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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Who wants to be a law school dean?

Four law schools in Minnesota, and three are now in need of a permanent dean. This Monday Minnesota Lawyer takes a look at this unique situation and discusses some of the challenges of being a law school dean.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Debt relief for public-service workers

Kudos to President Bush and the U.S. Congress! That’s a tough thing to say these days, but I really mean it.

Amidst all the contention and argument over things like the Iraq War and the U.S. Attorneys' firings, Congress and the president have done something good -- passed legislation that allows lawyers and other individuals who go into public service some help in paying back their school-related debt.

As we’ve mentioned on this blog before, law students today are graduating with mounds of debt, sometimes nearing or even topping the $100,000 mark. That makes it almost impossible for those who want to go into lower-laying public service jobs -- like Legal Aid, public defense and prosecution work -- to actually follow their dreams. Instead, many are forced to accept the generally higher-paying private sector jobs in order to pay back their loans.

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which President Bush signed yesterday, would retire most or all of one’s federal student loan debt after 10 years of qualifying public service and timely repayment on their loans. It also provides special relief to many categories of public service, like the military, public safety, public education and some forms of social work.

The law is not perfect (they never are), but it’s at least a positive step forward in addressing the crises facing public-service law offices.

History for sale

I have been following with interest the recent news that a 13th Century copy of the Magna Carta -- one of the most important legal documents of all time -- is being sold by H. Ross Perot. H. Ross Perot??? The zany billionaire who went around the country with a bunch of pie charts during an ill-fated third-party campaign for president in 1992? It's not the fact that Perot is selling it that bothers me, but the fact that he owned it in the first place.

This copy of the Magna Carta is apparently one of the most valuable ones because it was the one actually entered on the statute books. Perot is expected to fetch between $20 million to $30 million dollars for it -- not bad since he only paid $1.5 million when he bought it.

The whole affair does give me a good idea about how to clear out the deficit. What if we just started selling historic documents. The Declaration of Independence? That will be $10 billion, Mr. Gates. What's that you say, Mr. Soros, you'd like to buy the U.S. Constitution? No problem. Would you like that with or without the Bill of Rights on the side?

I am not sure what the market is for historic documents from Minnesota, which won't even celebrate its 150th until next year. However if someone can produce an original copy of the state constitution for me, I would be happy to put it up for auction on eBay. Wouldn't it be cool if someone famous like
Paris Hilton bought it?

UPDATE: This post originally contained a link to an article in a U.K. newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, and repeated information reported in that article that Perot had purchased his Magna Carta from the present Earl of Cardigan in 1984. In fact, Perot procured the document from relatives of the 19th Century Earl of Cardigan, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

If it quacks like a duck, it must be cotton fabric

Bob Collins over at Polinaut is looking for confirmation on this urban legend found on many so-called "Stupid Laws" websites: It is illegal to cross the Minnesota-Wisconsin border with a duck on your head.

I'm going out on a limb here, but I say it's false. More than likely, this was a result of a gross misreading of Minn. Stat. 325F.37, which governs the sale of "cotton duck" — a plain woven cotton fabric. (You knew that, right?)

Still, this question gave me an excuse to visit snopes.com, the best urban legend researchers in the business. The duck issue isn't addressed, but I did learn that "Fargo" was not based on a true story, post-it notes were invented from a glue that no one could find a use for and suicide rates do not rise during the winter holidays.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That shingle just got a little pricier

Becoming a lawyer in Minnesota is about to become a slightly spendier proposition.

The Minnesota Supreme Court Monday approved a petition by the state Board of Law Examiners regarding fees related to admission to the state bar, effective Jan. 1.

For new lawyers, the cost of taking the bar exam will be $500, up from $400; for applicants missing the filing deadline, the cost rises from $550 to $650. For lawyers certified in other states and wishing to take the Minnesota bar exam, those fees rise $200 to $950 ($1,100 for late filers).

Also going up are the cost of repeat examinations, and applications for admission without examination. There is good news, though: If you withdraw your application for the bar exam in time, your partial refund rises from $125 to $150.

The increase is understandable, given the dramatic rise in exam applicants recently -- a record 906 this past July. With all the talk about a glut of new lawyers and the shrinking market for attorneys, maybe the fee increases will weed out a handful of folks who were on the fence about practicing law.

For the rest, it might mean grinding out a few extra billable hours in their first year of practice to make up the difference.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Disaster Services: The Manual

Lately the Minnesota landscape seems to be about one disaster after another -- from the bridge collapse, to floods to thunderstorms of epochal proportions. It will surely give our readers some peace of mind to know that there's a one-stop source for legal information -- A Disaster Legal Services Manual -- available on the Web.

The manual is the product of the Minnesota State Bar Association Young Lawyers Section and derives from a contract that the American Bar Association has with FEMA to provide legal services, according to MSBA President Brian Melendez (right).

The way things have been going lately, you might want to print it out and store it in a safe place.

Are lawyers' job prospects dimming?

Although the Wall Street Journal law blog undoubtedly has a vast readership, only a small fraction of visitors to any blog actually take the time to comment. Don't get me wrong, the WSJ Law Blog still gets a goodly number of comments by blog standards. I haven't done a scientific research study, but a typical post on the site may garner 20 to 40 comments.

That was not the case yesterday when the blog put up a post entitled, "The Dark Side of the Legal Job Market." By this morning, 379 comments had been made to the post. Why so much interest in this one post? Here is a taste of it:

For elite law-school grads, prospects have never been better. But the majority
of JDs are suffering from long-term economic trends are suppressing pay and job
growth. The result: Graduates who don’t score at the top of their class are
struggling to find well-paying jobs to make payments on law-school debts that
can top $100,000. Some are taking temporary contract work, reviewing documents
for as little as $20 an hour, without benefits. And many are blaming their law
schools for failing to warn them about the dark side of the job market.

The post was based on on a page 1 story on the legal job market in the WSJ. "Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers: Growth of Legal Sector Lags Broader Economy; Law Schools Proliferate."

Here in Minnesota, we have four law schools pumping out a growing number of job-seeking lawyers. We are approaching the point of minting 1,000 new lawyers a year, many of them knee-deep in student debt. This summer, a record number of test takers sat for the state bar exam. Future lawyers may face uncertain prospects -- particularly if they do not finish in the top 10 percent of their class and do not go to what is considered a "top tier" law school. It's certainly grounds for concern, and something that should be discussed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Seattle suit has a familiar ring

This lawsuit should sound a little familiar to any Minnesotan who roots for the Twins:

Seattle city officials filed a lawsuit today to keep the SuperSonics from leaving town, the Associated Press Reports. The lawsuit filed was a counter move to a the basketball team's attempt to be released from their lease on KeyArena. According to the complaint, "The Sonics promised to 'play all home games ... exclusively"' at the arena at the Seattle Center through Sept. 30, 2010. (Click here for the full AP article.)

Remember a few years back when the Twins were threatening to leave town and the Metrodome filed suit to enforce the team's lease obligation? Arguing for the landlord, Minneapolis attorney Corey Ayling prevailed, preventing the Twins from uprooting. (Minnesota Lawyer selected Ayling an Attorney of the Year in 2002 in recognition of his efforts.) Ultimately, the Twins got the state to pony up for a new stadium, so the team is now here for the long haul.

Every time you see the Twins play, you can thank Ayling. On second thought, they way they have played this season, don't.

Blog name slaughtered?

Former Star Tribune media reporter Deborah Rybak -- whom we have blogged about here before -- has joined forces with Brian Lambert at the blog formerly known as Lambert to the Slaughter (see "Rybak to the Slaughter"). The header on the blog now reads: "Brian Lambert & Deborah Rybak To the Slaughter."

Rybak -- a well-respected veteran reporter -- will no doubt be an excellent addition to the blog, which is already a must read for those interested in the doings of the local media. However, I cannot help lamenting the havoc the name change wreaks on the whole "lamb to the slaughter" reference. It really gets my goat. I know. I know. That was really baaaaaaaad.

The yoke's on federal judge; Minnesota cited Seuss first

The Associated Press carried a piece over the weekend about a federal judge in New Hampshire who wrote a rhyming decision as an homage to Dr. Seuss after the judge received a hard-boiled egg in his mailbox from an inmate. And to which Dr. Seuss classic did the judge turn for inspiration? I probably don't even have to tell you that it was "Green Eggs and Ham."

"I do not like eggs in the file," the judge wrote. "I do not like them in any style. I will not take them fried or boiled. I will not take them poached or broiled. I will not take them soft or scrambled/Despite an argument well-rambled." (Click here for more.)

The federal judge was taking a page (sorry for the pun) from Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page (right), who once quoted Dr. Seuss in the footnote of a high court decision. (The case -- decided in 1999 -- was Koehnen v. Dufour, et al.) In footnote 43 of that decision, Page cited to a different Seuss classic, "Horton Hears a Who."

I do not know whether the "egg" judge was aware of Page's prior Seuss reference, but personally I think the whole idea was poached from Minnesota.

Schwebel likes the view from the top of the IDS

Rochelle Olson has an interesting piece in today's Star Tribune on the lawyers handling the 35W bridge collapse litigation ("Lawyers seek cause in preparing for lawsuits").

As we have blogged here before, there is a group of local lawyers handling some of the victims' cases pro bono, and then there is Jim Schwebel (right) and his firm, Schwebel, Goetz and Sieben, handling the cases of a number of the victims -- reportedly 19 -- under the the typical contingent-fee arrangement.

While the pro bono effort is laudable in that it will help some of the victims, I also do not have any problem with a good personal-injury firm charging for representation. It's what they are in business to do, isn't it?

That said, I am not sure Schwebel is doing the image of P.I. lawyers much of a favor by having quotes like the one that concludes the Strib piece: "We wouldn't be on the top floor of the IDS building if we made a lot of bad judgments as to which cases to get involved in," Schwebel humbly told the Strib.

Hmmm. So much for the meek inheriting the Earth. In any event, I thought Eva Gabor (left) in the theme song from the TV show 'Green Acres' expressed Schwebel's underlying sentiment far more eloquently: "I just adore a penthouse view/ Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue."