Political Politicians

Kudos to Martha Coakley for challenging the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. I wonder how Justice responds when they’re asked to defend a statute that the Administration has said should be repealed. Perhaps with a tepid defense.

What I don’t understand is those who criticize Coakley by claiming that her motivations are “purely political”. What’s up with that? Aren’t politicians supposed to act politically?

Of course, we do want our elected officials to have some backbone, particularly to resist popular outbursts that might have bad policy consequences. (Obama’s effective neutralization of the “Buy America” stimulus bill provision is a good example). But here we have a politician taking a strong stand for the rights of a long-disenfranchised minority group; if her motivations are “purely political,” then let’s elect more politically-motivated politicians.

The Great Urban Chicken Debate at the Supreme Court…

…of Nova Scotia.

My past and future colleague Trevor Smedley just lost his appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia of his criminal conviction for having pet chickens.  As the Supreme Court noted in Trevor J. Smedley and Her Majesty the Queen:

They are not just any chickens – they are special chickens. They are heritage chickens that are brought to this province from Quebec.

Indeed, the court agreed with Mr. Smedley that there was nothing wrong with the chickens:

The trial judge found that they are in every way inoffensive. There is no excessive or even noticeable noise, no odour. The way in which they are kept is not unsightly. The chickens remain on their property seemingly doing no harm to either the aesthetic qualities or the quiet enjoyment of the property of the immediate neighbours. So finds the trial judge.

As I haven’t seen much news about this case in the mainstream media, I’m posting a copy of the complete opinion here to shed public light on the matter. I know very little about Canadian chicken law, so I’m not sure whether further appeals are possible, but I hope Mr. Smedley can keep up the fight.

In Search of Low-Calorie Slashdot Replacement

I reluctantly include Slashdot in my Google Reader subscriptions. I’ve yet to find another source with the same breadth of news coverage that approximately matches my personal and professional interests. The problem is that I’m increasingly annoyed by the editorial slant. The comments have always been hit-or-miss — mostly miss — but as I’ve gained expertise over the past six or seven years (particularly in legal topics), I’ve noticed that the article summaries themselves are invariably written by someone who has no idea what they are talking about.

So I ask the blogosphere: what’s a good Slashdot substitute? I’m looking for something with a good mix of breaking science, technology, Internet, law, and free-speech type stories, but without everything that makes Slashdot irritating.


How to be a superstar associate

I do very little law-firm-life blogging here, although that life is where I spend the overwhelming majority of my time.  Consider Real Lawyers Have Blogs (something of a misnomer — they mean real firms have blogs). Counterpoint: Be Careful What You Post (motion to amend to assert defamation counterclaim against new defendant for comment on blog entry granted).

In any event, in case I have any law firm associate readers, I’ll send props to the ABA’s free Litigation Podcast. It has a high signal to noise ratio, and the episodes are usually short enough to complete in my walk to and from the train.

I’d like to draw attention to the latest post (“cast?”), The Secrets of Superstar Associates (21.1 MB MP3). Although on some level the advice should seem obvious, the “rules of the game” are seldom spelled out so clearly. I recommend it to any law students looking to join a firm and junior associates as well. In fact, even if you’re not a lawyer, much of the advice is transferable to surviving in any highly-skilled-professional organization.

[Tags]ABA, American Bar Association, Litigation Podcast, Law Firm[/Tags]

The Best Movie to Start at 11pm at the End of a Long Trial…

Anatomy of a Murder. David Denby put it best:

Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” from 1959, is still the best courtroom drama ever made in this country, and, in its occasional forays out of the court, among the finest evocations of place—an Upper Peninsula Michigan resort area in the off-season, leafless, underpopulated, alcoholic, and forlorn. James Stewart, in one of his wonderful melancholy “late” performances, plays a former county prosecutor named Biegler, a lifelong bachelor who now spends his time with a non-practicing lawyer (Arthur O’Connell) and an unpaid secretary (Eve Arden), who sticks around for the wisecracks. The movie is leisurely, detailed, realistic, intensely companionable; you get a sense of how people exist at the margins of a profession without losing their dignity.

Although there are some distinctions between a murder defense in the 1950’s in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and modern-day patent litigation, the essence of trial technique is really not all that different.  Highly recommended.

Prosecutor: Lieutenant Manion, wasn’t your action against Barney Quill much the same thing as your action against Miller or the Lieutenant you slapped at the cocktail party — all done in the heat of anger, with a willful, conscious desire to hurt or kill?

Defendant: I don’t remember my action against Quill.

Prosecutor: How long had you known your wife was stepping out with Quill?

Defendant: I never knew anything like that. I trust my wife.

Prosecutor: You just occasionally beat her up for the fun of it, I suppose?

Defense Counsel: There has been nothing established to permit a question like that. He keeps trying to insinuate without ever coming to the point. Let him ask the Lieutenant, did he ever beat his wife.

Judge: I will sustain the objection. Do you want to re-phrase your question, Mr. Dancer?

Prosecutor: No thank you, Your Honor. I’ve finished.

[Tags]Otto Preminger, Anatomy of a Murder, David Denby[/Tags]

Recycle Your PACER Documents

Brilliant and legal.

[Tags]PACER, PublicResource, Carl Malamud, Public Access, Law[/Tags]

Jason’s Lesson’s Learned About the Legal Academy and Getting In

Pelican has decided to abandon his efforts to scale the walls of the legal academy and proposes this simple eight-step program for others who would follow in his footsteps:

  1. Don’t do interdisciplinary work. The legal academy doesn’t know what to make of it unless it is economics.
  2. Don’t go to a school without a law review or grades. I did and it was a huge problem.
  3. Get on law review, clerk, write.
  4. Check the faculty listings at most law schools. Go to the most often listed schools: Harvard, Yale, etc. It does matter as law faculty select their own, usually. I was told by a faculty member as a 1L expressing interest in the academy that I should transfer immediately to Harvard if possible. I didn’t.
  5. If you think you want to be a legal academic, look at what is on the FAR form in your first or second year. Orient your academic career to produce a good looking FAR.
  6. Remarkably, the legal academy does not care about your ability to raise research money or bring in grants.
  7. Don’t publish in interdisciplinary journals. Publish only in law reviews writing only dense and impenetrable texts.
  8. Demonstrated impact of your work in policy or law is not relevant.

This critique could be extended broadly to much of the academy (not just law schools). I had once thought I might like to teach law, but now I can only really see myself as a clinician.

Two contradictory academic trends:

  • The tendency toward dense, impractical writing that only makes sense to other insiders. This is often but not exclusively the influence of postmodernism. Steve recently brought Chomsky’s response to postmodern thought to my attention. It boils down to this: sure, it might be complicated. But there are lots of other fields that are complicated–quantum mechanics, nanotechnology, even game theory–in which an expert can still explain to a bright layperson the contours of the field sufficient for the layperson to get the gist of it, even if they can’t grasp all the details without extensive study. This doesn’t seem to be true of postmodern philosophy. Is the emperor naked? Paul Graham’s How to Do Philosophy reflects a similar attitude with less of a political bent, although my friends pursuing philosophy doctorates claim Graham has got it all wrong.
  • The tendency to reduce all disciplines to a science, particular the humanities and social sciences. This can either mean approaching the study with some method that approaches “scientific rigor” or literally basing the analysis in an already recognized science, preferably neuroscience. While I can see some sense in incorporating neuroscience, cognitive science, and certainly psychology into fields such as economics, I don’t think this is a good thing to the extent it overwhelms other modes of analysis, particular for literature. Neuroscientist/author Jonah Lehrer discussed this phenomenon (and its drawbacks) with Christopher Lydon in an episode of the newly-revived Radio Open Source. (Warning to Debian readers: Radio Open Source has very little to do with open source software.)

[Tags]Law, Legal Academy, Postmodernism, Neuroscience, Jonah Lehrer, Paul Graham, Philosophy, Noam Chomsky, Christopher Lydon[/Tags]

Facebook Privacy Dialogs

James provides an overview of some of the legal privacy problems with Facebook Beacon: first, in law school essay form, then, as a sitcom dialogue complete with laugh track. I recommend the latter, unless you’re in law school or a practicing lawyer.
[Tags]Facebook, Beacon, Privacy, James Grimmelmann[/Tags]

ADR for Property Damage in China

As a litigator, I’m always interested in novel and more efficient mechanism for resolving disputes, especially where the transaction costs of fighting it out in court can trump the benefits to either party. This process (full article not available online) for resolving property damage claims in China is about as streamlined as it gets:

Near the Lama Temple, as we waited to make the last left turn of the day, we were hit by another car. The driver backed into our side and then pulled away. There wasn’t time to fumble with my crutches, so I hopped out on my good leg. Fortunately, traffic was backed up, and I caught him in about seven hops. I pounded on the window. “You hit my car!”

The driver looked up, surprised: a one-legged foreigner, hopping mad and smacking the glass. He stepped out and apologized, saying that he hadn’t felt the impact. Together, we inspected the Jetta–fresh dent above the left rear wheel. The man said, “I’ll give you a hundred.” That was about thirteen dollars.

In China, after a minor accident people usually settle the matter on the street, in cash. This routine has become a standard part of life–once, I saw two small children playing a game in which they repeatedly rammed their bikes and shouted, “Pei qian! Pei qian!” — “Compensate! Compensate!”

Leslie used her cell phone to call the rental company. Mr. Liu didn’t sound the least bit surprised to hear that we’d had another accident. All he said was “Ask for two hundred.”

“That’s too much,” the other driver said. “This is really minor.”

“It’s not our decision.”

“Well, then, we’ll have to call the police,” he said, but it was clear that he didn’t want to do this. A dozen bystanders had gathered around the cars, which were parked in the middle of the snowy street. With Chinese accidents, the crowd is more like a jury than an audience, and a middle-aged woman bent over to inspect the dent. She stood up and announced, “A hundred is enough.”

“What do you have to do with it?” Leslie snapped. “You can’t even drive!”

That must have been correct, because the woman shut up. But the driver refused to pay two hundred. “Should we accept one-fifty?” Leslie asked me, in English. Lao-tzu said it best: A man standing on crutches in the snow will not bargain long over a dent to a crappy Jetta rental. Later that day, Leslie returned the car and the one-fifty in cash. Mr. Liu noticed that another light cover had been broken when she hit the brick wall. He said, happily, “What did you kill this time?” When I hit the dog, the same cover was twelve dollars; this time, he asked for only three. It must have been a special price because we did so well at the Lama Temple.

I don’t think this system would work to resolve patent infringement disputes, but it might make sense for some of our domestic fender-benders.

[Tags]ADR, China[/Tags]

Terrorist Hashing?

The Hash House Harriers is “an international group of social, non-competitive running and drinking clubs.” I participated many years ago in college (e.g.), although the Princeton Group is probably more tame than most. Via Bruce Schneier, this crazy new items:

Two people who sprinkled flour in a parking lot to mark a trail for their offbeat running club inadvertently caused a bioterrorism scare and now face a felony charge.

Although I don’t hash anymore, I frequently see the characteristic flour marks while jogging in the woods. I can’t see how the perpetrators here could possibly meet the mens rea requirement for a felony bioterrorism charge.