Food Taster Needed?

Last week I opened my BU office to find a gift box of cookies on my desk.  There was no note attached, no signature card, nothing identifying the giver.  Just a box of fancy decorated cookies.  I asked around but no one knows who delivered them to my office.  No one has called or emailed to ask “how were the cookies?”  I assume the giver is female; it is unlikely–not impossible, of course, but unlikely–that a male would give me a box of heart-shaped cookies.  I assume they are benign, yet I’ve yet to eat one.

Would anyone like a cookie?

Grim Career News: One-Stop Shopping

I have keen interest in the job market for recent law graduates.  My oldest son is looking for a position after his current judicial clerkship ends next fall and a 3L friend is gingerly holding a permanent Big Law job offer, fearing it may disappear with one brief email.  As a service to law students, interested observers of the legal job market, and worried parents The Shark (motto:  “don’t stop swimming.  it’s law school”) has compiled all the depressing info we could find on your future, all in one place, a chart detailing which firms have rescinded offers to 3Ls, deferred 3L start dates, and closed or cut back on 2009 summer programs.


Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools? in the 3/14 New York Times contained this revealing, disturbing fact:

A study of cheating among graduate students, published in 2006 in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education, found that 56 percent of all M.B.A. students cheated regularly — more than in any other discipline. The authors attributed that to “perceived peer behavior” — in other words, students believed everyone else was doing it.

How depressing.  We need to throw the ethics curriculum out the window and start fresh because whatever we’ve been doing is inadequate.  How do you reach someone whose sole value is to make as much money as possible?

Malware Aid

Malware is a serious, growing problem.  The Berkman Center and Consumers Union have launched, “a community of people working together to fight back against viruses, spyware, and other bad software.”  If you believe your system has been infected with malware, have expertise about malware that you want to offer others, or want to learn more about what malware is and how to deal with it. check out the site.

Toxic Data

Tomorrow I start teaching a half-semester seminar on privacy law in the honors program.  Here’s Bruce Schneier with a timely piece about data, “the natural by-product of every computer mediated interaction.  It stays around forever, unless it’s disposed of.  It is valuable when reused, but it must be done carefully.  Otherwise, its after-effects are toxic.”   Schneier warns that future generations will look back on our heedless treatment of data as we look back with dismay on our forebears’ cavalier treatment of industrial pollution.

Job Discrimination Cases Tough to Win

A study published last month in the Harvard Law & Policy Review proves something I’ve stressed in classes for many years, based on anecdotal experience:  winning a federal employment discrimination claim is a long shot.  Based on data from 1979-2006 the study reports:

  • Federal employment discrimination plaintiffs won 15% of their cases, compared to the 51% win rate for other federal civil plaintiffs;
  • 12.5% of federal employment discrimination cases end in summary judgment; employers sought summary judgment in 90% of those cases.  In contrast, 3% of contract cases and 1.7% of personal-injury and property-damage cases ended in summary judgment.
  • By applying a “plausibility” standard to the pleadings Federal judges “routinely terminate employment-discrimination cases through motions to dismiss” (according to the 19-Feb Wall Street Journal article titled “Job-Discrimination Cases Tend to Fare Poorly in Federal Court”).
  • From 1999 to 2007 federal employment-discrimination cases declined by 40%.

The Journal article offered a number of reasons for the low success rate:  the difficulty of proving an employment discrimination claim “which,” the article notes, “is rately overt;” employer willingness to settle credible suits quickly; employment practices that lessen the incidence of employment discrimination; and better record-keeping that documents non-discriminatory grounds for employment termination.

Dinner at the Country Club

We–Judy, me, and our 27-year old son–lowered the club’s dining room’s mean age considerably.  (Judy and I would have lowered it considerably by ourselves.)  This club spent $10 million to upgrade its facilities to attract younger members, a plan my father-in-law thought had dubious merit when it was announced.  Events proved him right.  Younger members are joining, if 65 year-old couples count as young blood.  About 10% of the homes that are part of the club are in foreclosure or behind in club dues.   Club rules impose serious restraints on homeowners’ ability to sell, restraints that are subject to court challenge.  Mort, thankfully, is not affected since he lives elsewhere.  Despite the troubling economic undercurrent the dining room was full, and I enjoyed another Stranger in a Strange Land experience as (1) a longtime member of no clubs, (2) a child of the club membership’s generation, and (3) a gentile in a self-described Jewish club.  The $10 million was spent tastefully.  The bar and dining room were warm, open, light, quietly elegant.  The bathroom was one of the five nicest I’ve set foot in. The food was quite good.  Mort and Dalia table hopped, shaking hands and air-kissing.  The membership was tan and surprisingly fit, walkers notwithstanding.  One face-lift continued to draw my attention, a mask-like visage rigidly secured to its bearer.  The convivial mood was irresistable.  Mort leaned over mid-meal and said “you are seeing the end of a generation.”  At 87 he enjoys each day as it comes, his body frail but his mind sharp.  Recently he took up bridge after a 30-year hiatus, a new intellectual and social activity.  I admire and respect that he refuses to sit still.

Returning from the club I had another authentic South Florida experience.  Dalia drove us to the club but Mort slid behind the wheel for the drive home.  Samuel saw my raised eyebrows and said “you will make it back okay.  It may take until tomorrow to get there.”  Our speed never exceeded 40 mph, including the mile on I-95.  Cars passed on the right and left, resigned by experience to slow-moving speed bumps piloted by the elderly. But we made it home safely.

Poolside in Eff El A

I’m in Highland Beach, FLA, for a long end-of-spring-break weekend, after a Delta nonstop flight from Boston to West Palm Beach that featured in stop in Atlanta. Did we change plans because of maintenance problems? A security issue? So Delta could fill the few empty seats with paying hitchhikers from Hartsfield? All of these reasons circulated. I don’t know why we stopped to change planes, only that we arrived in West Palm at 1:00 PM instead of 10:30 AM. It could be worse. We did arrive. By 2:15 we were eating bagels and cream cheese with Mort and Dalia, by 2:45 I was swimming laps in the pool, and by 3:00 we were walking on the beach, sidestepping dead Portuguese Men 0′ War. The ocean here in March is warmer than the ocean at Plum Island in July, so I had to swim. Twice, keeping a wary eye for hostile sea critters. When our boys were young we visited here annually. I’ve not been here for 15 years, at least. I’m not a huge fan of FLA but for a few days of sun, sea, beach, free accommodations, and good hosts I’ll overcome my principled antipathy. A late afternoon pool-side nap makes Boston’s long winter a memory.

I planned to buy a wireless router and set up a network in this apartment, but there’s no need thanks to the unsecured network provided by the Wallachs, wherever they may live in this development. I promise, Wallachs, that I won’t consume disproportionate bandwidth or download anything illegal while I’m here.

Did you know, by the way, that a Portuguese Man o’ War is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, a colony of four polyps that work together like a high-functioning SM323 team?  There’s the gas-filled bladder polyp visible above the water, the long venom-filled tendrils polyp that stuns small fish and stings the hell out of careless swimmers (I ran into a small one many years ago), the digestive polyp, and the reproductive polyp.  That’s amazing.  What did these polyps do before they met?  It was Kismet when nature brought them together.  “Hey, Gas-Filled Bladder!  Come over here and meet Venomous Tendrils and Digestive Organ.  They came stag, too.  The four of us should join up and terrorize small sea ceatures!”

Dissolution Blues

You are a first-year associate in a big law firm.  The economy tanks.  The firm decides you are an expensive piece of overhead and lays you off. Thousands of other lawyers are being laid off and your prospects of finding another lucrative big-law position are slim.  Pretty bad, right?  If this description resonates then I feel for you.  But if that is as bad as it gets for you, be thankful.  Many big firms loan incoming first-year associates a loan, in the form of a salary advance, to pay for bar review courses and living expenses in the months between graduation and the start of employment.  Thacher Proffit & Wood dissolved and laid off its entire workforce.  As reported this week by Legal Times, the firm’s “dissolution committee and bank are pursuing the former associates for repayment of salary advances issued last year to cover their bar and startup expenses.”  No lawsuits have been filed to collect the loans, reported to be for $10,000.  Legal Times reports that the total amount owed by students could range from $300 to $350k; Thacher owes its bank $32 million.  Every penny counts.

To give credit where due, Latham & Watkins announced that it would forgive the loans it made to laid-off incoming associates.