Archive for July, 2011
There had been controversy around how the Texas Legislature was going to disburse funds collected from the sale of “Animal Friendly” license plates, which are intended to be used to fund spay/neuter programs. I learned today that all funds were authorized by the Legislature for their intended purpose. This came after protests from nonprofits who were expecting funding. The cuts proposed by the Legislature would have barely made a dent in the budget shortfall, but would have been devastating to the organizations that were expecting the money (not to mention the Texans who bought the license plates expecting the money to support spay/neuter). It is always nice when the Legislature does what it is supposed to do.
My friend Debra Bruce (a/k/a the Lawyer Coach) has an article at Law.com: “From Associate to Solo — Don’t Overestimate Your Value.” She discusses how young lawyers tend to overlook many of the expenses, both in money and time, associated with being a young lawyer. I can certainly relate to that. Law practice, as it turns out, is not necessarily the quick road to riches that it may seem to be.
You may dream of being your own boss, running a lean and mean shop with a lot less overhead than your current organization. With the technological advances of the last few years, that is undoubtedly an option. Just don’t underestimate the three crucial responsibilities in the success of any law practice: client development, collection of fees and taking out the trash.
Well, you may not really have to take out the trash, but you will have a lot of administrative duties that hinder your ability to rack up billable hours. Almost all businesses wind up writing off some accounts receivable, and for most lawyers, it takes a lot longer to bring in new clients than they expected.
I don’t want this article to dash your hopes and your belief in yourself. I want it to encourage you to do some realistic assessment and planning so that you don’t end up dashed on the rocks.
It is by now well-known that I have soured somewhat on being my own boss. There has been a steep learning curve in the realm of running a law practice, something law schools tend not to teach. Those” administrative duties” in the above quote certainly do pile up. Every profession has its unique expenses. Law has insurance, continuing legal education, and all sorts of other ethical compliance issues. Marketing is particularly tricky for lawyers, who cannot afford to leave their marketing in the hands of a non-lawyer. New York attorney Eric Turkewitz coined the term “outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics,” meaning lawyers have such a convoluted code of ethical requirements surrounding our advertising that we can ill afford to leave it to someone not intimately familiar with those rules (bad things have happened when marketing is left to non-lawyers).
Then there is client development. Clients will not just come to you because they need a lawyer and you are awesome. Client development is complicated, and unless you have an immediate family member with a corner office on K Street, it will not happen overnight. What’s more, the market is saturated with new lawyers. You will need to start getting creative, and that does not automatically mean going high-tech.
I started my firm in 2002 with two other lawyers. They had experience from law school doing criminal defense. I had some immigration experience and had worked for a civil litigation firm, so the plan was for them to build criminal practices and for me to develop civil clients. This was before “blog” was a household word, when most computers still had floppy disk drives. So we did our marketing the old-fashioned way: direct mail. Every day, we would get the jail roster from the Travis County Sheriff, develop a mailing list, and print, sign, stuff, seal, and stamp several hundred letters to prospective clients.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Not everyone has regular internet access, even today, relying on the mail. We stopped doing it for two reasons: (1) stuffing 250-300 envelopes per day sucks, and we didn’t want to hire staff just yet; and (2) more and more lawyers were sending letters and the rate of return was plummeting. Anecdotally, I heard that in 2002 about 20-25 lawyers in town were sending letters, but by 2004 there were almost 75. Now, everyone is so internet-focused, perhaps snail mail could have a Renaissance. Many people respond quite well to receiving a personalized piece of mail.
Personally, I think it is great whenever a young lawyer wants to go solo. The number of resources to assist a new solo grows every day (resources I wish existed, or that I’d known of, back in the day). It’s scary, but it can also be rewarding. What it definitely is not, is easy.
I will admit to not being much of an Amy Winehouse fan. Her music, and her unique style, just never appealed to me much. I cannot deny that she was a phenomenal talent, though, and that her death last Saturday is a loss for the world. As of this moment, there is still no definitive cause of death, but her ongoing struggles with drugs and alcohol are global common knowledge. Her life, and death, is still a reminder–as if we needed another reminder–about how messed up our perceptions of drugs and alcohol (and fame) can be.
Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I’d only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound.
There are a few intriguing cultural ironies, such as how the song that made her famous was all about a refusal to get clean, or how many musicians seem to have died at the age of 27. My take-away is that a talented person rose to astronomical fame while battling more than her fair share of demons, to the dismay, disdain, and delight of the public. This is certainly a tragedy for her family and friends, and it is a huge loss to the musical world.
How is this related to lawyers? Lawyers rarely enjoy the sort of fame Amy Winehouse had. Lawyers usually work out of the limelight, below the surface of society, and that can be part of the problem. As celebrities must endure scrutiny of their every move, lawyers often feel a need to project strength and fearlessness. Especially in the context of litigation, vulnerability (and even simple emotion) can be a weakness to be exploited.This is not the way it has to be, but it is the way that many attorneys have made it.
To suppress emotions and vulnerability is to suppress humanity. In that sense, some lawyers may share with some celebrities a sense that they are not allowed to be fully human. In the absence of real comfort, a person will turn where they can, sometimes to drugs or alcohol. They may not ask for help, or even realize they need help. The people who care about them may not try to help, for fear of piercing that invulnerability that can form such an important part of a lawyer’s identity. As a result, some lawyers will drink, or even work, themselves to death.
This clearly cannot stand. Times may finally be changing enough to realize that addiction is a disease, not merely a failure of character or of will. Depression and anxiety abound amongst lawyers alongside addiction. Help is out there, and help is abundant.
Every state bar association has some sort of lawyer assistance program. They accept anonymous referrals if you know someone who needs help, and they respect full confidentiality if you ask for help. The American Bar Association has a list of resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255), National, Toll-Free, 24 Hours
National Helpline for Lawyers
Get help for yourself or someone in your life before it is too late. You may not have a world-famous jazz voice, but you matter.
I’m going to talk a bit about sex in this post. If that’s not your thing, click here.
The main period of furor regarding the exchange now known as Elevatorgate seems to have died down, and it seems clear that almost no one involved has learned anything from the experience. Since I am usually several weeks behind on major issues and news items, now seems like a good time to opine.
For those not familiar with Elevatorgate, it was a debate/shouting match arising out of comments made in the atheist blogosphere, but it has relevance and ramifications far beyond that particular community. Much digital ink has been spilled already, but the basic facts are these: Rebecca Watson, a young female blogger attending a conference gave a talk about the role of women in the atheist community and about the difficulties faced by women in the largely male atheist intellectual community. Later on, she was with friends at the hotel bar at around 4:00 a.m., when she announced she was tired and was going to her room to go to sleep. In the elevator, a man who was also attending the conference stated that he would like to get to know her better and invited her to his room for coffee. She later recounted this story in a YouTube video and noted, in essence, that this wasn’t very cool and guys shouldn’t do this. In reponse to this comment, massive furor erupted.
I don’t much care to evaluate the responses to Watson’s video or the droves of commentary that have ensued, except to say that apparently Watson’s comment has made many men feel that their right to get laid is being threatened. To this, I say that these gentlemen doth protest too much. This probably isn’t the most colossal overreaction in the history of the internet, but it must be on the list. To be clear, Rebecca Watson did not make this a big deal – the guys who responded did.
Relevant comments begin around 4:30
More precisely, I get that I don’t get it.
As a man, I am generally not judged too harshly on my appearance. Any mistakes or missteps I make in life reflect only on me, not all men. Construction workers leave me alone.
The same is not necessarily true for women. Women potentially get hit on anywhere they go, be it a nightclub, the frozen food aisle, or an elevator in the middle of the night. And it can be scary.
Why is it scary? Because a woman has no idea how the man hitting on her might react. A popular meme among both men and women is that women control the sexual purse strings, so to speak. Since men are presumed to always want sex and women are presumed to be “gatekeepers,” the power dynamic in the scenario of a woman being hit on in an elevator is that the woman has all the power because she can say no.
Here’s the thing: how does she know that the man will take no for an answer? That is the elephant in the room. This is ultimately not a discussion about the right to hit on someone, or who holds the power to grant or withhold sex. This is a discussion about rape, plain and simple.
When a woman is approached and hit on by a strange man (and sometimes a familiar one), she has no idea how he will react if she says no. Will he shrug it off and move on? Will he slink away in embarrassment? Or will he ignore her, either out of a desire to do violence or a stupid belief that “no” means “yes”? She does not know.
Starling writes as though writing to a typical Nice Guy:
Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.
“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”
Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?
Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.
Now then, obviously most men are not rapists, or at least most men do not think they are rapists. Most men want to meet someone they like with whom they can spend time, or they at least want to get laid. Our culture has created a duality in which men are always striving towards sex and women are always pulling away from it (that’s a gross oversimplification, but fundamentally accurate). In its most extreme forms, men are taught to use whatever subterfuge they can to get a woman to submit, and women are taught to always be coy and slightly out of reach. The whole notion of the “battle of the sexes,” in my humble opinion, is crap and a recipe for centuries more of unhappy marriages and unsatisfying sex lives. More to the point, my opinion is that sex that is completely mutually desired and honest is inifintely better than sex that you had to talk someone into, or that you view as some sort of transaction or power dynamic.
I suspect that many men saw Watson’s comments and immediately thought they were being accused of being rapists. Read Starling’s article again. It’s one thing to call someone a rapist. It’s another thing to not automatically trust that someone is not a rapist. Perhaps it’s a subtle, nuanced difference, but it is important. Is it fair to men? Not really. Is it somehow discriminatory? Maybe. Is it necessary in order for a woman to protect herself? Quite possibly. Does this herald the end of men getting to have sex with women. No, and you’re kind of an idiot if you think that it does.
No one is trying to stop men from hitting on women, or from trying to get laid. The point is to communicate, and to respect people’s feelings and boundaries. If you don’t, trouble could ensue—since this is supposed to be a law blog, now is a good time to look at how “rape” is actually defined. The Texas Penal Code defines “sexual assault” as follows:
Sec. 22.011. SEXUAL ASSAULT. (a) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) intentionally or knowingly:
(A) causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent;
(B) causes the penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor, without that person’s consent; or
(C) causes the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor; or
(b) A sexual assault under Subsection (a)(1) is without the consent of the other person if:
(1) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by the use of physical force or violence;
(2) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by threatening to use force or violence against the other person, and the other person believes that the actor has the present ability to execute the threat;
(3) the other person has not consented and the actor knows the other person is unconscious or physically unable to resist;
(6) the actor has intentionally impaired the other person’s power to appraise or control the other person’s conduct by administering any substance without the other person’s knowledge;
(7) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by threatening to use force or violence against any person, and the other person believes that the actor has the ability to execute the threat;
Consent, force, threats, ability to execute a threat, impairment, etc. Generally speaking, a man only has to worry about whether or not a woman will say yes. A secondary concern might be issues of embarrassment, status, etc. I have no idea what it is to go through life having to worry about issues of force, impairment, and so on, but I have no reason to doubt that these are very real concerns for about one-half of the population.
Elevatorgate threw the door open on issues I had never even considered. The actions of elevator guy would never be my style, but I would hope that most people would realize that there is a time and place to try to get laid (and that there are more concerns in life than just getting laid, like having conversations or watching movies.) An elevator is not one of those places.
UPDATE: I have to include this comment, which put things even more in perspective:
A question for the men who think it’s an insult for a woman not to trust them:
If Rebecca had been raped by elevator guy, would you be saying “Well she shouldn’t have gone to his room in the first place.”
Holly at The Pervocracy (a blog dealing with gender and sexuality issues from an unconventional perpsective, so I’ll go ahead and call this NSFW for language and maybe subject matter) has worked as a paramedic and therefore spent a good deal of time in emergency rooms. From that, she has heard just about every excuse people make when they come into the hospital with injuries caused by a family member. “I fell down the stairs” is only the most famous one. It is far too easy in such situations, for someone who does not know the people involved, to conclude that weakness or stupidity could be the only reasons why someone might stay in an abusive relationship. That is simply not true, and it is especially important for lawyers and people embroiled in the family law system to understand why people may choose to stay with an abuser. Holly has made a list of many of those reasons.
To be clear, any gender in any sort of relationship can be an abuser (Holly mixes up the genders in her examples for that very reason). Abuse can be man-to-woman, woman-to-man, man-to-man, woman-to-woman, person-to-polyamorous-partners, etc. And “abuse” doesn’t just mean hitting, shoving, or breaking bones. It could include yelling, belittling, controlling, or anything else that would make one partner perpetually subordinate to another.
It is worth reading the whole post. She ends her post with a plea to her readers, and I pass that same plea on to you.
Usually I end these “long-list” posts with a cheery little “add your own!”, and while that invitation remains open (sadly, I’m sure there are tons that I missed), I’m going to add something to this one:
If any of these sound like you–even if they sound like you in a “yeah, but” sort of way–even if your partner never laid a finger on you physically, it was just some yelling–even if you’re a man and she’s a woman and it doesn’t work like that–even if you swear your situation isn’t abuse because–call this number:
It’s the National Domestic Violence Hotline and they will talk to you. They are not going to call the cops on your partner (or you). They are not going to tell you that you have to leave your relationship. Calling them is not a commitment of any kind–you can always call them and decide to stay in your relationship after all. All they’re going to do is talk to you, give you an outside perspective from people who are trained to recognize and deal with abusive situations, and help you find resources for getting out of your situation if you decide that you want them.
There is much that lawyers and the family court system can do, but there is only so much. There are tools out there, if you are in an abusive situation, to help you help yourself. Please read Holly’s list if you think there’s even a chance you are in a bad situation, and please stay safe out there.
wait for it……
…..defamation, for saying mean things about the school online (and, in the case of the law firm, for posting Craigslist ads re: a potential class action lawsuit against the school similar to the one filed against Thomas Jefferson School of Law earlier this year).
In one lawsuit, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, located in Lansing, Michigan, claims that it has been the victim of ads on Craigslist and Facebook – posted by attorneys at Kurzon Strauss LLP – seeking former Cooley law students to join in on a potential class action suit against the school. (Click here for an example.)
One of Cooley’s concerns with Kurzon Strauss’ online postings regard the school’s student loan default rate, James Thelen, the school’s general counsel, told the Law Blog.
For instance, the law firm allegedly claimed that there were reports of Cooley law grads “defaulting on loans at an astounding 41 percent” in various online posts, according to the papers filed by the school. Thelen claims the actual rate is 2.2 percent.
In the second lawsuit, also filed Thursday, the school claims that four “John Doe” defendants have been blogging and perpetuating online comments damaging to the school’s reputation, Thelen said to the Law Blog.
First off, I cannot think of a better way for a law school to take a relatively minor and obscure series of comments and complaints (in the form of the bloggers) and make it into something that could be known nationwide (cf. Streisand Effect). The scambloggers are going to have a field day with this. Let the battle begin…..
Second, in a lawsuit claiming damage to a law school’s reputation as a premier educational institution, the law school’s choices so far have been interesting, as Elie Mystal reports:
So far, the most damning statement about Cooley’s education has come from Cooley itself. Cooley president Don LeDuc said that the school filed these suits: “to protect Cooley’s reputation and stand up for our students and more than 15,000 graduates.”
And yet, of those 15,000 graduates, when it came time to defend Cooley’s reputation, the school went with lawyers who were not educated at Cooley.
Not only did the school not use its own graduates for this work, one of the anonymous commenters the school is suing appears to be a recent Cooley graduate. I mean, with friends like these, right?
Third, and I’m just brainstorming here, but isn’t it inevitable that a law firm, in seeking members for a class action, would say things about the potential defendant that would be construed as less than nice? Here’s an example of a firm seeking class members. And here’s what Kurzon Strauss posted to Craigslist re: Cooley:
My firm is currently conducting a broad, wide-ranging investigation of a number of law schools for purportedly manipulating their post-graduate employment data and salary information. Among the many schools we are investigating is the Thomas M. Cooley Law School which claims that 76 percent of its graduates have allegedly secured employment within nine months of graduation.
Finally, let me note the irony (if that is even the correct word) of a law school suing a law firm for defamation because the law firm is seeking plaintiffs for a class action fraud suit against the school. Cooley has to prove that the allegedly defamatory statements made by the law firm are not true, which is similar to the position Cooley would be in if the fraud case were to go forward (although the burden of proof would be on the other side there). Depending on procedural rules in Michigan, Cooley may have just opened itself up to discovery into all of its various claims regarding, say, employment statistics for its graduates.
The law school issued its own statement the day the suit was filed:
The Thomas M. Cooley Law School filed two lawsuits today to protect the reputation of the school and its students and alumni from defamatory Internet attacks. In the two actions, the law school asserts defamation and other legal claims against a New York City law firm, two lawyers in that firm, and four anonymous Internet bloggers.
“With ethics and professionalism at the core of our law school’s values, we cannot – and will not – sit back and let anyone circulate defamatory statements about Cooley or the choices our students and alumni made to seek their law degree here,” said Brent Danielson, Chair of Cooley’s Board of Directors and a retired District Court Judge.
“Cooley has consistently and truthfully reported job placement and salary figures in the manner required by the American Bar Association (ABA), our accrediting agency, and by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), a national jobs-reporting clearinghouse,” said Charles Toy, associate dean of Career and Professional Development at Cooley and the immediate past president of the State Bar of Michigan.
Consistent with all 201 ABA accredited law schools, Cooley’s job placement rates are reported annually to the ABA and NALP nine months after graduation based upon the results of graduate surveys in full compliance with the reporting methodology required by those agencies. Cooley’s reported job placement rates have ranged from the current 76 percent up to 82 percent in 2006, with a similar range reported back to 2000.
“Everyone has the right to state an opinion about Cooley, online or elsewhere,” said James B. Thelen, Esq., Cooley’s associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel. “But our lawsuits contend that these defendants have crossed the line both legally and ethically, -
smearing our reputation with blatantly false and often vulgar statements that they attempt to spread as broadly as possible.”
[more at the above link]
The complaints against the law firm and the anonymous bloggers are posted on Cooley’s website, where they will apparently be posting updates on the case. Between this and the Thomas Jefferson class action, it will be interesting to see how each side of this whole kerfuffle presents its case. Time for everyone to put up or shut up. Grab some popcorn (if you can afford some after making this month’s student loan payment, of course.)
I’m a little embarrassed I used the word “bling,” but no one ever accused me of being a stodgy lawyer type. Anyway, here’s the new decor for the blog:
The video is also up at Facebook and Vimeo.