Public Interest

martin luther king.jpgToday we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the pioneering civil rights leader. If you’re not at work, we hope that you are enjoying the day off. (We are around, but will be posting less than usual.)

If you are at work, be proud. We’re pretty sure that equal opportunities to be productive cogs in the capitalist machine, regardless of race color or creed, were part of Dr. King’s dream.

If you are looking for something to do, we suggest that you treat today as an opportunity for public service. You can look up a service project in your area at MLKDay.gov or you can join the incoming president.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service [MLKDay.gov]

public defender.JPGATL has been providing in-depth coverage of firm layoffs, but we haven’t written much about public defenders suffering the same fate. With state budgets experiencing big squeezes, public defenders’ offices across the country are getting downsized, while their caseloads are getting upsized.

We wrote about layoffs in Kentucky, Minnesota, Florida, and Georgia back in July. In at least seven states, “public defenders’ offices are refusing to take on cases or have sued to limit them,” says the New York Times in an editorial today. It suggests that the constitutional right to counsel in state criminal proceedings is “hanging by a tattered thread:”

In a disturbing example of legal triage, a Florida judge ruled in September that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many poor defendants arrested on lesser felony charges so that its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. Behind the ruling were some chastening statistics: Over the past three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer rose from 367 annually to nearly 500. Misdemeanor case loads rose from 1,380 to 2,225.

Public defenders’ offices all over the country are reporting similar problems. The immediate result is that innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty. There also is an increased risk of wrongful conviction, which means that the real offenders would go free.

The NYT recommends meeting the budget shortfall by increasing the state registration fees for lawyers and expanding pro bono representation by the private bar.

Another out-of-the-box solution would be to get rid of all those pesky drug laws.

Remember to send in all of your layoffs stories and worries to tips@abovethelaw.com.

Hard Times and the Right to Counsel [New York Times]

Earlier: D.C. AG Office Faces Lawsuit After Firing Attorneys (And News of Layoffs For Public Defenders in Other States)

128294720808907500callmahlawyur.jpgEarlier this month, an ATL / Lateral Link survey found that 86% of you were talking about politics in the workplace. And 18% of you reported that a fellow associate had tried to convince you to vote for their favorite candidate.

But are politics just seeping into your workplace, or will you be taking your profession to the polls? As the Obama campaign recruits lawyers to join the world’s largest law firm next week and the McCain campaign recruits its own Legal Response Team, how are you and your firms planning to spend the day?

Will you be policing the polls for pro bono — or billable — credit?

Update: This survey is now closed. Click here for the results.

Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.

Mother Teresa.jpgA recent bar passer sent this query into Freakonomics:

I recently passed the bar and am currently applying for jobs. My main concern is bringing out the most charitable result. Should I work in the nonprofit section where my services are passed directly along to the most needy, or should I get the high-paying firm job and donate the difference in my salary to charity?

A certain Harvard Law School grad might say, “Do the right thing at every moment” — and avoid the Big Bad Law Firm. But Freakonomics blogger Stephen Dubner seems more skeptical of public interest work:

I am not so convinced that working for a nonprofit means that one’s “services are passed directly along to the most needy.” Here’s one reason why.

One Freakonomics commenter’s response to the question of “public interest v. Biglaw”: neither.

If you want to make the most “charitable result”, you’re too late. Lawyers rarely add any value to the economy (after all, this IS an economics blog). Lawyers don’t make anything but they consume large amounts of capital, both human and financial. Had you wanted to be a net contributor to society, an MBA or engineering degree or medical degree or some such would have been the way to go or even just start a small business. This would allow you to actually produce something of value. A law degree only allows you to add friction to the economy….

Scrap the law degree, start a company, get rich, buy a big house and a big boat, give generously when you can and do what Buffett and Gates are doing, give it all away when you’re finished. Nothing wrong with that at all. That would be a life well lived.

ATL readers, what do you advise?
Our Daily Bleg: How Can You Maximize Your Charity? [Freakonomics / NYT]
Earlier: Working in Biglaw = Killing Babies?

Seattle swingers.jpgWhere is the Institute for Justice when you need it? Or maybe the Pacific Legal Foundation?
A libertarian public interest organization needs to defend two victims of intrusive government regulation. From the Seattle Times:

Regan “Draco” Lane-Smith and “Naughty” Nonah Elliston outfitted their six-bedroom rental house with 15 mattresses, bondage crosses and sex swings. They built elaborate sets in their backyard for taking erotic photos. And they promoted the Hardwood Cabin online.

Up to 60 guests at a time came to mingle, sunbathe nude by the pool and have sex with fellow swingers and fetishists, Elliston said. Parties were frequent enough that the couple’s laundry service was cycling through 50 bedsheets a week.

But the couple shut down the sex club last month when they were cited for running a business without a license and threatened with fines of up to $513 a day.

So it was the commercial component that got them in trouble. A post-bar-exam orgy, or some German prison role playing, would have been just fine.
There are legal connections to this story in addition to the licensing and zoning issues. Read more, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Needed: Pro Bono Representation for the ‘Hardwood Cabin’”

Great Depression 2 Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother Above the Law blog.JPG* “Are we headed for another Great Depression?” [McClatchy]
* Quelle surprise: Bear Stearns shareholder lawsuit (filed in S.D.N.Y. by Coughlin Stoia). [Bloomberg; WSJ Law Blog (PDF of complaint)]
* Speaking of Bear Stearns, here are some law firms losing out on BSC business. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Tenth Circuit reverses convictions of former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio. [AP]
* Harvard Law School will pay the 3L tuition of future students who agree to work for nonprofit organizations or government for five years following graduation. [New York Times via Tax Prof Blog; Harvard Law School (news release)]
* Settlement in Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce (more on this later). [Legal Week]
* SCOTUS to hear Second Amendment / D.C. gun control case today (more on this later too). [New York Times; Reuters]

Martin Luther King Jr Dr Rev.jpgToday we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the pioneering civil rights leader. Dr. King’s birthday was actually on January 15th, but the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year.
Many of you are not in the office today, in honor of the holiday. If you’re not at work, we hope that you are enjoying the day off. (We are around, but will be posting less than usual.)
If you are looking for something to do, we suggest that you treat today as an opportunity for public service. You can look up a service project in your area at MLKDay.gov.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
Blawg Review #143 [Public Defender Stuff via Blawg Review]
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service [MLKDay.gov]

James Sandman James J Sandman Jim Sandman Above the Law Blog.jpgRemember James Sandman? Oh no, you don’t? Well, surely you remember the Arnold & Porter partner’s infamous essay, The High Price of Escalating Associate Salaries, which he wrote while president of the D.C. bar.

Jim Sandman’s article, dishing out harsh criticism of law firm associate pay raises, did not endear him to ATL readers. In a near comments clusterf**k, he was condemned as the greediest of greedy Biglaw partners (along with other epithets not fit for printing here).

Well, maybe Sandman has gotten a bad rap. After all, he was public-spirited enough to serve as president of the D.C. bar. When we met him at this party, one of many charitable functions he attends, he didn’t have horns growing out of his head.

And now we hear that he’s leaving his lucrative partnership, to toil in the considerably less profitable precincts of the D.C. public school system. He’s accepted a position as General Counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools, and he’ll also be a member of Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s senior leadership team to the DC School Board.

Read the A&P memo announcing Sandman’s departure, from firm chairman Thomas Milch, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Musical Chairs: Jim Sandman Isn’t as Greedy as You Thought”

Legal Aid Society New York Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgIn the discussion about Peter Barta, the Legal Aid lawyer who allegedly made secret videotapes of his female colleagues getting dressed in the office, one question keeps coming up, again and again.
This comment is representative:

“[C]an someone explain why people are getting dressed/undressed at the Legal Aid office in the first place?”

We were curious ourselves. So we undertook an ATL investigation, contacting a few sources with firsthand knowledge.
If you’re curious, the results of our investigation appear after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “More Than You Ever Cared To Know About Legal Aid Lawyers and Their Attire”

syringe lethal injection death penalty Above the Law legal tabloid.jpgSupreme Court clerkships, Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships… Who cares?
We’ve unearthed a credential that is far more bad-ass. From a tipster:

I was forwarded this notice about a fellowship opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to have Recipient of Lethal Injection Fellowship on their résumé?

If your curiosity is piqued, read more after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “This Fellowship Is To Die For”

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