Blog Ipsa Loquitur

[who really cares about law school anyway

I’m not really sure what to make of this. There are 17 million results for “should I go to law school?” and only 1 million for “should I go bankrupt?” “Should I go blonde” has more results than those two trifling issues combined.

I do like that “should I go out with him” has as many results as “should I go to (1) law school (2) medical school and (3) grad school” combined.

(Yes, you should go to law school. You will gain magical lawyer powers.)

Filed on under A Day in the Life

This one comes from the “less than ideal litigation” department. The city of Batman, Turkey, is suing the movie studio responsible for the Batman movies. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction was likely “there’s a city named Batman?” And apparently there is, in the Kurdish section of Turkey. Your second reaction is “holy smokes, Batman! Whatever for?” if you’re a gigantic dork.

The lawsuit claims that using the town’s name without permission has led to psychological trauma for the town’s citizens, which has caused a high female suicide rate, as well as a number of unsolved murders. I’m interested to see how this works out. (Mostly because I’ve never actually seen a judge fall off her bench from laughing so hard.)

So the next time you’re feeling down, just think to yourself that it could be worse: you could be Batman.

Filed on under The News

The RIAA has spent millions of dollars on litigating copyright infringement suits against people who illegally download music. Companies like Viacom use litigation to remove their copyrighted material from sites like YouTube.com. And you can’t blame them. They don’t want their copyrighted stuff generating money for anyone else.

With their awesome size and economic strength, media conglomerates had it easy for a long time. Customers who wanted content had to consume it on terms dictated by the RIAAs and the Viacoms. With regard to delivering this content, (i.e. in CD format, or in the hour-long drama format) the conglomerates only had one another to compete with.

Oh, and then in 1993, Vice President Gore invented the internet or something, and the media conglomerates started buying antacids in bulk: because technology changed everything.

Today, technology (read as: the internet) allows you and I to deliver this content without having that whole awesome size and economic strength thing. I can infringe on Viacom’s copyright by making their content freely available for them. Viacom has to compete with me while I offer their content on terms I’ve dictated. (How about a .torrent of How I Met Your Mother in 720p in x264? Is that good for anyone else?)

So the Viacoms and the RIAAs tried using litigation to keep people from infringing on copyright, but technology has irrevocably shifted the supplier’s market to a consumer’s market. Consumers have too many options, and Viacom can’t just sue each one out of existence in a free society. And the RIAA’s attempts at litigating against individual users hasn’t gone very well, either. So what now?

Well, other media conglomerates like Universal and News Corp have started competing. It’s a tall order when your pirate competitors are offering your content for free, but sites like Hulu are giving pirated content a run for its dubloons money, offering free TV shows in exchange for 60 seconds of commercials. Online music stores simply price their digital wares well below the cost of a physical CD, and that makes headway.

As for Viacom? They’ve decided that if you can’t beat them (with a carrot tied to a stick), join them. Sick of seeing money float into Google’s pocket for all the copyright-infringing music videos on YouTube, Viacom has launched its own video site. It’s called MTV Music, and they’re following in the footsteps of other networks who are putting their content online instead of letting people like me do it for them. It has to be cheaper than litigating.

So what’s the first music video that I watched on MTV’s new site? Oh, come on. Do you really have to ask?

Filed on under The News

At my school, Constitutional Law is split into two three-credit classes. I’m taking the first one now, and the second one in the spring. I was terribly excited about the idea of getting to take Constitutional Law, because I’m kind of a big fan of the Constitution. I even read the Federalist Papers over my summer vacation in preparation for this class.

I mean, come on: it’s the United States Constitution! Forged in the blood of American patriots, tempered by a Civil War (sorry guys, but you started it), and majestically stuffed down the Soviets’ throats until they choked on it and stopped building nuclear missiles! This class is going to teach me how to recognize and fight (for the low low price of $300 per hour) oppression and disenfranchisement like Don Quixote, Esq., right?

Well, not yet.

As it turns out, in addition to the super romantic parts of the United States Constitution, there are some really really boring parts. For instance, you have to learn if Supreme Court even has the power to review the Constitutionality of laws. (Spoiler alert: yes, they do!)

Also on the syllabus are judicial concepts like standing (you can’t sue unless you’re the one who has been wronged), ripeness (you might be wronged, but there’s been no damage quite yet), mootness (you were wronged, but at this point, there’s nothing the Court can do to help), justiciability (something might need fixing, but a court is not the place to get it fixed), and so on and so forth.

Then we branched off into topics like the structure of the government: this whole state government / federal government dualism really never sunk in until this semester.

For instance, the federal government isn’t really all powerful. I had assumed that any time the federal government made a law, the State laws were overridden. Similarly, I thought that the federal government could pass any law it wanted to on any topic it wanted to, and it would automatically pre-empt all the laws of all the states.

(The folks who have taken Constitutional Law before are laughing about my fantasy version of America, where unicorns doubtlessly serve in the Senate, and pixies occupy key bureaucratic positions.)

Based on how we’ve read the Constitution over the last two hundred years, it isn’t so. You’ve got certain phrases buried in certain parts of the Constitution that have been interpreted to grant certain powers to the government. For instance, there’s the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, the Taxing and Spending Clause, and a whole bunch of others.

So the interplay between the state laws and the federal laws is a lot more complicated than I ever knew. (Seriously, I don’t mind admitting my former ignorance, in part because I sincerely think it’s shared by most citizens.) When Congress wants to do something, it has to stem from one of those powers.

To take an example, the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states.” So Congress can theoretically take any action it likes if it does it as an exercise of its power to regulate interstate commerce. For instance, the Violence Against Women Act made it a federal crime to assault a woman, and Congress had to justify why they would make a federal law regulating (read: punishing) assaults on women.

The reason Congress came up with (which did not convince the Supreme Court, who held a significant part of the law unconstitutional) was that violence against women negatively impacts interstate commerce, because women who are the victims of violence are absent from work, and in a national economy, that means that interstate commerce will be affected.

In addition to the limits placed on federal power, there are grants of state power that actually preempt the federal government from regulating the states, even if the federal government has a good excuse.

Constitutional Law isn’t quite what I expected thus far. I had expected to learn a lot more about individual civil rights, but that’s kind of like saying that you expected to scramble the eggs before you cracked the shells.

It’s not as dramatic, but I have to say, it’s interesting to see how inordinately complicated the state/federal interaction is.

Filed on under A Day in the Life

One of my professors used to be a federal prosecutor.  Actually, a lot of them were prosecutors. (Old trial lawyers never retire, they just adjourn more often.) Now they have moved into academia, and they bring fantastic stories from the world of lawyerdom. Now I relate one to the internet.

When you’re trying to convict defendant of a crime, one of your goals is probably to prove that he was at the scene of the crime. In the old days, before security cameras were everywhere, and cell phones could track your movements, this was done by putting an eyewitness to the incident on the stand. Then the prosecutor would get up and do his best impression of Perry Mason.

“Mister Witness, you claim to have seen the brutal attack on the victim at the pier. Do you see the person that attacked the victim in this courtroom?”

The witness nods, and the prosecutor asks the witness to point out the person that he saw on that dark and stormy night. The witness points a trembling finger at the scraggly-looking fellow sitting next to the defense attorney, at the defendant’s table.

“Ah ha!  Let the record show that the witness pointed to the defendant, Mister Shawn Carter.” With that, the prosecutor takes his seat at the opposite table, and rests his case. The witness leaves the courtroom, and the jury starts thinking that they might get to take an early lunch.

Now the defense attorney gets up and does his best impression of Perry Mason. He calls to the witness stand the scraggly-looking defendant.

“Please state your name for the record, sir,” the defense attorney says.

“My name is Andre Benjamin,” the defendant replies. The jury gets a little confused, and the prosecutor turns an interesting shade of pink.

“Well, then, where is the Shawn Carter, the defendant?” The defense attorney feigns the confusion that it actually mounting in the jury.

Suddenly, a well-dressed man in the back of the courtroom stands up and proclaims that he is actually the defendant. The defense attorney throws his arms out wide and says “well, I guess that means Mister Witness has just exonerated my client!” And the courtroom is thrown into an uproar until the judge can restore order to the courtroom.

Professor C. says that defense attorneys would hire people to “stand in” for the defendant in a dramatic attempt to undermine eyewitness testimony placing the defendant at the scene of a crime. Apparently, it worked pretty well, because everyone knows where the defendant sits. Everyone knows that the prosecutor has brought the eyewitness in to point at the defendant. And with the pace of some trials, it could have been months or even years since the eyewitness had seen the defendant.

Judges took umbrage, it seems, with defense attorneys turning the courtroom into an episode of Perry Mason, and so this sort of thing has been restricted. But if you ask me, (and really, what judge in America doesn’t want to take advice from a 2L?) this sort of thing would be great for the criminal justice system.

You know, in the same way that a housing crisis is great for people that hate retiring before the age of 80.

Filed on under A Day in the Life

Will the economy fall apart? Will it grind to a halt? Slow to a crawl? I have absolutely no idea. But I do know that I’m really glad I didn’t go into finance. As for people that did? The New York Times has a nice article called “Finance Students Keep Their Job Hopes Alive.” Hey, good luck guys. But what’s this?

Mr. Murray described the mood at Princeton as cautiously optimistic. “No one I’ve talked to is worried about moving back home yet,” he said. “But everyone I know is studying for the LSATs right now, people who a month ago had no intention of ever going to law school.”

Boy, am I glad I didn’t put this law school thing off. I get a nice little head start on the folks who are abandoning the financial sector and moving into the legal field.

Filed on under The News