Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, June 28, 2013

I really hate to be breaking someone else's rice bowl, and in this particular case it is even more awkward because it involves the friend of a friend. Even so, I'm collecting useless law schools, and I just came across another. The other day I pointed Outside Counsel readers to an excellent piece written by UB law professor Lucinda Finley and  John G. Culhane, a professor of law at Widener University and director of its Health Law Institute. As it happens, I'm sort of familiar with Professor Culhane's work:  he is doing interesting stuff. (See, e.g.)

I was not familiar with Widener University however, so I did a little poking around. Widener, it turns out, has two campuses, one Harrisburg and one in Delaware. Citing a website called The Faculty Lounge (which may or may not be a credible source--) Wikipedia reports that 38.7% of the Class of 2012 was employed in full-time, long-term positions requiring bar admission. Widener's Class of 2010 graduated with an average debt of $111,909, which places Widener in the mid-range of student loan debt compared to Pennsylvania's other private law schools (Villanova, $122,410;Dickinson, $117,989; Penn, $105,297; Duquesne, $88,908, Drexel, $32,260) -- slightly above the national average.
So, a student who attends Widener has a 1 in 3 shot at a law job. That's any law job-- not a fancy law job-- and the average debt load-- non-dischargable debt-- is north of $100k. Now consider this: law school-- any law school-- does not prepare any one to enter the business of practicing law. Young law graduates who pass the bar (Widener does okay on bar passage rates: 80%) really are in no position to hang out a shingle. The culture of law in the US expects that young lawyers will serve an apprenticeship of sorts. At one time this meant that lawyers in the top 10%-20% of their classes-- the law review students, with the high end skimmed off to do judicial clerkships and become academics (1%? Not as much as 5% I'm sure)-- going to large firms and making significant salaries. Remember-- even for those young lawyers this is still a process. The majority will not become partners at their white shoe firms. Also, the white shoe firms that pay the sorts of salaries that we read about really don't hire from schools like Widener. Even UB doesn't place very deeply in the places that are paying six figures to new hires . Smaller firms pay less-- quite a bit less in many or most instances. Used to be that public sector gigs were a good place for young lawyers who were below the top 20%-- but those jobs used to cycle open pretty regularly. Now they don't. People in the top 20% are glad to get them-- they are stable-- and they tend to stay in them.

One other point. Students who go from undergraduate programs directly into law school know nothing-- nothing-- about anything. They simply have no experience to impart any value to the legal advice that they are licensed to dispense.

With rare exceptions going to law school is more like playing basketball at a D III school in the hope of catching on in the NBA than it is like any other career path. So even though Widener has a faculty member who is doing good, valuable work in an important field, I really have to question whether this is a necessary law school.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Seneca casino in downtown Buffalo has been an ongoing subject of interest at Outside Counsel: we like the interesting jurisdictional and statutory issues, and the backroom political intrigue, and-- of course-- the naked stupidity of doing a deal with a party against whom there can be no legal recourse. ArtVoice has a good Bruce Fisher piece about the present status of the matter. I was out past the site last weekend: the cranes are up, and there is a lot of activity. Like the camel's nose, once you have an Indian casino you are always going to have to live with it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Good op-ed in the NYTimes the other day by my friend Lucinda Finley, proposing a gun violence victims' compensation fund paid for by a mandatory tax on gun sales. My legislative agenda is probably different from that of most people, but gun control is in the top three I'd say, along with doing something to fix the now broken Voting Rights Act.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

With the most recent volume of Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson biography still ringing in my mind (the last two, actually) today's Supreme Court decision kicking the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the curb sickens me. It was a nearly impossible mountain to climb when it was enacted, and the rational for dispensing with it is an utter fiction. The fact that Congress re-authorized the Act 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate seven years ago is blithely waived off. This is, simply stated, a naked usurpation of legislative authority by the Court.

The Washington Post has a map that shows which states were required to submit changes in voting rules for pre-clearence; they are the states you'd expect. More interesting is the list of individual jurisdictions that were covered. For instance, Bronx County, Kings County and New York County. And Monterrey County, California.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gnawing at the back of my mind is the thought that the United States is perilously close to becoming something that we -- or at least I-- never thought it could or would. This Snowden thing, for example: doesn't that seem like the way a lot of places treat their dissidents? If Snowden were from Burma, wouldn't we be thinking of him in an entirely different way?

I love working on Buffalo Spree's annual Best Of issue. The magazine takes the process very seriously, and although the participating staff are named at the start of the section the individual pieces are not assigned bylines in order to emphasize that the selections are not the personal favorites of the individual writers. One of the things that I enjoy about the writing is that it gives me an opportunity to write about topics that are somewhat outside of my usual brief. I'd like to think that my hypothetical ideal reader would be able to pick out the pieces I write for the issue, even though I make an effort to conform to a sort of house style. Since my ideal reader doesn't exist, and since I had forgotten myself what I wrote this time, a list: Best Local Scandal, Best Bike Path, Best Facebook Posts Best Columnist, Must-See Art Exhibition of 2012, Best 2012 Concert in a Small Music Venue. I think that's all of them. What were the Best Ofs? Well, that's something you'll have to buy the magazine to find out

Friday, June 21, 2013

So, driving LCA home last night I was talking about the Spree Best Of party, and how the part I like best about it is people telling me that they enjoyed something I've written. "I suppose my writing is the thing I am most vain about," I said. A said, "I'm not going near that," and LCA immediately texted her sisters to poll them on what constitutes my greatest vanity.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chet Flippo was one of my favorite music journalists, and now he is dead. Great art creates great critics, don't you think? The height of American literature featured Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway-- and Edmund Wilson, Clifton Fadiman, Cleanth Brooks.... So too with jazz, rock and roll, and its anticedents. Reading Flippo's writing was a pleasure akin to listening to the artists he wrote about. This may be the best thing I've ever read about the Rolling Stones. This explained Dolly Parton to me when I just didn't get what made her great. His Hank Williams biography is terrific. Of course he understood Willie Nelson. When a writer who's work you admire dies the first thing that comes to mind is that there won't be any more work with that byline. I'm going to miss Flippo.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The other day LCA mentioned that she'd never seen a James Bond movie, so we've sort of embarked an a survey. The idea is to see which Bond is her Bond ("Like the different Doctors in Doctor Who," she said.) My Bond is Sean Connery, so we started with Thunderball; last night I had a look at Moonraker, which I'd managed to miss all these years. Roger Moore isn't as bad as he is sometimes accused of being, although Moonraker....

Here's the thing: Bond movies are, in one way, a genre unto themselves, and in another way are so genre-defining that it is difficult to see them for what they are. They defy auteur theory. Lots and lots of movie critics will tell you that Jaws was paradigm-shifting in the way that it created the summer blockbuster, but the Bond movies created that template years earlier. Good Smithy that she is, LCA is put off by the casual misogyny-- she lacks the critical acuity that would allow her to recognize that  this is as critical to the narratives as the quips and the gadgets. Thrillers that have followed the Bond movies all acknowledge them: John le Carré's work is a reaction to Bond-- Smiley is the anti-Bond, really.

I think next we'll try the George Lazenby On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Monday, June 17, 2013

This is the sort of thing that makes Dick Cheney so adorable:
"As revelations about the NSA continue to trickle out from the haul of secrets leaked by Fox News Sunday, before floating a theory that Snowden is actually a Chinese spy."
Edward Snowden, including unsurprising confirmation that the U.S. spies on frenemy nations like China, so do elaborate condemnations of his actions. "I think it's one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the United States," said former vice-president Dick Cheney yesterday on
Yeah, because Scooter Libby was a patriot. 

Buffalo is "a marvelous environment for coincidence."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

This is great:
ANY reasonable observer might have thought Bill Millin was unarmed as he jumped off the landing ramp at Sword Beach, in Normandy, on June 6th 1944. Unlike his colleagues, the pale 21-year-old held no rifle in his hands. Of course, in full Highland rig as he was, he had his trusty skean dhu, his little dirk, tucked in his right sock. But that was soon under three feet of water as he waded ashore, a weary soldier still smelling his own vomit from a night in a close boat on a choppy sea, and whose kilt in the freezing water was floating prettily round him like a ballerina's skirt.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

This post, at Byzantium's Shores, gets it exactly right. Another way to think about it might be that legal systems resemble mathematical systems, at least to the extent that both can be said to be subject to Godel's incompleteness theorem. Arguments about social policy that rely exclusively on the text of the Constitution are a form of question-begging, and should not be tolerated except to the extent that they are arguments that are made within the context of the system itself. I could, for example, argue to a judge that people should not be allowed to protest political decisions made by the President because such protests create the risk of social disruption. Maybe they do, but the judge would reject that argument because its reasoning occurs outside of the legal context in which the courts operate. Even if the judge agreed with me, it would be error to hold in my favor, because the judge is bound to operate exclusively within the boundaries that the law-- in this example, the Constitution-- defines.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fridays are Law Days (sometimes) at Outside Counsel, so I thought I'd bring this Gil Thorp storyline to your attention. Two of my principal academic interests are Discovery and the portrayal of lawyers in popular media, and here we have an unusual example of  the two intersecting.* Gil Thorp is a strip about a high school coach. Typically it follows the seasons: fall is football, winter is hoops, and spring is baseball. In the summer different things happen-- for a while Gil's assistant coach solved mysteries. This particular storyline is, believe it or not, baseball related. The sons of the plaintiff's lawyer and the defendant here play on the team together, and this lawsuit is a source of interpersonal conflict. The lawsuit here arises from a slip-and-fall in front of a convenience store. I have to admit, this is the weirdest thing I think I have ever seen in the funnies. I like depositions, and they are at the heart of  American legal process, but if you want to see three panels about why nobody under 50 reads newspapers here it is.

* Another example, for anyone else who finds this interesting-- Hello? Where'd everybody go?-- can be found in the movie about Facebook, The Social Network.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Superman problem is well-known: if he is as powerful as all that, where's the dramatic tension? Over the years Kal-El has become more and more powerful, and the problem becomes more and more pronounced. It can be dealt with by giving him friends who are vulnerable: the complicated solution to this is for Superman to have a secret identity, and then hilarious complications ensue. He can be given vunerabilities: Kryptonite was introduced in 1943, five years after the Man of Steel made his first appearance, and it has proved to be a pretty good McGuffin over the years. The Last Son of Krypton is also vulnerable to magic. That's Mr. Mxyzptlk's dodge, although I personally think that magic is made up. The only other thing left is stronger bad guys, and for my money the best of the lot has to be Brainiac. He's wicked evil, and way smart, and he has a unique look as well. I mean, a pink polo shirt, Speedo and boots! C'mon! Only an android could pull that off. Lex Luthor gets all the attention, but Brainiac rocks.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

For no good reason--seriously, no reason at all, honest-- I have often mused over where I'd hole up if I were forced to flee the jurisdiction. Of course, my thoughts on the subject are necessarily dependent upon the reason for my hypothetical departure-- as Edward Snowden is discovering it is one thing when the United States is the bad guy looking for you, and another thing altogether if it is, say, a robot from the future. Since we now know that the NSA reads everything (including, I guess, Outside Counsel) you'll find no clues in these pages, although the must-to-avoids referenced here would be poor places to start. Like David Byrne I feel as though some portion of my life has been spent trying to find a city to live in-- but I suppose in a pinch I could lay low in some crofter's cottage as well.
UPDATE: Pro tips.

Friday, June 07, 2013

To The Hold Steady at Thursdays at Canalside, a venue that I like more every time I go. It had rained hard all day, and the skies did not look promising, but we cowboyed up and caught the show that the rest of this summer's concerts will have to live up to.

Of course, it helps that Craig Finn and the boys have been a band that I've loved for a while now. As I said to Captain X last night, even though their songs aren't really about my life, or what my life was ever like, much, they sound as though they might be. The imaginary philosopher-punk that sometimes appears in my mind as my fictional alter-ego would be the kind of guy that would hang out with the guy whose girlfriend had a gift for the horses, and I've often wished I represented the cat who didn't get his phone call in "Sequestered in Memphis." There is a sincerity to The Hold Steady's songs that surpasses that of Bruce Springsteen, Finn's obvious influence. Their characters-- for the most part-- sound like people that they actually know or knew. With the Boss you don't get that as much. He sings a lot about lovable losers and romantic hoodlums and otherwise doomed characters, but you always get the feeling that Springsteen's pimps, whores and gangsters were really just people he saw at the bars his band was playing in-- he wouldn't have hung with those guys, because he was a musician*. Finn is too, but his characters aren't larger than life folk figures: they are mostly sad people whose anger and disapointment more or less sustains them as they careen from one stupid, bad choice after another, mostly on a nightly basis. "She was a damn good dancer, but she wasn't that great of a girlfriend"-- how do you resist that kind of writing? And oh yeah, they rock. "Literature with power chords," Christgau says, and I'll buy that. Seeing The Hold Steady is like an affirmation: they seem to love what they do, and they seem kindly disposed to their hoodrat audience.

* And then he turned into John Steinbeck. I don't want to exalt Craig Finn at Springsteen's expense-- but around the time Springsteen wrote, "And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat," I pretty much gave up on the idea of believing he was doing anything other than trying to make stuff scan. Nothing wrong with that-- I'll still turn up Thunder Road when it comes on, but we should really stop pretending that he is writing real-life, gritty stuff because it isn't the case, and hasn't been for years.

Sometimes it seems like this movie is my whole life:
Spade: (pointing) Give them Cairo.
Gutman: (chuckling) Well, by gad, sir.
Cairo: (incensed) And suppose we give them you or Miss O'Shaughnessy? How about that, huh?
Spade: You want the falcon. I've got it. The fall guy's part of the price I'm asking. As for Miss O'Shaughnessy, if you think she can be rigged for the part, I'm perfectly willing to discuss it with you.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

I mean, it is sad that Joey Covington is dead and all, but don't you think the saddest part is that the drummer for the Jefferson Airplane drove a Honda Civic?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

This is why the Mets can't have nice things. Buffalo was pretty good to the Metropolitans, and having your Triple A guys a $50 buck plane ride away is a pretty good deal. I don't have a clear sense of how things are working out with the Blue Jays so far, but this isn't really Jays country. People will go to Toronto and take in a Jays game, but the hockey rivalry between Buffalo and Toronto is such that it is hard for people here to get behind the idea that we are a minor league for a Canadian team. For the most part loyalties in the Nickel City run to the Yankees first, the Indians after that, probably some BoSox Johnny-come-latelys, and then probably the Mets. Being a Mets fan is an acquired taste. As Bill James once said:
The Houston Astros, I have decided, must be an acquired taste. You know what an acquired taste is, something like French cooking, modern sculpture, jazz, fat women, ballet, Scotch, Russian's hard to define. An acquired taste is a fondness for something the advantages of which are not immediately apparent. An acquired taste in my part of the country is painted saw blades. Do they have those where you are? You go to somebody's house and you discover that above their fireplace they've got a bunch of old, rusty saw blades with farm scenes painted on them, look like a hybrid of Currier and Ives and Norman Rockwell. I don't really understand what the advantages are of having them around, but I figure that they must be an acquired taste. Or like Charlie Chaplin. I mean, W.C. Fields is funny. The Marx Brothers are funny. Charlie Chaplin is an acquired taste.
***************************************************************** Acquired tastes have very subtle advantages. The expression "this must be an acquired taste" is quite useful, inasmuch as it can be adapted to hundreds of situations, meaning something a little different each time.
If you hear the expression "Must be an acquired taste," on leaving a French restaurant or any other restaurant in which the food costs more than $20 a pound and tastes as if the oregano was left out, what it means is "I suppose you'd rather have stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken, wouldn't you?"
On a date, if you hear the expression "Must be an acquired taste," what it means is "This is the last time I'm going out with this bozo."
In an art gallery, if you hear the expression "I guess it's an acquired taste," what it probably means is "What the hell are we doing here?"
If you're discussing a fondness for some particular poet, painter, playwright, or breed of dog with someone you are close to, and he or she says "I guess it's just an acquired taste," what that means is "I don't want to talk about it right now."
"It's an acquired taste" means either that I'm in the know and you're not, or that this is a particular type of sophistication to which the speaker does not Astros player looks pretty much like the next one.

Missed them when they opened for Dylan owing to the most elaborate security set-up I've ever seen at a concert, but Dawes' From A Window Seat is also a contender for my personal hit single of the summer.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Senator Frank Lautenberg dead. Chris Christie will appoint a successor, which means that the Senate will be 52-2-46 through November. (The two independents, Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Angus King (Maine) caucus with the Democrats, but I don't see a lot of work getting done from here out.) The winner of the replacement election only gets to fill the remainder of Lautenberg's term, which means that next year there will be another election for the full six year term. New Jersey elections are famously expensive because the state straddles the New York/Philadelphia media market. Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, had been planing a run at it-- Lautenberg, who was 89, had already announced that he wouldn't run again. I guess if Booker wants it he'll have a whack at running in November, but Lautenberg up and dying is a real stick in the spokes for him.

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