May 31, 2005
PETA has "spies" who get jobs at companies that might be engaging in animal abuse so that they may document the company's behavior. On the face of it, this seems to put the employee/spy in a potentially illegal position, as most companies will require the employee to sign restrictive NDAs that would need to be breached to make the intended disclosures. However, I would think that any disclosures of illegal behavior would be protected by whistleblower laws--this may or may not be enough for the employee to keep the job (which is a moot point) but should excuse any breach of an NDA.
I'm not sure I agree with the commentators who call the spies illegal/unethical. Every employee has private agendas, not all of them disclosed to the employer. I do think the "spy" has to perform the job that he/she was hired to do, but if this is done, then I think it's perfectly legitimate for the person to have a second agenda.
May 26, 2005
a/k/a "Hotel Reject." MSNBC runs a story on what happens to reality TV contestants when they get ousted from the show. Meanwhile, Loser Island sounds a little like where I spent my high school years...
Hurt on Classroom Sensitivity
My colleague Christine Hurt wrote a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education about her experiences teaching torts. She describes how she led the class in thinking through various harms that people suffer and how the legal system values those harms. This can lead to some grisly but darkly amusing fact patterns, but meanwhile some of her students had first-hand experience with the harms being clinically discussed in class, and for them, their experiences were intensely personal, and far from academic.
This article hits all too close to home. I had the same experience this semester in my Professional Responsibility course, walking a fine line between pointing out the destructive nature of alcohol abuse in the legal profession and acknowledging (sometimes in lame attempts at humor) that students include alcohol in their social activities. But midway during the semester, a student discussed her struggles with alcohol in my office. This made me realize how the points (and "jokes") I had been making in class must have only exacerbated her challenges. I felt truly terrible--but perhaps I needed the reminder that every student comes to class with their our unique experiences and problems, and I have a responsibility to be sensitive to these.
May 19, 2005
Every Milwaukeean has their favorite time to escape the crummy weather. For some, it’s January and February when the weather is the coldest and the days are the darkest. For others, it’s March, when other places are experiencing Spring and we’re still suffering through very cold and cloudy days. For a few, it’s summer, when it’s too hot and humid for those Milwaukeeans who have ice in their veins.
For me, it’s May and early June, when the weather has nominally gotten warmer but it is still crummy. The last 2 weeks have consistently been in the 40s and low 50s with rain/dark clouds. That alone wouldn’t bother me, but after having crummy weather since mid-October, I’m really tired of it.
Fortunately for me, I’m escaping Milwaukee and its crummy weather for the next three weeks. I’m traveling to the Bay Area, Seattle, Las Vegas, Death Valley and Los Angeles for a mix of business (presentations/conferences) and pleasure (camping and hiking). Even when I’m not at conferences, I’ll be grading exams and working on papers—but at least I will be able to do those outdoors in the sun in shorts and sandals!
Because I don’t expect to have continuous Internet connectivity during my travels, blogging should be spotty for the next three weeks. I’ll be back in Milwaukee June 13, when blogging should return to normal.
May 17, 2005
Good News for Vegetarian Cannibals
It’s a little hard to take this seriously, but I’ve been unable to confirm if it’s a joke/cheap publicity stunt.
A Dartmouth Business School student is planning to offer tofu designed to taste like human flesh. Initially the website will just offer Hufu Classic Strips, designed to "resemble the choicer flesh, which is upper arms, thighs and buttocks." However, future offerings are supposed to include Hufu Hearts and Dr. Lector's Liver, along with a recipe for “Dr. Lector's Liver and Fava Beans.” (Not sure about the trademark implications of the Dr. Lector-branded products).
The student wisely recognizes that the market for cannibals who would prefer tofu substitutes is small, but he hopes to build a branding empire on the cannibalism shtick. I guess that passes for a business plan nowadays.
Meanwhile, I think I speak on behalf of most vegetarians who like tofu when I say: gee, thanks for further denigrating the public’s perception of tofu. Like we don’t get enough grief as it is.
(Thanks to Jewish Buddha for the reference)
What Gifts Are Appropriate for Students to Give to Professors?
My buddy Dan, a graduating 3L from Georgetown (congrats, Dan!), asks a tough question: If a grateful student wants to get a professor a gift, what is appropriate? It’s hard to answer this question because I have some obvious self-interest!
Let’s start with why a professor teaches in the first place. There are many motivations, but the vast majority of law professors genuinely want to help students accomplish their objectives. However, we rarely know if we've been successful that way. A student takes our class, graduates, and then we never know if we helped the student or not. So a student helps satisfy my motivations if the student tells me how the story turns out a few years down the line. Did the student get to where the student wanted to go? Was I helpful in getting the student there? If not, what could I have done to be more helpful?
Thus, from my perspective, the single best gift is when a student checks in with me a few years later telling me that I was helpful (if that’s the truth). That always makes my day! So, Dan, make a vow to check back with your professors in a few years and tell them how their teaching/support affected you. That’s the best gift of all.
However, this does not give you an immediate answer to your question. If you want to do something now, a thank you note would be incredibly gracious. I don’t expect such notes—they should be done only when truly heart-felt—but I’ve occasionally gotten thank you notes from students over the years and they always warm my heart.
Beyond that, I don’t see a need to give a material gift; a thank-you note would supersede the communicative effect of any material gift, and a material gift without a thank-you note would be very nice but not quite as meaningful as a note.
Having said that, occasionally students over the years have gotten me slinkies and that always brightens my days. I have a slinky obsession that I often reference in class examples (or students discover while investigating me on the web), and sometimes students get me slinkies when they see them. I am very touched when a student does something so personally motivated like that. Other gifts in the same vein—such as intellectual property artifacts like the Marshmallow Peeps art given by one of my students—all show that the person is thinking about me personally and about the topics I’m passionate about, and those say a lot.
However, I cannot stress this following point enough: I don’t expect gifts or thank-you notes or any further recognition from students. I don’t need fealty, I have no expectations and I don’t keep score.
If, despite all this, you choose to give a material gift, three ground rules:
1) No gifts before grades are finalized. While most professors would not let a gift affect their judgment, the possibility for impropriety can make such gifts uncomfortable. (This may also hold for thank-you letters).
2) No gifts that are too personal. I don’t want to be uncomfortable explaining anything to my wife. (This may also hold true for thank-you letters).
3) No expensive gifts. We know that students have a ton of debt, so an expensive gift would break our hearts.
Note that the foregoing discussion applies when the student wants to express gratitude for the professor’s teaching/support. I think the situation is slightly different when a professor has done something above-and-beyond for you, like write a recommendation letter. In that situation, I think you should treat it like any other situation where a friend has gone out of their way as a personal favor. For example, I rarely can write a recommendation in less than an hour, and students almost always ask for the letter with a deadline measured in days (or, sometimes, hours). This invariably means that I have to rearrange my schedule to help out the student. I don’t expect a thank-you note, but a thank-you note is never inappropriate. A small token of appreciation, like something you would give a friend, also can be OK, but I feel a little less comfortable with gifts as a thank-you for recommendation letters—if handled incorrectly, this can feel a little like pay-for-play.
Thanks for asking, Dan. I hope this helps. If anyone has further thoughts, please comment!
UPDATE: The Chronicle on Higher Education has a string on this topic.
UPDATE 2: I've also blogged on gifts that are appropriate for new first year law students.
May 16, 2005
Update on Bar/Bri Antitrust Lawuist
A couple of new articles on the Bar/Bri antitrust lawsuit, Rodriguez v. West Publishing Corporation, CV05-3222 (C.D. Cal. complaint filed April 28, 2005). The National Law Journal writes a brief recap (registration may be required). The ABA Journal eReport runs an article with some good quotes from the plaintiff’s lawyer, claiming that successful plaintiffs should get $1,000 each and saying his “goal is to get the [BAR/BRI] company broken up.”
May 13, 2005
BusinessWeek on Ravikant v. Tolia
BusinessWeek runs an AP story on the Ravikant v. Tolia lawsuit over the Epinions-DealTime merger. Defendants’ motion to dismiss is scheduled for May 24.
May 12, 2005
Attorney Work Life Balance Calculator
This web page allows you to calculate your schedule based on your law firm’s billable hour targets. However, the script is inherently defective because it only computes hours for Monday-Friday! Um, designer, what about the weekend??? Make sure you don’t underestimate the non-billable time, and note the “plug” variable is the number of hours working at home.
(Thanks to Jewishbuddha.org for the pointer)
May 11, 2005
Blogs With a Marquette Law Connection
There has been a recent proliferation of blogs with a connection to Marquette University Law School (I've noticed a spike in blog activity around final exam time--blogging is the quintessential way to procrastinate!). Here are the ones I know about:
Conglomerate (Prof. Christine Hurt is a co-blogger)
Rex Holmes’ Blog (Rex is a 3L and the “blogmaster” behind my blogs—thanks, Rex!)
Fsck Law (Matt Goeden is a 3L)
Law on Caffeine (not sure who is running this blog)
Then there are my two blogs:
If I missed any, please let me know so I can update.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the MULS Federalists blog.
May 10, 2005
Milwaukee police conducted an unreasonable search and seizure by forcing a suspect to drink laxatives as a way of “revealing” a bag of heroin he swallowed.
Massive Burger Watch
3 gentlemen (weighing a combined total of 910 pounds!) ate a 12.5 pound “Zeus” burger from Clinton Station Diner in a little over an hour. Still no announcement that anyone has conquered the Beer Barrel Belly Buster.
May 09, 2005
Update on Live-shot.com
The Washington Post runs an update on Live-shot.com and the immense legislative response to shut down the website. Meanwhile, due to the apparent magnitude and time-criticalness of the problem, the California Fish & Game Department is rushing to prepare ”emergency” regulations to prohibit Internet hunting.
I find it interesting that hunters have stated, in such emphatic terms, exactly what constitutes “hunting.” It reminds me a little of the debate taking place among virtual world scholars about what constitutes a “game.” Is Internet hunting “hunting,” a “game,” or something else?
I'm less interested in the semantics and more interested in how we morally justify hunting generally. Why is shooting animals in person is OK but shooting animals via the Internet is wrong? The outcome is the same (dead animals). The process is the same (pull trigger/click mouse). The morality, in my book, is the same (killing for “sport” seems equally questionable to me). If we could answer why allowing hunting is good social policy from a holistic perspective (i.e., not just that it’s tradition), then perhaps we could be more accurate why we shouldn’t allow Internet hunting. My suspicion is that there’s no rigorous way to distinguish the two. Certainly I can't haven't seen a valid distinction yet.
You can read my several other rants opposing the regulation of Internet hunting here.
May 05, 2005
Fischer on Teaching Legal Ethics
At Legal Ethics Forum, Prof. James Fischer of Southwestern speculates why students don’t respect their Legal Ethics course. He rejects the traditional rationales such as “(1) students lack real world experience; (2) the course is just a bunch of rules that lack a unifying theme; (3) course is warmed over moral pabulum.” Instead, he believes that it’s because the course, unlike others in law school, requires students to engage in personal introspection.
When I was in law school, Professional Responsibility was the only mandatory course we had to take after first year, so we didn’t like being forced to take the course. (Now, the ABA mandates so many more courses post-first year, so the Professional Responsibility course no longer stands alone). Further, my particular section had a fairly high irrelevancy factor—I intended to be a Silicon Valley transactions lawyer, but my professor (former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso) taught the course from the perspective of what a personal injury litigator in Imperial Valley (a very rural and poor community) would need to know.
At Marquette, I too have found that many students resist personal introspection, despite my exhortations that personal introspection is critical to understanding the course. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that students take the course seriously, sometimes get downright enthusiastic about the course material, and usually have one or more "a-ha" moments during the semester. I know better than to think that the course is a student favorite, but now I have much more hope that students will ultimately see the merits of the course than when I first started teaching it.
Law Students Nationwide Hate Their Career Placement Office
Law.com reports on a comprehensive survey of law students. Among the findings were that “63 percent of students said they received scant support in job placement.” I am surprised that the number is so low; I could have seen this number being 100%. I find that students have a special enmity for their career placement offices, and this has been true at every law school I’ve been affiliated with. What’s ironic is that students often feel that their career placement office is uniquely bad (I felt that way when I was a student), instead of realizing that law students universally share this feeling.
One other stat caught my eye: “32 percent never have substantive discussions with faculty outside of class.” I’d like to know a little more about that statistic. Is it because faculty are unapproachable/too busy/never on campus? Because the student doesn’t really want those discussions to take place? Some other explanation? I wouldn’t immediately characterize this stat as a problem if a minority segment of the student population simply doesn’t value/want out-of-class contact.
May 03, 2005
Beer Barrel Belly Buster
Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, PA is now offering a 15 pound burger (only 10.5 pounds are actually beef). Says one patron who tried to unsuccessfully tried to consume the entire burger with 3 buddies, “It's like trying to eat half a cow.” The proprietor says it can feed a family of 10, but that's still 1.5 pounds of burger per person.
UPDATE: CNN has some more details on the burger escalation wars.