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Friday, March 7, 2008

MPR reports on unionization attempt at AG's Office

Minnesota Public Radio today reports on the labor issues at the Minnesota Attorney General's Office that have been discussed extensively on this blog.

It has seemed extremely odd to me that most of the local general media -- particularly the Star Tribune -- has shirked its responsibility to report on what is going on in the AG's Office. I too like a lot of the external initiatives that Lori Swanson has undertaken as AG, but that does not mean that you don't provide at least of modicum of coverage to the serious internal strife going on within the office. It's our job as journalists.

On several occasions, I have compared the level of media scrutiny given to the management issues at the AG's Office with the level of media scrutiny given the management of the U.S. Attorney's Office under Republican-appointee Rachel Paulose. It isn't even close. Paulose was essentially driven from office by a barrage of negative media coverage. Meanwhile, the Strib as near as I can figure hasn't reported since May 2007 on the tribulations at the office of a DFL AG, despite allegations of harsh management practices and union-busting. It's hard not to view that as a double standard.

In any event, it will hopefully help now that things are more out in the open at the AG's Office. The people in favor of a union -- several of whom I have met in my travels -- do not strike me as motivated by anything other than concern about their working conditions and how they impact their job. If anything, some come across as a bit apologetic for having had to take the route they have, but honestly feel a union is the best alternative for the office.

I have no particular dog in the hunt as to whether or not there should be a union in the AG's Office -- there are both advantages and disadvantages to unions. I do believe that the employees there should be treated fairly regardless of whether they are in a union. I also believe employees making a union decision have the right to be left in peace to make that decision. If any of the alleged interference is still going on, it should cease immediately. Hopefully, sunlight will prove to be the badly needed disinfectant to this situation and lead to a workable solution.

UPDATE (11;55 a.m.): MinnPost reports on situation at AG's Office.

Lawyers group to honor immigrants

The Minnesota/Dakotas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association is sponsoring the Immigrant of Distinction Award, which will honor immigrants who have contributed to their community and/or profession.

The AILA is a national association of 12,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. The MN/Dakota chapter has more than 2,000 members. Members represent U.S. families who have applied for permanent residence for their spouses, children and other close relatives to lawfully enter and reside in the United States. They also represent U.S. businesses and industries who sponsor highly-skilled foreign workers seeking to enter the United States in a temporary or permanent basis. AILA members also represent foreign students, entertainers, athletes and asylum seekers, often on a pro-bono basis.

With the immigration debate continuing to make local and national headlines, it’s refreshing to see that something is being done to remind us of the great contributions immigrants have made to our society, as well as the contributions they continue to make.

The recipient of the award will be honored at the Minnesota/Dakotas AILA Chapter Annual Dinner in May 2008. Applications are due by March 15, 2008. For an application form, please contact Darlene Dehmer at ddehmer@fredlaw.com or (612) 492-7519.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What millennials want

I'm not a big fan of labeling generations.

Being called an Xer — the least popular letter in the alphabet and the bane of Scrabble players everywhere — doesn't exactly fill me hope and pride.

But these denominations do make for good survey material.

Robert Half International recently released a report called “What Millennial Workers Want” that surveyed 1,007 people ages 21 to 28. Happily, the results weren't terribly surprising.

What does Gen Y want? The same thing everybody else wants: financial security, job stability and career satisfaction.

But dig deeper, and there's some interesting information on what this group looks for in a job. On a scale of one to 10, respondents ranked the importance of several aspects of their working environment. Here's how the numbers shake out:

• Working with a manager I can respect and learn from (8.74)
• Working with people I enjoy (8.69)
• Having work/life balance (8.63)
• Having a short commute (7.55)
• Working for a socially responsible company (7.42)
• Having a nice office space (7.14)
• Working with state-of-the-art technology (6.89)

In other words, that iPod-listening employee who grew up with mouse-in-hand cares more about people than technology. Surprised?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nobody's home in SE Minnesota court offices

If you’re in southeastern Minnesota, and you’ve got business at the Winona County Courthouse this (Wednesday) morning….you might as well crawl back under the covers for a few hours.

Starting today, both the phones and the counters at the courthouse will sit unmanned every Wednesday between 8:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., a consequence of budget cuts in the Third Judicial District. In fact, thanks to a projected $300,000 budget shortfall, hours will be reduced in all 11 counties of that district.

The morning closings will affect Freeborn and Houston counties on Tuesdays; Winona, Mower and Olmsted counties on Wednesdays; Fillmore, Steele, and Waseca counties on Thursdays; and Dodge and Rice counties on Fridays.

Only access to court administration services will be reduced -- court hearings and trials will go on as scheduled.

Courts have come up with a number of creative ways to deal with budget deficits, such as Hennepin County’s self-help centers. But it’s a shame when the budget blues impact the accessibility of basic court services.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Judicial elections: The race for chief justice

It wouldn't officially be judicial campaign season without Greg Wersal filing a lawsuit. As Minnesota Lawyer reports today, Wersal has kicked things off in style with a federal lawsuit alleging a few of the remaining campaign restrictions violate the constitution. To paraphrase a famous quote about Boston Red Sox's Manny Ramirez, that's just Greg being Greg.

An interesting side note contained in the story is that he may launch a bid this year to be chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. (He identified himself in court pleadings as a future judicial candidate. Asked about it by Minnesota Lawyer, he archly replied: “I understand the chief justice is up for election.”)

Chief Justice Russell Anderson is one of three justices whose seats are up for election this year. Interestingly, it's not yet clear whether the chief justice actually plans to run. Anderson will reach mandatory retirement age in 2012, meaning that he could not complete his full six year term if he does decide to stand for election. Adding to the uncertainty, the two associate justices up for election -- Paul Anderson and Lorie Gildea -- have reportedly formed campaign committees. Meanwhile, things have been oddly quiet at the chief justice's camp.

If Anderson does decide not to run, the conventional wisdom would be that he would step down sometime before the election and let Gov. Tim Pawlenty appoint a successor, taking the slot out of the current election cycle. If, on the other hand, Anderson does run, it would be extremely tough for a challenger to beat him. The chief justice is scholarly, even-tempered and not very controversial.

Wanted: Skilled, energized new lawyers

A couple of news stories lately have raised some questions about what the profession can expect from its new lawyers, and what new lawyers will be available.

Corporate Counsel reported last week that larger law firms are losing 30 to 50 percent of associates after three to four years -- with half to two-thirds of the defections due to associate, not firm, choice. “Where do they go? Smaller firms, more competitive firms in the same city, firms in other cities, in-house, government, teaching, nonlegal jobs,” the report said.

Money and perks are increasing at many of the big firms, but retention isn’t. The article says that associates find the profession disappointing and demoralizing, and recommends “coherent, systematic, up-front law firm investment in young lawyer development programs within the firm, not fancier recruiting restaurants, to develop skilled, energized lawyers who can, and will, provide longer-term value to the firm -- and to the profession.”

But what young lawyers?

A report on law school enrollment by the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar showed that total enrollment by students seeking the J.D. degree increased only slightly during 2007-08, while enrollment of first-year students was nearly flat, compared to the previous year.

Broken out by gender, the ABA report further reveals that total enrollment of male students increased slightly but first-year male enrollment dipped, and total enrollment by females decreased despite a rise in the number of women students in the entering class. Minorities posted slight gains.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Headline of the month

Every now and then an editor gets to have real fun with a headline. For your amusement I have an example of such a headline for you. It was brought to my attention by Chuck Williams, editor of the American Bar Association's Supreme Court Preview. In this case, the source bears mentioning not only because I like to give credit where credit is due, but also because it is the only legal connection to a posting I am putting up strictly for your enjoyment.

The headline comes from an Associated Press article spotted in the Washington Post. The story is about individuals who cross a Korean river on a wire as they use a pole to keep their balance. The precarious practice is called skywalking; the people doing it cross alone without any assistance; and the name of the river is the Han.

Now you be the editor. What headline would you assign to that story?

To see what headline was actually published, click here.

Criminal defense attorneys know how to have fun

While other types of lawyers may disagree, I have always felt that nobody knows how to have fun like criminal defense attorneys when they let down their hair.

As proof, I offer from this week's Bar Buzz column in Minnesota Lawyer the following intriguing silent auction items that the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers will offer at the group's annual shindig next week:
  • A weekend for four at attorney Carolyn Agin Schmidt’s beachfront home in Duluth;
  • A 90-minute plane ride for three with attorney Jeff Sheridan;
  • A New Orleans dinner for six cooked in your home by attorney Caroline Durham;
  • Two 45-minute guitar/song sets by attorney Jim Sheehy at your next party;
  • A guided kayak trip to the Apostle Islands with attorney Brock Hunter;
  • A four-day stay in a three-bedroom Telluride Colorado Condo from attorney Fred Bruno. and
  • A neon statue of Lady Justice to decorate your office window from attorney Mike McGlennen.
Can you imagine an intellectual-property lawyer auctioning off a neon rendition of Lady Justice? I rest my case.

Republican National Convention will put free speech to the test

We are now six months away from the start of the Republican National Convention right here in Minnesota. (Hmmm. Will it be McCain or McCain who is nominated?)

Minnesota is pretty protective of First Amendment rights. No doubt that proclivity will be put to the ultimate test as protesters of all stripes descend upon the Twin Cities to air their grievances at the convention. Folks will be there who are anti-war, pro-choice, anti-death penalty, pro-same-sex marriage, anti-tax cut, pro nationalized health care, etc ., etc., etc. ... All of them will have three things in common: they'll be carrying picket signs; they'll be chanting loudly; and they'll be relying on their free-speech rights to make sure their concerns are heard.

On the other end of the equation are police and public officials, who want to make sure that order is maintained and that the protests don't interfere with the rights of locals and those here to participate in the convention. It's a delicate balance that can best be summed up in the words of that great high court jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."

And speaking of noses, we are going to get a whiff today of what free-speech arguments are to come. The anti-war protesters apparently do not think that the permitting process recently announced by St. Paul police passes the smell test. They plan a press conference at 4 p.m. today to announce their official response.

For the next six months, Minnesota's free-speech jurisprudence will devolop as if it were on steroids. Here's to hoping that by the time the convention is over and the out-of-town protesters have left, Minnesotans free-speech protections are as strong or stronger than they are today.