Category: Law Talk


Supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act Protest Day

As my co-blogger Gerard notes, today is SOPA protest day.  Sites like Google or WordPress have censored their logo or offered up a away to contact your congressperson, though remain live.  Other sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, and Craigslist have shutdown, and more are set to shut down at some point today.  There’s lots of terrific commentary on SOPA, which is designed to tackle the problem of foreign-based websites that sell pirated movies, music, and other products–but with a heavy hand that threatens free expression and due process. The Wall Street Journal’s Amy Schatz has this story and Politico has another helpful piece; The Hill’s Brendan Sasso’s Twitter feed has lots of terrific updates.  Mark Lemley, David Levine, and David Post carefully explain why we ought to reject SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act in “Don’t Break the Internet” published by Stanford Law Review Online.  In the face of the protest, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) vowed to bring SOPA to a vote in his committee next month. “I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property,” he said.  So, too, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) pushed back against websites planning to shut down today in protest of his bill.  “Much of what has been claimed about the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act is flatly wrong and seems intended more to stoke fear and concern than to shed light or foster workable solutions. The PROTECT IP Act will not affect Wikipedia, will not affect reddit, and will not affect any website that has any legitimate use,” Chairman Leahy said. Everyone’s abuzz on the issue, and rightly so.  I spoke at a panel on intermediary liability at the Congressional Internet Caucus’ State of the Net conference and everyone wanted to talk about SOPA.  I’m hoping that the black out and other shows of disapproval will convince our representatives in the House and Senate to back off the most troubling parts of the bill.  As fabulous guest blogger Derek Bambauer argues, we need to bring greater care and thought to the issue of Internet censorship.  Cybersecurity is at issue too, and we need to pay attention.  Derek may be right that both bills may go nowhere, especially given Silicon Valley’s concerted lobbying efforts against the bills.  But we will have to watch to see if Representative Smith lives up to his promise to bring SOPA back to committee and if Senator Leahy remains as committed to PROTECT IP Act in a few weeks as he is today.


A Guide to the Eight Most Suspect Types of Law Review Articles

This is simply my list of the eight most suspect types of articles; I appreciate that others may suggest different, or additional, entries.

1. The Repository of Hope

“As the single-word title connotes, I am very disappointed that this article did not place in a T14 journal.”

2. The Strained Debunker

“In Part I, I will characterize a 1974 Pace Law Review note and a 2007 MySpace entry as embodying ‘conventional wisdom.’ ”

3. The Old-Wine-In-New-Bottles

“No one has evaluated the rule against perpetuities from an animal-rights perspective before, so, you know, what the hell.”

4. The One-Off

“In my previous article, I made a significant contribution to the literature. In this piece, I will coast on the vapors of that article.”

5. The Something Is Unconstitutional

“This article would make a fairly solid student note. It is my tenure piece.”

6. The Turf Staker

“My pre-emption check discovered no articles that cover this territory. I pretty much worked backward from there.”

7. The Half-Hearted Symposium Submission

“We would have tried harder, but hey, we’re talking about a symposium here.”

8. The Torn from the Headlines

“Few would recognize that the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in ___ vs. ___ would fundamentally alter ___ law. Yet it did, or at least, you won’t be able to prove that it didn’t until this article is already well on its way to publication.”


Digital Law Books: II

As we all migrate to the digital world, imagine the future of the law school course book by reflecting on its history, purposes, and promulgation over the seven generations since C.C. Langdell initiated our current mode of legal education in 1870.

Some see the future of digital course books as a radical shift, akin to the original revolution of Langdell’s Contracts casebook. Others dismiss it as a simple marketing maneuver, the way post-Langdell addition of notes, questions or problems might be regarded.

In a new essay, I look back at casebook history to find it suggests that digital course books are more likely to be something in between, an incremental but meaningful evolution. The essay, a chapter in a new book on the subject, engages with great innovations in law school course books over the past century-plus, highlighting historic contributions from luminaries across the century and today.

Read More


A Grim (and Fantastic) View of Law

In a series of posts several years back, I interviewed fantasy authors about their work, including the role that law plays in the “hard fantasy” genre.  My favorite interview was with Pat Rothfuss, then the author of the best-selling “The Name of the Wind“.  Here’s what he said about the relationship between law and fantasy:

[DH] You’ve talked in interviews about the need to build a world in exhaustive and thoughtful detail, but leaving most of that information on the cutting room floor in the final draft. When you built Kvothe’s world, did you think (at all) about the background rules of tort, contract, obligation, and property that enabled the relatively sophisticated economy that you envisioned?

[PR] Yes and no. I thought of the legal system, but not in those terms. Mostly because I don’t know what a lot of those terms mean. It’s the same way that a person can be a good cook without necessarily knowing how to calculate how many joules go into melting butter using delta T.

The big reason you don’t see much of that in the book is that it isn’t relevant to the story being told, or the experience of the main character. He’s a street urchin for most of the book. If a sailor catches him with his hand in his pocket, he’s not going to press charges. What’s the percentage in that. He’s going to fetch the boy a sharp smack alongside his head, and get on with his day…

Now if Kvothe got brought up on legal charges somewhere, that would be different. Then the reader would see the horrible, corrupt wheels of justice creaking ponderously along. We get a glimpse of that in book two, as a matter of fact.

[DH] If you have imagined a common law system, what sources did you draw on to flesh out what it looks like in the “book behind the book.”

[PR] In the commonwealth, their legal system is based loosely on England in the 1500-1700’s. In short, it’s a huge, tangled, unfair clusterfuck of a system. There are courts that enforce church law, and courts that enforce the Iron Law of Atur. Each court operates under its own authority, and of course their spheres of influence overlap… It’s a real mess, but it’s the only system that they have…”

“Book Two” was released earlier this month, titled “A Wise Man’s Fear.”  Pardon the pun, but it is a fantastic read.  Well worth your time.   And, lo and behold, on pages 328-329, there’s an actual trial. In fantasyland!   But rather than get into it, glorying in how the rules of procedure and magic might interrelate, or examining how a system of logic and nuance (law?) would interact with one of fantasy and whim, Pat does this:  “What started as a terrifying experience quickly became a tedious process filled with pomp and ritual. More than forty letters of testimony were read aloud … There were days filled with nothing but long speeches.  Quotations from the iron law.  Points of procedure.  Formal modes of address.  Old man reading out of old books.”  And later, when a character voices an objection to this cursory treatment (and who I dream to be a stand-in for me), the main character replies that a full account of the law “Would be tedious … Endless formal speeches and readings from the Book of the Path. It was tedious to live through, and it would be tedious to repeat.”

Tedious? Has he never heard of Erie?  Of Jacobs & Young? Of Pennoyer, for lord’s sakes?  The law isn’t tedious – it’s the stuff of drama!


GW’s Junior Scholars Finalists

Thanks to my colleague, Lisa Fairfax, GW has finalized the program for this year’s Junior Faculty Business and Financial Law Workshop and Prize (detailed here).   Of the more than 100 papers submitted, the following dozen presenters were chosen.  [Commentators appear in brackets; I’ve shortened some paper titles.]  

 The workshop will take place at GW on April 1 and 2, 2011.  We are delighted by the submissions, congratulate those chosen, and stress that making the selections was difficult because of the volume of amazing papers.  We encourage everyone interested to attend and look forward to the weekend.

Adam Leviton (Georgetown), In Defense of Bailouts [George Geis (Virginia) & Art Wilmarth (GW)]

Jodie Kirshner (Cambridge), A Transatlantic Perspective on Regional Dynamics and Societa Eurpoea [Francesca Bignami (GW) & Theresa Gabaldon (GW)]

Alan White (Valparaiso), Welfare Economics and Regulation of Small-Loan Credit: Lessons from Microlending in Developing Nations [Michael Pagano (Villanova) & Lawrence Mitchell (GW)]

Nicola Sharpe (Illinois), Corporate Board Performance and Organizational Strategy [Deborah Demott (Duke) & Michael Abramowicz (GW)]

Julie Hill (Houston), The Rise of Ad Hoc Bank Capital Requirements [Anna Gelpern (American) & John Buchman (E*Trade Bank & GW Adjunct)]

Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall), The Effects of Ownership and Stock Liquidity on the Timing of Repurchase Transactions [Richard Booth (Villanova) & Henry Butler (Mason)]

Michelle Harner (Maryland), Activist Distressed Debtors [Donna Nagy (Indiana Bloomington) & Lisa Fairfax (GW)]

Saule Omarova (UNC), The Federal Reserve Board’s Use of Exemptive Power [Patricia McCoy (Connecticut) & Arthur Wilmarth (GW)]

Heather Hughes (American), Suburban Sprawl, Finance Law and Environmental Harm [Scott Kieff (GW) & Lawrence Cunningham (GW)]

Robert Jackson (Columbia), Private Equity and Executive Compensation [Norman Veasey (Weil Gotshal) & William Bratton (Penn)]

Brian Quinn (BC), Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Post Closing Price Adjustments in Merger Agreements? [Gordon Smith (BYU) & John Pollack (Schulte Roth)]

Mehrsa Baradaran (BYU), Reconsidering Wal-Mart’s Bank [Heidi Schooner (Catholic) & Renee Jones (BC)]

This is one of many events sponsored by GW’s Center for Law, Economics and Finance.


Iowa Law Review, Volume 96, Issue 2 (January 2011)

Iowa Law Review


The Coercion of Trafficked Workers
Kathleen Kim

IP Misuse as Foreclosure
Christina Bohannan

Consent to Retaliation: A Civil Recourse Theory of Contractual Liability
Nathan B. Oman

Automation and the Fourth Amendment
Matthew Tokson


No Middle Ground? Reflections on the Citizens United Decision
Randall P. Bezanson


(Potentially) Resolving the Ever-Present Debate over Whether Noncitizens in Removal Proceedings Have a Due-Process Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel
Walter S. Gindin

Princo, Patent Pools, and the Risk of Foreclosure: A Framework for Assessing Misuse
Phillip W. Goter

Holden Caulfield Grows Up: Salinger v. Colting, the Promotion-of-Progress Requirement, and Market Failure in a Derivative-Works Regime
John M. Newman

Is Senator Grassley Our Savior?: The Crusade Against “Charitable” Hospitals Attacking Patients for Unpaid Bills
Amanda W. Thai


The Opposite of Dog Eat Dog

At a Faculty Meeting years ago, our distingished new Dean, who’d been Dean elsewhere, President of a University, and CEO in the private sector, began by saying how people often ask him: “What’s the difference between the academic world and the corporate world?” 

The Dean said he replied: “In the corporate world, it’s DOG EAT DOG, whereas in the academic world, it is exactly the other way around.”  Those assembled at the Faculty Meeting laughed knowingly.

Just as the guffaws died out, my great and wonderful friend, a learned faculty member, and former Dean,  quipped: “Do you mean, in academia, it’s GOD EAT GOD?”  Louder knowing laughter erupted and I still laugh about it today.

Academia can be a wonderful place. Yet it’s no Ivory Tower and can be viscious , especially for younger scholars, doing graduate work at elite institutions.  It usually gets better but it can be tough later too. 

There are many ways to cope. One is remembering to research and write for yourself, in the first instance, not to please or even influence others.  Of course, it can be rewarding to have those effects and, especially, to be cited favorably, but that usually comes in due course.

Keeping a sense of humor and some sobriety about also helps.  Whenever I hear about the lion cages of graduate study, or vexing insecurity during early years of untenured appointments, I share the foregoing memorable scene.


Ideal Blog Post Length

Is there an optimal length for a blog post or an ideal depth?  Some posts around the blogosphere are surprisingly brief, perhaps a mere sentence noticing an article or book publication or other event, while others probe deeply through layers of challenging ideas requiring up to 4,000 words to feature.  Can posts be too short and snappy or too long and laborious?

When law journals were as old as blogs are today, review articles were pithy and short.  For example, the famous unsigned 1880 review of Langdell’s Contracts casebook (attributed to Holmes) ran 1,200 words in volume 14 of American Law Review, packed with punch and still valuable commentary on the case method of law teaching.   At the other extreme, an 1898 review of Keener’s Contracts casebook, appearing in volume 8 of Yale Law Journal, ran a mere 53 words, leaving the reader bereft.

True, articles ran much longer than the book reviews of late 19th and early 20th century legal literature, but still were limited to around 10,000 words apiece.  And that enabled covering vast subjects.   Over six generations, the average length bloated, with many pieces bursting to 50,000 words or more, before recently cut to around 25,000 words by some sensible law students.  Book reviews in law journals often still run that length, though 8,500 words is the cap set by the prudent editors of Michigan Law Review’s Annual Survey of Books.   

Posts here at Concurring Opinions average some 800 words, akin to old-fashioned print op-ed pieces, though no explicit policy rules and there are plenty much shorter (this one is 375 words).   Co-Op’s guidelines for its book review project suggest 1,000 as the ideal length of book reviews, noting that they may range from 500 to 2,000 words.  The same seems roughly the mode and norm at peer sites, including most of those listed on our Blogroll (scroll way down in the column to your right). 

But I detect some increase in the average length and broadening of the range.   Looking way into the distant future, imagine doing all reading and writing in this space.   Posts once as pithy as Holmes’s review of Langdell become longer than law review editor caps.   Yet even 53-word publications are possible.


Paying for Tenure Letters?

Most schools don’t pay honorariums to outside scholars to write tenure letters (that vital component of a professor’s application for promotion and tenure), whether on internal promotions or about lateral recruits. At least that’s been my experience, based on writing about 25 of them since my own first tenure 15 years ago and requesting them on behalf of a couple of schools.

Instead, this task seems to be a service duty each tenured academic has to the broad academy as a whole. True, writers invariably receive a warm “thank you” note from the Dean at the requesting school and appreciation from the home Dean and Provost as part of their annual review of faculty contributions. There’s also the intrinsic reward of engaging deeply with a single scholar’s body of work and writing a report for an audience not necessarily expert in the particular field.

On the other hand, writing a thoughtful and fair tenure letter requires many hours of work, at least five and often ten or sometimes more. As a result, at least one school pays $250 for the service.

Should other schools pay money too or should that school stop spending money it need not spend? My vote is to save the money. If offered the honorarium, I favor asking the school to reallocate it to PILF (the Public Interest Law Foundation) to fund stipends for law students working in the public interest.

What do you think?


Scholarship 2.0: The New Frontier?

I have been advising the Maryland Law Review for some time now and this year’s Board has been particularly creative in their thinking about scholarship and its potential impact.  They have an interesting idea for the future of legal scholarship, one that I believe worth sharing and discussing. The Maryland Law Review currently publishes in print and online professional and student pieces and would like to ensure that the pieces facilitate ongoing dialogue.   In a turn that I will call Scholarship 2.0, the Maryland Law Review would like to harness interactive technologies on their website to permit readers to engage with the work and to post videos on the topic.  As the Board has explained to me, they would like to to use technology “not only to spread the ideas expressed in the pieces, but also to provide an opportunity for the work to change, grow, and evolve as more people are exposed and have a chance to contribute to the conversation.”

To that end, the Maryland Law Review will soon begin to utilize technologies to begin that conversation, including posting videos of interviews with professor, or taped debates between them, regarding articles.  Readers will have a chance to take part in the conversation through a Comment feature.  As the Editor in Chief Maggie Grace and Senior Online Articles Editor Ted Reilly told me: “The best products of academia are not closed from debate or question, but rather are discussed, challenged, and strengthened by wider discourse.  It is our hope that with the addition of these technologies we can foster dialogues that help viewers pose questions, challenge accepted notions, share novel ideas, and develop a greater understanding of law and its application.”  How else might the Maryland Law Review put this idea into practice?  Any thoughts or suggestions for my enterprising students?