Law Schools (Cont’d.)

More dismal news on the declining condition of American law schools reported in today’s NY Times. Elizabeth Olson and David Segal, A Steep Slide in Law School Enrollment Accelerates, Dec. 18, 2014, at p. B3 (a 30 percent decline from just four years ago, when enrollment peaked at 52,488).

“Part of the problem is that jobs that once required lawyers — sifting through documents before a trial, for instance — are increasingly being automated. . . .”

 

“There is also outsourcing . . . India has millions of people who speak English perfectly well and they can handle basic legal work.”

And of course, there has been a decline in the number of cases going to trial, which is a whole other subject that we won’t explore here, but which warrants mention.

What all that suggests to us is that the American legal system is coming to recognize that there is much ostensibly “legal” work in the big transactional law firms that requires only a knowledge of English, and of the business at hand, but no license to practice law — sort of like the Japanese system where a bengoshi is a real advocate, like a British barrister who goes to court and tries cases, as opposed to scriveners who spend their time at the office, reading and reviewing documents, a task that (apart from issue identification) often requires no license to practice law, but does require the knowledge of the clients’ business that lawyers often don’t posses. Add to that the increased availability of electronic data bases that put “the law” at the fingertips of the scrivener, and what you get is an increasingly clear indication that paying bright youngsters six figures a year for doing work that a good paralegal can do is not the brightest of ideas. It increasingly rips off the clients without adding value to their cause, and is therefore unsustainable, among other things  because prospective law students, being no dummies, figure that incurring a large five figure (or even six figure) debt to finance a legal education simply isn’t worth it, given the slim pickins when it comes to securing legal employment capable of providing a good living and paying off the aforementioned debt.

For our earlier comments on the law school situation, click on www.gideonstrumpet.info/?p=7170 .

Detroit: How Now Brown Cow?

The basic dispatch of the day is that Detroit has emerged from bankruptcy, “but not out of the woods,” in the words of the NY Times. Monica Davey, N.Y. Times, Dec. 11, 2014, at p. A18.

“Even with a clean financial slate, questions remain about how Detroit can shift its fate, stop the exodus of taxpayers and bring jobs and improvements to the hardest-hit neighborhoods in a city with a footprint designed for a population that was once more than twice as many as the approximately 700,000 residents  here now”

 

To get into this dubious condition (and in the process reduce its debt by $7 billion) the city is popping $1.7 billion “to remake its dismal city services over the next 10 years.” The city has been billed about $177 million by lawyers and other bankruptcy mavens, to say nothing of the $504,000 paid to the “emergency manager” who ran the city during the pendency of the bankruptcy proceedings.

So after all that, how fares Detroit? For that you have to read another NY Times article, John Eligon, Detroiters’ Good Intention Are Tested by Blight, Dec. 13, 2014, at p. A1 (above the fold). What you will find there isn’t pretty. For all we can tell from reading that article, it’s the same ol’ Detroit story of blight, ineffective city response, red tape entangled procedures, contradictory information given to neighbors of a demolished home who want to buy the lot on which it sat, etc., etc.

Do read that one. Although written mostly as a human interest story, it provides an insight into the unreliability and incompetence of municipal functionaries dealing with the “problem” of a cleared city lot sought to be bought by its neighbors, which, one would think would be easy.

New York, New York . . . Its Building Department Is Anything But Wonderful

This won’t be real news to those readers who are involved in land-use control/development, but we recommend that you read an article in the business section in today’s NY Times. Joanne Kaufman, Expedite This! N.Y. Times, Dec. 14, 2014, at p. 10 (Real Estate, Business Section). Click here http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/realestate/renovating-dont-forget-the-expediter.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&module=inside-nyt-region&region=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region.

It’s a story about what it takes in the Big Apple just to make out and file the application for a permit, and what a story it is. Would you believe that there is an entire profession of “expediters” (currently numbered 8,300) who stand in line for hours (like from 5:30 AM to 2:00 PM) just to file the required paperwork, so it can be nitpicked by a city functionary who as often as not rejects the filing because the papers are not filled out the right way. Apparently doing it the “right way” is an art form that not even experienced “expediters” get right every time.

“The keys to expediter success include comfortable shoes, optimism, an awareness of just which long line is the right  long line and a willingness to show up at the Building Department long before dawn to be first on this or that list  to see this or that examiner — the agency staff member who can green-light a construction job or stop it cold.

 

“The impediments: ever changing rules, delays in processing forms — though according to Department of Buildings data, wait times are growing shorter — and the fact that expediters are limited to three pieces of business each time they get up to a service window, whether that means three tasks for one project or one each for three discrete clients. Then it’s back in line.”

 

Back in the early 1990s there were some 300 to 400 “expediters,” but now their numbers are up to more than 8300. Moreover, (a) this rigmarole applies to simple remodeling jobs as well as to (b) proposals to put up skyscrapers. Each “expediter” must register with the city and pay an annual $50 fee for the right to spend his or her time mostly standing in line.

By now you get the idea. We like the concise summary of a professional engineer who is quoted by the Times as summing it up thus: “The whole system is much more screwed up than you could ever really imagine.”

 

Land-Use, Cemeteries and Chutzpa

This is another one you just can’t help but to shake your head at. It seems that up in Northern California, the owner of some 220 acres wanted to build a housing subdivision but the local county killed it. So he proposed the creation of a serene cemetery on 60 acres. But hey man — this is California, the place where land ownership, though not quite a crime, is highly disfavored. So as our hapless owner reached a point of city and county approvals, the predictable happened. Local NIMBYs objected. So far this is non-news. But these NIMBYs are special, and so are the grounds for their objections to the cemetery. Click on  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/us/cemetery-plan-clashes-with-neighbors-culture.html

They are largely Chinese and Indian and they claim that  as natives of China and India they believe that living near a cemetery — even one that would not be visible from their homes — is taboo, so they have a right to keep the cemetery from being created. It might “cast a pall on the community” and not only that but  “[t]hey will be forcing kids to see funeral processions. . .” Oh dear. We don’t know how they do it in China, but here in Gringoland a funeral procession consists of a line of [usually] fancy cars, with their lights on, making their dignified way to the cemetery. So how would that scare the kids? This, they tell us not. To say nothing of the fact that the proposed cemetery, we repeat, would not be visible from the subdivision that is home to these NIMBYs.

All of this, however, is nothing. Lurking in this absurd NIMBY v. landowner controversy is an act of breathtaking cultural chutzpa. Mind you we are not opposed to immigrants — your faithful servant is one himself. But surely, there must be limits to everything — even to NIMBY style chutzpa, whether by natives or foreigners. And it is chutzpa indeed for a bunch of foreigners to come to the U.S. where they are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to prosper, but instead of showing some gratitude, they announce that the ways, customs and culture of their new home country count for nothing and that they should be trumped by the  culture of their abandoned old country.

That, folks, is towering ingratitude that deserves being brushed off, not considered on the merits, as it evidently is by the local land-use regulators. Freedom of religion entitles one to protection of one’s own religious customs and culture but it does not entitle one to dictate to other religious denominations how they should conduct themselves concerning something so intimately solemn and personal as the burial of their next of kin. And if you insist that your religious, “cultural” norms should trump other people’s, that isn’t freedom of religion — that’s cultural imperialism.

 

 

 

 

Those Zany Law Schools Are at It Again.

This one is going to be hard to believe, folks, but it appears to be true. According to the New York Times (Anemona Hortocollis, Law School Allows Delay Of Exams After Two Cases, Dec. 9, 2014, at p. A25) Columbia University Law School “is allowing students to postpone their final exams this month if they feel unnerved by the recent grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.”

It evidently did not occur to Columbia Law School management that students who are so “unnerved” by an egregiously unjust legal decision, involving total strangers, that they will become incapable of performing elementary tasks of their chosen profession, should not be permitted to become lawyers. Nobody seems to have noticed that this caper is like a medical school making special accommodations for med students who are “unnerved” by the sight of blood and guts.

If a bad court ruling renders you unable to identify legal issues in the case before you, and perform an analysis thereof on behalf of your clients (to whom you have an obligation of faithful representation), then what are you doing in law school? What will you do when an egregiously wrong decision is made by a judge in your case,* affecting your client? Will you then go home and cry? And wouldn’t this form of abandoning a client’s interest be tantamount to an open-and-shut case of legal malpractice?

Postscript. We recommend the coverage of this news item on he Volokh Conspiracy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/12/08/columbia-law-students-demand-exam-extensions-because-of-trauma-related-to-the-recent-non-indictments-in-ferguson-and-staten-island/  It contains the text of the Columbia Dean’s message, and of blogmeister Prof. Eugene Volokh’s of UCLA comments in response to it. A good read — check it out.

Also, see the front page of the NY Post. In great, big letters it delivers this message to the “traumatized” Columbia Law students: “POOR BABIES.” Elsewhere the Post sums it up thus:

“Here’s some free legal advice: Don’t hire a lawyer with a degree  from Columbia. Those great minds may have high LSAT scores and pass the bar with flying colors.

“But when it comes to an actual trial, they’ll probably crack under the pressure.”

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*    We don’t have to conjure up some really wacky hypothetical court decisions. We once appeared before a seemingly rational federal judge who opined, from the bench and on the record, that the 14th Amendment was invalid because Ohio first ratified it but then purported to rescind its ratification. So he offered that as one reason for his adverse ruling. If you think we are putting you on, we’re not.

 

First, the Law Schools. Now, the Legal Profession.

There is nothing new about the ongoing process of decline of American law schools in terms of numbers and quality of applicants. Now, it appears that the other shoe is dropping.

Today’s Los Angeles Times reports in an above-the-fold, front page story, that

“For the first time in nearly a decade, most law school graduates who took the summer California bar exam failed, adding to the pressure on law schools already dealing with plummeting enrollments, complaints about student debt and declining job prospects. [ ]  The 46.8% pass rate in California is a drop of nearly 7 percentage points from the previous year. . .  The last time the passage rate dipped below half was in 2005.”  Jason Song, Fewer Pass State Bar Exam, L.A. Times, Dec.8, 2014, at p. A1.

You can take it from there, but as far as we are concerned, all this does not bode well for the legal profession, at least in California. Maybe, and we surely hope so, if young people really want to “change the system” as they so often tell us, maybe they should go into politics, not law because law provides — or at least should provide — stability so that people know what they should and should not do, and be less dependent in the conduct of their affairs on judicial whims du jour.

Don’t They Ever Learn?

We learn from today’s LA Times that California home prices have not only resumed their upward spiral, but they are now becoming more unaffordable than ever. In Los Angeles, it takes an income of $96,513.65 to buy a median home. Is that all? No. In San Diego, that figure is $101, 682.60 and in — ta, da! — San Francisco, it’s $146,361.06.

This is an unsustainable situation, and it’s only a question of time until we will see an exodus out of California to an extent the LA times will deem worthy of being openly discussed. See Andrew Khouri, Median L.A. Home Takes Ever-Higher Paycheck to Afford, L.A. Times, Dec. 3, 2014, at p. B2.

 

The AIG Trial (Cont’d.)

NBC reports that the trial in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Starr International Co. v. U.S., 11-cv-00779, is winding down, with the taking of evidence to be concluded this week, and the post-trial briefing to begin. So stay tuned. The end is not yet in sight.

For the above NBC summary, go to http://www.cnbc.com/id/102205523

In case you have not been following this litigation, Starr International is suing on behalf of former AIG shareholders, seeking some $40 billion. The plaintiffs’ argument is that  the terms of the feds’ bailout of AIG (and the temporary seizure of some 80% of its stock) amounted to an uncompensated taking of AIG’s property, for which they seek just compensation.

This does appear to be a taking, but in our opinion, AIG’s problem is that it all worked out in the end, and when the dust settled and when AIG got its stock back, AIG made a bundle, and so did Uncle Sam. So if you apply hornbook eminent domain law to this caper, any recovery to which AIG may be entitled, will have to reduced by the amount of AIG’s benefits — which may produce no net recovery for the Starr International plaintiffs. So stay tuned and see how it turns out.

Be Grateful. Give Thanks.

As the orgy of merchandising unfolds around us, and as too many places in the world (including the government in Washington) appear to be going to hell in a handbasket, for us in America there is nonetheless much to be thankful for.

Please keep in mind that however much you may be enjoying your holiday feast, that is not what this holiday is about. Do enjoy your turkey etc., but be thankful for everything else, not the least for the opportunity to get together with people you love, and, above all, for living in America.

The AIG Litigation (Cont’d.)

We assume that the case of Starr v. US is grinding on in the US Court of Federal Claims, with the government still putting on its defense case. We say “presume” because press coverage of it has pretty much dried up. But if you have an interest in that unusual case — in which Uncle Sam is being sued by shareholders of AIG who allege that the bailout terms that were imposed on it by Uncle on AIG were so draconian as to amount to a taking of property — you may want to take a look at a nifty bibliography of articles and on-line posts on this subject, compiled by our friend and colleague Robert Thomas on his blog www.inversecondemnation.com.

Go to his post of November 20th under the heading Links From Today’s ABA Talk On The AIG Bailout Takings Case – See more at: http://www.inversecondemnation.com/#sthash.lojPsvZr.dpuf