January 31, 2007
NLJ on Law Professor Moonlighting
NY Lawyer (free registration req'd) republishes an NLJ article about law professors establishing "of counsel" relationships with law firms, giving the examples of Laurence Tribe at Akin Gump and Kathleen Sullivan at Quinn Emanuel. According to a Quinn Emanuel partner, Kathleen's affiliation creates a "wow factor." He continues: "Honest to God, having Kathleen with you at a meeting is like walking in with Mick Jagger."
January 27, 2007
Using Quicken Software to Prepare Will for Another Person = Unauthorized Practice of Law
Franklin v. Chavis, Opinion No. 26251 (SC Sup. Ct. Jan. 22, 2007)
An insurance agent helped a 91 year old woman prepare a will using Quicken lawyer. Some relatives who got less than they thought they deserved challenged the will, arguing that the insurance agent engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The court's response:
The novel question here is whether respondent’s actions in filling in the blanks in a computer-generated generic will constitute the practice of law. Respondent selected the will form, filled in the information given by Ms. Weiss, and arranged the execution of the will at the hospital. Although these facts are not in themselves conclusive, the omission of facts indicating Ms. Weiss’s involvement is significant. There is no evidence Ms. Weiss reviewed the will once it was typed. The will was not typed in her presence and although respondent relates the details of what Ms. Weiss told him to do, there is no indication he contemporaneously recorded her instructions and then simply transferred the information to the form.
We construe the role of “scrivener” in this context to mean someone who does nothing more than record verbatim what the decedent says. We conclude respondent’s actions in drafting Ms. Weiss’s will exceeded those of a mere scrivener and he engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
However, the news isn't all good for the plaintiffs--the court didn't invalidate the will. But the news isn't good for the defense, either. UPL typically is a criminal violation, so it has to be a little disconcerting for the defendant to have a South Carolina Supreme Court opinion saying he engaged in UPL.
Either way, this is another reminder that the "mere scrivener" defense is typically a feeble one.
January 15, 2007
My decision to join Epinions was motivated significantly by ideology. Simply put, I was sold that it was better to make decisions predicated on the collective wisdom of multiple trusted contributors than on the guidance of any single product reviewer. Further, very few product reviewers have my unique tastes, so I loved the idea that, through Epinions, I could find a credible author who shared my idiosyncratic interests rather than relying on the generic lowest-common-denominator advice of the typical product reviewer.
Thus, I felt a little odd buying the book Frommer's Israel to help with my Israel trip. Not only was I going to rely on a single author for many important decisions, but I was paying $24 for that privilege. However, international travel can be complicated, and I must confess that I felt pretty overwhelmed by my Israel trip. The free Internet resources just weren't getting it done for me. I needed comprehensive, accurate and current information, and finding that information from the Internet was daunting at best.
It turns out that the book was very helpful. It was packed with good stuff that helped me make smart choices and avoid wasting my time. It was also portable, which was a big help when I was offline. Finally, I'm sure I saved more than the book's cost through its money-saving tips. It turns out that even in this era of a million viewpoints available for free on the Internet, there still can be value to dead-trees guides by a single author.
January 10, 2007
Guest Blogging at Concurring Opinions
January 08, 2007
Israel Tourist Destinations
During my Israel trip, I tried to squeeze in as many tourist destinations as possible. To avoid getting myself into unsafe situations, I didn't travel independently. Instead, I generally took organized tours (such as those organized by Egged/United Travel). I prefer to travel independently, so doing organized tours was a little frustrating--the group moves only at the pace of the slowest member, and we didn't spend enough time at some sites. However, I think it's impossible to fully enjoy many Israeli destinations without a knowledgeable tour guide to explain the significance of the site. A good guide makes a huge difference!
Here's my recap of the destinations I hit during my stay, along with my grades as a tourist destination:
* Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth (where Mary and Joseph lived). Grade: B. It's a relatively modern and undistinguished church (by Israel standards), but the grottoes are interesting.
* Capernaum (home of some of the apostles, and maybe Jesus). Grade: B. There are extensive and interesting ruins, as well as a very old synagogue. The Sea of Galilee setting is very pretty. But the ruins are not as interesting as other ruins, such as Masada.
* Tabgha (Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes). Grade: A. Another pretty setting on the Sea of Galilee, and interesting Byzantine mosaics. This is a brief stop, but it's a good one.
* Yardenit (Jordan River baptismal site). Grade: D. Boring. Lots of dead fish floating in the water. Plus, the river is now lined by eucalyptus trees, so it hasn't retained its historical look. It was fascinating, however, to see the infrastructure built to do mass baptisms in the yucky Jordan River water.
* Drive down Jordan River valley. Grade: A. Beautiful scenery of the land of milk and honey.
* Caesarea. Grade: A. Caesarea was a Roman resort town built to overlook the azure Mediterranean Sea, and it's a spectacular display of Roman excess. This deserves at least a half-day of guided touring.
* Old Akko. Grade: A. A well-preserved and pretty Crusader fortress, with dungeons, tunnels, banquet halls, etc. The old city itself is interesting as well, but the Old City of Jerusalem is even nicer.
* Rosh Ha-Nikra. Grade: C. This reminded me some of Big Sur: high bluffs overlooking the coast (with a restaurant on top, just like Nepenthe) and sea caves. But the caves are unremarkable compared to the many sea caves on the California coast, and here they charge for access! Unless you'll never make it to the CA coast, save your money. One big difference from Big Sur: the proximity to the Lebanon border, with military installations all along the hillside and Israeli warships patrolling the waters.
* Masada. Grade: A. Masada is famous as the last-stand stronghold of Jewish rebels, and deservedly so. The physical setting is beautiful--a 1,000 foot high mesa in the desert along the Dead Sea coast. The ruins are also terrific. In particular, the Roman siege fortifications are nearly intact, and the ruins are generally well-preserved throughout. I think Masada warrants a full-day guided tour (including the hike up and investigation of the Roman siege camps).
* Ein Gedi Spa. Grade: B. This was an access point to swim in the Dead Sea, plus take a mud bath and lounge in some hot springs. Bring your bathing suit and towel, but you might buy disposable sandals from them. (You will really want sandals to walk across the "beach," which is rocky, and wade in the Dead Sea, which has a rough salty bottom, but wearing your own sandals into the Dead Sea will permanently skankify them). Personally, I didn't find the Dead Sea swim all that interesting. The buoyancy was a little neat, but there were stern warnings not to get any water into our faces/mouths, so I was constantly worried that a little splash or carelessness would lead to some pain. Ultimately, this stop struck me as more of a checklist stop (i.e., go to lowest place on earth--check. Float in the Dead Sea--check) than a place that was actually fun to visit.
* Drive along the Dead Sea. Grade: A. The Dead Sea is lined by towering desert peaks. It reminded me a lot of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park.
* Yad Va'Shem (Holocaust Memorial). Grade: A. An intensely powerful and moving experience. It tells the story of the Holocaust, and how an entire nation became complicit in committing atrocities against the Jews, better than anything else I've ever seen. Note that this is not a "fun" destination. It literally made me physically sick to my stomach. I couldn't eat the whole day after experiencing this.
* Israel Museum. Grade: B. The big draw is the Dead Sea Scrolls, although they were a little unremarkable to see. I spent a lot of my time looking at the old Judaica and the recreations of synagogues from around the world. It's amazing how many Jewish traditions have remained constant across the centuries and across the entire globe. The museum also had a modestly interesting temporary display of old coins. However, I was very disappointed that the archaeology wing is shut down until 2009-10. I'm most interested in the antiquities, so the wing's closure eliminated one of the main draws. Also, I went at night (on the day I went, the museum was only open 4-9), so I couldn't enjoy the outdoor setting or the sculpture gardens. If you go, go in the day.
* Jerusalem's Old City. Grade: A. The Old City is a fascinating and complicated place. It reminded me a little of the discussion in Shrek about layers. (Shrek: "Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers." To which the Donkey ultimately points out that parfaits have layers too.) The Old City has layers, both physically and meta-physically. I could spend years exploring the Old City and still not appreciate all of its layers. It's a fascinating destination. For me, the experience was enhanced staying in the Old City, which gave me great proximity to everything (but be careful about safety). Some subdestinations within or near the Old City:
- The Western Wall. Grade: A. The wall of Jerusalem stone is physically beautiful, and spiritually it's iconic for Jews. Go on Friday after sundown and see the orthodox Jews come to pray and party. But at any time, you can see devout Jews in various states of rapturous worship around the wall. It's very moving.
- Temple Mount. Grade: A. The Dome of the Rock is a stunning building from the outside (no idea about the inside...). The entire plaza is a serene yet spiritual setting.
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the putative site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection). Grade: A. In a city filled with boundaries and turf wars, I think no building better illustrates the challenges of harmonization than this one. Collectively owned by six church organizations, the building hardly reflects a cooperative spirit. Instead, because of disputes between the churches about their property rights, repairs and upgrades are regularly stymied, leading to a building that's both impressive and dilapidated. The building is filled with interesting but subtle details; to fully appreciate this building absolutely requires a knowledgeable guide. (I ended up going twice with 2 different guides and got completely different perspectives from them).
- City of David. Grade: B. The site of King David's old Jerusalem (outside of the current Old City's walls), this is undergoing active excavation. The most interesting aspect today is the ability to explore the ancient water system, including the hidden tunnels that helped Jerusalem survive sieges. However, this site is still a work-in-progress and will be more interesting when some of the excavations are complete.
- Tower of David (the Citadel). Grade: B. An impressive and attractive fortress at the Jaffa Gate, the Citadel reflects the layers of Jerusalem--it's an aggregation of Jewish, Herodian, Crusader and Ottoman construction (and a few others as well). There are exhibits that focus on the history of Jerusalem, which makes this a good first stop. (I went as my last stop, so the educational content was a little redundant by that point). Currently, they run English-language tours about Jerusalem's history at 11 am each day. Unfortunately, they do not run a tour that talks about the fortress itself, which seems worthy of a standalone tour. There are great views in every direction from the top of the Citadel.
- Mount of Olives sites (including Pater Noster Church, Dominus Flevit Church and the Garden of Gethsemane). Grade: B. The Mount of Olives has beautiful views of the Old City, some neat churches and lots of cemeteries.
Overall assessment: Israel is an interesting and complicated place. From a tourist standpoint, the religious and historical sites are truly unique. Anyone interested in Jewish/Christian/Muslim history, Roman history or Medieval history will find terrific stuff here. However, I was also struck by the geographic similarity between Israel and California, and how well California fares as a tourist destination with top attractions like the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara, Death Valley, and (my favorite) Mendocino (not to mention more famous stops like Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Wine Country, etc.). So while I was glad to go to Israel, it also reminded me that I am blessed to have a world-class tourist destination in my (figurative) backyard.
January 07, 2007
ACLU Sues Over CA's Discriminatory Name Change Practices
When my wife and I got married, we discussed our various naming options. (See my brief writeup on this decision). "Traditionally," the wife takes the husband's last name. However, my last name, Schlachter, was long, hard to pronounce and harder to spell. Lisa's last name was Sanger, a much shorter and more elegant name. As a result, we discussed the possibility that I would take her last name.
When we took out our marriage license, we inquired about this option with the clerk. If Lisa had wanted to take "Schlachter," it would be a simple and cheap check-the-box decision on the marriage license. But the clerk informed us that if I wanted to change my name to hers, we would have to get a court order--there was not a mirror-image check-the-box process.
I was shocked by the embedded discrimination in the system that made it easy for a woman to take a man's name, but hard for a man to take a woman's name. This struck me as obviously illegal, but I wasn't in the mood for a fight. Instead, after Lisa and I discussed the value of my taking her name, we decided that if we had to go to court anyway, we would synthesize our own unique name--Goldman, our surnames today. But, this wasn't a cheap decision (it cost us over $400).
Deep down, I've always had some regret that I did not proactively challenge California's discriminatory practice. Fortunately, another thwarted couple showed more initiative. After running into the same brick wall, Diana Bijon and Mike Buday went to the ACLU of Southern California and sought their intervention. The ACLU filed a lawsuit on their behalf last December. As the ACLU Press Release says:
"California has the perfect marriage application for the 17th century, and this relic belongs in the trash with laws that forced women to change their names when they married,” said ACLU/SC legal director Mark Rosenbaum.
I am 100% convinced that the courts will strike down California's current discriminatory practice if California doesn't unilaterally fix it beforehand. (As Kip says, "As a question of constitutional law, this isn't even close"). Kudos to Bijon, Buday and the ACLU for fighting the good fight to correct this vestige of historical discrimination.
UPDATE: McClatchy runs an update. The "Department of Health Services denies that the current process for changing one's name after marriage discriminates against men" based on a hypertechnical interpretation of the meaning of the name change box on the marriage license. From first-hand experience, I can confirm that I needed a court order to change my name with various financial institutions. At the same time, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma is introducing AB102 to allow reciprocal treatment. The article quotes a NOW representative as saying she "doubted that AB102 would prompt massive numbers of men to take their wife's last name," which I'm sure is true, but for those who make this choice, they shouldn't have to run a gauntlet.
January 05, 2007
"You Can't Rattle a Robo-deer, but You Can Be Arrested for Shooting One"
Catching illegal hunters in the act can pose some unique challenges. The solution? Robotic animals that act as irresistible targets for the illegal hunters. According to the story:
Poachers aren't easy quarry, yet more and more law enforcement officials are nabbing them with a special kind of game that just begs to be shot… something like a young deer with an impressive rack of antlers, standing peacefully along a country road.
After a while, a truck drives by, stops, then backs up. The deer turns its head towards the vehicle, and a rifle barrel emerges from the driver's window. A shot breaks the silence. As the ricochet dies away, two game wardens leap from the brush, surprising the poacher. "Game warden!" they yell, "Put the gun on the ground, put the gun on the ground!"
The story says that the decoys are cost-effective; the $1,300 cost is made up by fines from arrests. One decoy in Wisconsin single-handedly has been responsible for 15 busts.