, who is also director of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology. “This semester, my students just finished developing tools that will be used by statewide legal aid websites in Nebraska, North Carolina and Illinois to lower the barriers to justice self-represented litigants face.”

Students in Staudt's class learn how to use software tools that will soon become standard, while developing self-help resources that assist low-income people who cannot afford an attorney start a lawsuit, file for divorce, or petition for an order of protection.

“The legal services market is rapidly changing. Experience with document automation and document assembly tools is going to be vital for new attorneys, but very few law schools offer courses that provide hands-on experience using these tools,” he said. “We’ve addressed that gap in the legal education system in a way that will also allow us help mitigate the access to justice problem.”

Each participating faculty member will integrate Prof. Staudt's model into their own courses to develop an original course offering at their law school. Upon completion of the course, the faculty members will deliver a course kit that includes a syllabus, a list of course materials, and a process for completing A2J Guided Interviews, along with a teacher's manual explaining their methodology for teaching the course.

Participants will include:

Brian Donnelly, Conrad Johnson, and Mary Marsh Zulack, Lawyering in the Digital Age at Columbia Law School;

Greg Sergienko and Jodi Nafzger, A2J Clinic at Concordia University School of Law;

Joe Rosenberg,Elder Law Clinic at CUNY School of Law;

Tanina Rostain and Roger Skalbeck, Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice at Georgetown University Law Center;

Judith Welch Wegner, Becoming a Professional at UNC School of Law;

JoNel Newman and Melissa Swain, Health and Elder Law Clinic at University of Miami School of Law.

CALI®, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, is a nonprofit consortium of law schools whose mission includes promoting “access to justice through the use of computer technology.”

A2J Author is currently used in more than 30 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Canada. More than 880 A2J Guided Interviews are actively used on the national server, Law Help Interactive. These A2J Guided Interviews have been used by self-represented litigants more than 2,000,000 times. A redesigned A2J Author 5.0 is currently in development, which will allow users to access the software from any Web browser, including a smartphone.

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology, a private, Ph.D.-granting institution with programs in engineering, psychology, architecture, business, design and law. The Center for Access to Justice & Technology was established at IIT Chicago-Kent to make justice more accessible to the public by promoting the use of the Internet in the teaching, practice, and public access to the law. The Center conducts research, builds software tools, teaches classes and supports faculty, staff and student projects on access to justice and technology. CAJT developed A2J Author in 2005, in partnership with CALI.

EDITORS NOTE: For more information or to view a sample course kit based on Prof. Staudt's Justice & Technology Practicum course go to Interviews with CALI’s John Mayer, Professor Ronald Staudt, students from Justice & Technology Practicum, or participating faculty members  may be arranged through Andrew Medeiros, 862-684-2977.


December 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy New Year’s Eve!

To celebrate, here’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” sung by Harry Connick, Jr.


December 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

When You Make Mistakes, Apologize Quickly

From the blog:

We all make mistakes. Many people find it difficult to admit error, but failure to make a quick apology at work often has negative consequences.

  1. If you did err, accept responsibility and move on. Most colleagues are forgiving.
  2. Make your apology short and simple. Lingering puts a spotlight on it.
  3. Be genuine. Don’t let your tone or body language ‘undo’ your apology.
  4. It has to be timely. Although “better late than never” applies to most whoppers.
  5. Apologize before you are discovered by others. Your integrity rating will go up. Your guilt will go down.
  6. Don’t add conditions. “I am sorry if berating you in front of the client embarrassed you.” Of course it did. Just say you’re sorry.
  7. Pay up. Insist on paying for dry cleaning or a new shirt if you lost control of your Sharpie and it wrecked your colleague’s new blouse. Slip appropriate cash in an envelope and leave it on her desk with a super-short note. If she returns it, take it back. You tried.
  8. Never, ever say that the error was caused by your assistant, even if it was. Your assistant is under your control (yes, of course, tell your assistant about the error). If he’s so terrible, get a new one. Blaming someone below you is rarely believable by bosses and clients and always makes you look lily-livered.
  9. Reciprocate. Forgive easily.
  10. Develop a pattern of honesty and integrity. Patterns really count.



December 29, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Where does the expression "the whole nine yards" come from?

If, like me, you thought it referred to the length of an aircraft's machine gun ammo belt (i.e. when you give 'em "the whole nine yards," you're unloading all your bullets into 'em) you'd be wrong too, Audie Murphy-breath!  Determining the origin of the phrase has proved to be surprisingly elusive to etymologists until a recent breakthrough by a Yale librarian who traced the use of the phrase back to the early 20th century, pre-dating the WW II theory by 30 years. As it turns out, "the whole nine yards" doesn't appear to refer to anything at all; it's an arbitrary idiom.  After all this time, what a gip.

From the New York Times:

The Whole Nine Yard's About a Phrase's Origins.

When people talk about “the whole nine yards,” just what are they talking about?

For decades the answer to that question has been the Bigfoot of word origins, chased around wild speculative corners by amateur word freaks, with exasperated lexicographers and debunkers of folk etymologies in hot pursuit.

Does the phrase derive from the length of ammunition belts in World War II aircraft? The contents of a standard concrete mixer? The amount of beer a British naval recruit was obligated to drink? Yardage in football? The length of fabric in a Scottish kilt (or sari, or kimono, or burial shroud)?

. . . .

Before we were going the whole nine yards, it turns out, we were only going six.

The recent discovery of several instances of “the whole six yards” in newspapers from the 1910s — four decades before the earliest known references to “the whole nine yards” — opens a new window onto “the most prominent etymological riddle of our time,” said Fred Shapiro, a librarian at Yale Law School who announced the findings in next month’s issue of The Yale Alumni Magazine.

Other language experts agree about the import of the discovery. “The phrase is interesting because it’s so mysterious,” said Ben Zimmer, the executive producer of Visual and, who has written previously on the search for its origin. “It’s been a kind of Holy Grail.”

Like the Holy Grail “the whole nine yards” has inspired both armchair mythologizing and years of hard and often fruitless searching through random books and miles of newspaper microfilm. Not that the expression is necessarily all that old. The first scholarly dating, in a 1986 supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, traced it to 1970. The Historical Dictionary of American Slang then pushed it back to 1967, with a citation from “The Doom Pussy,” Elaine Shepard’s novel about Air Force pilots in the Vietnam War.

. . . .

The first new break on “the whole nine yards” came in 2007, when Sam Clements, a coin dealer and avid word sleuth from Akron, Ohio, discovered it in a 1964 article in The Tucson Daily Citizen about space program slang. By 2009 two other researchers had pushed it back to 1962, when it appeared in a short story about a brush salesman and an article in a car magazine.

Some lexicographers thought the evidence was creeping closer to a World War II-era origin, and possibly some connection to the military, though there was still no hard evidence for the popular ammunition-belt theory. Then, in August, Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscience researcher in North Carolina who had been searching for variants of the phrase via Google News Archive and Google Books for five years, posted a message on the e-mail list of the American Dialect Society noting a 1956 occurrence in an outdoors magazine called Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground, followed in September by a more startling twist: a 1921 headline from The Spartanburg Herald-Journal in South Carolina reading “The Whole Six Yards of It.”

The somewhat cryptic headline, atop a detailed account of a baseball game that did not use the phrase, initially caused some head scratching among the society’s members. One person asked whether the headline referred to the ball fields, or “yards,” of the six teams in the league discussed in the article.

But then Mr. Shapiro, searching in Chronicling America, a Library of Congress database of pre-1923 newspapers, found two 1912 articles in The Mount Vernon Signal in Kentucky promising to “give” or “tell” the “whole six yards” of a story. Ms. Taylor-Blake also found another instance from 1916, in the same paper.

The dating clearly refutes the popular ammunition-belt and concrete-mixer theories, Mr. Shapiro said, while the Kentucky focus suggests a probable “backwoods provenance.” As for the meaning of the phrase, he added, the slippage from six yards to nine — part of the same “numerical phrase inflation,” as he puts it, that turned “Cloud 7” to “Cloud 9” — suggests it doesn’t refer to anything in particular any more than, say, “the whole shebang” does.

Jesse Sheidlower, the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, agrees. “The existence of a six-yard variant shows pretty clearly that this is not about yards of anything,” he said. “It’s just a random number.”

Mr. Shapiro concedes that he and Ms. Taylor-Blake have found only “negative evidence,” and a firm origin story may yet emerge. But neither he nor Mr. Sheidlower is confident that scholarly research will dispel the urban legends that cling to expressions like “the whole nine yards.”

Mr. Sheidlower points to the persistent belief that Chicago’s reputation as “the Windy City” springs from its blowhard politicians boasting about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and not, as occurrences in newspaper articles dating to the 1860s suggest, its weather.

“People are drawn to colorful etymologies,” Mr. Shapiro said. “But they are almost always wrong.”

Continue reading here.



December 29, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Stanford starts "religious liberty" law clinic

From The National Law Journal:

A Florida prisoner who converted to Judaism as an adult who can't obtain a circumcision while incarcerated.

A Muslim group in California facing opposition to their plans to construct a mosque.

A Seventh Day Adventist whose employer will not adjust his work schedule to allow him to observe a Saturday sabbath.

Those are some of the clients who will be represented by a new religious liberty law clinic at Stanford Law School, which administrators say is the first of its kind at a U.S. law school.

The clinic was established with $1.6 million in seed funding from the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which supports the free expression of religious beliefs regardless of the faith. Unlike many public interest law groups that support religious freedom, Stanford's clinic will take on clients from any religion, said director James Sonne.

"The point of a clinic is to teach professional skills to law students using real cases and live clients," said Sonne. "We think the religious liberty aspect offers a unique way to do this work, and it's something the students get excited about. As our culture becomes more diverse, it's a great way for students to represent clients whose beliefs are different from their own."

Continue reading here.


December 28, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Shakespeare’s Book of Common Prayer

For the literati: English scholar Professor Daniel Swift (Skidmore College) has written a new book--“The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age,”-- where he argues that “Shakespeare’s writing shows a deep and unappreciated reliance on The Book of Common Prayer, an immensely popular worship guide that collected prayers, Bible passages, and church rites into a strange and powerful text.”

Here’s an example:

There’s a scene in Macbeth when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are washing blood from their hands, and I would argue that they are citing and parodying The Book of Common Prayer’s baptism rite, which is a rite about washing away guilt. That’s one level of recognition. But as they’re doing this, someone starts knocking on the gate of the castle. Literary scholars have turned themselves inside out trying to figure out what this knocking is doing. But in The Book of Common Prayer the prayer about hand washing is followed by a prayer about knocking, and in that prayer, knocking becomes an emblem of praying to God. Once we see all this stuff, we see something extra in Macbeth—we get to have a slightly anxious laugh as we see how far the characters are from the thing they’re supposed to be doing. It’s not just the matter of a footnote. Shakespeare’s artistry depends on that shock of recognition.

Here is an interview with the author from the Boston Globe. And here is a review from the Washington Post.




December 28, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Law students who killed exotic bird in Las Vegas have now been criminally charged

You may remember the story from a few months back.  A couple of UC Berkeley students on a Las Vegas jaunt allegedly got drunk and then killed a rare bird by ripping its head off at the Flamingo Hotel exotic bird habitat. Those two students have now been indicted and others may be implicated as well according to local police authorities.  If convicted, it could prevent the students from becoming members of the bar on moral turpitude grounds.  From the Las Vegas Sun:

Law students charged in Vegas bird beheading case

Prosecutors filed charges Thursday against two University of California, Berkeley, law school students accused of decapitating an exotic bird at a Las Vegas casino earlier this year.

The charges against Justin Teixeira, 24, include felony killing and felony torturing of an animal, while Eric Cuellar, 24, faces a misdemeanor charge of instigating, engaging in or furthering an act of animal cruelty.

"This was a cruel and malicious act," Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in a statement, adding that an investigation is ongoing and could result in criminal charges against others. "It is important to hold people accountable for their actions."

Police said the two men were seen Oct. 12 laughing and throwing around the body of a dead, 14-year-old helmeted guineafowl at the Flamingo resort-casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The large bird named Turk was part of the Flamingo's Wildlife Habitat, a garden area with ponds and streams that houses many types of birds.

Surveillance video captured the men chasing the bird into some trees, authorities said, and witnesses told police the two emerged carrying the bird's body and severed head.

Richard Schonfeld, an attorney representing Cuellar, said he was pleased prosecutors opted for a lesser charge for his client.

"Eric has an exemplary background and I'm pleased the DA chose to proceed with a misdemeanor," said Schonfeld, whose client faces up to six months in jail if convicted. "It's an acknowledgement that he did not physically harm the bird."

If convicted on all charges, Teixeira could be sentenced to prison time. His attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

Criminal charges _ especially felonies _ can affect a person's future in the legal field. The State Bar of California, for example, requires applicants to demonstrate good moral character.

A statement on the bar's website notes that people convicted of violent felonies or felonies involving moral turpitude "are presumed not to be of good moral character in the absence of a pardon or a showing of overwhelming reform and rehabilitation."

Continue reading here.


December 27, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Job Interviews: 8 Practical Ways to Shine

From Jeff Haden, ghostwriter, speaker, columnist. Here are the 8 ways (greatly abridged):   

  1. Be likable.
  2. Never start the interview by saying you want the job. Why? Because you don't know yet.
  3. Ask questions about what really matters to you. Focus on making sure the job is a good fit: Who you will work with, who you will report to, the scope of responsibilities, etc.
  4. Set a hook. A sad truth of interviewing is that later we often don't remember a tremendous amount about you -- especially if we've interviewed a number of candidates for the same position. Hooks make you memorable and create an anchor for interviewers to remember you by -- and being memorable is everything.
  5. Know what you can offer immediately. Researching the company is a given; go a step farther and find a way you can hit the ground running or contribute to a critical area
  6. Don't create negative sound bites
  7. Ask for the job based on facts. If you need more information, say so. Otherwise use your sales skills and ask for the job,
  8. Reinforce a connection with your follow-up. Email follow-ups are fine; handwritten notes are better; following up based on something you learned during the interview is best. And make sure you say thanks -- never underestimate the power of gratitude.


December 27, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Advice on how to properly sign emails

Courtesy of the always informative and helpful Lawyerist blog:

Office Appropriate Email Signatures

Avoid the overly familiar

A recent Atlantic piece highlights a disturbing emerging trend: women are increasingly signing business emails with an xoxo. As someone who would have been embarrassed to sign a note to my middle school crush with an xoxo, I cannot imagine ever concluding a business email with hugs and kisses. 

In my personal life (with family and dear friends), I conclude most emails with “love, me” (the comma, of course, is essential otherwise it looks like a command). But I live in fear that on one very busy work day I will mindlessly sign a work email with a “love, me.” The fear is so pronounced that at the end of my busiest days, I have been known to scroll through my outbox to confirm that I have not committed the sin of concluding a work email with “love.” Since this is my worst nightmare, you can imagine that I’m not a fan of the voluntary xoxo. Indeed, 100% of dinner party attendees (three lawyers, a business owner, and a scientist) agreed that xoxo should never be used, despite the Atlantic’s claims that it’s all the rage.

It’s not just the xoxo, however, that presents a danger. I have received work emails that conclude with a “thanks hon,” or even with a smiley face. Both tend to make me shudder, and it turns out that I’m not alone on this issue.

Tailor the signature to the message

A friend and colleague has created an elaborate set of rules governing her sign offs. “If I’m trying to be nice,” she explains, “I’ll use ‘kind regards.’” Next on the list? “If I’m not trying to be nice, I’ll just use ‘regards.’” Finally, she uses “thanks” if she’s asking someone for assistance. Now that I know her hierarchy, of course, I will be on the lookout for her signature on the next email—do I warrant the “nice” signature or a simple “regards”?   

I have other friends who never tailor the signature, but create a kind of personal calling card. An old college friend used to sign all his emails “pax,” which seemed very cool at the time. After college, I tried to cultivate my own email calling card, deciding briefly on ciao, only to realize that in the business world ciao wasn’t going to cut it (unless, perhaps, I moved to Italy). In the legal world, it’s tough to find an appropriate universal signature.

Think about tone

Personally, I sign most of my emails with a simple “thanks,” but my technique came under fire at the dinner party. “What are you thanking people for?” a friend asked. “You’re usually answering their question.” But I would like to offer a defense of the “thanks.” When I sign an email with “thanks,” I am thanking people for their focused attention reading my email. Tone can be easily misconstrued in an email and “thanks” is a friendly conclusion that (hopefully) will ameliorate any other tonal errors that I’ve committed in the email. 

In fact, research shows that tone is misconstrued in half of all emails. To make matters worse, people “think they’ve correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time.” Since my first rule of emailing is “do no harm,” I do not want my tone undermining my message. I hope a simple “thanks,” will do the job and repair any damage that I’ve created before the signature.

After we explored these issues, our dinner party conversation hit on other cutting-edge email issues like thanking people in a reply all (a don’t) and thanking people for their email (an issue still open for debate). Did we learn anything? It was nice to hear how much other people struggle with these same small issues. Our conversation also served as a reminder that while we may leave middle school, we never stop pouring over notes for subtext and hidden meaning. Perhaps because it’s fun.   


December 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

New ETL Portfolio: Advanced Advocacy: Legislative Policy

Jean Whitney has posted a new portfolio on Advanced Advocacy: Legislative Policy on the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Website.  The portfolio includes a course description, teaching methods, recommendations, outcomes, and course materials. 

Professor Whitney also summarizes her teaching philosophy: "I believe that students learn best when they understand the context and purpose of their learning. Guided simulation experiences give students opportunities to test their knowledge and skills by applying concepts and theories in context and observing the consequences and to develop professional skills and values through interactions with peers and senior colleagues. Experiential learning is essential to preparing students to be competent, skilled, ethical, and mindful practitioners of law."

In sum, this is another wonderful ETL portfolio, which can serve as an example of how to adopt new teaching methods.

(Scott Fruehwald)

December 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Should Students Consider Attending a Non-ABA Accredited Law School?

Well, it probably would be a lot cheaper and easier to get into.  But it will limit you if you ever want to move to another state that doesn’t accredit the school. From the U.S. News Education blog:

"Going to a non-ABA accredited law program greatly reduces the options law students will have in their legal career," says Josh King, the general counsel and vice president of business development at Avvo, an online legal forum and directory.

For students who know they want to work in a state that has a more open policy with respect to law school accreditation and bar admission, it's fine to go to a non-ABA school, adds King, who holds a J.D. from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law.

"But for anyone who isn't particularly sure what they want to do with their legal training—or where they want to practice—going to such a school is a very poor decision," he says. "A far better choice under such circumstances is to work harder at getting into an accredited program, or pursue a different career."



December 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In defense of "Bah Humbug!"

In the "Room for Debate" blog of the New York Times, experts from various fields of study were asked to opine about why people don't feel happier during the holidays.  Professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky says that the expectation we are supposed to feel happier this time of year is often itself the reason we aren't.  "High expectations are frequently both erroneous and toxic." 

In a companion editorial, history Professor Darrin McHahon says that "Bah Humbug!" reflects the very human tendency in all of us to rebel against the command that we feel happier during the holidays.

'Bah Humbug!’ Is a Human Response

The 19th century witnessed the invention of Christmas as a time of schmaltzy good cheer and more secular celebration. Christians had long marked the birth of their savior with glad tidings, of course, just as Jews had every reason to remember fondly at Hanukkah a victory over persecution.

But the rejoicing had always been tempered for believers: The good news of Christ’s birth by his death; the light of the menorah by the darkness of other trials.

Scrooge, whether he knew it or not, was reacting to something new, Christmas without the religion, just the rejoicing. (There is no talk of Jesus in "A Christmas Carol.") To the claim, “Tis the season to be jolly,” he just said no.

It does seem to me that there is enough Scrooge in all of us to account for a similar impulse. Consider it this way. When someone says to you “Have a Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Hanukkah,” they are issuing a command. And even those of us who are nicer than naughty tend to resist — or least get a little grumpy — when we’re continually bossed around.

That is no less true when we are issuing the command to ourselves. Telling yourself to be happy is like telling yourself to fall asleep. It helps to think of something else.

So, as Professor McHahon says, while it's not healthy to dwell in an Ebenezer Scrooge state of mind, don't beat yourself up either for feeling the occasional "Bah Humbug!" during the holidays. It's OK.


December 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 26 is Boxing Day


Boxing Day is the day after Christmas. It is a UK National Holiday so if December 26 falls on a weekend, the following Monday becomes a holiday. During particularly lucky years, when Christmas falls on a Saturday and Boxing Day falls on Sunday, an instant four-day weekend is created.

What does Boxing Day actually celebrate?

That's a good question, but nobody really knows the answer. There are of course, loads of theories. Here are just a few of the suggested origins of Boxing Day:

  • A day for the servants - It may have been a day when the household gave a Christmas Box to people who had worked for them during the year. Or, it may have been the day when the servants, who had to work on Christmas Day, visited their families, carrying boxes of leftover Christmas food, leaving the servantless household to eat box lunches.
  • A day for charity - Some say that traditionally, churches opened their alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributed money to the poor on Boxing Day.
  • A feudal obligation Some suggest that in the middle ages, the lord of the manor distributed boxes of household goods and tools to his serfs, as was his obligation, on Boxing Day.

However far back the Christmas custom of Boxing Day extends, it was only made a legal holiday in England and Wales in the mid 19th century by Queen Victoria. In Scotland, Boxing Day was not a national holiday until the late 20th century.

How do people celebrate Boxing Day?

Whatever its origins, Boxing Day is distinct from other UK Christmas season celebrations in that it is completely secular, given over to visiting, outdoor activities and shopping - offices may be closed but the shops and malls are busy.

Traditionally, people drop in on friends and more distant relations to exchange small gifts, sample a slice of traditional Christmas cake or have a light meal.

The day is also given over to spectator and participation sports. Contrary to what some people say, Boxing Day is not named for boxing matches. But there are loads of football matches, racing meets and all kinds of major public and private sporting events on the day.

December 26 is also the Feast of St. Stephen. It receives mention in the Christmas song “Good King Wenceslaus.” Here’s the song, sung by the Irish Rovers, with subtitles and illustrations.


December 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Legal Skills Prof Blog

Maybe you'd like to have a go-go Christmas:

Or perhaps instead you'd prefer a white Christmas:

Alternatively, you might enjoy a Bad Brains Christmas:

Whatever your musical taste, please have a Merry Christmas.


December 24, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Merry Christmas: Lawyers in the Movies

And a Merry Christmas to all our readers who celebrate the holiday! Wendy Leibowitz discusses Scrooge and the law:

I always assumed that Ebenezer Scrooge was a lawyer, of the London firm of Scrooge and Marley. Scrooge was cheap and wanted his associates to work on Christmas --- so of course he had to be a lawyer! But a careful reading of the text does not support this decisively. During a conversation at a law office about this question - on Christmas Day, appropriately enough - I learned that in England, the name of a law firm cannot bear the name of a deceased person, and the name of Scrooge's firm was Scrooge and Marley. As Marley was dead as a doornail - we learn this early on - perhaps Scrooge was just a generic miserly businessman. Well, Scrooge was Marley's "sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner," which is enough law to include the film in this section. I think some of the miserly aspects of Scrooge's establishment are echoed in many law firms today, though they are better heated. I have been in elevators where people boasted about working on major holidays, to show how important they were, or to manifest their loyalty to the firm (or lack of time management). Almost any Dickens work contains fascinating insights on lawyers and the law.

Here’s a holiday gift:  her expansive list of lawyers in the movies, with annotations for each movie.  Ho Ho Ho!


December 24, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The worst words of 2012

The Business Insider has compiled a list of the worst words of 2012 based on the opinions of several popular culture pundits from around the web.  Listed below are some of the ones most likely to be uttered by lawyers, whether in conversation or in one's legal writing. So take heed if you want to avoid using words that are sure to annoy in 2013.  (And although it wasn't singled out below, I'd like to nominate "metric" as another overused, tiresome word from the year that just concluded. If you've got your own "favorite," please share it in the comments below).

A Guide To 2012's Worst Words

Actually. Adverb, mostly. When Sarah Miller declared war on literally over at The Awl, I argued that actually was worse, the "talk to the hand of the adverb community," or "the word that you use when you're actually saying, 'You are wrong, and I am right, and you are at least a little bit of an idiot.'" Actually, I still agree with that. 

. . . .

Disrupt. Verb, but with noun and other forms. Developer and writer Matt Langer erupts on disrupt!: "Oh my god will someone PLEASE disrupt the disruptors already? This revolting word has got to go. Because while the past five years or so of startup mania has been insufferable and obnoxious and annoying it's all in all been generally innocuous, mostly just a bunch of well-capitalized B-school bros Ubering around and talking all this big game about 'changing the world' when all they're really doing is masquerading good old fashioned naked greed as some kind hopey-changey photo-sharing app, which: fine, whatever. But this disruption nonsense is actually a genuine, insidious problem, because it has engendered this fierce cult of Now, of The New, this influential school of VC evangelist types pedaling a wrecking ball mentality which dictates that anything not in the process of starting up ought to be kneecapped. Disruption isn't so much a business strategy anymore as it is a knowing sneer, the thinly veiled desire of the aspirationally 1% to just watch it all burn. It's the new first principle of business, which suggests the primary function of business anymore isn't to build things up but to tear them down. Disruption is now an end in itself, and no industry is safe when the sole moral obligation of the disruptor is to disrupt. And so it is that we get for-profit education. Or we get Farhad Manjoo trolling the entire literary world by saying it should celebrate the rise of Amazon and the death of the independent bookstore. And this is all CRAZY! Enough disrupting. Let's get back to 'doing business.'"

Ecosystem. Noun. Pity ecosystem, a case of what happens when good words fall in with a bad crowd. Rebecca Greenfield explains, "This reasonable science-related word has been co-opted by the tech writing community, which has senselessly ravaged it. The true meaning of the term translates to a 'biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.' As in, the place where living things live together. To tech writers, however, ecosystem involves a lot of non-living things that just happen to share characteristics. The Android ecosystem, the app ecosystem, the tablet ecosystem, the digital ecosystem, the start-up ecosystem — it's not like at the end of the day all the little gadgets go home to their gadget neighborhoods and hang out."

. . . .
Gaffe. Noun with political inclinations. From the Wire's Elspeth Reevegaffe is veering off a semantic cliff: "The definition of a gaffe has been broadened to any time a politician says something you can put in an headline and then write jokes about. A gaffe is a guaranteed two-post story — one on the original comment, and one on the follow-up comment explaining the comment. Reporters' excessive reliance on gaffes to make it through a slow news day was most apparent when a Washington Post reporter was caught on tape yelling across a parking lot to Mitt Romney, "WHAT ABOUT YOUR GAFFES?"
. . . .
Historic, historical. Adjective. Dashiell Bennett speaks to the gross overuse of this word, saying, "Every election is historic. Technically, anything that ever happens can become history, so pundits really need to stop throwing this word around anytime they want to make something sound important. It's like that old saying: If everything is special, then nothing is."

. . . .
INTERNET-HYPE WORDS. Expressions of "internet popularity." The New Yorker's Ben Greenman says, "I do not like words associated with internet popularity: viral, traffic, metrics, and similar examples. I don't like them because they're convulsive. They aim to describe an idea of phenomenon that is impersonally successful: something that reaches large numbers of people without necessarily forging strong relationships with any of them. And then, strangely, those words themselves circulate through the system in the same way as the phenomena they are describing. They are like bloodless blood. To be fair, I'm not sure the words themselves are the problem so much as the thoughts behind them, which suggest that many things are more important than quality and that skimming meaninglessly past the eyes of millions is more important than settling meaningfully into the minds of a few."

Check out the rest 'o the list here.


December 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Latest Issue of "Perspectives"

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tips for becoming a more cost-effective legal researcher

As we've reported on this blog before (here, here and here), corporate clients are more frequently demanding that outside counsel eat the cost of commercial legal research services.  This means associates are under intense pressure to make the most efficient use possible of Wexis and similar "pay for play" services since, with increasing regularity, these services now reflect non-billable expenses.  Accordingly, you may find useful the following article published in the Student Lawyer Magazine entitled "Becoming a Cost Effective Researcher."  It's by Shawn Nevers who is the head of reference services at Howard W. Hunter Law Library, Brigham Young University.

Practice while you can afford it. A cost-effective researcher is one who gets the job done efficiently without sacrificing competence. Learning to be that kind of researcher requires practice. Sure, you’ll get practice over the summer and during your career as a lawyer, but why not learn to use Westlaw and Lexis efficiently while they’re free to you?

Too many law students take the “ignorance is bliss” approach. They don’t have to worry about the costs of legal research in law school, so they don’t worry about researching efficiently. Unfortunately, they’re missing out on a golden opportunity to practice. And, what’s worse, they develop bad research habits in the process. You’ll become a much better researcher if you take time in law school to practice researching efficiently. Start today.

Understand costs at your job. One of the keys to being a cost-effective researcher is understanding what you have to work with. Instead of just finding out that your employer uses Lexis, find out what databases on Lexis you’ll have access to. Your employer may only have access to federal and state primary material on Lexis. Knowing this can help you avoid getting into out-of-plan resources, which cost additional money.

It’s also a useful idea to find out how your employer pays for legal research and how they bill their clients. Does your employer have a flat-rate contract with Westlaw where they pay a fixed amount each month or do they pay by the search or by the minute? Do they bill clients for the research or do they eat the research costs themselves? Knowing the answers to these types of questions can help you navigate research costs and makes you a more cost-effective researcher.

Use free and low-cost alternatives. Despite what law school suggests, there are alternatives to Westlaw and Lexis. And they cost a lot less. These sources can be a great place to start your research and can help you find some good stuff before you head to the more expensive databases.

For example, Google Scholar has a good database of court opinions and a powerful search engine. This combination produces very good results that are likely to give you some good cases to begin a research project. Not to mention you can’t beat the price.

My experience has been that, so far, Google Scholar is underutilized for case law research in practice. I’ve had reports from several of my former students who taught their supervising attorneys about it last summer. The supervising attorneys were surprised it existed and impressed by the results it produced.

While Google Scholar lacks statutes, other free resources can help fill that void. Fastcase is a legal research database that provides iPhone/iPad and Android apps with free access to case law and statutes. These apps have been very popular with lawyers, especially those that do research on the go.

The full version of Fastcase is available for a low-cost subscription or may be available to you through your state bar association as a member benefit. Fastcase and Casemaker are currently competing for the state bar association market and nearly all state bars offer one or the other. That means wherever you practice it’s likely you’ll have access to one of these legal databases. Get to know them.

There are also a number of other free or low-cost alternatives to Westlaw and Lexis that you may want to look into. Some examples are Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, Loislaw, VersusLaw, FindLaw, and various state and federal government websites.

It’s impossible to break down the details of each of these resources because they are all unique. Some are quite basic, while others are more robust. Some are a joy to look at, while others could have been designed in a fifth-grade technology class. There are, however, some common tips about free and low-cost legal research resources that you should be aware of.

First, check your content and coverage. Free and low-cost sources never have the extent of content or coverage that LexisNexis or Westlaw do. Google Scholar, for example, has cases but not statutes. Most state court websites only contain cases from the mid-1990s to the present. You get the picture. Get in the habit of checking free and low-cost sources for content and coverage so you know what you’re searching.

Next, learn how to search. There are very few differences in searching between LexisNexis and Westlaw. Both offer natural language as well as terms and connectors searching. Both have nearly identical connectors, which allow you to move fairly easily between each service. That’s not always the case with free and low-cost options.

Take some time to understand how to search these resources. Look for a “search tips” link or some other document that explains how searching works and lists the applicable connectors. If you gain an understanding of how to search effectively on the free and low-cost sources, you won’t be as frustrated that you can’t use LexisNexis and Westlaw the same way you could in law school.

Finally, love them for what they are. Free and low-cost alternatives are simply not LexisNexis and Westlaw. They have their weaknesses. If you can accept their limitations, you’re more likely to be grateful for what they can offer instead of being frustrated at what they can’t.

Continue reading here.


December 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1)