August 2014

The Supreme Court ruled that a student’s failure to show undue hardship didn’t void a bankruptcy agreement to discharge student debt. It’s a minor victory for student debtors everywhere, and Justice Clarence Thomas did all he could to limit its effect.

The decision came down today in the case of United Student Aid Funds v. Espinosa. Justice Thomas, writing the opinion for a unanimous Court, ruled that a bankruptcy judge should have required trade school student Fransisco Espinoza to show undue hardship before approving the discharge of Espinosa’s student debt. But the error was not serious enough to void the agreement.

SCOTUSblog explains that the holding is very limited:

Today’s ruling in the student loan case is confined primarily to the situation where a discharge of such a debt has become final without the creditor using its option to challenge it at the time. It makes clear that bankruptcy courts may discharge a student loan debt only if they find it is an undue hardship to require payment.

Thomas’s language upholds the notion that undue hardship must be a part of the discharge of student debt …

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It’s a talk, it’s a party, it’s an opportunity for us to tell you how to increase your chances of landing an offer from your summer associateship. Save the date: April 13th, at Amity Hall. Your Above the Law editors will be heading to the Summer Associate Kick-Off Party, hosted by the Practical Law Company (read more about PLC here).

We’ll be holding a panel discussion about the Do’s & Don’ts Of Being A Summer Associate. Some of the don’ts are obvious: don’t hit a strip club with colleagues, or get into a drunken argument with a partner. Others aren’t so much. Do you know how to run a closing? Perform due diligence? Draft NDA’s? Yeah, didn’t think so. We’ll address how to build these skills before you show up to work, so you can actually add value instead of just adding stations to Pandora.

So come to Amity Hall on April 13th, where we can teach you how to stay on the straight-and-narrow and be more prepared for your summer position — or at least turn up so we can share some of the summer stories we couldn’t print. And yes, there will be an open bar (and food), in case anybody wants to put our lessons to immediate practical use.

The event gets started at 6:30. Space is limited and priority is given to incoming summer associates, so click here to rsvp. Hope to see you there.

P.S. As if you need another reason to go, attendees will get access to a Summer Associate Survival Guide, which teaches you the nuts and bolts of transactional assignments firms will expect you to complete this summer. Non-attendees can access the guide too, but they won’t get the free booze or food. Bummer.

If you can’t make the event but would like access to the guide, just send an email to studentaccess@practicallaw.com, with your name, law school email address, and year of graduation. Thanks!

Summer Associate Kick-Off Party [Practical Law Company]

Just after 11:00 a.m. today, President Obama will sign health care reform into law. Very soon after that, the constitutional challenges will begin. And two Baker Hostetler partners want to lead the charge. The National Law Journal reports:

David Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey argued for months that the health care overhaul under consideration in Congress was unconstitutional. Now, the two Baker Hostetler partners will have a chance to make the case in court.

Rivkin and Casey, who work in the firm’s Washington office, have signed on as outside counsel to several state attorneys general who want the legislation overturned in court. The litigation is the initial wave of what is expected to be a long series of lawsuits challenging various pieces of the overhaul, which won final congressional approval Sunday.

Does Baker Hostetler really want its name all over this? On the one hand, Bush v. Gore made Ted Olson and David Boies big stars. On the other hand, do you really see SCOTUS overturning major health care reform on constitutional grounds? I don’t. I just don’t see how the Court takes this opportunity to stop the relentless expansion of the interstate commerce clause by overturning the most contentious public policy issue of our generation.

Which kind of leaves Baker Hostetler holding the bag for what may be interpreted as purely partisan lawyering…

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Nathan Sawaya went to the trouble of getting a law degree, but now he’s making a living with a skill he mastered in kindergarten.

Instead of building cases these days, Sawaya is building large-scale sculptures out of LEGOs. He’s been a LEGO fanatic since he got his first set at 5 years old. He told Image Magazine that while at NYU Law, rather than using his law school desk for studying, he used it for building a LEGO replica of Greenwich Village.

Despite spending his law school days playing with blocks, he managed to score an offer from Winston & Strawn.

Six years ago, though, he won a contest at Toys R’ Us and left the firm to take a $30,000 job as a builder at LEGOland. That batsh*t crazy decision has actually turned out well for Sawaya, 36, if you consider being a world-renowned LEGO artist to be a good thing.

New Yorkers can now check out his work at Agora Gallery in Chelsea. “Brick by Brick: The Lego Brick Sculpture of Nathan Sawaya” opens today.

What might you see beyond a man-size Blackberry (with a built-in flat screen TV)? Here are some examples of Sawaya’s “art”:

* Here’s one student loan debt solution: game show appearances. UC Hastings College of Law grad Victoria Smith has boring plans for her $100K Wheel of Fortune prize. [San Jose Mercury News]

* Former Bush lawyer John Michael Farren is swinging around the Fifth Amendment instead of flashlights in a hearing in his Skadden wife’s $15 million lawsuit against him. [Associated Press]

* Confessing their shoplifting addiction to Dr. Phil results in prison time for a California couple. It sounds like the judge would like to send Dr. Phil to the clinker for a few days as well. [Associated Press]

* You have the right not to strip naked after committing minor crimes. [New York Times]

* Who owns a search term? [New York Times]

* Judge orders release of Gitmo detainee. [Reuters]

* Sandra Bullock and her soon-to-be-ex-husband Jesse James are in the market for attorneys. [TMZ]

haWe know a lot about law here at ATL, and maybe we know a little about love too. We’ve sent a handful of New York legal types out on dates as part of ATL Courtship Connection, our amateur stab at matchmaking. We’ve gotten three reports back so far.

Elie’s matchmaking attempt fell flat. Lat’s set-up showed promise. Now I bring you the results of my handiwork with Cupid’s bow and arrow. Since a Covington colleague and Duke classmate that I introduced are now married (and about to give birth to their first child), I can claim some archery expertise.

I matched two 30+ attorneys because they both named My Cousin Vinny as their favorite legal character. If a shared appreciation of Joe Pesci’s courtroom tuxedo doesn’t lead to true love, I don’t know what will. I sent them to one of my favorite East Village bars, Scratcher, which I thought would have a relaxed, romantic vibe. I was wrong about that, but perhaps right about these two getting along.

Here’s the male take from a “mid-level associate, refugee from the NYC boutique firms, now working at a non-profit and developing an allergic reaction to dress pants”:

So you would think that finding someone you never met in a bar without so much as a first name might be a problem. Especially when that bar is packed with drunken college types on St. Patrick’s Day. As it turned out, it took me all of two seconds to spot the one lawyer in the place, BlackBerry in her one hand, Redweld in the other.

Our college years long behind us, we decided to find a place where we could have a conversation, and perhaps get some real beer instead of that green swill.

So how did it go from there?

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* Law firms have 18 months left to figure out how to provide services at a cost their clients can afford. Really? 18 additional months? Wow, I guess clients are dumber and slower moving than we thought. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Flight attendants have no duty to examine your scrotum. [BL1Y]

* What can we learn from Erin Andrews’s stalker? [THR Esq]

* It’s not just liberals who think constitutional challenges to the health care bill are SOL. [American Spectator]

* The first time I got a letter from an incarcerated person I was pretty excited. Now they’re just annoying. [Texas Star-Telegram]

* Out-of-town job interviews are good opportunities to figure out how cheap your prospective employer will be if you are offered a job. [Law.com]

* I’m not going to lie, when I think of Dune, I don’t think of a book, I don’t think of a movie, I think of an awesome video franchise that has been ruined over the years. So, thanks to this week’s Blawg Review for reminding me of my literary failings. [Cyberlaw Central via Blawg Review]

Prestige has a price. Former Greenberg Traurig partner Mark McCombs found a sucker to foot the bill for him. As we reported earlier this month, he was the village attorney to Calumet Park, Illinois. He was charged with bilking the village of over one million dollars — money he allegedly sought not for personal gain, but to impress his Chicago partners with his book of business.

Greenberg Traurig has reviewed his overbilling and discovered that it was actually in the multi-millions. The Southtown Star reports that the firm has reviewed McCombs’s billing of Calumet Park dating back to 2002, when he joined the firm, and will be returning $3.2 million to the village of Calumet Park. That takes a chunk out of Greenberg’s PPP this year.

Village records show McCombs billed the village for tens of thousands of dollars each month for work that apparently never was done. He helped himself to property tax revenue that flowed into accounts of Calumet Park’s five tax increment financing districts.

After the jump, Greenberg Traurig managing shareholder Paul Fox says there is an upside to all this, and we have an UPDATE from the firm…

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You have to love it when law students air the dirty laundry about their school over Facebook. But it’s even better when faculty responds to student concerns on Facebook — and better still when faculty get touchy and defensive on Facebook.

All of that is happening at Mercer University School of Law, where students turned a Facebook status update into a bitchfest about the school’s third tier ranking. The blog But I Did Everything Right gives us the backstory:

Mercer University students, faculty, and staff are in open war against each other and themselves over rankings, hiring decisions, and even the school logo. We have uploaded the facebook argument between Professor Donal Christopher Wells and Mercer Law students on Mercer 3L Charlie Grimsley’s facebook page.

Grimsley’s status update started innocently enough:

Things didn’t really get fun until Professor Wells got involved … double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Mercer Law Students Fight With Faculty on Facebook”

Shanetta Cutlar

On Friday, we broke the news that Shanetta Cutlar will be stepping down as head of the Special Litigation Section (“SPL”), in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. This news was met with rejoicing in some quarters; Cutlar was not universally loved as a boss.

Much of our past coverage of Shanetta Cutlar has been somewhat negative (reflecting what we’ve heard from our sources). But there are some dissenting opinions — and we’re happy to present one to you today.

After our Friday report, we heard from Robert Driscoll, a former Justice Department official who is now a partner in the Washington office of Alston & Bird. During his time at the DOJ, he worked with Cutlar — and was very impressed by her work as an attorney. Driscoll told us:

I was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division from 2001-2003. In that position, I played a part in Shanetta getting the post as Chief. Whatever her strengths or weakness as a manager may have been (and I had heard she could be mercurial), I never doubted that she was a talented and extremely dedicated lawyer. Indeed, it was these characteristics that caused us to appoint Shanetta as Chief. She certainly was not placed in that position for having any conservative credentials.

More warm words for Shanetta Cutlar, after the jump.

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