Touche

I was talking with my wife about our oldest son’s post-clerkship job search.  He has an offer from a firm and is pursuing an offer for another position that he would prefer.  The legal market is quite tough, to state the obvious, and we don’t want him to let the good offer he has slip through his fingers.  Judy said “I wish he listened more to our advice.”  I replied “I didn’t listen to my parents’ advice when I was that age–or to anyone’s advice.”  She looked straight at me and said “you still don’t.”

That explains a lot.

Solitary

Here’s an NBC News story about two inmates who’ve spent 36 years–that’s not a typo–in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s Angola prison. My first legal job involved representing prisoners in the Massachusetts prison system, and I had many clients in solitary. The first client I represented in a disciplinary hearing spent five years in solitary, which I considered to be inconceivably long–and I represented that client in 1975, an inconceivably long time ago, when the subjects of this story had already been in solitary for almost three years. Like most worthwhile TV news stories this one deserves more depth. Full disclosure: I am related by marriage to the the producer of the story.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

A person’s sexual proclivities are a private matter and rarely relevant to his or her professional abilities–unless that person pushes his values on others and doesn’t practice what he preaches. That’s the position of Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter, just the latest “clean-as-a-whistle champion of family values” to get caught with his hand in the . . . (let me rephrase that) . . . to have his phone number found in the D.C. Madame’s little black book. Vitter, who who “opposes radically redefining marriage, the most important social institution in human history,” acknowledged his call-girl relations as a “very serious sin in [his] past.” This is bad news for Rudy Giuliani–another born-again moral hypocrite–because Vitter was liaison to the south.

Next stop, pastoral counseling and rehab* for sex addiction? That’s what the playbook calls for.

*Three seconds after I typed this word iTunes cranked out Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. Spooky.

S/he

Another headline that says it all: Judge: Ex still due alimony when she becomes he. My first thought is that of course the husband still owes alimony, which is (or should be) a support obligation arising during marriage that reflects the paying spouse’s status as primary earner during the marriage. His ex-wife is still his ex-wife. The operation is not retroactive.

The Purpose of Law School

I’m catching up on my RSS feeds after a week of course prep and reading papers. Carolyn Elefant had a long post last week titled Should Law School Teach Skills?–a title that might provoke “duh?s” from non-lawyers. She draws from a number of sources (including Ann Althouse’s 2/20 NY Times Op/Ed piece and Jame’s Maule’s chock-full-of-links blog post), asking significant questions about the nature and purpose of legal education. I won’t attempt to restate all of her points. Their essence is that law schools teach too much about how to think like a lawyer and not enough about how to practice law. Learning how to practice law requires learning how and why clients respond to legal requirements, how to acquire, talk to, and maintain clients, how legal ethics shape a lawyer’s advice, how to run a law practice, and other practical skills. Her post, and sources from which she draws, explore the proper balance in legal education between theory and practice.

Much of what she says resonates with me. I graduated from law school with a strong sense of law as a profession, and an inadequate sense of the practice of law as a service industry. I entered law school with three years’ paralegal experience doing prisoners’ rights and legal services work and knew something about representing a client’s interests. Three years, one house, a marriage, and one child later I entered corporate practice knowing virtually nothing about the business of law. Having attended Northeastern University School of Law I had worked four different co-op jobs, a total of twelve months’ time researching and writing briefs and motions, and had that experience advantage over many other recent grads, but my education in the practice of law only began in earnest as a young associate in a large Boston firm. If I could make one change in the curriculum I’d require that each law student take a course in financial accounting, a position that would make the 25-year-old One-L David Randall weep over my failed idealism. I didn’t know then that the ability to understand a balance sheet and income statement is critical on both sides of the aisle.

I’m less critical of my law school experience than many of my lawyer friends. Since its reincarnation in the early 1970s Northeastern Law School has always attracted students who question the nature and purpose of legal education, and in my years (1978-1981) we discussed the social implications of our cases at great length. NUSL’s corporate law offerings were thin in those days, a situation which I understand the school has addressed over the years, and I took little advantage of what the school had to offer because I had negative interest in corporate law practice until a third-year big-firm coop. Three years’ experience in the legal writing and practice course, the last two as a TA during which we created a new problem that the school used for the next decade, gave me great confidence in my ability to find, analyze, write about, and argue the law. What I needed, and what more law grads need today, is training in translating issue-spotting ability into dollars-and-sense advice.

Some of God’s Creatures

This story raises interesting issues. Briefly, Michael Lord sought landscaping services from Garden Guy of Houston, Texas. Garden Guy responded by email: “I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals.” (The Reuters story I read does not disclose how Lord’s presumed sexual preference entered his discussions with Garden Guy.) Lord forwarded Garden Guy’s email to friends, who forwarded it to friends, who forwarded it to friends and, as these things often go, the media picked up the story. In addition to patio pavers and organic fungus foilers, Garden Guy purveys opposition to gay marriage. Its home page features a passage from Ephesians 5:25-33 that ends with these words: “[A] man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Angry recipients of Lord’s forwarded email posted 26 pages of comments on a Garden Guy web forum, which Garden Guy has taken down.

This is my take on the issues.

  • The Reuters article I read on c/net quotes Garden Guy’s co-owner as saying “[w]e felt that it was our right as an American small business to choose who we do business with.” Unless there is a Texas state law to the contrary (I have not researched the question but I doubt such a law exists) I think she is correct. Garden Guy has the legal right to to do business with whom it chooses.
  • Michael Lord has the right to forward Garden Guy’s email. A sender generally has no reasonable expectation of privacy in emails. Email is an inherently insecure medium. There are a number of well-publicized cases in which embarrassing email messages made their way to in boxes around the world. I don’t think that Garden Guy has any invasion of privacy claim against Lord.
  • I also don’t think Garden Guy has a claim against Lord if its business suffers from this publicity. There is nothing defamatory about the forwarded email–it is Garden Guy’s words, after all, and similar sentiments are/were expressed on its website. (The Reuters article reports that Garden Guy’s site contained a link to www.nogaymarriage.com, but I didn’t see it when I visited the site as I wrote this post.) Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from speech’s consequences.
  • The Internet’s power to distribute information is breathtaking. Before the Internet and email, Garden Guy’s rebuff of Lord’s business would have been an unpleasant event known only to his circle of friends. Not any more. Garden Guy’s co-owner said “[w]hen we sent (the e-mail) we intended it for the client. We did not intend it to be some sweeping political statement for the world.” When every person with access to a keyboard and Internet connection can become William Randolph Hearst the power to create sweeping political statements is broad.
  • Before sending that flaming email message, sleep on it. Read it in sober and dispassionate daylight. You cannot control it once you hit send.
  • A gospel-spouting landscaping business named Garden Guy? A disrespected homosexual man named Lord? You can’t make this stuff up.

Sources: Reuters, Landscaping firm’s antigay e-mail sparks online fury, c/net News.com 09-Nov-06