Archive for the 'Lawyers' Category

If Justice Scalia Is Right, Then Let’s Make Law School 7 Years

Earning a law degree takes three years. The only thing worse than the absurd cost of law school is the fact that the third year is generally regarded as a waste of time. Many legal academics and even President Obama have contended that law school should be shortened to two years.

justice scalia law schoolThe Honorable Justice Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court recently spoke on this issue. Convinced that law school should remain three years, he states that law school isn’t a trade school, but something more. To quote: “[Law school] is a school preparing men and women not for a trade but for a profession—the profession of law.”

Although Justice Scalia’s sincerity is touching, and although the high regard he holds for the law is inspiring, his words fail to address the issue at hand: can someone learn to be a successful lawyer in two years? If the answer is “yes,” then what is the actual value of the third year of law school?

I agree that education is important. However, at the end of the day, education is a means to an end. The purpose of law school isn’t something mystical. The purpose of law school is to learn to be a lawyer.

If Justice Scalia is right—that is, if law school is meant to be something more than a “trade school”—then why settle for three years? Why not stretch it out to five? People with Ph.D.’s in medieval studies often go to school for that long—or even longer. Why not elevate the J.D. to the status of the M.D. and keep law students in school for seven years?

It would be one thing if an extra year was just an extra year. A little more education never hurt anyone. However, in the case of law school, an extra year means an extra $50,000+ of debt.

 

Authored by Peter Clarke, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Content Manager. Peter Clarke is also a freelance writer and curates Screenplay Lists.

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“Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers”

Going paperless is not only a trendy movement, it’s also a highly practical step to achieving an efficient law office. Many large law firms are already there. However, if you are a sole practitioner and you don’t have your own IT department to carry out the technicalities, then going paperless probably sounds more like a hassle than a revolution.

paperless in one hour for lawyersPaperless in One Hour for Lawyers” by Sheila M. Blackford and Donna S. M. Neff provides a quick and easy guide that is specifically intended for solo practitioners and small firms. Ms. Blackford, a paperless attorney in Oregon as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice magazine, clearly explains the benefits of going paperless. For example: “It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is an enormous loss of productivity when you spend even fifteen minutes a day searching for a specific document. If your billable rate is $200 an hour, the cost of fifteen minutes of unproductive time is $50 a day…or $13,000 a year.”

Important information found in “Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers” includes a guide to the essential hardware and software you will need, a review of the apps that are available, and an overview of the business practices that should be implemented. The sections are easy to follow and graciously concise. Read the book in one sitting—in one hour—and you’ll be good to go.

Authored by Peter ClarkeLegalMatch Content Manager 

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Berkeley Law Students Allegedly Decapitate Exotic Bird At Las Vegas Casino

Despite what you’ve been told, whatever happens in Las Vegas does not simply stay within the confines of the city’s limits.  In fact, the exact opposite usually happens.  Whether it’s cheating on your spouse or losing your life savings at a craps table, the repercussions often spread to the rest of your life.  Nothing stays in Las Vegas.  Actually, that’s too strong of a statement.  If you commit a crime in the city, jurisdiction will usually remain within Sin City.  Just ask these guys.

By now you’ve probably seen this story in the news rounds, but in case you’ve yet to hear this fascinating tale of law students and animal cruelty intrigue, here’s a quick review.  Eric Cuellar, 24, and Justin Teixeira, 24, are law students at the University of California, Berkeley.  The two were on a trip in Las Vegas when a witness allegedly saw them emerge from bushes inside the Flamingo hotel and casino’s Wildlife Habitat.  Not too strange by Las Vegas standards.  After all, as The Hangover has taught us, people can end up in weird places while staying in Vegas.

But apparently the duo took their hijinks too far.  Teixeira was allegedly holding the decapitated body of a 14-year-old helmeted guinea fowl, an exotic bird in the hotel’s Wildlife Habitat.  Teixeria allegedly threw the dead fowl at Cuellar while stating, “I f—ing killed wildlife.”

Doesn’t sound like very lawyerly behavior, huh?  Nor for that matter, very humane either.  A witness certainly didn’t think so.  She called the cops and the two were arrested.  And like any good aspiring attorney, both men refused to talk to police and instead asked for a lawyer.  Guess they were paying attention in criminal procedure class.

The bird, whose name is Turk, was valued between $150 to $175.  Both men were jailed for suspicion of conspiracy and willful malicious torture/killing of wildlife.  Surveillance video on the scene apparently shows a third male suspect, but police have yet to locate him.

In case you’re wondering, no, this is definitely not the way one should endeavor to start their legal career.  While this story may sound a little silly, the charges these men face are no joke.  Conspiracy and animal cruelty are serious felony offenses.  If convicted, the pair could face potential five-figure fines and more than a year in prison.  And so far, the evidence seems pretty damning.

Malicious torture or killing of wildlife is the intentional harm or destruction of an animal without any purpose.  In Teixeria and Cuellar’s case, the dead bird speaks for itself.  But this isn’t quite an open-and-shut case.  The pair may have a possible reprieve regarding whether they actually possessed the necessary mental intent to kill the bird.

For Teixeria, it’s definitely not a good thing that a witness claims to have heard him admit to beheading the bird.  However, as we all know, witness testimony doesn’t always necessarily lead to a person’s conviction.  Credibility plays a big role in determining whether to believe a witness’ statement.  This case is no different.

But assuming the statement is believed, the duo could always fall back on an intoxication defense.  Remember, the animal cruelty law they’re accused of breaking requires an intentional action.  And courts have long held that being drunk can prohibit a person from developing the necessary mindset for an intentional crime.  This, it would seem, would be Teixeria and Cuellar’s best bet to dismiss or reduce their charge to a lesser offense.

For now though, there haven’t been enough facts released about the story to make a proper guess as to the case’s outcome.  The two are due to return to court soon.  Both men have clean criminal records.  However, that might not be the situation for long.

A felony conviction is an ugly blemish to have on one’s record, but for law students, the negative effects are far worse.  Don’t forget, to become a lawyer one has to also pass a moral character examination.  And there’s no better way to fail these background checks than by having a felony conviction on your record.  For Teixeria and Cuellar, the outcome of their criminal investigation could be what decides whether they become lawyers or be forced to find new careers.

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Covington & Burling Law Firm Gets Disqualified For Violating Duty To 3M

Lawyers often get a bad rap for being greedy amoral people who care more about securing their next paying client rather than protecting their current and past ones.  Nowadays this reputation is mostly undeserved.  However, it’s all the more unfortunate when stories like this one emerge to prove that bad apples still exist.

Legal powerhouse Covington & Burling LLP was recently disqualified from a case by a Minnesota judge.  Covington was representing Minnesota at the behest of the state’s attorney general in an environmental lawsuit again 3M Co., as in the company that makes the majority of your company’s office supplies.

In big cases like these, it’s not unheard of for a government prosecutor’s office to feel overwhelmed and turn to the private sector for help.  This case is no different.  So what’s the problem with a major law firm helping to prosecute a major corporation?  Nothing.  Except when the major law firm used to represent the major corporation currently being prosecuted.

Apparently 3M was a former client of Covington in the past.  But somehow the big firm lawyers failed to inform the court of this pertinent fact.  And that’s exactly why the judge decided to kick Covington to the curb.

You can probably guess the problems that could arise in a situation like this.  Imagine you’re in high school and you have a friend that you confide all your deepest and darkest secrets to.  Now imagine if you had a falling out with this friend who then suddenly buddies up with your sworn enemy.  What do you think the chances are that the whole school will know you wet yourself in terror whenever you see donuts?  Wait, hold that thought, the entire student body is clearing out every bakery in town.

And that’s why attorneys aren’t supposed to go against their old clients.

You may also be surprised to learn that there are actually ethical rules against this sort of behavior, too.  Every state’s bar association has their own version of lawyer conduct rules, but they all generally fall in line with the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Responsibility.  Basically, it’s a code of conduct that tells lawyers how to handle various professional moral dilemmas.  And chief among these rules is protecting your client’s confidences and secrets, which Covington allegedly failed to do by taking arms against its old client, 3M.

Like doctors, lawyers are entrusted with highly sensitive information from their clients.  It’s a necessity in order for the attorney to give the best representation possible.  The problem is that this same information, if misused, could be turned against those very same clients.  To prevent this, Courts and bar associations impose a duty on attorneys to protect their clients’ secrets.  And in the case of a conflict of interest between representing a new client against an old client, most state rules of professional responsibility only allow the lawyer to do so if they get an informed written consent from their old client first.  Some state bar associations go even further by requiring consent from both parties and the court.  And even still, a lawyer can be disqualified if the information they possess about the old client is directly relevant to the heart of the new lawsuit against them.

Unfortunately for Covington, the judge found the firm failed on all accounts.  The court held Covington “exhibited a conscious disregard for its duties of confidentiality, candor, full disclosure, and loyalty to 3M by failing to raise its conflicts” stemming from its previous representation.  Short of being disbarred, it doesn’t get more embarrassing than that for a renowned international law firm.

In practice, conflicts like these can lead to all sorts of problems for the new client, too.  Not only do they have to find a new lawyer, but sometimes their case can even be dismissed.

As for 3M, the company can breathe a temporary sigh of relief as the prosecution regroups.  But as horror movies have taught us, one must always be wary of the proverbial hand emerging from the lake.

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California Bar Ready to Admit Illegal Alien as Lawyer

The number of jokes and stories about amoral attorneys and dishonest lawyers could fill a library. Most of these tales, however, illustrate the moral hypocrisy of a profession which claims to uphold the law but often has members which disregard and disrespect the system they say they support.

Sergio Garcia adds a fresh tome to this library of antics. Garcia is applying for a license to practice law in California. He obtained a JD (juris doctorate – a law school degree) and passed the bar exam. There’s just one small problem: Garcia isn’t suppose to be in California or the rest of the United States for that matter. Sergio Garcia is an illegal immigrant who was brought to this nation as a toddler. After leaving for a few years, he returned as a seventeen year old and attended college while working as a beekeeper with his father. Now the California Supreme Court has to decide if Garcia’s citizenship status, or lack thereof, is a deterrent to practicing law in California.

The California Bar Association (CBA) asserts that Garcia has met all requirements to receive a license to practice law in California, including passing the bar exam and the moral character test. Although Garcia is an illegal immigrant, plenty of foreign students are given licenses to practice, but those licenses are not a permit for employment. The license given to Garcia, without the citizenship status, would only allow him to work pro bono, for free as community service, or as an independent contractor.

Groups opposing the case, however, state that Garcia has already broken the law by staying here illegally. The “moral character” test he supposedly passed states that he must have respect for the law. Although seventeen year olds are still considered minors, most courts will recognize that persons of that age have the ability to recognize right from wrong. Garcia, when he illegally came back to the United States at seventeen, knowingly violated the law and has done so for years. He cannot, in good conscience, serve the legal system of this nation when he himself has and is currently violating the law.

The reason this case is considered a precedent for the future is that it questions if a student here illegally can get a license. The foreign students who were admitted are documented and have their paperwork approved. The real injustice, opposition groups would conclude, is that a certain class of people are exempt from the law because of their place of origin is in close proximity to America.

In Garcia’s defense, his application for a green card has been pending for the last eighteen years, a wait period impossibly long for any sane individual. This doesn’t excuse his rule breaking, but the application does show intent to try to comply with the complex immigration laws. Perhaps it was this intent which allowed Garcia to pass the moral character test. Garcia did pass the current moral character test, even if outside observers would demand a higher standard for the test. There are also no residency or citizenship requirements for obtaining a license. The fact is, although Garcia shouldn’t be in California and should probably be deported, he can obtain the license to practice law in the state. It is astoundingly counter-intuitive and a huge paradox, but stranger contradictions have been made in our legal system.

The real offender in this entire debacle, however, is the California Bar Association, which is strongly arguing for Garcia’s admittance. There is a substantial difference between grudgingly giving a license out based on the requirements met and zealously advocating for the admittance of a man who has broken the law. Opponents of Garcia’s admittance believe that illegal immigrants are above the law and this latest case is a plank in their platform. Some applicants to the bar are turned down because of extreme debt or bankruptcy. Other applicants are rejected for having a history of criminal felony charges, even if the entirety of that history was committed as a minor and/or non-violent, such as through California’s Three Strikes law. It would be difficult to judge the accumulation of debt, a non-violent felony history or a status as an illegal immigrant and declare that one deprives a person of moral character more than the other.

The CBA is permitted to determine what exactly a moral character is, but all these examples, non-violent felony history, extreme debt and illegal immigration status, represent the violation of a social obligation. With the former two, it is possible to get a license, but it is doubtful that the CBA would help the applicants if the application is reviewed by a court. The CBA however, is advocating for Garcia and his illegal immigrant status. Garcia may be a paradox in the American legal system, but that paradox wouldn’t have risen if the California Bar Association hadn’t entertained the idea in the beginning.

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