Federal Government

Last month, the powers-that-be behind OSCAR (the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review) made some changes to the remnants of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan (to the extent that folks still follow the Plan). The upshot: OSCAR will release the electronic clerkship applications of rising 3Ls on June 28, 2013, at 12:00 p.m. (ET). At that point, judges are free to schedule and conduct interviews and make clerkship offers.

In writing about this news, I questioned the wisdom of this approach: “The Plan provides for ‘a single date to receive applications, schedule and conduct interviews, and make clerkship offers.’ This could be a recipe for an utterly shambolic process, a mad scramble for talent on June 28, full of hastily conducted interviews, exploding offers, and questionable behavior by both judges and applicants.”

Well, it seems that some judges agree with this analysis and are taking a different tack….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Righteous Indignation, our new column for conservative-minded lawyers.

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided City of Arlington v. FCC. The question before SCOTUS was whether courts must defer to a federal regulatory agency’s interpretation of a statutory ambiguity even when that ambiguity involves the scope of the agency’s authority — its own jurisdiction.

Justice Scalia wrote for the majority, holding that even in cases such as this one, agencies are entitled to the usual deference established in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. — aka Chevron deference. Chief Justice Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito.

The outcome of City of Arlington should be noteworthy to Court watchers — and conservatives in particular — for several reasons. First, the Scalia-Roberts split quiets the simplistic refrain that SCOTUS decides cases down rigid liberal-conservative lines. Second, it highlights an ongoing debate among conservative members of the Court about fundamental issues concerning the separation of powers and constitutional governance. Third, the Scalia and Roberts opinions demonstrate that, far from reserving their barbs for the left, conservatives can be pretty darn snarky amongst themselves.

So, let’s have a closer look….

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“In four minutes, it would be another hour; a half hour after that was the ten-minute break. Lane Dean imagined himself running around on the break, waving his arms and shouting gibberish and holding ten cigarettes at once in his mouth, like a panpipe. Year after year, a face the same color as your desk. Lord Jesus. Coffee wasn’t allowed because of spills on the files, but on the break he’d have a big cup of coffee in each hand while he pictured himself running around the outside grounds, shouting. He knew what he’d really do on the break was sit facing the wall clock in the lounge and, despite prayers and effort, count the seconds tick off until he had to come back and do this again. And again and again and again.”

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (affiliate link)

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a longish piece on just what in the hell was happening at the IRS office in Cincinnati. A Kafkaesque tale of bureaucratic intrigue, the treatment does little to tell us why in the hell we care just what in the hell was happening at the IRS office in Cincinnati. I’ll leave that determination to the qualified pundits and their punditry.

But what the Times article does do is shine a light on what it means to be a lawyer. What it means to others and what it means to us. Completely by accident, the mess at the IRS tells us how important lawyers are. And how impotent we are. This makes little sense even as I type it. But bear with me. Please. It is not often that meaning comes so nicely gift-wrapped.

What does it mean to be a lawyer?

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First, an offer: I thought I had retired my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law when I moved to London last fall. But I’ll be in the States for a few weeks in late May and June, and I’ve been asked to dust off the talk and give it a few times — at the annual meeting of the Association of Defense Trial Counsel in Detroit, and again in Chicago for Kirkland & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig. So long as I’ll have to flip through my notes and re-learn the talk, I might as well give it for your group, too. Please let me know by email if your law firm is interested.

Second, today’s thesis — and it’s a backwards one: Law firms think more highly of you for the years when you’re not working at the firm.

I’ll start with the easy example: I moved as a sixth-year associate from a small firm in San Francisco to a huge firm in Cleveland. When I arrived at the huge firm in Cleveland, partners treated me surprisingly well. Why?

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* “[T]hese senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them” Yesterday, the Senate blocked gun-control legislation that could have saved lives, and Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of gun violence, wrote a powerful op-ed in reaction. [New York Times]

* DLA Piper won’t be churning that bill anymore because the firm managed to settle its fee dispute with Adam Victor, but it’s certain that the firm’s embarrassment over the overbilling incident will know no limits. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Ahh, best-laid plans: Kim Koopersmith, the first woman to serve as Akin Gump’s chair, never thought that she’d be working in a law firm. In law school, she wanted to work in public interest. [Bloomberg]

* You’ll never guess which firm has the best brand in Canada according to the latest Acritas survey, but that’s probably because you don’t care. Come on, it’s Canada. Fine, it’s Norton Rose. [Am Law Daily]

* Oopsie! Burford Capital claims that it would never have funded plaintiffs’ representation by Patton Boggs in the Chevron case if it weren’t for a partner’s “false and misleading” statements. [CNN Money]

* The wife of a former justice of the peace has been charged with capital murder after she confessed to her involvement in the slayings of Texas prosecutors Mike McLelland and Mark Hasse. [Reuters]

* Baltimore Law has a beautiful new building that cost $112 million. Just a thought: perhaps more of that money should’ve been spent putting the class of 2012 to work as lawyers. [National Law Journal]

A few years ago, when the New York Times asked him how early he starts recruiting law clerks, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski quipped, “At birth.” Chief Judge Kozinski was joking — kind of.

Back in January, the Most Holy D.C. Circuit — blessed be its prestigious name — officially abandoned the Law Clerk Hiring Plan. Since then, we’ve received reports of 2Ls around the country being hired for clerkships during this current semester, before they even have spring grades.

Historically speaking, this isn’t the first time hiring has started this early. When I went through the process years ago, I had my clerkship lined up before April. But it’s certainly a break with more recent practice, in which judges generally have waited to hire law clerks until the fall of 3L year.

Perhaps in response to these developments, the judges behind OSCAR (the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review) have made some tweaks to what remains of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan. Check out how early the “official” timetable now begins….

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Here at Above the Law, we try to pay attention to every sector of legal employment. We often find ourselves skewed rather heavily toward Biglaw, but as we all know, not everyone wants to work in Biglaw — including some of the people who are ensconced in high-paying Biglaw jobs themselves.

Imagine a place where you won’t be shackled to the billable hour. Imagine a place where you’ll get all government holidays off without having to worry about showing up just for the sake of appearances. Imagine a place where your clients are people, not corporate entities. If that seems nice to you, it’s because it is.

Today, we’re going to open the floodgates for the members of our audience, prospective law students in particular, who aspire to some day work in government and public interest jobs. Which law schools should you be considering if you’d like to have the best odds of reaching your goal?

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Looking back, the part of last week’s arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court that stands out most for me is the last hour (DOMA merits) — a fitting finale to two days of historic argument on same-sex marriage.

The way things unfolded, the last hour is why we all came. It is why people slept on the sidewalk for days. It is why Americans tuned in and logged on for updates. It is why the attorneys signed up to argue.

We were there to discuss the future of marriage in this country, how different people see it, and where state and federal governments fit in.

The Prop 8 argument went to those core issues the day before, but in fits and starts. A muddy hybrid of standing and merits.

The last hour of DOMA went there and stayed there. Merits were the only thing on the menu, and we ate it up….

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Looking at my notes from today’s United States v. Windsor argument on DOMA at the U.S. Supreme Court, “$Q” is everywhere. That’s my shorthand for “money quote.” The merits part of the argument was $Q after $Q, moments that made an impact, in some cases if only to show where a justice might be headed.

Here are five. Look forward to bringing you more in-depth analysis of the argument in the next couple of days.

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Given the Government’s conduct in this case, the court orders the Government to show cause why it should not be sanctioned under this court’s inherent authority. It seems that sanctions may be needed to motivate VA in the future to treat its commitments and representations to this court and opposing counsel with the seriousness to which they are entitled.

– Judge S. Jay Plager, reprimanding counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs in National Organization of Veterans Advocates, Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (Fed. Cir. Mar 21, 2013), a case concerning the due process rights of veterans seeking benefits.

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