Monday, October 31, 2011

Business Ethics: "Dead Peasant" Insurance Policies

"Dead Peasant" insuarnce policies are "common."  Are they ethical?  students may be interested in considering the ramifications of companies cashing in on the death of rank and file employees.  Something seems amiss when a company recognizes that being a convenience store clerk working at night is such a dangerous job that it is financially justified in buying a life policy on its employees - but feels no obligation to purchase a policy for the employee's own benefit or even to offer the employee the opportunity to purchase one for herself.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Law Music Video - Not Guilty Blues

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Not Guilty Blues by Brownie McGhee. There's nothing like a wrongful prosecution to cause one to sing the blues. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Introduction to Torts . . . or is it "Sorts?"

Professor Robert Emerson at the University of Florida maintains a YouTube channel with a host of delightful videos, many featuring his unique talents for student engagement. I use the video below to introduce the Torts unit in my Legal Environment class. If you visit Professor Emerson's channel, you are certain to find a video resource that will enhance your class presentations.  Thank you, Prof. Emerson, for sharing these valuable resources with your colleagues by making them available on the web.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Law Lessong - You Owed a Duty to Me

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is You Owed a Duty to Me. The lyrics for this song were written by Asley Dorman, a student in my Legal and Ethical Environment of Business class at the Univeristy of Connecticut. Students may submit law songs for credit. In order to fashion a rhyming scheme that matches a melody, a student must carefully examine and distill legal principles and the language that expresses the legal principles. This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation helps students consider the element of "duty" in a negligence claim as a basis for civil liability.

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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"It's Not What You Know, It's What You Can Prove in Court"

Students seem to be quite familiar with the movie Law Abiding Citizen and from time to time send me clips to illustrate a point.  I have not seen the movie, but from some of the scenes that I have viewed there seems to be a lot of action and swearing. The courtroom scenes that I have viewed exhibit that liberties have been taken in portrayals of the legal system.  Yet, the short clip embedded below rang true for me.  If it speaks to students, all the better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Featured Website: The Georgia Civil Justice Foundation

The Georgia Civil Justice Foundation maintains a website with a wealth of materials to assist in educating students about the law. I have made regular use of their videos and animations, accessed by scrolling over the book titles on the bookshelf exhibited at the webpage.  Some of the videos are available at a YouTube channel, if that gives you more flexibility in using these resources.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ponzi Scheme Lawyer: What Does This Story Say About the Profession?

Upon viewing the 60 Minutes report on NY lawyer Marc Dreier's ponzi scheme a cold chill ran up my spine. The video was brought to my attention by Mark Spurling, a colleague at the University of Connecticut.  Mark uses the video for a discussion of Business Ethics in his Legal Environment class.  I hope to use the video in the class that I teach for freshman honors students entitled, Law and Lawyers in Song and Story.  In that class we examine popular cultural representations of the legal profession and the legal system and compare them to reality.  A recurring exercise in that class is to analyze various movie character lawyers as either "good lawyers" or "bad lawyers" in an effort to distill out the characteristics of each designation.

While viewing this video, I couldn't help but think that the qualities that made Dreier a "good" lawyer may also have served him well in his criminal enterprise. What does that revelation say about the legal profession?

Click on the image below to be linked to the video:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Law Music Video - I Might Have Been a Lawyer But I Couldn't Pass the Bar

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is I Might Have Been a Lawyer But I Couldn't Pass the Bar by Bill Kirchen. Bill was the lead guitarist for Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, if anyone can remember that far back. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Story of Citizens United

The video below was shared on the ALSB listserve some time ago.  Unfortunately, I don't remember who shared it so I can't acknowledge the credit that is well deserved . Since this blog has a potential reach beyond the ALSB membership and the video is now available on YouTube, I am embedding it below.

I think that there are a number of ways to use this video in class.  I use it in an ethics lecture, emphasizing the video's description of the history of the corporation and leading into a discussion about different ethical standards and considerations for human persons and corporations (fictional persons).

To aid in discussing the Citizens United v. FEC case, I have also added below a trailer for the movie Hillary and an ad for the prospective DVD release of the movie that prompted Citizens United to seek judicial determination of its rights.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Featured Case: Pennsylvania v. Noel: Is a Horse a "Vehicle?"

Here are the facts from the majority opinion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Noel:

On April 7, 2002, the Pennsylvania State Police stopped Appellees Richard Carroll Noel and Keith Douglas Travis while they were riding horses on a public highway in Springfield Township, Mercer County because they appeared to be intoxicated. Appellees were subsequently charged with Driving While Under the Influence of Alcohol ("DUI").

The relevant part of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code states as follows:

Every person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this part, except those provisions of this part which by their very nature can have no application or where specifically provided otherwise.

The defense argued that "by their very nature" the DUI provisions did not apply to horseback riders.  The trial court stated that it could not clearly determine what provisions "by their very nature" did not apply to horseback riders and, therefore, the statute is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the due process clause.

I like this case for class for two reasons. First, it is a "two-fer."  The case is a natural to illustrate two legal principles. I use it to explain the requirement under substantive due process that a criminal statute must give unambiguous "fair warning" of the conduct that has been criminalized. I also use it to explain the need for statutory interpretation by courts.  As is often the case, a statute which seems reasonably clearly written when read in a vaccuum, becomes noticeably ambiguous when applied to a challenging set of facts. Therefore, the court's interpretation is necessary.

Second, there is an witty dissent in the case written by Mr. Justice Eakin. After opening his opinion by quoting the theme song to Mr. Ed, a 1960's sitcom about a talking horse, Justice Eakin summarizes his rationale by composing it to the Mr. Ed theme. (Here is another link to the dissent.)

Here is a short clip to illustrate to your students the premise of the show, Mr. Ed:

Here is the Mr. Ed theme song:
And here is the excerpt from Mr. Justice Eakin's dissent set to music:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Featured Case: Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon

In this contract law classic, Justice Benjamin Cardozo of the NY Court of Appeals establishes the doctrine of an implied obligation of good faith. Here is the hornbook brief summary of the case: Lady Duff Gordon is a fashion designer.  Otis Wood is a NY advertising man.  They enter into a written contract whereby Gordon grants Wood exclusive rights to market and sell her goods and Wood agrees to account to Gordon for 1/2 of the proceeds. Eventually, Gordon begins to endorse products marketed by others and Wood files suit for breach of contract. Gordon claims that Wood's promise is illusory -as he has not bound himself to actually try to sell her fashions, but merely to account for profits, if any. Cardozo determines that serious business peole would not have taken the time to negotiate such an agreement if they had not intended some perfomance. He finds expressions of implied intent to perfom on Wood's behalf:  His promise to pay the defendant one-half of the profits and revenues resulting from the exclusive agency and to render accounts monthly, was a promise to use reasonable efforts to bring profits and revenues into existence.

So, the case is interesting and illustrative for class.  But, this is just the beginning.  If you like to personalize cases - to help students understand that these cases involve real people making real decisions, the resources available to you are plentiful. Start with an article by Columbia Law Professor Victor Goldberg. Goldberg looks at the historical evidence to conclude that, ironically, the shrewd Wood had probably carefully crafted the Gordon contract so as to refrain from binding himself to performance - precisely the course of conduct that Cardozo concluded was unlikely. However, for me, his historical information on the principal players in the litigation is even more valuable than his insightful legal analysis.

Through his paper we learn that Otis Wood was one of somewhere between 14-17 children of colorful NY Mayor Fernando Wood.  Father Fernando was famous for, among other things, having supported the Confederate cause during the Civil War. A loyal Tammany Hall Democrat, Fernando later served in Congress from NY.  Other exploits of the colorful Wood family are documented online. Read here about Otis's involvement in the estate of his aunt Ida Mayfield Wood.

For her part, Lucy Lady Duff Gordon had already lived through at least one major disaster prior to the Wood business debacle. Lucy and her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, survived the sinking of the Titanic, but not without controversy. Her story is dramatized in the video below. There is a wealth of images of Lady Duff Gordon available on the web - here at the Encyclopedia Titanica, and here. I was unable to find any images of Otis F. Wood. But here you will find an image of a drawing book most certainly produced by Wood's lithography company in NY.

In 2008, the Pace Law Review published results of a symposium on this interesting case.  Other useful articles may be found here and here  and here.

Image of Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon from:

Lady Duff Gordon, the leading fashion designer of the Edwardian age.

Image from:

Imageof Lady Duff Gordon (third from left) and Sir Cosmo (standing directly behind her)  from:

This is a  photograph of Titanic survivors Laura Francatelli, standing second right, and her employers Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, standing 3rd left, and Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, standing directly behind LadyLucy, standing on the rescue ship Carpathia, made available by auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son on Thursday Oct. 7, 2010. Francatelli heard a terrible rumbling noise, then anguished cries for help as her rowboat pulled away from the sinking ocean linerTitanic that dreadful night in 1912. Photo: AP

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Unconscionability as Introduced by Professor Sam

The video below is merely one of many made available by former ALSB Master Teacher Award Winner Professor Samuel Hodge at Temple University.  Professor Hodge maintains a YouTube channel hosting a number of usefully entertaining videos.  He also maintians an interactive website providing additional resources. Thank you, Prof. Hodge, for making these delightful teaching resources available to all your colleagues by uploading them to the web.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Law Music Video - Condemned Without Trial

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Condemned Without Trial by Eddie Arnold. Ok, its a little campy, but variety is supposed to be the spice of life - and it's less than 3 minutes long. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rulemaking Matters! Let Your Voice be Heard

In 2010, the EPA conducted a contest seeking video submissions on the topic "Rulemaking Matters." The video was required to include the spoken or written phrase "Let your voice be heard." many of the submissions can be easily found on YouTube by searching either of the quoted catchphrases above.

This one was the winner.

Here is another useful one.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Workplace Safety: "Where, Oh Where Did My Hearing Go?"

Here is some plain talk (and singing) from a plain talking guy about the importance of following workplace saftey regulations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Law Lessong - The Offer's Real

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is The Offer’s Real. This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation helps students consider the elements that are needed to distinguish a contract offer from mere negotiation or inquiry. 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.

Monday, October 10, 2011

ESPN Punts And Hank Williams, Jr. Fumbles

After publicly comparing President Obama to Hitler, Hank Williams, Jr. was dropped by ESPN as the introductory performer to the popular Monday Night Football broadcasts. In response, Williams made this comment:

After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made my decision. By pulling my opening Oct. 3, you (ESPN) stepped on the toes of the First Amendment freedom of speech, so therefore me, my song and all my rowdy friends are out of here. It’s been a great run.

Like many of my students, Mr. Williams has no idea that the First Amendment applies only to government censorship of speech. People, which includes major corporations according to the Supreme Court, are free to object to one's speech, by speaking (or acting) as they see fit.  That is the theory of the free marketplace of ideas.  Speech which has little value will be valued little. I am free to express my opinion in response to yours. And ESPN is free to express its opinion of  Mr. Williams' speech by disassociating itself from him.

In the event that anyone was listening, Sarah Palin was quoted as saying that it is "disgusting" that people are criticized for the things that they say. There's another public figure who needs a primer on free speech.

Below are some powerpoint slides of an exercise that I have used in class to illustrate these points. But first, are you ready for some footbaaaawl?

Free Speech Exercise

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Law Music Video - Remain Silent

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Remain Silent by Keb Mo.  The pictures in the video are beautiful, but don't have anything to do with the song.  However, this is the best audio version of the song available.  Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Guest Blogger: Donna Steslow - Causation Explained by a Rube Goldberg Music Video

Donna Steslow at Kutztown University submitted the following:

I am always trying to explain the concept of a Rube Goldberg type machine when discussing the Palsgraf case and proximate cause, but students have no idea what that is. I think this music video is great; it could illustrate the difference between causation in fact, proximate cause and foreseeability. Is the last step (getting doused with paint) foreseeable?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Van Morrison Completes His Contractual Obligation

I don't know how much of this story is legend but clearly the core of it is verifiable. In late 1967, singer/songwriter Van Morrison was interested in leaving Bang Records, the label to which he was contractually obligated, in favor of Warner Brothers records.  However, Morrison still owed Bang thirty-one solo recordings to meet his contractual obligation. So, Morrison went into the studio with his guitar and in a single session pumped out 31 solo recordings, consisting of Morrison strumming various riffs on his guitar and singing or speaking whatever was on his mind. Titles of the songs (below), which were never released by Bang, are revealing.  Bang expected some bang for their buck. Instead, they got . . . "Ringworm?"


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eyewitness Testimony Examined

This term, the US Supreme Court will be re-examining the rules regarding the admission of eyewitness testimony. Scientific studies have increasingly called the inherent reliability of eyewitnesses into question.  The NJ Courts have already taken action in this regard.

Here are links to some prior posts that also address this issue.  Eyewitness Reliability #1.  Eyewitness Reliability #2.

Click on the image below to see a scene from My Cousin Vinny where Atty. Vincent LaGuardia Gambino exposes the mistaken recollections of an eyewitness.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Guest Blogger: Henry Lowenstein - Gibbons v Ogden: Steamships, Slaves and Supremacy

Every term I assign 4 cases for my Legal Environment of Business class for students to read the majority opinion and write a 2 page mini-brief summary.  The first one is usually a Commerce Clause case since we start the course on foundations of the law.   This year I decided to use the old war horse, Gibbons v. Ogden.

In perusing the internet I found this wonderful YouTube video which is a 35 minute dramatization of the case done by the Judicial Conference of the United States in 1977.  (The late actor E.G. Marshall introduces it).  It can be a little dry at times but I sent it to my students.

The students who took the time to watch it say they were fascinated, particularly my African-American students who had no idea of the critical linkage between the Marshall Court making this decision and the post hysteria and unconstitutional law enactments here in South Carolina following the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy at that time.  Below is what I sent my students:

Dear Students:

I have heard from some of you working your way through the Supreme Court decision in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden, your first case assignment coming up shortly.

For those of you interested I draw your attention to an outstanding 35 minutes dramatization of this case on YouTube at the following site:

This program, commissioned by the Judicial Conference of the United States in 1977, covers the issues and deliberations Chief Justice John Marshall and the then 7 member justices faced and how they ultimately crafted the unanimous decision you are reading.   Note as you watch it, the similarity between the issues and concerns then with what you hear in today's public debate on the role of the Federal government and its regulation of commerce.

What you may find more fascinating, is that the Court took this case as a legal linkage in dealing with events of the time happening in Charleston, South Carolina; the Denmark Vesey Slave Revolt Conspiracy of 1822 and its aftermath. That event led to a cruel and inflexible state law governing seamen passed by South Carolina which many felt impeded commerce.  One of the Justices, sitting as presiding Federal Judge over the region declared the South Carolina law unconstitutional. This helped push Chief Justice Marshall and the full Supreme Court to strongly affirm Federal supremacy over interstate commerce in Gibbons v. Ogden to deal with both situations.

I hope you will find this helpful, interesting and the acting superb.

Henry Lowenstein, PhD
Professor of Management and Law 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Law Music Video - Call The Police

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Call The Police by Nat King Cole.  This is a Classic! Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.