Do Due Diligence

A few readers have said that I am too negative about pursuing legal careers.  I don’t think I am–I urge wannabe law students to do due diligence and assess their job prospects with brutal honesty–but for the sake of argument let’s say I consistently discourage law school attendance.  I still have nothing on these blogs:

  • Big Debt, Small Law (Dirt poor lawyers in a filthy rich town) Sample:  Legal practice has “degenerated into a money-grubbing, paper-churning farce, where the “winners” walk away with millions and the “losers” are packed elbow-to-elbow in sunless boiler rooms and forced to work sweatshop hours for slave wages, under conditions that often shock the conscience.”
  • Exposing the Law School Scam Sample:  “This blog is written by a coalition of lawyers . . . interested in exposing the dramatic oversupply of lawyers, and how that oversupply has been caused by bogus employment and income/salary statistics used by most law schools to induce applicants to apply to law school.  Also, we are concerned with how the legal establishment is complicit in this ‘law school scam.'”
  • JD Underdog Sample:  JD Underdog “worked the doc review circuit before finally landing a permanent job that he could have gotten with a college degree. His mission is to humor you, but warn you of the dangers of going to law school with the deck so heavily stacked.”
  • Third tier reality Sample: “My goal is to inform potential law school students and applicants of the ugly realities of attending law school. DO NOT ATTEND UNLESS: (1) YOU GET INTO A TOP 8 LAW SCHOOL; (2) YOU GET A FULL-TUITION SCHOLARSHIP TO ATTEND; (3) YOU HAVE EMPLOYMENT AS AN ATTORNEY SECURED THROUGH A RELATIVE OR CLOSE FRIEND; OR (4) YOU ARE FULLY AWARE BEFOREHAND THAT YOUR HUGE INVESTMENT IN TIME, ENERGY, AND MONEY DOES NOT, IN ANY WAY, GUARANTEE A JOB AS AN ATTORNEY OR IN THE LEGAL INDUSTRY.” (Caps Original)

If that’s not enough some of these blogs contain links to blogs with similar themes.

And who says attorneys aren’t helpful?

BitTorrent-ers Beware

The title to Eriq Gardner’s article states its content efficiently:  New Litigation Campaign Quietly Downloads Tens of Thousands of Movie Downloaders.  The U.S. Copyright Group–“a company owned by intellectual property lawyers that has one singular mission and focus: to stop movie copyright infringement and make illegal downloaders pay damages for the content they have stolen”–, using “a new proprietary technology by German-based Guardaley IT that allows for real-time monitoring of movie downloads on torrents,” has filed five lawsuits against a total of 20,000 [20,ooo !!!] individuals in federal court in Washington, D.C.   The Group is planning to file another suit targeting 30,000 individual downloaders.  Gardner’s article reports that some of the suits have settled, but the U.S. Copyright Group does not appear to be aiming for the $3-$5k settlements typical to RIAA file-sharing lawsuits.  Said the Group’s Jeffrey Weaver “”We’re creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel.”

And That’s a Lotta Volts

Yesterday scientists for the first time employed CERN’s Large Hadron Collider to smash protons together to attempt to understand the earliest moments of the creation of the universe.  Everything about the Large Hadron Collider is mind-boggling, from its stated purpose to its $10 billion cost to its 27 kilometer–over 16 mile–circular underground “racetrack” around which protons, in essence, play chicken at over 99% the speed of light.  For some reason, I do not know why, my favorite LHC factoid from yesterday’s 50%-power test is that “[t]he [photon] beams collided with a combined energy of seven trillion electron volts, about 3.5 times more powerful than the previous world record.”  Seven trillion electron voltsSeven trillion electron volts! I just love saying it.  Maybe it was only 6.85 trillion electron volts and they rounded up?  Scientists wouldn’t fudge the number, would they?

I’m seriously considering grading all future course work on the trillion electron-volt scale.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

From my son Nathan’s recent blog post on Landmarks of Crema, the small Italian city where he has lived for most of the past two years.  Imagine the reaction if this mural–from the Italian high school where he teaches English–was painted in the hallway of a U.S. school:

Or this (note the “warm, fuzzy, almost-correct inclusion of the popular English-language request for privacy”):

You can’t.

Irresistible Impulse

Last night we returned from dinner about 10:30.  Chelsey was waiting where I expected, peering through the back door.  Cleo was not where I expected, curled up asleep in her bed in my office.  It’s almost always bad news when Cleo varies her routine–you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks.  From the mud room I saw debris underneath the dining room table, which has become Cleo’s den.  Another bad sign.  The dogs had gotten into something.  The question was what.  A few steps farther I had an answer.  Trash was strewn across the kitchen floor.  Where had it come from?  A few more steps revealed more trash, an entire shredded 13-gallon bag of trash, a doggie heaven of trash, around the kitchen island.  Coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, tissues, cardboard, empty cans and bottles, a soggy mess of kitchen refuse.  Somehow the dogs had pried open the trash drawer, reached inside the bin to pull out an almost-full bag, and had a garbage party.  Chelsey, conscienceless and oblivious, wagged her tail.  Cleo, possessor of the 95% of their joint brainpower, sat and watched nervously as we cleaned up, her face the picture of I know I did wrong but I just can’t help myself.  We couldn’t figure out how they’d forced open the drawer.  The only logical explanation is that we left it open a fraction, just enough for Cleo (because it had to be Cleo) to wedge in her nose and push it open all the way.  The alternative–my dogs are capable of opening a fully-closed cabinet drawer–is too scary to contemplate.

Imagine what the mischief they could make with opposable thumbs.

Cybercrime Sentence

Albert Gonzalez, Miami-based hacker and computer information thief, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in Boston federal court after pleading guilty for his role in credit and debit card data thefts from TJX Companies and BJ’s Wholesale Club.  The sentence was halfway between the 25 years sought by prosecutors and the 15 recommended by Gonzalez’s lawyer.  Twenty years is, as my former convict clients used to call it, “a long bit,” but prosecutors claimed Gonzalez was responsible for $200 million in losses to companies, banks, and insurers.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

From As Values Slide, More Walking Away from Mortgages, The New York Times 2 Feb 10:

New research suggests that when a home’s value falls below 75 percent of the amount owed on the mortgage, the owner starts to think hard about walking away, even if he or she has the money to keep paying . . . The number of Americans who owed more than their homes were worth was virtually nil when the real estate collapse began in mid-2006, but by the third quarter of 2009, an estimated 4.5 million homeowners had reached the critical threshold, with their home’s value dropping below 75 percent of the mortgage balance . . . With figures released last week showing that the real estate market was stalling again, their numbers are now projected to climb to a peak of 5.1 million by June — about 10 percent of all Americans with mortgages. “We’re now at the point of maximum vulnerability . . . People’s emotional attachment to their property is melting into the air.”

The article mentions a study of defaulting homeowners that estimated “about 17 percent of owners defaulting in 2008, or 588,000 people, chose [walking away from their mortgage] as a strategic calculation.”  This strategy, known as  deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, is not limited to residential homeowners.  In 2006 Tishman Speyer and BlackRock purchased Manhattan’s 56-building 11,000-unit Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town apartments for $5.4 billion, which was then “the most expensive [sale] in residential real-estate history.”  (The NYTimes reports debt service reserves and capital improvements made the total project cost $6.3 billion.)  The owners borrowed over $4.4 billion to finance the purchase.

Now the complex is estimated to be worth only $1.8 billion, and  [in January] the owners began defaulting on debt payments. “It has become clear to us through this process that the only viable alternative to bankruptcy would be to transfer control and operation of the property, in an orderly manner, to the lenders and their representatives,” the owners told the [Wall Street] Journal.

The Journal reports the project’s equity investors include CALPERS and the Church of England.  Its debtholders include the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. and Hartford Financial Services Group.  They will, as workout folks say, “take a haircut.”  According to the New York Times CALPERS has written off its $500 million investment.  Don’t weep for Tishman Speyer and BlackRock.  Each had about $112 million, 2% of the purchase price, of  their own money in the deal.  $112 million is real money.  Two percent equity is a walking-away down payment.

It almost makes me miss being in the workout business.

More Sales Tax News

Something I’ve been predicting in Internet law for at least five years is happening.  (Predict something long enough and you may eventually be correct.  A friend put all of his money into cash after predicting the market’s collapse.  In 1995.)   A March 18th WSJ article titled States Pressure E-Tailers to Collect Sales Tax reports on the number of states looking to collect taxes Internet sales.  The opportunity is there:  the article notes a University of Tennessee study estimating “that uncollected Internet sales taxes would cost state and local governments more than $11 billion a year by 2012.”   In addition to Colorado, noted in the prior post, and New York, which in 2008 amended its tax laws to target Amazon and similar retailers, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Connecticut have passed or are considering passing laws to capture taxes on sales to out-of-state retailers.  The article quotes Amazon, which objects to the complexity of piecemeal state-by-state legislation:  “We aren’t opposed to collecting sales tax within a constitutionally permissible system applied even-handedly.”  Amazon reportedly favors the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (see  http://www.streamlinedsalestax.org).

Sales Tax News

Colorado recently amended its tax law to require Internet retailers to collect sales tax on sales to Colorado residents or give the state information about such sales so the state can collect use taxes from purchasers.  Amazon responded by canceling its relationships with all Colorado-based participants in its associates program:  “As a result of the new law we have decided to stop advertising through associates based in Colorado.”  Unlike other states that have changed its sales tax laws to target Internet sales, Colorado did not characterize a retailer’s relationships with affiliates as a nexus, the legal trigger for an out-of-state retailer to collect taxes on in-state sales..  Severing relationships with them does not change Amazon’s responsibility to collect and remit sales taxes or track and remit sales information, leading some to characterize it’s action as a “political maneuver:”  “‘This action to fire business associates as retaliation amounts to corporate bullying,’ said Alec Harris, an economist with the nonpartisan Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute in Denver. ‘Firing these guys is a huge political statement and a pretty rough one—but it doesn’t change [Amazon’s] legal obligation under this bill.'”  Amazon described the regulations as “burdensome,” unlike those enacted by other states, and “clearly intended to increase the compliance burden to a point where online retailers will be induced to ‘voluntarily’ collect Colorado sales tax—a course we won’t take.”  According to the linked Wall Street Journal article, Amazon’s Colorado affiliates earned about $37.5 million from Amazon-affiliated sales in 2007.