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December 31, 2015

"Heroes of the Internet, 2015"

The list includes University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks for her important work on "revenge porn."

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 31, 2015 in Faculty News, Law in Cyberspace | Permalink

December 28, 2015

Leading evidence law scholar and UC Hastings faculty member David Faigman named Interim Dean effective January 1, 2016

The Hastings press release is here.  No indication, however, of what's become of current Dean Frank Wu, who was just reappointed in 2014.  I'll add an update when I know more.

UPDATE:  I apparently missed the announcement  in November that Dean Wu was stepping down.

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 28, 2015 in Faculty News | Permalink

December 26, 2015

Law Dean at Bar-Ilan University continues attack on speech and due process rights of Prof. Hanoch Sheinman (UPDATED)

MOVING TO  FRONT FROM DEC. 23--UPDATED

Details of this sorry episode are here.

UPDATE:  Several law faculty have sent me a statement disputing Prof. Sheinman's account; I have posted it at the original link, above.

ANOTHER:  Hebrew U's David Enoch responds to the preceding.

DEC. 28 UPDATE:  Alon Harel (Hebrew U) weighs in.

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 26, 2015 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

December 24, 2015

In Memoriam: Joe Jamail (1925-2015)

Not a law professor, but a fabulously successful trial lawyer in Houston and a major benefactor of my former employer the University of Texas at Austin (I once held the Joseph D. Jamail Centennial Chair in Law).  I recall a speech he once gave to the law faculty, he was extremely humble and complimentary towards us, and he always spoke in support of interdisciplinary legal education.  He was probably about 80 then, and everyone said he had mellowed from the days when he was banned for life from the courts of Delaware for his, shall we say, "combative" manner, some of which is famously captured in this YouTube video of a deposition (Jamail is not visible on the right, except for his hands.  He calls opposing counsel, variously, "big boy" and "fat boy," and the witness being deposed "asshole" [the witness was an asshole actually!].)  Jamail was also a liberal Democrat in a state not known for them.  After the Hopwood striking down affirmative action, I recall that he donated ten million dollars to create a private fund for the recruitment of African-American students to the university.

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 24, 2015 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

December 21, 2015

California July 2015 Bar Exam results by school

Blog Emperor Caron charts the results.  A strong showing by USC grads, not so much by Berkeley grads, relative to the reputation of the school.  UC Irvine grads did better than UC Davis and UC Hastings grads.  Loyola-LA grads had a typically strong showing, trailing Irvine only slightly.  Some ABA-accredited law schools in California, by contrast, had awful results (e.g., Golden Gate, Whittier).

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 21, 2015 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Rankings | Permalink

December 18, 2015

Arkansas Law Prof Steinbuch sues his school over his Dean's refusal to release admissions data

Blog Emperor Caron collects the pertinent news items.

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 18, 2015 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

December 16, 2015

Total law school applicants now up 3.4% from December 2014...

...according to LSAC.  This is consistent with my earlier forecast, indicating, yet again, that we've arrived at a new normal level for enrollments, and may even see a slight increase in the next couple of years.

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 16, 2015 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

December 14, 2015

Promotional Feature: Makeover for Statutory Supplements is Long Overdue (Michael Simkovic)

In the era of Google Maps, instant language translation, and digital music libraries, law students still spend countless hours flipping pages to find the right subclause or definition in a statute. This process can and should be automated.

Computerized calculations have liberated STEM students from tedious, repetitive tasks so that they can focus on the more intellectually simulating and creative aspects of math, science and engineering. Word processing software has freed us all from applying whiteout and waiting for it to dry and from manually retyping manuscripts to correct a few errors. This has enabled us to focus on our ideas and not the mechanics of fixing them permanently on paper.

Law is an inherently conservative field, focused on precedent, tradition, and risk avoidance. But when the case for change is compelling, we are prepared to try new tools.

I’ve been thinking about the problems of statutory interpretation for years and how automation could streamline the process. I’m very excited to announce a new electronic statutory supplement, LawEdge. (Full disclosure: I helped develop it).

LawEdge aims to do for statutory interpretation what the calculator did for mathematics.

The U.S. Code includes thousands of defined terms.   A reader must understand what each of the defined terms means to understand the meaning of each provision containing those defined terms.

Unfortunately, defined terms are not always clearly labeled.  Even when defined terms are labeled as defined terms, understanding one provision may require flipping back and forth to several other locations in the code.  This process can be slow and cumbersome with paper statutes.  Even electronic statutes often will not take users to the precise location in the code where a definition appears, but will instead take readers to a the section containing the definition, forcing readers to search for the definition.

LawEdge makes working with defined terms simple and easy. Defined terms are clearly labeled. Clicking on a defined term generates a popup window showing its meaning.  Definitions are also hyperlinked to their meaning.

Definitions are context-specific and do not apply to all sections of the code. For example, the definition of “property” in Section 317(a) of the Internal Revenue Code does not apply to Section 351 of the same title. LawEdge recognizes context and links definitions appropriately.

LawEdge is easy to navigate. For example, suppose that you wish to read § 21(b)(2)(B). With a paper statutory supplement, you could flip to section 21, then look for subsection (b), then read down to paragraph (2) and finally find subparagraph (B). The entire process might take 30 seconds, and along the way you might accidentally look at the wrong provision. With LawEdge, this process is nearly instantaneous and error free. You would simply type s21b2b in the search bar. This feature works all the way down to the subclause level.

Browsing a statute is also easier and more intuitive. Structural components are color coded to be more recognizable.

The underlying technology is algorithmic, which means it is easy to update and support as the U.S. Code changes.

Ebooks are available for Bankruptcy and Tax  for those who would like to try this new technology. I used BankruptcyEdge  successfully in my class this fall.

LawEdge has all of the benefits of paper—notes, highlights, bookmarks, offline access—and many advantages only available electronically. It can be used on exams with the latest version of ExamSoft, which offers on option to only block internet access but not the hard drive.  

If you’re interested in trying it for your class, please feel free to contact me for an evaluation copy.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on December 14, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Student Advice | Permalink

Media Law Scholars Discuss The New York Times and Defamation Law (Michael Simkovic)

A recent New York Times editorial attacking law school as “a scam” was widely criticized because of its exaggerations and factual inaccuracies (here and here). The dean of Florida Coastal, which The New York Times specifically targeted for opprobrium, wrote  “the Times is saying something demonstrably false and which had not been properly fact checked. . . . [T]he Times could have had [accurate information] if it had simply asked. . . the Times . . . misled its readership by failing to properly fact check.”

Felix Salmon, contemplating recent journalistic controversies, argues that fundamental problems with journalistic methods lead errors to go undetected and unchallenged. According to Salmon, the risk is particularly high when errors originate with a powerful newspaper like The New York Times.   Glenn Greenwald similarly notes the alarming pervasiveness of factual errors by respected media organizations, and how consumers rarely spot these errors  unless they personally have intimate knowledge of the subject of the article—for example because they are the subject. A large survey found that news sources rarely correct errors because they believe that journalists ignore serious mistakes. Sources also fear that if they push for a correction, the media will retaliate.

To better understand the press’s incentives to carefully research their stories, I asked leading media law scholars to discuss whether The New York Times law school editorial raised any legal issues. According to both my Seton Hall colleague Thomas Healy and Howard Wasserman of Florida International, The New York Times has little reason to fear liability, even if it negligently supplies information that is poorly researched, misleading, or harmful.

Howard M. Wasserman, Professor of Law, FIU College of Law

Facts, Damn Facts, and Statistics (full analysis):

Neither Florida Coastal School of Law nor its owner, InfiLaw, has threatened to sue The Times for defamation over its October 24 op-ed. Any such lawsuit would be futile in the face of stringent First Amendment protections against defamation liability. . . . 

Ongoing controversy over the business activities of Donald Trump’s Trump University rendered it a limited public figure. Similarly, public controversy exists over the very educational practices that Coastal and InfiLaw aggressively engage in, advertise, and market . . . making them (and likely every law school) public figures for purposes of the controversy and debate over legal education . . . .

 

As public figures, Coastal and InfiLaw can prevail on a defamation claim only by proving . . . that The Times’ statements were false and . . . The Times knew they were false or recklessly disregarded their truth . . . . They thus would encounter three insuperable hurdles . . .  

 

First, the First Amendment permits rhetorical hyperbole, exaggeration, and vigorous epithets to make a point. A court is unlikely to read the word “scam” as a literal accusation of a fraudulent scheme, particularly in the context of an opinion piece. . . . The Times should be seen as using “scam” to criticize a distasteful, but not necessarily unlawful, educational model. Similarly, the reference to “most” of Coastal’s graduates in a newspaper article becomes a rhetorical synonym for “a lot” or “many,” not a verifiable statistical conclusion of more than half.

 

Second, courts should not impose liability for speech that criticizes a large group . . .

 

Third, Michael Simkovic’s statistical analysis . . . is irrelevant to the legal analysis of The Times’ broad-reaching statements. Predictions . . . based on statistics and sophisticated classification of data--are arguably not “facts.” And even if facts . . . A court is unlikely to find a newspaper story false--much less knowingly false--because of disagreement, dispute, or even inaccuracy in its statistical analyses or conclusions.

Thomas Healy, Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law

A Defamation Victory for Florida Coastal? No way. (full analysis):

Could Florida Coastal or any other law school win a defamation suit against The New York Times for its Oct. 24 editorial? The answer is almost certainly not for the following reasons.

 

[Law schools] are likely limited public figures when it comes to the debate about admissions standards, tuition rates, student loans, bar passage rates, and job placement rates. Through their web sites, marketing brochures, admissions outreach, fundraising, and statements to the media they regularly try to influence public opinion about the quality of their education and the value of their degree. Moreover, the type of business they are engaged in – educating lawyers – implicates the public interest, and courts have been especially willing to find that such businesses are limited public figures.

 

Because they are limited public figures, the schools would have to establish that the Times knew that its statements were false or acted with reckless disregard as to their falsity. So which statements in the editorial were potentially false? . . . First, the Times stated that according to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), students scoring in the bottom quartile on the LSAT “are unlikely to ever pass the bar exam.” Second, the Times stated that “most of Florida Coastal’s students are leaving law school with a degree they can’t use, bought with a debt they can’t repay.” And finally, the Times stated that Florida Coastal was engaged in a “scam.”

 

It is unclear whether any of these statements are provably false. The statement about bar passage rates appears to be technically false since the LSAC never said what the Times reported, but there is truth in the larger claim that a very low LSAT score correlates with bar exam failure, at least on the first try. . . . The statement about debt repayment is also questionable, since there is evidence that Florida Coastal’s default rate in the past has been lower than many other schools’. But because the Times referred both to students entering in 2013 and graduating in 2014, its statement about repaying debt could be viewed as a prediction of future events that is not provably false. Finally, its claim that Florida Coastal is engaged in a “scam” is likely an opinion or rhetorical hyperbole that is not actionable . . . .

 

But even if some of these statements are partially or completely false, a plaintiff would have to show that the Times knew they were false or entertained serious doubts about whether they were true. This is a subjective standard that is incredibly difficult to meet. The failure of the Times to fact-check its assertions would not be enough to establish liability. There would have to be evidence that the editors themselves questioned the veracity of their statements but went ahead and published them anyway. . .

 

If this Times editorial is actionable, then commentary and opinion about a host of other businesses . . . could be the basis for successful defamation suits. The media is not perfect, and it is frustrating when it makes overbroad generalizations or jumps to ill-informed conclusions. But a timid and passive media that is too worried about lawsuits to investigate and comment on the affairs of major industries would be far worse.

Professor Wasserman and Professor Healy’s careful, thorough analyses seem to reflect a broad consensus among media law scholars.

Large media groups and their owners may have the financial resources to competently research factual claims before disseminating them to millions of people. However, the law nonetheless grants media companies protection bordering on sovereign immunity. This seems like an invitation to managers who are focused on the bottom-line to cut fact-checking and research budgets.

 

Update:  Brian Leiter has covered these issues before.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on December 14, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest, Weblogs | Permalink

December 12, 2015

Minnesota Law Dean David Wippman to be the new President of Hamilton College in New York

Hamilton's news release here.

(Thanks to Blog Emperor Caron for the pointer.)

Posted by Brian Leiter on December 12, 2015 in Faculty News | Permalink