Friday, January 31, 2014

Multi- state bar admissions: You can't fool the bar

Here's an interesting report on a case of a lawyer moving from one state to another in pursuit of bar admission but failing to make required disclosures in both jurisdictions.

From the state bar of Michigan blog. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Legal advice for lawyers: If you win a massive fee, don't put it in an illegal tax shelter

This all started when a big tobacco company was sued through the office of Nix, Patterson and Roach. In 1998, the attorneys won $600 million in attorneys’ fees, to be paid over a period of time, as well as $68 million in connection with tobacco litigation in other states.
With this money in hand, the partners sought ways to shelter themselves from tax liability, and formed a partnership, NPR Investments, to invest in foreign currency.  . . .

The 5th Circuit found Thursday that the partnership and partners must pay penalties for underpaying the Internal Revenue Service through this investment scheme.
Pursuant to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in U.S. v. Woods, NPR is subject to a 40 percent gross valuation misstatement penalty.

Article here (via Above the Law).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Man who gave gun in Dantzler shooting seeks forgiveness in court

In 2011, Roderic Dantzler killed seven people in Grand Rapids, including his estranged wife and their daughter. He also killed himself. But he was given the gun by Michael Allen. It was illegal for Allen to supply a gun to Dantzler because Dantzler was an ex-convict who couldn't have weapons. Allen is now being tried in federal court for the crime. The government says Allen has his own record of assault and drug crimes. He's asking for a "fair" sentence. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

Article here. 

What do law students think of law school?

Via Wall Street Journal's law blog. 

In 2013 nearly two-thirds of students (65%) reported that their schools place “a substantial emphasis” on giving them the support they need to succeed academically, and 68% said they were satisfied with the financial aid advising they received.
  ( . . . )
But students seemed less happy with job search services and career counseling, which were rated unsatisfactory by 43% and 42% of respondents, respectively—not terribly surprising, given the challenging legal job market.

Article here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Man appeals 22-50 year sentence, gets 3 years off sentence

A man who robbed a local McDonald's restaurant and was later convicted, appealed his sentence and was successful in shaving 3 years off his 22-50 year sentence.

article here.

According to court records, the pair entered the restaurant with guns drawn and ordered all but one employee to stay on the ground. The robbers gathered up about $3,200 in cash and numerous booklets of gift certificates. Within a week, Woods was arrested. Police say he was holding white gloves, like those used in the robbery, and about $1,400 in cash – mostly $1 and $5 bills. At Woods’ apartment, a search turns up McDonald’s gift certificates, police said.

Have a felony conviction? Running for office? New bill would force disclosure.

 Felony convictions will have to be disclosed, but only if they occurred in the last 10 years.

A candidate for office would have to reveal any felony convictions in the previous 10 years under a bill that unanimously passed the House Elections and Ethics committee Tuesday.

Article here. 

As a side note, people applying to the state Bar of Michigan must disclose this as well, including misdemeanor convictions, regardless of how old the convictions are. It's part of the character & fitness portion of the state bar application. So that means there's more transparency for becoming a lawyer than for being an elected official.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Michigan Innocence Project success story

Fire arson suspect exonerated after serving four years in prison 

 Four years behind bars is a long time, especially for someone who later is proven innocent of the crimes he was accused of committing.
Victor Caminata, 39, was officially exonerated Wednesday more than four years after he had been convicted of burning down the house he shared with his former girlfriend and sentenced to nine to 40 years in prison.

Article here. 

via State Bar of Michigan blog.

Law schools: how should they be teaching?

Rather than continuing the “negative” critique of current forms of legal education, this essay suggests a slightly more optimistic course for why studying and practicing law, as a more broadly defined discipline, should still be attracting both students and faculty who care about making the world more just, fair, efficient, effective, and peaceful.

 Via Taxprof blog. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

10 Snowiest Colleges in the US, Michigan makes the list twice

The 10 snowiest colleges in the US, as ranked by accuweather. I went to #8 (Western Michigan University). I well remember trudging through snow & ice to get to class on a cold January morn.

Article here.

Is there life after being disbarred? This article says there is.

The Louisville Courier-Journal covers how several former Kentucky lawyers are living their lives post-disbarment. (Kentucky is a rare "license death penalty" jurisdiction that does not allow disbarred lawyers to ever apply for reinstatement.)

Article here. 

State Bar membership may become voluntary in Michigan.

Michigan, the 24th state to adopt Right to Work laws, has now introduced legislation that would make state bar membership voluntary.

From the State Bar of Michigan blog: The sponsor, Sen. Arlan Meekhof, told reporters that the State Bar had become “more of a political organization."

 article here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Changes to Michigan law for child prostitution: Higher penalties.

The Michigan House has voted to increase the penalty for soliciting sex from a minor, making it a felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Article here. 

Michigan Bankruptcy law firm files for . . . bankruptcy!

From the article: 

“The relief is there for everyone ... from the person who is on a fixed income and earns less than $1,000 a month to a company as big as General Motors.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How not to use a laptop given to you by your employer.

Brent Sandy, a music professor at the University of Iowa, is facing multiple criminal charges after he reported his university-issued laptop missing and presumably stolen, The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported. The university was able to trace the laptop to Sandy's home. He then confessed, authorities said, to taking the laptop home and reporting it stolen because he was scheduled to get a new laptop and had porn on the existing laptop. When authorities searched his house, they also found a container of marijuana. So Sandy now faces charges related to the false report and the pot.

A juror says "no way" to child pornography case.

What happens when a juror in a criminal case with horrific facts says he can't handle the evidence? A recent child pornography case out of Ohio addressed the issue. After being impanelled but before any evidence was presented a juror sent a message to the court's deputy asking to be released.
I'm a juror that was in the courtroom today for Judge Dowd's case. And I just left there and I don't know how I'm going to be able to do this tomorrow. I'll be honest with you. I'm, like, half sick. I guess they're showing pictures or a video tomorrow.

Article here. 

Attorney -Client relationship advice: What is the client after?

A nice article here about why lawyers and their clients have a hard time seeing eye to eye: 

A lawyer is often apt to think of the law as the drill — how to use it, apply it, and make it work in any particular situation. But a client does not really care about the law, they care about the solution to their problem …

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reason to celebrate? New Year's means and end of pay freeze for Federal judges.

Michigan's state judges have not had a pay increase in over a decade, but all federal court judges, including bankruptcy judges, got a 14% raise on January 1 as a result of a court ruling that found a series of pay freezes dating back to 1995 an unconstitutional diminution in judicial compensation. Late last year Attorney General Eric Holder informed Congress that the Justice Department would no longer contest cases challenging the freeze.

Article here. 

Jail time for submitting misleading or false law school rankings?

A most unlikely collection of suspects - law schools, their deans, U.S. News & World Report and its employees - may have committed felonies by publishing false information as part of U.S. News' ranking of law schools. The possible federal felonies include mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, racketeering, and making false statements. Employees of law schools and U.S. News who committed these crimes can be punished as individuals, and under federal law the schools and U.S. News would likely be criminally liable for their agents' crimes.

Article here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Social media and marketing your law practice: mistakes lawyers make

From the article: 
People don’t have Facebook accounts just so you can show up and brag about yourself any more than they go to an ice cream social with their family hoping that you will come up and talk about your business, and leave a card. That should be common sense, but many lawyers seem to think the Internet was invented for marketing purposes, and go around littering the information superhighway with their billboards . . .

From the lawyerist, which provides advice & insight to law firms & solo practitioners. 

Depression and lawyers

This time of year can be very depressing. After all, the holidays are over, and we're looking at (at least) 6 more weeks of winter, if not more. But depression can be related to a person's choice of profession:
This story reports that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data ranks law as the profession with the fourth highest suicide rate, right behind dentistry, pharmacy, and medicine, and that state bars say the numbers are rising.

Article here. (includes information on contacting the state bar's assistance program.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The main Kent County courthouse has an interesting problem recently: defendants who act unexpectedly.

First there was the defendant who threw a table at the judge. Then there was the defendant who was dragged weeping from the court saying "I didn't do it."

These acts are not the norm, according to this article.

Officer Scott Nibbelink, head of security at the courthouse, says compared to behavior on the streets and in jail, defendants tend to be on their best behavior when they stand before a judge.
He says if there’s going to be trouble, the most likely spot will be among those family and friends in the gallery where emotions run high and feed off those gathered.
Nibblink said as opposed to violent criminals, trouble often comes between the separate sides in divorce proceedings in family court.

Change: More law jobs than law grads by 2016 ?

Is it a good time to apply to law school or not?
With law school enrollment dropping, some say it is only a matter of time before the number of legal jobs exceeds the number of graduates. ...
[D]ifferent law professors can't agree on the date when supply will drop below demand. Paul Young, a law professor at Appalchian ... predicts that full-time legal jobs will exceed the number of law school graduates in 2017.

article here

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A civil justice system with no trials

 Trials are becoming more rare, according to this article.

The steady erosion of the American trial is our dirty little secret. A majority of the American public might be surprised to learn that there is indisputable statistical evidence that the number of jury and non-jury trials in our country is, and has been, sharply declining, both in absolute and relative terms.1 For example, in 2010, only 2,154 jury trials were commenced in federal district courts, which means, on average, Article III judges tried fewer than four civil jury trials that year. While jury trials in federal court obviously have declined, the decline in bench trials has been steadier and steeper.2 Even though the number of lawyers continues to increase, the number of trials is still decreasing.3

Monday, January 13, 2014

How has Gov. Rick Snyder done in the past year? State of the state report.

The Free Press analyzed 67 pledges Gov. Rick Snyder made in his first three State of the State addresses and found 34% are completed, 42% are underway and ongoing, and 24% are largely incomplete or stalled.

Article here. 

Character and Fitness: Why it matters

Character and Fitness (also called C & F)  is a portion of state bar exam applications. Applicants have to prove that they will be worthy of being attorneys, once they take and pass the exam. State bar associations take it very seriously. For example, Michigan's application, in addition to requiring a criminal background check, requires applicants to list all the addresses, and jobs they have held since they were 18. If an applicant's background raises any "red flags" this means the State Bar will interview that applicant, find the cause for the red flag, and perhaps delay their application until the cause for concern improves. I have heard tales from fellow attorneys about C&F interviews over parking tickets.And it's one of those areas where it's easy to see both sides of the argument: yes, it seems to be a tedious hassle for applicants to complete the application; but since attorneys have so much control & power over client's affairs, the state bar associations are really protecting the public from potential psychopaths.

But this article tells the tale of one student who tried to slip between the cracks.

A money manager now known as Mathew Martoma who is now being tried for insider trading was expelled from Harvard Law School for altering his transcripts in his applications for federal clerkships.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Good news for prospective law students

Deciding whether or not to enroll in law school is a big decision, with the potential for a lot of debt (and a degree) at the end. (Related: So you think you want to become a lawyer?) So prospective law students often ask: Is it going to be worth it?

In this article, The Economic Value of a Law Degree,
[t]he authors conclude that ”a law degree is associated with a 60 percent median increase in monthly earnings and 50 percent increase in median hourly wages…[and] estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.”

See more here. 

Low - Carb diets creating false breathlyzer results: News you can use!

We all know how dangerous it is to drink and drive, and how costly the charges can be to defend yourself if you are facing a DUI. (Need more info? Click here).

But did you know that your diet can cause an odd result on the breathalyzer? It's true!

From the Livin La Vida Low Carb blog:
It seems the breathalyzer tests used by law enforcement officials can register a false reading based on elevated ketone levels in your body. As you know, people who are on the low-carb lifestyle, especially in the most ketogenic stages eating around 20-40g carbs daily, induce heavy ketosis in their body to begin burning all that stored fat that’s inside of them. That’s what makes low-carb work so spectacular!

But a recent experiment by a scientist friend of mine showed those excess ketones that come from livin’ la vida low-carb can actually show up on the breathalyzer test in a negative way and create a false positive for the presence of alcohol.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How to start a freelance law practice

from The Lawyerist blog:
As the legal profession evolves to meet the changing demands of the marketplace, freelance attorneys have a new angle on the practice of law, and their numbers have been growing in the largest U.S. legal markets over the past several years. Freelance attorneys enjoy much greater flexibility and control over their law practices than most solo practitioners. And because freelance attorneys are independent contractors hired by other attorneys to handle legal work on a contract project basis, setting up a freelance practice is fairly straightforward.
Article here. 

Side note: I know a few attorneys who are freelancers. I did freelance work for a short while before I set up my own place. To me, the advantage of starting a firm was in having a dedicated space for work. I still got work done while freelancing with no "actual" office, but my level of distractability was higher. I personally need a space where I can close the door when I need to concentrate, and that the closed door will be respected. For the freelance attorneys I know, they like the fact that their low overhead means they can say "no" to work they'd prefer not to do. I have less freedom that way, since I have expenses to meet that are attached to having an office.

Michigan man enters pleas for attacking girlfriend and stuffing her in Christmas bag

A man accused of attacking his ex-girlfriend and partially stuffing her into a Christmas bag in the basement of her suburban Detroit home has entered pleas in the case.

Article here. 

Side note: 1. He's accused with home invasion and attempted murder, probably domestic assault as well. He tied the victim up with electrical cord, and zipped her into a Christmas tree bag. 2. Stock photo.

More humor! Legal advice: What if my dog attacks a drone?

Ask a futurist! A lot of questions relate to drones and the law. As a practical futurist, I typically ignore theoretical questions, such as Federal Aviation Administration regulation of drones or drone immigration policy. But here are answers to some of the more common practical questions I’m receiving.

Article here. 

Process servers now exempt from trespass charges

Michigan process servers are no longer considered “trespassers” when trying to serve documents.
Public Act 230, passed by the state Legislature and given immediate effect at the end of 2013, amended the Michigan Penal Code so it is no longer a 30-day misdemeanor to enter or remain on the premises of another without lawful authority after having been forbidden to do so or asked to leave by the owner, occupant, or their agents. 
PA 230 specifies that the trespassing prohibition and penalties do not apply to a process server who is on the land or premises of another while attempting to serve process.

Article here. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Not a good move: Man who strangled girlfriend throws table at judge

A man who strangled his girlfriend to keep her from implicating him in a stabbing threw a reading table Monday at a judge who’d just sentenced him to 50 to 100 years in prison.

Hearing that he would spend at least a half-century behind bars, the handcuffed prisoner, Jahleel Hoskins,  threw a reading table toward Redford’s bench and lumbered forward until court deputies dragged him from the courtroom, his face contorted in anger. Hoskins then started screaming at the victim’s family.

Article here.

He was handcuffed! And he managed to throw the table. I'm impressed even while I am shocked at this. I feel sorry for his attorney, who will probably somehow feel guilty for his client's actions.  

Brewery owner versus Starbucks: a memorable response to a cease-and-desist letter

StoutIf you missed the response from a Cottleville, Missouri pub owner to a cease-and-desist letter from a Honigman lawyer, here's your chance for a laugh out loud moment.

article here. 

When will the US Supreme Court rule on abortion again? Not this term.

From the SCOTUS blog:

The Court has confronted plenty of hot-button cases in recent Terms, from affirmative action to the Affordable Care Act to federal treatment of same-sex marriages.  The last time the Justices decided an abortion case on the merits, however, was April 2007, when – by a five-to-four vote – they upheld the federal law restricting late-term or so-called “partial birth” abortions.


Since then, the lower federal courts and state courts have wrestled extensively with the question of precisely how to apply the undue burden test.  


For nearly six years, Justice Kennedy and his colleagues have left us hanging. Has the meaning of “undue burden” changed? Is the Court prepared to scrap the undue burden standard and put something else in its place? Or is the right to abortion itself in doubt?

article here.  Read the whole thing, it's really good!


Driving into ducks with your car is probably not a crime.

From an article on the Above the Law blog:

The story broke over the New Year’s break, so you might have missed it. New Hampshire state-representative David Campbell (D) allegedly ran over some ducks with his BMW while leaving a hotel late at night.
( edit!)
While the police are “investigating” the incident, it doesn’t appear that Campbell committed any crime. I quickly thumbed through the “Handbook of New Hampshire Laws Relating to Animals.” I didn’t see anything about running down wild ducks with your car. He didn’t hit anybody’s dog, cat, horse, or cattle. Beyond that, the law takes a “whatever” approach to vehicularly slaughtered game. 

article here. 

A new record! Most uses of the f-bomb in a movie

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is all about excess. From orgies on a plane to cocaine and cash (or “fun coupons” as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character calls them), the financial drama thrives in taking it up a notch.
So it should be no surprise that Paramount’s R-rated film sets the all-time record for the use of the f-word.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Humor in the law? It can happen.

Standard legal clauses rewritten with exclamation points for emphasis.

While we predict the exclamation point will fall out of favor in the general public in the coming year, that doesn’t mean lawyers should ignore it for legal clauses, pleadings, and correspondence. Go ahead, spice things up, give your writing the extra oomph it deserves. Use an exclamation point in the next year. Here are some examples to give you inspiration.

From this article on Bitter Lawyer

Does allowing a name-change on a driver's license amount to "recognition" of same-gender marriage?

From the Detroit News: 

A provision of the Michigan Constitution that voters approved in 2004 bans same-sex marriages, so Jesse Sherman and Derek Melot went to New York to get married in October.

But later, when Jesse Melot went to two Michigan Secretary of State offices with his marriage certificate, seeking to have his new name put on his driver’s license, clerks in both offices declined to do so.

Although he could spend money to have his name changed legally, married people normally can do that just by showing a marriage certificate.

Article here.

In praise of practical legal education

Law school has a lot of required classes. Things like Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Business Organizations, and Taxation (required at my school) to name but a few. But at some point in law school, students are able to choose electives to round out their legal education. This is when some students start to "specialize" in law school. There is no requirement that a student specialize their studies in law school, all students will end up with a JD. And there are classes which are designed to offer "practice" versus theory, for example Trial Skills versus Conflict of Laws. Some classes seem downright arcane, with little practical application. Law schools are attacked for having classes that seem designed to drain tuition dollars while offering little in return for the students' future practice knowledge.

But, in this article, the author discusses some practical classes that have come under fire (Health Care law, internet privacy) but which end up having been quite useful.

article here.

Back to Work! (Not law-related personal update)

After a much-needed holiday break, this lawyer is back to blogging. I have had a great time over the holidays, which included getting a new cat, celebrating my birthday, shopping, opening presents, and spending time with family. Sadly it did not involve brewing beer, which I'd like to do soon.

If any readers would like to contribute ideas about legal topics they'd like me to blog about, it would be welcomed with open arms.

Canada overturns laws against prostitution

Before Christmas, a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada overturned the country's major prostitution laws, saying that their decision is not about whether prostitution should be legal but about whether the legislative means of controlling it infringe upon the constitutional rights of prostitutes.

Article here.