Screw-Ups

You know the line from Henry VI, Part II, where Dick the Butcher explains the need to “kill all the lawyers.” It’s a cheap laugh line playing on the timeless and cross-cultural hatred of lawyers. Only a profession as self-conscious and petty as ours would go out of its way to try and play this off as a hidden compliment from the Bard by stressing that the character who said it was up to no good. I guess Shakespeare was just a failure because everyone laughs at that line instead of recognizing the deadly serious threat to English stability.

Well, anyway, the San Diego Sheriff’s Office has a modern take and just “locks up all the lawyers” for no reason.

KVWN-TV Channel 4 Evening News

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Let me regale you with two recent examples of lawyers disclosing client confidences. There’s a lesson tucked into each.

First: An acquaintance sent me the résumé of, and asked me to speak to, a young lawyer. The idea was to give some general career advice, rather than necessarily to hire the person.

I’m a pushover, so I agreed to have a cup of coffee with the relatively new lawyer. Over coffee, he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) explained that what he liked least about the job he’d just left (which was identified on his résumé) was being asked to do unethical things. My curiosity piqued, I asked for an example. He explained that he’d been asked to draft a contract that committed his employer to violating the law as part of the contractual relationship. (Think along the lines of, “We will ship the illegal weapons to you in New York.”) My young acquaintance said that he’d gone to the general counsel, who had instructed him to draft whatever contract the business wanted. The earnest young lawyer had solved the ethical problem by drafting a contract that, when read carefully, would prohibit the illegal conduct. (Think: “Under no circumstance will any weapons of any type be shipped pursuant to this contract.”)

I’m afraid I won’t be recommending this person for any jobs. . . .

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I’ll take landmasses that are not countries for $200, Alex.

We make a little fun of DLA Piper around these parts because the large, global law firm seemingly has offices in every city on Earth. Maybe we shouldn’t be so snarky though. You’ll thank the stars when DLA Panem is there to help you with your complex cross-border transactions between District 12 and District 2.

Seriously, they have offices everywhere.

You’d think that by this point the people who run the part of the DLA Piper website that posts all of these offices would easily win the geography wedge in Trivial Pursuit. But a tipster recently glanced at the DLA website and noted that for all its global reach, the firm seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the African continent.

Oh, they have offices in Africa, it’s just not entirely clear the firm knows where they are….

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Here are some subject lines on emails currently floating around in my inbox:

“Unfair Grading Policy at Fordham Law (due to Professor negligence!)”

“Constitutional Law Exam at Fordham Law School (One wrong move after another by the Administration)”

“Fordham Law Fiasco”

Here’s a text message I received yesterday:

“Elie, how can you write about the Michigan douchenozzles when we’ve got a professor who screwed up the basic integrity of our law school transcripts?”

Without reading any of these emails, what would you guess happened? I’d say that a constitutional law professor at Fordham School of Law got lazy when it came time to write exams, made a mistake that gave one group of students an unfair advantage, and when it was revealed, the administration came up with a solution that most students feel is unfair.

That’s what I would guess. But I could be wrong. I’m not an expert or anything, I’m just a guy who has gotten very used to the way professors treat law school exams. Let’s read the emails to find out what happened….

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Now that we’re done yelling at all the law professors in America who couldn’t bother to submit grades for their classes in a timely manner, it’s time for our other semi-annual tradition of covering total grading screw-ups by esteemed legal academics. Exam period isn’t truly over until at least one professor adds to the misery of current law students in some odd way.

The screw-up in this instant case is a doozy. We’re looking at a large 1L class, a massive administrative failure, and a loss of privacy for the students.

You know your screw-up is noteworthy when the official administrative “solution” to the problem is “wait, don’t read that email…”

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Earlier this week, we wrote about a pair of prominent partners at Skadden Arps who got hit with a big-time benchslap. A federal judge in Chicago issued an order to show cause, requiring the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to cite a highly relevant (arguably dispositive) Seventh Circuit case when briefing a motion to dismiss. The judge also set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.”

The Skadden partners filed a contrite response. They apologized profusely to the court, explained why they viewed the Seventh Circuit as distinguishable, and argued that even though they erred, their conduct didn’t merit sanctions. They announced to the court that they had settled the case in question, with Skadden “contributing to the settlement amount in order to personally redress plaintiffs’ counsel for responding to the motion to dismiss.” (In a classy move, they also extracted their associate from under the bus, explaining that he played no substantive role in the briefing.)

Despite the apology and the settlement, the status hearing went forward as scheduled yesterday. What happened?

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On the transactional side, things seem to be going gangbusters for Skadden Arps. As we noted yesterday, the firm took the top spot in three separate rankings of 2012 M&A work. In 2011, a different firm sat atop each set of rankings, but in 2012, Skadden ruled them all.

On the litigation side, though, the new year has brought new headaches for Skadden. Earlier this month, a high-profile partner at the firm, along with another partner and an associate, got hit with a big benchslap. A federal judge issued an order to show cause, asking the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned, and set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.” Ouch.

Skadden recently filed its response to the OSC. Let’s review the benchslap, then see what the Skadden lawyers had to say for themselves….

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It’s the last day of December, so it’s a good time to look back on the year that was. We’ll do what we’ve done for the past three years (wrap-up posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011 can be found here, here, and here) and identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2012, based on traffic (as represented by pageviews).

By the way, for the third year in a row, the most popular category page on Above the Law was Law Schools. People have now been intensely focused on the declining value proposition of going to law school for as long as it takes to earn a Juris Doctor degree. Isn’t it time that we graduate from the current educational model?

The second and third most-popular categories on ATL in 2012 were Biglaw and Bonuses. Although this year brought us the largest law firm failure ever, nearly all other firms indiscriminately doled out offers to summer associates, and bonus season looked better for the first time in years. While the legal profession is still in transition, things are certainly looking up, and through the highs and the lows, we’ve been there to cover it all.

So what were the ten most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2012? Let’s find out….

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* “To do nothing in the face of pending disaster is to be complicit. It’s time to act. It’s time to vote.” What a convenient time to discover that the Department of Justice tabled new gun control proposals in favor of an upcoming election campaign. [New York Times]

* Rumor has it that the president will nominate Senator John Kerry to be secretary of state for his second term. Upon hearing the news, Hillary Clinton updated her Tumblr page before she caught a case of the vapors, fainted, and got herself all concussed. [CNN]

* “If you don’t know, then you have to plan for the worst.” Everyone’s pissed off about the possibility of being pushed off the fiscal cliff, but on the bright side, it’s creating a mountain of billables. [National Law Journal]

* Remember the judge who resigned after he accidentally showed a colleague a picture of the “judicial penis”? He was removed from office by a judicial ethics panel. How very effective. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

* And for the talent portion of the competition, Alicia Guastaferro, the pageant princess who was picked up for prostitution after getting caught with an attorney, will have her hooking charges dropped. [Huffington Post]

The only people who hate final exams as much as students are the professors who must eventually grade them. Some professors look at finals with open disdain. It takes them away from scholarship and they don’t even get the thrill of hearing themselves talk in a packed lecture hall.

Maybe it’s because so many professors hate giving exams that there seem to be so many screw-ups. Mistakes will happen, but often it doesn’t seem like schools have a clear plan of fixing mistakes in a way that is fair to all students.

NYU Law School has had its fair share of exam mishaps. It’s a long and embarrassing list.

But maybe NYU Law is finally starting to learn from past mishaps. Oh, the faculty still make mistakes when it comes time to administer exams, but this time the solution is that the professor is going to do extra work.

Then again, maybe it’s working extra hard after you’ve made an error that separates this famous NYU professor from the rabble….

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