A Night Of Sad Goodbyes

hound-logo-bottom.jpgOn the way home tonight I stopped by one of Tuscaloosa’s renowned watering holes – The Houndstooth – to join my first years in celebrating the end of finals. I’m a bit of a nostalgic, I must admit, and I felt very wistful chatting with these favorite students, learning about their summer plans, and wishing them good luck for the next few months and the rest of their careers. Every prof has to deal with the annual separation event that is graduation. But when you leave an institution – when you become an Alabama ex-pat screaming Roll Tide in some West Philly taproom – you have to say goodbye to all your students all at once. For me, that’s tough. So I felt a bit blue as I chatted with folks charging off to be pre-DA’s, pre-disability advocates, and pre-death penalty lawyers (don’t worry – corporate America will find somebody to serve as in-house counsel in 2020…just not these people.) And while I drove home in the dusky light, an hour long trek between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, I found myself hoping that some of these students would actually take me up on my offer to stay in touch.

Those are just the 1L’s. Graduation is Saturday. Grab that Kleenex, Nellie. I see showers on the horizon.


Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before…

In preparation for my stint here at ConOp, I asked Dan S. whether there was any method for checking if the topic I was thinking about blogging about had been preempted by someone else’s blog post.

After all, in writing a formal law review article, the first item on the agenda is to do background research to see if your topic has been taken, done to death, or how you might best add to the literature that’s already out there. There’s certainly no sense in expending all the time and effort that goes into writing a full-length article only to have duplicated someone else’s work.

But with blogs, such a search is difficult. Yes, there is Google Blogsearch. But even narrowing it down somewhat, you come up with too many blogs to read. You can’t read all the law blogs on anything resembling a regular basis or check that someone three months ago didn’t write something similar. (I used to feel the same way when I would sit in front of a Bloomberg terminal and watch the stories come across the news services. It truly is a humbling encounter that makes one aware of one’s own bounded rationality).

Anyway, Dan S. also remarked that it doesn’t really matter if there are a few comments on the same thing in the blogosphere. I suppose he’s right – after all, there’s a dialogue out there, and so long as you’re adding to it, then it’s okay if you’re not the first to have made the point. If you’re giving appropriate credit if credit is due, no worries.

So, I realize this request is somewhat recursive, but if this is the millionth post on pre-emption in the blogosphere, will someone please tell me?


The NSA’s Phone Call Database

phone1a.jpgUSA Today reports:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

“It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA’s activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said.

More information is contained in this companion article at USA Today.


UPDATE: Orin Kerr offers up a thoughtful analysis of the legality of this program here.


Google Trends

alito.pngVia Andrew Sullivan, I see that Google has a new tool up to distract us in our time of need. Google Trends. It shows the relative popularity of search terms over time, over regions, and over languages. For example, the graph to the right reflect the searches for the term “Alito“. (Point “C” is when the Justice was nominated.) Unfortunately, you’ve apparently got to be somewhat popular to be trended: Volokh is, but I’m not. Jennifer Aniston, needless to say, is trended (and point “F” explains something like 10-20% of our total traffic.) Best of all, you can use google trends as a rankings supplement: here’s a Harvard, Yale, Stanford Law ranking metric you haven’t seen before!


Supreme Court Clerk Feeder Judges And Snaring Those Clerkships When You Didn’t Go To Yale

ladder.jpgFor the many of us who teach at solid, but not top 10, law schools, one big challenge is figuring out a way to get our graduates Supreme Court clerkships. Each year, a handful of students – and sometimes a very small handful – from the law school hoi polloi find their way into a Supreme Court clerkship. How do they get there?

The first thing any aspiring clerk needs is a list of feeder judges. Stuart Buck provided this list. Note that it covers a long period – 1989 to 2005 – and there have been shifts over time. Still, it gives insights into highly desirable clerkships (for Supreme Court feeding purposes) and shows particular hiring patterns.

But what else can a student do to make the move from, say Alabama (or any other similar school) to a Supreme Court clerkship? The first requirement, naturally, is that the student do exceptionally well – probably top two or three in the class. It also helps if they pile on the achievements; relatively few valedictorians are also Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. While they’re at it, they might work with a law professor, assuring an excellent, detailed letter of recommendation. And it wouldn’t hurt to publish a note (or two.) That’s all for starters.

Read More


The Bar Exam as a Theory of Law

bar-exam2a.jpgJust in time for Bar Exam season, I have posted my short book review of the Bar Exam: The Multistate Bar Exam as a Theory of Law, 104 Michigan L. Rev. 1403 (2006). From the abstract:

What if the Bar Exam were read as a work of jurisprudence? What is its theory of law? How does the Bar Exam compare to works of jurisprudence by H.L.A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin, Karl Llewellyn, and others? This short tongue-in-cheek book review of the Bar Exam seeks to answer these questions. Professor Solove writes: “Each year, thousands of lawyers-to-be ponder over it, learning its profound teachings on the meaning of the law. They study it for months, devoting more time to it than practically any other jurisprudential text. It therefore comes as a great surprise that such a widely read and studied work has barely received scholarly attention. . . . It is time to rectify this situation and put the Bar Exam in its place as the great work of jurisprudence that it is.”

This book review actually originated as a blog post nearly a year ago, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to transform it into a printed published piece. I’ve reworked the text a bit, and expanded it somewhat, but I did my best to keep it short and to the point. It is 4 pages long, so it remains a quick easy read — and hopefully, a fun one too. At the very least, it is a lot more fun than studying for the Bar Exam! You can download it here.

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Abolish the Bar Exam (Dec. 2005)


Welcome to the Blogosphere: Info/Law

A warm welcome to the blogosphere for the new blog Info/Law. The blog is by two fellows at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School — William McGeveran, who is heading to Minnesota Law School this fall, and Derek Bambauer, who is heading to Wayne State Law School. From the introductory post:

Welcome to Info/Law, a blog about information, law, and most of all “Information Law.”

What is Information Law? We see it as an obvious convergence of intellectual property doctrine, communications regulation, First Amendment norms, and new technology. As information becomes the most precious commodity of the 21st century, the law surrounding it will have to evolve. That’s what we want to talk and think about here — along with various related and not-so-related threads (hey, “information” covers a lot of ground!).


Volokh’s Law Review Experiment

Eugene Volokh reports that, this spring, he participated as a faux-student in the UCLA Law Review writing competition. Happily, he succeeded in writing on (though he assures us that no deserving student was denied a slot as a result.) But when he tells us that he learned a lot that he’ll use in the third edition of his book, and in his blog, I immediately wondered whether a) he needed and b) he obtained approval for this “research” from UCLA’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) for human research. The much debated IRB rules typically demand IRB approval before you do systematic investigations designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge, using human subjects. Under this gaping definition, a massive portion of social science work is subject to IRB review – and it looks to me like Volokh’s project is as well. I imagine that UCLA’s IRB would have exempted it from review, or given an expedited OK, if he had submitted the proposal. But a researcher is usually required to submit a proposal to the IRB so they can make that call.

I doubt that IRB’s were created to manage this sort of low risk research, but I know that administrators of big universities – like Alabama – hope that we law profs don’t personally exempt ourselves from these provisions. Agree with their existence or not, but universities can lose a lot of federal money when they get caught cheating on IRB’s. And I suspect it won’t be the law schools that feel that particular pain.


Big Judicial News: Michael Luttig Resigns


The Supreme Court has lost its biggest law clerk feeder. Michael Luttig, a conservative Fourth Circuit judge who many expected to receive a Supreme Court nod, is leaving the bench to become general counsel to Boeing.

This is big news in many respects. For law students, the single most reliable path to the Supreme Court has closed. While I do not have hard numbers on this, I believe that for at least the last six or seven years, all – or virtually all – Luttig clerks have landed Supreme Court clerkships. This is an awesome statistic. There are always a few judges with very high rates of law clerk placement, but I am not aware of a single judge who has offered the certainty of Judge Luttig. Of course, the Luttig trail was not open to all comers. Luttig vetted his clerks to make sure they were in tune with him ideologically.

For Supreme Court watchers, this means that the odds of a Luttig nomination have just dropped measurably. I suspect that once Roberts and Alito took places on the Court, Luttig recognized that he could not be next. It seems virtually impossible to imagine that, if he gets another nomination, Bush will name a white male. Even if Bush gets two chances, Luttig’s odds have gotten long. Notwithstanding his experience on the Fourth Circuit, Luttig looks much less logical coming from a corporate slot then from a circuit court.

Fourth Circuit enthusiasts (and, as a former Fourth Circuit clerk, I count myself as one) will all watch to see if Bush actually manages to find and pick a nominee as conservative as Luttig. I think it will be awfully difficult to do, but it will be even harder to pick someone as ideologically consistent.

Make no mistake, though. This is big news. Judge Luttig was an important nominee for George G.W. Bush back in 1991. At 37, his appointment was a beachhead for movement conservatives. He was supposed to be on the Supreme Court. Bush’s two recent picks received strong support from the right. But a Luttig nomination would have triggered an entirely different sort of jubilation. For many judicial conservatives, Michael Luttig was a fellow traveler. He will be missed.

Hat tip to Howard Bashman.