Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

In advance of the Memorial Day holiday, NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand issued a press release about the New York Museums Salute Memorial Day: A Weekend of Appreciation effort conceived by her, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Alliance for the Arts and the Museums Association of New York to provide free admission to all active duty service members and veterans at each of the 54 participating institutions throughout Memorial Day Weekend. Participating institutions include the Whitney Museum of American Art, American Museum of Natural History, Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum, El Museo del Barrio, Guggenheim Museum, Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, Jewish Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Museum of the American Indian, New York Historical Society, New York Transit Museum, Queens Museum of Art, Sailor’s Snug Harbor, South Street Seaport, Staten Island Museum, The Children’s Museum, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Studio Museum in Harlem. Proper military ID is required for free admission.

New York City Memorial Day Events include Fleet Week with a variety of events over the Memorial Day weekend including the Intrepid Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony from 11 am to 1 pm at the SummerStage in Central Park. In Brooklyn, Green-Wood’s 12th Annual Memorial Day Concert is scheduled for Monday, May 31 at 2:30 pm on the Grounds of Green-Wood Cemetery at the Gothic Arch of Green-Wood Cemetery with music by Fred Ebb, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Paul Jabara. Admission is free.

The Brooklyn Law School Library will be open on Monday from 9am to 10pm. In the Law Review room on the third floor, partrons can read Alexander M. Selkirk, Jr.'s article The True Meaning of Memorial Day in the New York State Bar Journal 63.4 (1991) at pages 62-63. The article relates the origins of the holiday in 1868 when Gen. John A. Logan (for whom Logan Circle in Washington, DC is named), issued General Orders No. 11, creating the first Memorial Day also known as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868 as a day to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers. At the time, Logan was President of the Grand Army of the Republic, forerunner of today's veterans' organizations. He also represented Illinois as a member of the House of Representatives and was active in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Later he became a US Senator and a Republican candidate for Vice President. The article cites critics of the day who questioned whether Logan's motives for creating the holiday was an act of political aggrandizement rather than one arising from a general sense of patriotism. For more on Logan, see Paul Katzeff's article in Investor's Business Daily John Logan, The Hero Who Championed Memorial Day.

The True Meaning of Memorial Day states:

Whatever the motives of John Alexander Logan in creating Memorial Day, they are unimportant. It is also misleading to view Memorial Day as a time only to mourn the dead any more than to consider it a day to celebrate victory in American's Wars. What is important is Logan's greatest legacy to our nation, that being a day on which all Americans regardless of their race, creed, color, ethnic background, or political philsophy unite in a common purpose, to honor those who have made the supreme sacrifice that the American way of life may be preserved. . .

On Memorial Day we truly comprehend that our survival rests not upon nuclear missiles, advanced weapons systems, or international alliances, but upon our countrymen in a common defense against all enemies foreign and domestic who plot the overthrow of our great Republic.

The real meaning of Memorial Day is as clear today as it was the day it was first celebrated over one hundred years ago after the great Civil War had divided our nation. Simply stated, Memorial Day stands for the proposition that united we can survive indefinitely as a free and domestic people, and it is only through our division that we sow the seeds of our own destruction.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reading List for BLS Grads

This week, the display case on the first floor of the library opposite the elevator contains a number of items of interest to graduating students. Brooklyn Law School Associate Librarian Linda Holmes has included these items:

Careers in Tax Law: Perspectives on the Tax Profession and What It Holds for You by John Gamino, Robb A. Longman, and Matthew R. Sontag (Call #KF299.T3 C37 2009)

Careers in Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice by James T. O'Reilly (Call #KF299.A32 C37 2010)

How to Go Directly Into Your Own Solo Law Practice and Succeed: Into the New Millennium and Beyond by Gerald M. Singer (Call #KF300 .S564 2000)

The Creative Lawyer: a Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction by Michael F. Melcher (Call #KF300.Z9 M45 2007)

Effectively Staffing Your Law Firm by Jennifer J. Rose (Call #KF318 .E33 2009)

From Law School To Law Practice: The New Associate’s Guide by Suzanne B. O'Neill and Catherine Gerhauser Sparkman (Call #KF300 .O53 1998)

Inside The Minds: Leading Litigators: Industry Leaders Share Their Knowledge on the Art & Science of Litigation (Call # KF300 .I57 2002)

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Great Bridge 127 Years Old

127 years ago, on a cloudless sunny May 24th morning in 1883, an estimated 50,000 citizens from across the nation gathered in the City of Brooklyn to mark the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, then hailed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". With vessels in the harbor decorated with flags and bunting, the opening ceremony included dignitaries from President Chester A. Arthur and several members of the Cabinet, to NY Governor and soon-to-be President Grover Cleveland, New York Mayor Franklin Edson and Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low. Historian David McCullough's The Great Bridge (Call #KFX2071 .M138) in the New York Collection of the Brooklyn Law School Library, provides not only interesting facts about the engineering feats that created the Brooklyn Bridge, but also insight into New York and Brooklyn after the Civil War. The book describes the opening day ceremony as:
"the biggest celebration New York had seen since the opening of the Erie Canal nearly sixty years before. Some of the Irish were unhappy because the day chosen for the ceremony happened also to be Queen Victoria's birthday, but almost everybody else had a splendid time. Both cities went on a holiday and the fireworks on the bridge that night lasted a solid hour. In all some fourteen tons of rockets and flares were set off from the center of the river span and from the tops of the towers. Bands played on board excursion steamers on the river and the celebrating lasted until dawn."
The next day's NY Times front page story reported the festivities in greater detail.

Brooklyn Heights neighborhood historian Karl Junkersfeld put together this 10 minute video tribute to the Brooklyn Bridge for its 127th Anniversary with photos, drawings and paintings of the bridge's construction, opening day and views of the bridge since.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Career Alternatives for Law Grads

A post at Above the Law discusses career alternatives for law school graduates who are open to using their law degrees and legal training working somewhere other than a large law firm. The post, Career Alternatives: Internship Market Maker, features an interview with Brooklyn Law School alum Cari Sommer, Class of 2001. Cari is one of the co-founders of Urban Interns, a recruiting website that connects small businesses with part-time assistants. Through the site, employers pay $40 for a job posting and access to the candidate database for 30 days. Job seekers can search the listings for free, but also have the option of highlighting their profile for a fee. The site started with NYC area positions, and has expanded to Boston, Chicago, and DC. It was named one of America's Most Promising Startups by Business Week and was featured in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, World Business and Crain's New York. Through ongoing research on the hiring trends of business owners across the country, Cari and her co-founder Lauren Porat are experts on the topic.

After attending Brooklyn Law School, Cari began her career as a litigator at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft and later Bryan Cave LLP. Lauren, who graduated from the University of Michigan, worked in investment banking at Merrill Lynch and later worked in private equity at Oaktree Capital Management and at the internet conglomerate IAC, where she worked in a variety of financial and strategic planning roles. Cari and Lauren met when they both served as board members of Step Up Women's Network, a national nonprofit membership organization dedicated to creating community resources for women and girls.

This video of Cari and Lauren explain how their business model works:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

SEC Circuit Breaker Rule Proposal

The dramatic drop in the stock market that occurred on May 6 causing the Dow Jones Average to plummet 1,000 points, 10% of its total value, in a half hour has prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to propose a rule that would pause trading of individual stocks if the trading price falls 10 percent or more in a five-minute period. A Wall Street Journal article 'Flash Crash' Plan: a Circuit Breaker for Every Stock reports the SEC proposed rule change announced this week. The SEC is working with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) on this issue.

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said she believed that disparate trading rules and conventions across the exchanges exacerbated the "flash crash". The proposed rule comes as the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) released Preliminary Findings Regarding the Market Events of May 6, 2010. On page 75, the staff report states “the SEC is taking a number of steps to identify the cause or causes of the May 6 market disruption as well as factors that may have exacerbated that event, and to develop regulatory initiatives to help prevent a recurrence.”

While the cause of the "flash crash" remains unclear, the report focused on orders placed by high-frequency traders, or HFTs, firms that barely existed a few years ago but now account for two-thirds of all US stock trading. It makes these observations about high frequency traders which it defines as "professional traders that use computer systems to engage in strategies that generate a large number of trades on a daily basis.":
Both the CFTC and the SEC have had extensive conversations with a wide variety of market participants (investors, hedge funds, exchange traded funds, dealers, high frequency traders, etc.) to better understand their trading activities throughout May 6, and to gather anecdotal evidence from which common themes and/or trends can be identified to inform further areas of investigation.

The SEC needs to develop the tools necessary to readily identify large traders and be able to evaluate their trading activity is heightened by the fact that large traders, including certain high-frequency traders, are playing an increasingly prominent role in the securities markets.

See the NY Times DealBook article Speedy New Traders Make Waves Far From Wall Street for more on the growing impact of high-frequency traders.

In a press release issued by the SEC this week, Schapiro said "I believe it is important that all the exchanges quickly reached consensus on a set of uniform circuit breakers that would be triggered when needed. Today's filings reflect that consensus. I am pleased by the constructive cooperation of the exchanges and FINRA, as evidenced by their rapid response." The proposed rule is laid out in the SEC Release No.34-62131.

A CNN.Money report Schapiro: Robo-trading eyed in 'flash crash' says that Schapiro told a Senate panel that computerized trading could be responsible for the historic market plunge on May 6 and that the 1,000-point stock plunge was "possibly exacerbated by the withdrawal of liquidity by electronic market makers and the use of market orders, including automated stop-loss market orders."
This video featuring Fortune's Managing Editor Andy Server explains the more proactive regulatory stance that the SEC is now taking:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Corruption Perceptions Index 2009

Transparancy International (TI), an international non-governmental organization fighting corruption is trying to raise public awareness about corruption. Its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in 180 countries and territories around the world and lists the US as number 18 (behind 17 other nations: New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Germany, Ireland, Austria, Japan and the United Kingdom). In its regional highlights for the Americas, TI states:
The United States (US) is weathering widespread concerns over a lack of government oversight in relation to the financial sector. A swift government response to the financial crisis and moves towards regulatory reforms that include transparency and accountability measures, may have countered scepticism. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether proposed reforms are far-reaching enough and to what extent they will be implemented. Another reason for concern is that in the US the legislature is perceived to be the institution most affected by corruption, according to TI’s Global Corruption Barometer, a public opinion survey published in 2009.

An investigative article by Bloomberg News on one of the biggest criminal investigations in public finance may worsen that perception. The story involves accusations of wrongdoing against big banks (including JPMorgan, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Bank of America and Citigroup) involved in an alleged conspiracy in a massive bid-rigging scandal over the use of guaranteed investment contracts, or GICs in the municipal bond market. The GICs act like certificates of deposit for the cash raised from municipal bond offerings. Since interest rates on GICs are not published, local governments put the contracts out for competitive bidding for small advisory firms to run the auctions in order to get the highest interest rates. The indictments from October 2009 against one of the advisory firms, CDR Financial Products of Beverly Hills, allege that the process appears to have been rigged, according to the Bloomberg story. In March and February, three employees of CDR Financial Products pleaded guilty to bid-rigging, fraud conspiracies and wire fraud.

The charges against CDR claim the firm told over a dozen big banks that sell GICs, how to lowball their bids to win business from the state and local governments. The banks, in turn, paid kickbacks to CDR. Involved are 160 state agencies, local governments and non-profits that may have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. States including West Virginia were effected by the nationwide conspiracy. The US Justice Department filed a criminal antitrust case over contracts holding tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in the US District Court in Manhattan on March 24 that is now under seal.

The workings of the conspiracy — which stretched from California to Pennsylvania in the $2.8 trillion municipal bond market and included more than 200 deals involving about 160 state agencies, local governments and non- profits — can be pieced together from the Justice Department’s indictment of CDR Financial Products Inc., civil lawsuits by governments around the country, e-mails obtained by Bloomberg News and interviews with current and former bankers and public officials. Bloomberg News has this quote:
“The whole investment process was rigged across the board,” said Charlie Anderson, who retired in 2007 as head of field operations for the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt bond division. “It was so commonplace that people talked about it on the phones of their employers and ignored the fact that they were being recorded.
Anderson said he referred scores of cases to the Justice Department when he was with the IRS. He estimates that bid rigging cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Anderson said prosecutors are lining up conspirators to plead guilty and name names.
“This will go on for a long time and a lot of people will be indicted.”

Stay tuned as this story develops.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Episode 054 - Conversation with BLS Professor Karen Porter

Episode 054 - Conversation with BLS Professor Karen Porter.mp3

This podcast features Assistant Professor of Clinical Law Karen Porter talking about Brooklyn Law School's Center for Health, Science, and Public Policy. Professor Porter is its executive director and runs the Health Law Clinic. In this conversation, she discusses the externships at leading public and non-profit organizations in the New York metropolitan that are available through the Center for Health, Science, and Public Policy. These organizations' missions include health care delivery, access to care, public health or broader public policy concerns. She describes how BLS students are exposed to a rigorous curriculum, which provides them with the substantive knowledge and practical skills needed to become excellent lawyers in fields related to health and science. Through the externships, students gain real-world experience, address difficult challenges in law and policy, and make meaningful contributions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Information on Elena Kagan

Reference Librarian Kincaid Brown of the University of Michigan Law Library has created an informational web page for US Supreme Court nominee Solicitor General Elena Kagan. In addition to biographical information about Elena Kagan, the site links to her authored works, transcripts of speeches and links to the 2009 confirmation hearings for Ms. Kagan's nomination as Solicitor General. Kincaid will update the site as new information becomes available. When the confirmation hearings begin, the site will also include links to the hearing transcripts.

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection a video recording related to one of the items on the list: Elena Kagan, Regulation of Hate Speech and Pornography after R.A.V., 60 U. CHI. L. REV. 873 (1993) (HeinOnline). Speech, Equality & Harm, Call #KF4770.Z9 S64 1993 is a seven part video available in the library's AV collection. Tape number 3 features the Pornography, Hate Speech and the First Amendment Panel and runs 229 minutes with 12 minutes of Elena Kagan's comments on freedom of expression at about the 217 minute mark. The 1993 video of the then 33 year-old Kagan dates from when she was on the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School as an assistant professor 17 years ago.

Interestingly, Kagan grew up Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town, graduated Hunter College High School on the Upper East Side and later lived on West End Avenue. If confirmed, she would boost NYC's representation on the Supreme Court to four members; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, Justice Sonia Sotomayor spent part of her childhood in public housing in the Bronx and Justice Antonin Scalia grew up in Queens. BLS Professor Jason Mazzone commented: "I don't think that there's anything in the water or in the air that's causing this, but it's really notable. You would never find at any prior point in history four justices from the same city."

Source: the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Free Parking

One of the book jackets in the cellar level display case maintained by Brooklyn Law School Associate Librarian Linda Holmes is The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald C. Shoup (Call #HE336.P37 S56). This 734 page book critically discusses the link between transportation and land use and argues that the topic of free parking deserves more attention than it has historically received. Shoup, analyzing parking problems and their solution, addresses the reason for such problems: the assumption that parking should be free. Analogizing to the idea of free gasoline, he states the obvious result: people would drive too much, shortages of gasoline would develop, fights would break out over scarce gas, and governments would go broke trying to pay for it all. This book argues that parking is no different and that providing free parking leads to overuse, shortages and conflicts over parking. Cash-strapped local governments and neighborhoods also lose out. The high price of housing is due to requirements by local governments that a certain number of parking spaces must be provided. These costs are paid by everyone, including those who do not own a car.

In NPR's recent show Charge More for Parking, Reap Benefits Beyond Revenue, Andrea Burnstein discussed how New York City has been quietly experimenting with variable pricing in Greenwich Village and Park Slope to encourage drivers to leave spots more quickly. An 86 page report called U.S. Parking Policies: An Overview of Management Strategies by the Institute for Transportation Development Policy says that an increasing number of municipalities are looking to variable parking rates as a way to get people to leave their spots more quickly. At page 28, the report says:
In New York City, for example, the Department of Transportation is piloting a “ParkSmart” program which increased meter rates in Park Slope, Brooklyn, from $0.75 to $1.50 per hour during the parking peak. In Greenwich Village, rates have been increased from $1 to $3 per hour as a result of the program. Yet off-street parking rates range between $13 and $25 per hour with the typical rate being $15 or $16. The rate differential results in a $12 to $13 savings per every hour parked at the curb, which is essentially equivalent to paying oneself $12 per hour if it takes a full hour to find a curbside spot. Spending 15 minutes to save $12 is the equivalent hourly rate of someone earning $100,000 annual salary.
The audio of the show is here:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Financial Literacy

Two recent posts at the Business Law Prof Blog address the issue of financial literacy among law students and the alarming level of incompetence among regulators. The first post concerned Mark Klock’s recent article Lessons Learned from Bernard Madoff: Why We Should Partially Privatize the Barney Fifes at the SEC the abstract of which on SSRN says:
Financial markets do not function well when fraud is pervasive. Around September of 2009, the investigations into the SEC examinations of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, LLC were completed and released to the public. The simple facts reveal an alarming level of incompetence and lack of financial literacy on the part of the guardians of the integrity of our financial markets. I suggest two important tools for addressing these problems. One is to supplement enforcement of anti-fraud rules with more private attorney generals by expressly creating a private right of action for aiding and abetting violations of securities laws. This will foster a stronger culture of integrity and ethical conduct in the auditing profession. An additional tool is to increase financial literacy in our law schools which supply the regulators of our markets.
The second post entitled The SEC and Hiring expresses dismay at the slavish devotion to formality exhibited by the agency's human resources department. The post is worth quoting at length:

To wit, today's law students - regardless of passion for the subject or practical experience - are keenly aware that the Commission (just like any large law firm) shall be predictably seeking to hire the top of the law school class. This lemmings approach to filtering applicants leads the SEC to the very same students who win the beauty pageant of grades that commences around Christmas of the first year of law school and ceases sometime near retirement. Inevitably, such forerunners are, at best, anticipating a brief "training period" employment with the Commission or, at worst, gobbled up by the largest Wall Street employers halfway through interview season.

Each semester I encounter students who, despite acumen and desire, lose out to the simplistic approach of an agency that, despite a perennial wealth of applicants, seems to get outmaneuvered by market players each decade. Without fail, a number of students in courses like Securities Regulation and Corporate Finance evidence a practical utility and an earnest hope to work for a regulator (e.g., the former hedge fund trader willing to explain the real value in a real time stock ticker; the former State examiner who's interviewed 100+ investors; the economics major who can readily distinguish between the boilerplate of a 10Q and a 10K; the part-time student who's worked in a stock loan department). In fairness to the Commission, the Regional Offices outside of New York and Washington D.C. do seem more willing to value work experience and a corporate course load over high scores in Torts and Contracts. But in those two largest offices, the message is clear: Third year students ranked high in the class of a top law school shall be given the most serious consideration (and likely stand the only realistic chance at something called "The SEC Honors Program").

It may very well take stalwart leadership, a generation of creativity, and unfettered funding to completely reform the Commission. But a large step towards it regaining composure can be made in a year by simply redirecting the hiring process to favor experience and desire over scores on tests gauging a first year law student's knowledge of generalized legal concepts. Stated bluntly: Lighten up SEC, and give the students with focused skills a chance.
An April article from AmLaw Daily entitled And Now for Something Completely Different: The Future of Legal Education addressed the need for more “skill development” in law schools during the current economic downturn, as businesses are “not going to pay for people who can't add value.” The article noted that most law schools do not teach lawyers such practical business management skills as financial literacy and effective executive communication.