Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Having polished off a very engrossing biography of Alexander Hamilton, I have begun to read the biography of another famous American thinker, writer, and jurist: Judge Learned Hand. The first thing I found out is that his name wasn’t actually Learned, but Billings. Had his name been Billable, I guess he never would have made it to the bench. (Please, folks, tip your waitress!)

So in 1907, Learned Hand is considering leaving a big law firm on Wall Street in hopes of becoming a judge. His father-in-law, aware of how poorly judges are paid compared to high-powered attorneys at law, attempts to dissuade the young Hand. When Hand makes clear that he intends to be a judge, his father-in-law finally relents, promising to support Mr. and Mrs. Hand, even after his death. He writes:

“It’s up to me to add ultimately to the family store when my life’s action has been dismissed with costs…”

See? Old lawyers don’t die, they just get their motions denied, and are remanded for further proceedings in a higher court.

Filed on under Legal Theory

The problem with accusing others of overachieving is that you run the risk of sounding like (1) a condescending bastard and/or (2) an underachieving lay-about. I mean, I’m in law school, and I’m working my ass off, so I’m fairly certain I’m not a great example of the second. But I’m probably the former.

I don’t mind saying it: I think student government is silly. It’s an educational exercise in the same capacity as a Model United Nations, except without the accompanying geography lessons. I’m heading into my last year of law school, and I’m still expected to pretend that student elections have more to do with leadership ability and less to do with how many references to “Borat” one can cram onto a campaign poster. It smacks of little more than a popularity contest, with the grand prize being another line on your résumé.

Dear Reader, if you’re presently crying foul because all elections are, at base, popularity contests: you’re correct. But let’s distinguish between the popularity of a candidate’s ideas and the popularity of the movie that the candidate associates himself with. While a standard sheet of A4 paper probably lacks sufficient room to convey your vision about meeting the political challenges facing your law school class, there is probably just enough room to cram “I come from Kazakhstan!” in 72 point Comic Sans.

Additionally, there is more solace to be had in the fact that there really aren’t any political challenges to be met by a student government. To be certain, administering a school is a difficult task, and takes years of experience in managing a team of hundreds of faculty, coordinating various departments, and other feats of academic adroitness that I can’t even imagine. Luckily, the school has people who have been specifically trained and hired for just such an occasion: school administrators.

The student government is not wholly without task, however. Even the most hardened micromanagers among school administrators can see the value of giving the students some autonomy. Let the students handle the decision about what kind of pizza the cafeteria should serve on Fridays, who should be in charge of painting the banners for the pep rally, and what the playlist should be for the homecoming dance. (Subject to the administrators’ approval, of course; kids these days listen to the most vulgar things.) It’ll make them feel like they’re all grown up.

And now that we’re in law school, I’m sure the student government has been charged with resolving dilemmas of even greater importance. There are fundraisers to be held, and charities to support, and even a law school prom to organize.

sidebar: Yes, law schools have proms. Really. I’m not making that up.

I mean, I suppose it all shows an interest in those fabled extracurricular activities that we’re all told employers care so much about. And student government likely falls within the definition of the word “extracurricular,” as it’s not part of your classroom instruction. For even more employer appeal bonus points, a role in student government could demonstrate an interest in taking charge and managing a team. That would come in handy if your future law firm is considering having a bake sale. (Insert your favorite Jay Leno open-mic night joke about how “it’s a recession, folks!” here)

My rambling mockery of student government was brought on, Dear Reader, by the fact that not one but two students running for student government positions brought cupcakes to give out on election day. Cupcakes. Yes. Like in that movie where Matthew Broderick is a pedophile teacher.

For the record, I’m not hating on the players. I’m hating on the game. (See Marrow v. Warner Music Group) If you’re mortgaging your future to be able to afford law school, the only rational decision is to squeeze every drop of life experience out of it before you’re flung out into the real world to hang your shingle.

But boy, the game is silly.

Filed on under A Day in the Life

Hypothetical situation about the opposite of a Big Brother Police State: you’re on a public street in a car registered in your name, in plain view of Tom, Dick, Harry, and pretty much every concept of God known to the Western World. In this situation, is a police officer allowed to look at you, or not allowed to look at you? The answer ought to be obvious.

So if you’re on a public street in a car registered in your name, in plain view of a GPS satellite, and probably carrying a phone and/or navigation system in your pants and on your dashboard, what makes you think that the police can’t use the same technology to watch you? Do you magically gain some sort of rights when computers are involved? A recent AP article about a court ruling in Michigan seems amazed at the lack of privacy we have while in public.

If we want to make a law requiring the police use only eyeballs to follow you, that’s fine. I think it’s much more cost-effective to have the police use technology to keep up with society, but there’s plenty of room for debate. However, let’s not act surprised that driving around on a public road is less than completely private.

Filed on under The News

Repent, all ye slackers! The almighty curve shall smite the wicked! The end is nigh, and that means law students everywhere are doing their best “groundhog that’s seen his shadow” impression.

See you on the other side, world.

Filed on under A Day in the Life

If I were bolder, my reply to the question “why do you want to work in public interest?” would be simply:

Because literally tilting at windmills pays even worse.

Let me explain. One of the (many) things I’ve been writing instead of posts here is a statement of interest on why I want to go into public service. I’m working for another government agency this summer, and before the government starts handing out funding to their interns, they want to know that I’m serious about serving the public interest.

Honestly, though, being forced to talk about myself in glowing terms and describe myself as selfless, kindhearted, and friend to all the animals of the jungle is difficult. I’m not of the shameless self-promotion vein. Heck, I’m not even of the humble self-promotion vein.

I understand where the people in charge of giving free money to poor law students are coming from, because they don’t want to accidentally hand out money to people whose career plans involve building death rays, or world domination. It’s public money, and it ought to go to foster the education of those dedicated to serving the public interest. I get that. Really, I get that.

But when I have children, I plan on making them write essays when they do something wrong, not when they want to do something right. Kids come home after curfew? Write me an essay on why you couldn’t make it home on time. Didn’t take out the garbage? Write me an essay on the biological processes that make the garbage so stinky when it sits around for a week. Borrowed my car, but got into a car accident? Write me an essay on Newtonian physics, and explain why you couldn’t stop in time.

I am the one topic I’ve never been really comfortable writing about. Looking at the above list, my children may avoid the same fate.

Filed on under A Day in the Life

On the federal level, you have a number of big sources of authority. The most dramatic is probably the Executive Order: the President has sat down at his sweet desk, pulled out The First Pen (ink force one?), and made some sort of Decree. He doesn’t get to make up new laws, but he does wield a lot of power. Hell, with an Executive Order, President Truman almost nationalized the steel industry.

There’s also Congress, which is probably the most conventional source of authority: if you want a new law, you write your Senator or Representative a nice big check letter, explaining your concern. You’ve also got federal courts, which interpret law and impose balancing tests and invent factors of elements of crimes that Congress failed to draft, owing to the latter’s overall lack of psychic abilities.

But there are also agencies: created by Congressional Act, these entities incorporate a little of all three branches. While they don’t get to enact legislation, they do get to promulgate regulations. Those two ideas may sound alike, but I assure you that there are no synonyms in law.

Take the agency most of us focus on this time of year: the IRS. Congress passes the actual Internal Revenue Code, but the IRS promulgates regulations to supplement the requirements of the code itself. There’s also something called Revenue Rulings: think of them as IRS newsletters, but instead of birthdays and promotion notifications, they contain guidance about how the IRS plans to enforce its rules and regulations. You can even pay the IRS to examine your situation and tell you what to do. In addition to all these sources of authority, you’ve also got a limited variety of courts that rule on the rules and regulations.

With all this to keep track of, the IRS is aware that certain situations can still be a little tricky to sort out. As such, the IRS has still more miscellaneous publications that address common questions; The Prestigious Internet has located a lovely specimen.

The IRS has addressed the apparently(?) common question of whether you can write off a child as a deduction if they’ve been kidnapped. In the matter-of-fact way that only the federal government can muster, the IRS notes that this tax treatment only applies until there has been a determination that your child is dead, and won’t apply if another family member has kidnapped your child.

I kind of wonder about that last requirement: I’m certain it’s there to close a loophole, but I can’t for the life of me imagine a scenario in which you need your ne’er-do-well brother to kidnap your children. You know, for tax purposes.

Filed on under Legal Theory