I Have Socks Older Than That

A few days ago six to eight students filled my office, preparing for a final exam.  One asked “how old is that briefcase?”  I thought a moment.  “It was a gift when I graduated from law school, so it’s over 28 years old.”  They absorbed this information, and then one said “you mean that briefcase is older than all of us.”  They all laughed.  briefcaseAnd every year the age gap grows between my briefcase and my students.

Deja Vu

A story in yesterday’s NY Times addressed the battle between backlisted authors and book publishers, focusing on the efforts of William Styron’s heirs  (Styron wrote The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, among others) to license e-book versions of his works.  Random House, which published Styron’s earlier works, said through a spokesman “that authors were precluded ‘from granting publishing rights to third parties'” because their contracts with Random House covered all such works, including e-books.  Internet law students may wonder if they stepped into a time machine, as they recently read the trial court opinion in Random House, Inc. v Rosetta Books LLC which rejected Random House’s suit to enjoin publication of e-book versions of various works–including Styron’s.  Indeed, Random House asserts its control over e-books arises from its right to publish the authors’ works “in book form”–the same argument the trial court rejected in denying Random House injunctive relief. Rosetta Books.  The Times article notes that the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision. Random House’s argument is not totally off the wall because the trial court ruled Random House was not likely to succeed on the merits of its contract claim and the Second Circuit held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion–in other words, there was no trial  or appellate review on whether the right to publish works “in book form” encompasses e-books.  Nevertheless Random House’s argument was not compelling  in 2001 and the years since have not been kind to its theory for relief.

The Styron parallel aside, there is much at stake in the contest between publishers of older books and the heirs or literary executors of the books’ authors. Backlist titles are an important source of revenue.  One would expect that publishing contracts more recent than the 1994 agreement between Random House and Styron addressed e-book rights explicitly.  This shapes up as an interesting struggle over the contract lawyers’ abilities to control rights over technology whose nature they could perceive dimly, at best, when drafting the contracts.

This story has a totally unrelated aside.  Random House is also struggling to control e-book versions of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.  I read Catch-22 (for pleasure, not as an assignment) when I was 16 or so, and I am currently halfway through an audio book version.  Catch-22 taught me the term deja vu, a phenomenon  (along with jamais vu and presque vu) the Chaplain ponders throughout the book.  I remember my deep satisfaction with learning the proper name for the sense of having experienced a moment before.  This was long before Yogi Berra’s “it’s like deja vu all over again” became a ubiquitous punch line and cheapened the sensation’s mystery.  Given Catch-22’s presence in the article and over my car’s audio system, deja vu seemed the right title for this post.

Serendipitous Sight

Returning along the causeway from a Casco AG snacks run (potato chips, molasses cookies, popcorn, and a sugar donut [supply your own punch line]{no, I did not eat all of it in one sitting}) a bald eagle flew about 50 feet in the air in front of me.  I pulled the truck over to watch the eagle beat its wings northwest across the lake.  A magnificent, dramatic, solitary bird, the first bald eagle I have seen in a few years.  On a cold and very windy day devoted to grading papers and wiki projects by the warm glow of a computer screen, it was a treat.

C’mon, Sox

Today I renewed my Red Sox season tickets for the 2010 season.   Always on the lookout to increase my frequent flyer mile account I was happy that the Sox said on the form I could pay by credit card directly at the Sox website.  I logged into the site, found the 2010 season ticket renewal menu, and started through the prompts.  Indeed I could pay by credit card–but only at the gross price, without getting credit for the $3,400 the Sox owe me for 2009’s unused playoff tickets. The process may have provided for this credit later but I chose not to advance past the window that told me my credit card would be charged if I took one more step.  I’ve made the Red Sox one interest-free loan this fall.  I’ll decline the chance to make another.  I logged out of the site and wrote a check for the net 2010 ticket balance.

How hard is it, really, to give renewing season ticket holders credit for unused playoff tickets?  Is this how you cope with having to pay the credit card provider’s merchant transaction fee? Bad form, Red Sox.

I Don’t Get It

About 22 Intro to Law students elected Grading Option B, which requires that they research and write a short paper.  I implore those who elect Option B to send me drafts at least two weeks before the paper is due. I stress the importance of soliciting and responding to my feedback.  The paper is due Thursday.  Today, less than 72 hours before the deadline, six students have submitted drafts for review and comments.  Six out of 22.  What are they thinking?

Law School Cost/Benefit

The WSJ Law Blog recently ran a post that’s worth linking to just for its title:  “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Lawyers.” Its substance–or the substance to which it links*–is less cheery, being an academic paper that addresses whether “a law degree is a good investment.”  The paper examines the investment of law school for three hypothetical students:

  • “Also Ran [who] achieves above average grades in a relatively nonmarketable major from a middle-of-the-pack undergraduate institution; he could have earned a mere $40,000 in a non-legal job. Also Ran manages to claw his way into a second or third rate law school and has at best a remote prospect of landing a “Biglaw” job[;]”
  • “Solid Performer [who] achieves relatively good grades in a relatively marketable major from a better institution; he could have earned $60,000 in a non-legal job. Solid Performer makes his way into a low-first or high-second rate law school and has a prospect (if all goes well and the stars are aligned), but far less than a certain prospect (since all does not always go well and the stars do not always align), of landing a “Biglaw” job[;]” and
  • “Hot Prospect [who] earns stellar grades in a very marketable major from a top notch institution; she could have earned $80,000 in a non-legal job. Hot Prospect attends a first rate law school and has a strong chance of landing a “Biglaw” job.”

The paper examines each hypothetical student’s opportunity costs, tuition and fees, and net summer wages to determine their respective total cost of law school.  It then looks at the direct benefits of a law degree, discounts them, and concludes

that even at a very modest 10% discount rate, much less a more realistic higher discount rate, Also Ran, who will with great likelihood fall into the $40,000 to $65,000 starting salary range, has no business investing in a private law school degree. Similarly, Solid Performer should question his decision to attend a private law school, in spite of the fact that his expected starting salary may be around $105,000.  The reason is that he faces a substantial likelihood of falling far short of that figure . . . Finally, for Hot Prospect, who will in all likelihood land a Biglaw job starting at $160,000 per year, the law degree appears to be an acceptable investment at a 10% discount rate, albeit hardly a no-brainer. However, if a discount rate higher that 10% is deemed appropriate, even that conclusion is open to revision.

To round out this grim tale

[t]here is no reason to believe that the currently-experienced changes in the legal market for freshly-minted law school graduates are temporary; indeed, some legal scholars think they may well be permanent.  If so, then it is not just the current crop of Hot Prospects, but all future crops as well, who will need to ratchet down their expectations not only with respect to first-year compensation, but also with respect to job security and chances for partnership.

The paper notes that each student’s calculations involve different factors; the three hypothetical categories of student are painted with broad strokes.  The paper is only twelve pages long and more readable than the WSJ Law Blog post suggests.  It does not sing a different tune than readers have heard from but it does provide a structured approach to analyzing the costs and benefits of attending law school.

*Yes, this a post about a post about a post.

Saab Story

As the owner of two Saabs–a 9-3 Sport Turbo and 9-2x–the headline GM Plan to Sell Its Saab Unit Collapses in today’s Wall Street Journal produced the sinking stomach you feel when you know you are about to lose money.  Reading the story didn’t make me feel better.  It’s not like the extinction of an animal species but Saabs, with their design oddities and stylistic tics, have been around for a long time.  Maybe Saab owners can spin the story, arguing that extinction will make their cars’ values increase.  Anyone interested in a collector’s edition 9-3?  Buy it now at today’s unique pre-scarcity price!

‘Tis the Season for Sales Taxes

The New York Times acknowledged Black Friday (when did the Thanksgiving Day Plus One shopping extravaganza acquire that name?  Is it so named because it’s the day that puts retailers into the black for the year?  I would call it “Shopping Orgy Day”) with an editorial calling for online retail sales to be taxed.  (Yes, You Owe That Tax)  Saying “[o]nline retailers who do not collect sales tax enjoy a significant and unfair advantage over rivals who must add the tax to their prices. They also cost the states billions of dollars a year in lost sales tax revenue . . . ” the Times  lauds the 2008 New York state “Amazon Law” making online retailers responsible for collecting taxes on sales to New York residents.  Every semester for many years I have told students that e-commerce sales taxes were a question of when, not if.  One of these years I’ll be right.