Category: Sociology of Law


We Can All Say We Knew Him When

Todd Kim, my former co-clerk, has just been appointed to be the first ever Solicitor General of the District of Columbia, and he’s part of a notable trend in state SG personnel. Two Jones Day appellate lawyers have left that firm’s schmancy appellate practice to become state SGs, as have a number of other ambitious Washingtonian types eager for Supreme Court arguments. The job offers interesting exit options as well: Greg Coleman left Texas’ post to become a commerical litigator with a Supreme Court practice at Weil Gotshal; Jeffrey Sutton went from being the Ohio SG to being a judge on the Sixth Circuit. So while everyone’s bursting with pride about Todd, we’re all wondering what’s in his future. Will Todd decide to be a judge or a millionaire? It’s something of a catch-22, and so I hope we can all sympathize with him during this no-doubt difficult time.


More On Serendipitous Research

I’ve been giving more thought to my earlier post describing my alter ego as a stack rat. I noted that one downside to the digitization of libraries is that researchers will have fewer serendipitous moments. When one searches out a book with a given call number, he or she almost inevitably confronts related (or simply interesting) volumes that live nearby. I can think of many times when this process led me to useful books that I’d never heard of before. As more and more research is done online in our offices (or perhaps in our den/guest room – you know, the rooms where Barbies and My Little Ponies inexplicably like to congregate despite instructions to the contrary), we no longer happen upon these accidental wonders.

But things are bound to improve. With digitization comes the potential for new serendipities. It’s all in the hypertext. Think about Lexis and Westlaw. When I research a case, a large portion of an opinion’s references can be found with a click. Most commonly, these links take us to cases and articles. But what if their materials also included weblinks?

Of course, a large portion of scholarship outside of law (particularly articles) is also available digitally through JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, and the like. The problem is that, for now, these materals don’t contain hyperlinks. These PDF documents look nice, but they are digital dead ends. But what if these documents also included hypertext links? And what if all the new digital books did as well?

Imagine the fun! Every time I came upon an interesting citation, I could charge off into a fresh diversion. One curious quote, one odd source, and with a single mouse click – BAM – I am back in the deepest corner of the stacks exploring unexpected treasures. We’re not there yet. We’re actually in an unfortunate middle period. Increasingly we abandon the physical library, doing our research at our computer. Yet this wonderful technology has not advanced quite far enough to provide us with new serendipitous moments. But for those people who dream of the day that they can do all their research without ever moving their sedentary buttocks, buck up! Serendipity awaits.


Reading List

There’s a lot of information out there, but lots to learn. As Judge Posner reminds us, “intelligence data are collected” among other ways, “by scrutiny of publicly available … materials such as newspapers, magazines, the Web, and scientific and technical journals.” We already know about Liptak, Glater, Lithwick, and Leiter. Who else can provide us with crucial open source intel? I’m reading this and this, to keep up with the kids. I’m enjoying the new law beat lady’s work in the Observer. And jd2b is my one stop source for a random collection of press releases from law schools. When they get an editor, that site is gonna be huge.

Dedicated Ventilators?


Imagine that bird flu hits the United States, and you’re a doctor at a hospital filled with 700 infected patients who all need ventilators to help them breathe. You have 100 ventilators. How do you allocate them? To the sickest? the youngest? the oldest? the most likely to live? the ones most likely to die without one?

The choices would be unthinkable, as Bernard Williams and Martha Nussbaum have suggested. We should be doing much more to avoid them, or at least make them less stark. But as this article from the NYT shows, we are instead doing very little:

Right now, there are 105,000 ventilators, and even during a regular flu season, about 100,000 are in use. In a worst-case human pandemic, according to the national preparedness plan issued by President Bush in November, the country would need as many as 742,500. To some experts, the ventilator shortage is the most glaring example of the country’s lack of readiness for a pandemic.

Now aren’t you happy that market forces got rid of all that “excess hospital capacity” in the 80s and 90s? According to one doctor from the Mayo Medical School, “Families are going to be told, ‘We have to take your loved one off the ventilator even though, if we could keep him on it for a week, he might be fine.'”

Given various budgetary crises, we can’t expect much help from government. Is there any creative solution? I’d like to suggest one: Let individuals buy ventilators to dedicate for themselves and their families (at nearby hospitals), in exchange for their donation of one ventilator for each one they dedicate. Here’s some “figures”….

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From Gradgrind to Glaeser

Economic analysis is often illuminating, but sometimes it just seems to provide cover for new Gradgrinds to ply reductionist utilitarianism. Case in point: the NYT Magazine has a glowing profile of Edward Glaeser, an economist from Harvard. As a patrician, provocateur, and polymath, Glaeser is reported to have single handedly revived the field of urban economics. Here are some of his prescriptions (as reported by Jon Gertner):

1) Don’t rebuild much of New Orleans— just let hard-pressed residents move somewhere else (and expect our exceedingly eleemosynary Congress to cut checks to each resident for $200,000, since that’s what they were planning to spend on infrastructure!). And don’t try to revive struggling rust-belt cities like Detroit, either.

2) “Car-based cities” are great; they “enable residents to buy cheaper, bigger houses,” and “the average car commute is about 24 minutes; on public transportation, it is around 48 minutes.”

I have a few questions for Glaeser. First, does his model value stability at all? Let’s say that this process of dispersion in search of better jobs leaves very few nuclear families with extended families nearby to help with child and elder care. Is the resultant need to hire day care workers and visiting nurses a boon to the economy, because unpaid labor to that end wouldn’t count in the GDP? Just how parsimonious are his models?

I have some personal experience with the “exodus from the Rustbelt” that Glaeser finds so appealing…

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How Not to Turn Down a Law Job Offer

social-networks1.gifDianna Abdala, a young law school graduate, was about to start working for William Korman, a criminal defense attorney. Shortly before she was to start, Korman told Abdala that he had also decided to hire another attorney, and as a result, had to adjust her salary lower. She sent him the following email:

At this time, I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sew [sic]. Thank you for the interviews.

Korman called and left a message to Abdala to discuss, but Abdala left a voicemail turning down the offer again. Korman wrote to Abdala:

Given that you had two interviews, were offered and accepted the job (indeed, you had a definite start date), I am surprised that you chose an e-mail and a 9:30 p.m. voicemail message to convey this

information to me. It smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional. Indeed, I did rely upon your acceptance by ordering stationary and business cards with your name, reformatting a computer and setting up both internal and external e-mails for you here at the office. While I do not quarrel with your reasoning, I am extremely disappointed in the way this played out. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Abdala responded with this email:

A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance

until he did so. Again, thank you.

Korman responded:

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Confessions of a Stack Rat

stacks small-thumb.jpgI’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about the purposes of law libraries. In part that’s because of Dave Hoffman’s insightful post about these institutions. The bigger reason is that I’m on the library director search committee for one of the two law schools Dave mentions: the nascent Drexel University College of Law. (Reading between the lines: I will be joining Drexel Law this fall as an inaugural faculty member.) In this context, I’ve confronted an issue that is front and center for librarians – the rise of the digital collection.

I have mixed feelings about digital libraries. On the one hand, there is the nasty truth of the matter: I do most of my research on my computer. I rely on Westlaw and Lexis for most case and law review research. I use the many other fabulous databases to uncover articles in other disciplines. And then there is the world’s easiest (if not always most reliable) way to learn stuff: Google. The ABA, however, rightfully requires a core collection of materials for those without access to digital collections, and I think there are good pedagogical reasons to train law students to do book research. Also, while this will change, today’s fully digital library has a gaping hole in the area of treatises and monographs.

And what about serendipity as research method? How many of us have discovered important books simply by browsing through a call number? John Searle’s Speech Acts may be off the shelves (presumably relaxing in the cluttered office of an English professor), but what of the other 200 books adjacent to B840 .S4 1977x? We lose access to valuable knowledge when we lose the Eureka moment of the unexpected book discovery.

For a stack rat like me, more is at stake though.

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Group Polarization and Internet Shaming


I’ve discussed Internet shaming in a series of posts, most recently in a post about a shaming incident carried out against a business. The post sparked a thought-provoking discussion in the comments. Adam wrote: “What exactly is ‘mob justice’ on the internet? A crowd of people waving web browsers? Angry bloggers complaining about poor service?”

My concern with Internet shaming is that it often spirals out of control. It goes too far. Consider the case of the “dog poop girl” from Korea, who was shamed extensively over the Internet for not cleaning up her dog’s poop on a subway train. I argued that the blogosphere can turn into “a cyber-posse, tracking down norm violators and branding them with digital scarlet letters.”

Internet shaming is problematic for its permanence, but it is also problematic for its viciousness and extremism. One explanation for why Internet shaming can turn into a form of mob justice is a phenomenon known as group polarization. In a recent post at the Chicago Law Faculty Blog, Cass Sunstein writes:

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