Legal Research

* Antonin Scalia thinks the State of the Union is a “childish spectacle.” I mean, if it was so important, the Founders would have put it in the Constitution, right? [New York Daily News]

* Does your son or daughter want to be Barack Obama when they grow up? Here are complete instructions to building your own play drone! [Volokh Conspiracy]

* Snickers bars are not tax deductible? Damn you H&R Block!!! [Tax Prof Blog]

* Yesterday I mused about needing a ranking for the rankings. PrawfsBlawg points out that there is such a ranking. My dreams of glory are dashed yet again. [PrawfsBlawg]

* It turns out recruiters are just as unimpressed with your legal research skills as your non-law friends. [Monster]

* Allegedly, Nestle’s does not play well with others. [Courthouse News Service]

* Is it just me or is giving the Republican response like being named the Madden cover athlete? Now let’s all watch Marco Rubio realize he needs water in super slow motion. [Deadspin]

Mahbod Moghadam of Rap Genius

F. Scott Fitzgerald once opined that there were “no second acts in American lives.” Similarly, Biz Markie once opined “’cause we all pick our boogers sometime every day.” If you’re already lost, allow me to explain. This is the story of a former Biglaw attorney and his second act. He and his friends started a website devoted to rap lyrics. The website annotates rap lyrics, and it’s this system of annotation that the founders of the website hope will take over the web (including legal research). The website was recently funded by venture capitalists, and the resulting hype has ping-ponged across the web at a pace so rapid that you’d be excused if you made like Steinski and wondered, “What does it all mean?” (affiliate link).

The interviews that have fed the myriad profiles of the site’s founders have been nothing short of entertaining. Just last week, Gawker was prompted to write a guide to the site, rapgenius.com, which managed to sound both condescending and wildly equivocating and which did nothing but illuminate the author’s squeamishness. This promises to not be like that. I don’t know if Rap Genius is going to be Wikipedia or Pets.com.

What I do know is that a Biglaw dropout just ganked $15 million from Marc Andreessen and wants to edge out Westlaw and Lexis (good luck with that).

Keep reading to find out where he went to law school and what firm he worked at. And if you want to see his shirtless YouTube diss track (no homo)….

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Ed. note: This is the fourth installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some great advice for newly minted attorneys from Joshua Stein, the principal of Joshua Stein PLLC, a prominent commercial real estate law practice in Manhattan.

It’s your first year as a new lawyer. What do you need to know? How can you not screw it up? Here are some suggestions, based on more than 30 years of experience — as an associate at two firms, then a brief time as an associate at a third firm, followed by 20+ years as a partner at that third firm. These suggestions reflect my own experiences, lessons learned along the way, and what I’ve seen and heard from others. Nothing here applies specifically or uniquely to any firm where I worked.

It’s a Business. As much as we might all want law firms to be kind and gentle, remember that client demands are not kind and gentle. Also remember that a firm’s profitability — the ultimate main event — depends on buying a lot of legal expertise wholesale, converting it into as many hours of billable legal work as possible, then selling those hours at retail. That isn’t going to go away. Get used to it. That’s the business you’re in. If you don’t want to be in it, go find some other business to be in.

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Ah, the Bluebook. Some people love it, but even more people despise it. If you ask my colleague Elie Mystal about the Bluebook, he’ll tell you that it’s the only book in the world he’d actually consider burning in public. Even federal judges hate the Bluebook. In fact, when we held a poll about whether use of the Bluebook should be abolished, 51% of our readers agreed that it should be banished.

All that being said, is it any wonder that a student from a law school in Virginia is raging against the law review’s upcoming Bluebook exam? Several law students have written to us about this student’s “guerilla campaign” against the school’s annual exercise in “academic hazing,” and they have even provided us with copies of this kid’s manifesto. (Yeah, he’s got one.)

Who is this revolutionary, and why does he think the school’s Bluebook exam needs to go?

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Tom Wallerstein

Over the last few years, the legal market has changed dramatically. We live in a buyer’s market in which the clients hold the upper hand and can demand financial concessions from their attorneys that go beyond lower hourly rates.

This good news for clients might sound like bad news for lawyers. If lawyers can’t charge as much, they likely won’t make as much. But although greater price competition might lower revenue for some firms, it surely presents an opportunity for others. Small law firms often compete with bigger firms on price, and increased client sensitivity to legal fees can be a marketing boon to firms that can undercut their competition (with the familiar caveat, of course, that the smaller firm must be able to provide the resources and quality required by the particular matter).

The changing market invites, if not demands, lawyers to offer concessions for clients. Happily, many of the concessions have relatively little impact on the firm’s bottom line, but can garner significant goodwill with clients. For example….

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Where would lawyers be without open (and absurdly expensive) access to Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis for legal research? They’d have to trudge down to the closest law library and read real books made of paper. They’d have to head over to the courthouse and pull actual files with non-electronic documents inside of them. In a time where legal texts are used solely for decorative bookshelf purposes, that is just too much to ask.

But that is the behavior that two lawyers would expect of their professional colleagues. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, they claim that the legal database providers have been engaging in “unabashed wholesale copying of thousands of copyright-protected works created by, and owned by, the attorneys and law firms who authored them.”

Do they have any chance of winning their class action copyright suit?

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The great thing about free stuff is that it is free. Nobody cares what kind of plastic junk they’re getting as long as it’s free. Why do sports fans go nuts over t-shirt cannons, even though the shirts are ugly as hell and always XXL? Duh, because they’re free.

To me, it seems logical that no one has any right to complain when free stuff is taken away, or when it turns out to be a major letdown.

If you want a crummy T-shirt so badly, go buy one. If you want to go to Starbucks, don’t complain that your aunt Maggie didn’t give you a big enough gift card for Christmas. Just go buy your coffee.

Judging from a recent LexisNexis online promotion geared toward law students, though, it seems I might be in the minority. On its Facebook page, Lexis has been advertising “challenges” for law students. Supposedly, the first 1,000 students to complete each challenge win 1,000 “Lexis points,” which are similar to credit card rewards points.

Tragically, some computer problems caused students to have trouble accessing and submitting their answers earlier this week. A tidal wave of law school students became enraged and took to Lexis’s Facebook with their fury. Woe to he who angers law students….

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Welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of legal writing and English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we found out that only 29% of our readers lie back and think of England when dealing with punctuation and quotation marks. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

This week, we turn to a hotly-debated issue among legal professionals: the use of the Bluebook. At least one federal judge hates it, joining hundreds upon thousands of law students to date.

Should we consider putting the Bluebook on the backburner in our legal writing?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Let me tell you about a couple of cases I lost. Now, wait: before the Commentariat sharpens its knives (“This guy couldn’t get a big-firm job, then loses all his cases. No wonder he’s writing for ATL. Heh.” — Guest), let me point out a few things. In 17 years as an employment litigator, I’ve won plenty more cases than I’ve lost. But I didn’t learn as much from the cases I won; I learned much more from the ones I lost.

So this post covers the single most important lesson I’ve learned in litigation, and now I’m sharing it with you. You didn’t learn it in law school, and you’re not likely to find a CLE on it. But the lesson these two cases illustrate can prevent you from making the most common mistake lawyers make.

And learning that lesson will help you win more cases.…

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[N]eedless to say, I have not read the nineteenth edition. I have dipped into it, much as one might dip one’s toes in a pail of freezing water. I am put in mind of Mr. Kurtz’s dying words in Heart of Darkness — ‘The horror! The horror!’ — and am tempted to end there.

— Judge Richard Posner, in a scathing Yale Law Journal review of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (19th ed.).

(For additional discussion and funny excerpts, see Paul Horwitz, Ilya Somin, and Eugene Volokh.)

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