Monday, February 28, 2011

There Oughta Be a Law ...

I start my Legal Environment course with a class exercise where I anoint the class as the University “rulemakers” and then ask them to solve a campus problem (dealing with thousands of carelessly disposed chewing gum wads).  Some of the suggestions are in the general vein of “law” (rules and enforcement) while other suggestions involve education, altering the physical environment, campus advocacy and appeals, or simply living with the problem.   The point of the exercise is to have students consider both the potential and limitations of law as a means of solving problems. Recently there were two news items that caught my attention potential topics for a similar exercise. They involve real and substantial social “problems.” There may be pedagogical value in asking student to consider both the potential for and the limitations of employing “law” as a problem solving device.
First, Mother Jones magazine has published a series of charts that illustrate the mind-blowing increase in wealth disparity in the US.  Visually presented in this manner, the “problem” is immediately obvious. Is there a potential role for “law” in addressing this issue? Why or Why not?  Discuss.
Second, the Tribune newspapers ran an article about recurring drug shortages in hospitals . According to the article, these shortages are prevalent, come on without warning,  and cause doctors to use older drugs as substitutes – some that predate the doctors’ medical practices and, therefore, with which they have no experience. Is there a potential role for “law” in addressing this issue? Why or Why not?  Discuss.
Source of charts below: Mother Jones


A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.

Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.


The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades' gains.

Aevrage Household income before taxes.


How much income have you given up for the top 1%?



For a healthy few, it's getting better all the time.

Gains and Losses in 2007-2009, Average CEO Pay vs. Average Worker Pay

A millionaire's atx rate, now and then. Share of Federal Tax revenue
Videos on drug shortages:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Union Busting

Recent events in Wisconsin where the legislature is proposing to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees and the protests that have been sparked in response hearkens to a discussion that I have with my students under the general introductory title, "What is Law?"  I have reproduced below the closing slides from the Power Point presentation that accompanies the lecture/discussion.  In my opinion, too often students see law as rigid rules that are written in stone by some unforseen unchallengable force.  I grew tired over the years of hearing students say, "that is just the way it is" or "the court was just following the law" when responding to some perceived injustice.  That is, students recognized an injustice, but complacently accepted it as an inevitable and unchangeable outcome of law. Perhaps I am too much a child of the 60's and 70's, but I think that an educated person needs a richer understanding of law. On a macro level, law is nothing more than what human beings say the law is - and therefore, there is never an immutable, unchangeable, and singularly proper application of law.  It all rests on the interpretation of humans who make value judgments in the process.  While any individual judge may feel bound by a rule of law in any particular case, that is rarely the last word on "the law." I believe in the power of law to structure society and in the ability of people to impact the shape of that structure - if they have the will.

2 What is Law slides

Law Music Video - The Bill of Rights

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is The Bill of Rights by ??? - I have no idea.  I would like to give the artist credit bit there is no information at the youtube site. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Attitudes Toward Litigation

I have used the following series of videos and internet sources to explore attitudes toward litigation.  I start with a video called "Fairplay" from the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation about the benefits of the civil justice system.  Below is an embedded Youtube copy of the video.  If you have any trouble with it, the original is available at the website link above.

In contrast, Manpower's "Up Close and Personnel" tour gives us a look at different view.  I only use the first 1:30 of this video.  After that it gets off track.


The next resource comes from no less an important source than Abraham Lincoln. Below is a copy of a speech Lincoln delivered to fellow lawyers around 1850 (Courtesy of the "American Memory" digital collection at the Library of Congress). In it, Lincoln states "Discourage litigation-- Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can-- Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser, in fees, expenses, and waste of time-- As a peace-maker, the lawyer has a superior opertunity of being a good man-- There will still be business enough--" You can show students that Lincoln originally wrote, "Never encourage litigation," but, on reconsideration, replaced this advice with a stronger admonition.

Image 1 of 3, Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.

 Lincoln's advice is echoed today in a modern medium, below, from Attorney Jay Zellmer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Featured Case: Heart of Atlanta Motel v. US and Katzenbach v. McClung

The US Supreme Court decisions in these iconic Civil Rights Act/Commerce Clause cases are readily available on line: Heart of Atlanta Motel; Katzenbach.  I try to personalize these cases by providing some photos or articles about the people involved in the cases.  I think that it is important for students to understand that law is more than just words in a book.  Law involves the stories of real people, the way they act and react and how their lives were impacted by the legal system.  This site has pictures of the Heart of Atlanta Motel, including a larger version of the one reproduced below. Below are a couple of pictures of Ollie's Barbeque, the Birmingham, AL. restaurant that was the subject of Katzenbach.  Ollie's restaurant is out of business, but you can still buy some of Ollie's barbecue sauce.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are Courts Ready for These Technological Innovations?

Three recent artcles/events speak to the use and potential uses of technology in the courtroom. First, The NY Times reports on the use of Google searches to investigate potential jurors. Knowing what a juror has listed as a "like" or "dislike" on her facebook page could be invaluable information in divining any perceieved or subconscious bias either in favor of or against your client.  And remember, as we were strongly advised in an earlier post, "You don't want smart people on your jury!"

The second interesting consideration for technonolgy comes from watching the Watson computer compete against humans on Jeopardy.  As this editorial from the National Law Journal queries, what possibilities might a Watson in the courtroom open up? Could you do instantaneous legal research with plain language inquiries?  Might you be able to challange the veracity of a witness' testimony, perhaps even an expert, with an instantaneous search for contradictory facts?

Finally, last Fall reporters in the sensational capital murder trial of Steven Hayes used Twitter to report events directly from the courtroom. As Hayes' co-defendant faces trial, the presiding judge has denied a defense request to ban twitter use in the courtroom.  The defense claims that the sight of reporters sponatneously tweeting will taint jurors' perception of the imporance of the evidence. This new avenue of courtroom reporting is certain to be fully explored.

Watson v. Humans on Jeopardy:

High Tech Jury Selection:


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zealous Representation?

If you are looking for a popular cultural representation of a lawyer "zealously" representing his client, look no further than Norman Tugwater, spokesman for Vitaminwater.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Law Lessong - Statute of Frauds Song

This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation can help students learn and remember the 6 categories of contracts subject to the staute of frauds writing requirement. Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here. More Law Lessong videos may be found at my youtube channel. 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.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Law Music Video - My Attorney Bernie

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is My Attorney Bernie. The video is a Paul Austin Kelly rendition of the Dave Frishberg tune. What are some of the reasons for admiring Bernie? "He's got Dodger season boxes, and an office full of foxes." Oy!

Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Featured Case: Lucy v. Zehmer

This iconic case is a staple in contract law. Students can't help but remember Adrian Hardy Zehmer's testimony that he was "high as a Georgia Pine" and that the transaction "was just a bunch of two doggone drunks bluffing to see who could talk the biggest and say the most."  The opinion is avilable on the internet in a number of forms.  This one has a scanned copy of the front and back of the Ye Olde Virginnie Restaurant order pad that was used to scrawl out the contract (reproduced below at bottom). Thanks goes to Frank Snyder at Texas Wesleyan University Law School who unearthed and posted a digital photo of the contract (below).  Prof. Snyder has also posted a number of photographs relevant to the case which can be found at the AALS Contracts Section website.  Read his blog post, here. Thanks, again, Prof. Snyder for using the internet to make these resources available for all of us to use in the classroom.
Lucy v Zehmer Image

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deposition Fail!

Real depositions are mostly deadly boring. These deposition clips have some zip to them.

This witness  broke 2 depo prep rules:
- Answer "yes" or "no" and refrain from offering any information.
- Keep your cool.

This time it's the lawyers that lose their cool. So much for professionalism.


The witness here is Larry Flynt, editor of Hustler Magazine.  This deposition was part of the Hustler v. Falwell case.  He appears to be an uncooperative witness.
WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE! After the first 2:00 SEXUALLY EXPLICIT CONTENT! as Flynt attempts to prove that the allegations made in the ad parody were factually correct! (I wouldn't show this clip in class beyond the first 2 minutes - but it does give some interesting insight into the discovery process in a famous case.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guest Blogger: Eve Brown, Indiana University - Torts Scavenger Hunt

Today's post features ALSB 2010 Master Teacher Competition finalist Eve Brown of Indiana University sharing a great idea for a class activity.  If you have an idea, video, case, website or other resource that you would like to share with other legal studies educators, I hope that you will consider sending it to me to be featured here as a guest blogger post for all to enjoy and access.  Here is Eve Brown's post:

One of the activities that I do in in my Legal Environment of Business course  is a tort scavenger hunt. I send my students out into the campus with cameras, and have them take photos of anything they see that might subject the university to liability under a negligence/premises liability theory. Then they write letters (they don’t send them) to the college’s board of trustees, identifying the most egregious things they saw and recommending ways of mitigating the school’s liability. It’s a great way to get them really engaged and thinking about law in the real world. Many come back and say that now they see torts everywhere they go.

Another fun aspect of the assignment is that we have a class Flickr account, so the students upload their photos, add comments and descriptions, and can compete with each other for most photos, best photos, etc.

It’s also nice because it allows me to see whether they understand the material or not. If they take photos of an apple tree and claim that an apple could fall on your head and you could sue the school (which they have claimed), I know that I need to clarify their understanding of tort liability. To differentiate the “good” or accurate photos from the not so great ones, I created a “Hall of Fame” album in Flickr that contains only the photos that actually do depict a legitimate problem for the school.

Below are examples of photos from the “Hall of Fame” album.  The quality of some of the photos was compromise din teh posting process, but if you click here, you should be able to get to the Flicker site where you may view all the pictures in a slideshow.
 IMAG0047 IMAG0048

IMAG0035  IMAG0037 IMAG0046 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day - I Couldn't Resist!

Happy Valentine's Day!  Although the two videos below are repeats from earlier posts (available here and here), I couldn't pass up the love-lawyer connection. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Law Music Video - Law School Worryin' Blues

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Law School Worryin' Blues by Melissa Mitchell. I'm assuming from her sweatshirt that Melissa is matriculating at Suffolk law School in Boston. I enjoy having students learn from experiencing the perspective of other students. Thanks and Kudos to Melissa. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Surprising Criteria For Jury Selection

In this apparent training video, a District Attorney states what is obvious to those who have practiced law or studied the system - but is shocking to students. The goal is NOT to pick a fair jury, but to pick a jury that is most likely to be biased in favor of your client.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Real Lawyer"

Real Lawyer, is a musical written and performed by members of the Public Defenders’ offices of the State of Connecticut.  From the CDBaby website, this is the composers’ description of this CD:

Real Lawyer was a very unusual undertaking. The music in this soundtrack was created by a public defender and investigator in the State of Connecticut. This is an original soundtrack from the production performed for all the public defenders in the State and the cast and voices are of individual public defenders, social workers, investigators, and secretaries all working within the division. These are not professional singers, but nonetheless individuals dedicated to the noble, though often difficult task of defending the indigent. The show itself is about a fictitious robbery-double murder where an innocent African American is arrested and faces capital murder charges and the death penalty. The show explores through the soundtrack the workings of the criminal justice system. It focuses on the pain of the defendant (My World is One), the defense lawyer's family (What About Me), the victim's mother (The Life I Left Behind) and the ironies surrounding the death penalty (Thousand Ways to Die). It captures the always exhausting work of the overworked staff (Docket Blues), (Hey Donna), and the overwhelming desire to always accomplish a just result (Change the World). The soundtrack is a living monument to the work of public defenders and their staffs throughout the country who work so hard to defend the rights of each of us. It also seeks to correct the inhumanity to man that the death penalty almost inevitably imposes by its mere existence. This is truly a remarkable CD.

I have designed various assignments around this CD and it has consistently resulted in the most suprisingly insightful reactions from my students.  Thanks to former Connecticut Public Defender, Bob Field (now happily retired in Florida and looking for a job teaching law - if anyone has a position) and investigator Stephen Smith who have created a powerful medium for learning.

Robert Field & Stephen Smith : Real Lawyer
Click HERE to get to the Real Lawyer download site (also available on i-tunes and other music download services)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Hot Coffee" Documentary

The documentary "Hot Coffee" has recently been shown at the Sundance film festival. Below is a video of the filmaker, Susan Saladoff, a former practicing trial lawyer. Her perspective is that corporate media campaigns have perpetrated falsehoods about the McDonald's coffee case and others in order to support tort reform. The media campaigns have been successful in mis-educating the public.  This movie represents her attempt to set the record straight.

Below are several interviews and reports from Democracy Now:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Law Lessong: "It's Not Certain, It Depends"

This is a "Law Lessong" - a law lesson in a song - that I wrote to help students consider the inherent nature of law. This song helps bust the popular myth that law is predictable and certain. I use it along with the discussion of stare decisis in the Legal Environment course. The melody is based on "Blowin' in the Wind" written and recorded by Bob Dylan. No copyright infringement is intended. This song is offered and intended for educational use only and has no commercial value.

The old story goes something like this:
The law professor addressed the class of law school graduates - "Three years ago, if you were asked, 'What is the law?' on a particular subject, you could only answer, 'I don't know.' Now, after three years of legal education you can answer with great confidence, 'It depends!'"

Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here. More videos may be found at my youtube channel. 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.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Law Music Video - Nursery Rhyme Lawyer

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Nursery Rhyme Lawyer by Throwing Toasters. Is $1.2M fair compensation for "not being put back together again?" Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mr. Fancy Pants: Need For Tort Reform?

This video, produced by the Personal Inury Board, has everything you could want to kick off a serious discussion: a frivolous lawsuit over lost pants, lobbying intrigue, McDonald's coffee suit myths and facts, stand up comedy clips, tort refom ads, allegations, substantiations, and on and on. Warning! Assigning this video might cause your students to turn on their brains. On a serious note, this video could be a great assignment to anchor an online discussion thread on a Blackboard or Course Tools program.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Copyright: A Fair(y) Use Tale

The video below is a production of the Media Education Foundation. Recognizing the various Walt Disney Companies for being agressive pursuers of alleged copyright infringers, the Foundation ironically makes use of multiple short clips from Disney movies to educate the public about the right of "fair use" of copyrighted material. It is a bit long for classroom use, but can be assigned for viewing outside of class or as the anchor for an online discussion thread.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Featured Website: Picturing Justice

Picturing Justice was the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture hosted by John Denvir at the University of San Francisco Law School.  Although the Journal is no longer accepting new articles, the archive remains accessible and includes movie reviews, TV show reviews and news and editorials.  There is plenty here to feed an interest in incorporating popular cultural resources and themes into the classroom.

Kudos to John for his fine work over the years. I was sad to see the Journal close. I can't help but wonder if there is interest out there, in ALSB or elsewhere, to coordinate more scholarly discusion of Law and Popular Culture issues. Is there any interest out there in starting a new version of Picturing Justice?


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eyewitness Reliability

This video illustrates another reson to be concerned about the reliability of eyewitness testimony.  See, also, this earlier post.