Billable hours have been back in the news over the past month thanks to a dispute between DLA Piper and one of their clients over legal bills. The client refused to pay the bill, claiming DLA Piper overstaffed its files and performed unnecessary work. Emails from former DLA Piper attorneys (“Churn that bill, baby!”) surfaced during discovery, underscoring the problem. DLA Piper called the emails “unprofessional” and “an offensive and inexcusable attempt at humor,” but said that the billing was appropriate for the work performed.
To quote the American Bar Association:
Judges are in an excellent position to observe misconduct by lawyers and to identify it as such.
That’s exactly what federal judge Otis Wright did in his order last week, in which he not only ordered thousands in attorney fees against Prenda Law and its associates, but put everyone from federal law enforcement to state disciplinary authorities on notice. As for Joseph Rakofsky, it was the Internet: 1, Rakofsky: -2, wrote Jordan Rushie, in describing how Rakofsky failed to succeed in his numerous defamation claims.
But why no sanctions against Rakofsky? Judge Shlomo Hagler’s order grants defendants’ motion to dismiss, but goes no further. Why did Rakofsky seem to get away scot free, while Prenda got nailed to the wall?
The US Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision Gideon v. Wainwright 50 years ago today, on March 18, 1963. In its decision, the Court decided that the federal right to counsel must be extended to state prosecutions:
any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him
The Minnesota bankruptcy court just announced (pdf) that it will be making digital audio files of court proceedings available to the public through PACER for $2.40 each. That’s substantially more than Bieber’s singles go for, and probably no better for dancing.
What I really wonder, however, is whether the court system is making a profit on PACER. It better be, because I can’t imagine how it could possibly justify charging $2.40 for a few megabytes of audio — not to mention $.10 per page for PDFs — if it isn’t turning a tidy profit on those downloads. Although if PACER is profitable, I hope someone who can do something about it will vote to channel some of those profits into making PACER not suck.
Breaking nearly seven years of silence on the bench, Justice Clarence Thomas spoke during oral argument in Boyer v. Louisiana yesterday. Unfortunately, the transcript of the proceedings missed the exact quip. But according to Tom Goldstein, Justice Thomas made a joke about the questionable competence of a Yale Law graduate.
Apologies to those who tire quickly of worn-out phrases (and animal lovers everywhere) but there’s more than one way to skin the legal writing cat. In other words, there’s plenty of room for creativity in your legal writing.
First, let’s define “legal writing” broadly as anything law-related, from blogging about the law to writing trial briefs.
Now, let’s talk about cartoons.
A study just published by psychologists at Yale University finds that male jurors are more likely to find female defendants with a high body-mass index (BMI) guilty. According to the study’s authors,
lean male participants were significantly more likely to believe that the obese female defendant met criteria for check fraud, and indicated greater belief she would be a repeat offender, compared with the lean female defendant.
You’ve probably heard the old politically conservative aphorism: government is not the solution to our problems, but is in fact the cause of our problems. The root of that statement is the notion that small government is good and big government is bad.
But Louis Seidman, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown, seemed to take that argument in a new direction recently when he asserted in the New York Times that our Constitution is the real cause of our problems, and that we should get rid of it. Or, at least change it in fundamental ways in order to allow us to govern ourselves (whether with a large or small federal government) since the Constitution is making that impossible. It’s a provocative piece, and one driven more by frustration with politics than by a real desire to toss out the document itself. But Seidman does point out some facts about our history that any lawyer (or any thoughtful citizen) should confront.
Inside the Law School Scam is reporting that as of December 7, law school applications are down 24.6% since the same time last year, and there is no obvious end to the trend at this point. Blog author Paul Campos asserts that the current number of applications suggests that the total number of applicants on the year will number between 52,000 and 53,000. He goes on:
To put that number in perspective, law schools admitted 60,400 first year JD students two years ago. Since a significant percentage of applicants are unwilling to consider enrolling at any school below a certain hierarchical level, and/or will decline to enroll at certain other schools without receiving massive discounts on the advertised tuition price, these numbers portend fiscal calamity for more than a few schools. But out of that calamity will come the beginnings of a more rational and just system of legal education for the next generation of lawyers.
Hopefully a smaller number of applicants will sufficiently impact the number of practitioners in the coming years to help restore the balance between the number of practicing lawyers and the legal work available (if such a thing ever existed). I don’t doubt that correcting the heavy over-population of lawyers will take more than a few years, but this seems like a rather significant drop in the number of law school applicants. It would be nice to have the numbers correct themselves naturally, rather than requiring a Clone Wars-type culling of superfluous attorneys.