Regulation

That might sound like a stupid question. I mean, there’s a package right there in the refrigerator that says “hummus” on it. That guy from Arrested Development tells me it’s real hummus. If this country can allow defamation suits over suggesting that “pink slime” is not “ground beef,” why would anyone think to look further than face value on a foodstuff’s name?

But when it comes to hummus — a product that’s spurred legal battles before — the FDA is being dragged into the debate over what it really means to be a vegan’s replacement for protein delightful Mediterranean dip….

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Despite the ever-growing ways that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates what Americans can consume, FDA does not currently regulate genetically modified food. The State of Vermont wants to step in.

This week, Vermont will become the first state to mandate labeling of food products containing ingredients from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It would require retailers of raw agricultural commodities to clearly and conspicuously label GMO-sourced food with the words “produced with genetic engineering.” (Think ears of corn in your supermarket’s produce section.) Producers of packaged food products must label their products with similar language if any ingredient contained in the product comes from a genetically modified source. (Think of that 56-ingredient protein bar sitting on your desk.)

The bill passed the Vermont House and Senate, and Governor Peter Shumlin just signed it into law yesterday. The law is scheduled to take effect in July 2016.

Why are some people so lathered up about eating ingredients that come from genetically modified crops? “Monsanto” has become a dirty word, with nouveau-hippie parents washing out their kids’ mouths with biodegradable, SLS-free soap when they hear them say it. Unfortunately, much public debate conflates genetic modification, exposure to pesticides, and all sorts of other “unnatural” stuff related to food.

Ironically, genetic modification of seeds aims to make crops more resistant to pests, disease, and drought, thus reducing the need for conventional chemical pesticides and increasing crop yields. A growing world population demands innovation to produce more crops with fewer resources. Billions of people need to eat. Too many GMO opponents seem to picture Dr. Frankenstein when they should be picturing Gregor Mendel or Mother Teresa. (Or, to be fair, Walter De Jong.)

That, however, is only the beginning of what’s foolish about Vermont’s new law . . . .

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‘Gee, my life is so meaningful. Thanks a lot, law school!’

* Despite the fact that the overall demand for legal work was down by five percent during the first nine months of the year, law firms still raised their hourly rates. Hey, what can we say? Math is hard. [Am Law Daily]

* After instructing his lawyers not to speak during what he called a “sham sentencing,” Whitey Bulger received two life sentences plus five years. Don’t worry, the appeal won’t be a sham. [National Law Journal; CNN]

* Attention c/o 2015: the New York City Bar Task Force is considering throwing commercial paper out the window in favor of administrative law. Something something arbitrary and capricious. [New York Law Journal]

* What is law school for, aside from collecting gigantic mountains of non-dischargeable student loan debt? Apparently it’s for creating a more meaningful life, because with poverty comes clarity. [WSJ Law Blog]

* In the very near future, you might need a license to conduct business with virtual money like bitcoin. The Brothers Winklevii are probably already preparing their paperwork to file. [DealBook / New York Times]

* USDA requiring a magician to develop a disaster plan for his rabbit. I don’t think this is such a bad idea — have you ever seen Bullwinkle? [Lowering the Bar]

* The Middle Class is disappearing in the country. Why can’t we get a disaster plan for them like we have for that rabbit? [Lawyers, Guns & Money]

* Patton Boggs is rebooting. Just like when a TV show adds a long-lost cousin in season 8, this isn’t a sign of weakness at all. [Politico]

* President Obama, speaking of the Trayvon Martin case, notes: “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store. And that includes me.” See, he was uniquely prepared for the job of being followed by security guys EVERYWHERE. The difference, of course, is he knows these guys aren’t going to shoot him. [NBC Politics]

* A Miami firm is suing LexisNexis for “deceptive” fees. If they’re going to litigate this case, they’d better hope their Westlaw bill is paid in full. [Miami New Times]

* The reporter’s privilege had a bad day. After all that’s been revealed in the last couple months, let’s all agree it’s only newsworthy when the reporter’s privilege has a good day. [PrawfsBlawg]

A deadly explosion killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno, California on September 9, 2010. The cause of the destruction was a natural gas pipeline owned by Pacific Gas & Electric that ran underneath the homes.

The subsequent investigation turned up a litany of failings on PG&E’s part that contributed to the explosion. PG&E’s regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, issued a recommendation that PG&E pay no fine, noting that the money the company was spending to modernize its pipelines to prevent future accidents was punishment enough.

This is when a number of CPUC attorneys took a stand against their boss, and their boss clumsily aired the office turmoil in public. And, yes, this all eventually involves the Taliban and a gun-toting enforcer…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Jim Maiwurm, chair and global CEO of Squire Sanders, has more than 30 years of experience as a business and transactional lawyer. His work involves the representation of a diverse range of businesses — from technology startups to Fortune 50 manufacturers — in private equity infusions, public offerings and sophisticated domestic and international acquisitions, dispositions, financings and joint ventures.

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Partner asks for a draft brief by Wednesday. It doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks Associate about the brief: “I wrote it, but the dog ate it. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, Partner asks for a draft brief by a deadline. The brief doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks about the brief: “I left the finished draft in a briefcase in my car, and a thief broke into my car and stole the briefcase. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, the computer crashed at the last minute. And on the assignment after that, a junior lawyer doing some research for the brief fell ill, so it wasn’t possible to get the brief written on time.

For Partner, the solution is easy: “This clown is irresponsible. There are other associates around here who actually do things on time. I’ll stop working with the clown, and my life will be much easier. And I’ll report on the clown’s annual review that he’s irresponsible.”

For Associate, the situation is baffling: “I do great work, and I turn things in late only when fate interferes. Why doesn’t Partner work with me anymore, and why did he unfairly say on my review that I’m irresponsible?”

Another example; the corporate analogy to law firm life; and my stunning conclusion all after this enticing ellipsis . . .

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Larren Nashelsky is the chair of Morrison & Foerster. Prior to becoming chair, Mr. Nashelsky focused his practice on U.S. and international restructurings, including Chapter 11 reorganizations, workouts, restructurings, secured financings and distressed acquisitions and investments. Larren is a graduate of Hofstra University School of Law.

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give a notable law firm partner an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Richard Wiley is the nation’s preeminent communications lawyer. He served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, where he fostered increased competition and lessened regulation in the communications field. Mr. Wiley played a pivotal role in the development of HDTV in this country, serving for nine years as Chairman of the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service. As head of the firm’s communications practice group (the largest in the nation), his clients include Verizon, AT&T, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, Motorola, and CBS. Mr. Wiley is a graduate of Northwestern Law and holds an LLM from Georgetown.

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Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, a recurring feature that gives notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as information about their firms and themselves.

Don Lents is chair of Bryan Cave LLP. His practice focuses on M&A, corporate governance, and securities law, with particular emphasis upon multinational and domestic mergers. He has been an adjunct professor at the Washington University Law School. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.

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