Monday, November 29, 2010

Can You Find All The Torts?

How many torts are committed in this one minute clip and by whom? Assault? Battery? Is there Justification?  Consent? Why use words to describe a hypothetical when reality, or in this case, the Reality TV Awards Show, can provide the video hypothetical?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Law Music Video - Law School Musical

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Law School Musical from Owen.  Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Warning! This video includes the word “sh_t.” But it is a reality dose that should stimulate some student self-examination and a flurry of appointments with pre-law advisors.

Thanks to Owen - song writer, video creator and ostensible U of Md Law Student.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Attorneys' Fees - Hourly Fees

Students often have not considered that lawyers in the private practice of law are in the business of selling legal services for a fee. They are generally aware that lawyers charge fees, but have given little consideration to how that might work and its implications.  In class, I raise the issue about the practical necessity of having legal representation to assist one in navigating the civil justice system  This starts off with discussing the lawyers' fees.  I encourage students to be informed consumers of legal services and to be upfront in inquiring about fees. Lawyers are not shy about discussing fees - they should not be shy either.  I use the following videos as examples:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Employee or Independent Contractor

The video below is part of a series of business law related videos featuring Attorney Jay Zellmer of Grass Valley, California. Thanks to Atty. Zellmer for his permission to feature the videos, here. I have used this one, and others in the series in class. Unlike many other attorney generated videos that are available on line, they are short, simply stated, informative, sincere, and without  a hard sales pitch.  Although there are no bells and whistles with these videos, sometimes it is useful for students to hear a voice other than mine.

This video deals with distinguishing between an employee and an independent contractor.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Preparing Witnesses

In my experience, students are not merely suprised, but are shocked to discover that lawyers typically prepare witnesses for testimony. Failure to properly prepare a witness may, in fact, be considered malpractice. Either of the videos below reinforce the point.  There are a wealth of related videos available.  I chose the first one below for its candor and the second one for its brevity.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Law Music Video - The Preamble (to the Constitution)

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is The Preamble from the folks at Schoolhouse Rock. I see a lot of smiles when this one plays.  It's a little silly, but it is also familiar - and that has value.  Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Man's Best Friend - Good Dog or Just Goods?

Goods are tangible, movable items.  The subject of this video is certainly tangible and quite movable! Credit goes to John W. Rowe, owner of the goods, for creating and sharing this video.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Law Lessong" - The Negotiable Instruments Song

I have always been drawn to both music and the law. In searching for some innovative classroom techniques, I was encouraged by the education literature and the brain research indicating the beneficial effects of music on learning and memory. I was further encouraged by seeing Rutgers Law Professor Steven Friedell singing with his class and reading about BU Law Professor Mark Pettit singing in his class. My idea was to take a simple or recognizable melody and add lyrics that include a lesson in the law  - "Law Lessongs." There are 18 audio files of "Law Lessongs" at the Law Lessong website.  I sing the Law Lessongs in class with the lyrics displayed and encourage students to sing along.  Recognizing that not everyone may be comfortable singing songs in class, I am trying to produce a video for each song so that they can be played in class for students to hear and experience as more than a simple audio file. I have included the first of these videos below.  Over time, I hope to create more of these videos to make the Law Lessongs a more viable classroom resource.  Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource. The youtube version is here along with access to my youtube channel and other Law Lessong videos posted there.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Act of God

If students are wondering what kind of event might be considered to be an "Act of God" under the law, you can show this footage of a hailstorm from 10/25/10.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Featured Article: "Betting on Justice" From the NY Times

The front page of yesterday's NY Times featured an article entitled "Putting Money on Lawsuits, Investors Share in the Payouts". This article is the first in a series entitled "Betting on Justice."  The article shines daylight on a practice know well in the profession but far outside of the experience and contemplation of undergraduate law students. The article traces the history, law, philosophy and practices of banks and hedge funds getting involved in financing lawsuits. There are both success and horror stories. Many of my students tend to be fairly politically conservative finance and accounting majors. This article may show them a different face of lawsuits - as an investment vehicle for profit-making. This article strikes me as one that could generate some active class discussion or drive an effective online discussion thread.

Of course, nothing gets a discussion going like a video. Below is a video from a company that provides funding for lawsuits. (Self Serving Disclaimer:  I do not endorse or promote this company or its practices.  I just find the videos and post them here for you to use in class if you think they are helpful to promote discussion or thoughtful consideration.) Further below is a video from a company that loans money directly to clients while their lawsuits are pending. There are so many of these videos available on line, that is was hard to choose a representative. If you want to explore them yourself, search "lawsuit funding" at youtube.

Case Expense Funding:

Cash For Clients:

In my opinion, the following video is crass and tasteless. The person who uploaded it to the internet labelled it as "funny." Maybe students will think it is funny - I don't know.  It is certainly provocative, if that is what you need for your class.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Featured Movie - My Cousin Vinny

"My Cousin Vinny" is a comedic look at the legal system.  I am a great believer in the learning potential resident in comedy (as one may deduce from the posts in this blog).  I also embrace the concept of extending learning opportunities beyond the time, space, and format confines of the classroom.  When properly guided, watching a movie is likely a far richer and more effective learning experience for students than reading a textbook. Certainly, it is a more enjoyable experience - which helps contribute to the assignment's success.

Plot summaries are available here.  Reviews are available here. This is a fabulously funny movie. But don't let its comedic presentation trivialize its educational value. I use this movie as a "flex assignment." "Guided Viewing Questions" are posted on line for the students to read prior to watching the movie (please feel free to e-mail me for a copy if you want one). I leave a DVD copy on reserve in the library but most students choose to use their Netflicks accounts or other download services to watch the movie on their laptops. After watching the movie, students may submit a short (250 word) reaction on line to earn points toward their grade.  The reaction is supposed to include what the student learned about the legal system from watching this movie. In anticipation of writing this post, I took particular care to note students' responses. Once again, I was reminded of how little experience undergraduate law students posess about the legal system.  It is the quality that makes teaching undergraduates simultaneously rewarding and bewildering. Here is a sample of reaction statements (paraphrased):

"I never knew that . . .
. . . evidence was so important in proving a case in court."
. . . judges were so involved in trials.  I thought that juries did all the work."
. . . eyewitnesses could be mistaken."
. . . experts could testify about important information."
. . . that judges got to decide if a witness could testify or not."
. . . that coutroom rules were so important in trials."
. . . that police can make mistakes."
. . . that an innocent person could come so close to being proven guilty in court."

And, "I saw this movie before and thought it was just a funny movie.  Now after learning about trials in class, I see how it all fits together and how important trials are."

While all of this may have been covered in class and written in the textbook, there is a point where lecture can begin to sound like, ". . . blah, blah, blah . . ."  In its uniquely entertaining way, My Cousin Vinny does the job of contributing to student understanding about the legal system.


Sample video clips:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Law Music Video - I Fought the Law

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is the classic, I Fought The Law (And The Law Won). Law music videos played right before your class starts contributes to the learning process.

I prefer the Bobby Fuller Four video from the 1960's because it has a "groovy" set and a go-go dancing police officer.

The Clash:  This is the one your students are more likely to know:

Green Day, live:

Stray Cats, live:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pirate Radio - "Simply Make up a New Law That Makes it Illegal"

The year is 1966. Rock 'n' Roll has been banned from play on Britain's radio stations.  But Radio Rock (like this station) broadcasts from a ship out in the North Sea and technically outside of the reach of Britain's regulatory scheme. This clip from the movie Pirate Radio reflects the view of "the man" in government, unfairly wielding the law as a crude weapon for social ordering!

Click here or on the image below to go to the video clip:

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Below is the raw video of Management Professor Richard Quinn addressing his Strategic Management class follwing a cheating incident at the University of Central Florida.  The video of the original ABC news story that was posted earlier has apparently been blocked. A blog post describing the ABC news coverage is available here.  One student interviewed on camera stated:

“This is college, everyone cheats. Everyone cheats in life in general. I just think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this testing lab who hasn’t cheated on an exam. They’re making a witch hunt out of absolutely nothing, as if they want to teach us some sort of moral lesson.”

A similar video report is available here.  You can watch a Fox news report featuring an anonymous cheating student accusing Prof. Quinn of "dragging them through the mud." here.

Credit for bringing this case to my attention goes to Kelsey Rath, a student in my Legal Environment class (who took today's lecture on ethics with her outside the classroom).  Thanks, Kelsey.

Raw video of Professor Richard Harris:

Professor Speech About Cheating from Knight News on Vimeo.

Professor Quinn's students respond with their own video:

Featured Website: NY Times v. Sullivan - The Full Page Ad

Thanks to English Professor Jean Goodwin the New York Times full page ad that was the subject of this famous case is readily available in both facsimile and in text formats.  Professor Goodwin has also summarized the allegedly false statements giving rise to the defamation claim. The link to her main site for the case is here.

Here are some images of Montgomery Alabama Commissioner L.B. Sullivan:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Election of Judges

The news last week that three Iowa State Supreme Court Justices lost retention votes and were turned out of office primarily as a result of having ruled that Iowa's marriage laws could not legally discriminate against same sex couples is a disturbing blow to the concept of an independent judiciary. The notion that protetcion of my basic rights could be subject to the popular whim of the electorate is more than disturbing. I have never understood how the election of judges fit in with the concept of an independent judiciary (in Connecticut, trial and appellate judges are appointed and subject to re-appointment by the legislature). It is certainly a topic worthy of discussion in class. The Georgia Civil Justice Foundation has produced a video on judicial elections. I am not sure that I am entirely convinced by the video's presentation that election of judges can be monitored effectively by public awareness of the issues and the sources of campaign funds.  However, the video is useful to introduce the topic and the issues as a discussion starter.  The GCJF has produced a number of videos exploring issues in the civil justice system.  I highly recommend them to you.  they play easily from the website and are generally well received in class.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Value of a Written Contract

This video from the Armed Forces Network cleverly describes the value of a written contract.  I use it in the first Contracts lecture as an introduction to the concept of contract.  It would obviously fit equally well into a Statute of Frauds lecture.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Featured Case - Midler v. Ford: Commercial Appropriation

Bett Midler sued Ford in the 1980's for appropriating her identity in the form of her distinctive voice.  Ford's 1980's ad campaign was aimed at "YUPPIES" (Young Urban Professionals).  The idea was to use some evocative song from the 1970's, that would remind these 1980's disposable spenders of their more carefree college days. "Gosh, if I owned that car it would be just like being back in college." After Midler spurned Ford's entreaties to use her rendition of "Do You Want to Dance" from 1973, Ford's advertising agency hired one of Midler's former back-up singers, Ula Hedwig, to record a version.  She was instructed to "sound as much as possible like the Bette Midler record." The 9th Circuit ruled "that when a distinctive voice of a professional singer is widely known and is deliberately imitated in order to sell a product, the sellers have appropriated what is not theirs and have committed a tort in California."

I like to start the class discussion of this case by showing a minute or so of an early version of the song.  I prefer this one from Cliff Richard and the Shadows because of its "old school" set and its energy.  Plus, Richard introduces the song by saying that the band will perform a "song that is more in [their] idiom." (That's a vocabulary enhancer for those students paying close attention.) The Beach Boys' version is also available.  Or you may prefer the original by Bobby Freemen, set here to a cartoon video.

Then, I play 30 seconds or so of Midler's version:

Then, of course, comes the actual 1986 mercury sable ad:

Finally, I have this site open so as the ad ends, I click on the mp3 sample of Midler's Do you Want To Dance (found about halfway down the page). By a neat coincidence, the mp3 clip of Midler's version begins at precisely the point where Ula Hedwig's version from the ad ends. The result is a pefect side by side match of the two versions allowing students to make their own assessments regarding Ford's appropriation of Midler's "identity" in the form of her distinctive voice.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Law Music Video - Lawyers in Love

Students, often arrive at class between 10 and 15 minutes prior to the scheduled class time.  After plugging in their computers and confirming internet connections, that time is typically spent in surfing the web, checking e-mail or in conversation with other students about past or upcoming social events. The opportunity exists to make productive use of this transition time to enhance the learning process by filling the audio space (and sometimes the visual space as well) with songs.  The beneficial use of music in transition time has been well recognized. In the law classroom, transition songs principally serves three purposes; songs grab attention, serve as a primer for brain function and contribute directly to learning of the subject matter.
Playing “Law Songs” (popular lyrical music with themes about law or lawyers) over the classroom A/V system carries the message that something new and different is happening.  Playing songs during the transition time also helps prime the brain for learning. Music stimulates the brain’s neural pathways. Brain research indicates that music stimulates the brain in ways that the spoken word cannot. Like an athlete who jogs prior to an athletic performance in order to increase her heart rate to facilitate full heart performance during competition, students are better prepared to learn in class because their brains are already “up to speed” prior to the start of class.  Finally, the songs themselves contribute to the curriculum.  In some instances, the value may lie in simple reaffirmation of realistic images of law already prevalent in popular culture. In other instances, the song’s principal contribution may be to broaden preexisting impressions or open new lines of thought.
My only evidence that these methods work is anecdotal.  First, as I look out over the classroom of gathering student while the music is playing, heads are nodding, toes are tapping, lips are mouthing lyrics - the students are transitioned away from their personal tasks and are engaging with what is happening in the room. Second, the end of semester course surveys always include a few comments along the lines of, "Please stop playing loud rock music at 8:00 AM." To me, that means that the pleading students' discomfort resulted from their brains being forced out of repose and into a state of engagement.
Over the next few months I will try to post at least one "Law Music Video" per week. Today's installment is Jackson Browne's Lawyers in Love.  The lyrics are essentially nonsense.  Browne has never offered any meaningful explanation or intended message and purportedly chuckled at those who attempted to divine one. I enjoy the provocative image created by the title and repeating chorus. Start this video four minutes before your class time and you will have an attentive audience when it ends. Enjoy!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Peer to Peer File Sharing Liability

Liability for peer to peer file sharing of music is an issue in which many undergraduate students have both an interest and a dangerous propensity for accepting folklore as fact. The latest example of enormous civil judgments for downloading and sharing music files was reported today. The most famous example is probably the case involving Harvard professor Charles Nesson. The RIAA provides a free DVD entitled "Campus Downloading" that may be used in class to identify the issue.  It is not a discussion of the legal issues, but rather a no-nonsense presentation of the state of the law and RIAA's policy on enforcement. You may order a free copy of the DVD or play it directly from the website. To inject some balance into the discussion I also show the Weird Al Yankovic music video below where he cleverly challenges the notion that music was not meant to be shared.