Thursday, March 29, 2012

Episode 076 – Legal Hack-a-thon

Episode 076 – Conversation with BLIP Clinic Team.mpg

This conversation with Brooklyn Law School Prof. Jonathan Askin, Founder and Director of the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy ("BLIP") Clinic, and three of his students, Philip Weiss, Class of 2012, John Randall, Class of 2012 and Warren Allen, Class of 2012, discusses the Legal Hack-a-thon scheduled to begin on Sunday, April 15, 2012.

Prof. Askin outlines the goals in the first of what he hopes will be an annual event that will allow law students to take an active part in drafting legislative proposals. Phil Weiss discusses the focus of this year's event, an experiment in collaboration and crowdsourcing which grew out of the public response to the SOPA and PIPA bills and builds on the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (or OPEN Act) now pending in Congress. John Randall talks about one of the workshops, Creative Rights for Creative Children: IP Education in the Digital Age, scheduled to take place during the event. Finally, Warren Allen addresses how the event offers an opportunity to law students and policy makers to have an impact on a wide range of legal issues involving intellectual property. Sponsors of the Legal Hack-a-thon include BarBri, Panera Bread and Docracy, a web site that hosts legal documents freely available to the public. Docracy is the platform that those who register for the Legal Hack-a-thon will use for finding proposed language, editing proposals, and uploading the final product.

See the video below for the conversation with the BLIP Hack-a-thon team and for details about registering for the event and using the Docracy website.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alumni Gifts

Dennis Block, Brooklyn Law School Class of 1967, and Jeffrey Feil , BLS Class of 1973, have each donated $1 million to Brookly Law School to support student scholarships and public service programs. Block's donation will establish the Block Judicial Intern Fellows program, which will support students who spend the summer interning with federal judges. "One of the best experiences a law student can have is to intern for a federal judge," Block said. "It gives a student an opportunity to study the judicial decision-making process and to build writing and analytical skills." He supported the founding of the Dennis J. Block Center for the Study of International Business Law and teaches mergers and acquisitions as an adjunct professor. Block has previously contributed to student scholarships.

Feil made his gift through the Charitable Lead Annuity Trust of Louis Feil, named for his father. The money will supplement $1.25 million that the Feil family donated last year to create the Gertrude and Louis Feil Scholarship Fund. The law school already has a 22-story residential building named after Feil. "I am grateful for the training I received at Brooklyn Law School," Feil said. "Every day I use the skills I acquired there to analyze complex real estate transactions. I want to help students take advantage of the opportunities the law school offers, just as I did."

The Alumni Directory, which is on Reserve at the BLS Library Circulation Desk, states that Block is a Senior Partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and that Feil is President of the Feil Organization. For more information, see the BLS announcement here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Foodie Law

Among the titles in the Brooklyn Law School Library most recent New Books List is The Little Book of Foodie Law by Cecil C. Kuhne III (Call # KF3869 .K84 2012), the. The word "foodie" commonly refers to one who is unabashedly and unreservedly excited about food, its ingredients, and its preparation. This latest in the ABA “little books of” series examines the legal world of the foodie and is a fascinating read for anyone anxious to learn more about the legal issues that have taken place in the world of food.

The books 18 chapters cover cases with a wide range of legal issues dealing with food such as Litigating Restaurant Reviews in Mr. Chow of New York v. Ste. Jour Azur SA, 759 F. 2d 219 (2d Cir. 1985); Caspian Caviar: Spoilage from Poor Refrigeration in Fidelis Fisheries v. Thorden, 142 F. Supp. 798 (S.D.N.Y. 1956); Cooking Schools: Using the Name "Cordon Bleu" in Le Cordon Bleu v. Littlefield, 518 F. Supp. 823 (S.D.N.Y. 1981); Jewish Weddings: Failure to Serve Kosher Food in Siegel v. Ridgewells, Inc., 511 F. Supp. 2d 188 (D.D.C. 2007); Competitive Recipes: Trade Secret Ramifications in Buffets, Inc. v. Klinke, 73 F. 3d 965 (9th Cir. 1996); and Wine Sales: Shipment Across State Lines in Siesta Village Market LLC v. Steen, 595 F. 3d 249 (5th Cir. 2010). Each chapter features recipes based on the content allowing the reader to experience the material in the book first hand. The book has a fold-out "Timeline of Food" which tracks when certain food arrived in America. Both lawyers and foodies will find interesting the legal disputes over food related in this book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Episode 075 – Conversation with Noor Alam, Class of 2012

Episode 075 – Conversation with Noor Alam, Class of 2012.mpg

In this podcast, Noor I. Alam, Brooklyn Law School Class of 2012, talks about a recent event Representing the Poor Today: Poverty Law in Recession Times which the Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellowship Program sponsored. The Sparer Program
has been preparing law students and lawyers to work for social justice and the greater good since 1985 and has earned nationwide recognition. Sparer Fellow Noor I. Alam organized and hosted the event. The panelists were Keynote Speaker Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Graduate Center, City University of New York; Edward De Barbieri , BLS Class of 2008, former Sparer Law Fellow and Staff Attorney at Urban Justice Center; Richard Blum, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society; Jennifer DaSilva. Executive Director at Start Small Think Big, Inc.; Sarah Ludwig, founder of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP); and Brooke Richie, founder and executive director of the Resilience Advocacy Project.

In her comments, legendary political scientist and activist Frances Fox Piven, who has been writing about poverty, welfare rights and protest movements for nearly half a century, discussed rising inequality, poverty, and the condition of the safety net. The BLS Library has a several books which Prof. Piven wrote including Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (Call #KF4749 .P584).

Another panel member, BLS alumnus Edward De Barbieri, showed how the working poor can organize to improve their lives by helping immigrant women launch an employee-owned housecleaning business called Sí Se Puede. Within four years, its worker-owners tripled their wages to as much as $25 an hour and the company now has 37 worker-owners grossing $1.6 million. For more detail on that effort, see the Gotham Gazette article More Low-Wage Workers Become Their Own Bosses.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Copyright Infringement and Reasonableness

Brooklyn Law School’s Visiting Associate Professor of Law Irina D. Manta has posted Reasonable Copyright (Boston College Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Professor Manta, who teaches International Intellectual Property, Property, Trademark and Unfair Competition, joined the BLS faculty for the current academic year visiting from Case Western Reserve University School of Law. This abstract explains that her article provides an analysis of the role of reasonableness in the copyright context, disclosing flaws in the current standard for infringement, and offers a proposal for changes to copyright infringement doctrine:
Using the lens of the cognitive bias literature, this article examines and critiques the “reasonable man” standard found across a wide range of legal doctrines. I focus on the use of the standard in an extremely fuzzy area of the law: the law of copyright. In copyright, the test for infringement is whether a "reasonable observer” would believe that two works—often involving media that do not lendthemselves to precise masurement—are substantially similar. I begin by exploring and casting doubt on the usefulness of the reasonable man standard in such a setting. Are judges and juries truly able to determine what an abstract reasonable actor would find substantially similar in the comparison of two works? What types of cognitive biases will likely cloud this determination? And are biases likely to have a stronger or weaker effect when infringement questions are subjected to group deliberation, such as within a jury, as opposed to the individual decision-making of judges? Next, I address the problems that I uncover in the copyright context by first reviewing some potential solutions including both a proposal to reduce the role of juries in substantial similarity determinations and the possibility of trial bifurcation. Ultimately, I show that an openly subjective standard that focuses on the intended audience of works and uses social science surveys as evidence of infringement should replace the prevalent “objective” reasonable observer standard. Implementing such a solution would at least partially acknowledge that we are dealing not with perfectly reasonable but rather boundedly rational actors. This article represents the first systematic use of the psychology and legal literatures on cognitive bias to demonstrate the flawed nature of the substantial similarity test. The test’s overhaul is more necessary than ever in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Golan v. Holder and the emergence of new enforcement initiatives such as SOPA that foreshadow an increase in copyright infringement litigation.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day simply and soberly, use Brooklyn Law Library’s AV Collection in Rm. 111 and check out In America, a 2003 drama directed by Jim Sheridan. Sheridan directed and co-wrote with his two daughters the semi-autobiographical screenplay, loosely based on the Irish director’s experiences coming to New York with his family as a young man. The film focuses on an immigrant Irish family's efforts to survive in New York City, as seen through the eyes of the elder daughter.

The story is about Johnny and Sarah Sullivan and their two daughters who slipped illegally over the border from Canada into the US to move to NYC. No matter how squalid the building and how questionable the other tenants (including Mateo, the angry Nigerian painter who lives below them), they move into a large walk-up tenement in a seedy (unspecified) neighborhood. There Dad can pursue an acting career. In truth, he is trying to escape Ireland and the sad memories of the loss of a young who died of a brain tumor. The film locations include County Wicklow and Parnell Street in Dublin, Ireland as well as Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem in New York City. See the trailer here:

The film received nominations for Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay for Sheridan, Best Actress for Samantha Morton and Best Supporting Actor for Djimon Hounsou. From Ireland and Nigeria and elsewhere, America benefits from the will and faith of its immigrants. Imagine what it takes to leave home to try for a better life in another country. "In America" offers insight about the many ways in which it is hard to be a poor stranger in a new land.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Impact Factors and Citations

On March 1, 2012, the Washington and Lee School of Law released its 2011 list of Law Journal Rankings with the top 10 law journals listed here. The project ranks legal journals based on the number of times they have been cited over the preceding eight years as a measure of their impact on legal scholarship. W&L Law’s ranking system is based on a composite of each journal’s impact factor—the average annual number of citations to the journal’s articles—and the total number of citations to the journal in the preceding eight years. Complete rankings and a detailed description of the methodology are available at its web site. The W&L Law rankings are considered the authority on journal quality and are used by authors to select journals in which to publish.

Brooklyn Law School Library’s new Lib Guide entitled Brooklyn Law School Law Journals: Impact Factors and Citations has data for Brooklyn Law School’s four student-edited law journals: The Brooklyn Law Review, Brooklyn Journal of International Law, The Journal of Law and Policy, and The Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law. The guide gives the combined score, impact factor (calculated by taking the number of citing articles in the JLR database and dividing that by number of items published by the journal), citations from journal articles, and citations from federal and state court cases. It also provides the 2012-2013 Editorial Boards for each of the journals.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Language of Crime

Brooklyn Law School Professor Lawrence Solan and co-author Peter Tiersma of Loyola Law School Los Angeles recently posted The Language of Crime on SSRN. The 27 page paper is one of 40 chapters in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law which Prof. Solan co-edited with Prof. Tiersma. Oxford University Press expects to publish the volume in 2012. The book is part of the Oxford Handbook Series of which the BLS Library has eight titles in its collection. Here is the abstract for The Language of Crime:
Many crimes are generally performed by using language. Among them are solicitation, conspiracy, perjury, threatening, and bribery. In this chapter, we look at these crimes as acts of speech, and find that they have much in common – and a few interesting differences. For one thing, they involve different acts of speech, ranging from promises to orders. For another, most language crimes can be committed through indirect speech. Few criminals will say, “I hereby offer you a bribe,” or “I hereby engage you to kill my spouse.” Thus, many of the legal battles involve the extent to which courts may draw inferences of communicative intent from language that does not literally appear to be criminal. Yet the legal system draws a line in the sand when it comes to perjury, a crime that can only be committed through a direct fabrication. We provide a structured discussion of these various crimes that should serve to explain the similarities and difference among them.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lawyer Specialization: the Future is Now

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Hayes v. State of New York Attorney Grievance Committee of the Eighth Judicial District overturned part of a NY requirement that lawyers advertising professional certifications include particular disclaimers, saying sections of the rule are unconstitutional encroachments on free speech. Ruling that a requirement that ads that say certified lawyers are not necessarily more competent than others is "far more intrusive than necessary" and impermissible under the First Amendment, the court also voided a part of the rule requiring advertisements to explain that lawyers can practice without special certifications, saying the state had not shown that consumers would otherwise be misled.

J. Michael Hayes, who holds board certification in civil trial advocacy, faced several investigations by the State of New York Attorney Grievance Committee for inadequate disclosures on his letterhead and on one of two billboards advertising his services in 1999. To receive certification, a lawyer must have been lead counsel in at least five trials and actively participated in at least 100 matters requiring the taking of testimony. Although the Committee dismissed the investigations, Hayes, fearing further investigations, filed suit pro se in 2001, asking a US District Court for the Western District of New York to declare the disclaimer requirement void. The trial court rejected his void-for-vagueness claim following a bench trial in 2010.

The Second Circuit reverssed finding questionable the requirement that lawyers explain that the certification is not required to practice law, saying the state did not demonstrate that the disclaimer is needed to protect the public. “The alleged harm is surely not self-evident. It is difficult to imagine that any significant portion of the public observing the thousands of lawyers practicing in New York without certification believe that all of them are acting unlawfully.” The Second Circuit did rule that New York can require lawyers to say a certifying organization is not government-affiliated, since “avoiding such a possible misconception furthers a substantial governmental interest in consumer education and is not more intrusive than necessary to further that interest.” However, the court barred the Grievance Committee from enforcing that requirement against Hayes without clear notice of specific problems with his advertising and what he can do to comply. Finding that there was a lack of clear standards for enforcing Rule 7.4 on attorney specializations, the appellate judges ruled that “It is therefore void for vagueness as it has been applied to Hayes.” The New York Rules of Professional Conduct are available via SARA, the Brooklyn Law School Library catalog.

For more on the case, see the NY Law Journal article Circuit Finds Attorney Ad Rule on Specialty Violates Free Speech. How the issue of lawyer specialization impacts law students and law schools was the subject of a post, The end of law schools by Ray Campbell, in the Legal Ethics Forum last month that is worth reading.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Effective Legal Writing

Often legal documents are incomprehensible because of long, complicated sentences, and unnecessarily elaborate words. Readers want legal writers to state their points clearly and succinctly. Language is communication. Written language should be just as easy to understand as spoken. Writers are not communicating in a clear, direct way if they send their readers to the dictionary several times to define words or make the audience re-read a sentence because of its length and complexity. They simply appear as pedantic and pompous.

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection The Lawyer's Essential Guide to Writing: Proven Tools and Techniques by Marie P. Buckley (Call #KF250 .B83 2011 with tips for communicating clearly and effectively in writing. The Table of Contents lists key suggestions to show that legal writing is about the reader. Chapter One, Why Writing Matter, says: “What is excellent legal writing? Strong legal writing speaks a modern language—plain English. It respects our readers’ time and intelligence by being concise but thorough. It takes complex ideas and makes them clear.” This textbook shows lawyers how to stop sounding like lawyers. Among the suggestions:
  • Avoid lengthy sentences and wordiness.
  • Be concise – sometimes less is more.
  • Avoid redundant phrases and needless qualifiers.
  • Use plain language instead of pretentious words (like plethora and myriad).
  • Use the active voice instead of the passive voice.
  • Write in a visually appealing style using headings, subheadings, lists, and graphics to help your readers find the information quickly.
A web based resource that makes the same points is by a group of federal employees from many different agencies who support the use of clear communication in government writing. Illustrated with Before-and-After Comparisons, this site shows that a plain-language approach improves legal writing. Law students, legal scholars and government workers write more effectively when they remember that the point of writing is to communicate ideas as clearly and as easily as possible, not to impress your readers with your intellect.