Thursday, July 31, 2008

Preparing to Live Syndrome



James Dolan, a Texas attorney, has coined a new affliction: Preparing to Live Syndrome. It won't be found in the DSM-IV, but it is likely something most of us can relate to. Dolan defines it like this:

"It is a common condition, causing great amounts of suffering, depression, anxiety and medication. I call it Preparing to Live Syndrome (PtLS).
The sufferer sees life as an endless chain of meaningless, two-dimensional experiences that lack passion, value or meaning but that he must tolerate, because those experiences lead to some future point when all will come together, and life will again take on sparkle and value. In the meantime, there is nothing the sufferer can do, and the solution always lies out of reach, in the future . . .

To assume that one doesn't have time to grasp the one moment truly in her possession is to fall prey to the fallacy that there are an endless stream of such moments going on and on into the future, only to be seized when the time is right. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.

This assumption about the unbrokenness of our lives leads people into the PtLS trap, in which we trade what we truly have for what does not yet -- and may never -- exist. Then, living in barely registered pain, many search for relief in addiction, pay raises and promotions and all manner of frantic behavior

The article in its entirety is available at lawjobs.com, and is worth the read. The PtLS trap has us running for ultima thule, and while we are striving for that mythical place, the real "sparkle" of life passes us by. The pace of life has nothing to do with PtLS, some careers require an incredible amount of working hours, and passion need not lack. The key is to have joy in the journey and satisfaction with the roles we play in the here and now. Dolan makes the point that our personal fulfillment directly correlates to the passion we feel for the work we do, and that is a truth worth savoring.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Science of Art


Okay, so I may be a bit of an art nut, but I think others will find this just as fascinating as I do. Joris Dik, a materials scientist from Delft University, and Koen Janssens, a chemist from the University of Antwerp in Belgium, have engineered an incredible technique to uncover the paintings under paintings.

Many artists struggled financially during their lifetime, and canvas was expensive, so it was not uncommon for a used canvas to be painted white so that a new work could be painted on it. Van Gogh was one such struggling artist, in fact, he only sold one painting in his lifetime. Art historians believe that nearly one-third of Van Gogh's paintings hide a second painting underneath, but until now, the technology for truly "seeing" the hidden paintings has not been available.

Dik and Janssens' technique employs high-intensity X-rays from a particle accelerator to map out the metallic atoms underneath. Art experts know which pigments contain which metals, and so, the colors of the image underneath can be charted out and seen virtually. More on the story can be read here. Dik and Janssens' paper was published today in the online edition of Analytical Chemistry.

Science is absolutely incredible. Now, the law will have to figure out what to do with the copyrightability of such an image!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In a Blink



It's day one of the bar exam for PA and CA attorneys-to-be. Bar examiners read their instructions this morning, which included the phrase that no extra time will be allotted for, among other things, earthquakes. Well, that is exactly what happened to Los Angeles bar testers at 11:42 am PST, this morning. According to a recent Penn State grad, no one was injured, and he kept on writing. Now that takes heart! The majority of my family lives in Southern Cal, and everyone is okay, though in the words of my grandmother, "it sure got our attention!" In a blink, life can change.

The quake, measured by the USGS as a 5.8 "moderate" quake, did not cause any major damage, which gives us much to be grateful for. What shakes me, only metaphorically, is how instantaneously it all happens. There are no real warnings for earthquakes; of course, scientists have been predicting "the big one" for a long time, but that can't count. We are at the mercy of the forces of nature, and being at the wrong place at the wrong time, can change everything. It doesn't make me want to hide, but it does impress upon me how much I have to be grateful for every day that I wake up healthy and able to work.

So, to our west-coast readers, stock up on your bottled water and canned foods. Always keep a flashlight handy, have emergency plans in place for your family, but most importantly, thank God for the health and safety that is so easy to take for granted.

Thank you to ABC news for the image.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Law & Economics


This post is not an ode to Judge Posner, and really has nothing to do with an economic perspective of the law. This post is about the relationship between economic downturns and legal practice.

The catch is that I don't really know enough about this topic to write an insightful post, but I would love to hear from our readers out there who have weathered tough economic times while practicing. I am sure the effects are felt in different ways, depending upon the type of law you practice, the size of your firm, etc. But, I am also sure that the effects are felt everywhere, and as someone who is about to head into the legal market during a weak economic time, I am all ears.

For example, perhaps in large firms when clients start to tighten their belts and the work starts to dry up, the natural reaction is to hoard cases so that one can make it through the lean times. Colleagues one would normally share the wealth with now become predators of your kill. Perhaps in smaller firms layoffs become the ever-present concern.

I know you are out there, practitioners and former practitioners, and I know you have seen it all. So, tell me, what's it really like and how do the fittest survive?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Pitcher

We took our kids to Baltimore to see the Orioles vs. Los Angeles at Camden Yards last Saturday night. Radhames Liz started for the Orioles. He threw 103 pitches (most waist high or above).

The Orioles scored five runs and lost. "No pitching," my son said.

On Sunday, the Orioles optioned Liz to triple A-Norfolk. Liz is 25 years old. "I know I'm going to be OK," he said. "You're never waiting for them to send you down. All the time you spend working to be here, you know you have to be mentally strong. ... You've got to be prepared for when things like that come."

The Pitcher

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.

----Robert Francis

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Send Your Name to the Moon




The deadline for submissions has been extended to July 25th, 2008. Click here if you are interested. For more information on the project, visit LRO.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Veiled


Her veil is for modesty, purity and honor. She does not hide. The veil symbolizes her fidelity, and while she is hidden, her character is not unknown. She is a vestal virgin, and her veil is her mark. This sculpture is a breathtaking example of the work of Raffaele Monti (1818-1881); it almost looks like he created this from the inside out. The veil not only keeps her identity cloaked, but it also keeps her focus within. The one under the veil cannot see as clearly as one who is unveiled, this allows her to think of and focus only on the service she performs. The sculpture is featured in Joe Wright’s rendition of Pride and Prejudice, in a powerful scene where Elizabeth identifies with the statue and realizes her own distorted vision towards Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth sees, perhaps for the first time, that her opinion of Mr. Darcy was influenced by the veil of her own pride and prejudice toward him.

Veils aren’t exactly common as apparel in our society, though the internet provides another sort of veil to us. Opinions can be freely rendered in the world of the web without the necessity of owning up to them. While this makes sense in certain circumstances (paying a compliment without looking like a sycophant), it may not always. The benefit of anonymity is the freedom of expression it affords. While society espouses the notion of free exchange of ideas, we all know that there is such a thing as political capital, and an offensive idea can burn through a lot of that rather quickly. The detriment of anonymity, however, is the speed with which thoughtful exchanges can devolve into sarcastic and generally less productive discussions. The freedom of anonymity can have the unfortunate side-effect of blinding the author.

The first week of law school, a professor received an anonymous email from a class member. She stood in front of us and said, quite simply: “In the legal profession, we sign our names to things. Court filings, memos and other correspondence bear our names. Signing our names ensures we take extra care with our words; we bear the responsibility for those words.” I do not necessarily advocate full disclosure of identity in the blogosphere. What I do think important to consider is what the freedom afforded by anonymity causes. As with any freedom, there is the potential to yield both good and bad fruit.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

State College Keeps All Starbucks Stores



Starbucks released the list of the 616 stores it intends to close by next March, available here. Of the cities I am familiar with, I wasn't terribly surprised, though it is a relief to know that all State College stores will keep their doors open.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What (Not) to Wear

I'm sure this has already been covered in the blogoshphere, but I'm especially curious to hear from our student readership: Do you care what your professors wear to class?

I ask because I like to wear jeans. I usually wear a blazer and often a tie. But I'm most comfortable wearing jeans. I know some people think this is inappropriate. Professor Erik Jensen, at Case Western Law, is one of those people. He wrote a paper about it (not about me and my pants in particular, but about law professors in general dressing scruffily).

The paper is a wonderful read. Professor Jensen proposes a Uniform Uniform Code (UUC) to regulate law faculty attire. Under the UUC, faculty members must "dress in a way that would not embarass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to the possibility of embarassment from scruffily dressing, in which case the faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarass my mother."

In case anyone cares, my jeans are okay under the UUC. My mother is over age 50 (hi Mom). And she is not embarassed by jeans--in fact, my mother called me lame when I rejected her suggestion that I wear jeans to my high school prom.

Anyway, I'm curious to hear thoughts on the issue. Students, do you care what we wear?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Listenthink


Jeff posed the question of what pedagogical purpose might be served or thwarted by recording law school lectures and making the recordings available to students for later viewing. I too am concerned that such a policy would turn a technological tool into an impediment for learning, despite our good intentions.

The tradition of teaching law through live, interactive, collective, classroom-based meetings is not merely a vestige of old technology. The low-tech way we teach and learn law has survived because it contributes powerfully to the development of a skill that lawyers sell and clients buy in the market. I name this skill listenthink.

In class, law teachers lead students through a jungle of ideas. Most law students quickly discover they cannot take notes in the undergraduate style. Discussion among actively thinking people rarely takes an outline form. A law school classroom is live theater and anything can happen. Students learn to sort through the information that appears in class to find the thread that draws it together. For law students engaged in listenthink, notes become a roadmap through the jungle, not a compliation of information to be memorized.

Lawyers use listenthink every day. The ability to hyperfocus, to listen to a client explain a problem, translate the client's expression into legal terms, analyze the problem against the known universe of legal doctrine, and propose as solution-- this is the defining legal skill. The ability to do this at lightning speed and with reliable accuracy is the mark of a great lawyer.

Some argue that making taped classroom sessions available to students for later viewing can improve student learning. This is no doubt an important goal. The price for this possible improvement will be a diminshed incentive for students and their professors to invest in the cultivation of listenthink. We may have the technology to permit students to replay a classroom session. But, I doubt our clients will wait for us to postpone our advice while we replay their questions.

Founding Father in Step with SCOTUS


Judge John Reed, the founder of the Dickinson School of Law (now the Penn State Dickinson School of Law), would have agreed with the Supreme Court in its recent decision, D.C. v. Heller. In 1831, Reed published his Pennsylvania Blackstone, in which he supported the individual rights view of the Second Amendment. For more on this see The Volokh Conspiracy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lectures On Demand?


My first follow-up to my initial post on the future of education has little to do with Web 2.0.

Instead, it goes to the issue of videotaping or podcasting our lectures and making them available to students on demand. The positive element of this is it would allow students who miss class for legitimate reasons (illness or interviewing for jobs) to review the class firsthand. It would also allow students to review lectures while they are studying for the final exam.

The negative is fairly obvious. It would also allow students who miss class for not-so legitimate reasons to have the benefit of the lecture/discussion thereby diminishing the value of being in the classroom.

My personal opinion is that I am not prepared to allow full video or audio archiving of my classes. I believe the cons outweigh the pros in this case.

However, I am considering one type of video on demand and I am interested to hear what others think of this idea. One of our colleagues, Steve Ross, brought this up in an email stating that he read a story where a liberal arts professor used this system for the class. Also, academhack, a blog on technology and teaching, recently discussed it on a post. The idea is that the professor would videotape some lecture prior to the class. Viewing that lecture would be part of the class assignment.

I think this idea might work quite well in my tax classes. I teach tax using the "problem method," that is, I teach the material by going over assigned problems rather than lecturing or discussing specific case opinions. Some students complain that they do not like the fact that I jump right into the problems for the class period, instead they would prefer some background introductory lecture. Personally, I find that type of lecture to be dull (and I believe you should be able to get it out of the assigned reading) but I certainly understand and appreciate the complaint. Lecturing beforehand and putting it online for students to view as part of their assignment solves this problem without taking away class time. It would also allow the students to review the lectures later in the semester. However, since the major (and most important) discussion will occur when we go through the problems in class, it would not diminish the importance of class attendance (the trick will be to give enough background in the lectures to help the students understand the material but not give away so much that the students can skip the reading or skip the class).

I am considering trying this for a limited period during the fall semester and then get some feedback from the students on whether it is a positive. Any thoughts or opinions out there?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fainéant


I don't know if fainéant is French, but it sure looks French. It means "resistant to exertion and activity," which the French seem to be in light of their 35 hour work week. This is the work week that President Sarkozy allegedly abhors, but can't bring himself to abolish.

I did the math and the French, if they work 35 hours a week and sleep 8 hours a night, have 77 hours a week of leisure. 77 hours! That's more than twice the amount of time they work, and the amount of time they work is less than 25% of the hours in the week. Now, I realize that I am heading into a workaholic profession that is not exactly a picture of what normal should be, but 77 hours of leisure a week? I enjoy my leisure time because I have worked so hard to get it, not the other way around where I've been so leisurely that I have to work a little.

The commandment to Adam and Eve in the garden was to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." I could be wrong, but I think that it took more than 25% of their week to get all that done.

Work is a good thing, we were created to produce, and we are most satisfied when we put our hands to the things God created us for, whether that be teaching the law, practicing the law, raising children, etc. You get the picture. Work hard, my friends, play hard, and fulfill your destinies!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Michigan Football and Tax


According to ESPN, the University of Michigan football coach, Rich Rodriguez, has agreed to pay West Virginia University (his former employer) $4 million dollars to settle a lawsuit involving the coach terminating his employment with WVU.

I am positive that you are thinking I wonder what the tax treatment of that payment will be? Well, it's funny you should ask that, I just happen to have written an article on that exact subject.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wiihab

Professor Kahn’s post relates to an interesting phenomenon I recently learned of: “Wiihab” or “Wiihabilitation,” more intelligibly described as Nintendo Wii playing in physical therapy. Apparently, not only is the Wii a craze amongst the usual video-game-playing crowd, but doctors are using it to aid patients with their physical therapy. Because the game controller requires motions similar to traditional therapy exercises, playing the Wii enables patients to go through their rehab with their minds focused on the game and not the pain of therapy itself. The concept is a simple application of the truth we all know, that the mind is often stronger than the body. Giving patients an outlet in which they can be competitive and play to improve their mobility, without focusing on the pain of therapy, is a wonderful option for the modern rehab patient.

As for the classroom, our own Professor Lopatka used NBC’s Deal or No Deal show to illustrate risk-aversion in our torts class. Engaging modern “consumers” – whether they are patients or students – in a way which makes the task accessible is certainly challenging. By virtue of this challenge, however, creativity can meld with traditional mechanisms and give rise to innovations in many forms. Professor Wesch made the statement, “[learning] is the hallmark of humanity,” and learning about how best to learn seems to be the wonderful responsibility of our teachers. By the same token, being teachable and willing to engage is our responsibility as students. I look forward to your conclusions, Professor Kahn!

The Future of Education?

Paul Caron (Taxprof) links to a video of a lecture by Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University.

The lecture is quite interesting, it involves his discussion of some Web 2.0 devices (things like twitter, Youtube, Diigo) that he incorporated into his class in an attempt to get the students more engaged in the learning process. The complaints about the educational structure (from both the students and the faculty) will sound familiar to those involved in legal education.

After watching it though, I wondered whether it had any real application to the legal academy (at least in the core subjects that I teach like basic tax or torts). My initial response was that it looked great and I wish I took a course with him as a professor when I was in college but I wasn't sure it would work in basic tax.

I plan to spend the next few weeks thinking about it though to see if there is some application. I hope there is as anything that better engages the student is a positive but I refuse to use technology just for the sake of using it.

If you have a moment (the video is an hour long), take a look. I plan to post further thoughts on this as the summer progresses but outside input/opinions is greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Changing the course of American history, one hot dog at a time

My favorite thing about the 4th of July is the very unvegetarian Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, which is held every year in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. This year's competition was quite dramatic. At the end of the ten-minute contest, reigning champion and world record holder Joey "Jaws" Chestnut and six-time winner Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi of Japan were tied at 59 hot dogs each. But Chestnut ate himself to victory in the five-dog "eat off" held immediately after the competition. (Story here).

One year--I think it was 2006--one of the television commentators predicted that if Chestnut defeated Kobayashi, it would change the course of American history. I have nothing to add to that comment.

And while I'm on the subject of competitive eating, here's a fascinating article from Slate about competitive eating injuries.

Who Will Save Our Souls?


This summer I am encountering issues that lawyers face day in and day out as they parry with their opponents over discovery and trial prep. Chief among their concerns is e-discovery, especially in light of the recent Qualcomm verdict and our growing culture of technology. But, is the fast moving pace of information causing us to lose that powerful pause, that moment in which our conscience can speak to us, and guide us down "the [road] less traveled by"?

The ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct (2004) include Rule 4.4 "Respect for Rights of Third Persons." Section (b) reads, "A lawyer who receives a document relating to the representation of the lawyer's client and knows or reasonably should know that the document was inadvertently sent shall promptly notify the sender." As might seem obvious, there is no mention in the Rule about not reading the document, which includes email. The Rule only instructs notification of one's opponent. Indeed, the comment to Rule 4.4 says that the lawyer "may" return the document "unread," but that this is "a matter of professional judgment ordinarily reserved to the lawyer."

When I learned of this I was surprised. I can understand beginning to read the email, realizing that it was not for your eyes, immediately closing it, and then holding on to it while the parties and/or judge determine the appropriate response. However, that the ABA would approve going ahead and reading the email, gaining an obvious advantage over your opponent because of what was likely an honest mistake on their part, seems to be official permission to NOT play nice in the sandbox.

What do you think? Has the ABA gone too far? Is the ABA merely recognizing and condoning zealous client advocacy? Are these the kinds of ethics that we want to be the baseline for our profession? Can we do better than this? Who will save our souls?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Simply Amazing

Perhaps the best match I've ever seen. Simply amazing. Nadal: 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. After a match like that, I almost feel guilty about winning the Great Lunch Wager of 2008. Almost...

And Venus was great yesterday.

A wonderful tournament indeed.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Great Lunch Wager of 2008

Well, we know an American woman is going to win Wimbledon. That's a positive although generally their matches against each other are dull affairs. Although Serena usually wins the battle of the Williams sisters, I am predicting a Venus victory this time.

More importantly, the RLR bet of the year has come down to the final match. Frankly, I like my chances. Either way, I hope the match is a classic - these two are playing fantastic tennis right now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Points for That


Study break time for RLR readers who are studying for the bar exam.

Click on this story from the London Times about a British standardized test for English language skills that awards points to students who write expletives in the exam booklet.

"The chief examiner, who is responsible for standards in exams taken by 780,000 candidates and for training for 3,000 examiners, told The Times: “It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for – like conveying some meaning and some spelling. 'It’s better than someone that doesn’t write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank.'"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Proud of Our Own













Congratulations to Michael R. Boland, Jr., a 2007 summa cum laude graduate of Penn State's Dickinson School of Law and Editor-in-Chief of the Penn State Law Review. In the fall of 2008, Michael will begin a one year clerkship with the Honorable D. Brooks Smith in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Michael interned in Judge Smith's chambers as a law student and is currently an associate at Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia.

Michael was preceded by Rachael Goldfarb, a 2006 Penn State Dickinson alum who interned for Judge Smith as a student, clerked for the Federal District Court in Philadelphia, and most recently clerked for Judge Smith in the Third Circuit. Rachael currently works at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as Special Assistant to the President in the Global Health Division.

The most prestigious alum featured in this post is Judge Smith himself, a 1976 Penn State Dickinson alum and recent appointee to the law school's Board of Counselors. President George W. Bush nominated Judge Smith to the Third Circuit in 2001, who received a "well qualified" rating by the ABA and was confirmed by the Senate in 2002. This came on the heels of the Judge serving twelve years in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania after President Reagan nominated him in 1988.

Judge Smith's career clerk, Dawn Svirkso, is another Penn State Dickinson alum, again from the pre-PSU days. Both the Judge and Dawn are tremendously caring, intelligent, and sincere people who are a credit to this institution and priceless to Third Circuit jurisprudence.

The Virtual Tourist



It is summer in State College, and while I do love this town, there are times when I get itchy feet to get out and do “city” things. One of my favorite things to do in a city is wander through an art gallery and just soak in the presence of the masters (with a foamy cappuccino, of course). When I lived in the Bay Area, the Legion of Honor was my favorite museum to go and percolate in. We here in State College do have some of the world’s best museums within a few hours, but if you want to nip out for just an afternoon, it can be tough. The great thing about the internet age, though, is the virtual collections available on the web are incredible. It can’t compare to standing in the West Ground Gallery of the National Gallery of Art and looking at the Voyage of Life in all of its glory, but virtual visits to some of the most amazing collections in the world certainly gives me a flavor of city-dwelling.

I encountered a wonderful website recently that collects the web addresses of online collections. The website, hosted by Coudal Partners, a Chicago-based advertising firm, is called the Museum of Online Museums. The site links to the virtual collections of museums all over the world, check it out.

If online galleries are just not for you, State College will be swelling with throngs of art-lovers in just nine days. The forty-second annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts kicks off on July 9th.